Sunday, January 20, 2008

Moving - again

I don't know if I still have any readers at this blog, but I want to let you know I'm moving - again. I've finally gotten my own site and blog up to speed, which was what I was working toward (and one of the reasons blogging was light here).

Hopefully I will have more to say over there. So pop by and say hello. I'm at Catching Sparrows.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dumbing Up, Dumbing Down

I know it's not polite to refer to it as "Dumbing up, dumbing down." I'm sure I should call the practice "modification" or, since that became a Bad Word in our school last year, "accommodation." Or even "differentiated learning strategy" which is being tossed around our school a lot this year, yet no one seems to actually know what real differentiated learning strategies look like.

But I'm getting very frustrated with the lack of concrete strategies offered specifically for on-level students. I teach on-level students by choice. I've taught pre-AP in middle and high school, and I have nothing in particular against them. I've just found that I enjoy the on-level classroom more.

On Monday's professional development day I went to two different meetings which both presented strategies intended for other levels (one higher, one lower) and was treated yet again to the advice to "accommodate" my on-level students with a modified version of the strategy that would be appropriate for them. For instance, Writer's Notebook tasks and ideas for elementary school children, reading strategies for learning disabled students, and a grammar activity for AP students that would have to be completely disemboweled for the on-level classroom.

It isn't that I don't think ideas from other levels and sources can't be valuable. I just wonder why the perception of on-level students is that they are either slightly advanced middle schoolers, or slightly slow gifted students, rather than individual learners.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Consistency Is Not A Bad Word

I've always thought the quickest way to undermine student trust is to enforce rules which students must follow...but teachers don't have to.

Case In Point: I recently went to an ARD proceeding in which the parent brought her attorney (this after a long history), and in which she demanded neuro-psych testing for her child. Our school's diagnostician was called in to explain why our school does not offer this (very complicated). The diagnostician, young and enthusiastic, was wearing a skirt which was out of school dress code. Sitting a little away from the table, she crossed her legs in front of the parent and attorney, and we all got a panty-shot. (I suppose I should be glad she wore underwear.)

Fast-forward to today:
One of my inclusion teachers is a first year teacher who has expressed to me he wants to switch over to classroom teaching, but he's in an alternative program and hasn't had any student teaching. Since he's in the same class twice on different days (A and B days), I've offered him the opportunity to re-teach certain portions of the lesson after he's seen me perform the day before to experience real-world classroom teaching.

Today was one of those days. He went up to the front of the classroom to review homework and begin the journal. The kids gave him a good-natured ribbing. One said, immediately, "And who are you?" though he's been in the class since day 1. We all laughed, but the same student said, "I don't know if I'm comfortable with you teaching me. What are your qualifications?"

We all laughed again, but it was a valid question, and one which this teacher will have to get used to if he intends to walk into a full-size English classroom next year with little-to-no preparation. Darwinian classroom survival continues to be the method by which education trains its teachers.

Our school policy forbids students from having food or open drinks in the classroom. To start off the new year, I re-wrote these directives in very big letters on the board. So it was that I noticed the teacher was standing right underneath NO FOOD, NO OPEN DRINKS with an enormous, open Styrofoam cup of coffee in his hand.

I didn't want to embarrass him. But by the same token, I won't subject my students to policy they are expected to follow which conflicts with what is modeled in front of them. I said to him, "Mr. R, do you have an open drink in the classroom? Because that's against school policy. If you want, you can put your drink over behind my desk where it won't spill, and pick it up again on your way out." (Which is how I often negotiate on a first offense with students.)

He laughed (we have a very amicable relationship), moved over near my desk and said quietly, "It's my drug of choice for getting through the day."

I said, "Well, you're going to have to shoot up before class starts then."

Luckily, he thought that was funny.

Great Quotes

I love this quote I ran across today. It describes teaching quite a bit as well.

"People ask me how far I've come, and I tell them twelve feet: from the audience to the stage."

-David Lee Roth

Thursday, January 10, 2008

And The Beat Goes On

I was teasing one of my classes for being slow today - not picking up their handouts before the tardy bell rang, not getting their journals out in time (they were tired, I have a good relationship with the class). I was getting them going (and laughing) by marching around saying things like "GET that homework out! GET those journals out! NO more Ms. Nice Kudu! You don't have your handouts yet? That doesn't make me happy! Haven't you started your journal yet? That doesn't make me happy!"

We were having a grand old time. And, from the back of the classroom I heard someone murmur, "This class makes me happy."

Me too, kiddo. Me too.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

How They Keep Me Sane

The arrival of a note releasing a kid from class is always worth a moment of silence. Reverence and longing, you know.

The note came. It was for a student who was not in my class. (Probably got the room number wrong.)

One of my students, very dry humor, name of Christopher: Ms. Kudu, who's the note for?

Me: Don't worry about it. It's not for you.

Chris: It might be, and you're hiding it from me so I'll finish these embedded quotes first. C'mon. It's for me, isn't it?

Me: Only if your name is Kristina.

Chris (completely deadpan): That's pretty close. I should probably go.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

I Have Now Been Professionally Developed

Yesterday was a professional development day. Let me share with you how it went.

School upon arrival: blisteringly hot. The heaters were on over the holidays. In Texas, this is completely unnecessary. The temps have been in the 70s, except for 2 or 3 days right in the midst of the holidays when no one would have been at the school. In an attempt to fix this the system was turned off, whereupon we lost any air whatsoever until noon today. Very, very hot.

Breakfast: promised to be delivered by the Army - four baskets of breads. And some napkins. Nothing else. Nothing. No cream cheese for the bagels, fruit, water, nada. Four. Baskets. Of. Bread. We ran out.

"Differentiation" strategies learned:

1) Two teachers holding hands and touching a modified lightbulb can complete a circuit and make the lightbulb light up. Two hundred teachers stretched out around a cafeteria cannot. Time to get teachers in circle? 10 minutes. Time to try it four times, just in case someone was not actually touching the person next to them? 10 more minutes.

2) If you hold your arm out straight and think positive thoughts, it's easier to keep your arm up longer. If you think negative thoughts, your arm gets heavy. No. Really. We learned that as a differentiation strategy, which you will no doubt recognize as an engagement strategy, and a dumb one at that.

New Policies: No Homework? Why Not?

Students who do not do their homework will be held unaccountably responsible for not doing the work. Strategies to get them to do the work should include: having students call parents right during class and tell their parents in front of everyone that they don't have their homework.

HOWEVER. We want to give students who may have good reasons for not doing their homework every opportunity. After all, that student may not have had breakfast that morning, or is living in a hostile environment.

SO. No homework? Why not? Call your parents in the middle of class in front of peers. "Hey Mom. I didn't do my homework because it was really upsetting to see Jimmy beating the snot out of you last night."

Games Played: Drug Awareness Jeopardy.

Not one moment for us to work in our rooms. They kept us from 8:30 until 4:05. When we all got back to our classrooms, we found out they'd sent an email which required a responsive action by 4.

Later this week I want to write more about two strange trends I saw coming, but seem even stranger now they've hit our school: the No Homework, No Problem trend, and the Dumbing Up, Dumbing Down to get to on-level teaching strategies.