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Friday, September 28, 2007

Math manipulative use.

My students have been having a very difficult time working well with the math manipulatives we use for math almost every day. I have been trying to come up with ways to encourage the students to use the math manipulatives appropriately, and to clean them up appropriately when math time is over. This is something I have been struggling with in a way, but in another way kind of just...given up on ever having them follow directions and use the manipulatives appropriately. And I don’t want to give up, so I’m trying to think outside the box.

I was originally planning on devoting an entire day’s math lesson to taking out and putting away the cubes and blocks that the students use for math. That may help to make the students use the math tools the way I want them to be used, but I don’t really like that method all that much – partly because I don’t know if it will actually work, and partly because it feels too boring/behaviorist/militant to me. And also, it always pains me to waste instructional time on classroom management issues (which is either a weakness or a strength on my part - depending on how I think about it).

I just now came up with an idea though. The students have been having a really hard time putting the manipulatives down long enough for me to give directions, and I cannot talk over the constant clank and echo of the noise made by the cubes and blocks banging against each other and the desks. Therefore, what if I take away the cubes and blocks, and instead use quieter manipulatives such as felt squares, cotton balls, and paper squares? The students will still be able to physically manipulate the materials, but I will have one fewer obstacle to deal with. I will still have to capture the students' attention, but I will only have to work on the students being quiet – not the students and their manipulatives. I feel that the noise of the manipulatives is helping to escalate the noise of the students’ voices and the ensuing chaos in the classroom. Therefore, but removing that distraction, perhaps I will be able to help the students funnel their energy into using the materials to learn math concepts, instead of just to make noise.

I am not sure if this is an ingenious plan or a cop-out. Either way, I think I’m going to try it and see what happens.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Conflicted Thoughts...

(My Internet's been down. I wrote this on Sept. 22, and am back-posting it.)

I'm feeling extremely...emotional about school. I am frustrated with many things - the curriculum and the way I have to teach things, the overwhelming prevalence of pre-packaged programs (to the point where some of my lesson plans are nearly as simple as "See Book") and some of the classroom management tactics of my CT.

However, I absolutely adore the children. If I didn't care so much about the kids, the fact that I feel they are getting something of a sub-par educational experience might not disturb me as much as it does.

On Monday, one of the girls in my class ran up to me, gave me a crushing hug, and exclaimed "Te extraño mucho!" I told her that I had missed her too, and then proceeded to melt.

I guess I am feeling two contrasting emotions. On the one hand, I am completely disheartened about many things. I don't even know how to explain it. When I was telling my professors about it, I'm afraid they just took it as complaining. I wasn't articulating myself well enough. There are some things regarding reading instruction that I don't totally agree with, but I know (think that perhaps?) are necessary in an early-elementary classroom. So, while I don't entirely believe in their efficacy, I could enthusiastically go along with the practices as long as the students were also receiving other more holistic types of instruction - a combination of the two would seem quite logical and would help to accommodate various learning styles and ability levels.

As much as I absolutely loved everything about school at the beginning, I knew that the time would come when my feelings changed, or at least became more complicated. I have certainly reached that point. By the middle of last week, I was deep in the throes of complicated introspective thought about...everything - the school, my CT's methods, the state of elementary education in the US, the things I value about education...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Valuing student knowledge.

I know it is always mentioned, and it is an obvious but often neglected point, but I keep coming up with more concrete reasons why it is so very important to understand, or try to understand, where your students come from. Sometimes it is just a very minor thing, but still – having knowledge and understanding of some of the thoughts that may be going on in the students heads helps in little, perhaps unnoticeable, ways. Ways that aren’t going to change a student from one who cannot read to one who can, but which can give the students a little extra tiny boost. It can help the students to know that the teacher is on their side.

We were doing a 5-senses activity – learning about touch. My CT was going around with bags of different materials; marshmallows, fishbowl stones, cotton balls, and play-dough. When she went around with the play-dough, two girls were talking to each other. “It’s like masa!” they said. And it was. The play-dough was sticking up out of the bag so that they could see it and it was a light yellow color, much like masa, the dough used to make tortillas and tamales.

My CT must have heard the girls say this as she was standing over them holding the bag of play-dough, but either ignored it because she thought they were speaking in Spanish, or because she simply didn’t know what masa was or couldn’t understand what they were saying, and therefore didn’t know how accurate their guess was.

And again, like I said, this was a tiny, minuscule incident. In many ways, it is insignificant, a small thing that no one is any worse for. But it is also indicative of the many ways that these students are not understood by their teacher. And when worthwhile positive comments such as this one are made, and then ignored by the teacher, the students will slowly cease to make these connections to their own home life and culture. By being ignored when they speak of things that are unfamiliar to the teacher, they begin to devalue these aspects of themselves. They will learn what to say in school so that the teacher understands, and those topics will prevail in their school identity. For a while, it may be possible to keep separate school identities and home identities. But after a time, one of these two identities will grow stronger and take over. It’s exhausting to be two people throughout the day. The students may learn to value who their teacher wants them to be. In doing so, they may slowly walk away from their home identity and culture. Other students may value their home identity more. They may retreat more and more while at school, by holding onto who they are at home. Believing that their ways of being are not appreciated at school, they will begin to value school as an institution less and less, eventually loosing interest at all.

Of course these are two extremes. But they are also two things that do happen. One of my goals as a teacher is to create an environment wherein students feel comfortable sharing pieces of who they are when they are at home. I want my students to make connections between the topics they are studying in school and the cultural capital they possess outside of school. I believe in the sociocultural theories that all students possess valuable knowledge, and others can benefit from the knowledge possessed by their classmates. I want to construct a classroom environment where all students understand this concept – that everyone is different, everyone excels in their own ways, and when others are allowed to share what they know, everyone benefits.

Monday, September 10, 2007


I'm pretty sure that my students' number one hobby is picking at mosquito bites until they bleed.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Interesting linguistic experiences.

1.) My CT was having the students do a letter identification activity. Each child had an alphabet strip on his or her desk and the teacher was asking the students to point to specific letters. She and I would walk around looking to see if the students generally knew or generally didn't know the letters.

At the end, she asked the students to point to their favorite letter. I went up to a student and asked her what her favorite letter was. She pointed to the "S" and correctly identified the letter. I then asked her why "S" was her favorite letter. "Because," she said, "I love watermelon!"

I was able to follow her train of though pretty quickly and replied with, "Oh...right. Sandia starts with 'S'." The thing is, in Spanish, watermelon is sandia. Therefore, her response made pretty good sense. She loves watermelon or sandia, and therefor loves the letter "S." If I hadn't know where her thinking was coming from though, I would have incorrectly identified her as someone who (in this case) had no sense of letter-sound connections.

I found this incident fascinating because it is an examples of ways in which having a background in the language that one's students speak most comfortable really helps in many ways (even if one is teaching the English half of a dual language day). I was able to understand this student's true capabilities because I could fit together the pieces of the puzzle. My CT who has very little background in Spanish likely would not have made this connection, and the student would have lost out in sharing a bit of her knowledge.

2) I was talking with a student as she was waiting in the lunch line.

I---: Teacher, is chicken day?
Me: Hm?
I---: Chicken day.
Me: What is chicken day?
I---: Chicken day, 'cuz you go on chicken day.
Me: (I give her a quizzical look.)
I---: I no want you go on chicken day.
Me: (Confused.) What is chicken day?
I---: When the teacher did the calender and she say you go on chicken day.

And then I understood. The other day my CT was going through the months on the calender with the students when she mentioned that I would be leaving around Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving has turkey, which is poultry, as are chickens. Therefore, I would be leaving around chicken day. It was really a brilliant substitution for a word that the student couldn't remember. Thanksgiving is long and hard to say, turkey is not very common, but chickens, well, this is a medium-sized town surrounded on all sides by rural farmland. These children have some familiarity with chickens, both through location and through counting books which frequently feature cute little baby chicks on at least one page.

I am dreading Chicken Day.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Things that make me cringe.

I have a child in my class who has been described as having "a chronic case of lice." I would much rather a child with a chronic case of strep throat or the flu than lice. Lice creeps me out. Strep throat and vomit I can deal with, but lice... *shudder*

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Things I've learned so far.

Things I've learned during my week of student teaching (or rather, observing and assisting my CT):

-Teachers drink a lot of diet cola (mostly Diet Coke).
-It really will be easier to lesson plan for a group of real live students, as opposed to the imaginary theoretical students of my methods courses.
-Most teachers are OCD/Neurotic in many ways - that's what makes them so good at what they do. (I met my chart-making competition in the form of an ELL teacher at the school. She likes making computerized charts/calendars nearly as much as I do.)
-Scheduling in complicated. (In order to fulfill the the requirements in an IEP while not pulling the student out of the required reading, math, specials, recess, or lunch times means that the student will be pulled out of the social studies/science/handwriting blocks nearly every day, thus assuring that while the student may gain a little in reading and math she will learn no science or social studies during the entire school year.)
-I love first grade.