Thursday, February 25, 2010

High Stakes Testing-Off to the Races

And they're off! Our district has a mission...we'll be third in our DRG, a comparable sampling of districts rated according to socioeconomic factors.
Lordy, what a goal. Sorry, Spot. I don't mean to be disrespectful, really.
And as always, I am one faithful teacher. I'll do everything I can to get you over the bar.

But testing is just so...ummm, uncreative! There, it's out! Yesterday, I wrote all about how we're getting charged up and disguising any disdain at all, to really get you guys that last teaspoonful of knowledge that you'll need to do well on these tests. The truth? In a real society, we'd be looking at all the kids across our borders to insure their success. I don't mean to go all moral or anything, but what about those kids in our city schools that'll be happy to have a warm meal and two parents at home? If we're going to lift ourselves up as a society will we EVER start to make a difference there?

You guys have it made, Spot! You've got the gold without even putting your names on the page. Just like I told you after we finished the practice tests this morning..."It's a no-sweatsky!" And me? Well, weren't you just so proud of me for getting all those sticky CMT labels on straight?
Here's the good news, homework for you for at least two weeks! I'm not kidding. Homework...1) Never before vacation. 2) Never during CMTs, 3) Never when the Mets/Jets win a big game! So, Spot? You can now sit back and enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

March Madness-The Writing Prompt Demystified!

I see that look on your face, Spot! Cranky dog, go away! You think I like these CMTs? My version of the CMTs would happen in one fact, one morning would be just fine. But...the writing prompt? Now that's a whole 'nother story as they say. The CMTs are our Olympic challenge, and when it comes to writing, we're headed straight for the gold!

For the past two weeks, we've been in Spring Training..."Suit up, show up, and get 'er done!" Well, not so fast. Teachers out there? Listen up! Writing? I've got a whole new gig. My friend, Sara, has a boot camp. She wears Army fatigues and the whole nine yards. being me, I have to spin it my own way. We have our own version of spring training...which happens (thanks Universe!) right at the same time the pitchers and catchers are taking the mound.

We begin every session with a little calisthenics, jumping jacks, pencil lifts, and even butt lifts too (not as bad as it sounds, honest!)...which go right into crab walks. You have to have a PLAN to get yourself back to your seat, and that for sure is true of writing too! Kids have to be ready to plan, execute and then work that writing muscle, pushing themselves to show off their stamina. And most importantly of all, they have to stay loose! Laughter is the best medicine in this case. You can't take it all so seriously, for crying out loud.

Getting Organized: It's All About the Plan!

I've shown the kids four different plans and they know them well in this short period. The "dog-nut," which is nothing more than a drawing of a doughnut, with three lines dividing it. The "block-head," is a blocked out version of the same thing, an outline, which sets up three ideas and finally the all purpose web. Kids have to be careful to manage that one well, so it doesn't get too leggy and out of hand. Webbed essays can sometimes turn out to be listy and have little or no fluent idea development at all.

What do you do when you're stuck? Being stuck is not allowed in this sport! Honestly, I tell kids to start with the list in that case. Settle on two or three words in the prompt that set up the main idea and play the suggestion "When I think of 'heroes,' I think of..." Write down every idea that comes to your mind, and as soon as you've got three strong ones, roll right into one of the four G.O.s (graphic organizers) listed above.

One other thing...I showed them my secret recipe today! (Don't tell!) When coming up with ideas? Well...topic 1) Define it and make it personal. "A hero is someone who...My dad fits that definition to a tee...(What do I personally know and can teach about this/connect. 2) Just the facts! Factual information. What can I teach within this topic? 3) Anecdote with a quote. Tell a small story/memoirish and include a quote. Dad says, "A bad day fishing is always better than any day spent at work."

More tomorrow: Writing Down the Details--the Almight Specifics!

My kids this year have a problem writing down the very clear specifics that must be peppered throughout their paragraphs in order to do well. And really, they have to have specifics in everything they write, otherwise none of us will really get too attached to their writing. A twenty-first century student will have writing in everything they do! They MUST be good at communicating their thoughts and ideas. Stay tuned for more tomorrow...the nitty gritty details are really where it's at. Not just any old piece of chocolate, it's the FROZEN MILKYWAYS that matter!

Suggestions, ideas...survival techniques? Teachers...we've got to stick together! Be sure to pass them on! And Spot? can get up and move that butt! No crankin'! Move it!! We've got AYP to demonstrate here! If my salary ever gets tied to this, I may have to get out the wet noodle too! ;)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Big Guy in Town

I get it, Spot, I really do. Sometimes you just want to feel like the big guy on the block. You wanna muscle your way, in and let everybody know that you are large and in charge. You are one smart doggie, and you always will be. But...what you need is confidence. And so, believe it or not, does your friend, Ruiz the Rebel.

The other day, Ruiz came to visit me. He wanted to read a book that our librarian would call out of his zone. Listen up now, Spot. A lot of people get this confused and it's important for you to get into your zone! When kids read in their reading groups with teachers teaching, and stopping and discussing...that is called the INSTRUCTIONAL zone. Those books are usually, but not always, a little more of a stretch. Kind of like going out after always need an adult for that, right? The INDEPENDENT zone is a whole different story. You can read to your heart's content with no adult in sight. You can take the AR quiz, and you'll probably get a 90 or 100.

Well, your buddy, Ruiz is a rebel. He knows the zones, he knows his level...but he's a sneaky one! He comes to me every day to beef up his skills in our smaller reading class that's just the right fit for him. He's smart as can be, don't get me wrong...but he's just a bit under where he needs to be...because he's a rule-breaker. Can you believe it? Who would break the rules in school, anyway? When Ruiz takes a test, whether it's the small, in class types, or the mighty CMTs, he almost refuses to follow the recipe for success. So...he's deemed, 'cuspy.' Just on the cusp of doing great things.

Last week, once again, Ruiz had a book that was way out of his zone. He wanted it anyway. We stood out by the trophy case in the hallway, and he begged and pleaded...and I had to hold the line. Killed me, Spot. Who really wants to deny a kid a book? When I asked him why he was so set on that book, he couldn't tell me. He just wanted it. So...I told him, I'm gonna hold onto it for him. And I am. I also told him...for real, how smart he is. I gave him examples of how I see it in class, and how other teachers see it in the things he says and does. But I told him he needs to grow into this book, just like I sometimes have to do myself. If I don't read every day, my reading speed dips and I have to reorient myself in a book. He looked at me like I had six eyes. "Really?" he said. "Yup," I said. Even teachers have to practice what they preach.

Spot...Ruiz just wants to be the big guy on the block. He wants to feel like he's in control, and not the other way around. So, I made a pinky-swear pact with him right there in the hallway. If he reads every day in learning lab and for homework each night...and if he gets his 90's in three right-sized books, I'll read his coveted book with him...not coach him, but maybe talk about it a little bit. Ruiz walked away a happy puppy, Spot. He wrestled back a little control, but more importantly, he came to know we all know just how smart he really is. And we've known it all along!

*More on the pros and cons of Accelerated Reader in the weeks to come. Teachers, what do you think...AR? Worthwhile, or not? Opinions, as always, welcome here or on FB.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Redefining the Mission/Why I Love to Teach

Well, Spot, here we go again. It's budget season, and the budgeteers have come again this year, scissors in hand. They want to cut the fat out of the school budget. When teachers get cut...they're making their incision right into the bone. Ouch! Sorry, Spot, but it's true. Then there's talk of "moth-balling" a school! I think about all the places in the world where they're just dying to build schools, and my hometown has one person who pops up with the brilliant idea that saving money is more important than the children and the educational programs that inhabit that school. I hope this idea doesn't catch on, shortsightedness, like mothballs, costs money too.

So, instead of going on and on, and getting all fired up on that topic, I've decided to shake off the budget blues and get back to basics, to redefine the mission in five short lessons. Two years ago, I went away to Charleston to become a certified trainer for a wonderful program called Time to Teach, a part of the Center for Teacher Effectiveness. I loved it, Spot. And ever since then...I haven't done one thing to market myself to be a trainer...mostly because I can't seem to get myself out from under to do it. But...I live the ideals of the program, and it works inside my classroom. I never have a day where the kids really get to me. They need time to learn and I need time to teach. We're in the groove.

Time to Teach makes the "Oldie, but Goodie Teacher" as well as the "Wet-Behind-the-Ears Teacher" do the same darn thing. Identify their ideals. The first question on the table is: why did you come into this profession anyway? You see, Spot, teaching is all about pacing and planning. You need to have the time to clear your brain and see the forest instead of those squirrelly trees in front of you.

Why did I come into teaching? I absolutely LOVE working with kids. It suits my personality, because I am still a kid at heart. AND...despite the fact that I did love my teachers all those long years ago, I was never a good fit for that model. I'm a right-brained creative type...linguistic. Hah! Love that part...because you and I both know, I sure can talk. But now? I'd rather just put my words on the page, and let the kids talk. I live for their stories. Time to Teach made me think...if I really love kids, then what the heck am I doing at the pulpit--I was redoing what was done to me, which distanced me from my kids. Next time, Spot, I'll tell you a little story about Ruiz the Rebel and the great conversation we had the other day. I'll also talk about my ideal school.

But for now, I'd like to hear from my teacher friends out there...either on Facebook, or on Teach Spot--why did you come into the field of teaching? And...why do you stay?

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Bennies of the Job

Spot! You'll never guess who I saw tonight! Well...I went to Tambascio's, one of my favorite restaurants in town. Mr. L told me there's no cooking on my birthday. (Well inside my head, I was saying something very fresh like, no kidding. BUT! I practice what I preach. I was polite...and grateful!)

When we were in homeroom today, Eager Al was sharing about how he was planning on going to Tambascio's. So...when Mr. L wanted to go there? I thought it would be kind of fun. Eager Al, you remember him...smiles all the time, but gets that blank stare and kinda hyperventilates if you put him on the spot. Best kid in the world, though. As long as you don't ask him a thing!

Went into the restaurant...and didn't see him anywhere. I relaxed and ordered my dinner. No Spot...there are no left-overs for you! Jeesh. Well. That's when I spied Nohomework Harvey walking in the door. I gave him a little wave, but he didn't see me. I concentrated on what Mr. Lynch was saying, but I was also laughing inside my head at the funny conversation across the way. (More on that later.)

A moment later, Harv was standing at our table! And within seconds, Al was at his side! They were both smiling and standing there and the waiter was trying to get around them. And then, the owner was too. But! They...who never stop talking in the classroom, didn't know what to say to me in the outside world!! I felt like a rockstar. It was hysterical. We talked about what they were having for dinner, and what I was ordering, and then Mr. Lynched piped up with questions about the Super Bowl. After a few minutes, I told them I'd be sure to say good bye before I left.

At the table next to me, a very funny story was beginning to unfold. A table of four dinosauric types were seated there. From the moment they sat down, they were trying to outdo eachother. One was all proud of his sweater that had 1956 (1956!) knitted into it, and the other had a $10, green Dartmouth sweater (had a whole story to go with it...such a bargain!). Wife one had platinum hair implants and RED lipstick, but no lips, so it was...well, kind of messy. Wife two had a dyed reddish comb-over. Get the picture?

The waitress came to the table, and before she could even ask a question, the dinosaurs said, "We'll have separate checks!" I am not kidding you...they said it in complete unison! Then they ordered a carafe of wine, which that they wanted to split. The waitress reminded them that they wanted separate checks. They asked her how much it was, and then proceeded to tell her how she could divvy it up on the bill. The dinositas then ordered the clams casino appetizer... and yes, they were splitting those too!! So, Spot? I'm bringing in the menu and that will be Monday's math lesson for Mr. N.

Life sure gets complicated sometimes, Spot. I'm just wondering if Eager Al and NoHomework Harv will be sitting together haggling over the menu in their Dartmouth sweaters someday! And we of the 21st century teaching model will be the ones responsible for straightening them out. Perhaps it's not the math, but the social graces we should be focusing on now. What do you think, Spot?