WA @ PSS: Art Lessons

For the past couple of weeks, I have been spending time with Louisa, the Art teacher in PSS. She is an enthusiastic teacher and cannot stop sharing with me about the different techniques of Art. While assisting her, I had a good glimpse of the Art curriculum and was really marvelled by it. I only learnt some of the techniques in Secondary school! And judging by the works of the students, they were of really high standards.

I believe when the teacher sets high expectations and guide the students in achieving them, there is no limit to how much one can achieve.

First up, I was walking towards the Specialists’ room (for Spanish, reading specialist and drama teacher) when I came across this piece of mural. It looks a tad messy but it does show some images of Boston in Fall. And then when I look at who were the creators, I smiled. It’s the Kindergarteners!

Yesterday, when I went in to help Louisa, the first class was the Kindergarteners. They had their oil pastel drawings returned and this time round, they are going to paint over them. The results were amazing…for Kindergarten level!

The students adding paint colours to the drawings.

An artist in the making. When I chatted with her, she told me that her mother used to be an artist herself!

After the class, Louisa shared with me the techniques of drawing using pencils, chalk and paint. The Art curriculum in the school includes foil, claywork and using recycling materials, amongst others. She was so passionate that she kept on sharing, even when it ate into her ‘free’ time.

According to Louisa, these sets of painting palettes are good!

Left: Louisa showing me the light and dark tone in drawing a vase.
Right: A Kindergartener’s work using foam and paint.

A student working on foil.

As Louisa shared, I got more and more interested in Art and to link with other subjects. She was sharing with me that Art can be infused into all subjects (of course) like social studies and Science. And I have seen with my own eyes how she integrated Art into these. Since the students studied the different era like the Romans and the Greek, they got to create works representing those eras. Louisa also taught them the different periods in Art History, like the Modern Art, the Baroque, the classics, etc. Whoah! All these in elementary school! Amazing! I don’t even know the different periods in art and have to educate myself through going to the museums!

The Art curriculum in PSS is really very rich and I have invited Louisa to come to my school next year to share with my Art teachers. And I certainly hope that it will work out!

Below is a 8-minute clip on what she shared with me in class on 9 Nov 2011. The password is ParkStrSch.


Art can be so amazing.

Quality Art curriculum.  I’m impressed.

@ the Kindergarten

Have spent this week in the Kindergarten. It was fun albeit a tad tiring. The little ones can be adorable and yet demanding at the same time. I have observed wonderful instructions by the teachers and the activities were all insightful. =)

A gift from C during Choice Time

My treat by the amazing teachers at kindergarten. Bye for now. See ya next week!

WA @ PSS: At the Kindergarten

This was my second week at the Kindergarten. Since the three teachers had to do DRA testing of the kids, I was roped in to conduct the morning meeting with the Green team.

Having had my first (awful) experience with them last week, I was more at ease with morning meeting now. Basically, there would always be a morning message written by the teacher on the white board, get the kids to read together with you, highlight some key words you want the kids to learn and then go straight to respond with whatever question that goes with the message. After that, it would be Bible reading and then prayer before talking about the calendar and the weather.

I thought the conversation was a excellent way to get to know your students better and to build rapport with them. The students can choose to ‘pass’ but most of the time, if the topic is interesting, you will have willing respondents.

I thought I did a good job on Tuesday and then worsened on Wednesday and subsequently, today. I believe the kids want their fun-loving Mr Fortier back. Oh well, this would be my last time conducting morning meeting with them, I hope. The trio had finally completed all the testing today! Bravo!

Picture day | 19 Oct 2011

On the Teachers

“One-two-three, eyes on me!” (teacher)
“One-two, eyes on you!” (students)

 To be kindergarten teachers, you need a specific set of skills. Apart from the wide repertoire of classroom management techniques you need to have under your belt, you need to know when to be serious, firm and fun-loving at the right time. Being quick-witted is an important trait in these teachers since many unforeseen circumstances can happen to young kids. Flexibility, that is crucial. Above all, having a cohesive team of well-trained kindergarten teachers is essential. 

Buddy Reading

On alternate Thursdays, there will be Chapel and the whole school would be down in the Gym room for a time of worship and sharing of God’s word. Today, there’s no Chapel but Buddy Reading. Pupils from Grade 5 and 6 paired up with the Kindergarteners and read to them in the library.

*AFI: Instead of chatting among themselves, the teachers could go around and assess if the kids are doing the Buddy Reading the right way.

The Kindergarteners would proceed to this tray of books to select the ones that they want their buddies to read to them.

Choice Time

I love Choice Time, so do the kids. This is the time when the kids can choose the kind of activities that they want to do after Literacy Centres or when the kids have to stay indoors for their Recess (normally held at the Esplanade). There are quite a few activities ranging from picture puzzles, book nook, play dough to Lego. A lot of social skills can be taught and learnt during this ‘play time’.

Making a choice

Choice Time goes like this: The teacher will call out the students one by one to get to the board so that they could place their name pegs at the station that they choose.  Obviously, the kids who get to pick first are the ones who behave properly to be called by the teacher first. When each station has 2 or 3 name pegs on them, the students know that they are NOT to place their name peg on it anymore. So you know what to do if you want to get to the choice board first!

Making serious choices starts now!

In the middle of the Choice Time, the students can negotiate with the friends to take over that specific activity/station. That would need quite a fair bit of skills. Most of the students are nice and would allow their friends to take over. However, there are some stations which are popular and kids want to hold on to their ‘place’ as long as possible. That’s when conflict is highly plausible. One of the unfortunate cases was I. B. who didn’t get to the teaching board which she loved and got into a conflict with her friends. In the end, the teacher had to call her out and gave her a time-out. She had to go to one corner and reflect on what had happened, draw the scene and then talk to a teacher about it. Thereafter, she could ask to rejoin the group. Oh! One more thing, the paper has to go back to the parents! Scary!

So, our dear girl was crying as she did her reflections. Obviously, she didn’t want to bring the paper back home since she knew what she would be in for. *I let the teacher handle it. * Somehow, the teacher had a way to deal with the kids. It’s just so magical. The kids listened and obeyed! Moments later, our dear friend was back with her friends on her fav teaching board.

Kind-hearted M invited I.B. back to the teaching board.

There’s much to learn during this ‘Play-Time’. Students need to learn how to negotiate and be patient.  Kindness and love towards one another have to be shown and teachers can absolutely use this time to talk about it. This is also a great time for teachers to observe the kids and to know their likes and dislikes and what they are good at. The kids’ temperaments are clearly shown in this activity.

To Sum Up

Three days have since passed and I’m absolutely impressed by how the teachers handled the kids. They were quick to correct the misbehaviours of the students and gave ample encouragement at the same time. The students were in a very safe environment to comment yet at the same time, they were taught to know their limits. I like it that a lot of fundamentals were taught in Kindergarten, like having a good writing position and how to hold a pencil in the correct manner. Teachers also emphasized on reading and through this, taught the kids difficult words, prediction skills and the various genres.

Mr Fortier teaching how to grip the pencil

H practising THE GRIP

So, with a cup of coffee compliments of the teachers, I left the school, tired but happy! Three days spent in Kindergarten!

WA @ PSS: I did morning meeting

I think I suck at classroom management now.

Mr Fortier asked me if I wanted to lead morning meeting with the kids today while he used the time to test some pupils using DRA. To be honest, I was scared stiff. I mean, how long ago did I last teach? About 4 years ago! And today we are talking about the kindergartens and I have never taught them before! Apart from this thought was the fact that there are cultural differences and our accents are different thus affecting comprehensibility and more importantly, I do not know their names.

But I did it anyway. My classroom management wasn’t excellent. I lost them in the middle of it and I did not manage the time well. Sigh! Big boo boo to me. Guess I need to practise more!

The kindergarteners at Literacy

This photo is taken during centre time when students are allocated to different tasks and after completing that task, they can have the choice of activities (Lego, Play-Doh, etc). One of the centres is ABC and students have to find the lower case of the letters. While they small letters are so obvious presenting before my eyes, the children had a hard time looking for them. I guess this is part of development * think Piaget*.

Back to PSS, I went up to Louisa’s art class and wanted to apologise that I stepped out suddenly in the morning (cos Charlotte called for me). In the end, I stayed on to help her with the Grade 5s and I thought I did a better job communicating with these kids, the seemingly naughtiest ones. Oh! How I like to talk sense rather than to kids. =p

WA @ PSS: Parent Association Meeting

I’m not sure if this is common but as I stepped into the school gym this morning, I was amazed by the turnout of the parents – there must be at least 40 of them!

They were present for the Parent Association Meeting and for a school with a total enrollment of at most 180 students, it tells me something – that they were truly committed to their children’s learning by being involved in the school. Well, I could be cynical by saying that they have to be or should be interested in their children’s schooling since they paid a HUGE sum for the school fees each year but I would like to think otherwise.

The one-hour meeting with the parents was mostly chaired by the parents themselves. There is a committee of course and they chair the various areas:

Library/Book Fair
Community Cares
Teacher Appreciation
Parent Breakfast ( I like!)
Class Parents – update the portal on classroom activities and plan class parties

One of the committee members said this,”I really love PSS. I came for the open house when my first kid was 2 years old. And now, I have 2 kids in the school and the third one still adjusting to the Fall weather in New England. This school is truly amazing.”

If I have parents who give such comments about my school the next time, that will be such a great encouragement to the teachers. I will definitely give him/her a box of macarons to show my appreciation in return. =p

So, we have parents who truly adore the school and they themselves have become friends with one another and formed a network to serve the school. How neat! Parents who genuinely show interest unlike some of the ones we have – those who serve in a bid to increase the chance of their child enrolling in the school and once their child gets into the school, their service stops. I’m sorry to give such a comment but as you can tell, I am not for this idea. Period.

The only time that the school staff came on to address the parents was when the principal updated the crowd with the school’s homework policy and its curriculum. Nice. I like that the school informs the parents about their stance on homework.

On another note. The reading specialist finally came today! Yay! I certainly hope I could have the chance to interact with her and find out exactly what she does in terms of intervention in reading. Would it be the same as LSC?

WA @ PSS: On Teaching Letter Writing & reading aloud

Observation at Ms May’s class ( 29 Sept 2011)

1. Morning meeting. Eva talked about today’s date and weather.

“Today is …… Yesterday was….” Teaching the concept of ‘is’ and ‘was’. Have a student use a pair of binoculars to look out for the weather and report back.

2. Shelby introduced a book called Tom Thumb. Asked students where they think the story originated – which continent –> geography, social studies. The story is one of fiction and folktale which Shelby got the class to recite ‘F, Fiction, Folktake, Fake’.

3. During read-aloud, the following was observed: Teacher asked questions to check for understanding, meaning of words, predictions.

4. After reading, teacher asked questions – (1) Did you predict correctly? (2) Explain what your prediction is.

a. Affirm students’ retelling and also explain what retelling is.

b. When student couldn’t answer, he could ‘phone’ a friend –> getting a friend to answer.

c. Have pupils picture themselves in the position of the characters.”How do you like it?”

d. Introduce new word – Commotion. Use body language to show it. Encourage students to use the word in class. Link the word back to the story.

Then the lesson proceeded to Phonics. The following video is on teaching letter writing by Eva.

WA @ PSS: On Literacy Centres

I like observing Literacy Centres and seeing how young kids go to their stations automatically. They know what to do by looking at the chart. Of course, the teacher has to spend at least a week of teaching them about her expectations and what they are required to do at the various stations. This is my short video on my observation.

More pictures and write-up on Literacy centres –> Literacy Centres in Photographs.

There are obviously theories surrounding the use of literacy centres and the key benefits include:

  • Students learn the value of independent and collaborative study while engaging in active, task-based learning and self-discovery
  • Students learn to take responsibility in and choose their own learning activities
  • Teachers have more time to focus on the individual needs of students at various literacy levels and structure class time more efficiently
  • The inherit flexibility of literacy centers motivate kids to learn at their own level and to have some choice in their activities. This lets advanced students move forward without having to spend so much time on activities below their reading and writing level without leaving behind those students who still need to focus on basics such as ABC centers, word study, etc.
  • For teachers, literacy centers promote an effective classroom structure and allow time to focus on small group instruction and assess individual students while the entire class remains engaged in meaningful, purposeful, self-directed literacy activities.
  • Students can consolidate their learnings by applying their knowledge in the given tasks and the activities provide informal assessment for the teacher.
More info here

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WA @ PSS: School is starting

These few days, I have been attending staff meetings, training and helping out at PSS. It’s great to be back at school and on my first day of staff meeting, I was so overwhelmed by the joy of the teachers when they met one another. It’s like…they have not seen each other for ages and the sense I got from them is -they love one another. Everyone is willing to go the extra mile to help and that includes the principal and the head of schools. They are very…hands-on.

From this...

Besides attending the meeting and training, I was tasked to help the three kindergarten teachers set up the new place. They have relocated and fixtures and decor need to be put up. My word! The many things that they have to do! I was happy to be able to help a teeny weeny bit.

..to this. And more to do!

My initial thought? I felt blessed to be a teacher in a country in which the government places emphasis in the area of education. We have ample opportunities to be trained during in-service and be offered with various forms of scholarship. Our teachers are not faced with the threat of being axed when the funds get low and we are blessed with good facilities in schools.

That’s just my thoughts after 3 days with them. There probably will be more revelations as I stay with them longer. We’ll see.

I made a child cry.

I left the school, feeling all shitty.

It was my second time and today, the teacher, Ms H gave them a test to evaluate the students’ understanding of what they have learnt for Math. Then she passed me one sheet, “Pls help P with the reading of the questions.”

So, there we were, outside the classroom. I was to read the questions to P and she would attempt the questions. I knew it would be difficult but I was NOT prepared to deal with discipline issues (as a volunteer, I was not to do the work of the teacher in terms of discipline).

P didn’t know her counting well enough. She would either double count or miss a number. She interpreted the two questions on each page as one and got frustrated when I told her about that. After attempting two questions (which took a mighty long time and yet not accurate), she became fidgety. I tried to ask her to explain her thoughts. She did but I was lost. I couldn’t make out her understanding, going back and forth about addition and counting backwards. What was she really thinking about?

In school, we were all trained to comprehend why our students did the various methods and with P, I was baffled for a while. I couldn’t understand where she’s coming from but there was one thing I was certain – she treated each question as an addition question and she used whatever number she could see and try to make her own sense of it.

With her restlessness came poor sitting posture and behavioural problems. I told her off nicely at first but decided that being firm was the way to go. Besides, I shouldn’t differ from what Ms H preached in the classroom. My rules should more or less parallel hers.

When she lay on the chair, that was the last straw. I gave her warning before standing up and walking back to the classroom, “You can continue to do that but I’m going back to the classroom.” She teared.

I suspect there were a few issues with P but I didn’t have her background and couldn’t come to any conclusion. During reading, there were also some problems with the behaviour of the pupils but none too serious that would warrant any disciplinary action.

I left the school, feeling really bad. A lot of questions lingered in my mind. 
Was I too harsh? Was I doing things that were not right in their culture? Would the students only be learning those topics for Math for the whole year? Those ONLY?  Is their language ability at that level? Serious?

I think I am having culture shock. If I were Ms H, I would be panicking. I wish I wouldn’t make comparison but inevitably, I did.

I am thinking of making more trips down to the school. My current frequency may not be helpful enough. Oh, I need to weigh the pros and cons.

And on the way home, a man passed by me, with his pants unzipped, showing off his THANG to all. Oh, my goodness! I don’t really appreciate it, thank you very much.

Now I wanna cry. =p

First day in school

Back to school

It’s my first day in school and I’m nervous.

Ok, it’s really no big deal. It’s not as if I will be teaching.  I’m just volunteering. But I have been out of the classroom for about 3 years and that was enough to make me feel like a stranger to the classroom. To add to the anxiety, I will be facing a classroom full of pupils from a very different cultural background as me. That, was enough to scare me.

The school’s population is about 215 (what a luxury!) with about 18 teachers. The profile? 40.9% black, 44.2% Hispanic, 2.3% white and the rest is made up of Asians. It would be challenging.

Thankfully, the hubs insisted on accompanying me to the school (lest I lost my way!) and it really helped that I had someone to talk to along the way.

My fears were unfounded. I sat in Serena’s class during Math and reading and when it’s time for me to help those who were in need, the teacher in me came out. There were 19 pupils and all of them black except for one Moroccan but they were children all the same and had exactly the same behaviour as our children back home. Oh my! I forgot to compliment them. They were so friendly to me and made me feel at ease. The teacher, in my opinion, was a dynamic teacher and had good classroom management. We are talking about a grade 2 class here and I thought she managed them well, being firm and friendly at the same time. Good!

This was just the first session with the class and I totally enjoyed it. It’s time well-spent and certainly made me want to read up again on stuff pertaining to education, reading in particular. I went to the library with the hubs and borrowed quite a fair amount of books. It’s time to read up again. I’m glad that I could have the opportunity to be directly involved with the public schools here. We could read up on them through articles all right or by listening to the opinions of others. But I feel more importantly, one has to be involved to really understand what’s going on. There are quite a few things about the education system in Boston/American that baffled me and I’m hoping I will learn more as I progress (I’ll reserve my comments for now). I’m also hoping that I could be able to volunteer in the private schools so as to make a comparison between the public schools and the private ones.

I’m hoping for a few things to happen and I’m waiting for some emails to get back to me.

*Fingers crossed*