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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Writing, Learning and One Book, One School- January 31, 2012


Dear Sexton Mt. Families:                                                                                                 

Friday afternoon our staff had an opportunity to listen to an expert on increasing student engagement in learning.  One of the strategies I was able to use right away with my son was the “talking through graphic organizers” strategy.  Kids often make outlines or use word webs to organize ideas or identify similarities and differences before they write.   Once the ideas are organized, the presenter suggested that we have kids talk through the organizer using complete sentences before they begin the task of writing.  As adults, we assume kids might already be doing this in their heads but unless we’ve explicitly taught them this strategy they may not make the leap to complete sentences and paragraphs.  When I had my son take his notes and orally rehearse them twice, using complete sentences, his writing took just a fraction of the time it typically does. You will see a variety of graphic organizers displayed around the school or you can visit  http://www.eduplace.com/graphicorganizer/ for more ideas.  Organizers provide a framework to help children organize their work.

Last week I had the opportunity to meet with students for a writing project.  Students used paper towel tubes, tin foil and tape to build a floating structure that could hold a cargo of washers.  Following the experiment, students wrote about how their team planned and implemented the task.  We had a number of volunteers help score the papers this time.  Older students had been working to improve sentence fluency by varying sentence beginnings and length.  Last month, sentence length typically ranged from 5-12 words.  This month, the range was from 1 to 42 words.  Students explored different ways of combining ideas, adding descriptive words and using onomatopoeia to engage the writer and make it enjoyable to read.  Younger students have been working to have a beginning, middle and end. For many, the ending sentence wrapped up the piece by describing the overall feeling of the project leaving the reader satisfied.   

In our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) we look at student work to see what skills students solidly have in place and what seems to be the logical next step for instruction.  At our staff meeting Tuesday, teachers will review the work and set goals for the upcoming six-weeks of instruction.  When all students in our building have had a similar experience and all have completed a similar written piece, we can collectively see the continuum of learning and how what is done at each grade level supports the next.  The projects students do with me provide a snapshot of student learning.  Another type of school-wide writing we do happens in the classroom where students have more support for learning.  At the start of the year all students listened to Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox then wrote about special treasures.  In November students wrote about gratitude.  Next, we will read All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan and write about a special place. 

These school-wide, shared experiences bring a richness to our school.  When we have shared experiences, students make connections across grade levels.  Our school is once again participating in One School, One Book.  Thanks to our PTC each family will be given a copy of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. In addition to the book, each family will receive a reading schedule.  You are encouraged to read the story as a family.  Talking about the story, making predictions and pondering why a character might choose a particular action can deepen the experience for your child.   Discuss the book as you go. Your child will also have school connections to share.  On March 1, we will have Family Literacy Night with a variety of activities for your family to enjoy related to the book.

When I visited Miss Cobain’s room Monday afternoon, her mom was volunteering.  She was reading aloud Where the Mountain Meets the Sea.  She paused at special times and allowed kids to make predictions.  She talked about the meaning of different words in the text.  She dramatized different parts of the story all while kids sat, leaning forward to get every detail of the story.  Kids provided synonyms for the words fatigue, furry and weary.  She asked questions about how the character was feeling and why. She asked students to show what it looks like to gape at something. She made text to life connections about how moms feel in different situations.  Listening to a different voice read aloud was a special treat for the students.  They were clearly engaged!  When she finished a chapter she asked, “Should I stop there?” and the children responded with, “keep going!”

Clearly, reading aloud or sharing a story provides all sorts of learning opportunities for kids.  I know that the writers in our school are influenced by the stories they read.  Below is a summary of the significant ways in which reading stories aloud to kids will change their lives . . . and yours.   It won't happen overnight, as change is gradual, but continued and dedicated reading will most definitely bring noticeable, long-term changes.  In this day and age of hectic lives and busy schedules, reading together is a simple and enjoyable way for parents to take time out and focus on the family.  Young children need lots of special, dedicated time with their loved ones.  Reading children’s stories aloud to our kids is just plain FUN!  Reading children’s stories is a wonderful bonding experience that fosters meaningful one-on-one communication with our kids. It molds our kids into becoming readers, and raising a reader significantly increases our child's potential for academic success, as well as lifelong success in general.  It is a vital and integral part of teaching our kids how to read, as they learn how to read by being read to. It helps our children master language development.  It builds listening skills and increases a child’s attention span and develops the ability to concentrate at length, all of which are learned skills.  It develops children’s ability to express themselves more confidently, easily, and clearly in spoken AND written terms.  It develops and fosters a child's natural curiosity.  It develops creativity and a child's ability to use their own imagination!  It expands our children's horizons, quells fears, exposes them to new situations, and teaches them appropriate behavior.  Reading stories to our children provides the best opportunities for true teaching moments.  Reading picture books develops a young child's appreciation for the arts through exposure to many different styles of art and illustrations.

Thank you in advance for reading to your child in the upcoming month (and years).  Thank you for sharing your children with us.  I can’t wait to hear the conversations children have as a result of having this shared experience!

Fondly,


Dr. Teresa Clemens-Brower
A.k.a.  Mrs. C.-B.
Principal

Wish List--These are little things or jobs that will make a difference to our kids.  If you have things you'd like to share, feel free to send them in.
  • Prizes for Sparky’s Running Club
  • Wide-ruled notebook paper
  • Pencils and Pencil topper erasers

District Writing Assessment
Due to cost-cutting, the state of Oregon is no longer formally scoring writing papers at grades four and seven.  Because writing is an area where our district has struggled to make significant gains, we were pleased to hear that the Northwest Regional ESD would be providing a regional scoring opportunity that would simulate the process followed by the state. After the assessment is administered, teachers from neighboring districts will join trained Beaverton teachers at the NWRESD to calibrate and score student papers.  This feedback will provide important assessment information to students and teachers alike, as we continue our goal of improving student writing and building our students' capacity for college and career readiness.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Writing, Community Connections and Wet Weather-Janaury 24, 2012


Dear Sexton Mt. Families:                                                                                                  

Great things are happening at Sexton Mountain School.  Children in second grade were hard at work when I entered the room last week.  The assignment was to write a paragraph about a favorite winter sport.  Many were writing about basketball or soccer.  Kai was writing about croquet.  He described in detail how he plays the game when he visits relatives in Washington.  Right before recess Ms. Martin announced that kids needed to add a closing sentence and kids got right to work on wrapping up their ideas.  Girls at the back of the room were coaching one another on whether or not the sentence added just the right finishing touch. 

In the library, fifth graders were engaged in a discussion about the hard work that goes into learning to keyboard without peeking.  Mrs. Johnson talked about a code of honor and the importance of doing your own honest best work.  Kids seemed to take note of the powerful message on ethics and perseverance. 

At Family Movie Night Friday we had a great turn out. Thanks to our volunteers for creating such a special night for our students and their families.  From set up to clean up, many worked hard to make the evening a success.  One of the things I especially appreciate about our volunteers is how skills are passed along from one to the next.  Our new kindergarten parents got to learn how to clean the popcorn machine and strategies for putting away chairs.  Training up the next generation of volunteers is essential to continuing the good work going on here.

The spirit of community service is our school is strong.  Mountain Guides start and end the day in a positive way for our students.  With so many models of service through our parent and community volunteers, it’s not surprising that our students know the importance of giving back.  Service projects can help children explore aspects of future roles.

When my son was in the hospital for his appendix earlier this month, two therapy dogs stopped by and made his day!  Once he got home from the hospital, he has been researching careers related to animals.  On Saturday, he volunteered a couple of hours helping with homeless dogs.  When my husband dropped him off, he was in a pen with ten frisky dogs and had a goofy smile.  When I picked him up, he smelled like wet dog and reported that he’d spent more time cleaning up after dogs than playing with them.  He had interesting stories about the work and the dogs.  Most importantly, he came away with a better understanding of himself as a learner.  He realized that he is an optimistic, non-fiction reader.  Though he’s read about the hard work, he didn’t really understand how hard until he had a tiny real-life sample.  Community service projects provide learning opportunities beyond the text.

This Friday is a Staff Development Day and our teachers will be learning how to differentiate reading instruction to meet the needs of a wide range of learners.  Our students have a wide range of abilities so we are constantly striving to meet their needs by using instructional strategies to support and stretch each and every child.  We simply can’t do this job alone.  We count on our volunteers to help us.   We will be working to equip our volunteers to help us in this important work.  I will hold a parent training on Thursday, February 2 from 9:00-9:30am on a reading intervention called “Read Naturally.”    This reading intervention is intended to improve reading fluency but also has a comprehension component.  It teaches a strategy that is easy to use with a wide range of texts too, so is helpful for all reading levels.  Interested parents or volunteers are welcome to attend.

I’d also like to invite interested volunteers to join me in scoring this month’s student writing sample. Our fourth and fifth graders have set goals this month around sentence fluency, so I’ll need help with analyzing sentence beginnings and the number of words in each sentence.  Other grade levels have set important goals too.  This time kids are using paper towel tubes and foil to build boats that float, so the writing is sure to be fun to read.  One of the benefits of reading so many student work samples is that you can get ideas for helping your own child with writing at home.

Mr. Mori, our administrative intern brought to us through the Nike School Innovation Fund, has started his transition to work at different levels.  Last week, he moved to Beaverton High School for a short-term assignment.  He will be in our building on and off through the end of the year, but we won’t get to see him daily like we have grown accustomed to.  This may be the first time in the memory of most when the student supervisor’s office sits empty.  As a result of being reduced a staff member, our work will be different.  Thanks in advance for your understanding.

Last week, the snow and heavy rain made the morning drop off time extra congested resulting in many students arriving after instruction started at 8:30.  When I look at the ten day forecast, it looks like more rain is in store.  If you drive your child to school in the morning, aiming for an 8:05 am drop off will increase the likelihood of more students arriving in time for instruction.   With wet weather, kids attracted to puddles get extra wet during the rain too.  If your child tends to get wet, feel free to send a change of clothes in his or her backpack.  When my brother was little, my mom was sure he would grow up to be a scientist because he had to test the depth of every puddle he saw resulting in wet shoes, socks and often pants.  It seems that many of our students have the same desire of research and inquiry. 

Thank you for sharing your children with us.  Exciting things happen in our building for your kids each day!  We are happy to be part of their lives.

Fondly,


Dr. Teresa Clemens-Brower
A.k.a.  Mrs. C.-B.
Principal


Wish List--These are little things or jobs that will make a difference to our kids.  If you have things you'd like to share, feel free to send them in.
  • Prizes for Sparky’s Running Club
  • Volunteers to help score writing
  • Postcards


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Owl Pellets, Outreach, and More-January 17, 2012


Dear Sexton Mt. Families:                                                                                                  

Friday afternoon I visited Mrs. Parson’s classroom and the 30 scientists there were engaged in disassembling owl pellets.  They were making predictions about what parts of the skeleton they were uncovering and how the pieces fit together.    

There is so much going on at Sexton Mountain this month!  The classes are buzzing with energy and excitement and our parent groups are getting things done.  The interesting weather has added an extra layer of enthusiasm and challenge so Sexton Mountain is a fun place to spend the day! 

The Site Council had a joint meeting with the parents of Nancy Ryles and Scholls Heights to continue our discussion of the book Mindset.  Our hope is to have a presentation on this book sometime this spring.  I highly recommend that families read the book and I have copies to loan if you are interested.  Especially for gifted children, this book has strategies that make sense for ensuring children are on the pathway to college and career readiness.

The Community Engagement Committee (previously known as the Local School Committee) met with the
CECs of five other elementary schools in our area to discuss how we can engage our community in the most efficient way. We all have so much work to do but with everyone doing a little; we can accomplish our goals and learn from each other.  We discussed two types of community engagement including connecting within our school and with those outside our school.  One of the suggestions the team came up with was to build a “Welcome Committee” so that when families move in to our school, they get connected right away.  We hope to have one volunteer for each grade level who would be willing to call new families at that grade level and invite them to join you for school events like Movie Night or the Science Fair.  We hope to connect families with similar language backgrounds so if a new family has a home language other than English, we can connect them with families in our neighborhood with similar language backgrounds.  Please contact me if you are willing to serve as an ambassador for our school.  The other project the CEC discussed was reaching out to local businesses.  In March, we are going to begin teaching our local businesses about our Positive Behavior Intervention and Support system.  We will provide them with an equivalent of our Eagle Eye that businesses can used to recognize our kids if they are being safe, respectful or responsible out in the community. If you have a close connection with a local business, please let me know.  Our school is also setting up a business partnership with Canfield Place Leisure Center.  They will be sending volunteers over to help students practice math facts each Tuesday morning.  Reaching out to engage our community will make a difference for our kids.


The PTC met Friday and discussed all of the exciting things they are doing to support our learners.  We have an active group of parents willing to raise funds and plan events for families and students.  We are lucky to have such an involved group.  Heather Hough reported that Sparky’s Running Club has been a huge success this year. Over 500 of our 600 students have participated on some level.  We have more kids who’ve reached marathon status than past years and kids are setting regular goals.  We notice that the days we have the running club, we have fewer disputes on the playground and overall happier kids.  Thanks to all the parents who are willing to volunteer and keep record of the accomplishments of our athletes.  Because the program is so much more successful this year, they are running out of prizes so if you’d like to donate small prizes (like the ones from goody bags at kid’s parties) or gently used toys, we will be collecting them and putting them to good use.

We are so fortunate to have extra volunteers willing to make extra mid-day movement possible for our kids.  Brain researcher, Eric Jensen, notes that when there are short bursts of movement throughout the day, the increase in blood flow makes a difference to learning.  We are trying out some of the theories by implementing “Fitness Friday”.  On this day we encourage kids to wear clothes that are easy to move in (I am going to wear my track suit) so they can do fun bursts of movement throughout the day.  You may see kids and teachers doing BrainGym moves or something physical together when you visit classrooms on Fridays.

It looks like we may be experiencing some winter weather in the upcoming days.  While with any forecast there is some degree of uncertainty, if the District Office is advised that there is a chance of some accumulation of snow or sleet, officials from the Superintendent’s office and Transportation Department, drive the roads early to checkout the conditions first hand before making a decision about whether or not to hold, delay or cancel classes.  This information will be posted on the District website and local news stations will also report changes to the regular school day.  If school is canceled or delayed, I will also try to send an email to families.  Our phone message will be updated so you can call the school for the information too.  We did get about a bazillion calls today so you may have a hard time getting through.   If you feel like you can’t safely get your child to school on questionable days, please exercise your best judgment and call the attendance line to let us know they are safe at home with you.

Hopefully, the weather will be back to normal by Friday so we can enjoy Family Movie Night.  Again, our parent leaders have prepared an exciting night for you!  Thank you for sharing your children with us!

Fondly,

Dr. Teresa Clemens-Brower
a.k.a.  Mrs. C.-B.
Principal

Wish List--These are little things or jobs that will make a difference to our kids.  If you have things you'd like to share, feel free to send them in.
  • Gallon size ziplock type bags
  • Prizes for Sparky’s Running Club

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tummy Aches, Preparation, and Assessment-January 10, 2010


Dear Sexton Mt. Families:                                                                                                   

Last Tuesday, my son called at about 2:00 pm and told me his tummy hurt when he sat down.  He asked if I’d come and pick him up from school.  I told him to go to science and ask his teacher if he could stand up. With all the junk food he ate on Rose Bowl Monday, I figured stomach discomfort wasn’t unusual.   By Wednesday afternoon, we were in the ER at St. Vincent’s as he was getting prepped to have his appendix removed.   Since then, we’ve been getting to know the staff at the pediatrics ward and my husband and I have been taking turns staying there.  We are hopeful that by the time we send home this letter, he will be home too.

I realized over the past week that there are a lot of things we could have done ahead of time to make our stay easier.  We could have a list of all the medications each person in our family takes so when quizzed at 1:00 am, we’d be more accurate.  We could have given our house key to more neighbors so the dog would have been taken care of more easily.  We could have more routine places for putting things so when trying to describe where to find the much needed item for a surprise hospital sleep over, my extended family could have found it more easily.  Preparation, even for the unexpected, makes things easier.

At school, we take being prepared very seriously!  We are preparing for the Oregon Statewide Assessment a bit differently this year and since PREPARATION seems to be my theme of the week, I wanted to let you know, so that you could prepare accordingly.  Often times when it comes to big tests, families will get a note right before the test reminding adults that kids need to get plenty of rest and have a healthy breakfast before the big day.  While in my 22 years in education I have noticed that this is important, what really makes a difference on test day is whether or not the kids were well rested and nourished for DAILY instruction and skill practice.  I’ve noticed that when kids practice being critical readers or mathematicians daily, they develop the habits of mind that ensure success on tests.

Fourth graders will take an important writing assessment the week of February 13.  Students will be given three different writing prompts.  They will select one to write about.  They will have three days to brainstorm, draft, and write the final copy. The paper will be no longer than two pages, so needs to be concise, but will need to have enough information so that the reader clearly understands what the writer is trying to convey.  Papers will be scored in six different areas including organization, ideas/content, conventions (spelling and punctuation), voice, sentence fluency and word choice.  Families can help PREPARE for the writing assessment by encouraging children to write frequently (starting in kindergarten) and to always be mindful of who will be reading the writing.  Frequent writing builds stamina so the small muscles in the hand and the pathways in the brain can develop an idea at length.  Considering the needs of the audience or reader means that the writer will use concise words, make sure to develop an idea thoroughly and to use conventions, words and structure that will make it easier for the reader to understand.  Practice (or preparation) makes proficient!

Third, fourth and fifth graders will take the state reading and math test online this year.  Fifth graders will also take the statewide science test.  On all these tests in years past, students had the opportunity to take the test multiple times.  This year, in most cases, students will have just one opportunity to show what they know.  In past years students started testing as early as November, but this year we will wait until spring.   Families can help PREPARE for these tests by encouraging accuracy and critical thinking on daily classwork and homework.  One of the things I’ve noticed is that many kids develop a habit of rushing through things so when it comes to tests, careless errors are made by simply not reading the problem or task.  Battle this bad habit by encouraging kids to slow down and do high quality work on all projects. 

 As I visit classrooms, I see kids learning the skills and knowledge they will need to be successful on the tests.  More importantly, they are learning the things they will need in order to be successful in whatever they choose.  Last week in Mr. Shotola’s class, kids were using body parts to approximate different measurements.  They showed that the width of their pinky was a centimeter and if they held up fingers like goal posts, the distance between was a decimeter (a reference I used later in the day to visualize the size of an appendix).  In Mr. Pfaff’s class, children were reflecting on what it meant to be an engaged learner.  They identified what they needed in order to be most successful and really showed a high level of responsibility for their learning.



In addition to all the teaching that is going on, this is the time of year when we are learning about your students.  Members of our Literacy Team are working with individual students to determine each child’s reading fluency.  This one-minute assessment is administered to students in kindergarten through fifth grade. In the computer lab, students will also complete a comprehension component and a math component.  The assessment tool we are using this year is called Easy CBM.  These snapshots of learning provide us with information about how our children are doing compared to other students their age or grade level.  The information, along with Developmental Reading Assessments (DRA) and informal classroom assessments, will help teachers inform and differentiate (or tailor) instruction. These assessments will be done each trimester and provide us with information that we are able to use to determine how much an individual child has grown or changed and how close he or she is to meeting or exceeding benchmarks.  These “snapshots” of learning are meant to be just a part of a child’s “scrapbook of learning,” so don’t put too much importance on any one score.  

Great things are happening daily at Sexton Mountain.  We have a great staff working hard to make sure that our kids are prepared. Last week when my son called from school, the attendance secretary at his school was the one who told me that my son seemed a bit off.  She sees him regularly because of his asthma and expressed genuine concern for his tummy ache.  His principal noted that he wasn’t himself also.  His teachers also shared that he seemed to be more wiped out than the typical middle-schooler the day after winter break.  As a parent, I am thankful that my child has a group of caring adults that make such a difference in his life each day.   I hope that your child feels cared for at school each day!  Thank you for sharing your child with us!

Fondly,


Dr. Teresa Clemens-Brower
a.k.a.  Mrs. C.-B.
Principal

Reminders and FYI

Wish List--These are little things or jobs that will make a difference to our kids.  If you have things you'd like to share, feel free to send them in.
  • Gallon sized ziplock type bags

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Read to Go! January 3, 2012

Dear Sexton Mt. Families:                                                                                                  

I hope you had a great winter break and that 2012 is off to a great start!  My family spent a lot of time with friends and extended family.  We enjoyed reading, playing and just hanging out.  I love vacations but I’m ready to get back in the groove with a more regular routine.  In fact, I find January through March my favorite time of the year at school because kids are so focused on learning.

It seems that many students set goals for their own learning during this time as well.  Have you talked to your child about resolutions?  My son is trying to wake up a bit earlier each day so he doesn’t have to rush in the mornings.  He has also set a goal to correctly spell more interesting words using a dictionary app on his ipod.  My daughter will have Saturdays off from work this term so she’s already thinking about how she can better use that day to study instead of play.  It’s always a good time to talk to kids about being reflective about work habits and goal setting, but January seems to be a time where they can see a lot of examples of people setting big goals and breaking them down into small manageable chunks.

By 8:30 this morning, students were back into the swing of things.  In Mrs. DiResta’s class students were writing about their winter break.  Some started with a brainstorm and others had obviously been expecting this assignment.  Grace wrote about a trip to Mt. Hood and the interesting things that happen when large groups of people come together.  Austin and Brianna wrote about New Year’s Eve.  Armando wrote about opening a very special present.  Humaira wrote about a movie she watched and Brandon wrote about a trip to Mt. Hood.  Natalie made a last minute shopping trip sound harried and while reading about the experience, I was thankful to be back to the quiet calm of the classroom.  Students wrote with experiences in Disneyland and Canada, with books, video games and guitars.  They wrote using descriptive words and great expression.  It was exciting to see how enthusiastic students were to share their stories.

Great things are happening at Sexton Mountain.  Thanks for sending your children to us rested and recharged.  It’s going to be a great 2012.

Fondly,


Dr. Teresa Clemens-Brower
a.k.a.  Mrs. C.-B.
Principal

Reminders and FYI

Wish List--These are little things or jobs that will make a difference to our kids.  If you have things you'd like to share, feel free to send them in.
  • Paper towel tubes or gift wrap tubes
  • Masking tape
  • Tin foil