Sunday, June 2, 2013

My day of learning at Tait Elementary in Richmond

I am very fortunate to work in a school where we are encouraged to visit other classes/schools/districts as part of our professional development. Earlier in the year (on a Pro-D Day) I was able to visit Michelle Hiebert's class in the Abbotsford School District and on April 8, I was able to visit Leanne Commons at Tait Elementary in the Richmond School District. Both of these classes allowed me to see what all kindergarten classes have - wonderful kids with great personalities who make our jobs meaningful! Both classes also inspired me to try new things in my class. This is the wonderful thing about classroom visits, you get to see (not just read about) inspirational things and then come back to your class and try them!

Robert J. Tait school is a beautifully laid out school with a library in the center. Compared to Georges Vanier, which has 22 divisions, Tait is a small school with only 10 divisions. My friend Leanne teaches the only kindergarten class in the school. Being a small school has its advantages, there is a great sense of community in the school. They do a school wide run (3 days a week) and when its raining they meet in the gym for dance. Even as an "outsider" I was welcomed by the students who wanted me to run with them around the school grounds.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into Leanne's K class, was this quote on the wall. This is such an important message and one that needs to be in more classes.

Some of the students in Leanne's class arrive before the bell and are welcomed in and invited to start either looking at books or doing puzzles. The school has an open door policy and on the day I was there, a parent arrived at 9:00 because their child was going to lead calendar. Those parents were welcomed into the class and I thought it was wonderful that they were there to witness that special moment in their child's day. Being the special helper for the day was obviously something very important to her (and her parents).

After calendar, the students moved onto to reading. Like many Kindergarten classes, they were focusing on a letter of the week. One thing that I have always struggled with is sharing (the educational version of show and tell) and tying it into the letter of the week. For the past 3 years, I have assigned kids 1 day during the week to bring in an object. There are many challenges with that - the biggest one being by Friday, all the "good" items have already been shared. I LOVE the way Ms. Commons has solved this problem and I will be incorporating into my class next year. EVERYONE bring items on Monday and they make a chart of all the items brought in.

Children are encouraged to sound out the word to label each square on the chart and names of the children who brought each item are added to the box. Once the class chart is made, students then select one item to write and draw about in the ABC books.

The main reason that I chose to go visit this classroom is the writing program they follow. This is another area where I feel I need to make some changes in my classroom.Ms. Commons follows the mini lessons outlined in What's Next for the Beginning Writer?

This book outlines simple mini-lessons that can be done with classes that will enhance not only their fiction writing, but also their non-fiction stories. On the day I was there, a learning support teacher was in the room for an hour to assist with the lesson. Having a second adult in the room to support emergent writers is very important. Kids who are just beginning to write, need as much support and encouragement as possible with these tasks.  Next year, I plan on incorporating some of the ideas in this book during times when our early literacy teacher is in to support my students.

The teachers began the lesson modeling some of the "characters" that they were going to use in their story. This serves as the pre planning stage for writing a story. This is an important stage for all writers to go through before they actually write the story; they need a plan! The students came up with the characters and the items that the character would use in the story and then they helped to label them. Once this was modeled, some students then orally told the version of the story in their head.

When it came to writing time, students had the option of using the ideas modeled or writing a story of their own. Having the option to use the modeled story ideas, allows for those less confident students to have a "safety net" to fall back until they feel ready to try on their own. Here are some samples of what was written by two students at very different places in their writing journeys (these were samples from a different day, but still highlight where they are at when it comes to writing).


The final thing that I am going to borrow from Ms. Commons is her 10 frame math booklet that she was working on with her class. Having number sense, especially with the number 10 is a key skill for early learners. While I have taught this concept for many years, I loved the way that she and her class did it. They had to show each combination to make 10 three ways - with a 10 frame, in a  picture and as an equation.

 My day at Tait was a wonderful one and I left feeling inspired to try new things in my class. That is what is so wonderful about professional development, especially when it involves visiting others, it inspires us to better our practice as teachers!  We all have wonderful things that we do in our classrooms that seem so ordinary and have become our standard practice, but when someone else can come in and be inspired, its powerful! Thank you Leanne for allowing me into your class and inspiring me! My students are benefiting from it!

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