Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lucky Teacher II

In writing, one of the units my class did while I was home with my baby girl was the punctuation unit. In reading, they did a fantastic unit on critical literacy. I have to admit that these two units may be the best language arts instruction that has ever happened in my classroom and I missed it all!
One piece of this unit looked at cereal boxes. The students analyzed cereal boxes to consider how authors position readers. They tried to determine who the audience for each box was and what about the box suggested that. They noticed that bright, splashy colors and games often indicated an audience of kids while weight loss and healthiness often indicated an audience of women.
After much discussion about the boxes, the students worked with a partner to take one box and redesign it for a different audience.

This example is redesigning Cinnamon Toast Crunch for adults. Notice the use of French words and more muted colors.

This group created their own cereal. They had looked at one aimed for women so they created one aimed at men.

This group took Frosted Flakes and recreated it to appeal to women. They changed it to strawberry to make it healthier and added a focus on losing weight.

The name of the cereal did not change here, but they aimed it at kids rather than adults. They included a toy and games on the box.

It has been fascinating to hear my students continue to talk about how authors position them as they read. It is a skill they have internalized.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Lucky Teacher

I'm ready to try the picture idea. I think some of the best teaching that has happened in my classroom all year happened while I was on maternity leave. Our amazing reading teacher did a punctuation unit in writing with our class and I can't believe what they accomplished. One thing she had them do was survey adults around the school about their use of punctuation. The students came up with the questions, surveyed the adults, and presented their findings. It's brilliant! My students have never been so excited about punctuation - or so thoughtful about it.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Screaming - a necessary evil or a lack of control?

By the end of the day yesterday I was yelling at my students. This is not something I'm proud of or do often (hopefully). I blame it on lack of sleep (I woke up at 4:45), exhaustion from days of standardized testing, and the beginnings of a cold. However, knowing the cause doesn't really excuse the behavior.

I'm left wondering if yelling at the students periodically is as bad a thing as I think it is. I consider myself a positive, progressive teacher and I attempt to handle all classroom management issues through positive reinforcement and personal reflection rather than punishment. Some days that's just too tough for me.

What does this say to my students? Do they recognize that I have bad days just like anyone? Do they think their behavior in those instances truly warrants my rants (does it)? Do they lose respect for me? Does my yelling cause us to slip backwards in our sense of community or does it band them all together in opposition to me?

12 Steps

I observed reading recovery again yesterday. (Just as an aside, the little boy I got to see was enough to convince even the most anti-child individual to become a teacher. I've never seen a harder or more eager worker and he's just so darn cute.)

I'm becoming fascinated by the idea of reading recovery (RR) as a 12-step program; if just a little concerned that I might take the metaphor too far. Having done some research on the 12 steps of AA I am even more concerned that attempting the metaphor will become blasphemous. I was unaware of how large a role God plays in the 12 steps. While I might view books, reading, authors, etc. as Gods, others may feel quite differently.

What would the 12 steps of RR look like?

Shots of Reading

or, Reading from a Flask

I love the idea of Reading as a 12 step program. With the purpose of creating new addicts, rather then giving them alternatives (guided by a higher power) to resist their temptation.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Elementary School Teaching If My Students Were Learning to Be Professional Chefs

You could make the argument that my classroom is any of the following:
  • Communism (in theory, not the Soviet or Chinese practice) - everyone, teacher and student, pull their resources together for the common good.
  • Chaos - no one is ever quite sure where the marker or post-it bin is. Only the same one student can ever find the stapler. Even if she hasn't used it in days.
  • Anarchy - it is every learner for themselves when finding an expo marker.
I am well rooted in constructivist ism. My classroom falls just shy from hand built hippie commune and is closer to communal living. Without, of course, me actually eating with my students. That would be gross.

Lately, however, I envision my classroom as a kitchen and my students as line cooks. I am the chef. And yes, maybe I am internalizing the lessons from Heat a bit too much.

But sometimes, my students need to watch me make the pasta in order to understand the rhythm of rolling the dough. Other times, they need to burn 50 steaks in order to understand the difference between done and well done. Observation of the master and repetition of the mundane. Want to be proficient on the computer? Watch me as I tell you all my secrets about word formatting, Library of Congress research, and ways to make Excel do the thinking for you. And then type up your stories, change the font because the teacher said, and find (and cite) 25 different images on the web. Observation of the master, repetition of the mundane. Learning is mimicked and mastered.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Reading Recovery - Misnamed?

What is it we think these kids are recovering from? Reading recovery isn't a 12 step program, unless I've missed a key component.

I observed a reading recovery lesson recently and found it fascinating. As an upper grade teacher I know that I have very limited knowledge of primary development. As a general rule all of my students are able to decode quite well and make sense of their reading most of the time. My goal is to help them think more deeply about text, become comfortable with various types of text, move on to more complex text, and make connections between reading and writing. To some extent, all of this is happening in reading recovery as well. It is truly astounding what can be accomplished working one-on-one with a child every day for an extended period. I haven't yet determined what that means for me as a fifth grade teacher, but I'm sure it means something!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

"Planning" book

My planning book is a series of post-its I never write on. I don't have the discipline to write my "plans" down when they change by the hour. Math plans? All down the tubes depending on last night's homework's mistakes or successes.

I almost promise that this will semi-change in the fall when I have an intern.

Credit if Credit is Due

If we can't take credit for unexpected teaching we'll look like flops most of the time. I think the most/best/deepest thinking my students do is unexpected and unplanned. I refuse to think that makes me less of a teacher!

The anarchist classroom you have created this year is what led to the phenomenal panels and discussions your students had. They couldn't have done that six months ago. If that fact also means less work for you, that's just a bonus.

Do you think it is possible to overthink what we do as teachers? Can we overplan and overanalyze and therefore miss out on opportunities that could have been stupendous? It's unlikely to ever happen to me, but I remain curious.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The History Panel

I know what you want. You want a deep reflection about how I set up historical "expert" panels in order to broaden my students' understanding on their famous Virginian (or person who influenced Virginia's history). That by connecting historical figures through a theme, rather then a time period, my students would discover patterns in history. They would see their own life as a historical continuation of the grappling of the same Big Ideas and Hard Choices. Can we fight with words and win? How do we achieve social, racial, and gender equality? Do battles strength our cause, or highlight how trivial our differences are? The panels creating future philosophers who would change the world.

I know you what you want. You want a deep, profound teaching moment. A moment that would justify the constructivist, somewhat anarchical, classroom environments we create.

You not gettin' it. I am a lazy teacher. I am not going to do the work/ thinking/ creating/ talking if the students will do it for me. I set up the history panels because 1. I was tired after weeks of SOL review; 2. There is only so long I can listen to oral presentations without a break; and 3. I would not have to think while the students did the talking and questioning for me. I was left to ponder deeper things such as "Can I take credit for all this learning even though I did not anticipate it?"

Monday, May 7, 2007

Reality Seeping into my Paranoia

I am a worst case scenario kind of girl. Exit strategies, self defence tactics, police numbers on speed dial -- I am always thinking something through, even if it is not likely to happen. I take comfort in the fact that, although I have a plan for when a bomb goes off in a museum, it won't likely happen.

The Virginia Tech incident has torn off my security blanket of doubt. And, three weeks later, I am still left in the cold and dark with no woobie or night light. Too close to home, too close to my chosen profession, too close to my family. If at Tech, why not UVa, or JMU, or even Annandale High School? If institutes of higher learning are not safe, what about libraries, museums, or elementary schools? Why those Northern Virginia high school graduates, why not my brother or his friends? I am beyond spine shivers. I am left a basket case of paralyzing paranoia from the what about, why not, and what if questions. The incident created holes in my blankie; my worries shredded the ends, enlarged the holes, and left my blanket scattered around my front door.

I hide in my bedroom, rocking back and forth in the security of loneliness. My what if questions grow from plausible fears to complete hysteria. I consider a solitary life, a life lead from the safe shelter of my own home. But it is not my life I worry for, it is my family's, my friend's, my student's, my neighbor's. I cannot control their life patterns. I cannot confine their future to a solitary room. My own safety is contingent on theirs.

Deep breathes, prayers, and new contingency plans: I slowly mend my security blanket. I life of fear is not a life at all.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

JK - Interesting idea. I think you make a great point; pictures would add a lot to our thoughts and analysis of our teaching and our students' learning. Are you concerned about permissions?

I make no comments about post-it note abuse, but this is a great use of our digital cameras. We're reflecting on our teaching to continually improve (at least I hope so!).

History Conference? I'm still waiting.

Friday, May 4, 2007

JO - I would enjoy reading this blog more if we had pictures. Would using the team digital camera to take a photographic diary of my day be an abuse of school supplies? If so, would it be worse then the home collection of felt tipped pens abuse?

I am not going to mention my classroom post-it abuse, which maybe the root cause of the Title 1 budget issues.

Teacher Shame

There are four fourth grade classes. This month's fourth grade lunch championship ended in a three way tie. Guess whose second grader shoving, cafeteria sprinting, lunch line pushing class did not make the cuts.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Wish List to Help Us Brainstorm Grant Ideas

Things we want (from the absolutely ridiculous to the reasonably sane):

  1. Children's Book Club (buy the books)
  2. Everything necessary for e-portfolios
  3. Science reference books
  4. Digital cameras (will take both stills and short digital video)
  5. Additional science materials (we want a science rich classroom) - 4 or 5 microscopes for each classroom, microscope that connects to the computer, thermometer to post on window, other weather instruments (that work), materials to explore with electricity, sound, light, magnets, and magnifying glasses
  6. Measurement tools: measuring cups, measuring spoons, measuring pitchers.
  7. More laptops - maybe a class set to be shared by 2-4 classes.
  8. Stopwatches - class set
  9. That rolling thing that measures distance as you walk with it - distanceometer (according to us)
  10. More primary sources (replicas of)

Then, of course, we will need space to store it all!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Reader to Reader

I had a phenomenal reading conference with a student today. She read The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox and I had told her that I wanted to conference with her about it when she finished. She finished last week but we did not get a chance to chat until today. I told her that I found the book to be very disturbing and other students had read it and been ashamed of our country's history. This girl did not agree with either feeling and was able to back up her opinions quite well. She did talk about being surprised by certain characters and said that the author positioned her to like one who turned out to be a bad seed. (We've been talking about how writers position readers.)

We then began discussing The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. I brought it up as a recommendation because she had enjoyed The Slave Dancer. She had read Avi's book last year and mentioned that she was surprised by characters in it too. We talked about how carefully the endings of both books had to be constructed to keep the readers happy.

She ended our discussion talking about Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor which she had just finished. She had been disappointed in the ending, feeling that it focused too much on a character who had been fairly unimportant. She reread the ending and decided that it is really a metaphor and just as powerful as the rest of the book. I left her looking at two other historical fiction books, Across Five Aprils and The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963, to think about as her next book. She had said that she prefers historical fiction or fantasy because they are deep and give her a lot to think about.

It was one of the best reading conferences I've had all year. She truly wanted the chance to discuss books with another reader.