Sunday, November 4, 2012

Fall Interview Questions for Parents in the 2nd Grade ECP Classroom

I have asked three parents in our class if they would be willing to participate in a survey to share with our blog community.  All agreed and their responses are below.  Enjoy!

Interview 1: 

1.)           What is your name and how are you involved in the Neil Cummins Community?
My name is Sarah Yoslov. I have 3 children at Neil Cummins. I have been involved with the Neil Cummins Community for many years. I was a member of the Site Council for 4 years. I have been, and currently am, a Head Room Parent. I have volunteered for SPARK and am currently a Friend of the Foundation for my son’s fourth grade classroom. Over the years I have volunteered working with the reading specialist, Alice Franco. I had the honor of working with hard working students, strengthening their reading skills. I also worked one-on-one with first grade students practicing reading skills within their classroom. I also volunteer in my children’s classroom on a weekly basis.

2.)          When you learned that your child was placed in an ECP classroom, what was your original reaction (and why?)
I was thrilled when I learned my daughter was in an ECP classroom. Along with excitement I was also nervous. I have never seen an ECP classroom in action and knew this was new to our school. Having two teachers working with 40 students would take a lot of organization!

3.)          Have your expectations of the ECP classroom been met so far this year?
I have been blown away at the success of the ECP classroom. It is clear that Mrs. Skaggs and Mrs. Shawn have put a lot of time, energy and dedication to their ECP classroom. Starting with the first day of school the environment was organized and systems ready to go. The classroom was clearly planned for table group work, independent work, with a clearly labeled library, and files of work to do when they are done. This is just to name a few examples of their wonderful organization. They have helped the students learn to be responsible for themselves and peers around them. They are held accountable from their showing their own attendance each morning to knowing what centers they go to each day (aided by clearly charted folders). This expectation of self-reliance has increased my daughter’s level of responsibility and feelings of success in her personal efforts and growth.

4.)          What is your favorite part about having your child be a member of an ECP classroom?
I have many favorite things about the ECP classroom. It gives my daughter a chance to work with and get to know a larger group of peers. This reflects the world she will negotiate when she is older. She is learning to work with various personalities and learning types while focusing on a common goal. It is teaching her accountability and responsibility as she needs to know where to go and what she needs. She has two teachers she can turn to when assistance is needed. Both teachers may even offer different approaches that she can learn from. Lastly, she has the opportunity to work and negotiate with various groups. Some groups might be at her ability level and push her academically, while other groups are mixed ability.   

5.)          If you could offer a word of advice to the ECP teachers, what might you say?
As a parent I hope that the teachers get a chance to know all 40 of their students as individuals. I am sure this is harder with twice the number of students. Mrs. Skaggs and Mrs. Shawn are off to a great start. The walls are covered with projects from the students that give insight to each of their personalities.

6.)          What are some things that you have heard your child say about their new classroom this year (positive and/or negative)?
At the beginning of the year Hayley commented on how it feels like she is learning how to be in school all over again. When entering an ECP classroom new “systems” are learned and this surprised Hayley. She later realized all these systems are what keep an ECP classroom running smoothly.

She has enjoyed the group challenges. She likes working with those around her. However, there is one aspect of this group work that is difficult for her. Hayley says, “I just don’t understand why people at my table sometimes don’t just realize when I am right!” It’s all about learning communication and compromise!

7.)          Any additional comments you would like to add?
I appreciate all of the extra effort that both teachers have put into this special classroom. The extra effort is evident and the students will benefit greatly from being in an ECP classroom with these two fantastic teachers! 

Interview 2: 
1.)           What is your name and how are you involved in the Neil Cummins Community?  (Again, you can remain anonymous if you wish!)
Steve Janowsky – Parent of a NC 2nd grader and a Hall 5th grader. SPARK co-president.

2.)          When you learned that your child was placed in an ECP classroom, what was your original reaction (and why?)
I was excited, primarily since I heard that the teachers in the classroom were really good. I thought that the collaborative and flexible format would also be good for my son.

3.)          Have your expectations of the ECP classroom been met so far this year?
Yes, definitely. The teachers, as expected, have been great. I like the fact that the class can be broken up into different groups, depending on the activity, and on how quickly a child might be progressing in a given subject. I don’t think the shared classroom environment has been in any way detrimental or distracting to my son’s learning experience.

4.)          What is your favorite part about having your child be a member of an ECP classroom?
It's been a positive experience for many reasons (some mentioned above).  It's exciting to be part of the pilot program, and to be honest, I would have to say that comparing 'apples to apples', the experience that my son is currently having this year seems to be superior in his eyes then that of the traditional classroom setting.

5.)          If you could offer a word of advice to the ECP teachers, what might you say?
Keep doing what you’re doing…! One thought would be to really take advantage of the opportunity to do more segmentation when possible and appropriate – I think some of the power of the ‘shared classroom’ environment is the ability to let some students work ahead, while others might proceed at a more measured pace.

6.)          What are some things that you have heard your child say about their new classroom this year (positive and/or negative)?
Interestingly, he hasn’t really said anything about the different structure / format of the classroom (either positive or negative).

7.)          Any additional comments you would like to add?
     So far, I think the ECP pilot is a big success, and I’m glad that we’re a part of it.

Interview 3: 
1.)           What is your name and how are you involved in the Neil Cummins Community?  My name is Wendy Barta and I’m involved in the NC community by volunteering once a week in my girls’ classrooms, slinging pizza on the hot lunch line once a month and also as an active board member for SPARK, the Larkspur Corte Madera Schools Foundation.

2.)          When you learned that your child was placed in an ECP classroom, what was your original reaction (and why?)
          I was really excited because I thought it would be an incredible opportunity for our daughter.  She has been given not only an opportunity to learn from two very passionate, engaged teachers but also from 39 other kids who may in some ways be similar to her, but also very different.  I felt that she potentially could be challenged in ways that a traditional classroom may not challenge her.

3.)          Have your expectations of the ECP classroom been met so far this year?
          My expectations have been far exceeded so far this year.  My daughter is thriving in the ECP class and I’m very impressed by the creative thought put into the class from the teachers that fosters really creative output from the kids.  The level of engagement both from the students and the teachers is outstanding! 

4.)          What is your favorite part about having your child be a member of an ECP classroom?
          One of my favorite things is that in a group of 40 kids there is such a wide range of ability and skill and the teachers can challenge and meet each kid at his or her particular level of learning.  I am seeing evidence of this in language arts centers where there are enough kids to group them into sizeable enough peer groups that they don’t feel like the only kid at that particular level, whether it’s a child who is sailing through the curriculum or a child that needs a little extra help – they don’t find themselves alone in the journey.  The kids are being met where they are, getting what they need to move along the continuum and they are doing this with others at their same level. Each group is challenged and successful at the same time which is a magical combination for keeping them engaged and furthering their mastery of the subject.

5.)          If you could offer a word of advice to the ECP teachers, what might you say?
Stay the course!  You are doing an incredible job.

6.)          What are some things that you have heard your child say about their new classroom this year (positive and/or negative)?
          Getting any information out of my second grader is a challenge, but it speaks volumes to me that she can’t wait to go to school every day.  She is excited about what she is learning and I hear tidbits about how “cool” the team challenges are and about how she likes working in her groups.

7.)          Any additional comments you would like to add?
          I applaud you for taking on the challenge of doing something new!  Innovation comes by taking risks and it is how we progress.  Taking a very public risk can be hard.  But you are rising to the challenge and I see your results (engaging environment, teaching the kids how to collaborate to solve problems, fostering a love a learning … the list goes on!!!) as a huge success.  You are also role modeling trying new things, taking risks and facing challenges for and with our kids. Thanks Ann-Marie and Annika – we are thrilled that Paige can be a part of what you are doing.

We would like to sincerely thank Mrs. Yoslov, Mr. Janowsky, and Mrs. Barta for taking the time to participate in the interview.  Their feedback is incredibly helpful as we continue on this journey!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Why Does It Work With 40 Students?

I often find myself asking, "Why does it work with forty students in one class?"  Granted, coming into the collaborative classroom I knew there was going to be some adjustment time needed moving from an average of twenty students in one class to forty, but I never anticipated how smoothly it would actually go.  The following is why I believe it is "working" with our forty students.

We started day one, minute one, with all forty students together.  When the students received their classroom assignments they were assigned to one teacher.  We wanted to be sure that everyone understood that they in fact have two teachers, that we are all "one class", and that we will work together all day, everyday, all year long.  We made sure to share our behavior expectations upfront with the students so that they knew what would be appropriate classroom behavior in their new environment.  The reactions from the students when learning we would all be together all year long were that of a positive nature.  There were more students to learn from, more friendships to be made, and two classrooms to move in and out of, not to mention two teachers!  Now that we have finished our sixth week of school, forty students is the new normal, and when we do break them into twenty it feels small!

Another reason I feel that our class of 40 students is successful has to do with Morning Meeting.  Our Morning Meeting is based on Roxann Kriete's book, The Morning Meeting Book which is one of the elements to The Responsive Classroom Approach.  Morning Meeting also began on day one and has really helped the children get to know each others' names (which could have been a daunting task given how large we are), it has allowed the students to become more comfortable in speaking in front of a large group, and it has allowed the students to have a sense of belonging within our large class.  Morning Meeting consists of four parts which are not necessarily done each and every day.  The parts include greeting, sharing, group activity, and morning message.  We generally start every meeting with a greeting which includes a quick whip around where they answer a simple question.  Some questions have included what they had for dinner the night before, how they are going to show responsibility over the weekend, or naming a math equation double-fact.  Our group activities are the basis for keeping our forty students feel connected with each other.  These activities range from a quick ten minute puzzle, share, or task to a longer 25 minute team challenge (which I will discuss in more detail further on.)  Finally, our morning message prepares the students for the day, informing them of the events they will be a part of and what will be expected on them throughout the day.

We felt that in order to help our forty students work together, having them partake in regular team challenges would give them the experience they need in order to learn how to work with others.  Teams are changed on a monthly basis, allowing them just enough time to really get to know one another and how they can successfully work with each others' strengths but also short enough to give the students opportunities to work with many other children in the class.  We strive to complete at least two team challenges a week which range from about twenty to thirty minutes.  After completing the challenge we come back to our Morning Meeting circle where we discuss the successes and challenges each team encountered.  So far team challenges seem to be a favorite of many!

"Research indicates that educators who establish firm boundaries, foster warm personal relationships in the classroom, and enable students to have an impact on their environment strengthen students' attachment to their school, their interest in learning, their ability to refrain from self-destructive behaviors, and their positive behaviors." (The Morning Meeting Book, p. 13 / Elias et al. 1997, 44) I feel that in our classroom of forty students and two teachers, we have been able to accomplish just this!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Classroom Set-Up

Part of what will make our year successful is the physical set-up of our space.  Our classroom is in fact two standard size classrooms joined together with two openings and a breakout space in the middle.  In the picture above you can see the two openings on the right and left of the white board.  The breakout space is the room behind the white board.

 The north room, pictured to the left, is our main whole group teaching room.  There are five tables for five of our groups of four to sit at, as well as two extra tables for small group instruction.

We have soft tiles (which we call "carpet squares") for the children to sit at during whole group instruction.  There is a separate square for each child, each corresponding to their color table group (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, lime, black, and gray).
In the picture to the left you can see the students' cubbies.  This is where the children keep their individual notebooks, workbooks, folders, and books.  We purposefully chose for the students to have tables rather then desks.  One of our main goals this year is to have the students be successful in working in teams.  We feel that tables are just one part in helping us reach our goal.  If students however need some time to work on their own, there are many other spaces throughout both rooms for them to work.

 The south room also houses five tables for groups of four to work at.  It also contains a large classroom leveled library, a listening center station and our teacher desks.
Our computer station is in the opening between the two classrooms behind the breakout room.  You can see it in the third picture on the right hand side.  Eight laptops will be available for the students on each individual desk.

 Our breakout room is a private room with a windowed door for us to use in many different ways.  We can assess in this room, use for small group instruction, have available for students who need more of a quiet space to work, as well as a quiet recording space when used in technology pieces.
The breakout room sits directly across from our "front door" to our classroom.  In our "lobby" we have our student mailboxes, where individual work is sorted, a calendar, homework return basket, and an area for parents to receive extra materials if the need arises.
 Because we are using our classroom cubbies for the students personal items, we have put hooks outside the front of our classroom for the students' backpacks.  This has been very helpful in removing clutter from the room, which is important when you have at least 42 people moving about daily.
An easy way for us to take roll every morning is to give each student a "magnet person" with their name on it.  When they arrive in the morning they grab their magnet person and place it on the white board in a "ten block" (shown in the first picture on the right hand side of the white board.)  Any magnet person not claimed will let us know who is either tardy or absent.

It's been a lot of fun setting up our classroom, and so far the layout seems to be working great!  We've had to move a table and adjust where we put the projector by our carpet squares so that we can fit all 40 students in a circle for morning meeting, but that is about all the changes we've had to make. We have only completed three days so far but we are constantly surprised and pleased by how well the students, as well as ourselves are adapting to our ECP classroom.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Welcome to Our Collaborative Classroom!

Welcome to the Neil Cummins 2nd Grade ECP Classroom Blog.  ECP stands for Expanded Collaborative Practices.  Our school is embarking on an exciting journey as we open three ECP classrooms in grades 1, 2, and 4 made up of a team of two teachers each.  This blog will mainly focus on the 2nd grade ECP classroom as each team has a different vision of how we wish to collaborate both with each other as educators and with our students.  To take a look at our vision as well as our colleagues, please see our presentations at the following website:

Our goal with this blog is to inform our community of teachers, parents, students, administrators, families, friends, and educators across the world what a collaborative classroom could look like with. . . . . . . . two teachers. . . . . . . . . . and 41 students!  Here we go!