Friday, February 19, 2010

New Yorkers: Share Your Fresh Air

Sticker-palooza Part 1

Alisha was back at school by Thursday, February 11th. She had only missed one day, but somehow she had regressed a few months. "I WANT A GREEN CRAYON!", "WHY DOES HE GET TO BE LINE LEADER?" and "THAT'S NOT FAIR!" burst from her lips at the least provocation. She remembered who we all were. She even remembered her letters and their respective sounds. But her manners, her patience, and her smile were MIA.

This past Tuesday was a particularly bad session. Alisha was in tears more than half the time. A brown dry-erase marker appeared to be the trigger. Part of the Fundations program has the kids writing their letters on individual white boards with guidelines. Alisha wanted to write her l, k, and h in brown, but Miguel already had it. From that moment on she was inconsolable.

"If you really want the brown, Alisha, you may need to wait until Miguel is done."

"I don't want to wait." Her big, almost black eyes glared at me from between her braids.

I shrugged and moved on down the row of desks, giving the others stamps on their cards for their beautifully formed letters. Alisha wailed, picked up her red marker and got work. Her letters were lovely and I told her so as I added a stamp to her card. She grunted through her tears, refusing to look at me.

I left the Echos that day a tad confused. Why had Alisha regressed so much? Whatever the reason, it was getting far too disruptive. Was I unwittingly encouraging her? Did something happen at home? She had always seemed a tad immature for age five, but at what point does a child's emotional turmoil cross the line and become something requiring special intervention?

It was time to call in the troops. I spoke to the classroom teacher, the amazing classroom assistant, and three of my professors. I needed to know a few things before I could proceed:
  1. Did Alisha have a diagnosed behavioral or emotional disability? If so, I would need to see her Individualized Education Plan.
  2. Was there any recent turmoil at home that might be contributing to her behavior?
  3. Was there a change in her behavior in the classroom, as well, or only with me?
  4. Was there anything I was doing that encouraged her outbursts?
  5. Is this something that Alisha is capable of controlling?
For obvious reasons, I can't share some of the details I uncovered. Regardless, I entered the school yesterday armed and ready. It was Sticker-palooza Day with the Baby Echos. If Alisha was able to control her emotional outbursts, today would be the day.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Math Facts Go Fish

Mouse has hit the part of grade one when it isn't enough to know how to add; now math addition facts need to be memorized. To help this process along, the girls and I have started to play a modified version of go fish. The goal: to create combinations of cards that add up to a designated sum. The goal of the first hand is to create groups of cards that add up to 10.

Here are the rules:

  1. Use one or two decks of regular playing cards and shuffle them well. For the purposes of this game, Aces count as 1.
  2. Deal five cards to each player. Lay the rest of the deck face down in the middle of the players.
  3. Before the start of play, players lay down any combinations of cards with the sum of '10' face-up in front of them.
  4. The youngest goes first for the first round, after which the privilege goes to the next oldest, and so on.
  5. On their turn, a player can ask any other player for a card that would complete a pair or combination of cards that they have in their hand. For instance, if I had a 5, 2, 7, and 9 in my hand, I might ask another player if they have an Ace. If they do, they have to hand it over and I can lay my new group of 10 in front of me. If they don't I must Go Fish and chose a card from the pile. My turn is over.
  6. Oh, and about those pesky 10's, Jacks, Queens, and Kings: 10's must be laid down in pairs. The royals must be laid down as a threesome. A player can only ask another player for a royal if they have two of the set already in their hand. This means, unless you have a Queen and a King already in your hand, don't be asking anyone for a Jack.
  7. Play continues until one player runs out of cards.
  8. Scoring is as follows: each player gets one point for every card that is part of a set of 10. For instance, my combination of 9 and Ace would earn me 2 points. If a player still has cards in their hand, one point is subtracted for each. If I had three cards still in my hand, my score for the hand would be -1. Bummer.
  9. Collect the cards and shuffle well. It's time for round two: create sums of cards that add up to 11. The final round will be groups of twenty.
Right now Mouse is winning with 21 points. Emma is close behind with 20. I've got 9. I hope I have better luck tonight!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Today I was the only female during my session with the Echos. Alisha was absent, whether due to snow or the sniffles I still don't know. That left me with five boys. When I arrived in their classroom at 12:15 they were still eating lunch. Miguel saw me first and waved from his seat. A friend at his table, Keshon, leaped to his feet to give me a hug.

"Do I get to come with you today?" he asked. Where did he learn to bat his eyelashes like that? I wondered.

"Keshon, you need to stop asking, Buddy. You know I don't get to choose. I'd take you if I could, but we're out of luck."

"Aw, man."

I love that needing a tutor in kindergarden is viewed as a treat.

The Echos and I have come a long way since the first week of November. They've learned over half the alphabet phonetically; I've learned that pee breaks need to come before the lesson. Actually, I would wager I've learned a lot more than they have. For what it's worth, here are a few pearls of wisdom for anyone out there who work with small groups made up of primarily 5-year old testosterone factories:
  1. Time is precious, especially if you get only 30 minutes twice per week. This requires structure in both the lesson plan and the behaviour management plan. Thanks to Fundations, the lesson plan is done for me.
  2. In our group, we work hard. Hard work earns praise, both verbal and, in a more 'visible' sense, stamps on a incentive card. (There are 25 squares on each card to be filled with stickers or stamps. Hot air balloons and high-five handprints are a real hit.) Our session usually requires them to complete four tasks. They earn a stamp for each.
  3. Hard work means we have to control our voices and bodies. If you control your body and voice for the session, you get an extra stamp. If an Echo can't keep their bottom in the seat, I break out my pencil and draw their attention to it. That is their warning.
  4. If, after a warning, they don't settle down, I place a check mark on their incentive card where their next stamp would go. This means they cannot earn another stamp until they model appropriate behaviour. Usually this step is enough to get the offender back in line. I erase the check mark once they are back to work.
  5. Occasionally an Echo drifts back to the problem behaviour. In this instance, there is no longer a warning and the check mark returns.
  6. If this still has no effect, a second check mark is added. This means that they must 'flip a card' in the main classroom which has consequences determined by the classroom teacher. This is devastating as it not only means less play time, but also a note home. I've done this once. Poor Tyrone. He's behaved better ever since.
  7. When an Echo's incentive card is full (this takes 25 stickers or stamps and two to four weeks, depending on the kid) they get to bring it home with a 'secret' note from me. I'm proud to say that they are beginning to read them themselves, so the secret is out. They also get to choose a new incentive card. The current favourite has an owl on it that bears a striking resemblance to Baby Echo, the finger puppet that serves as a teaching aid in Fundations.
I am amazed how effective this structure is, though I find I'm tweaking it regularly. They're learning and I'm learning. Keeping up is half the battle. My Echos earned all their stamps today. Way to go, boys!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Emotional Literacy: The Missing Link

In preparation for a presentation on the importance of emotional literacy, I came across this very compelling story of how one school's commitment to emotional literacy is making a big difference.