Monday, October 31, 2011

"Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something to eat.. THANK YOU. "

My 2 1/2 year old granddaughter has been practicing what to say this afternoon as she goes door to door begging for candy. She's all excited to be dressing up as an ice cream cone. She really doesn't remember trick or treating last year, when she could just barely get out the words "trick or treat" but she knows today is a BIG day and she knows candy is in her future.

School is a lot like trick or treating. We knock on the doors of our students, hoping to get something back in return: participation, completion of assignments, sharing of knowledge, respect, effort.

How often do we as teachers take the time to say, "Thank you" when they deliver? How often do we show our honest appreciation for a job well done by them? I wonder if more of us consistently showed our appreciation of their efforts, would they be willing to give more? Just food for thought....

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Exciting news for my regular readers, or someone who just happened upon this post!

I am hosting a book giveaway for 2 copies of Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans. Evans is a #1 New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author. Michael Vey is the first in a new series by best-selling author Evans (The Christmas Box), published by Simon and Schuster in partnership with Mercury Radio Arts, a multi-media production company started by popular talk show host Glenn Beck.

The following is quoted from the email I received from Motive Outreach offering the book for giveaway on this blog:

Parents, teachers and community leaders concerned with the dark and
violent content in today's popular young adult novels are enthusiastically
embracing the new best-selling book, Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25.
Michael Vey tells a story of an unlikely teen hero who, despite struggling
with Tourette Syndrome, has special gifts and powers that help him overcome evil
forces threatening to take over the world. The book's "good story, good values"
approach has both adults and youth applauding.
"The message of Michael Vey is
one every parent, teacher and administrator will want their children to read,"
said Ann Harkins, CEO of the National Crime Prevention Council.
"Our students went nuts over Michael Vey. I'm not exaggerating to say that Michael Vey is the most popular reading we've ever assigned," said Bill Glisson, principal of Miami Valley Middle School in Dayton, Ohio.

Teachers can find resources for using the book in their classroom in 56-Teacher Resource Guide for Applying Michael Vey reading and lessons in the classroom.

Are you excited now? Do you want a copy of this book to read yourself, share with students, or use in your classroom?

NO LATER THAN NOVEMBER 4: Email me @ to be entered in the drawing to receive your copy of the book. I will contact you for mailing information when I inform you of your winning status! Good luck!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It was an AHA moment and an OH SH*T moment, all rolled into one.

History class - assignment: Read the following article: The First Christians. Then, answer the following:
On the first page, near the bottom of the firs paragraph, the author state that "what began as a grassroots movement of Jewish peasants would become a powerful institution and a dominant force in Western culture." What does he mean by the statement? Support your answer with evidence.
Things you might consider and include:

  • the expansion of Christianity into Asia Minor and Rome

  • the shift from a rural to an urban religion

  • the direction of expansion of Christianity

A tough assignment? Yes.. no doubt. An impossible assignment for the average 10th grader to complete? Not at all.

The previous days had been spent outlining how to complete such a writing essay. They had the format for writing down.

Blank looks. Across the room. A few feebly attempted getting started.

Finally, out of desperation.... I interjected: IT'S A FOCUS QUESTION GUYS! JUST LIKE IN ENGLISH CLASS. IT'S A FOCUS QUESTION.

(In English II, they've been reading The Crucible and answering focus questions on various parts following a very structured approach. Restate the question for your topic sentence. Write several sentences which support your answer. Then close, usually with an opinion based on the text.)

When I said the magic words FOCUS QUESTION, some of them sat up straighter. I started outlining on the board... using the FOCUS QUESTION format. Suddenly, they GOT IT.

Even Student X, the one who NEVER gets anything said, "I GET IT!!"

I think often, we teach in isolation from subject to subject, we do not use the same terminology, and we do not make those connections for students, the connections they fail to make on their own, the ones we think are supposed to come automatically to them, but in reality, they not only fail to make but fail to see.

We, as educators, need to take the time and effort to show them HOW to make those connections on their own by making a concerted effort on our parts to work across the curriculum, making the way we do things uniform from grade to grade, from content area to content area.

Some may criticize and suggest we are making students conform. Some may accuse this of teaching to the test. But in reality, we are just showing them the way things work. It about creating reasonable expectations, showing them how to meet those expectations, and creating opportunities for them to meet those expectations in multiple settings and situations.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I think some of the most important things we teach students in school have little to do with academics. That is one of my concerns about homeschooling. Where will those students learn the skills they need to be successful in society as a whole?

Some things are obvious: work habits, getting to class on time with the materials you need, or the simple act of showing up on a regular basis.

Other skills can be more ambiguous: working as part of a group, learning to be polite and respectful, and acknowledging authority.

Some students come to school understanding that adults are in charge for a reason - the greater good for all. Others come defiant, leary of all authority figures, determined to make their own rules in every given situation. These are the kids who constantly have to be asked to remove their hat, day after day, hour after hour. They have to be reminded to not speak when the teacher is talking, don't bother other students, ask and answer questions or give comments respectfully.

Through the years, I've had a multitude of students who are unwilling or unable to follow the basic rules of school. Many of these, I've encountered later in life. They are struggling to hold a job, even at McDonald's. One young man didn't understand why HE had to wear the same uniform as everyone else. He got angry and threw his uniform in the garbage, and ultimately lost his job. Others find that employers are much stricter with their tardy policy than the school was. Others find that employers expect you to show up at the job with the necessary tools you need for that particular job and without them, you no longer have a job.

Other students lack skills to interact with others politely and respectfully. They are constantly making comments to their teachers and other students, interjecting little jibes here and there that make everyone's life miserable. When confronted, they claim they didn't mean it, didn't mean anything by it, or flat out deny they even said it. Unless they change their ways, these students will also struggle in the work force.

I think schools need to spend more time and effort on these issues. Too many students come from homes where these skills are not valued. We must teach them. Someday, it may not matter if they can balance an equation, understand the influences the Romans had on our government, or be able to dissect a frog. But it will certainly matter if they can hold a job, be a productive member of society, and understand the social mores of our groups.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The structure of the hour for my class varies..... from year to year.. from one group of students to another. I wish I could say I've found the perfect way to teach math, but I haven't! But since the question was posed, I will take a stab at some things I've learned that work, most of the time.

For me, having a Math Starter really sets the tone of the class. In a perfect world, this activity bridges what we did yesterday with the new material we will learn today. In my reality world, it is often simply the short set of questions that comes with the textbook. I download this PDF to project on the board. Other days, I use a problem I have written, or even a math puzzler that has nothing to do with the lesson. It could be a problem in the book, vocabulary words to copy(YIKES!) or a prerequisite type of activity. But whatever... I try to choose something that takes about 5 minutes and engages their math brain in gear while I take attendance and deal with any other little odds and ends. Depending on what the activity was, we may go over it immediately, or save it, especially if the activity bridged yesterday and today together.

Then.. we move onto homework/classwork from yesterday. I really seldom give HOMEWORK because honestly, most students do not complete it, so what's the point? I try to assign enough problems to cement those skills, but just enough so students, at least MOST of them, should be able to finish in class.

When we go over homework, I read answers quickly, then stop, ask for repeats. Then I allow questions. We do any problems students struggled with. If I get NO questions, or very few, I choose several problems I knew they struggled with based on the problems during work time the day before, or problems I anticipated students would struggle with. I work through problems asking for "what next" etc...

Then, if I feel we need more work on that topic, we do more problems.... often Day Two is the more complex problems on the topic.

If not, we move on to today's material. I think it is most important to bridge yesterday/prior knowledge with what we are doing new. I seldom teach from the book, preferring to 'show' my way. Then, we work through problems together. Students are expected to copy each example, show the steps, etc... as we go. Then we work through the begining of the assignment together, and then independent work time.

Depending on the topic, that schedule may vary significantly, with group work to 'discover' how to tackle problems, or some experiment or demonstration.

I LOVE individual whiteboards for classwork. These engage more students much more easily than paper. When they have that board, marker and magic eraser (paper towel) in hand, they are much more eager to attempt problems. I try to wander during this time, having one or more students at the board working out problems. We always have 'phone a friend' options when they run into problems when working on the board.

Sometimes, I feel too traditional, too structured and try to be more creative with more open ended activities. However, it often seems students do not always 'discover' what I need them to and we end up with more structured activities anyway.

I wish I could find the balance to teach math in a more 'creative' classroom where students develop their own meaning but I struggle with time management because these activities always seem to take more time.

I love group activities, especially graphing. Giving them a large poster size graph paper to create a graph as a group always seems a hit.

I try to weave as much technology into lessons as I can. I love interactive sites like National Library of Virtual Manipulatives or Shodor. Illuminations has some great lessons as well. Anything you can bring in different and engaging will be a hit...

Hope that helps. I am always looking for great ideas so please SHARE!!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Today marks the end of the first 6 weeks of school, what, until a few years ago, would have been the end of the first marking period. Now we are on 9 week periods, so we still have a bit to go before the first round of report card grades come out.

I feel scattered still. It seems the year won't fall into place, into its routine, where my day becomes a logical flow of what to expect. Maybe it is the hodgepodge of students I have this year, maybe it is me. I don't know.. all I know is at this point, I still feel as if I am juggling bowling balls trying to make sense of it all.

For some of the students I have this year, just trying to keep their behaviors from getting them kicked out of classes is overwhelming for me. It feels as if I am more a fireman than a teacher, constantly stomping on outbursts, trying to keep them under wraps. It seems every time I turn my head, am not in the room, or look away for a split second, one of them does something inappropriate, disruptive. Forget ever worrying about academics with them. It is all about behavior.

Some of them are responsible for their actions, telling the truth, admitting their part in the occurence. Others toss blame at anyone and everyone but themselves.

At this point in the year, I am just wondering if we will EVER find our groove... if things will ever fall into a predictable routine....

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Today, because of the MEAP's, I am letting my Guided Study kids watching Toy Story 3. You'd be amazed at how 'attentive' they CAN be when it is something entertaining instead of something school related. They are focused, quiet and still. Hmmmmm......

Wouldn't it be amazing if school, all their classes, could be this engaging? Do I need to dress up as a cartoon character every day to get their attention??

Which leads to another question.... are we creating a generation of non-attenders? With all the video games, tv shoes, internet... all of which are highly engaging, fast paced, and bright/loud... are we teaching students/children that if it is not 'fun' they do not have to attend?

How many times are you stuck in a meeting, a training, something, that is less than engaging, but knew you had to absorb the information? How many times have you had to read a manual or some other informational text that you really had little interest in, but knew you needed to get all you could from it?

Life cannot always be engaging. School cannot all be exciting. Sometimes, learning is just boring.... sad truth....

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Oh joy. MEAP's start today. As I sit watching my crew, I am confident I know their scores will be reflective of their effort. Wait... I didn't say the score will be reflective of their KNOWLEDGE or what they learned last year.... I didn't say their score will in any way indicate how well their teacher last year taught..... I said their score will be reflective of their individual effort.

We are less than an hour into testing. So far.....

  • one young man farted loudly, intentionally

  • two are asleep (one stayed up late last night to watch the Lion's game.. not sure why #2 is asleep. I have gently woken both twice.)

  • one had a loud outburst, screaming shut up to another student and asking to go take test in office

  • one was done filling in bubbles almost before I finished reading directions. I don't even think he opened the question booklet

  • one wrote '1948' the blank for school name, even though the school name was written on the board

  • two didn't know what year they were born to fill in that information

Please... base MY pay on their scores.

The ridiculousness of it all is so absurd I cannot even fathom it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I was reflecting on yesterday's negativity in my post and trying to sort out the reasons I feel so frustrated. Is it me I am upset with? Is it my students? Is it school in general?

And perhaps the biggest question...

What can I do to change my state of mind?

The bottom line right now is many students do not see the connection between education and their future. For many, too many, the goal of graduating from high school is overwhelming. They have no fantasies about anything past graduation if they possibly make it that far. College is not something they perceive as a reality possible for them. They see themselves as failures before they even start.

Believing in my students can go a long way in setting them up for success. I know that. I acknowledge my role in that part of the process.

Just believing isn't enough though. I have to transfer that belief into a reality for them. There is where the disconnect lies.

One young man in English 2 is bright, gregarious, bubbling over with knowledge and ability. But he is also a self-proclaimed "ass". He has no intention of passing the class, even though he could easily with minimal effort. He will somedays participate in discussions, contributing amazing insights into the conversation. Other days, he can't be bothered to show up on time, can't be bothered to put pencil to paper, or fingers to keyboard. For all the knowledge I *know* he has, there is little evidence in the grade book to substantiate that knowledge. Maybe he will surprise me and Ace the mid-term and final and manage to pass the class, get credit and move on. Maybe... I hope so. Either way.... it seems my encouragement falls on deaf ear with him. He acknowledges his potential, but chooses to let himself down. He claims to want to be a doctor someday, and I have no doubt he is capable of achieving that goal, but with his current work habits and defiant attitude, that goal is not achievable despite his extraordinary intellectual ability.

Another young man... in my math class. He cannot be bothered to grab his book, bring his assignments to class, even grab a pencil off my desk to use. He refuses to open the book to the page we are on, refuses to copy notes, try problems. He is sooooo determined he is going to fail, he refuses to even try.

Another young lady... so intent on her social life and the ensuing drama there on a constant basis, cannot focus on work in any class. She is constantly worried about someone else and what they are doing, where they are, who is making comments about them. She has potential, but it is unrealized.

When I first starting teaching, I could have stopped there. THOSE would have been my challenges this year. But unfortunately.... that is just the tip of the iceberg. It seems more and more students come unready to learn, unready to be a student....

I keep trying. I keep tackling them one student at a time, one day at a time, one class at a time, one assignment at a time...

There's always a mountain in front of me
Seems I'm always climbin' and stumblin'
And then fallin'
And then climbin'
But I keep on tryin'

~Trace Adkins

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Maybe it is the time of the year, maybe I am getting old.... but I feel a sense of discouragement and dismay at the tide of education today. It seems we've made a paradigm shift, or several of them, in the time I have been teaching.

Some of the changes have come from above, forced down upon us - increased accountability in the form of standardized testing and a uniform curriculum. Those issues are beyond our local control and have been debated in the greater educational arena to the point I am not sure I have much to add.

The bigger paradigm shift I see is the school culture/climate change. We've become so dictated by fear we no longer create the culture which is conducive to learning that once seemed the norm in schools.

Dress codes are not enforced. Rules in general have become more lax. Students seem to have more say in the social mores of the school community. On the one hand, it is important to allow students the opportunity to make decisions that impact themselves. It is a life's lesson to create rules and consequences. But as the majority starts to shift from those truly interested in education, to those more interested in finding ways to be a catalyst for chaos, I fear our schools are changing, swinging so far from an 'adult-ruled' society to one run by students with an agenda not guided by rationale and a drive for learning, that we have lost the true purpose of a public education in the process.

Students get in trouble in one school so they are booted to another. Students don't like one classroom teacher's rules so they change their schedule. Students choose not to be learners, so we have no choice but to allow them to wander that path, dragging others along behind them. Classroom teachers' hands are tied when it comes to discipline and enforcing consequences. Yet, our worth is judged by the achievement of students in our classes.

If you want to judge my worth by the productivity of my last year's students, then allow me to autonomy to create a learning environment conducive to actual learning.

I don't have the answers. But I do know what we are doing, where we are heading, gets further and further from a true education with each passing day.