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donnaodonnellfigurski.com - On Teaching
On Teaching
Welcome to the Wonderful World of First Grade!
Welcome to the Wonderful World
This is me!
This is me.
I love my class.
Can't you see?


Yep! That's one happy teacher. THAT'S ME!

Sometimes I really look like that. Oh, don't worry. It's a good thing. I practically stand on my head for my kids. But then . . . they just about stand on their heads for me, too.

I think kids are just about the smartest people around. Don't let their size trick you. Sometimes they try to hide what they really know, but if you dust away the cobwebs, it's all there . . . just waiting to be discovered.

Meet my kids
Meet my kids.

There are so many of them. There are David and Sara and Nick and Samantha and Thomas and Nichole and Kieth and Courtney. Well, the list could go on and on. I have taught more than 500 children since I began teaching a long, long time ago. I've taught kids with common names like Greg and John and some with not so common names like, Olivia and Demi. But, I've never taught a Mathilda or a Henry or a Stella or a Wendell or an Elvira or a Hubert . . . or even a Donna . . . but maybe I will . . . someday.

KIDS COMMENT in 2004-2005


Well, another school year has ended. (2004-2005) This year I had a total of 27 children. That's a BIG class by any standards, but especially since our sister school across town, no more than a mile away, had ONLY 13 children per class. The way I look at it . . . I had double the fun...or maybe it was double the trouble. I'll let you decide. Here's what some of my KIDDLES said about their 1st grade experience.

When I started 1st Grade I was not good at math, but I got better. First grade is the best.

I have been in 1st Grade for a year. Can you believe that???

1st Grade was all fun! We had to do a lot of work to get things done.

For GROUP DAILY NEWS we wrote about animals, healthy snacks, snow, people, flowers, butterflies, rainbows, horses, our prize bucket, and hospitals.

When I first met Mrs. Figurski, I was shy, but then I got used to her. Mrs. Figurski has fun activities. People learn things in first grade.

First grade is a lot of fun. I am going to miss first grade.

When I started school, I was very nervous.

On the first day of first grade, I was shy and scared. When I sat down I met Ivan and Gale. They became my first friends in 1st grade. Now I love first grade. It is the best!

When I first started school, I cried because I wanted my dad. Then I met new friends and my teacher, Mrs. Figurski, did lots of stuff, like, Word Wall Quiz and Group Daily News.

KIDS COMMENT in 2007-2008

Mrs. Figurski's class is the best class in the whole wide world. My favorite game is Race for a Flat.

My teacher is a nice teacher. You can have fun in 1st grade.

First grade can be difficult. My teacher is fun. My teacher makes projects. My teacher likes me. She is the best teacher. My teacher can do anything.

I like first grade because we write a lot. I like projects. I like when Mrs. Figurski reads Meish Goldish.

First grade is fun. I play games. I made a book, too. Mrs. Figurski is a nice teacher. Mrs. Figurski made first grade fun.

It was fun in first grade, but it's time for an end. Mrs. Figurski made a lot of fun things like Alpha Dice and Alpha Patterns. Mrs. Figurski likes frogs. Mrs. Figurski is the best teacher in the whole wide world.

I love first grade. First grade is not like kindergarten. Our favorite teacher is Mrs. Figurski.

I like my teacher. My teacher is cool. My teacher teaches. My teacher likes kids.

In first grade you learn how to read.

You need a backpack in first grade.

First grade is fun. You do projects. You play games. You do stuff and you don't know that you are learning. If you are in Mrs. Figurski's class, you are in the right class. When you are done with first grade, you go to second grade.



                   I decided to go back to school.

I registered for three graduate courses this summer through the Regional Training Center of the College of New Jersey.back-to-school

The first course I took was called Expanding Student Thinking in the Classroom. Two fantastic instructors named, Nina and Margaret, taught it. That duo made each day so much fun while they shared so many strategies and techniques. It was almost as if they had the course choreographed. Nina easily finished Margaret’s thoughts while Margaret quickly slipped her ideas in without missing a beat.

The teachers/students who took the course ranged from first grade (me) through high school. Special teachers like music teachers and guidance counselors rounded out the class. It was a fun group.

We worked together devising learning situations. We planned a variety of lessons. My favorite was when my group had to sell a dingle-hopper. Yep . . . a dingle-hopper! It not only feeds your pet rabbit, it cleans up after him, too. Don’t wait! If you call 888-876-5432 in the next five minutes you will also receive a giant dingle-hopper for your pet elephant. (If you have one, it’s a great deal.) Let me tell you, I’ll never look at a melon scooper in the same way again.
That may not seem like graduate course work, but it was. It demonstrated how to steer students to think out of the box. It showed how to guide students to expand their thinking both in and out of the classroom.

For my final project I wrote four lesson plans with four rationale papers to support the lessons. These lessons were designed for third grade level, but can easily be adapted for grades K through five. I can’t wait to try them in my own classroom this fall. grad girl blue ribbonimages
The best part of all is that out of 25 possible points for the class, I earned 25. That’s an “A!” YEAH!

                                Below are some of my fellow classmates.grad-school-expanded-thinki

          Ross, Deborah, Bill, Marcia,
                             Rebekah, and Gail


                                            We had so much fun.


  I already said that I love to teach, but I love to take it a step further and teach students to be teachers. I’ve had student teachers from William Paterson University, Felician College, St Thomas Aquinas College, Montclair State University, Stockton College, and two students from St. Peter’s College. I love to be able to share ideas and talk education with my student teachers. It’s fun to discuss the children’s progress and their funny antics with them. It’s exciting to know that some of my teaching philosophy and my creative ideas may someday emerge into the classrooms of my students.


Meet Saran Sinnette. saran & donna crazy hair day 2008 copy
Saran did her student teaching in my classroom from September 2007 until May 2008. She did both her Clinical 1 and her Clinical 2 coursework with me. So we have been hanging out with each other for a long time. It's fun to watch her grow into a "real" teacher. She was a Montclair University student.

Here we are being a little crazy on wacky hair day.  It just gave us another excuse to have fun in the classroom.

                         This is Ellen Ptalis.

ellen-ptalisEllen is Saran's mentor teacher
from Montclair University. 
She visited Saran in my classroom six times.

It's Ellen's job to observe Saran's teaching and offer suggestions.

She wants to make Saran the best teacher she can be.
Just as I do.

                      What a team!


This is Denise Lynch. She's a student teacher in my classroom now. She started in January of 2007 and will be with us until May. It didn't take her long to fit right in. deniselynchjan2007Seems like she's been with us forever. It's really only a week!
I'm glad she is with us.

tn_baby9_x002It's funny! I didn't know Denise a few weeks ago -- but, yet, I did. Well  . . . I didn't know her as an adult. BUT, I held Denise when she was a baby - more than 20 years ago.  She doesn't remember, and I barely do.

Denise's father, Patrick, and my husband, David, played softball on the same team. Denise's brother, PJ, and her mother, Donna, were always at the field to cheer on Patrick. I was there, too, with my son, Jared, and my daughter, Kiersten. We urged David to catch those fly balls.

We got to know the Lynch's pretty well. So, when Denise wasdeniselynchclassroomjan2007 born, we were invited to her christening.

Now, Denise is all grown up. And, by some strange coincidence, she was assigned to my classroom to do her student teaching.
She is soon to graduate from my alma mater
William Paterson University in May.

Here, Denise is reading a book to the children,
called Don't Squeal, Unless It's a Big Deal.
It's a fun book reminding children to not tattletale. Then Denise tried her hand at Book Trivia. You can see some of the questions on the easel.


Dana Buzzelli joined my class in September 2006. She is a student teacher from Felician College.danaturkey

Dana comes once a week to work with the children.
 She has taught lessons on writing
and on magnets.

The kids really have fun with the magnets.
It's almost -
like magic.

Here's Dana preparing to teach magnetic force

 Dana listens to the children read in reading groups and plays flash card games with them . . . like
Word Flash.
                                                                        Who said First Grade wasn't fun?

Dana's student teaching assignment, in January,
will be
in a Special Education class
before she walks down the aisle
collect her diploma
and her
teaching credential
in June.

Lauren DePreta was a student
Montclair State University.

She did her Clinical 1 requirements in my
First Grade class
  February to May of 2006.

  This is the semester      
                                                before laurenbook2006
Student Teaching
. . . the time

   students get to
observe classroom routines
      and methods of teaching,
       and to start to take part
in the

Lauren came  
       twice a week
          was teaching small reading groups.
Cindy Martinez was a student teacher in my class
from September to December of 2003.
                                   She graduated from Montclair State University.

                                      Cindy worked in all phases
                                                                     of the  classroom  preparing      
        for the day that she would have her very own room.

She did lessons in Math on patterning
                  and in Social Studies
she addressed the Drug Awareness Unit.Image

Here's Cindy passing out      
   another sticker.
         The kids just love to get
                 to their
     sticker collection book.

And so my classroom turns into a laboratory where student teachers can study and learn about early childhood behavior. They can practice their own teaching skills and develop their own methods; they can absorb new ideas, use new techniques, try out management skills, while still having the safety net of a mentor teacher to rely on.

I look forward to all new students who will pass through my classroom for the last phase of their teacher preparation. They are just one step away from having their own classrooms. And, then I wish them very well and hope they have as much fun in their classroom as I have in mine. 



Educational trends come and go and terminology changes with each passing year. The "buzz" words of today are ancient history by tomorrow. For as we know, the pendulum in education is in constant motion. But what it boils down to is teaching and reaching kids. Do it! Do it anyway you know how . . . but make certain that you do it.

Early in my teaching career, I was very fortunate to become involved with the Writing Project at Teacher's College, Columbia University in New York City. The lessons I learned from those very dedicated teachers were invaluable and they continue to influence my teaching . . . every day.

The following list of books were written by my teachers.

Lessons From A Child by Lucy McCormick Calkins
The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy McCormick Calkins

Living Between the Lines by Lucy McCormick Calkins with Shelley Harwayne

Raising Lifelong Learners by Lucy McCormick Calkins with Lydia Bellino

Lasting Impressions - Weaving Literature into the Writing Workshop by Shelley Harwayne

The next set of books was also written by my teachers, although a little more indirectly. Each of the following authors were guest speakers at Teacher's College, Columbia University on many occasions.

Children's Literature in the Reading Program by Bernice E. Cullinan

Report Card on the Basal Readers by Kenneth S. Goodman, Patrick Shannon, Yvonne S. Freeman, Sharon Murphy

Breaking Ground: Teachers Relate Reading and Writing in the Elementary School by Donald H. Graves
Writing: Teachers and Children at Work by Donald H. Graves
Build A Literate Classroom by Donald H. Graves
Write From the Start - Tapping your Child's Natural Writing Ability by Donald H. Graves

When Writers Read by Jane Hansen

Language Stories and Literacy Lessons by Jerome C. Harste, Virginia A. Woodward, Carolyn L. Burke

The Foundations of Literature by Don Holdaway

Expecting the Unexpected by Donald M. Murray

Life in a Crowded Place - Making a Learning Community by Ralph Peterson
Grand Conversations - Literature Groups in Action by Ralph Peterson, Maryann Eeds

Transitions by Regie Routman
Invitations - Changing as Teachers and Learners by Regie Routman

All contents copyright (c) 2002. Donna O'Donnell Figurski.
No content may be copied or reproduced in any way without the express permission of the creator.
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