Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Opening New Doors

A Culture of Literacy

Kindergartners spend a great deal of time telling stories. There is always a story brewing during morning and afternoon experiences.  We have stories unfolding at the block, sensory and light table in the classroom currently.

"Pretend that I am a giraffe and I am going on an adventure with my mommy."
"Ok but pretend that I am a teenager and I am lost in the jungle."
"Everyone this is the lake where the animals take a bath."

The children are listening to each other and adding on to the story. It may not be a sequential storyline with a problem and solution but the story is widening. The children are clarifying the story, establishing their place and negotiating the plot line.

Sometimes a child prefers fact to fiction but they are still creating a literacy as they pursue and catalog these facts in their head.

As teachers, we promote the understanding  that stories and facts exist between the pages of a book. This provides a reason to read and hopefully the motivation to sustain the process. We scaffold the children as they take small steps (and sometimes leaps) towards decoding the lexicon of our language.  Our work is to understand the social emotional being of each child and this understanding is essential as we create an environment that allows for risk and embraces mistakes as necessary for learning.

We host a session each fall for the Kindergarten parents as they navigate this part of their child's development. A child's literacy is another milestone in their journey which also means that it will occur when there is an internal readiness. However, we can intentionally offer experiences that match their zone of proximal development and scaffold the incremental steps some children will require to break the code.

Each year parents ask questions and we have collected a few of the most frequently asked questions.

What is the difference between phonics and phonemic awareness?

 Phonemic awareness is auditory and does not rely on print. Children listen to and manipulate the sounds of speech as they rhyme, delete, segment and blend sounds. Children often arrive in Kindergarten with a working knowledge of  letters and even their matching sounds  but we continue to play with sounds as we read, sing and enjoy games. The work of phonemic awareness appeals to young children and is also a fundamental piece of both reading and writing literacy.

Phonics supports students as they begin to understand the relationship between phonemes
( the smallest unit of language) and the printed letters. The lower school classrooms use Words Their Way curriculum to structure the skill set of phonics but we primarily examine phonemes in context----in the midst of the books the children read.
"Is it possible for that word to read as horse when it begins with the letter m?" Why does the vowel in the middle of the word say its name?

"My child has memorized the book sent home and is relying on the pictures to read. They are not really reading. "

Many parents each year express this observation. We read each book at school with the children so they often do not need  to decode the words when they read at home for the second time. As children reread a book they are practicing good reading habits such as pointing to  each word, sweeping their eyes from left to right, using the illustrations to support  decoding and repetition of bridge words (the, and, you, me etc.). If there is interest you might consider asking your child to spell words, identify blends, count the number of words in a sentence, look for words with matching beginning or ending sounds or ask them to think of a word that rhymes with one in the text.

Books were coming home and now we have short stories on xeroxed paper without pictures.

At some point during the next few months, we begin to look at stories with a controlled predictable text and without the support of pictures. The text has patterns that we are identifying and considering. It is often a challenging experience for some children so we use this type of text intermittently with early readers.

My child seems to be a strong writer rather than reader. 

Children often come to reading through the back door. Writing text offers more control to the writer than reading offers to the reader. A writer has the freedom to change direction or write what they hear when capturing words on paper. A reader must stick with decoding the words on paper to make meaning and connect the text.  For some children it is easier to segment sounds when writing than blending sounds when reading.

My child is noticing what the other children are reading and is beginning to feel anxious.

Anxiety during the reading process should be avoided. We make every effort to keep it fun, inclusive and free of stress. If you observe the stakes becoming high for your child please let Mary and I know immediately and resume read alouds only (add some additional cuddles and laughter) The reading process will unfold for each child in their own way and at their own time. Stress will interfere with their excitement and perseverance.

We will continue this conversation discussing literacy in the Kindergarten. We invite you to read an earlier blog entitled "The Nuances of Literacy".

Additional thoughts regarding literacy

Children are made readers on the laps 

of their parents. —Emilie Buchwald

Happy Reading to You.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sitting with Some Hard Feelings

The children were watching very young squirrels play in the garden high in the trees. 

Mary Baxter felt that the squirrels needed some space and asked the  children to play  away from the trees. After some time, the children's play returned to the trees to retrieve leaves. It was then that the unresponsive bodies of the young squirrels were found. 

I watched the faces of the children as they tried to comprehend what they were witnessing. Young children respond to hard experiences with a multitude of emotions. Often they are very open to their emotions and release immediately...anger and/or sadness. Sometimes it takes some time to process and they move forward with their play and other times their emotions comes out with a giggle or joke. Really, it is not too different from the rest of us. 

Our class felt many emotions.

                                   But we felt mostly sad.

One of the hallmarks of our education at Sabot, which I am also learning to do in my own life as I grow older, is to sit with the hard feelings. Sometimes our inclination is to run fast and far but that doesn't make the feelings go away it just shifts them from the surface to the depths of our being where they can no longer be accessed. 

In that spirit, we asked the children to come to circle and then invited our eight grade reading buddies to join us. We felt that the eighth grade would frame the conversation in a way that would be meaningful to the Kindergarten. 

Transcript of a conversation regarding the death of two young squirrels

Caroline:  I have been to four funerals and I am very shy and one was grannie, uncle AC and my Marmies’ cousin. I was getting bored and so I wish I went into the nursery.

Scarlett: I think that a rattlesnake got the squirrel.

Charlie: Rattlesnakes don’t live in Virginia.

Shayna: I have seen a dead squirrel when I was in the preschool.

Bryce: I know how to bury a dead squirrel because I buried a cardinal.

Annabel: A big bird might of got them.                                                                               The snake and the squirrels.

Charlie: Maybe a big cat climbed up the tree and hurt the squirrel.

Bryce: I once saw a dead squirrel in my back yard.

Julia: Once a dead squirrel died in my yard and my dog Lineaus ate him.

Tristan (an eighth grader): What do you think would be the best way to remember the squirrels?

Caroline: We could draw them.

Eve: You could pick a name for them.

Zoey: We could write a name on each squirrel.

Cole (an eighth grader): You could a marker there to remember what happened there and you could remember it each day.

Kate (an eighth grader): If you buried them would their families know what happened to them?

We could make a grave for them. To make a grave you just dig a hole and we could put a sign please don’t go near the squirrels.

 Do not step here.

Eve: We should of put a parachute before they died do they could get back to their grave.

If they really liked coming up and down the tree we should bury them there.

Dig a hole and put them in a hole with a scarf.

Evan (an eighth grader): I work with a woman who rehabilitates animals. She receives many baby squirrels.  If the baby squirrels die she has grave in her backyard where she buries them. Baby squirrels cannot always judge the distance between the branches. They have depth perception issues.

Tristan (an eighth graders): You guys could bury your cards with your squirrels.

Samuel: Maybe when the baby squirrel died he was born without his eyesight and when he jumped from a tree he feel because there was not a tree.

Evan (an eighth grader): When babies are first born they are pink and their eyes are closed and they stay in the nest. The squirrels look like they were about a month old.

Mary: Lets return to the comment Kate made. How do you think their families feel?
Scarlett: I think that they are very sad.

Eve: We could write a sign that says no squirrel here and yes squirrels here on the place that we buried them.

Cal: They may not be able to read.

Eve: So let’s draw the squirrels with a big circle and line through it. We could put nuts under the signs so they (their family) could find them.

Evan (an eighth grader): A long time ago they would bury humans in a grave with gold and food so they would have money and food after they died.

Caroline: In Egypt, after a king or queen died in the first tomb they would put all their jewels in one grave and in the other tomb they would put the body.

So in one tunnel there would be nuts and in the other grave we would put the squirrels.

We could put blankets in the grave so it would be soft and rocks around the grave so we would know where it was.

Samuel: We could make a tunnel and then put nuts to the top of the tunnel so the family could find the dead squirrels.

Julia: We could have one hole with the squirrels holding each other.

Myles (a middle school teacher): There was a mummy at the VMFA. There was an x-ray machine next to it and there was bird buried with the mummy. They were both wrapped together.

Caroline: I have been to where Charlie’s mom works and there is a big person like an adult who is wrapped up like a mummy. They put a trap inside the grave to catch bad guys who are trying to steal the money.

Evan (an eighth grader): I have read that in some cultures they plant a tree on top of the grave.  As the body breaks down it creates food for animals and insects. Plant a small tree on top of the squirrels and it creates food for other creatures to eat and healthy soil for the tree.

Zoey: My pet died and I learned that it was good that they died because they are in a way better place out there than down here.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Did you see the bike race in Richmond?

How do young children understand their city of Richmond? 
Ben Mardell was  our keynote speaker last year at the institute our school hosts. Dr. Mardell shared his experiences deconstructing cities with the youngest residents. 

"We must create mental models (of the cities) and then filter them to understand." 
"What are the reference points that children have for the city?"
                                                  Ben Mardell

As school started this Fall, Richmond  prepared for the UCI Road World Championships. The children's conversations were filled with  bikes,  the preparations they noticed and the understanding that our city would be visited by people from all over the world. 

A few children requested wire to create bikes and then many children contributed items to create a backdrop---buildings, buses, cars, spectators, stores and the flags representing the international bike teams attending.

The bike race provided a context for conversations regarding the city of Richmond.  It was a place to connect the child's excitement and enthusiasm to the city that is their home. It was a reference point that held an emotional connection for the children. The bike race built community and solidarity in Richmond during the months of preparation and race week---both solidarity for the lovers and the not-so-happy-that-the- race-is-in Richmond community. This solidarity was tangible in our classroom as well (although we had only the lovers).

As we talked during our project circles,  we began to get a sense of what parts of the city are frequented by which children. We observed that many children have an understanding of Carytown and the river. Several classmates had visited their parents at their place of employment so they could contribute skyscrapers and hospitals to the collage.  

We sketched a bike on loan from the preschool and gathered the children's individual experiences biking. Children talked about riding bikes attached to their parents bikes, honking horns on their bikes or transporting items in their bike  baskets.  

The real punch to our work came after the majority of the students watched the final race of the  weekend. Samuel had brought to school signs, buttons and a real curiosity regarding the racers and the spirit he encountered. Kenny and Avery jumped on the bike as Samuel waved his signs and cheered. He then altered the bike race as Kenny and Avery wound through the Libby Hill course. 
This experience ignited the intention to recreate the Road Race in our classroom.  The children committed to the roles of  bike racers,policemen and women,  bike repair scooters and food vendors.

Shayna is posing for a poster that she hopes to use for endorsements. Below she is demonstrating her low bike  cadence while riding down hill.  Kate is considering her riding strategy on her bike.

 Annabelle was not convinced that the bike race was engaging but she did recount her experience with food trucks. These trucks are a big part of our Richmond city culture. She said that Chick Fillet was her favorite.

Samuel noticed that each bike racer and team had their own motorcycle and car that followed with tires and bike parts to fix the racing bikes that were not working well. He witnessed a biker who took one of his shirts off while his bike was steered by a passenger in the support car.

Many of the children wanted be present at the race as a part of the cheering crowd. We observed a need to generate some intersubjectivity as to the definition of a crowd.

Anna led the discussion. 

Penelope:  A crowd, instead of a little group is, there’s people in the middle. too

Anna: So it’s not just like a circle of people?

Cal: There’s tons of flags, signs… there’s definitely a road.

Julia:  A crowd is a lot of people.

Anna: But this is a lot of people, is this a crowd?

Julia: More than this people! …Maybe we need just one more person

Shayna: There are a lots and lots of people, and there’s, like, no room to get anywhere..

Eve: A crowd is lots and lots of people in a big place, where they’re sitting down or standing up,where there's SO so many people you can’t even count them.

Kate: Maybe we can invite the other class some.  So, it can be a whole crowd. 

What are your impressions or experiences with the bike race? Were you a part of the crowd? We would love to hear from each of you as you participated in the life of the city? Perhaps a picture or even a drawing to illustrate your perspective. We are challenging you, Kindergarten parents and loyal Gleaning readers!!!