2nd Grade Crew // Literacy Labs

Monday through Thursday you will see our 2nd grade crew returning from recess, heading straight to our carpet spots, and eager to begin Literacy Labs.  The very first part of lab time is dedicated to a read aloud.  Our crew is reading Charlotte’s Web because we are focusing on compassion. Students listen to how the characters include others, help others, and use their words and actions to make others feel good.  We make connections between the characters actions and their actions towards others during lab time.  Next students focus a few minutes of their time to set a goal for labs that day.  Goals students have set recently are: 1.  I can use materials with care, 2. I can use kind words, 3. I can listen to others ideas.  Once goals are set, it’s time to jump into the labs!

During our first module students went to the Engineer, Imagine, Create, and Research Lab.  In the Create Lab students started by drawing self portraits and then  drew portraits of their lab partners. If students chose the Create Lab during the Choice and Challenge week, students worked on a portrait of someone important at Detroit Prep.  In the Engineer Lab, students used a ruler to draw an open face drawing of our classroom.  Next, students worked on designing an ideal space for students at Detroit Prep.  Students created designs for a new playground and classrooms that had their own kitchen!  In the Imagine Lab students use their curiosity and creativity to play.  Students use cooperation to share materials like blocks, whiteboards and markers, legos, and puppets.  The Research Lab was a place where students created surveys to get to know their crew a little better.  Students worked with their lab group to create a research question and possible answers.  The next week they surveyed their crew and worked together to create a bar graph to show the data.  Students learned: 1.  What our crew likes to do at recess, 2. What our crew likes to do best at school and 3.  What our crew likes to do after school.

Second grade LOVES Lab time.  It gives students a chance to practice and show our habits of character: responsibility, compassion, integrity, cooperation, perseverance, and curiosity and creativity.  It also gives students a chance to show what they’ve learned during module time in creative ways. It is the perfect way to end our day!

Social Work // Just Take a Deep Breath

“Just take a deep breath.”

This is a piece of advice that we all have heard. Maybe you have even given this advice to your child or a loved one while they were feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, sad or angry.  

There is a reason why this piece of advice is tried and true; it works. Deep breathing releases endorphins throughout the body, slows heart rate, promotes blood flow, promotes better sleep and stabilizes blood pressure. Deep breathing is an effective method to control emotions and regulate problematic behaviors.

This is more than just huffing and puffing. It is being intentional, mindful and thoughtful with your breathing.

Here are some of the basics of deep breathing:

Posture: One of the most important aspects of deep breathing is the how your body is set before you begin taking your deep breaths. If you are sitting, standing or lying down your spine should be straight. Think of the top of your head and your tailbone point A and point B. Draw as straight of a line as possible between those two points.

Belly Breathing: Now that you are in the correct posture, it is time to take a few deep breaths. Place one or both hands on your abdomen (between your belly button and rib cage). Take a slow deep breath through your nose and exhale through your mouth. You should feel your hand rise and fall with each breath. If it helps, you can imagine there is a balloon in your abdomen, with each breath in it should inflate and deflate. Repeat the cycle 5-10 times.



Variations: Now that we have the basics down we can throw in some different variations to more effectively take deep breaths.

  • 4-7-8 Breathing: Check and correct your posture. Breath in through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold for 7 seconds. Breath out through your mouth for 8 seconds. Do this cycle for around 5-10 times. Note: it is difficult for some children to breath out for 8 seconds. Encourage them to breath out slowly and “empty their balloon.”
  • Bumble Bee Breathing: Check and correct your posture. Take a deep belly breath through your nose. Exhale slowly while making a loud “Hummmmm” or “Buzzzzzzz” sound. Try again with your eyes closed. Focus on the sound. Notice how the vibration feels on your mouth. Do this for 3-4 times. Next, close your eyes and block your ears. Notice how this changes your experience. Continue to repeat a 3-4 times. You can try different sounds when breathing out. This is a good introduction to feeling all the different senses and general mindfulness.
  • Mantra Breathing: Check and correct your posture. Begin with a few deep slow breaths. As you breathe in say, “Breathe in Compassion.” As you breathe out say, “Breathe out Hate.” This can change to any skills you would want to be working on (i.e. Calm / Anxiety, Peace / Turmoil) Another alternative, as you breathe in say, “I change my thoughts.” As you breathe out say “I change my world.” The selection of your mantra is personal. Whatever has meaning to you, will work best.  

Hopefully now the next time you hear or say “Just take a deep breath” you will know exactly how to best take that breath.

1st Grade Crew // Morning Crew

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Each day at Detroit Prep begins and ends in a very special way- with our Morning Crew and Closing Crew meetings! Monday mornings and Friday afternoons we get the chance to come together as a whole school for our community crew meetings. This is a chance for us to set up our goals and learning targets for the week and reflect on the progress we made at the end.

The rest of the morning crew meetings and closing crew meetings are done in our individual crews. We use crew meetings to establish a sense of community and shared responsibilities. We also build social and academic skills during this time as a way to increase our excitement about learning!

Here is what a typical morning crew looks like in 1st grade:

Greeting: In Mrs. Jackie’s crew, we start each day by singing our Hello Neighbor Song (you may have heard it sung at home- it’s a catchy tune!), followed by a new greeting each morning. Students feel important and that ‘it matters that I came’ when we take the time to individually say good morning to each person. One of our favorite greetings is ‘1-2-3-4, Come On______ Hit the Floor!’ This one allows us to say good morning while also showing off our favorite dance moves for friends ☺

Sharing: Next, we move on to our daily share time. Students improve their speaking and listening skills as they share responses to prompts. The prompts change each day. For the first 6 weeks of school, many of our crew shares were based around how our Habits of Character (compassion, cooperation, curiosity and creativity, integrity, perseverance, and responsibility) look, feel, and sound. Recently, we started having one table group per day bring in something special from home to share with our whole crew. Students share three things about their object and then can take questions or comments from friends!

Initiative (Group Activity): This is one of our favorite times of crew where we work together to problem solve, build class cohesion and have fun! Recently, when we were working on Integrity for our Habit of Character we became experts at the Telephone Game! Students worked diligently to pass the correct message around the circle and had fun showing their curiosity and creativity with their created messages! Another favorite is “Statues” where students try their best to distract friends, while some pretend to be statues (as seen in the pictures above!). On different days, our initiative may be another game (like Simon Says or Buzz), a read aloud, or a short video clip.

Morning Message: Each day students in first grade conclude their Morning Crew Meetings by reading the morning message. This is a time where I inform students of the day/date, special activities for the day and any upcoming news. We also take this time to practice or review one previously learned skill, such as high frequency words, addition or subtraction problems, or punctuation.

Morning Crew Meetings let everyone in our crew know that school is a safe place where all children’s feelings and ideas are important. Crew meetings are a great way to build community, have fun, and increase social and academic skills!

“Growing Our Reading Brains” with the Skills Block

This year Detroit Prep has adopted the EL Primary Curriculum for English Language Arts. Students in K-2 experience 3 hours of reading and writing each day! During the hour of module time, students work on developing their reading comprehension, writing, speaking and listening skills through a 6 to 8 week in-depth study of a topic. During the hour of Literacy Labs time, students experience play based learning related to the module topic. Finally during the Skills Block hour, students work on mastering the alphabetic code and the skills required to become a fluent reader.

Skills Block is a fun and rigorous approach to phonics instruction. We begin each Skills Block together on the carpet. We sing songs, play games and explore poems and stories as we work on mastering letter-sound correlations and phonological awareness. After our whole group instruction time, students break into small groups and either work on independent reading activities or with me for small group instruction.

The research that grounds the Skills Block emphasizes not only teaching the Reading Foundations Common Core State Standards during the whole group instruction time but also offering small group differentiated instruction to students based on their current understanding of the alphabetic code. We group students by what they know about letters, sounds, reading and spelling. We then plan instruction for each each group centered on the exact skills they will need to become a proficient reader. The goal is that by the end of second grade students will have the skills to successfully decode (read) and encode (write) any word in the English language.

The Skills Block and its explicit approach to teaching the alphabetic code have had a tremendous impact on my Kindergarten Crew in only a few months of school. My crew is constantly examining text in the world around them and working to read it. On a daily basis I hear things like “Ms. Shelly, do you see the word ‘we’ hiding backwards inside of the word ‘crew’?” or “I’m trying to write oil, but I need to know the letters that make up the /oi/ sound.” Reading isn’t some mysterious skill you acquire. Reading is having a firm understanding of letter sound relationships and using that knowledge to carefully examine and decode written text. Skills Block helps my Kindergarten Crew learn these things each day and “grow our reading brains.”

We Are Crew!


We Are Crew are words you hear the students of Detroit Prep chanting during an infamous Light Leader ceremony.  Students are excited to say it.  Students say it with pride.  Students understand what it means to be a crew. What does it mean?

Being a part of a crew means that everyone is working together.  We are on the same boat.  We are going to the same place; A place where learning occurs, a place where sharing happens, and a place where students and parents feel welcome.  Students begin to understand that traveling to the place where learning and sharing happen, cannot be done unless the whole crew is onboard.  Unless everyone is willing to use cooperation, take responsibility, show compassion, and persevere.  It takes a community full of students, teachers, parents, and school leaders to get the boat moving, traveling, and safely docked.  But… how do you get students onboard?  

We start and end every day with crew meetings.  Monday mornings and Friday afternoon crew meetings are spent with the entire Detroit Prep community.  School leaders and teachers collaborate on ideas to get students excited for crew.  Other days, crew takes place in the classrooms.  Teachers plan intentionally to help students understand how to work together and why it is important.

Each morning crew meeting begins by greeting one another (in a fun, engaging, and creative way).  Our crew enjoys the various animal greetings best!  Next, students get a chance to share about their weekend adventures, family, or their favorite things.  Our crews favorite share topic is The Mystery Bag.  One student choses something from home and writes down three clues.  The next day, the clues are read, guesses are shared and the object is revealed.  The child gets to share what they brought and other students ask questions.  Then, we all do an activity.  Activities challenge the crew in different ways.  Sometimes an activity will challenge us as a team or sometimes individually.  Some days the activity could challenge us physically, other times mentally.  (Ask a Detroit Prep student what their favorite crew time activity is!)  The last part of a morning crew meeting is shared reading.  In the beginning of the year, I wrote a special morning message to read.  In the middle of the year, students read with me.  Now students are reading the morning message independently.    

Our afternoon crew meetings consist of a reflection on our day together.  We reflect on the Habit of Character we are working on.  Other days we reflect on our learning targets.  Next, students give appreciations or amends to their crewmates.  Students acknowledge each other for modeling Habits of Character.  Students notice when their crew shows compassion, uses cooperation while working and playing, or shows responsibility.  That person gets shine from their whole crew. After appreciations are completed, we share announcements and say our goodbyes.  

What does it mean to be a Crew?  It means that we are all in this journey together and we cannot get to where we are going alone.  How do we get students to value this idea?  Simple and intentional meetings together.  Once in the morning, once in the afternoon.  They do not take up a ton of time, but the purposeful activities help students see their peers as a crew.  We take time to say hello, share and play together.  We take time to reflect, appreciate, and say goodbye to each other.  These simple ideas are often forgotten about or deemed unimportant in a hectic world, but they make a world of difference.

Learning Targets

Learning is serious business at Detroit Prep for both students and staff. While evidence of student learning might be readily apparent to any visitor to our school, evidence of professional learning might be a little harder to spot; you would probably have to snoop in the back conference room or stay late on an early release day to really get a glimpse of the work our team does!  Even though it’s behind the scenes, the team at DP works hard to continuously improve our teaching practice and our students’ learning experiences. Throughout the year, the DP team works both on common learning goals (mostly during professional development(PD) time on Friday afternoons) and on individualized learning goals (during one-on-one check ins with Jen, our school leader). To give you an idea of what this actually means, let me share with you a little of what we have worked on as a team and what I have worked on as a teacher. 

Recently, the instructional team finished an in-depth study of how to use learning targets (the EL version of learning objectives) with students. Using many of the same protocols we use with students, we worked during our Friday PD time to write and improve learning targets. We then progressed to discussing how to unpack (explain) and debrief (reflect on) learning targets with our crews. After about a month of study, we are now observing each other teach to see how effectively learning targets are being used. 

Personally, I have recently been working on helping my Kindergarteners become more independent and proficient writers. Together with Jen, I created specific goals for my crew during writer’s workshop. The goals are for students to write a sentence or more and to operate as independent writers who persevere without teacher prompting. Each week Jen and I have been working on small steps to improve my teaching practice and to get my students closer to these goals; we have analyzed student work, reviewed lessons and co-planned.

As a teacher, I feel incredibly grateful to work in a school community where professional learning is prioritized. We truly practice what we preach in that we not only ask students to “grow their brains” and work hard to learn new things but we also do the same. Our crew is committed to learning and growing together. 

Incorporating Art Throughout the Day

At Detroit Prep we work with kids to set goals all year long. As teachers, we set personal goals to push our practice and help our students. One thing I have been working on this year is incorporating art into my daily instruction. It has been really powerful to watch my young students express themselves and their ideas through art. The focus in primary education tends to be on literacy and speaking skills; providing another mode of expression has allowed all my students to access higher order thinking in multiple ways. Here are a couple examples of ways we’ve used art throughout the day:

Close Read Aloud

With every expedition, we guide students through a few close reading cycles. We teach a text that is a few grade levels above their comprehension level and guide students through the text. This structure allows them to learn content, access complex texts, and build literacy skills they can transfer to other books. At the end of the cycle they produce a culminating task where they answer a focusing question and show what they learned. For this task, after reading A Seed is Sleepy, their job was to use figurative language and watercolor painting to describe something a seed does during its life cycle.

Expedition Products

For our soil case study students made soil layer diagrams to teach about soil. We made mixed media collages for each soil layer and then put them together (with writing on the back) to show what it looks like when you dig down into the earth.

Painted Reflections

At the end of a case study we guide students through some sort of reflective process so they can articulate what they learned and experienced. Typically this is done through writing. I pushed my students to think about reflection in a different way at the end of our soil case study. They did a silent painted reflection to think about all the things we did to learn about soil and how they felt during and after each experience.

Partnering with Families

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At Detroit Prep, we believe that the families are a crucial part of our crew. We understand that parents are our students’ first teachers and will be our students’ life-long advocates. We hold community meetings regularly and share ownership of many things in our school - of everything from recess duty to curricular decisions. How parents get involved with individual crews at the school varies to meet the needs of each crew and crew leader.

In this post, I want to share about how families have been involved with my crew this year. At the end of the day, my crew has a block of choice time. During this time, students either participate in learning activities of their choice or meet with the teacher individually or in a small group for remediation or enrichment. 

This year my crew decided to invite parents to participate in our choice time one day a week. We asked our parents either to come in and join with pre-planned activities or to prepare an activity to share with us. Some visitors have come in and played tens frame war or read books with us. Others have gone above and beyond and brought us new, exciting learning activities. One family brought an interactive book about Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and taught us about the many instruments that compose an orchestra. Another family treated us to a healthy pancake party. We showed cooperation in groups to prepare the pancakes, set the table and assemble fruit skewers!

Having family members join our crew is an amazing experience! The crew is grateful for the knowledges shared and the time given by guests. As a teacher, I immensely appreciate the compassion and cooperation Detroit Prep families. Working together - teachers and families - we can offer DP students enriching and impactful educational experiences. 

Field Work at Detroit Prep

The past three months Kindergarten and First Graders at Detroit Prep have explored the world of garbage and recycling.  Students discovered that garbage is a problem in their local community.  They explored what happens to garbage after it’s thrown away through nonfiction literature, movie clips, photographs, and field work!  

In November students visited Green Living Science in Detroit and walked around Detroit’s incinerator.  At Green Living Science, students experienced separating recycled materials and sorting them into the right bins.  Next they worked with a partner to create a garbage machine using recycled materials.  Each pair shared what they created and explained to their peers how it worked.  At the incinerator students were able to walk around the outside and use what they’ve learned to explain what was happening inside.  Students watched numerous garbage trucks drive in and out.  Once students were back on the bus, they used a see, think, wonder graphic organizer to draw pictures and write about what they saw, thought, and wondered during their field work.

After learning more about recycling, students visited Arts and Scraps located on Harper in Detroit.  Students began at their warehouse.  They used recycled (never been used and clean!) sock pieces to create anything they wanted.  Students used their curiosity and creativity to create glasses, necklaces, keychains, and more!  We hopped back onto the bus to head over to their store.  Students created “Friends of the Earth” using recycled materials.  Soon students will work with Ms. Beth in art to create something new with their leftover materials!  Last they were able to “shop” in their store.  Each student got a small bag to fill.   

Field work is an important part of the learning process.  In both field work experiences students were able to experience what they have been learning about in school.  As we move forward with our garbage and recycling expedition, students have even more personal experiences to reflect on and learn from.  

Exploring Human Rights in 1st Grade

This February we had a two week break our Celebration of Learning and starting our next expedition. I took that extra time to explore human rights, and specifically, children's rights, with my first grade crew. This project lived within our opinion reading and writing unit, so we incorporated literacy standards to create these final products. Read below to learn more about the process.

To build background knowledge, we spent a month reading about civil rights leaders and social justice. With each read aloud, students practiced reading skills and standards while they made connections between the concepts and content of the books. Here are some of the books we read:

Peace is an Offering by Annette LeBox
Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport
Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson
Malala Yousafazi: Warrior with Words by Karen Leggett Abouraya
Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester
Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

Finally, we read I Have the Right to Be a Child by Alain Serres. While we read this text, an illustrated version of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, kids made connections between the rights in the book and rights that were violated in other stories we’d read. Then they decided which right was most important to them and thought about why. They chose colors to illustrate the way this right makes them feel and created their silhouette to add their images into the product. Watching my students take ownership of their learning, rights, and artistic ability was a powerful way to spend January and February.