The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Up the Down Staircase: 2010 Version

          For those of you who are too young to have read the book Up the Down Staircase, you are missing out.  It's the tale of a passionate teacher who has to deal with all the red tape and nonsensical paperwork of an educator, as well as contending with nimroddy administrators.  Even though it was written decades ago, it was what sparked a flame in me---I really wanted to make a difference like she did---and it made me laugh.

        It's written via notes that are sent back and forth between a younger, "green" teacher and a more experienced "veteran."

        I just found a blog that is hilarious.  It reminds me of Up the Down Staircase. It also reminds me that we need to laugh instead of cry...Check it out!

a marvelous blog

Doling Out More Dollops About Data Walls

          Here is yet more on data walls...There are several things to click on.  When the school year begins, I will be taking some photos of the data wall in my classroom to share, as well as pictures our "data den."  My teammate, Holly, also created a great data form to use.  It keeps track of the students that are not proficient, what strategies were used, and the pre-test and post-test results.  I will share that when we go back to work.  

         If anyone has photos of their data den, or the data wall in their classroom, please send them my way...

data article

Diligently Driving Towards Data Walls

        Less than two weeks before I officially have to return to work.  Every other year, I spend days or even weeks (if you add up all the scattered days) preparing my classroom.  Alright, not all the time is spent on true work in room 12.  Some of that time is spent wandering the halls, happening upon someone to catch up with, and chatting.  Some of that time is spent moving things around, and then moving them back to their original spot.  And a lot of time is spent piddling...wandering around my room, thinking, but not accomplishing too much.

      I am vacillating.  I am torn between going in some time in the next week and a half, to get a headstart, and selfishly savoring the last of my days off.  (After all, there will be some long, marathon sessions anyway, right?)

       Doing some reading and research at home bridges across my indecisiveness.  I can get on my laptop, while listening to trashy TV (still in my jammies), and get some things cemented in my head.

        I read this article on data walls, and found it helpful.  It stresses how simple it should be, and advocates that the classroom teachers take ownership.

         Anyone who has other resources they'd like to send my way, I'd appreciate it...

article on data walls

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Having Hard Conversations About Race

           Recently, I watched a documentary on William Kuntsler titled Disturbing the Universe. (It was made by his daughters.)  The sort of lawyer who defended the defenseless, the type of lawyer who championed people who had comitted horrific crimes, he suffered, and his family suffered as well.  Through the phases when his kids could not leave the house due to all the photographers and journalists camped out on their yard, and during the times when the public hated him because he insisted on doing his job, he never stopped embracing people of all faiths and all hues.

          Kuntsler felt that all white people are prejudiced.  I suppose his thought is that no white person truly knows what it's like to watch decades and decades of television shows and never see a face that looks like his (or at least, never see a person who is setting a positive example and looks like them).  A person who is white cannot fully know what is like to be suspect, just because they're driving their car in an affluent community and their skin is the color of cauliflower.

         This really hit me during a conversation with my friend.  I was recalling how much fun I had as a teenager, riding the bus to a local outdoor mall.  We would window shop all day, and, rolling up our pant legs, would wade in the fountains (when the weather was warm).

           I asked my friend, in a flood of excitement, if she had gone to this mall a lot when she was a kid.  Deep down, I wanted our childhood life lines to intersect.  I wanted to be able to hang onto something that we had in common. We are very much alike in many ways now, but as youngsters we led different lives...

         She kind of  snorted and said, "Black kids wading around in the water? Oh no!"

           An activity that was a blast, a bit of fun that I didn't even wonder if I had the option of engaging in...she knew that wading in the fountain would be crossing some sort of line.

         One of the songs we sing in our classroom is an old one---Choice of Colors.  Part of the song goes like this:

           If you had a choice of colors,
           Which one would you choose, my brother?

            ...Who told you that you hated your white teacher?
             And who told you that you loved your black preacher?

        Too often people are suspect just because of their differences.  I know that sometimes parents squint their mind's eye suspiciously when they look at me, just because my skin is white and theirs is black.  And I know that when we skirt around the issue in our classrooms, we allow the elephant to remain in the room.

       We have to be willing to have conversations that make us uncomfortable, that make us vulnerable, that reveal personal things.  As teachers and writers, we have to embrace differences, rather than pretend they don't exist.  And, we have to go above and beyond to create a community in our classroom.

         How do you make your parents feel included?  How do you make sure your parents feel like they're an integral part of what goes on in the classroom?  I'd love to hear from you...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Katie Wood Ray

          One of my favorite "bibles" when it comes to teaching creative writing is Wondrous Words.  It's one of those books that changes the way you teach writing. 
         Teaching students to read like writers is crucial.  They need to examine what different writers do...Why do they use a sentence fragment in a particular spot?  Why do they use personification?  Why did they write a long sentence full of so many details and verbs and emotions that by the time you got to the end of the sentence you were out of breath? 
         As they read their favorite authors, they notice things that the author does (and none of it is new stuff) and they try to determine why the writer wrote it that way.  Then, of course, they try the same technique...
          Below is the link to an 11-minute video by Katie Wood Ray.  In it, she is asked some questions by a student and discusses reading like a writerwhere writing ideas come fromhow a writer-mentor is chosen, the importance of reading aloud what you've written and writing activities.  This video could be shown to teachers as well as middle school and high school students.

Katie Wood Ray Video---The Author In You

Data Driven Books

         In less than 3 weeks, I return to school.  Every year I plan to work smarter, and not necessarily harder;  every year, in most ways, I fail.

          Thinking about how to set up my classroom, I want to learn as much about data-driven instruction before I unpack boxes and staple things to bulletin boards.

          Here are two books I think I am going to buy and read.  If anyone has read them, let me know what you think of them...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reinventing Yourself---Every August

        Yahoo has a set of two-minute movies called "Second Chance."  They highlight people who have completely changed their profession or lifestyle.  One man had a heart transplant, ran his first marathon, and gave his medal to his donor's family; he is now working on running a marathon in all 50 states. A minimalist man went from a 4,000 square feet of living space, to a home that is 8 x 12 feet.  He now designs small homes for other people.

        The incredible thing about teaching is every year is a new year.  Teachers have to bend with each class, because each class is unique.  Educators reinvent themselves every August or September.

        For example, last year, I wanted to share more of myself with my students and do transitions in a fun way.  I love music; in fact, when I drive, the radio is blaring.  The Temptations.  The Supremes.  Gnarls Barkley.  Pink.  Earth, Wind and Fire.  So, I decided to use music and movement between each class.

         I chose songs that were my favorites, and typed up the lyrics and put the music on my computer.  Each student got a set of the lyrics with numbers (so we could quickly all go to the right song. Each time a new song was introduced (sung for the first time) we would sit and read the lyrics as the song played, and then play it again, so we could stand and sing.

        I began the year with a "Playlist."  I had 20 or so songs on the list, and was the DJ for the first two weeks.  I  chose the songs, and when Reading was finished, before we began Language, or went to PE  or whatever, we stood up, and sang (and danced a little). After that, a new student was a DJ every week.  Sometimes, if the DJ was out of the room when we transitioned, I would race and choose one, glad to be able to take care of my burning desire to hear Ike and Tina Turner.  Or occasionally, I would call "Teacher's Choice" and we'd sing an "extra" song at some point in the school day.  

          In the middle of the year we added a second playlist (20 or 25 more songs).  Some of the students contributed music/made suggestions.  There were times that a short poetry lesson happened spontaneously (a discussion about rhythm/line breaks/rhyme pattern/imagery) because of a song. 

          I guess the short version of this rambling story is I reinvented myself when I infused music into our daily schedule.  Teaching is never boring.  And as you strive to evolve into a better educator, you change.

           The following song is packed with world issues, it has a catchy melody, and although it might not be well-known (my nephew exposed me to it), it would be great to use in your classroom, would be a fabulous song to work out to, to bike/walk with, and so on...

        Reinvent yourself.  Make a change for the better.