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Learning to read. Covered with jello, bugs & snails!

Posted by on in Literacy
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Little people learning land: A world of wonder

It's one thing to read and write about literacy, it's another to breathe it. The last time I had a crazy notion in my head I ended up teaching with teachers in over 500 K-12 classrooms. At this stage, it's unfathomable I would dive headfirst into the murky waters of preschool. It's so rewarding but extremely demanding. Good thing I got my little on.

I was blessed to join a staff of two teacher/directors. Their five star preschool qualified for one of the coveted special new grants for early literacy; that's where I come in. Tonight I'm writing from head and heart, sharing highights of my first week in little people learning land. I hope it inspires you, brings a smile, validates what you are doing, maybe a couple tears of joy tossed into the recipe.

Ready to teach- starting year 46

1. Get organized. Favorite stories, puppets.

2. Psych myself I can do this.

3. Freak out, play calming music. Breathe.

4. Contemplate bowing out, for about 30 seconds.

5. Model positive lifelong learning and growth mindset.

6. Just do it. No layers of indecision. Walk the Talk. 

Kids' Learning goals and objectives

1. Follow routines. Take turns.

2. Be kind, empathetic, share.

3. Practice communication skills.

4. Learn through play.

5. Have fun!!

 A portrait of our class

The kids are diverse- so beautiful. It's an Inclusive class, with children coming and going certain days of the week, staying half day or full day, or all week. The total class size on any day is 16, perfect, split with three teachers.  

Some kids come from special programs. They thrive with blocks, legos, play, large and small motor activities, singing rhymes, songs and making rhythms. We are the school counselors, nurses, librarians, and most importantly, teachers. I am not taking any credit. The two teachers are an extraordinary wife-husband cohesive teaching pair, who have been working together a long time. They are simply perfect for the children. Me? Creating a tripod of assistance to two amazing people. That's all. Call me lucky to be there.

Description of the school - Curriculum

I wish I could post photos. Use your imagination. Main floor, house. Stage area, interest areas (centers), art room, writing station, computer station, formal separate room with kidney small goup table and every conceivable developmentally appropriate learning tool. Upstairs the "secret" room, off limits to the children overflows, to frequently change books and activities, tutus, tap shoes, instruments, dramatic play to the hilt, etc.

Outside is the primary focus of school, its gardens, enormous variety of play structures, roller skates, sand and water play tables, bikes, discovery areas, toys and games, loads of ball hoops and balls. Obstacle courses, running, jogging and exercising are interwoven into literacy concepts. Picnic tables and little tables and chairs for used for snacks, meals and outdoor lessons.

During the year children have access to specialists, take swimming lessons, visit the library or have the traveling librarian, a new dance or yoga teacher is coming, etc. 

A developmentally appropriate school, movement, arts, music, science, technology, advanced basic skills curriculum predominate. Preschoolers show their creativity through ongoing projects, themes and teachable moments arising moment to moment. Going with the flow. 

Before school started, we attended a two day training session on implementing the early literacy grant. Now we're applying what we learned. Because we work in close proximity all day long, it offers collaborative opportunity to learn from each other. There are no prescriptive guidelines, already a pretty finely etched class program, just right for all the children. The assessment piece is currently in review.

 Learning Team - children and teachers

The school is organized into learning pairs, one bigger and one littler per team. This is truly multi-age teaching at its finest, ages 2-8. Empathy, kindness, rules to honor and live by. Please and thank you. No exceptions allowed. Through a highly structured environment, the day goes smoothly with its inherent rituals, fluid curriculum, loads of play and scientific discovery. Really messy. Really active. Most creative teachers I have ever worked with. Family.  

Literacy all day, everywhere

The other day we took a neighborhood walk. The kids had pails looking for objects such as acorns, etc.; we were naming sounds and letters throughout the walk. Neighbors came out to say hello and conversations stimulated language development. Snails were the hit commodity. Every kid wanted a snail. The previous day, while we were gardening, worms ruled. 

Interesting to develop on the spot literacy lessons during a nature neighborhood walk, even better than a typical classroom gallery walk. Every day there is some sort of project going on, early versions of project based learning are abundant. I credit Katz.

We ask deep meaning questions all day long. Evidence of Bloom, Maslow and Dewey. Matching interests is of paramount importance. Skills, attributes and understandings, too.

Children read to each other, I read while they eat breakfast, snack and during lunch, before nap, small and large group, one-to-one. Biggers read to the littler partners. 

The best literacy research is extremely important. But tonight I am more concerned with how I invigorate my reading lessons into children's real world interests- bugs, snails, with cause-effect, scientific investigation, discovery, art, music and movement, you get the idea.

More than ever I believe in dramatic play, environmental print, purposeful anchor charts, and language experience, reading and writing always go-togethers.

Print and language rich environment

1. Visual awareness of print.

2. Listening skills and phonemic awareness.

3. Context and meaning.

4. Reading and making books.

5. Making predictions.

6. Sequencing.

7. Speaking in complete sentences. 

8. Building vocabulary orally and written. 

I've been writing about the critical need for universal preschool. Lately I've noticed other articles, hopefully a trend of positive support for early literacy.

Budding readers and writers are joyous little learners. Pretty ironic, I've been teaching reading to students for so many years, and university credential reading courses.

Nothing prepared me for the sheer joy of wiping tears, handling minor disputes, wiping jello, getting shoes on the right feet, all the while teaching the foundations of literacy and love of reading.

Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita

 



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Modeling the art and craft of teaching reading for 46 years, Mrs. Wirtz taught language arts, speech and reading at all levels preschool-adult, including penal. She served as Pre-school and K-6 Principal. Rita was also a Curriculum Consultant, ESEA, Title I Program Evaluator and literacy trainer. At the university level she taught school administration in the Bilingual Cohort at CSUS and National University, Sacto. Mrs. Wirtz also taught all reading courses for Chapman University for many years in Sacramento and Placerville, Ca., and mentored student teachers. On the national level she was a well known motivational Keynote Speaker and Seminar Leader. Most importantly, Rita walked the talk, teaching with teachers in more than 500 K-12 and special needs classrooms. Rita authored books, publications and Pre- YouTube, videos were filmed by San Diego County Office of Education. Calif. ASCD authored companion book guides, and Calif. school districts correlated her basic skills instruction with State Standards. Mrs. Wirtz' newest book is Reading Champs! Teaching Reading Made Easy, a review of the basic building blocks of English and Reading. Rita is currently teaching in a multi-age, fully incuded preschool, ages 2-8. Find Mrs. Wirtz on Twitter @RitaWirtz, Facebook and website- www.ritawirtz.com.

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Guest Saturday, 19 August 2017