Friday, November 30, 2012

It's Been Too Long!

Sorry, all eight of you loyal readers, that I haven't been a-posting. That last post came from what turned out to be the suckiest (aka most first-year-of-teaching-like) two weeks of the year thus far. Anyway, things are much better on the teaching front, thanks mainly to the gradual process (that I'm finally just now actually getting the hang of) of being, you know, IN CHARGE of my classroom. It's not a democracy. Sorry UTEP. It's a combination of Cesar Milan-like group energy-level management,  making ordinary things sound really exciting, and making my voice very quiet at key moments. Like when I feel like yelling, for instance. Also, never have the whole class move at once. Actually, I think that's like 90% of my happiness, right there.

Anyway, I got all excited just now because I discovered a LOAD of pictures of our house pre-renovation. That should make for some really fun before-and-after house posts, if I ever get around to actually posting those! Ha. Also, the way I discovered the pictures is funny/gross. I have this weird-looking bug bite on my leg, and I couldn't figure out what was going on with it, so before going to the doctor, I called my mom for her input, as is my custom, and she (as is HER custom) wanted lots more details about a weird, gross bug bite than most sane people would. And so she asked me to take a picture, but "not on your phone, take it with a real camera." And so that's how I discovered lots of pictures I didn't know I had. Aren't you happy you know that?

So anyway, stay tuned for house-related posts. (Not this weekend though because I am super behind on grades. Meeps!)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I Couldn't Make This Up

Today was a doozy of a day. The silver lining of it was that I didn't lose my patience. I just wanted to share for friends and family who don't always get a chance to to see the crazy shenanigans, here's a (thankfully unusual) day for your reading pleasure.

There were a couple issues in the morning: some of my usually well-behaved kids were having an off-day, and a girl who has some difficulty dealing with anger was having a particularly difficult time. But the morning actually went really smoothly. We had a great science lesson, the kids worked really well during math, and everyone was excited about Mr. Rich (our Ravinia teaching artist) coming in the afternoon. 

Then I picked the kids up from lunch. 

I arrive to find one student in tears that another student called him gay and reached under his shirt. So in the midst of dealing with this, I see three girls in line shoving and yelling at each other. So I send them to the office since we're right by there, and I've got other fish to fry. We go use the restroom which I try not to do straight after lunch because it's just a HUGE MESS of horribleness, but since Mr. Rich is here we need to do it now instead of after half an hour of reading. I'm already irritated on account of the girls and the bullying, and the kids being a mess in the hall is just too much. I tell them if they aren't good in the hall they won't go to Mr. Rich, so almost half the class is sitting in my room with their heads down instead of with Mr. Rich. Then the office pages me about the girls who I need to send write-ups down for, and since I have a volunteer in my room on Tuesdays I decide to the forms down to the office myself since my reliable students were all in a different room and at this point there's only two kids in the room (even so, probably a bad decision). When I come back she tells me that one of the girls (the one who is chronically disrespectful and disruptive) ran around the room and cussed at her, so then it was her turn to take her down to the office. I decide to hold a "girls meeting" for the girls who had been fighting, which was very productive, except that one of the girls told me she needed to use the bathroom and I told her to wait, and then she had an accident. So then I send her with her former brawlers/now-BFFs to go call home and get new pants. I clean up the mess which is thankfully not on the rug. Meanwhile, the class comes back. The student who had gotten bullied at lunch gets an early dismissal. Then the girls come back because the one with the accident couldn't get new pants brought to school in time. So I send her to the library with some books to read so she can dry off (I figured since no one but a few people saw, I'd save her the embarrassment of coming back with wet pants). Then she gets an early dismissal so I send one of the girls who already knew about the accident to go get her. All this time, mind you, I am trying to do a read-aloud. I decide that a better plan is to do some role-playing about being kind to others because it seems like we need it today, and my afternoon is pretty much shot anyhow. And then to end the day we read a little of Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, which at this point I'm wondering why I chose that book, because as much as the kids love it, I feel like I get to relive the most irritating parts of my day in book-form. 

Anyway. Yeah. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Bell

I did it. I bought a bell for my classroom. Fellow UTEPers, please don't shun me. Whenever I think about classroom management, and my struggles therein, I think back to the conversations we had in class, the thoughtful debates about the benefits and consequences of different types of control and the messages we send to our students, the difficulty many of us had (myself very much included) with authoritarian styles of classroom management. Well, here I am, a year and some months into my teaching career, and I am now the reluctant owner of a call bell.

As I mentioned, I was deeply conflicted about this. But here's my thinking. In order to teach, I need for my classroom function with a certain level of order. Ideally this responsibility is on the kids as much as possible; scaffolded of course. This is the cornerstone of a democratic classroom: exercising democracy. It's also important to help kids develop self-discipline, and you can't learn self-discipline unless you have the opportunity to practice self-discipline. As Bill and Amy love to say, you can't learn to make good decisions if you never make decisions. However, finding just the right level of teacher control is (for me, at least) remarkably difficult.

Don't get me wrong: I have purposefully incorporated a number of opportunities for kids to exercise decision-making and problem-solving skills. Part of why I have tried to implement Love and Logic is because it's based around structured decision-making (the idea is to give kids binary decisions, both of which are equally acceptable to you). I also have introduced Talk It Out to my students this year to help them with social-emotional learning and problem-solving. (They love it and it's some of the most active listening and thinking I see all day.) I try to mention regularly that students in my class are problem-solvers, they solve their own problems, etc. I am also trying to build more structured choice into my literacy block (more on that later: I'm still getting that figured out).

I think some people take more naturally than I do to a position of authority, so management was a disaster for me last year and continues to be a challenge. I am a gentle, passive person. And I see the ways in which school implicitly teaches kids their station: too often, rich kids are taught to lead, middle-class kids are taught to be workers, and poor kids are taught to follow directions. I have a desire to give kids as much power as possible to fight this pattern. But that is combined with a personal reluctance to take charge, which really killed me last year (I'm better now). What I'm saying is, some people are probably better managers than I am just on personality alone.

But the simple fact remains that I'm one person with 26 kids who, at various times of the day, need to be quiet so I can teach. I have to get their attention somehow. This year, I either say 3-2-1, or I clap three times. (I've heard conflicting advice on attention-getting signals: some people say be consistent, some people say mix it up. I suppose one is more about conditioning a response, and one is more about getting them interested in something novel. An interesting blend of these seemingly opposing strategies is the class-yes system from whole-brain teaching, which I might try next year or after winter break. But I digress.) Attention-getting is a necessary evil, and I'm sorry, but in one way or another, you're conditioning kids to respond a certain way to whatever it is you choose to do.

Here's where the bell comes in. I've noticed that sometimes kids assume that when I ask for their attention, I want them to clean up, when it might actually just be to point out a strategy I noticed a group using, remind them to use a quieter voice, or give a quick mid-workshop teaching point. It's really annoying to me when this happens: it's totally a personal problem, and has nothing to do with the kids. I really don't want to be annoyed at kids wanting to do the right thing as quickly as they can, and I want to be able to positively reinforce this behavior. So I decided that I am going to use the bell for specific signals, but not attention-getting. I think I will ring it once if the noise level is too loud (that way I can keep guided reading or whatever going with minimal interruption), and ring it three times to clean up (so that kids don't have to wait for me to give them directions). This way, I'll also need to get their attention less often, which will reinforce the idea that when I ask for their attention, it's for something important.

I'll keep you posted on how it goes!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

1 to 1 Schools, More about Reader's Responses

Sean's been researching ideas for a new start-up project involving teachers, and he shared this great blog with me: 1 to 1 Schools. I've only just started reading, but it's got some good stuff. Just thought I'd share.

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been thinking a lot about how to raise the quality of my students' reader's responses. I decided that in addition to the reader's response students do on their own, every Monday I'm going to give students a prompt and have them write about our shared reading. I decided to do this a) to give them ideas of what kinds of writing and thinking they could do with their own books, and b) increase the amount of writing they do about reading (and make sure they're practicing writing about high-quality texts and not—oh let's just hypothetically say—Spongebob). I recently scored my students' REACH assessments (it's a grade-level performance assessment where students read a passage and have to respond to it in written form). They didn't do very well, which speaks at least in part to their lack of experience explaining their thinking in writing. The Common Core State Standards put a lot of emphasis on interpretation, argumentation, and citation of texts, so I think beefing up my instruction around writing about reading will help my students do well in this area.

I am also struggling with how to implement centers-based literacy instruction. I keep going back and forth about which is going to run smoother/make it easier for me to run guided reading: timed rotations, or more of an options set up. I am leaning toward options, but I worry that the kids are used to centers and will think that this set up is too "free" and will not stay focused. I guess we'll see. It's also been hard to get things up and running because I'm so behind on my benchmark assessments, and I don't want to spend the time introducing each activity. So they've sort of been stuck on a few things (read with someone, journaling, write about reading, and only one word study activity) while I furiously STEP my kids. Hopefully I'll be done this week and can also get the rest of my literacy activities introduced and get into a rhythm with literacy.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Reader's Response Letters

I have been thinking of how to modify reader's response letters for a few students in my class. Last year I spent the whole year trying to get kids to write higher quality letters, and I think they just didn't really understand what I was looking for, even with the sample on a chart and in the front of their notebooks. This year, I also have students with IEPs in my room during reading, which is new for me. I made a simplified model letter with blanks and prompts for my students with IEPs, but in looking for some online I found another good one that I think I'll use for other students who are struggling. I discovered Ms. Sanchez' class, where Mariely Sanchez has a page devoted to literacy organizers. I am going to use the reader's response journal (for 3-5) in my class for some of my students.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


Oh my gosh! I never posted a "done" picture of the counters! Well, here's the only pic I've got at the moment. Not super detailed or anything but you get the idea.

I'll post some more soon.

Crying and Searching for Resources

Well, it's already happened this year: I cried in front of my kids on Friday. At the end of the day I had a student call another student a name (Scooby Doo, if you must know) and that student burst into tears. I also got a new student last Friday who has been the target of name-calling at recess, so this really put me over the edge. I started giving them the business about not being mean and how I don't like it when they call people names because I care about them, and it makes me sad when someone is mean to any one of my students, and I just started crying. I guess it was a rough week! I think I freaked them out a little by crying. I'm not against having feelings, but I really didn't plan on actually crying. Oh well. It is what it is, right?

Sean's working on a new business idea, this time aimed at teachers. So instead of planning today, I've been talking to him about planning. Ha. But the upside is that in the process, I've uncovered some resources I either forgot about, or hadn't known about. Here's a great one if you don't know about it already: Teaching with Primary Resources. If you've ever looked for primary resources online, you're probably picturing the murky, unsearchable dungeons of online collections of various libraries and government organizations, made out of early-90's internets and duct tape. But this is amazing! It's designed for teachers, organized by themes and topics of study, as well as grade level. Crazy!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

60 hours a Week

That's the limit Sean set for me for work, and it's going pretty well! Granted, I at maybe 65 if we're being honest here, but I am getting a lot more done quickly and efficiently knowing I am not going to work past 7 at night and not work more than 5 hours on the weekend. I haven't got the weekend part down yet (that's where the over-spill happens) but I'm sticking to 7:00 pretty faithfully, and I have actually noticed that I'm more focused and productive (6:30 blog-posting not withstanding). I am actually excited and sort of, I don't know, determined to get stuff done, as opposed to feeling tired and defeated, which is how I felt last year when I did work at home. Of course, some of that is being a second-year teacher (yay for not being a first year teacher! I provided moral support only just today to a crying co-worker! But the truth is she's doing twice as good as I did last year). And also having a less hectic school day (I have an hour prep plus a 45-minute lunch every day, as opposed to last year's four 50-minute preps a week [at the end of the day: tough for my disorganized self!] and a 20-minute lunch, plus the day is about half an hour shorter). But I think some of it is just limiting my work time, and promising myself that I get to be a wife and a human every day, no matter what.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Personal Dictionaries

Last year I had a word wall in my room that I barely used at all. It was something that always got shoved down the priority list when I was running behind. So this summer I was thinking about how I could do a better job with my word wall this year. I decided that, instead of a word wall, I would give each student a personal dictionary where they could write down words they wanted to use in their writing but had trouble spelling. I like that a personal dictionary is also differentiated, since not all kids are going to be in the same place in terms of what sight words they can or can't spell. Well, turns out I have to have a word wall in my room, so I figure the personal dictionary can be in addition to it, not instead of. I think that'll actually work out really well, because then we can still do activities and word work around the word wall words to help kids remember them, and then the act of writing them in the dictionaries will help them remember them as well. And then they can add other words they need help spelling, on an individual basis. I'm excited to try it out! I didn't get around to creating the dictionary this summer, but I, uh, have some time on my hands right now, so I made it the other day! And because I am a nerd, I even looked up the frequency of letters appearing at the beginning of words, so there should be plenty of room in each section for whatever words students put in there all year. Here's a link to the pdf it if you want to use it. The pages are in order for copying back to back then folding in half. (The first blank half page I didn't know how to get rid of, but you don't need it. Copy pages 2-9, with 2-3 back to back, 4-5 back to back, etc).

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why I'm Striking

Apparently there's a tentative contract! (update: or maybe not? My union rep tells me that they didn't have a contract to look at during their meeting but they'll meet again Sunday if a deal's reached Saturday.) The Chicago Tribune is swamped and I can't get on to see it, but as of last night, the proposed evaluation plan I saw sounds workable. (My teacher eval post is still in the works! I promise it's coming.) I explained a little bit why it's problematic to use standardized tests for more of the evaluation, but a fellow teacher recently made the point that the silver lining to this is that less of a teacher's evaluation comes from subjective sources like the principal's observation. I think that's a really good point. They are apparently going to use a combination of ISAT (and then presumably PAARC, beginning next year) and NWEA value-added scores. I am still not sure what that means for me as a third-grade teacher though. They also say teachers will be compared against other teachers with a similar demographic of students, which is good too. Also good is that first-year teachers can't be fired for an "unsatisfactory" rating (I can assure you that 90% of first-year teachers are unsatisfactory). 

I have been moved and humbled by the level of passion and urgency of people on all sides of this strike. I realized that I have at times been both too cynical (assuming that there's no money for things teachers are asking for, that their demands are pie-in-the-sky, that some of these changes are inevitable), and not cynical enough (about motives of the city or the motives of the union). I know this may sound crazy to many who are following this closely and care deeply about the issues in play, but I think I was being overly pragmatic. I have deeply appreciated the thoughts and opinions of numerous people weighing in about why they're striking, why they oppose the strike, what their hopes for the future of education are. I am humbled by their passion: I have to confess that I did not have such loftly ideals in mind at the beginning of this. I've come to realize, though, that people on both sides see this as a fight for the future of public education. I am now more supportive of the strike than I was initially, because I realize that this is an opportunity for the challenges of urban education to be visible to people in a way that they usually are not.

I believe firmly that small schools like the one I work in are not inefficient, but in fact essential in high-poverty communities. We need far more mental health services than we have. We need smaller class sizes, better nutrition programs, more enrichment, better facilities...the list goes on. And I sadly know that very little of what I see as essential is going to come to fruition, strike or not. But I feel that, if people want to talk about education reform and implement policies in the name of education reform, it is on some level disingenuous to claim to want those things, and not be willing to do what is essential to that task. Are we serious about changing education? Great! Let's do it. 

If we're serious, then let's be real: forget equality of funding. Students in high-poverty schools need MORE resources than their advantaged peers. Let's overhaul how (and how much) we fund our schools. Instead of suburban schools spending twice as much per student on education, how about we spend twice as much per student in our struggling schools? Let's spend money where it's needed. Let's spend it on the kids who still don't have internet access at home in 2012. The ones who sneak food from the cafeteria so they have something to eat at home. The ones whose parents smell like alcohol when the drop them off in the morning. The ones who scream obscenities and react like a frightened animal when people try to get close. 

Let's overhaul teacher induction: new teachers should get an apprenticeship with a master teacher in order to refine their practice while being held to a high standard, and minimizing the potential negative impact of new teachers on kids. And yes, let's dismiss teachers who aren't interested in improving their practice.

I didn't vote for this strike, but now that we're in it, I find that the reason I am striking is so that people have to think about how much of a priority public education is. If you work in education and you are against this strike, I have the utmost respect for that. If you don't work in education or in low-income communities, I invite you to come visit my school, anytime. We're at 1415 E. 70th Street in Chicago. This is not an abstract problem, and it deserves your full attention and consideration. I work with 27 brilliant, resilient, amazing people everyday who deserve the same opportunities you and I had, and more.

Update: I forgot to include my favorite revolutionary school reform soap-box: abolishing private schools! Here's an interesting article on Norwegian schools if you haven't already run across it yet.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Strike

I've been wanting to write a post about the strike, my thoughts on it, and what it means for my school and my situation, but I've been reluctant to stick my neck out there because there are a lot of strong feelings on all sides of this thing.

Here's a good summary of what's going on with the strike.

On the strike, my feelings are mixed. This has been brewing since long before I got hired in CPS, and I think I may feel differently than a lot of teachers do as a result.

The raise issue: last year I taught at a contract school (essentially a charter, and non-union), so moving to CPS was a 20% pay increase for me. I think CPS teacher pay is pretty fair. And I certainly understand the role that the union plays in getting it to that point, but at this time, I don't think that the raise CTU was asking for was reasonable (I use past tense because I think at this point the money issues have been sorted out). I also tend to be a bit fiscally conservative, and I know there's really not any money to be had, and the Board's credit rating has actually been downgraded recently. So I think teachers need to take one for the team this time and lay off the pay increase issue. Plus I think we look like jerks asking for a pay increase when there's still such high unemployment. And it is really hard for me to feel okay picketing in a community that quite likely has over 25% unemployment. On the other hand, I can see how teachers who worked under the previous contract probably don't feel it's fair that Emanuel rescinded the raise that was in their contract. But the thing is, teachers get step increases every year for each year of experience, and the 4% we were asking for was on top of the step increase. So it was actually something like a 5-6% raise effectively, which is a rather handsom raise to most people.

The big issues still holding things up are teacher evaluation and school closings. I completely and totally agree that teachers should be held accountable for student achievement. The tricky part comes in measuring that. The main issue holding up negotiations right now is that they want to use state standardized tests for this, which are problematic for a few reasons:

1) They're horrible measures of student progress, for students, parents, teachers, and teacher evaluators.

2) They are a narrow assessment of the teaching I do and the goals I have for my students (though the PARCC test, aligned to the Common Core Standards, seems somewhat more promising than the ISAT on this front, but still will not test all areas of student learning).

3) It totally sucks to depend on one week of a pressure-cooker test that students could do poorly on for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with me.

4) A teacher could quite conceivably show varying levels of student growth from year to year and still be a good teacher with the same level of quality and expertise from one year to the next, and that is not being taken into account. I only got to see percentile data from last year's ISAT for my students, but I moved my students an average of 13 percentile points higher from third to fourth grade in math last year. I can assure you that, as a first-year teacher, I did not perform some kind of miracle with my students last year. I am a much better teacher now, but I think the odds of me making a gain like that this year are really slim. Plus, there's the complication of teaching third grade this year: how exactly will they measure the progress I've made with my students? Third grade is the first year they do state testing. The progress I can make also depends what the students' education has looked like up to the point they enter my room. Consistently high-quality teaching is likely to make my job at any grade easier. (FULL DISCLOSURE ON THIS ITEM: I have no idea if Emanuel's proposal calls for student performance to be measured as value-added as I've described above, or a percent meets/exceeds. If it's just a flat percentage of students who meet or exceed, then I'm totally hosed. This year's No Child Left Behind Adequate Yearly Progress for percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards is 92.5%. Last year my school's meet/exceeds average was close to 50%. That represents gains in meets/exceeds for every single grade who took the ISAT, by the way. No small feat, but still failing miserably by NCLB milestones, and still heart-breaking as a teacher to see what that actually means in terms of student achievement.

5) Focusing on one test for evaluation means that teachers will focus more on the test with what they teach (read p. 28 in the link) which means your teaching is only as good as the test you use. This means two things: a) that teachers in struggling schools where students are below the target meets/exceeds goal spend time on test prep, which is something that I know as a kid I never experienced going to suburban schools, and b) teachers spend less time on subject areas that are not tested. So reading and math start to crowd out social studies and science. The recent alarm over science time in schools is actually a result of science not being a tested subject for most grades (only 4th and 7th). The other grades spent relatively little time on science because it wasn't tested at their grade, and science education suffered as a result. I guess the answer might be to test science every year, but then what about social studies? Or writing? And I spend a good deal of time helping my kids learn about getting along with each other, managing their emotions and reactions, navigating conflicts and misunderstandings, making going decisions—social-emotional learning. I do this because it's important, and because I frankly couldn't keep my classroom calm and safe without it. But this isn't tested. Should I get rid of that?

6) Particularly in schools with a high mobility rate, standardized testing sometimes is measuring student progress of students who haven't spent much time in front of that teacher. When I was a teaching intern, we had a girl transfer in two weeks before the ISAT. Should her scores be a part of my mentor teacher's evaluation?

The thing is though, if Emanuel is in good faith trying to gradually implement an evaluation plan that he's willing to tweak (on an ongoing basis) to fix its inevitable shortcomings (and include teachers in the formulation of the evaluation system), I'm personally okay with that. This is one thing I wish the union were a little more flexible on:  I think people would be much more sympathetic if we adopted some kind of performance-based evaluation and then later protested unfair outcomes or implementation of it. 

In terms of the other part of teacher evaluation—observing instruction—CPS has just switched from the infamous "checklist" system of observation-based teacher evaluation to one based on the Charlotte Danielson Framework for teaching, which is a wonderful tool for assessing teaching. I think I'm actually going to write a separate post on my thoughts about teacher evaluation and what I think it should look like, and I'll talk more about the Danielson Framework in that post.

The other big issue for me (and the other big issue still not resolved in talks) is closing schools. My school would more than likely get closed under the proposed plan. First of all, it's really small (one teacher per grade level) which makes it a target for consolidation. But I feel very strongly that the size of the school is really important for our students. Many of our students have really unstable home lives, for any number of reasons. We also have an extremely high mobility rate: we get new kids, kids leave, and some kids who were there and left, come back mid-year. It's chaotic and stressful. But I believe that having a small school is a hedge against the chaos of high mobility and difficult home situations. The teachers who have been at the school for a couple years know all the students by name. The kids know all the teachers. It's a very close-knit community, and feels like a family. My personal feeling is that larger schools can't provide this same level of stability and security for students who are in inherently unstable situations, and I think it's wrong to close schools just because they're small. I think the opposite, in fact. We should have more small schools. I know it costs more, but at some point we have to ask ourselves whether we're willing to accept the cost of what it takes to give kids what they need.

In addition to being small, we're on probation due to extremely low scores (though they've been going up: my principal has been at this school for five years and I think it could be demonstrated that she and the staff she's put together are making progress. But that's not something that's necessarily considered.) So I would likely get laid off, and then I would not have recall rights, which it seems would suit Emanuel just fine because by his logic I am a bad teacher from the bad school he just closed. 

Teachers are also asking for smaller class sizes, air conditioning (yes, sad), more support services like counselors, social workers, and nurses (badly needed), and to stop expansion of charter schools. I know a lot of those services are not going to happen because the money's not there. But the same thing applies there as with the small schools: are we willing to actually pay for things that will help students who struggle the most?

At the end of the day, my feeling about the strike is that I want it to end, and I don't care how it ends. There are things I think the union is asking for that are unreasonable and not in students' best interests, but I also feel strongly that some things Emanuel wants to put in place are perhaps well-intentioned or pragmatic, but ultimately not good for students. I support the strike because I think Emanuel is trying to bust unions, and I believe we have the right to collectively bargain. But I would be okay if the strike ended now and the board got to implement everything they're currently asking for.

To be honest, I just want to get back to teaching. I love my students, and I love my job. I'm a good teacher and I'll only get better each year. I want to be respected for what I do, and I want to be supported in my growth and improvement.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Spock Power

This is what Sean has named Love and Logic. Ladies and gents, I am really exercising my Spock Power these days. I Love and Logicked one of my students yesterday/today: he didn't stay to talk to me about a minor incident yesterday, so I left a note on his desk that said, "I need to talk to you about something pretty serious. We can talk at recess. Don't worry about it til then." It absolutely had the intended effect. So, so sweet.

Then today, I had another student give me the opportunity to Love and Logic her (yes, it's a verb. Deal with it.) I say opportunity, and I mean it. So fun! The Teaching with Love and Logic book says that you might start looking forward to opportunities to give kids choices, delay consequences, make them solve their own problems, etc, but I have to admit I was doubtful. But guess what? It is so, so fun once you start to get the hang of it.

Today a girl in my class was talking and laughing during independent work time, and I asked her to move to the time out area (I call it the Cool Down Area). She threw a fit, talked back, and refused to move, so I told her it was too bad she was choosing to make this worse, but I assured her we could talk about it at recess. She never did move to the Cool Down Area, but she was completely silent the rest of the time, and kept trying to show me how much work she was doing whenever I walked near her desk. I just ignored her. At recess I had her come to the room (which I think surprised her for some reason), and she told me that she hated this school. I had her write a behavior reflection, and then I asked her to read it to me. (the reading it aloud bit is a pro tip from lovely coach Kate: thanks Kate!) This proved to be challenging for her since she was still in avoidance mode. I told her if she wasn't ready to talk about it, there was still some more time left in recess, and she could sit at her desk til she was ready. So I just worked at my desk and didn't really care when she was ready: genuinely. In the past I've pretended to have stuff to do while I secretly am waiting for a kid to come talk to me. It's so freeing to really just not care when they're ready! A couple minutes later she was ready, but we didn't finish discussing the problem because we ran out of time, so I told her that unfortunately we'd have to continue our conversation after school, or maybe during recess tomorrow. I can't wait!

As a side-note, part of the entertainment of Love and Logic is when kids get suspicious of the system. They're so used to being dressed down. She really didn't know what to do with me. At one point she told me, "This is kind of weird." And the awesome thing is, we had a productive conversation once she decided she was ready.

Yay for Spock Power!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Procedures Quiz

So, you know how you're supposed to think about outcomes and what you'll be assessing first, and then plan how you'll teach it (at least if you're approaching planning with a backwards design framework)? Well, I have just had an epiphany about teaching procedures to my kids. My first week plans borrow heavily from the awesomely talented Ms. Kelly at Brownell Elementary, and one of the things she does is a test over her classroom procedures. I didn't do this last year, but I just finished making one for this year, and as a person who struggled mightily with management and procedures in my first year of teaching, let me tell you, this quiz was more for me than it will be for my students. It really helped me to nail down what each procedure would be when I had to put it in quiz form. (This probably sounds more obvious to the more naturally-organized among you, but I really sucked at this last year. I had a hard time caring about how kids sharpen pencils or get tissues. But these stupid, stupid things about killed me last year, directly and indirectly.) So anyway, I highly suggest making a procedures quiz to help you think through what you need your kids to know about working in your classroom.

Oh, and I have a Love and Logic post brewing, I think. I hope. Today there was an incident that is currently be Loved and Logicked. I'll let you know how things shake out.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Organizing My Classroom

I set up my computers today, and it will come as a surprise to no one who has talked to me in the last week that this task involved disproportionate amounts of spider-slaying. I even decided to spray poison on the back of the towers just in (the very likely) case I had some kind of spider commune going on inside the CPUs. My room is really unreal. I have heard from other teachers that they get roaches in their closets, which I hope I've taken care of by spraying expanding foam into a giant crack in the back of my closet. (Is there any problem that can't be solved with spray foam? It's my new favorite thing.)

Speaking of closets, here's an extremely gratifying before and after for ya:

Note Miz Fuhrito's use of spray foam in the left back corner there. Nice.

School starts Tuesday: yikes! I haven't even started planning yet. I have a running list of activities I want to do and mini-lessons I need to teach, but I haven't actually sat down and written down when and how things are happening. It'll get done, but unfortunately it'll probably be over the weekend. I have a new resolve this year to manage my time better. My goal is to work no more than 5 hours on the weekend, and no later than 8 on weekdays. I really think that I could be much more efficient if I told myself that I only had a set number of hours to work and then I was done. I'd start to see what was a priority and not, and I'd have more energy during the day to be a better manager, and be better prepped. At least that's my hope. I'll let you know how it goes. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Addressing Standards

Top o' the morning everybody! I woke up with the idea to make a spreadsheet to keep track of which standards (CCSS) I've addressed in literacy and math each week. The spreadsheet adds up how often I'm hitting each one (I just type a "1" in the weeks that address the particular standard) so I know if there's an area I'm neglecting. Not that I would ever do such a thing. Ha.

I've shared the google doc I made, and I think you should be able to copy it but not edit it if you're interested in using it. Let me know if you'd like to use it but can't copy it for whatever reason. No sense in typing all those standards in again! (They're the third grade standards, by the way. I left off the 3 part, and I know some of it probably overlaps other grades, but it's probably not a perfect match. So compare against your grade level.)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Polishing and Sealing the Counters

The counters are now polished and sealed. They looked amazing after being polished, if I may say so myself.

My goal in polishing the counters was two-fold. I wanted to 1) not effing electrocute myself, and 2) polish the counters. I finally procured a grinder that would work with my polishing pads (by the way, I got almost all the supplies for this project from concrete exchange, which is run by Fu Tung Cheng, the author of the book I used to learn how to do this. If you plan to embark on a concrete project I HIGHLY recommend that you both read this book and purchase supplies from concrete exchange.) 

Anyhoo, back to the hazards of polishing concrete! In order to accomplish this, you need to operate a hand-held polisher or grinder whilst pouring a stream of water over the area of concrete you are polishing. (Easier said than done when you're working alone, btw, though Cheng has advice on how to do this that worked out fine.) So, you're standing in a pool of water operating an electrical device, which also happens to be one that, if you're not careful will grind through your electrical cord. Which, as it happened, the previous renter of the grinder had done. The guy at the sketch-tastic rental place helpfully wrapped the exposed section in electrical tape and pronounced it safe because there wasn't any copper showing. He gave me some safety tips: "You need to be careful, you could get shocked...well, you shouldn't get shocked...well, you might get a little shocked...keep your feet dry and you'll be fine." Needless to say, I was a tad nervous about polishing. I wore my bean boots and heavy-duty PVC-coated gloves for insulation, and I hung the wires up high so they wouldn't be sitting in water (too much). It went fine, though halfway through I noticed the electrical tape job was coming apart, and there WERE copper wires showing in there! Scary. And then I noticed there were like eight grinder cuts on the cord. So I took a little safety break and electrical-taped those suckers up. 

But the polished counters looked awesome! I really got the hang of it and they looked beautiful. Unfortunately, Mr. Cheng's sealer directions really sucked, and I messed up the sealing process pretty good. I totally ruined the smooth, gorgeous polishing job. But it's not permanent damage, and no one except me will really notice/care, so I'm gonna live with it til it's time to reseal.

Tomorrow we'll install at least one section of counter. Stay tuned for pics...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Secret Service!

I found this Secret Service idea on pinterest, and I was reminded of it again when I saw a similar idea in Jasztalville's plans for the beginning of the year. Basically, the idea is that kids do good deeds secretly, which makes it kind of like a fun challenge. Seeing how Ms. Jasztal implements it at school inspired me to do something similar in my classroom this year. Here's how (I think) I'll implement it:

I will secretly pick one or two students per week, starting the second week, to be in the "Secret Service." Their mission will be to secretly do nice things for other people, and then they'll record what they did each day. At the end of the week I'll read them like clues and have the class guess who was in the Secret Service that week. (still not sure about doing this actually: seems fun but don't know what purpose it would serve: maybe it sets up the sharing nice deeds aspect of this?). Repeat this process until everyone has had a chance to join the Secret Service.

Step two is more like your typical "Appreciations" set up: now that everyone's in the Secret Service, we'll share daily at closing meeting a few nice deeds that students noticed other students doing. (I'll give them each little notebooks and they'll get to spy on each other. That seems like it'll be fun. I'll probably need to designate when's an ok time to be making notes for the Secret Service.)

I know I have like three readers on this blog, and two are Sean and myself, but I'd love to know what people's thoughts are, particularly teachers.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Getting Excited for School!

I met with my coach today, and we talked through my literacy block, which I've been doing research trying to retool this year. We also scoped out the year and I am starting to get really excited! Last year was my first year teaching, and as I tell my husband all the time, I wish I could go apologize to my students because they deserved a better teacher than they got. I did my best and I worked my butt off (it REALLY drives me crazy when people are dismissive of the quantity and complexity of the work that goes into teaching! Especially when I'm working 80+ hours a week on a regular basis.) But a first-year teacher is a first-year teacher, and I have tried to just forgive myself and move on. I know this year won't be perfect, but I already have made so many changes and improvements to what I'm planning to do, I can already anticipate so much more sh#t that will inevitably happen, and even though from the sound of it, my kids will be a lot rougher at my new school, I feel much more ready to start this school year than last year.

One HUGE difference is in my level of organization. Confession: I am extremely disorganized. (As if you didn't know that already.) But fortunately I'm also a thoughtful student of my disorganization (along with lots of coaching from the very organized Sean), and in general, I find that disorganization is a reflection of my indecisiveness (which I also have in spades: two great qualities in a teacher, I know!) If I don't have a place for something, it just ends up sitting in a pile, or on a surface, and I tell myself I'll deal with it later. Which I don't. Because I can't, because I don't know what to do with it. Anyway, this year I have a lot better idea of what to do with all the STUFF, and I have a better idea of what kind of (and what quantity of) stuff will be generated, and I can develop a system and a routine prior to starting the year to deal with said stuff. I used to laugh all the time last year at how much time I spent over the summer prior to my first year of teaching, doing things that I thought constituted planning for the year. Oh lord.

So, the overall theme here, the difference from last year, is that I have a PLAN. I can't wait for September 4th!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Concrete Countertops

They're out of the molds, and they look amazing! We need to wait a couple days to polish them, and then we can install them. I can't wait til they're in the kitchen. As Sean pointed out to me last night, we only have a couple more days of plywood countertops left. Hard to believe!

This is a ledge-type-thingy that will house the sink faucet:

...and a close-up of the concrete: the line in it is because we waited too long between filling it halfway and then filling it the rest of the way. But I kind of like the way it looks. The holes are a result of not vibrating it enough, and also because our first batch of concrete was way too thick. But we'll fill them in and you won't see them in the finished counters. There's also some residue on the surface of some parts of the counters (like the angled surface in the top picture) because I used aluminum flashing to shape some surfaces. I think it'll polish off though. If not, then it's just a part of our counters!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Concrete Poured!

Oh my gosh, I never thought I'd actually get these counter tops poured! We still need to reinforce the cabinets, cut plywood to go underneath the concrete, and install the sink. Still a lot to do, but the end is in sight!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Concrete Countertops Update

The molds are built: tomorrow I'll caulk them and seal all the porous edges. (I also have two sections that need a little more work because they're a little involved, but that's another trip to Home Depot.) After that I will put in the remesh and rebar, and then it's time to pour concrete! So exciting.

Here are some pics of things so far:

I traced the templates onto the melamine particleboard in order to make the molds.

Here's the table I refinished for the sink.

...And here are the almost-finished molds for two of the sections.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Nice Try!

Arg, I just realized that I forgot to go to the first Love and Logic Study Group meeting this year! But seeing the reminder in my email caused me to read through some highlights on the basic principles of Love and Logic. If you aren't familiar, Love and Logic is a discipline philosophy that helps teachers (or parents) create firm boundaries while also helping kids foster good decision-making skills, self-regulation, learn to express themselves rationally and calmly, and take responsibility for their actions. At the recommendation of my assistant principal last year I started learning more about this approach, and eventually joined a study group to talk about how I was using Love and Logic in my classroom. I am not even remotely close to being an expert (one of the big no-nos is that you shouldn't be sarcastic, and I remember the second time I tried this approach, the student I was talking to eyed me suspiciously and asked, "Is this sarcasm or something?").

But I realized that there's one thing I've adopted and use regularly with a lot of success, which is, "Nice try!" Kids do stuff constantly to see what they can get away with. This used to (and occasionally still does) annoy me to no end: I would get so frustrated that kids were putting me in the position of having to tell them "no" all the time, or repeatedly doing things they knew they shouldn't. You absolutely need to communicate to them that what they're doing is not acceptable, but I've found that in most situations where a kid is just testing you, saying, "Nice try!" is a great way to communicate that. This tells them they're out of bounds with the extra bonus of showing them that you recognize their behavior isn't malicious, thus also reaffirming your faith in them and care for them. I love it.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Habits of Mind

I have been thinking a lot lately about what kinds of habits of mind I want to explicitly teach make a part of my classroom this year, and I wanted to share a great resource I found. I'm not sure how I didn't know about this organization til now, seeing as how they quote John Dewey almost as much as UTEP does. But anyway, it's called the Coalition of Essential Schools. It's a group of schools that adhere to a common philosophy of education and offer support and resources within that community. It consists of public schools, charter schools, and private schools. The coalition's vision is definitely focused around developing habits of mind and social-emotional skills, and generally preparing students to be good citizens and critical thinkers. Unsurprisingly, they have some good resources to help teachers think about habits of mind and heart in their classrooms. There's a whole site called CES ChangeLab with some great downloadable resources, which are all free if you sign up for an account. I am so excited I found this!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Maid-O-Matic

I have been meaning to post pictures of the Maid-O-Matic forever! My Aunt Paula reminded me this weekend at my cousin's wedding that I still hadn't shown her the stove. So here it is, in all its glory. Complete with Visi-Bake oven. 

The door on the left there is a rotisserie, which seems cool at first blush, but would probably be a giant pain to clean since it's so tiny inside. We haven't used it.

 Lights on...

 Lights off.

These are a couple of little pamphlets that we found in a cabinet. They're kind of hilarious. Aren't you so excited to embark on this new adventure in cooking? You can tell the people who made this are practically pooping their pants with glee at how amazing this machine is. Life-changing I tell you! In all seriousness though, I've been reading lately about the history of the kitchen in Western culture, and these kinds of appliances and the changes in the function and organization of kitchens really did change our lives. Or maybe reflected our changing lives, or facilitated the change. 

But yeah, in conclusion, we love the Maid-O-Matic. 

The Kitchen Sink Table

Today I sanded and applied one coat of spar urethane to the table that the kitchen sink will sit on. It was not without incident. I got a gigantic splinter, which helpfully reminded me that it's probably time for a tetanus shot, and I learned that it's advisable to wear a respirator while applying spar urethane so that Sean doesn't come home to find my unconscious body lying in the garage. Evidently that stuff is strong! I was working in the garage with the door halfway up, (working right next to the opening), using the urethane for approximately 45 minutes, and by the end of that time I could barely walk straight and nearly puked. Woops.

The upshot is that the table is now looking charmingly vintage as opposed to the filthy-nasty spider world it formerly was.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Gearing up for the School Year

Last year was my first year teaching. It was probably the hardest thing I have done yet, and I was unbelievably grateful to have a summer vacation to relax, reflect, and regroup. I've started getting excited about next year: I have moved schools and moved grade levels (from fourth to third), and started thinking about next year and getting great resources and ideas on pinterest and teacher blogs. There is a lot out there! I wish I had been better able during the school year to pull myself out of the day to day rush and be smarter about investing some time looking for resources that could help me do things better or more easily. (But that's kind of a silly thing to wish, because when you're in survival mode it's hard to carefully consider what you're doing. I'm going to try and do better at that by building in some scheduled reflection time, probably through blogging.)

Here are a couple fantastic blogs by third grade teachers that I'm excited about:

Third Grade Thoughts: I love this blog. I think I've pinned half of Stephanie's posts for future reference. I am not super familiar with The Daily 5 and have been wanting to learn more, and it's been helpful to see how she implements it in her classroom.

Look Who's Teaching: Jessie is a really thoughtful and reflective teacher, and I really appreciate her insights into trying out new curricula and frameworks: what she did well and not as well, what her students got from it, where she needs to tweak things, and how she's thinking about it now.

And here are a few more that I've added to my google reader as well:

My Life As a Fifth Grade Teacher (who is moving to third this year: yay!)

Clutter-Free Classroom

Coffee, Kids, and Compulsive Lists

The Go To Teacher

From My Mixed Up Files


Teaching With a Smile

...And maybe Mrs. Fioritto will have some time to blog this year as well.  :-)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Concrete Countertops!

They're FINALLY underway! After months of plywood countertops, and before that, months of no kitchen whatsoever, we will have our very own, beautiful concrete countertops. I've purchased all the materials, I've made the templates, and now I just have to, uh, make them. I've decided to put in stone for the biggest working surface in the kitchen next to the stove, because some concrete sealers can't handle heat, and the ones that can are less stain-resistant (and apparently acids like lemon juice can actually eat through the sealant and into the concrete itself). I am also customizing an old table to hold the vessel sink. My plan is to blog along the way and show you all the fun/chaos. Here's the plan of where each material will go:

By the way: our kitchen layout was designed by the ingenious Tracey Edson. Our kitchen has some silly things like the back door and the angled hallway coming into the corner of the kitchen that really make it an awkward space. In spite of that (and the current plywood countertop situation) our kitchen is very user-friendly and pleasant to work in: thank you Tracey!

Stay tuned for updates. I really do intend to blog more frequently. Promise. :-)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

New Classroom Website

I have been looking for a way to give students more ownership of the blog, and also for a tool that will let students create more than just blog posts, and so I've finally created a classroom website on weebly. It was really easy to do, and not only that, I get up to 40 student accounts (it's a special educator's version) so that students can upload assignments, write blog posts, and create their own websites! I am really looking forward to seeing how we can use that next year. That, combined with the YouTube for schools (assuming CPS doesn't block this), should really facilitate inquiry work. So exciting! Be sure and check back in the fall to see more student-generated content and see some of the work we're doing.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

What We Do Here Yo

...Is what my students are now sharing with you, over at our classroom blog. Every day there's a new guest blogger to reflect on the day. I'm still learning about what I need to explicitly teach them about blogging (not to mention spelling, punctuation, and other conventions) but we're off to a great start! The homework posts are now also a student job which has been working out really nicely. I'm excited to have these routines rolling at the beginning of the year next year and have them more integrated into my classroom.