Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pulled In One Hundred Directions

It's been a week since that magical Friday, "The Day They Loved To Read." When I re-read that post, I realize that one of the reasons for that day was to build up my positivity, love of teaching and love for my students so that I would have the energy to make it through this week. My cooperating teacher is part of a team that does reading inventories on every student in the school to determine their reading level. The entire week I had a sub, so that she could do testing. The particular sub that I had this time was a very nice woman, but after seeing that I was taking the reigns simply sat back and relaxed. It's not that I wasn't used to head teaching the past few weeks, but I was used to the co-teaching atmosphere that my cooperating teacher and I had cultivated. Doing it alone was a great experience, but utterly exhausting. 

I'm proud of the way that I stuck to plans this week and kept our classroom on track for learning. We accomplished all the things we needed to do in that week. Another thing that went well this week was the many conversations I had with students surrounding discipline and other issues. The behavior of my class this week was particularly squirrely and unfocused. I had many conversations with them as a whole, about how their many conversations needed to stop. 

One student, my trouble maker, was upset because he had to move his card three times, which resulted in him being moved to the time-out room. He was crying so I had a conversation with him outside of the classroom. All I hear the entire day long with these kids is "nu-huh," "no I didn't," and "but he/she was talking to me." My teacher and I have really been working on teaching the students that it's their responsibility to include us if someone else is about to get them into trouble and not to try to solve their own problems. I actually felt like I had a productive conversation with him, until the next day when nothing had changed. 

Another thing that happened this week surrounded my ELL student with the most limited academic English. For most of Monday and Tuesday, whenever intense learning took place, she so completely disengaged and whenever I asked her to please open her book, or asked her a question, she would execute the slowest shoulder shrug, reeking of boredom. So finally, during an independent work activity, I asked her what's been going on, and told her that I noticed the past few days that she didn't seem to care about school at all. 

Then her eyes filled with tears, so I took her out into the hallway. She began to cry harder, saying over and over "I'm so mmm.... I'm so mmm..." at this point she's sobbing and I'm trying to get her to take some deep breathes and calm down. She finally gets out "I'm so mad." After she can speak, she tells me how the words in the science book are too hard and the reading stories aren't interesting, and our reading questions are getting harder and that her dad doesn't speak English and her mom can't read English. My heart is breaking even as I see through my classroom window that there are nine hands in the air. I feel spread so thin. How am I supposed to give the time and help to every student who needs me? 

I talk with this student about how I know some different ways to help kids learning English, and that she needs to show me how hard she can try. We talk about circling the words she doesn't understand and meeting together to make sure she understands her homework before she takes it home. I tell her that she can do it, but it's her job to ask the teacher to say things in a better way for her to understand, and that means no more shrugging her shoulders. She surprises me by throwing her arms around me and telling me that I'm a good teacher. 

We walk back into the classroom and I help her get started on the work, but her words have left a paralyzing thought in my head. I'm leaving in two weeks. What will she do when I'm gone, or when she has the teacher who has no idea how to help an ELL student? I look around the room, and I feel that about every one of my students. Where will the be in 5 years, or 10? Have I made enough of a difference in my short time here? I am realizing now how much of teaching is letting go. I can't give more than my very best. 

This week I learned that teaching IS being pulled in one hundred directions, and juggling the needs of every learner in your classroom. It's about truly seeing students and helping them reach success in every way you can. In the next week, I have a mock interview with my principal and am visiting a few different classes. I hope to help my students in every way possible as I transition out of their lives. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Day They Loved To Read

I must reflect and share about Friday, (my "what went well" for the week) and it will go down in history as "The Day They Loved To Read." Friday was so magical, that I immediately came home and wrote down all of the details so that I would never forget. Here is my story:

       I had stumbled upon these books a few times in the past, but I noticed them at Trinity's library and had a thought. I knew how effective these books would be with ELLs and low readers, but my hopes are to teach in 3rd-5th grade. Would they even like them? I decided to rent my college’s collection of the books and bring them into my 3rd grade student teaching placement and see how different kids responded to them. Mostly, I was curious if some of my advanced readers would even be interested in what they call “baby books.” So I hand “There’s A Bird On Your Head” to one of my students reading at a 4th grade level. I’m pretending to work on something but really, I’m watching her face. Slowly she starts to smile, then I can hear her chuckle, and then she’s laughing and running over, saying “Miss B. this is so funny! Look at this Piggie! Look at her face!” She gets it; she sees the magic too.

Later, it’s free time. Half the kids are taking a reading test with my cooperating teacher in another room and the other half are zoned in on some arcade game on their computers. I mourn momentarily that no one whips out a book to read for free time (one of my classic moves as a child) and I find the student I’m looking for. I show “Elephant’s Cannot Dance” to my lowest reader in the class. He has the problem of trying to read quickly and he looks at the first letter in every word and guesses what the world might be. Consequentially, his comprehension is about zero when he’s reading on his own. This is one special kid though, with a fantastic personality and a determination like none other. 

In the spirit of preparing to act this book out for my Lit class, I ask him if he’d like to read with me. I’ll read the parts of Piggie, and he’ll be the Gerald the Elephant. On our very first read-through, he’s got the character of Gerald down. I immediately channeled my inner Piggie, sweet, funny, innocent and equal parts insane. With every page we are becoming more and more animated and my student has not made a single mistake. We are getting louder, breaking out into fits of laughter occasionally, like when Piggie deadpans “You have got to be kidding me” and when Gerald can’t seem to get any of the moves right. We are dancing and reading and my student jumps and hops and stomps his feet as Gerald cries “I have tried and tried and TRIED!” A few of the students around us have lost interest in their computer screens. They are watching us with goofy smiles on our faces. 

By the end of the book, he wants to do another. We pick “I Will Surprise My Friend!” We move to the front of the room, a couple of girls are recruited to play the squirrels at the beginning who give the two friends the idea to scare each other. No one is staring at their computers anymore. What follows is a mini-production for the 7 students not at the front of the room. We are crouching down and crawling around a chair (our boulder) and the students are watching and laughing. After we finish they run at me, and the six books are snatched and little productions are formed. I hear “I want to be Gerald!” “I HAVE to be Piggie!” and everyone is in love with reading at that moment in time. I sit back, sweating from my acting exertion and watch all my students make crazy faces and twirl around the room. 

Eventually my cooperating teacher comes back, we return to academics for the last hour of the day and I can’t stop beaming. Everyone takes glances to my desk where the books rest. We get ready to dismiss and I catch one of my students trying to stuff the books into his backpack. He freezes when he sees me. He’s considered a trouble-maker and is punished often. I just smile at him and tell him that he could borrow these books if only they were mine. At this moment in time, I’m cursing myself for not owning every single one of the books that my students loved to read. I tell him that we can read them together the next day. He wails “BUT TOMORROW IS SATURDAY!” I tell him, “Monday, then, it’s okay.” He returns my smile and nods his head. 

After my cooperating teacher takes her line of students who walk home, I can’t seem to end the exhilarating feeling of reading these books with my students. It was classroom procedure before I arrived to watch a video on youtube while we waited for bus riders to be dismissed. But today, this magic day, the busses are all running late and the internet is out from a rain storm. They groan until I pull out “Elephant’s Cannot Dance.” Many of them weren’t in the room when I had read before, but through the whispers of their classmates had heard about it. They cheer. I decide that I can’t bear to tell one of the eager hands raised that they can’t play a part this time, so I assign them all the role of Gerald. They dance and laugh and read in unison. I heard one of my students laugh for the first time, after 15 weeks in the classroom. The bell calls for their dismissal and we line up. Usually the girls all clamor for a spot to hold my hand on the way out, but the two most shy boys in the class ask to please walk with me. Everyone hugs me before getting on their bus. Something has changed in their eyes, and reading did it. I swallow tears as I walk back into the school, never feeling prouder as a person, and thanking God I brought those library books to school. 

So that was my Friday, and it's never been more clear that teaching kids in my own animated way to love to read is what I want to do. I felt life I must have been reflecting light, like every color imaginable was shining off of me in little bright rays, but that's just what reading does for you. I probably should articulate that what I learned from this week and this experience is that children respond to enthusiastic teachers and that engaging them in a unique way is what gets them excited about learning. 

I feel like what didn't go well this past week was my final observation. It was another illustration of the many things in the classroom that you cannot control. It was picture day, and I was informed about an hour before my observation that the paid students from my class would be pulled from the class (coincidentally) at the moment my lesson began. The lesson was on subject and object pronouns, a brand new topic for my third graders. I did the best I could teaching to half the class, and keeping students focused as they slowly trickled in. I think that if this situation were to happen to me in the future, I would move the lesson until we could all be present. 

In the week ahead, I hope to finish strong my last week of head teaching. My teacher is a part of a group of 5 that will test every student in the entire school's reading score, so I will have a sub the entire week, which makes me feel like the one in charge! I need to be observed by the principal this week so that she can write the letter of recommendation that she offered to write for me. Also ahead, looms the end of student teaching. This experience and these kids have changed my life in such immense ways, I dread the day that we say goodbye. 

Schmidt Chapter 7: " "Great Teachers Are Escape Artists"

Chapter 7 of "Classroom Confidential" focuses on getting out of the classroom and into the community. What we have discovered about community-based learning is that it is a highly effective strategy for engaging ALL students. It put's students in charge, they're academically and socially rigorous, it requires students to access and develop wide ways of knowing, it's active, it had meaning in the real world. 

After reading this chapter, I am posed with the question "How will you use the community in your own classroom?" I find this hard to answer because it is so dependent on the classroom and community in which I will teach. That is why I found the section on "Tips for Exploring Your Community" on pages 144-146. I plan to take a field trip after the first month or so of school, having students make maps, scavenger hunt and journal about what they observe. 

It is also terribly important to document epiphanies. I want my classroom to be a safe space for all questions and concerns. I love the idea of using photography, giving me insight into the things students are drawn to and observe. Schmidt says "Photos make great conversation starters or visuals for presentations. They can also be used as a starting point for drawings and murals (page 147)." 

I want to try every single one of the ideas on pages 159-161. I think it is so important to let students share the information that they work so hard to learn. Schools are a part of the community and I think it is important for that to be made aware of by all. It makes are students lifelong learners, engaged in their community, and challenged in their learning. Community-based learning is one of the greatest tools of educators today and will be a vital agent in my future instruction. 

A Catch Up Post

I'd like to start off this post with a little insight as to why I have been absent in the last few weeks. In the chaos of life, I had the hardest time finding uninterrupted time to simply sit and reflect. I take that as a testament to how my life will be in the future. The important things are never easy. This has taught me a lesson about making time for reflection and I have been staying a few extra minutes every day to jot down some thoughts about what went well that day and what I need to improve. 

This will be a catch-up post on the week before Spring Break. 

Head-teaching continues to go well. I feel in control of the classroom and my management continues to improve. The only thing that isn't going well is the general amount of chatter in the classroom. The students aren't misbehaving, being respectful, or interrupting the class, but there seems to be a constant stream of low noise. Most of our days are ending with everyone on a warning and a few people everyday have lost recess. My cooperating teacher and I discuss some different actions we can take. She mentions that around October of the previous year, a similar thing happened and she started sending weekly reports home for how many times a student received a warning, lost recess, or finally got a major referral. We decide to do the same thing and explain it to parents during conferences. (And since this was a few weeks ago, I can say now that we've seen serious improvement in this area.) 

One thing that really went well was a lesson that I planned teaching about matter. We were focusing on a discussion of solids, liquids and gases. I taught a lesson teaching how the particles behaved in each state of matter using moving images and having students pretend to be a particle in each state in their desks. The next day, to review, we had a discussion outside and then I made a few different sized boundary lines in chalk. The students illustrated solid particles, liquid particles and gas particles (where they got to run around the playground for a minute.) We came back inside to take a quiz on the information that everyone passed. 

With these two examples, I learned the importance of holding students accountable for their behavior and introducing kinesthetic movement into a lesson. It's vital to classroom success to communicate student behavior to teachers. Few students will go home and tell their parents that they got a warning and even fewer may tell them that they lost recess. When parents are in the know, we see a general increase in positive behavior. 

During this week, I also read Chapter 10 from Schmidt: "Great Teachers Are Insurrectionists." This was a very emotional chapter for me to read because it is something I care about so deeply. It is the very reason why I want to teach. I believe that teaching SHOULD BE insurrection. To quote myself, my sophomore year of college: 

"I want to teach because I am as passionately a social rights activist as I am a lover and facilitator of learning. I realized that the struggles of multiple populations have been ignored. This is something that I cannot accept. In the spirit of Dr. King, and all those who came before and after him, let us scream out our imaginings for a new kind of education; an education system that support those from every different tongue and background, a system that celebrates differences and strives for who we can be together, a system that runs on dreams, but one that becomes a reality. I have a dream that I will teach the students who have been labeled and discarded to the very boundaries of education. I have a dream that the voices of everyone in this country will cry out strong and brave. I have a dream that I will see this country open its arms to the new possibilities of what lowering the barriers in our own minds creates."

I believe that this mission laid out in chapter 10 of Schmidt is possible even more important for a Christian educator because we are called to see every single person we encounter as a creation of God and made in His image, just as we are. My faith leaves no room for discrimination. It is also a mandate to not tolerate racist perceptions of others. That means that my role in the classroom is to wake children up to the realities around them (though many of them are aware) and to take action. This is where the instructions on page 220-224 come in handy. 

I hope to continue my passionate journey as a social justice educator and Christian, committed to making a difference. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Most Exciting Blur

In the last couple of weeks, life has just flown by. I'm amazed at how I have somehow transitioned from the semi-typical college student, with so many freedoms to this almost adult/teacher. I wake up early to get to school about 45 minutes before students arrive to organize myself and my materials. I teach almost all of the day and am continuously energized by it. I stay a bit after school, thinking about how the day went, getting things ready and making notes on tomorrow's lesson plans. I go home, grade, and think about what I will do the next day. And yet, it's not limiting. I love every second of what I am doing. 

This past week was filled with excitement for me. The reading ISAT was over and we headed into the math session. The week before, my cooperating teacher had asked if I felt comfortable enough writing lessons for this past week. She also told me that I could do pretty much anything I wanted academically because we couldn't really move ahead with our reading series until testing was over. I was brimming with joy thinking about having the chance to work outside the limiting box of BASAL readers. 

I planned enthusiastically, deciding to introduce my students to classic and authentic literature as a read aloud. I settled on "Tuck Everlasting," a personal childhood favorite. So, I came to school that Friday before last week, ready to introduce the book and the direction for the week ahead. I had planned a fantastic pre-reading activity, a questionnaire to engage thinking about themes in the book. Students had to check agree/disagree to a couple statements like "It would be wonderful to live forever" and "It is okay to hurt one person in order to save many." I couldn't WAIT to "break them free" from the confines of the material they were being taught and to push them forward into a level of higher-order thinking. 

How very silly I was. 

We settled into our questionnaire first thing in the morning. The students hardly knew what to do. I explained it a little more, but they seemed confused by the fact that there was no right or wrong answer. They became even more frustrated when they neither agreed or disagreed with the statement. After a small amount of discussion, I  began to read aloud. I don't know how recently you may have looked through the first couple of chapters of "Tuck Everlasting," but it is filled with poetic language, describing the setting of the town and countryside, the behavior of cows and how hot the summer was; no dialogue, no character interaction and not much suspense. The book does get really good after the first few pages, but as I read, there was chatter and a high amount of movement around the room. The times when I looked up, I saw sleeping, boredom and confusion. Mrs. Martinez tried to help, saying that maybe if the students could read along on the ELMO (the technological device that displays something through a camera on the SmartBoard) they might have an easier time following along. No such luck. I realized that this was not working. 

Later on Friday, during our plan period, I gave Mrs. Martinez the lesson plans I had written for the next week. I had modeled them after the many I had received from her, short descriptions for the activities planned for each time slot, that's it. After looking through them for a minute, she asked about a few of the activities I had referenced in some textbooks from home. I had just listed them by activity. She said that the lessons were okay, and that I could hand them in, but that she was going to make back-up plans, because it didn't seem that anyone could follow them. 

It was my second defeat of the day. 

I knew that my plans, both in my head and on paper weren't where they needed to be, but I had no idea what "there" looked like, much less how to get them there. I went home pulled out "Tuck Everlasting", my plans, a large cup of coffee and thought. I had one major realization almost immediately. In being released from Trinity-style lessons, I had somehow under compensated. Just because I wasn't writing four pages, didn't mean that I no longer had to think about each of the learner's in my classroom and how they needed information to be presented to them. I realized that I had forgotten about the two deaf students in our classroom, who join us after the morning read aloud. The activities that I planned could not reference a text that they would have no involvement with. I tossed my plans in the trash, deciding that I would embellish further on each activity, and would create each necessary worksheet or packet ahead of time so that a sub, or my teacher could easily follow along. 

I looked at "Tuck Everlasting." My students showed no interest in the book, even though I was reading it aloud. I suddenly became aware of the fact that my student's had almost no interaction with literature, outside of small picture books or the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series. I couldn't just throw something at them that would require a new level of focus without making sure that it was also engaging and meaningful to them. I needed a new book. I reached out to teachers that I knew, compiled a list, spent some lovely time at the book store and two hours later I had finished reading "There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom" by Louis Sachar. 

It was like a shot of adrenaline to the heart. I knew that this was the book I was looking for. It was short, funny and engaging, all while being meaningful and leaving the reader with a great message. The main character, Bradley Chalkers (a bully and school outcast) even helped me sympathize with a student that I was becoming increasingly frustrated with. I rapidly planned the rest of the week, until I could picture it in my head. My literature activities needed to be on a small scale, so we spent Monday making mini-books to respond in and the student's loved it! 

I showed up on Monday and immediately told my teacher how I had realized the mistake I had made in planning the lessons. I asked if we could look through a rough draft of the plans on Thursdays so that I could incorporate suggestions before I turned the lessons in on Fridays. I shared with her everything I had realized about how the ISAT days needed to go and how I had changed everything. She shared that she was proud that I had done all of that and critically evaluated myself. That's when it all fell into place. In those short couple of days, I realized something at the core of teaching. If you are second-guessing something, it's for a reason and something should be done about it. I also had the nice reminder of how pivotal reading is in the development of a human being. On the very first day of reading aloud and looking at my own class's Bradley Chalkers with renewed vision, he asked if he could eat lunch and spend recess with me in the room so that he could make me a comic about the book. 

In the week ahead, I will implement my second week of plans. Now that I am teaching the whole day, I hope to continue to incorporate reflection into my routine so that I can continue to grow. In reading the book by Louis Sachar, I have remembered how much I love reading and literature. I want to continue to search for books that will inspire the students. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Schmidt Ch. 6 and The 8th Week of Student Teaching

The big buzz word of the last few weeks has been ISAT. The tests begin this next week and we have been in a rushed flutter of activity to do last minute preparations for the 3rd graders. A couple of weeks ago, the principal decided that since many 3rd graders are underperforming in math, we had to take drastic measures to prepare for success. Two weeks ago, in our team meetings it was decided that we would group all the third graders by ability in a specific tested area and each teacher would teach a group for about 45 minutes on that specific area (measurement, number sense, geometry). We did it a total of about 5 times in the last week, and by the end I wonder if we made any difference at all. I think for the Math groups to have been effective, they need to have been happening for the entire year because it took student a while to adjust and learn appropriate behavior in this time. In experiencing students from the other third grade classes, I realized what an exceptionally behaved group of students I had and how well our classroom is managed. 

Another thing that has been happening this week is major referrals due to computer use. One student (G.D.) had posted up a picture of Taylor Lautner (actor in the Twilight movies) shirtless as her desktop background. I had felt badly when I heard of that because I actually did not know that the students backgrounds were supposed to be of themselves. I had seen the day before a background of the same actor (albeit clothed) belonging to G.D.'s best friend. But since the behavior was inappropriate her mother was called and a major referral was written. 

I.G. is a student who is really struggling. This is his second time in 3rd grade and his grades have been continuously dropping. His mother even called my cooperating teacher asking what was going on, because she has been taking away all of his distractions. During a time when the students were working on "Study Island," I walked past I.G. and he was artfully editing a picture of himself on Paint. So I closed the program, made sure he was logged into Study Island and had started a lesson and warned him that the next time he was going to move his card.  I then was helping some other student when I noticed I.G. logging onto Paint again. I asked him why and he responded with a blank-stared "Huh?" and "I wanted to save it." I asked him to move his cad, made sure he understood that he needed to be working on something else for now. He nodded and I walked away. After the time was over, the students shut their netbook lids and lined up for a bathroom break. I decided to check I.G. computer to see if he had gotten anything done, and was greeted by the same picture on Paint. So I discussed it with the teacher and along with a major referral, he is grounded from the computer for two weeks. 

It was a real wakeup call to the trials of technology in the classroom. I just feel at a loss with a student like I.G. He doesn't display any academic interests and seems unfocused. Any time you speak to him and direct a question at him, he responds with the same blank face and confused look. I wonder if he has any sort of attention disorder. It's something I think I'd like to observe and evaluate more, but the question is how? 

In the ISAT filled weeks ahead, I hope to learn how to best encourage students during this testing time. My teacher has laid out a schedule with Math games, fun-filled centers and no Reading program. I think it's great, but that this time could be used to focus on thing there aren't often time for, like Science or Social Studies, I however have been instructed to think of a fun/art center to teach this week. I may not think that's the greatest practice, but I am not a veteran teacher and I have never seen what these tests do to students. 

In Schmidt Chapter 6, I read a lot of information about writing. It seems that in this placement, the focus is neither on teaching creative writing or how to write academically well. No matter what grades I happen to teach in the future, I know that I will be teaching writing somehow because I believe it to be of extreme importance. 

I love the strategy of using journals in the classroom. I beleive it's a great way to help students practice writing in a more relaxed way and to make writing a habit. I think that my favorite information is on pages 133-134. I love the idea of having jump starts for students who are intimidated by writing and pairing those journal prompts with reading other fiction in diary format (page 134.) I would love if I could introduce some of these writing techniques in this placement. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Schmidt Ch. 11 and "The Blur That is My Life."

After reading this chapter in "Classroom Confidential," I was feeling slightly overwhelmed by the amount to consider when preparing for communication with parents when I am a teacher. I agreed with everything that I read in this section. I want to be the teacher that knows the culture and makeup of her student's families so to show care and preparation for conferences. I want to be prepared for every situation, but as a teacher, I cannot realistically have every perfect response assembled. Part of my future career means surrendering perfection. 

I feel informed in preparing for communication with parents because this chapter has a basic checklist of things to consider including being: proactive, positive, frequent, clear, basic, attention grabbing, appealing, inclusive, timely, and error-free. After reading all of those things to remember and checklist, I was feeling like it was not possible to create the perfect communication. But I know that a teacher who cares and conveys effort to parents doesn't need to worry about perfection.

I really resonated with this segment "It may seem like there's a universe of cultural practices out there just waiting to be discovered, but with very little time on your hands, you may worry that you'll never learn enough fast enough to avoid cultural gaffes. But remember, parents are eager to help you. They're very forgiving when they realize that you have an authentic interest in their cultures and are passionately committed to the education of their child (p. 244-245)." 

In other news, I had another productive blur of a week. I absolutely love working with this class and doing this all day, every day. The days have started to blur together. My cooperative teacher and I have really settled into a routine of cooperative teaching. We communicate clearly about how the days are going. She has said that she feels like we work really well together; that I focus or talk about what she forgets and she does the same for me. 

One thing that I did this week that I think went really well was some of our RtI review. I talked with Mrs. Martinez about the benefit of having the students create poster to review some of the major Language Arts tools that they may need to remember for ISAT. I grouped the students off and led them through the process of reviewing, gathering information, creating rough drafts and working together. I had one partnership that was very frustrated at working together, and I simply discussed different things they needed from each other and that they were in 3rd grade and I expected them to be able to work together. In the end, they created a great product and they said to me: "Miss Blasen! What do you know? We were such a great team!" I think it was such a beneficial thing for all of the students to work on.

Next week, I hope to help my teacher prepare for ISAT and transition to the next unit. Mostly, I will teach they regular topics, but I assist her in test preparation and review. I hope to learn about the most effective ways to prepare students for this kind of test. My goal is to be up and moving through the classroom and following my teacher's lead up until ISATs.