Sunday, November 13, 2011

There are lots of firsts...

I meant to write this on Thursday, however as with everything, time keeps slipping away.

This past Thursday I had two firsts, one kind of traumatizing and bad, and the second overwhelmingly great, a feeling of appreciation and belonging in a very tiny gesture.

For the first time, I was left to lead class with the upper level seventh grade class at my school. While I have worked with them since the first day of school, I will admit that I am not as close to this class as I am to my other two classes, likely because they do not really need very much assistance or at least as much assistance as the other two classes. My lead teacher had to go to an IEP meeting for one of our eighth grade students and so I said sure I can finish going over the benchmark test with this class. No problem.

Boom, wrong.

I would also like to note that this is the only class that ever has less than three adults in the room with them.

So there I was alone. With the most intelligent kids in the school. And they could not get it together. We made it through about one half of a page, I tried several times to get them back on track, and then I did the only thing I knew how to do. I walked across the hall and asked for help from the math teacher. He wasn't there so I came back over and told the students that since we could not handle working through the benchmark together, they would be reading silently the rest of the class period and that they would have to do the benchmark tomorrow. This only kind of worked, so I went for help again. He was there and I asked him to come over and sit with me and the class.

The room was silent when he and I came back in. They were being angels, terrified angels. Looking at their pages then looking at us. He did a once around the room and then came back over to me. We had a little talk about how to clarify rules and expectations with students, we decided that when he left I would announce to them that the next student who talked or was off task would go to his room and they would get an afterschool detention. He then told me that sometimes I have to sacrifice a student and that it is okay to do so, especially if they probably really deserve it anyways. He left and I made this announcement.

This worked for a short while. I let some students who did not have silent reading books go back to the library and get one. I had a girl go get a book and then return to her desk and start mumbling about how much she hates the book. I left this to slide, and then once I walked back around the room she was still mumbling and was now drawing in her notebook. I reminded her that everyone needs to be on task and the task was reading. She told me she didn't care and I told her then she can make the choice to go to the math teacher's room. She said can I bring this with me, and I said sure. She said fine, I'm leaving, I don't care. The girl next to her said "No, don't, you know that's an afterschool detention." She said I don't care and left. I propped the door open on her way out.

For the next fifteen minutes or so, the class read their books silently, and listened to the math teacher give the student a piece of his mind as she tried to blame things on me and then eventually relinquished and accepted the decision as her own and accepted her faults. I had my own diatribe with the class based on the fact that I have never done anything to disrespect them as individuals, people, or as students and I had done nothing to merit the total lack of respect they had shown me today. I also told them that they gave me no reason today to believe that it was worth designing lessons for their class if they could not respect me in the slightest. Then my co-teacher returned and returned with a fury as soon as she realized what had happened. She then gave them her own lecture and prepared them for a miserable Friday.

The student who had left then returned. She returned by slamming the door and slamming her books down. My lead teacher then told her to go wait calmly by the door for her to let her in after she dismissed the class. She did not, she left and went to her next class, with her books still all over our floor. This became a referral to the assistant principal.

This was the first afterschool detention I issued. This was the first referral I was involved in issuing.

This was also the first day I got a key to a classroom. My first key to my first classroom.

In the afternoon we had an articulation of Digital Harbor High School where a woman came and gave a presentation on the school for the seventh and eighth graders. At the end of it, my lead teacher came over and said "Well you know since all your stuff is in there, I don't want you to feel dependent on me to get in and out. And what if something ever happened and I couldn't get to school, then what would you do?" and handed me a key to the room, a shiny gold, made just for me key. I honestly had not felt that accepted and welcomed and appreciated until this moment. Such a trifle. And it made me feel like I knew we really were going to be a great team by the end of the year and that yes, despite my shortcomings, my fears, and my inability to arrive to school prior to 7:32 with consistency, she wants me to be there.

I guess really everyday of this year is a first of some form. These were a few really worth remembering.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Teach Like A Champion: What Worked

When I first told my parents that I was considering becoming a teacher and that I had started applying to grad school, they were interested but maybe on the verge of skeptical. However, when I told them that it was in lieu of becoming a whitewater kayaker professionally and moving to Asheville, NC, they became more intrigued. My dad told me one time that the only other thing that he ever wanted to be was a history teacher, however my grandfather said an engineer or the army were his options, coincidentally he wound up doing both. I did ask my dad if he regretted it. He has always told me that he doesn't regret anything because then we wouldn't be where we are now. This is a value that I hold true every day.

So, after this announcement to my parents last year, the first thing my dad gave me was a copy of Teach Like a Champion - he is the master of finding "the best resources." I had read this book prior to arriving in my program, so as we started working through from the Digital Classroom course to the Baltimore as Your Classroom course, I began recognizing elements from the work. I was less than surprised that it was our text for our seminar. Little did I know how both effective and difficult some of the strategies are, not just to implement but to be consistent. However, if I have learned anything from the past months in the classroom - consistency and ultimately predictability is absolutely key.

For the past two weeks I attempted to effectively implement some of the strategies outlined in Doug Lemov's collection Teach Like a Champion. I focused on No Opt Out, Cold Call, and Wait Time.

No Opt Out (A student is called on and does not answer, the student is then returned to for the final answer) - The first time I tried this strategy was while I was doing the class warm up everyday. I started it with a class that is very quiet when they get called on and sometimes will simply just say "I don't know" for everything, and of course that results in about two students answering everything. What a surprise. Anyways the first time I did this I think I received the closest mortal equivalent to the eyes of satan drilling through my body in a way only an eighth grade girl is capable of. But she answered. And she does nearly every time now, or at least I receive the truly confused eyes not eyes of the laser death ray. More interestingly, it created more of a class culture of helping each other find the answer to questions. I use the phrase "Can someone help him out." And then once the answer is reached, I return to the student and for the most part they then elaborate on the answer if possible.

Cold Call (Calling on a student regardless of it their hand is raised) - I found this technique both tricky and effective. There are some students who when called on are not paying attention and it becomes a refocusing tool as they scramble for a response or look to their peers for assistance. On the other hand there are many students who have answers that they are prepared to respond however for whatever reason, being shy, looking cool, not feeling like raising a hand, then have the opportunity to answer and let their voice be heard in the classroom. I believe that this technique was familiar to the students because their science teacher also uses this technique both straight and through the use of popsicle sticks with the students names on them. He says "I am drawing an opportunity."

Wait Time (Delaying a few seconds after asking a question to give students a moment to think) - I believe that this was the most important technique to use with students because it gives the students who are eager to answer a moment to actually think of what they want to say other than just that they want to answer, you know the flailing hand waving type, and it gives the students who need time to process a moment to work through the question. I found it very important to use care with this when coupling it with Cold Call because I did not like it when I knew I caught a student who was still working out their thoughts. This really resonated with me because as a kid I would not talk in class because of this very thing, it is something that I still have issues with.

Conveniently enough I received comments from my university observer that I was using these strategies well and that she specifically noticed me use them during one of my observations. That definitely made me aware of their effectiveness. Additionally, for the students the use of these strategies has made an impact in their understanding of the expectations for the class. They have demonstrated their understanding by being much more inclined to be on their toes and paying attention during the warm-up and I have definitely seen a substantial increase in the number of hands raised.

Oh, and the Death Star has not been present in the classroom in a while.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Day Two of a week of lessons for 8th Grade

Content Focus: Louis Sacher’s Holes
Topic Focus: The Influence of Character and Setting on Plot Development
Standard Focus: 7.3.A.3.f - Analyze the actions of characters that serve to advance the plot.

Essential Question: How do multiple plot lines affect the flow of a novel?

Source for Lesson: Sacher, Louis. Holes.  Random House Inc., New York: 1998.

Objective -  Students will be able to identify critical plot points and explain in detail how the actions of the characters effected the movement of the plot of Chapter Seven in the novel Holes.

This lesson had too many pages of work to do for one ninety minute class period. However, because of the fact that the library was closed today for the book fair, I was able to give it to the students for an extra forty-five minute period. I gave the students the option to work on the packet or to do a different activity and they chose to do the packet so that we would have the computers the next day. All students except for one were not able to finish the packet, this may have been due to the distraction of group work, or the student’s own drive to finish.
Three things that went well:
  • The students were repeatedly drilled on how to pull main ideas out of text and then summarize that information successfully.
  • The students were able to have a more immersive understanding of the text.
  • The students were prepped for future activities with the text where we will be reading selections of the text as a class that they had already read for homework.
  • This assignment will be saved and used for the ARP as a writing assignment before intervention.

Three things that could be improved:
  • The packet of work was too large and was overwhelming to the students. The activity would have been more beneficial if I had only used one or two sections of text for each plot line to compare. This would have enabled students to get more into the interactions of the plot rather than into the interactions of main ideas and plot points.  
  • I somehow managed to turn off spell check on my computer so there were about 500000000 mistakes in the text of the story. This turned into an editing activity as well and the students circled or corrected the many mistakes in the worksheets. This turned out to be both good and bad.
  • My time understanding needs to be improved because I am having trouble differentiating between the amount of work that I could do in a time frame and the amount of work my students can do in a time frame. I think that I have figured the correlation to be a 3:1 ratio and I will test this as a model on next week’s lessons.