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.