By Janet Gray-McKennis, 3rd and 4th Grade Head Teacher
By Janet Gray-McKennis, 3rd and 4th Grade Head Teacher
Each year, the Preprimary holds an annual end-of-year Caribbean Island Festival! The morning includes authentic Caribbean staples and dishes inspired by the Islands of the Caribbean and Central America. Enjoy music, dance and fun. If there is Caribbean-inspired dish you enjoy preparing or eating, please do not hesitate to share it with our community.
Friday, June 10 10:30 a.m. / Outdoor Learning Space
by Bonnie L. Wishne, Head of School
As we ease back into school every September, Ancona’s language arts teachers are laying the foundation for a year of minds-on reading by launching the Reading Workshop. The product of over twenty-five years of literacy research, the Reading Workshop (like its twin, the Writing Workshop) is a robust classroom architecture that develops engaged, thoughtful readers who are ready for high-performance learning.
The single factor most strongly associated with reading achievement–more than socioeconomic status or any instructional approach–is independent reading, according to Stephen Krashen, linguist and educational researcher. (The Power of Reading)
To cultivate the habit of independent reading, Reading Workshops give our students important reading time during their school day. Teachers begin the workshop with a brief and carefully crafted mini-lesson, one idea for the children to learn to use as they read. Teachers capture the important points of the mini-lesson on the anchor charts one sees hanging in the classrooms to remind children of the good reading habits we want them to practice.
Then, each child finds a comfortable spot for reading his/her book, and while the children read, the teacher moves about the class, conferring with individual students to assess their comprehension and application of the lesson and to offer guidance and reading strategies. S/he gains valuable insight into each child’s tastes, perspectives and ways of knowing that helps her to guide their reading and tailor her mini-lessons.
Reading is Communal
Studies show that children read more when they see other people reading, says Kashen. In the classroom workshop, Ancona students not only see others read, they learn to converse about their reading with partners, and, beginning in 3rd/4th grades, in small book clubs. Ancona students are fortunate to have teachers who are great readers, and researchers have long known that children who love to read come from homes where adults are readers. Partnering with parents, we make thinking and talking about books a habit.
Mini-lessons teach the myriad habits of good readers. They apply to readers at varying levels of proficiency, including those who are reading mostly pictures. Young readers might learn about the parts of a non-fiction book or how to figure out words they don’t know while later readers may discuss character, setting, inference, figurative language or the characteristics of a particular genre. Some mini-lessons give ideas for how to talk about our book or be a good listener for our partner. Above all, they teach that good readers think about and interpret the meaning of the text.
Just Right Choices
Various studies have shown that allowing students to choose their own texts fosters engagement and increases reading motivation and interest and that to progress in their reading, children need to choose and read lots of books at their just right level; in other words, books where they know 95-99% of the words. Every classroom (and the school library) has many books at every level so that each child has many books from which to choose. By reading many books at a comfortable level, children will enjoy reading, develop reading stamina and progress to more challenging texts.
Units of Study
To ensure a rich and varied diet of reading experiences for our students, teachers at every level follow a curriculum of study units in Readers Workshop. Study units may focus on a genre — biography, non-fiction or poetry –or they may focus on an aspect of being a great reader — Building a Reading Life or Close Reading and Interpretation. Some units of study are integrated with social studies or science units — Narrative Non-Fiction of Colonial America or Mythical Creatures: Fact or Fiction? Parents can find descriptions of the current year’s units on their classroom websites.
Working together with our Learning Specialists, our teachers assess each student’s reading in September to determine the child’s just right level. Assessments take word knowledge, word recognition strategies and comprehension into account in setting the correct level. Children will bring home books to read; parents can look for books of similar difficulty outside of school. Teachers will let parents know their child’s just right level when they come for conferences. Regular conferencing with children provides teachers with ongoing monitoring of each child’s progress, and they assess again periodically during the school year to track each child’s reading progress.
What if a child isn’t yet reading at an appropriate level or isn’t making the progress we would expect? Our learning specialists are available to further diagnose children experiencing difficulty and to provide specialized, supplementary instruction for children they identify as needing additional support. The learning specialist will notify the parents of children she is assisting.
Read alouds are an important complement to the Reading Workshop. Using a carefully chosen text, the teacher models the internal thinking of a good reader as s/he reads a story to the class. Each read aloud has a teaching point–making predictions, for example–that the children can then apply in their own reading. Read alouds teach children to think about their own thinking as they read.
The Reading Workshop is only one component of Ancona’s balanced literacy program. Word study, Writing Workshop, listening to read-alouds, conversing about reading and reading and writing for content all contribute to each student’s growing literacy.
Through the Reading Workshop, each child authors his/her own dynamic reading life.
Teaching great Reading Workshops is an art and a skill that develops over years, and we are fortunate to have passionate teachers who make reflection and refinement part of their daily practice.. We’ve been sending our language arts teachers to New York City for summer workshops at Teachers College at Columbia University for over ten years. All of our teachers of reading have been to at least one training, and most have been back many times for advanced work, to renew relationships and to learn the latest research and practices.
Lucas said today that our first day had been really long, and now everything is going really fast. Agreed! It’s too fast for this blogger to keep up with it, but on the other hand, we do so much every day, that Sunday seems light years away.
Mexico is the home of chocolate, but as Lucero explained Tuesday evening, Mexicans use chocolate primarily for drinking. It was the Europeans who invented bonbons. For celebrations like Dia de las Muertes or birthdays, Oaxacan families go to a mill to purchase freshly ground chocolate, which they take home to make their family’s special chocolate. We visited a mill to see how the chocolate is ground with cinnamon and nuts and to taste a few samples. Then, with chocolate in hand, we returned to ICO to make our own. Our two chocolate-averse students had a great conversation with Señora Christina while the rest of us literally got our hands dirty.
Following classes on Wednesday, we visited the gorgeous display of pre-Colombian art at the Rufino Tomayo museum and then the Soledad Church where we came upon the curious juxtaposed celebrations of Saint Joseph’s Day and the inauguration of a new garbage truck for the city. This is a city of surprises. The resulting traffic jam meant a shortened lunch and siesta before taking off for the soccer field and, as the temperature soared into the low 90′s, a hot game of soccer with our intercambio friends.
The heat and the exertion could mean only one thing: ice cream! We headed back to the Zocalo to enjoy a relaxing break in the cool of enormous old trees. Sitting in the cafes, we attract many peddlers, and our Ancona students do a tremendous job of remembering Señora Christina’s admonition to see the humanity in everyone. From the very young to the very old, indigenous people from the pueblos spend their days in the zocalo selling crafts and trying to earn a living. It can be tempting to feel annoyed by the constant solicitations, but treating everyone with respect is essential. We’re proud that our students have learned this lesson well.
Fortified by our ice creams, we headed back to ICO, doing a little shopping (and bargaining) along the way.
We take modern air travel for granted, but it still seems like a miracle to leave Chicago in a late night snow storm and arrive a mere eight hours later in tropical Oaxaca, Mexico. Our 22 intrepid Ancona 8th graders flew through the night and then waited a sleepy 90 minutes in the Immigration line as dawn broke over Mexico City.
After the short second flight to Oaxaca, they tumbled out into the bright morning sunshine and walked confidently off with the Oaxacan parents who met us at the airport. Our adventure had begun.
After settling in at their new homes, getting some much needed sleep and having their first meals with their families, the students gathered at a cafe on Oaxaca’s famous zocalo. It was time to become acquainted with the city that will be our home for a week. Our students were gradually making the switch to Espanol. Sarah reported that she had spoken Spanish accidentally, and even in the airport, Julian said it was fun to try to order food in Spanish.
Oaxaca is a riot of color, filled with myriad new sights, sounds, smells and tastes. We learned from Lucero, the owner of Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca, that Oaxaca is a completely colonial city, founded by the Spanish, and filled with beautiful colonial architecture.
Lucero took us to the great Cathedral on the zocalo and then for a long, slow walk on the Alcala, Oaxaca’s pedestrian mall. We paid a visit to the Santo Domingo Church where we’re going to return later this week to tour their botanical gardens. We gradually made our way to El Llana, a wonderful park several blocks long with fountains and plazas where, along with many Oaxacan families out for a Sunday afternoon, we watched children drive small motorized cars, petted puppies and just enjoyed being out in the beautiful weather with each other. Senora Christina remarked that with no money to spend (we hadn’t been to an exchange), everyone was able to be truly present instead of thinking about what to purchase. (Maybe we should never change money too quickly?) And we saw nary a cell phone as we settled into being in Oaxaca.
As if to prove the point, Olive asked if she could buy an elote with her change from an airport snack. For the uninitiated, which included yours truly, elote is roasted sweet corn sprinkled with lime juice, spread with mayonnaise and dipped in parmesan cheese. As Lucero walked us to her favorite elote stand, Senora Christina spontaneously decided on elotes for all. It was a fitting cultural cherry on the top of quite an amazing day. Elotes in hand, we trooped to ICO, the Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca, and as the kids went off for evening with their madres y padres, a stunning, deep orange full moon rose in the East .
Writers Celebrations punctuate our school year giving festive endings to the studies of particular genres in our Writers Workshops. In a Writers Celebration, groups of students gather together with their parents to share completed and polished works after weeks of drafts, critiques and revisions. Parents and kids share comments, questions and accolades for each young writer.
Our 3rd/4th graders recently celebrated a challenging month-long workshop on personal essays. Each student writer chose an idea s/he cared about and used three pieces of evidence to construct a logical argument for the reader. Sustaining a single idea, supporting it through several paragraphs and completing the essay as a unified whole is truly challenging work for eight and nine-year-olds!
There was a very poignant moment when Maya, having explained why vacations are both fun and educational, read her third reason.
It is good for you, because vacation is about getting my family back together and spending time together. On the Disney cruise line, it got my family back together for 5 days, and then we stayed at a hotel in Orlando. Jacob and Dad went golfing; we (Mom and I) relaxed and watched TV and read books together. We spent a lot of time in the pool. When we are at home it is not like vacation, because we have to go to school and work and spend a lot of time apart. So vacation is important for family.
A great writer speaks to a timeless truth and makes an emotional connection to her audience. When it was time for feedback, more than one parent confessed to being a little teary. I was personally moved by the sweet earnest quality of Maya’s essay.
I thought of this moment the other day when I read a summary of psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair’s address to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) conference, taking place at just about the same time as our Writers Celebration. Steiner Adair is a therapist and instructor at the Harvard Medical School who researches the effects of technology on our kids and our relationships.
Are we living in a time in which we are more connected than ever and, paradoxically, more isolated? she asked.
According to Bridget Janicki, who blogged from the conference, Steiner-Adair interviewed kids, parents, school leaders, young adults and even preschoolers around the country. She was blown away by this finding:
Children at every single age group use the same words to describe being in a family — and they all speak to feeling alone. It’s sad, because they cannot get their parents’ attention. They feel frustrated that at a moment when they need a connection, their parents’ eyes are in the screen.
And then, a couple of days ago, I saw this headline from Time.com: Don’t Text While Parenting — It Will Make You Cranky. The story described a study from Boston Medical Center showing that parents absorbed in their devices throughout an entire meal had increasingly negative interactions with their children. Since children learn their primary social skills from interacting with their parents, the researchers wondered what the long-term effects of such digital absorption on children’s social development might be.
In our fast-paced and digital world, Maya reminds us that children need and desire deep connection to parents and family. And even amidst all the attractions and distractions of Disney World, the most delicious and memorable moments might just be spent hanging out with your parents.
The abrupt arrival of cold weather and snow last week was a chilly reminder that the balmy days and beautiful foliage of fall are at an end, and the Thanksgiving holiday is just around the corner.
I imagine that for most of our families, Thanksgiving preparations are well underway. In our household, we are excited to be celebrating not only Thanksgiving, but also two engagements, one birthday and Chanukah, and we’re busy planning a feast that includes vegetarian, gluten-free and lactose-intolerant options as well as figuring out how to squeeze a growing and increasingly diverse family around the not-growing table.
Every family has different traditions and different challenges for celebrating the holiday, but it offers each of us a moment to reflect upon the good fortune in our lives, to consider ways to share with those who have less and to give back to institutions that have meaning for us. In our 1st/2nd grade classrooms, reflections on homelessness and poverty are taking new shape in the form of our coat drive. As I watch the boxes fill to overflowing in the Umeh Foyer, I am very moved by the generosity of our Ancona families. And when they deliver the coats to South Central Community Services (http://www.sccsinc.org) and receive their appreciation, our children will learn what researchers tell us – that giving stimulates the pleasure centers in the brain. Giving feels good and makes us happy!
Just as every family has its own Thanksgiving traditions, every family has its own charitable traditions. Some families make a habit of sitting down together to discuss philanthropy as a group and to decide on their contributions for the year. Others volunteer time at a soup kitchen or food pantry to help ensure that indigent people share in the bounty of the season. Many do both.
As families think about institutions that make a difference in their lives and that of others, I hope that you will join me in giving Ancona a prominent place on your lists. Because I believe so strongly in what we do here every day, I make Ancona my top philanthropic commitment. This year, we’ve set and ambitious $170,000 goal for our Annual Fund, and we are trying out a focused and time-limited Annual Fund Drive to ensure that Ancona provides that margin of excellence every day. Four weeks into it, we have made some remarkable progress. As of today, we are just over half way to our goal with $88,000 pledged or received. We started the drive with gifts from 20% of our parents who pledged through their enrollment contracts. Just three weeks later, participation is doubled at nearly 40%. Room 210 is already at 65% participation with Room 208 coming up right behind! We’re looking for some gift, of whatever amount, from every family to reach our 100% participation goal. And we’re looking for strong participation, as well, from all of those friends, alumni and former parents whose lives have been touched by Ancona.
We have just a couple of weeks left to reach our goals for the Annual Fund for the current fiscal year. If your family has a tradition of planning year-end giving, please consider adding Ancona School to your list of worthy charities. Although the “public phase” of the Annual Fund Campaign will be over as of Thanksgiving, we will be gratefully accepting donations right up to the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2014.
Your can make your gift now at right here.