Sunday, September 27, 2009

Four-Square Writing

The four-square writing method can be used at almost every elementary level and can even be creatively adapted for middle school or high school writers. For first grade it helps to model writing at it's most basic level; combining words to make a sentence. With the fall season here, and weather as one of our science topics, students in Room 108 brainstormed together around the "fall" topic. Below are two examples of student work from our four-square writing activity. The front side is the brainstorm activity, done as a class. The topic "fall" is in the circle with the four squares identifying how fall looks, feels, smells, and things they like to do.

The second image is the reverse side of the four-square, which is completed independently. Each box is numbered on both sides so children know which box they are writing in when they are flipping back and forth. Each square on the reverse challenges students to piece together the words from the brainstorm into complete sentences with a capital letter and punctuation mark. For the "fall" topic, three of the four sentences begin with the word fall. When a sentence is complete, children are then to draw a picture that illustrates the sentence for the box.

The two images combine for a great example of a finished product from a four-square writing lesson. The two pictures are from two different students and show that students are not creating the same four sentences. The whole class brainstorm offers student to pick words and create sentences unique to their interpretation of the topic. In this case you can see that in square number four, one student likes to jump into leaf piles in the fall while the other likes to ride bike in the fall. Four-square writing requires an extended amount of student focus, effort, critical thinking and creativity about a topic. The fall four-square writing was a great success!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Falling Into Unit 2

Autumn is here which means the end of September and the start of colder weather is right around the corner. We have been pretty lucky over the last couple weeks of summer to have plenty of sunshine and gently cooling breezes to make the outdoors plenty inviting. As the new season grows on us in Room 108, students are developing skills of individual responsibility and learning to work hard. It's been quite rewarding to see how much progress has taken place for students in the still very young school year!

Open-Court Reading has Unit 2 titled Animals and focuses stories on a variety of animals, families and activities. Reading strategies students will be practicing are visualizing and predicting. Both strategies are important skills for engaging in stories and encouraging children to form thoughts and pictures in their minds. Phonics skills include initial and ending letter sounds of words, short vowel sounds, and blending (decoding) unfamiliar words. Writing skills like spelling, sentence structure, capitalization and punctuation are being introduced in as many ways as possible. Journaling will serve as the students greatest opportunity to explore writing in their own way. More structured writing lessons will model writing and offer focused approaches to writers' skills.

Everyday Math pushes ahead with the continuation of skills covered in unit one and introduces new concepts such as analog clocks (telling time to the hour and half hour), complements of 10 (an early concrete addition skill), number sequence, and using the number grid as a tool. If you are keeping up with math homelinks you will see many of these skills being reviewed often.

After one and a half (long) days (trapped in one room with 29 other first grade teachers) of science curriculum training courtesy of District 97 and our new publishing companies, Houghton Mifflin and Carolina's STC, science topics are finalized and will be brought into the classroom very soon. For more info on either publisher click on their name. The first grade units are Weather, Solids & Liquids, and Organisms. The units over lap each other and complement many of the other curricular pieces in a variety of ways. When we start science lessons in the classroom you should see letters and artifacts in your child's Mail folder.

More to come! Until then, I hope to see you soon on the blacktop!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

End of Unit = Game Day

Greetings Readers. As the brink of the fourth week in the new school arrives, the end of the first units in language arts and math follows close behind. Everyday Math and Open-Court Reading curriculums offer a nice mapping of units with lessons that can be planned in such a way that culminating assessments can be delivered on the same day. I coined the term "Game Day" for students in Room 108 to encourage enthusiasm for high performance and hopefully alleviate, an early age, many of the pressures that seem to surround standardized testing in higher grades. Over the past couple years I have used these assessment days as a way to practice test taking skills and procedures at the first grade level. As long as your child is coming to school daily, participating in whole class activities and giving their best effort, they will be prepared for assessments. What you can do to help ensure your child is ├╝ber-prepared for "Game Day" is make sure your child eats a hearty dinner, does some (at least 10-15 minutes) reading before bed time, and gets plenty of sleep. The morning of Game Day, ensure your child has a well balanced breakfast and their Mail folder and snack loaded in their backpack. These tasks may seem simple and routine for some but assist in preparing your child for a great day of thinking and performance at school. Assessments will be used as formalized evaluations of student ability, focus, skills, and effort. Parents can see assessments during parent/teacher conferences in October. The first Game Day will be this Tuesday, September 15.

Thanks to everybody that ordered books through Scholastic. Books should arrive late this week or early next week. Your purchases help to support our classroom library and increase resources available to ALL students in Room 108. Another great way to motivate reading at home is to utilize online reading resources. One of the most popular resources for Room 108 students in the past are Tumblebooks. Tumblebooks are like karaoke for children's books. Ha! That's the best short description I can offer. Check them out by following the link, click on "Tumblebooks at the New York Public Library" and then click "Story Books." There is a wide array of book topics and reading levels with many books offering games and activities to check comprehension and promote deeper reading insight. The link is permanently available on the right hand column of the blog.

In parting, I leave you with an interesting time lapse video I found when exploring technology and media literacy for elementary students. Other than being fascinated by the video, I hope it provides entertainment for you (and your child might like it too) with a realization that life can be viewed differently when given someone else's perspective. We have talked quite a bit about people and the world in our first unit of social studies titled "People Everywhere." This video reminds me of how small humans really are when compared against the gigantic expanses of the world's natural features. (I'm also becoming very interested in video and photography so if ANY OF YOU have any skill or knowledge about cameras, film and/or photography, please let me know. I'm just an amateur.)

Bathtub IV from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Moving On...

Happy Labor Day everyone! With two weeks of school in the proverbial record books, I hope you all had the opportunity to spend this long weekend relaxing and enjoying time with those closest to you. The first two weeks provided students a great introduction into first grade, chances to makes new connections and learn about their teacher, classmates, and classroom we will be learning in all year long. Hopefully the transformation into a new school year is winding down as we gear up and look ahead into the great expanse known as the first grade experience.

With the Room 108 Team assembled, classroom rules posted, a management plan in place, more than a week of practice under our belts, and a thorough review of early first grade skills underway, the responsibility for learning is starting to be shared amongst teacher, student and family. Responsibility is one of the three monickers that make up the Mustang Motto (Be respectful. Be responsible. Be compassionate.) and is especially important when it comes to learning. Lots of early conversation with students focus on goals and reasons for learning things in school. One of the great thing about first grade is that children are learning all kinds of skills that will be important for success throughout the rest of their life!

Tuesday of this week students in Room 108, and all over the nation, are invited to watch the president of the United States deliver a message to them (students) about the importance of education, goal setting, and working hard. This will be the first time since 1991 that the American President will deliver such a message. The broadcast will be available for viewing on C-SPAN and online for streaming via the White House website. If you won't be available to view the address, you can watch it later through the White House website, or you can read the remarks by clicking here. (You can also click on the link under September Events on the right.)

In parting I want to thank all the parents that made it out to curriculum night last week and for the incredible words of support and encouragement you offered. As we look ahead to the coming months together I want to remind you all, your child's learning experiences will be enhanced the more it involves you! See you on the blacktop!