Thursday, August 23, 2012

Today We Had 'The Talk'

Today we had the talk, you know the one I am talking about. The 'don't take advantage of your freedom because if you do it might go away' talk. The 'because we do things differently in here, that doesn't mean you can do what you want' talk. The 'think about the community before you think about yourself' talk. This was day 7.

I am really not surprised that we had to have this talk. I am kind of surprised it took this long to be needed. When students have had very little freedom to choose their own path, we shouldn't be surprised that they don't know what to do when they have a choice.

I just need to keep reminding myself (or you can help remind me too) that having to continue to speak to them about it, remind them of the consequences of their choices, and giving them opportunities to succeed or fail is what I have to do. I just hope I don't lose my cool.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Letting them Choose, Letting them Succeed, Letting them Fail

After three years out of the regular ed classroom I am having to apply a lot of new beliefs. I can tell you there is a huge difference between what I believe is right and what I may be able to pull off. This is one example of what I am thinking.

I really do believe learning is social and that the students learning and sharing together is a much more powerful model than the teacher lecturing or students reading quietly to themselves. I also know from experience that many students excel in this way. Unfortunately I realize to many students, this is a bit too much freedom. So many students have had teachers constantly nagging them to work that they don't now how to self start. As soon as they are 'turned loose' they are completely lost.

Now I am struggling with how to approach the students that are not working, not using their time wisely, and are not learning. I know that they will soon discover that they wasted their time and I know better than to put much weight on grades this early in the year, but still I struggle with allowing them the opportunity to fail. I don't want that, even though it may be the only good way to move them towards independence.

What have you done in the past when you have been in this situation? I would love your feedback.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Reflections from the First Week as a 6th Grade Teacher

I don't plan a coherent narrative for this post so you can skip around as you choose. Instead I will just run with a stream of consciousness.

Sixth graders are much smaller than junior high students. I know they grow a lot this year, but it is really obvious now. I need to keep in mind that big body changes mean big changes in other areas as well. I also need to be on the lookout for overtired students.

Creating good lessons takes much more time than following the schedule in our textbooks. I used to spend a lot more time running worksheets than I did planning. I am happy to say that the opposite is now true, although it does eat up a lot of home time.

Working on lesson plans is a lot of fun for me. I am grateful for this because if I didn't enjoy it, I might not do it. I believe that the time I spend creating these plans will pay off in the classroom.

My room wasn't completely ready. I don't have a fifth string on my guitar (I broke it re-stringing it). I don't yet have the exercise balls in there either. I am working up the courage to put them in. I don't want them to be a distraction even though I believe they can really be useful for some of the students.

The students love writing on their desks with whiteboard markers. Anything that helps motivate them to write things down is alright with me.

I am still no good at remembering names. I actually take knowing most of their names after three days as a positive sign. My goal for this week is to have them down. Any non-invasive, non-embarrassing ideas on how to do this?

I'm not satisfied with how I am evaluating what they are learning. My assessment skills are either rusty, or I never had them to begin with. I need to speak to them individually to help assess what they are learning.

It was really easy to get them to start writing reflections. This has been the biggest #win so far in the classroom. Without them sharing these reflections I would have no idea what they learned last week. (See last paragraph.) Now to transfer these written reflections to video reflections.

Relying on technology is a frustrating experience. I had a lot of trouble with the connection between the iPad and the Apple TV on Friday. I really hope that it is resolved now. I find that I can't let a problem like this go and will waste learning time trying to solve the problem. I need to learn to let it go and work on it when it won't disrupt the classroom.

Once again I find myself unable to separate my day job from my leisure time. I can't enjoy quiet time because my mind immediately moves toward thinking about my classroom. Good thing I enjoy it.

I think this is enough rambling for a three day week. :) 

Friday, June 15, 2012

My New Storytelling Unit: Deconstructing Peter Pan

I have been very open about my nervousness about teaching writing. I am not an expert at writing and I am well aware that my ability to teach it is extremely limited. That is why I am spending time this summer trying to get a handle on it.

My plan is to incorporate the Writing Workshop method into the classroom. I love the idea of students writing about what they want how they want. I also want my students to think more about the value of storytelling in their lives. I decided I would create a storytelling unit that was writing intensive as well.

I was inspired by the Skrillex video Bangarang and decided to use this as the starting point for a unit on Peter Pan and how over the past century his story has been re-interpreted. The first thing I did was read about him on Wikipedia. Then I chose specific items I wanted my students to examine including the original story, an early silent movie, and several movies created lately. Then I created the time line (since I often need a visual representation.)

Next I needed to choose a tool to hold my information. I chose Google Sites. I could have just as easily gone with a wiki, but I haven't used Sites before and thought I should give it a try. So far I have been pleasantly surprised.

I created pages for each thing the students will deconstruct. I also added pages with the Common Core Standards and NETs so that I can keep track of them. My next goal is to identify possible activities for my students to complete as we go through the unit.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The House of Dies Drear: Day 4 Reflection

Yesterday was a pretty rough day for my last class before lunch. We are running a 45 minute morning rotation with five rotations before lunch. As you might expect, the class before lunch is pretty rough. I also happen to have "that class" at that time. They are extremely restless, unfocused, and chattie.

After struggling through the morning class I decided something needed to change. That afternoon (30 minute rotations with the same schedule as the morning) I talked to the class about ways we could improve their attention. I floated an idea, I asked them if they would like to take a 20 minute outside break at the beginning of the morning class and finish the morning lesson in the afternoon. We would skip the afternoon elective class. They decided to try it out.

Today, after the 20 minute break the students came in and were more focused than they had been so far. Obviously we have a long row to hoe still, but I am very encouraged by the results so far. We will continue this until it quits working or we end the summer school period.

On a personal note, I am really hating the rotation. The main reason I chose to move from jr high to 6th grade was so that I could spend more class time with one set of students. While I am appreciative for the ability to teach reading, which I haven't been able to do for years, I wish I had a self-contained classroom now. I am happy that I am able to use my money from summer school to buy some things for my class, I just need a bit more patience.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The House of Dies Drear: Day 2 Reflection

Friday we read chapters two and three of The House of Dies Drear. Although I had a lot of great ideas given to me from the last post, I decided to stay the course. The students really had no time to do much of anything other than sit down and read, the timing was very tight.

One thing I did change seemed to make a real difference though. My second class, after the trip down the hallway and getting prepared to read didn't have enough time to finish the third chapter. They were about five minutes short of finishing. Because I was using my iPhone with the Audible app to play the book aloud, I used a handy tweak to the reading. The app allows for books to be sped up so I chose for it to read the story at 1.5 times the normal speed. Fortunately it doesn't make the reader sound like The Chipmunks :)

Interestingly enough it seems that by speeding up the reading of the story, the students were better able to maintain their attention. I guess that since they weren't having to decode the words as they read, they could follow along faster than they normally would if they were reading it themselves. Whatever the reason, I was pleasantly surprised by how they reacted. I think we are through the slowest parts of the book and am looking forward to seeing how they continue to respond to reading the story.

That doesn't mean I won't keep the advice in mind, there is still a about two weeks worth of reading ahead.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The House of Dies Drear: Day 1 Reflection

Today we read chapter one. The first two classes seemed very engaged in the story. I saw no students looking around or seeming to be off task. After those two classes though I started to notice the last three being less engaged. The later in the morning it became, the less engaged they seemed to be.

When I noticed one particular class having trouble, I decided to talk to them about it and see if they had suggestions to make the time work better for them. I had a couple suggestions. The first suggestion was to allow them to bring comfort items like blankets. I think this is a great idea, but because of the way summer school is set up (I have 5 different classes twice a day) I don't see where I could have them store (or keep track of) the things. This is a real problem in classrooms where specific subjects are taught and students rotate in and out. The students have very little opportunity to make those rooms feel comfortable.

The second suggestion was allow them to eat. This is interesting on a couple levels. First, the students are receiving free breakfast and lunch during summer school. Second, I never told them they couldn't bring food in and eat it, they apparently made the assumption it wasn't allowed. Again, it is very hard for them to bring things to eat because they have no place to store it (no lockers during summer school.)

Do you have any suggestions that could help me make the students more comfortable and more engaged with reading the book?