Monday, November 30, 2009

A Bloody Mess

Everything's going along smoothly. The math lesson went just as visualized—maybe better because Patrick wanted to count the long chain of linking cubes that stretched across the room. (There were 605.)

Mrs. Frech was in the office completing the paperwork for tomorrow's field trip. I was soloing the class—28 kids. I was reading a story. What could possibly go wrong?

Spontaneously M's nose gushed blood. Blood ran down her face and on to the front of her clothes. Blood was smeared on her hands, arms, and cheeks.

I put down the book. I got up and tried to clear a path through the bodies on the mat to the door.

"M, stand up. Go to the office! You know where the office is, right? Lori in the office will take care of you." I ushered her across the sea of students, opened the door, and sent her on her way. I knew that there would be blood to mop up.

Because I emphasize "doing the right thing without being asked" one girl had already grabbed a rag with the idea that she would start mopping up the trail of blood across the mat. I remembered my trainings about blood-born pathogens.

"Oh, no. This is a job for grown-ups. Let me clean this up. Stand back everyone!" As I try to gather the materials together to clean up the bloody mess, another girl vomits.

Arrrgh! In less than a minute a calm and peaceful scene has gone totally out of control. Luckily, Mrs. Frech showed up about this time. I thought she had come back when she M arrived in the office, but it turned out that M never got to the office; she spent 5 minutes bleeding all over the girls' bathroom making a huge new cleanup project for Mrs. Frech.

People who think that it's possible to teach 29 kindergartners solo (such people exist) deserve to stand in my shoes this morning. One at a time.


Tomorrow we'll be planting trees on a ranch near our school. Please remember to dress your child in sturdy shoes and layered clothing that can get dirty.

Don't forget to send along a lunch.

We'll be planting trees most of the day, and ought to return to school by about 2:15.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

100 Sight Words

In my classroom I have a collection of 100 flash cards with words written on one side and the corresponding picture on the other.

We've got a number of students in class who are looking for new hurdles to jump over, so I'm offering this one: Learn to read all of these words. Brenden's already over this hurdle and I believe there are a half dozen or so others who are eager for the challenge.

Here's the list, too small to read until you give it a click:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Look! There's IS!

Teach kindergartners the Soundabet and suddenly they're noticing digraphs (for that's what we call English sounds that require two letters to write down) in print all around them. Suddenly they see (and can read) words like "shampoo" because they see the Soundabet "sh" and "oo" and know how to sound them out. It's magic.

Teach kindergartners to read "sight words" and suddenly they're noticing sight words that we teach words like "the" "is" and, well, "like" and "and" itself. Suddenly they see (and can read) short sight words. Trust me they see them everywhere.

One scholar took a look at this shirt and exclaimed, "Look! There's 'is'!"

I did not see the word "is" on that shirt.

It seemed to me that the shirt read, "beware of bears!"

But teach kindergarten a while. You'll learn to ask questions and be more flexible in your thinking and seeing.

"You see 'is' on that shirt?" I asked.

"Yes. It's right there."

And he points to the word "bears."

"You see is there?"

"Yes, Mr. Gurney. I see it. Can't you?"

I looked more closely.

"Not, really... to me it says "bears," I said.

No it doesn't. It says "is" I-S. Is.

And of course, how could I miss it?

It was there. You just have to look.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Old Computer

NO WONDER my computer failed! It was NINE years old, ancient by computer standards. Built in the year 2000. Here's a picture of its bottom with the date to prove its venerable age.

Think how old that is.  It was a long time ago.

When I first hefted the iMac onto my teacher's desk...

  • Clinton was president;
  • the economy was humming right along as if it would never seriously falter;
  • the children I'm teaching now were not yet a sparkle in their father's eyes;
  •  the Twin Towers and World Trade Seven stood tall in lower Manhattan;
  • Fallujah or Abu Ghraib or Kabul—who heard of them?; 
  • global warming was happening, but who knew?

It seems a very long time ago.

I pulled my old Soundabet computer out of retirement and it's working fine. It's only 6 years old. It's full of nice photos and music, and it's always served me well. Its only fault (and the reason why it was ultimately replaced) is that it's a loud machine by any standard. It hums louder than the Giant at the top of Jack's bean stock and is just as strong. Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum.

In the kindergarten office I'm not going to notice its happy humming, so I'm a happy teacher.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Adding a Dash of Math to Handwriting Lessons

I find new, better and—for me—exciting new ways to do things I've always done even after nearly three decades in this work.

We've had to make very extensive use of chalk on wood-framed slates as we wait for the Dunham-adopted Handwriting Without Tears workbooks to arrive. I submitted the requisition for them last September. I think the order got placed Friday. A two-month trip through the business office.

Anyway, the handwriting program directs the students to write only one letter at a time on the slates. It's all very scripted and detailed, and that's a good thing. But students don't get a whole lot of practice writing the letters. It can get boring, so we've been spicing it up by adding some emotion to the letters like this smiling uppercase G that Alex did. I wrote about that in October.

As you can see the G's horizontal line got a little smiling curve on it.

Writing one big letter at a time helps make sure the students get the overall form of the letters they're learning right, but they don't get a lot of practice making them....

That's when I got the idea to ask the students to write smaller letters so as to fit more of them on one slate and to get more repetition. (The workbook asks the students to write each letter about 10 times per page.)

My idea was to have students write the letters small enough to fit 5 of them at a time. Like this:

Done this way, we can count their letters by fives. Students can hear that 5, 10 15, 20, 25, 30.... sequence on a daily basis as we write 500 G's as a class.

Later on we can write two rows of 5, count by 10's and make 1,000 letters collectively. Lots of practice and no trees have to give up their lives to make the paper.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


First off, thanks to all of you who offered to help me with the computer problem. It appears to be dead. I'm going to bring in my 6 year-old Mac from home out of mothballs. This machine served as Soundabet's business computer for five years. It's a good old Mac that will be a major upgrade of the District's ¿ 9 ? year old Macintosh. My old Soundabet Mac ought to see me through the next few years, no problem....knock on wood.

I talked with the principal. She said the district will re-imburse me for the green mat. She's trying to find out why the handwriting books that I ordered back in September haven't arrived yet. She said that she signed the approval for both, so I guess there's some delay in the procurement department that she'll straighten out.

Sometimes red tape seems to get cut lengthwise.

I got this photo of Dylan on his snazzy new bicycle.
He's learned to ride recently...ain't that something?

These guys are happy now. We used our imaginations to provide
more roles than Batman and Robin for these cyclist/actors.
Colton became Batman's father and supplier of income.
Justin was, I think, the Chief of Police of Gotham City.
Brenden and others were willing to take the villains' roles...

We spent some time down at the creek getting to know the critters who live there.
Many kids are afraid to touch caterpillars, beetles, worms, and the like, so I do
what I can to help my students overcome their fears of harmless animals.

But I'm not always successful. Shelby wouldn't let the
caterpillar crawl on her hand. No way, José.

Finally I just had to show you some of the strings of wooden beads
the students made today. That bottom string, colorwise, is an ABCD pattern.
But shapewise it's an ABCB pattern. Or so I'm told by my more advanced scholars.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spelling Curriculum for Kindergarten

I got a question from one of the parents whose child is interested in working on her spelling. She has an older sibling who has spelling words to learn each week and she wants to be part of the picture at homework time. She wrote, "She wants to feel like she's just as brilliant and important. At the same time, I hesitate in wanting to avoid drilling her with that type of curriculum at Kindergarten. What is your opinion, or what is a good guideline for age appropriate words for her?

I'd like to share my response to her question with everyone here:


I've come to believe the best guide is the learner herself. That takes care of the motivation factor right there.

Ask her what words she'd like to learn to spell, show her how to spell them, and then test her in a couple of days. I'd suggest a list as long as her age at a time, about 5 words per test cycle.

Add the words to a little dictionary and review the cumulative list from time to time. When her interest lags, let it drop. This is kindergarten, after all.


Arrrgh! Computers!

I went in this Veteran's Holiday morning to work. Report cards and conferences are coming soon and I need also to plan for the weeks ahead.

And guess what? My classroom computer died.

Great. Do I think it will get fixed or replaced? Well.....

I'm almost afraid to ask.
Let's not even think about what's been lost on the hard drive....


Thursday, November 5, 2009


I'm delighted with the ever-increasing sophistication of patterning. I beginning to see lots of patterns more elaborate than the simple AB patterns we see earlier in the year and also much more attention to shape. Here' a photo of a few of the patterns the students did today:

You can see that the first two patterns are ABC. The orange string shows priority given to shape over color. It's an AB pattern, yes, but it is unusual to see this.

Finally check out the final string. It's an ABBCDD pattern. Yes!

We also enjoyed our fifth grade buddy time. My group went to the garden and I took Ms. Deay's group. The buddy partners worked together to solve tangram puzzles. The students, in both kindergarten and fifth grade, really like their buddy time.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November's Snack Calendar

Here, for the convenience of everyone who has more trouble with paper than computers is a photo of November's snack calendar, the one that should already be in your household thanks to the Friday folder system.

Anyway.... here it is:

If you want to make it larger than this, click on it.