Sunday, September 26, 2010

Missing Pumpkin

One of my favorite lessons was designed to help a kindergarten-second grade class generate questions and improve their writing skills. We called it our "Missing Pumpkin Mystery."

For a week or so in October we had a pumpkin on display in our classroom. We were gearing up for the day we would scoop the insides out, count the seeds and carve it.

This particular group of students really needed to work on generating questions and using descriptive words within their writing. So some of the school staff helped me stage the "Missing Pumpkin Mystery."

One day after their specials period (art, music, phys ed, etc) the pumpkin was missing from the classroom. Once they noticed it, we decided on a plan of action to get our pumpkin back.

The first thing we did was to make "Wanted" posters for our pumpkin. The students took a brown paper grocery bag and drew a picture of our pumpkin on it. They then had to write three statements describing our pumpkin so "others would know if they saw OUR pumpkin."

We then decided to report our missing pumpkin to our principal to see if he could help us. (I had given him, the media specialist, our cafeteria assistant and our day time custodian their scripts so they would lead us to the next person to help us find the pumpkin.)

The children had to explain what happened, ask their questions and then describe out pumpkin to each person. The principal suggested we ask the media specialist "because he saw a lot of pumpkins in the media center." She suggested we ask the cafeteria assistant because "maybe they needed it to make pumpkin pie." The cafeteria assistant suggested we ask the custodian "because he sees the whole school make cleans up all the messes." As it turns out, the custodian "put it in our refrigerator because he was afraid it would get rotten."

We had great fun with this activity and it provided the kids with a real reason to use the skills I wanted them to practice.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Post It" Graphs

Here's a simple strategy that we use a lot in my classroom. I write each child's name on a post it. Then I write a question on a piece chart paper and usually add visual supports for each column of the graph. Below is a picture of our most recent graph:

I like to use the post it graphs for lots of reasons:

1) They help children learn literacy skills by reading their name and their peers' names.

2) They help children develop language skills by answering questions and making choices.

3) They help children develop task related skills and focusing skills because they are actively involved and then they physically get to place their own name on the chart.

4) They help children develop social skills by learning how to take turns and wait for their own turn.

5) They help children develop math skills as we count the number of votes in each column and discuss concepts of more, less and the same (equal).

6) They help children develop literacy skills by becoming part of our environmental print in the classroom.

7) They are quick and easy to prep for! That means I don't spend more time preparing the materials than it takes the children to actually engage in the activity.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

PBS: "All" means all

When I was in college and learning about the social foundations of education, I remember being surprised to learn that the word "all" meant different things to different historical / theoretical contributors. Sometimes "all" included landowning men, sometimes it included women, sometimes it included children and sometimes it include people with disabilities, but very rarely did it mean "all."

A few weeks ago I attended a train-the-trainer workshop to teach PBS strategies to families. As I reflect more on the tenets of PBS and begin to schedule our family workshops, I came back to a slide that a friend and I created when we were training new teachers how to set up their V.E. classrooms. We came to the conclusion that when implementing positive behavior support systems and philosophies, "all" should really mean "all."

the kids who raise their hand and the kids who yell out

the kids who bathe every night and the kids who need to

the kids who write with their pencil and the kids who throw their pencil

the kids who say “I love you!” and the kids who say “ $#@% you!”

the kids who use a tissue and the kids who wipe their snot on you

the kids you’d take home in a heartbeat and the kids you hope are absent

the kids with parents that support you and the kids with parents that challenge you

the kids who respond to your interventions and the kids that exhaust your bag of tricks

the kids who consistently get their meds and the kids who don’t

Our main purpose of posing the above statements was to encourage teachers to reflect upon the following question:

Am I providing a safe learning environment for all learners?