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Sunday, August 31, 2008

I'm sorry, Covington.

I started something with the student mentioned in the previous post wherein I have a timer go off ever X minutes (a painfully short amount of time), and if the student is vaguely on task (meaning, kind of paying attention to what is going on, and NOT using classroom materials I have explicitly said not to) the student will get a sticker. After collecting X stickers (a painfully small number of stickers) the student is allowed to use the one classroom material that always engages the student.

I began this after spending an afternoon fishing for advice from anyone and everyone who would give me some. This was kind of a conglomeration of of the advice I culled from a handful of different people.

This worked amazingly well, for one day. That first day, this student filled up something like 4 charts, receiving a sticker nearly every time the buzzer went of. The one downside was that the rest of the students were startled/districted when the buzzer went off ever X minutes ALL day - especially when we were in the middle of centers; (They thought that the buzzer meant it was time to switch centers). After a few days though, they began to distinguish between the two different buzzers. One is my watch timer (which goes off every X minutes) and one is the kitchen timer that I have used for centers and to signal the end of activities since the first day of school.

The first day I thought "wow, this is a lot of work, but if it works, I'll do it!" After that day though, it didn't work as well. The student kept wandering off to use the one forbidden classroom material without being given permission to do so. Since being allowed to use this material is also the reward for good behavior, it kind of screws up the whole plan when the student sneaks around and uses it without first displaying the good behavior.

This whole plan would make Covington (and wow! You can read the entire book Making The Grade on Google Books, I think!) cry, and it does kind of make me cringe. It makes me even more uncomfortable when I think about it in the abstract. Though of course, that is where it would make me most uncomfortable. In practice, it may work to some degree. When I think about it in the context of everything I believe about learning and motivation though, it makes me want to take my stickers and throw them out the window.

In my comments, On Teaching had mentioned that she had a student who, as is my student, was very smart but had an incredibly difficult time focusing in class. Her student was a few years older than mine, but she had given him extra/additional assignments. Of course, this is really the best thing to do - much better and more effective in the long term than bribing (motivating?) your student with stickers and a few minutes using the coveted classroom materials. So, I guess that's my ultimate goal. It's not going to happen in any truly effective way for a while yet, probably. I'm spending an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to plan around this student the way it is. The other grade 1 teacher I have been talking to the most keeps commenting on how it is not fair to the student or to me that we were placed together, but I don't think that's true. Or rather, it's not fair to the student that s/he was put with an inexperienced teacher (when a more experienced teacher has more tricks up her sleeve), but it's perfectly fair for me. I signed up to teach whoever was put in my classroom. This student is in my class, so I will keep working my hardest to find ways to simultaneously accommodate both him/her and the rest of the class.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I like a challange.

I had an almost perfect moment today at school and I have to remember that moment because there were other things that weren't quite so great.

But my almost perfect moment had my students acting out a repetitive fable while I narrated and the kids were so into it, both those playing the roles of actors and those in the audience, and we went through the whole story, and yeah, I had to glare at some kids to get them to continue paying attention, and I had to remind the kids more than once not to get too wild. But overall, really, it was neat. I was reading, and the kids were goofy acting, and when we finished the entire group burst into applause, so much so that I had to make a rule that after a performance we clap for 10 seconds and then stop. They asked to do it again right away, and I said "no" and I'm glad I did because twice in a row would have been too much. Later in the day though, right before we went home, I let them act the story out again, this time with the other half of the class playing as actors, and it was neat too. Not quite as magical as the first time, but it worked out quite decently.

However, at the same time, I have a student who I can't figure out, and the only way that the above was able to happen at all is because I esentially ignored the student for most of the day, allowing the student to do whatever s/he wanted. And this was HORRIBLE of me, but this student played literacy games on the computer for about 2/3 of the day and it was horrible, horrible presidence to set and I'm going to hate myself for allowing it later. But today, if I don't think about that fact, I feel happy that I was finally able to get through a lesson, a few lessons, actually. Without having to stop every minute or two, to try to unsuccessfully reorient this student, the rest of the class was able to really got into what we were doing. They were able to consume an entire 15 minute lesson in 15 minutes, instead of in 3 minute chunks as they had up until now, as I would switch between teaching and trying to get this other student to attend, in any small tiny way, to the lesson.

Since the first day of school I have been talking with other teachers and administrators at my school, trying to figure out how to successfully work with this child. It would seem that I am not in this alone, although I kind of am. People can give me as much advice as they want, but when it comes down to it, I'm the one in the classroom with the students for 6 hours a day. It's up to me to find something that works, something that allow this student to learn, but doesn't take away from the learning of the 20 other kids in the room. Talking to a teacher at my grade level, this other teacher said s/he had asked the administration what they were thinking when they placed this student in the classroom of a Brand New Teacher. The response was, apparently, that the other alternatives (meaning other teachers at the grade level) were worse options. The teacher who I was talking to could not take this child for other reasons, though I think this student would respond really well to that teacher if they could be together.

I will continue trying, and so will the student, and together we will figure out something that works for us and the rest of the class.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Week two and I'm feeling fine, though quite sleepy.

I'm tired.

I have a student I cannot for the life of me figure out. I'm working on it. It's only week two and it will get better. Until then though, I am spending about 90% of my energy trying to figure out how to keep this student, um, contained and not distracting the rest of the students, and only 10% of my energy working with the rest of the kids. I do not like this one bit. It is not fair to the 20 other kids in the class that this one student is taking so much of my energy. Intellectually, this child is absolutely brilliant. Behaviorally this child is a work in progress. And we're working on it. I'm working on it. I'm working on it a lot. We'll find something that works. We have to. If we don't, Team LastName's test scores will plummet because no one will ever learn anything.

Also, I am amassing articles critiquing Ruby Payne. I have a growing collection. I'm waiting on some friends with university library connections to maybe get some of the the more scholarly ones. There are many, many, many.

I still like school. Week two and I still like it. Yay. I have fun with the kids and the day zoomzoomzooms by, because there is so much to do.

I am not good at doing one-on-one testing (DIBELS-style) while trying to get the remaining 20 to quietly do center work (computers, worksheets, literacy games, reading, books on tape, etc.). I borrowed someone's aid for 2o minutes (only the classes with the students with the lowest levels of English proficiency get aids, and I am not one of them) and was able to get about 2.5 kids tested. There is more testing that I could ever imagine. I don't know when I'm going to start really and truly teaching. So far, all I've done is testtesttest. The DIBELS-style testing, the district testing, the school/grade-level testing, the running records/miscue analysis type testing. And after I finish it now, it has to be repeated next quarter. AAHHHH.

Maybe something more coherent with more complex sentences will come tomorrow. Maybe not.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The literacy lesson, the bloody nose, and the unclaimed peach.

Location: Grade 1 classroom.
Date: Fall, 2008
Players: 20 children, 1 teacher, a peach.

The class was minding its own business. School had been in session for about one hour, and they were participating in a literacy lesson, nothing that was going to change the world, but something that would help the children become better readers.

All of the sudden, a student calls out.

Boy: "Teacher! Teacher!"

Teacher: "Hector, if you want to say something please raise your hand." The teacher reminds the students often, since it is the first week of school.

Boy: "No! Teacher, she's bleeding." He points to the girl seated beside him who does indeed have a bloody nose. Nothing too extreme, maybe she had picked it a few too many times, and the skin on the inside gave out a little bit.

The teacher walks over to get a nurse pass and fills it out with the student's name.

Boy: "And teacher, there's a peach on the ground."

The teacher looks up. She looks over. A peach on the ground? Why yes indeed, there is a peach on the ground. The question now is, what is it doing there, and to whom does it belong?

Unperturbed, the teacher finishes filling out the pass and hands it to the girl, telling her to go to the nurse. The child, however, is still feeling the first week jitters and doesn’t want to go to the nurse. The teacher suggests she have a buddy walk her there, the girl reluctantly agrees and the two of them head off to the nurse.

Now the teacher goes back to the important matter at hand. Where did the peach come from, and how has no one noticed it for the first hour of school? The teacher picks up the peach and examines it – it is still in perfect condition and looks delicious. She raises it into the air and looks out at the children.

Teacher: “Whose peach is this?”

The children stare back with confused looks on their faces.

Teacher: “Is anyone missing a peach? Did anyone bring a peach for lunch or breakfast?” In fact, none of the children actually bring their own lunches to school, so that was a silly question.

The teacher continues: “Really? This isn’t anyone’s peach?”

The children continue to stare. The teacher puts down the peach and returns to phonemes or vowels or whatever subject she had been dealing with before the excitement began.

Another hour passes and it is time for lunch. The teach looks over at her desk and sees the peach still sitting there. She picks it up again and examines it for a clue as to its origin. “Team!” she tries again. “Who is missing a peach?”

As before, no one responds. The teacher laughs. The children laugh. The teacher laughs. The children stare in bewilderment.

At the end of the day the teacher watches the children leave and closes the door to her classroom, tired but mostly satisfied with the day’s proceedings. She glances over at her desk. Still there, sitting among papers, pencils, and the teacher’s mostly uneaten lunch is the peach. The mystery peach. The peach who wanted to become a first grade student. The peach who wanted to join the Team.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

We are slowly becoming a team.

Today was perhaps a bit messier than yesterday, but we are starting to get routines down. After only two days, I have kids starting to make my "quiet down" hand signal if the class gets too loud - even before I do! (And this signal is strange and one I have never seen before. I think I have an aversion to the "give me 5" hand signal left over from student teaching. It didn't work for me then (though it was my fault, and not the fault of the hand signal.) I "invented" this on the spot yesterday when I wanted them to quiet down. They basically raise a hand and wiggle their fingers around. If nothing else, it looks funny. Since I chose it, I need to follow through now and make sure they all quiet down when they see the wiggly fingers.

I also seem to be training them on the idea that we are a team working together to learn. We were doing an activity and a few kids kept saying "I win!" I stopped the class and reminded them that we are working together. We are a team and we want everyone to learn and everyone to succeed, so there are no "winners" or "losers" in our class. Later in the day, I heard one student correct another after he had announced himself the winner of something. "We are a team," she said. "There are no winners. We work together." So, at least one of them is understanding that idea.

I haven't forgotten to go to anything, and I haven't been overly late for specials/lunch/the final bell, yet. That was a big problem for me when I was student teaching, so I am being careful to leave a good amount of time to line up and get places. As the class and I figure out how everything works, hopefully I won't have to allot quite so much time, but I am happy with the fact that I am arrive places on time and not rushing to get them out the door when the bell rings.

This week already, we have to begin grade-level and standardized assessments, both of which are done one-on-one. I have never given any of these, but tomorrow I will begin to try. Hopefully I don't screw it up too much. Some of these assessments I am excited to see the results of, though. These students seem to be much stronger academically than I was expecting, based upon my experiences while student teaching. Once I give the tests, I'll see where the kids really are, but I keep accidentally introducing concepts that I wasn't planning on talking about, because the kids bring it up themselves (not necessarily on purpose). We talked about compound words and punctuation today - because the kids noticed these things! I keep being pleasantly amazed at what they are doing.

As I work more and more with these kids, I get more and more worried about the kids at the school I was student teaching at. While the community where I student taught is very different than where I am working now (a small town with a concentrated minority of Hispanic families vs. a large city with a very high percentage of Hispanic families), the families are somewhat similar (mostly children born in the US whose parents were born in Mexico). And while, from reading that book by Ruby Payne I would be led to think that all of my students (or rather, those 90% or so who live in "poverty") live in dysfunctional families, all the parents/aunts/babysitters/adult-type-people who I have met seem to be kind, caring, and supportive. (Which is what I would expect, having formed ideas about human beings before reading that book. And at the same time, I'm not naive enough to believe that all of them are living perfect lives - I know that many of them have their fair share of problems, and then some.)

My goal for the next week is to actually plan ahead, so I don't stay at school until they kick me out, and then go to the library to work until the library closes, and then come home and work a little more. I've been writing my lesson plans out step by excruciating step. Already though, tomorrow's plan is about half the length of Monday's, so give me a few more days and maybe I'll be able to crank a lesson plan out in only a few short hours, instead of many, many hours.

Monday, August 18, 2008

One down, only 179 left to go!

Today was the first day of school and it was amazing and a lot of fun and just so neat.

Adrenaline is a wonderful chemical and I was just so excited throughout the entire day. Everything went better than I was expecting. The kids were pretty great and we're all going to learn together, them how to be first graders and me how to teach first graders.

I told them that we are a team and we are going to work together to make this an awesome year. We're all going to work hard to learn to read and write and do math and be good friends. I told them that instead of calling them "boys and girls" or "children" or "first graders" I will be referring to them as Team LastName, because we are a team and I want everyone on the team to succeed. (So I guess that answers that question.) I'm working on developing unity and a respect and pride for the classroom so that they take care of it.

I did the first half of this lesson (via ReadWriteThink) today, and plan on doing the second half tomorrow as a way of understanding why we are at school and what we can do to make it a good place for learning.

I wish I had the time to go through the whole day step-by-step, moment-by-moment, in way more detail than anyone on the internet cares to read, but unfortunately I still have essentially nothing planned for tomorrow.

I did smile though when, as I was closing the door after shooing the parents out of the room, I heard one of them comment to another that, "Suena bien la maestra." At least they approved of the five minutes of activities I allowed them to watch.

Let's see what tomorrow will bring!

(Also, I do still plan on writing about that book. Maybe over the weekend. Maybe not. But it will get done because I am passionately critical of the book and want that broadcast over the Internet.)

Monday, August 11, 2008


I'll write about the book tomorrow or Wednesday. I have to admit that the second half of the book wasn't as bad as the first, and actually had some things in it I may find useful (or at least not hurtful).

In the meantime, I will give this advise: Never, EVER find your roommates off the internet. Mine just made me cry. And I don't cry.

However, my classroom is turning into a classroom and at one point today, when I was moving bookshelves and piles of materials, I had the realization that I am a teacher. After all these years and the doubt of whether or not I actually wanted to be a teacher, now I am one. It's going to be really neat.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Silent Cheerleaders

I wasn't planning on bringing my education books to school. I have them all nicely set up on my bookshelf at home, color coordinated just like before.

However, after being told to read the book "A Framework for Understanding Poverty" and nearly tearing my eyes out in pain and frustration at that book, (in depth post to follow explaining my critique) I decided that I may need some cheerleaders in my classroom to help encourage me when the going gets tough (and oh boy will it ever).

So my goal now is to prominently display a row of silent cheerleaders in the classroom. When I feel that I'm failing or am floundering around trying to figure out what in the world I have gotten myself into by agreeing to teach FIRST grade, I can just look over and see the smiling book spines of such wonderful thinkers as Guadalupe Valdés, Jerome Bruner, Carol Avery, the Freemans, the Banks, Ana Celia Zentella, Martin Covington, Sonia Nieto, and several others. These people are responsible for me ending up where I did, so it will be their job to keep me motivated as I find my way through the halls of my new school.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Alphabatizing, gender, and horseback riders.

Today I went into my classroom for the fourth time. It's finally starting to feel a little bit like it's "mine" (and maybe soon I'll stop adding a tally to my counter each time I go in). I haven't really created any bulletin boards or personalized the room yet. I'm still sorting through all the materials available for me to use.

I spent a lot of time today alphabetizing materials or putting them in numerical order. At first I thought that this was a stupid waste of time (though this thought wasn't stopping me from doing the sorting) but then I realized that meticulously going through and examining things like I am is helping me really see and understand the materials in my room.

I got really excited when I found two sets of picture cards. One was just basic vocabulary and the other was social studies themed. Looking through the first box, I thought about how they would be a really great tool. When I was student teaching I constantly printed out pictures to help illustrate and describe what I was talking about. With such a great assortment of photo picture cards, I won't have to do so much printing.

However, when I started looking through the social studies cards I got really disappointed. Under the category of "Occupations" there were 30 occupations listed. Of those 30, women appeared in only 7 occupations. Want to guess what those 7 occupations were? Nurse, teacher, chef, hairdresser, mail carrier, food server and florist.

When I first looking through the cards, I thought I noticed a trend in that direction, but I didn't realize how bad it was until I went through a second time and counted. I looked at the publication date on the cards, and it was 2002, which wasn't exactly the dark ages. What happened to the mid 80s when everything was overly politically correct? When school posters showed almost comic amounts of gender and racial diversity? Eight out of thirty - that's 26.7% female. I wouldn't usually say that chef and mail carrier feel entirely stereotypically female, but when you compare them to some of the other professions illustrated with males it certainly feels like a slap in the face. Some of the "male" professions were doctor, plumber, construction worker, carpenter, electrician, barber, firefighter, and police officer. There were no stereotypically female jobs represented in the photo cards by males. This shouldn't really upset me as much as it does. After all, I don't have to use these cards. I just found them on the shelf and thought they might be useful. But really Lakeshore? Really?!

The first unit I ever wrote in my first methods class, was about "community members." In the first lesson in that unit, I would name off various roles that community members hold - doctor, teacher, garbage collector, nurse, firefighter, etc. As I named off each community member, I had the students draw a quick sketch of someone in that role. I assumed that students would predominantly draw some roles as female, some roles as male, and some roles without any gender preference. We would then go on to question why we had these assumptions, and look for people we knew who didn't fit into the stereotypes presented in the students' drawings. Because this was my first methods class, I never actually taught this lesson to anyone (it was aimed at 3rd graders or so.) Of all the units and lessons I have created over the past 3.5 years or so, this is probably the lesson I would most like to teach. I really am very curious about what the students would come up with and what type of discussion would ensue.

Maybe that's why I feel so personally offended by the box of photo cards. Third graders - okay, they haven't seen a lot yet so might put people into certain roles based on gender. But a large educational product producer should know better. They should know much better.

Aside from that, today I saw a man wearing a cowboy (cow...person?) hat riding a horse down the side of the road. This actually isn't really out of the ordinary. I live in a weird little town just outside of the big city that is the most confusing mixture of large city/suburbia/rural cattle farms that I've ever seen. What made this horse-rider noticeable was that he was also chatting on his cell phone. While riding the horse past a brand new gated subdivision. The juxtaposition of it all made me laugh.

All in all, I think I'm getting acclimated to my new life quite well.