Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Word Study Homework

Dear Families,

We have sent home today the new WORD STUDY PACKETS.

The packet is now for homework.

However, we will be open to feedback about this process, so let us know what you think.
There is a poll posted on our blog, look on the right hand side and VOTE.

You may notice that your child has already completed the packet.
They had time to finish in school. They can still practice “sort and say” at home.

I imagine we will have lots of questions about this, so PLEASE feel free to call or e-mail!

Lynnea and Amby

Friday, December 7, 2007

December 6th, 2007

English Update
December 7, 2007

We have finished our unit on poetry! Due to some scheduling conflicts, students did a cursive final copy, which they decorated. We will share them in class and then return them to you to enjoy. Our main objectives were:
Finding a topic about which he/she had strong feelings
Trying poetic language or saying things in a different way
Looking at line breaks and how poems are organized

Ask you child what he/she learned! They really did a nice job with this first English writing project.

We wrapped up our unit on Celebrating Traditions. We also looked at non-fiction text organization and the special skills involved in this reading. We used the opportunity to provide some background information on Native Americans in English to support their learning in the French homerooms. We even slipped in a little work on nouns. Our next unit is called Incredible Stories. We kick off with a Third Grade favorite, Dogzilla, by Dav Pilkey. These are really fun stories that explore the differences between fantasy and realism. Please visit for great activities to support these stories.

Thanks for your on-going support with word study. Many of you will recall that at Classroom Information Night, we said that once students were well-established in their routines, we would make some of the word study work homework. Well, that day has come! On Wednesday, December 12th, your child will bring home his./her take home list, as usual. He/she will also have a packet with two activities. The packet will have all the instructions and your kids know how to do them independently. They do not need to come back to school. They are the activities we do Thursday and Friday in class. We will now have that time free for more reading and writing instruction. They should each take no more than 15 minutes and can be done anytime before the following Wednesday. We will send more detailed directions on Wednesday. As always, let us know if you have questions!

Have a great weekend!

Lynnea West and Amby Takekawa

Saturday, November 17, 2007

November 16th, 2007

Report Cards

You will receive an information sheet to help you interpret the 1-4 grading scale. We wanted to provide you with a little more insight into the English Language Arts portion of your child’s report card. We hope this helps you get a good sense for your child’s progress, especially since we won’t see all of you at conferences. As always, please feel free to get in touch if you have questions. We still have conference times available. Please use the link at the end of the letter to sign up.

Beginning to mid-grade 2 is our reading benchmark for this trimester. It would not be fair to assume immersion students would start the first year of English at grade level. Second trimester we assess at a beginning to mid third grade level and by the end of the year we assess at grade level. The fluency and accuracy grades are calculated by listening to a student read a passage aloud one-on-one. We time the reading to calculate correct words per minute, listen for appropriate expression and count decoding errors to arrive at the accuracy rate.

Comprehension questions are also a part of this assessment. These, in addition to work from our Houghton Mifflin curriculum, were used to calculate the comprehension grade. Again, mid- grade 2 is the benchmark. The grade on selecting appropriate independent reading materials reflects the work habit of settling in with a book and using this time well for reading practice.
Our main focus in writing has been to establish the routines and expectations of Writer’s Workshop. Students have been introduced to all elements you see on the report card, but have not had adequate practice to measure for an assessment. The one grade you will see in writing reflects a student’s ability to embrace the task and generate writing on that topic. All elements will be graded next trimester.

The weekly spelling test grade comes directly from their word study post tests. We tried to take into account working out the kinks in the system and any time constraints that a particular group may have had on a given week. Because students are taking such a wide range of tests and because our focus in writing has been “brave spelling” to share their ideas, we did not want to penalize students who were embracing that idea. Again, next trimester, as students have worked with a wider range of patterns, have spent more time with a dictionary and have edited work to a final copy, this element will be graded.

Look for good “How to help at home” hints on the blog next week!

Word Study

Thanks to all the volunteers who make the differentiated tests possible! We couldn’t do it without you. There is no test for the week following Thanksgiving. We will be conducting a new spelling inventory to determine new groups. Homeroom teachers are also making new large English groups. We will post the new groups and word study volunteer opportunities on a wiki next week. If you are interested in helping, we would love to see you! We’ll send a quick note with the link when it’s ready! Let us know if you have questions or have trouble signing up. Thanks!


We will wrap up our unit on Celebrating Traditions and transition to a really fun unit on Incredible Stories! These are always favorites. We will also do some first language reading about Native Americans to support the learning in their French homerooms.

Writer’s Workshop

We will continue to work on poetry, polishing at least one piece to publish. We will be in the computer lab on Friday, November 30th to type and format these final pieces. If you would like to help students with basic word processing, please let us know! Many hands will make this a productive time for all! We will include more details with the wiki link, as we do not have the new groups yet. Thanks!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your families. We are certainly thankful for such a great group of kids and all of your support. As always, please be in touch with questions!

Amby and Lynnea

Friday, November 2, 2007

November 3rd 2007

Dear Families,

This week in the writing workshop we begin our unit of study on poetry. It’s hard to imagine our children on a learning trajectory toward to becoming the next William Shakespeares, Emily Dickinsons and Maya Angelous, isn’t it? But you will be amazed, as we plan to be, by the writing they can do in this unit—they are able to create poems with so much more weight and power than the rhyming jingles we often imagine young children’s poetry to be! We will start by looking at the world through the eyes of a poet—examining objects closely, and trying to see them in fresh, interesting ways. We hope you will join your child in patiently studying and putting words to the details and moments of life the two of you notice together. This is the work that will most support your child in becoming a poet. Throughout the unit, we will study many ways poets work and some of the tools and strategies poets use. We’ll work with the structure of poetry, learning how poets use line breaks and white space. We’ll talk about and practice locating a big, universal feeling or idea in a small, personal object or moment. We’ll discuss and try ways to find the precise words that convey our intended meaning. We’ll experiment with rhythms and patterns, repetition and musicality. We’ll build analogies, metaphors and similes, and extend those bits of figurative language throughout the bodies of our verses. Of course, as always, we’ll revise and edit and publish our poems. We are all looking forward to sharing our poetry work with you, throughout the unit and at the celebration!

As time allows, we are also continuing work on our stories based on the book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris VanAllsburg. The author shares 15 unusual illustrations with a title and caption. Harris Burdick never shared the rest of the story. In true VanAllsburg style (he’s the author of Jumanji, among others), students are left to guess whether Harris Burdick was a real person or if the whole thing is fiction. Students have been stretching their imaginations to tell the rest of the story. Ask your child to tell you which story he/she is writing! Our main focus has been building students’ confidence and sense of identity as a writer. We are working hard to make writing a joy right now. We will slowly raise the expectations for grammar, spelling and style. Visit for great author and book information! He is currently sponsoring a writing contest on this book! See the site for details! We will not have time to polish all pieces for entry, however your child may like to take on this challenge at home! It’s a really exciting opportunity to share writing with a larger audience! Let us know if your child enters! The site also offers some fun games and book information.

We have started our theme on Celebrating Traditions with several stories on traditions passed down over many generations. One of these stories was The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco, in which a Russian immigrant family makes a quilt to remember their relatives. The quilt is used in celebrations through out the generations as a way to link the family with its past. Students enjoyed comparing the families in these stories to their own. It might be a fun time to remind them of traditions you observe and how they started. Visit for more background information and activities. We are also reading a lot of great poetry right now!

Word Study is progressing nicely. Thank you so much to our many volunteers who make it possible to offer so many lists: Judy Chirpich, Margaret Joas, Gary Judson, Kate Kromer, Jenny Corniea, Susan Ebner, Ellen Dahlquist, Alex Christianson, Cheryl Behling, Sheerin El-Ghazzawy, Michelle Schuveiller, Sandra Thomas, Mary Tadich, Polly Mitchell, Joanne Henry and so many more! We really wouldn’t be able to do it without you! We also need to thank Peggy Mercer, our paraprofessional, who helps on Wednesdays. Please know there will be opportunities to help with word study all year! The homeroom teachers will mix our large groups after Thanksgiving, so we will request volunteers again once you know if your child will come during the Amérindien or Voyageur timeslot.

We will send a detailed newsletter the week of conferences to help you interpret your child’s report card. Conference times are available through:

If you have trouble accessing this site or you need to find an alternate time, please let us know! Conference times will also be available in March.

Please let us know if you have any questions!

Amby and Lynnea

Friday, October 12, 2007

October 12, 2007

We wrapped up our theme on adventure. Ask your child to tell about his/her favorite story. We are working on the strategies of predicting, summarizing, clarifying and questioning with all our reading. Our next theme is on celebrating traditions. Check out for background information on the stories, fun activities and suggested further reading for kids who really loved a particular story.

Vocabulary (eWord)
If your child could use some vocabulary building games, click on the story on the Education Place website.

How about a challenge? Click on the link below and select “Fake Out.”

Need help finding other good books?

Word Study Update
Things continue to improve! We owe a HUGE thanks to our volunteers Judy Chirpich, Mike Ouyang, Denise Jones, and Jenny Corniea, Michelle Horan, Kim Sabow, Michelle Schuveiller, and Sandy Thomas! We appreciate your flexibility and willingness to help! Also, thank you to room moms Barb Romanelli, Ann Makredes, and Margaret Zverinova who are organizing the volunteers! Thank you!

Next week, we will be assessing students one-on-one with their reading and comprehension so students will NOT have their word study test on Wednesday. The list they brought home this week will be tested on Wednesday, October 17th. It sounds like many kids are working on their words at home. This is just fine! We always appreciate the support! Kids should be successful with the practice they get in school, so don’t feel like you need to spend a lot of extra time. If you feel like your child is needing a lot of extra time and support to be successful, PLEASE let us know! We don’t want homework to take over your life! We can adjust to make things more manageable! Thanks!

New Volunteer Opportunity: Fluency Fridays
We are looking for parents to provide an audience for kids practicing reading with good pace and expression. You would be modeling a very short piece of reading and then facilitating a group of 3-4 students taking turns reading aloud and giving them lots of positive feedback.

Friday, October 26
Friday, November 16

Amérindiens 8:55-10:05 / 12:30-1:00
Voyageurs 10:05-11:15/ 2:45-3:15

Ask your child which group he/she is in and let us know if you would like to help! Remember that Mme Livant and Mme C-D have morning English and Mmes Johnson and Meyer are in the afternoon. Thanks!

Writer’s Workshop
We have continued writing short narratives and are focusing on “small moments” or writing a lot about a very small event, making it interesting with the details and emotions. We have also introduced a “Quick Word” dictionary for spelling of high frequency words.

Because of the number of students we serve, the district sets aside enough time for one English conference during the year. We will hold traditional conference times in November and March. Think about which time works best for you. Please know that we will be in touch if we think a November conference is best. You can access our interactive conference sign-up by going to:

If you have trouble accessing it or questions, of course let us know and we can sign you up! Please give the site until 5:00 p.m. today to be linked- we were having a few technical difficulties!
As always, please be in touch with any questions! Have a wonderful weekend!

Lynnea West and Amby Takekawa

Friday, September 28, 2007

Word Study, Week One and other Updates

Word Study, Week One!

We’re learning! Both students and teachers that is!

Kids said that they really understood patterns of their words. We noticed that the words were mostly on their level from the initial assessment, making the list appropriate for their orthographic developmental stage. We will continue to monitor and adjust. Most students spelled their words correctly.

We discovered that time constraint was our biggest challenge. We had planned a week of activities working with their words. We discovered that in this place in our journey, we needed to slow down, and pare down the practice piece.

Test Day:
The process goes like this; review the words and the pattern, teachers say the words, and students write the words correctly in the correct column to show they understand the spelling of the word and the pattern. Then students correct (with the teacher) their own work immediately in order to understand any mistakes. All things considered, it went pretty well! That said, some groups didn’t get to self-correct their words and one group didn’t get their take-home list for next week.

Volunteers will certainly help move this process along. If you signed up at open house or indicated to us that you would like to help, we’ll be in touch to see if you can help.

Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks so much for your patience and support as we work through the bugs.

Some classes didn’t get their Scholastic book order forms until today. We will happily accept orders through Wednesday. Hope this helps!

Some students are bringing home "guided reading" worksheets today. They are just for your information. We work through them as a group. Not all parts are written if we are short on time. Spelling is not corrected at this point in the year if we are looking for ideas about a story. They don’t need to be finished. They are simply to let you know what your child worked on in his/her reading group. Use them to ask about the story if you like!

Have a great weekend!

As always, be in touch with questions.

Friday, September 21, 2007

September 21st, 2007

Thanks to those who made it to Classroom Information Night. It was a great turn out on a rainy night! The first group got quite rushed, so please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or would like more information. Third grade can be a hard transition in any school. It is truly the bridge between primary and intermediate, with one foot in each area. It is often described as the year when students move from learning to read to reading to learn. You can imagine the extra effort required by our students who are trying to make that transition in two languages! We’ll try hard to keep you up to date on what we are covering and what the expectations are. Please be in touch if you have questions so we can make this as smooth and positive a year as possible.

We want to make sure we get off to a good start and that everyone feels comfortable with this new system. It’s a change from the way you’ve probably done spelling in the past; however we know it’s going to help our kids become better spellers. We are posting the weekly routine so you get a sense for the kind of word exploration they are doing in class. Be the end of the week, they will really know the pattern and be able to apply it independently. One “nuts and bolts” detail you may want is the test procedure. On Wednesday, students will take their test in a small group. We will help them self-correct so they will know right away how they did. They will be tested on 15 of the words from their list. We will reassess after many kids have worked through short and long vowels, as this concept is particularly hard for our immersion learners.

We have cause for celebration; they are amazing individuals and students with open ears, watchful eyes and warm hearts. In addition to the fantastic job the students did with the new routines of word study, we also started our guided reading routines. Guided Reading is a time when we teach to small groups at their instructional level. Our Houghton Mifflin series gives us many materials to reach almost any stage in the developmental reading continuum. We have slowly started our independent reading routines as well. This involves choosing the “just right” books we talked about at classroom information night. Next week we will be firming up our routines and procedures for this process. You are more than welcome to start the 15-20 minutes of independent reading at home each night. Again, we’re looking for smooth, fluent reading. This means, students aren’t stuck on words and have 5 or fewer that are hard on a page. It is really important that they read at this level to make progress in reading, as fluency is tied to comprehension, and reading for meaning is the goal. If they love an author series that is too hard to fit that “fluent” category now, please share those books as a read-aloud or in addition to independent reading time. You can certainly read a story to your child and then have him/her read it back to you to boost fluency. Rereading old favorites also work well for building fluency patterns.

We have started developmental reading assessments with all children, but have very few completed. It is a long, one-on-one process. We will be in touch if we see anything of concern.

Theme 1.2 The Ballad of Mulan by Song Nan Zhang

Next week we will read a Chinese legend about a girl who disguises herself as a male warrior and goes into battle in place of her aged father. Below are some easy ways you can help your child practice reading skills.

QUICK TAKES: 10 Minutes Each

One definition of ballad is “a song that tells a story.” With your child, find the words to a song that tell a story, and read them together. (Folk and camp songs often tell stories.) If you wish, learn the melody and sing the song together.

Ask your child what qualities he or she thinks a person would need to be a good soldier. What qualities would a general need?


Post a Review
What did your child like about The Ballad of Mulan? Ask him or her to write a review and post it on this link:

Vocabulary (eWord)
If your child could use some vocabulary building games, click on the story on the Education Place website.

How about a challenge? Click on the link below and select “Fake Out.”

If your child likes The Ballad of Mulan, check out these books:

The Drums of Noto Hanto
by J. Alison James

The Adventures of Sparrowboy
by Brian Pinkney

Need help finding other good books?

Did you know that The Ballad of Mulan was composed as a popular song in China over 1,500 years ago? Since then the story has been retold in Chinese poems, essays, operas, paintings, animated films, and even comic books. Mulan means “magnolia.”

This information is adapted from Home/Community Connection Houghton Mifflin Reading 2005©. Permission for adaptation and use in classroom communication including posting to teacher web pages granted from Houghton Mifflin to the Edina Public Schools 2006.

We are so amazed at the generosity of parents and families. Thanks to Lydia Reiner for bringing in the plants! They are a great addition to the room. Thanks also to the Makredes family for the electric pencil sharpeners. We really appreciate moving that pencil sharpening line along! It is such a pleasure to work in a school where we are so supported! Thank you!

Friday, September 7, 2007

September 7th, 2007

All About Third Grade English Language Arts
This first year of formalized English Language Arts instruction is an exciting time here at Normandale. Our approach will integrate the Responsive Classroom techniques being employed by the classroom teachers in the building. For more information about this approach, visit
We are so excited to welcome your child to this amazing year of learning in his/her first language. We will focus heavily on reading in the first trimester, although also spend time on writing and spelling. It is not uncommon to see students make a huge leap in these first few weeks. It is the first opportunity for students to explore the worlds of reading, writing and words in an academic setting. It is a year of tremendous growth for students as they transfer their language skills from French into written English. The students love to discover stories and enjoy the opportunity to express their ideas in their first language. We have seen the early emergent reader grow quickly into fluent expressive readers who savor the deeper meaning of text and their real world connections.

Who, What, Where, When
Lynnea West and Amby Takekawa job share the English teaching position. If your child has Mme Curran-Dorsano or Mme Livant, he or she will have Mme West for English. Their English class will always meet in the morning. If your child has Mme Meyer or Mme Johnson, he or she will have Mme Takekawa for English in the afternoon. The English room (# 237) is located in the 4th and 5th grade hallway next to Mme Meyer’s homeroom. The English classes are a mix of the homeroom students. We change these groups throughout the year to give students a chance to work with a wide variety of people.

We will send a newsletter every other week. This year, our newsletter will take the form of a blog:

Because we serve 50-plus students each, the district allows enough time for us to conference once with each family. We will have conference times in November to coincide with the first report card and in March for the second. That said, there are certainly situations that warrant a more flexible approach. We spend quite a bit of time reading with students one-on-one in the beginning of the year to help inform our instruction. Please know that we will be in touch right away if we see anything of concern. It is very typical for immersion students to enter this year below grade level. We try hard to get everyone on grade level by the end of the year. Because we see students for only 70 minutes, it is crucial to us that we optimize their learning time. We try to spend as much time with each student working at his/her instructional level as possible. We are passionate about instilling a love of reading and writing in each and every child.

First Weeks
We will spend these first two weeks building our community, getting to know students as readers and establishing routines. Students will be introduced to our reading series, our Writer’s Workshop routines, some independent reading routines and some early word study information. Our first theme is: Off to Adventure! Adventures come in all shapes and sizes.

Hopes and Dreams
We asked students this week to think about what their hopes and dreams might be for the English Language Arts classroom. In other words, what are their strategic goals for learning reading writing and all about words? As the student answered this question, we found that we need to believe certain things in order to achieve our hopes and dreams. You can ask your child what his or her hope and dream is for the year and what he or she needs to do to reach that goal.

One of the first questions of the year is always, “How much homework will I have?” We have tried hard to balance the French and English expectations so that students are not overwhelmed by work outside of the school day. That said, we ask that students read 20 minutes each day in English from a book that is “just right” for them. We will spend a lot of time practicing how to identify these books over the next two weeks. It is really crucial that children spend this reading time with a book at the right level to help them become better readers. Look for this expectation to begin in the next week or so.

The other part of English homework is spelling. Spelling is a skill that is difficult for most students. It is extremely difficult for immersion students in their first year of English. Written language is the last literacy skill to be fully developed and it can lag quite a bit behind reading levels. We have struggled to find the best way to meet the wide range of needs we have in the very short period of time we have for spelling each week. We have tried a range of programs and levels. We believe we have finally found the program that will meet all needs! It is called Words Their Way. It is a word study program rather than a traditional spelling list memorized by all each week. After pre-testing to assess needs, each student will work at his/her own pace and level. It is our hope and dream that students will truly understand the patterns and rules of our complicated language in a more meaningful way than by memorizing a list that may not be at their level. We will launch this program on WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19th . Look for more information that day. In addition, we will go through the program on Classroom Information Night on TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18th. We will also be looking for volunteers to help children sort, practice and test words. Look for a schedule and more information about this to come. In the first weeks we will guide the classes in the system, then introduce parent volunteers and finally, make it a homework activity.

Wish List
Kid Size Bean Bag Chairs
Small Lamps
House Plants
Electric Pencil Sharpener

*Your generosity is always appreciated!*

Media Center Volunteers Orientation on Sept. 14 at 9am
Are you looking for a rewarding and flexible opportunity to help the kids at school? If so, the Media Center is looking for volunteers to assist for either morning or afternoon time settings. Please contact Chris Sweeney at to sign up or to learn more about this volunteer opportunity. You may also contact Tracy Pearson, media specialist at The Orientation for volunteers will be held on Friday, September 14 at 9am in the Media Center and will last about 45 minutes. Thanks to those who have already volunteered to help this year!