Sunday, November 1, 2009

See My Kids Run Circles Around Spot

I started this blog a few days ago…

I am currently sitting in the library at school while my kids watch a movie. The librarian is gone today, so we have a sub instead. The kids are watching a movie about Spot, as in “See Spot Run.” The thing is, that’s so below my kids. I mean, yes, for independent reading those Spot books are about on-level, and if you look up the movie I’m sure it says that it’s developmentally appropriate for 4 year olds. But my kids are so much smarter than this.

That’s actually something I run into a lot with the whole “pre-kindergarten/4 year-olds” thing. When I tell people you teach pre-kindergarteners, or even clarify that they are 4 years old, I often get the reaction “Oh! They’re babies! You have the babies!” or, “Oh, that must be so easy and fun! Just coloring all day…” First off, HA! (to both parts). Babies they are definitely not. My kids know more about the world than you can imagine. They “cheers” each other with their water glasses at snack time, they congratulate each other on a good job, they know if someone needs help and how to give them advice on doing class work, they (sadly) know who’s in jail in their family and why they are “locked up,” they know to give someone a tissue when they are crying, they know when others are making fun of them, and they have major anxiety about doing a worksheet wrong. We do science experiments, make KWL charts, discuss community leaders and have writer’s workshop. They are bright, brilliant, motivated and can run circles around Spot.

Well, now that that’s out, the rest should be quick…

The good… I had my first formal observation about a week and a half ago. Everyone has one of these and the process is kind of intense. That’s actually something that TFA did NOT prepare us for – all the important evaluation stuff at our own schools. At the beginning of the year we had to fill out an individual development plan listing our goals for the year and how we plan on continuing to develop. Then, we had a pre-observation meeting where the principal and I discussed the lesson she would be observing and some aspects of our class, such as what they are learning long-term and how they are being assessed. All the teachers also got a looooooong list of things that they need to have in their classrooms, like the standards and objectives visible, student work folders readily available, the Maryland State Curriculum and any anecdotal notes. Then, the principal observed me, taking notes on everything from my teaching style and how organized I was with materials beforehand, to how well the classroom is set up and whether lessons are differentiated for students at different levels.

I thought the lesson went pretty well – we reviewed what we knew about pumpkins from a reading earlier in the week, and then opened up pumpkins in two centers. In the first center I helped students use their 5 sense to explore the pumpkins and build up vocabulary while in the other center my educational aide guided the students through predicting how many seeds are in a pumpkin and then counting the actual number. Earlier this week my principal finally went over the lesson with me and basically gave me a stellar review. She said that she was actually excited to do my write-up, that I had the kids well-engaged and expanded on previous knowledge while also pushing them with new knowledge. She said my classroom is really conducive to young learners, including my colorful bulletin boards and the way tables are set up.

I made a comment about how I had a great group of students this year and she countered with this – even though a group of students might be the best in the world, they will only continue to be good with a good teacher, so I shouldn’t discount my part in it. The best thing she said was that she was really glad I had joined the staff. I’ve been feeling so blessed that I could the position I did at such an amazing school with great staff support and students, so hearing that I’m a welcome and needed member was so fulfilling to hear. Basically… yay!

Now for the improvement part. I need to get better at assessments. I feel like the Open Court assessments are both difficult to administer and are sometimes off-point on what it actually being taught. I actually talked with my savior/the veteran Pre-K teacher next door about how Open Court teaches lessons. For example, we’ve started actual lessons on the ABCs this week, like what each letter is, what sound it makes, a word that starts with it, and writing the letter. However, Open Court breezes through one letter a day. Ridiculous. The kids don’t learn anything. I was already concerned myself but then Ms. Best-Pre-K-Teacher-Ever once again blew my mind with her expertise – she doesn’t follow the Open Court curriculum on this part. So, I’m following suit and spending about 4 days on a letter and planning on looping back once we’re done. So, of course, the assessments expect my kids to be 100% good on A through E at the end of this unit, based on a letter-a-day time frame. Further, I feel like when I do have to enter grades, I’m pulling from too many sources. I have an anecdotal notes tracker, the Open Court assessments and then a billion random worksheets and projects that have B, D or P etched into the corner (Beginning, Developing or Proficient). I need a better way to synthesize all this, but I don’t know yet. Basically, Open Court is sucking. Ugh.

One recent thing that I think will be a big improvement – I recently did my Unit 2 plan for Math, Science and Social Studies (it lays out what I should be teaching each week during unit 2 for those subjects). This time, I added a component where I went through and wrote down all the things I’m going to need for each week. For example, I know that for week 18 I need a book on Abe Lincoln, since the kids really react well to books during Social Studies lessons. I plugged all those into my planner. Now, when I settle down to lesson plan each Sunday night I won’t be scrambling to find all those extra resources at the last minute! Again, yay!

Ok, time to go try to find ways to entertain Eric. He’s visiting for the next couple of weeks and I’ve already been a sucky hostess.

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