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.