Friday, September 20, 2013

Stop It, You Are Pushing Me!

I have heard it before, and I am sure I will hear it again- You are pushing me too hard in my learning. Really? Is there truly such a thing? These students are exceptionally bright and I love having them in class, but I don't want to crush them or make them cry. But let's look at some stereotypes and facts. First, everyone believes that Asian students are the brightest in our society. While Asian Americans make up only 4% of the U.S. population, Asian-American students make up a much higher percentage of student bodies in top universities around the country. The percentages are astounding: 24% at Stanford, 18% at Harvard, and 25% at both Columbia and Cornell. More Asian Americans over the age of 25 have bachelor's degrees and advanced degrees than any other race or ethnic group. And after outperforming their colleagues in school, Asian Americans also bring home higher incomes than their non-Asian counterparts - almost $10,000 more annually than the rest of the population (2002 statistics). What does this mean then? Well, it does not mean that they are intellectually brighter, but it has more to do with how expectations at home. I found some information from Top of the Class: How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers - and How You Can Too was the result of these efforts-- 17 practices that are common throughout many Asian households. The most important thing is for parents to clearly define their child's role as a student. Just like society has different roles, so do students. We, parents and teachers, need to tell our students what their role is in our classroom with their learning. I will say a major difference between Asian and American households are American children are dividing their time between a thousand different extracurricular activities in addition to household chores, Asian students are concentrating more on their schoolwork. Lastly, I found in some reading from Dr. Soo Kim Abboud, that Asian parents also tell their children that learning is fun and rewarding, along with having high esteem for educators. This is not always the case in America. Maybe if some of our values changed so would the complaints about being pushed in one's learning. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Teaching and the Circus

Are students not pushed hard enough with their education? This question has been on my mind for a few years now as I continually hear from students about how hard my class is or how much work they receive. Am I actually being too hard or are our students becoming more lazy? With technology at everyone's finger tips and students of all ages used to being entertained by the masses, I feel that it is no wonder that when we are in a classroom students can be disengaged. I remember Saturday's at the library researching for a report I had due, yet now students can do this freely at any time with the Internet. Students are required to read three different texts in my class at the same time. Many complain about this, as it is difficult for them to remember what each text is about. I employ different reading strategies to help combat this issue, but students are not used to pushing their brains in this capacity. What do fellow readers or teachers do with this issue?

I also am wondering where reading is going in this technological age. The circus is not a big hit anymore with the masses, as there are no special effects or major animation techniques as seen daily on one's T.V. or Internet device. Remember in history when reading was the only activity one had to entertain themselves, and families would sit around a fire for hours either being read to or reading. Now, my students continually tell me how much they dislike reading (not all but many). Did technology take away the small pleasures in our life?

Lastly, I want my students to grow as learners and enjoy their learning, but I feel that a fine line occurs with this. If I push too hard, then I could loose the student and their learning. If I do not push hard enough, then I still have lost the student and their learning. Thus, the tight-wire of teaching, in addition to preforming so array of fireworks with our technology to keep the students engaged.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The First Weeks Done, Phew!

The first couple of weeks of school are now done. I have jumped, crouched, slithered and even tried to fly over these hurdles, actually being successful with some. Getting to know the students, well actually remembering their names is my first hurdle and I must say that I am doing fairly well with this. I am the worst with names! I can remember a face, but I blank, I mean totally blank when it comes to names 99% of the time. Repetition is the key for me, thus why when I have a student in my classroom I constantly say their name. The next hurdle is making sure that the classroom guidelines are set and I am able to set clear guidelines for the students to follow them. This is tough for some, which in return makes it tough for me. I hate being the rule-layer-downer, but it comes with the job. I tell the students that they do not have to actually like me (yes, this is a perk) but they have to respect me. My job is to teach, not be your best friend. Can those two really coincide? My third hurdle is time. Already I have less time than I plan for in class. I always plan for more than I need, but then I am disappointed when we cannot get to everything. How can I accomplish everything and still not feel rushed? Is this a problem for everyone in their classroom and if so, how do you overcome it?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Isn't It Frustrating...

School begins shortly for us, up here in "The County." I am excited and nervous, as I am every year. Unfortunately, this year I am also frustrated. Summer is not a time "off" for teachers, as many people think. This is a time to reevaluate our lessons or units, to reconfigure how we will meet the standards, and how to best meet our students learning needs. My frustration comes with those who believe otherwise. This could be the ignorant Joe Smith, who says condescendingly "I wish I was a teacher. Then I could have summers off too." Really? When did I have time "off" this summer? Lets see...I was at trainings at least once a week; I attended a week long intensive training in New York; I was constantly reading different teaching methods or strategies to help my teaching grow; I implemented what I was learning to new units or lessons and then updating/cleaning the class website; I had to unpack my entire classroom and re-set it up as we moved this summer; I cataloged each book and placed them by genres in my classroom (FYI this is over 800 books for my classroom); and I met weekly with a teacher I will be co-teaching this year. Summer off? HA! Now I am not complaining about what I have done, but am ranting about those who think teachers have such a luxury of summers completely off. Now, I do understand that every educator out there "works" during the summer, or works that much. This is my second frustration. Why, a few weeks before school is to begin, are things being done now? Why is it too late to do certain things, since we did have all summer? Professionalism and putting forth our best should be our goal, not standing back and sitting on our hands. So, here is to today! Go out there and do something productive, I know I will!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Kindle vs. The Real Thing

Okay, I admit it- I need some advice. Next year students will be receiving iPads instead of laptops. I am now in a quandary over how I should present books for literature circle to my students. Should I buy the ereader or the old faithful (hard copy)? See there are pros and cons to both. For the ereader, students are able to not have the excuse of loosing or forgetting their book, it can read it to them, make notes or highlights and students can easily look up unknown words. For the hard copy, students can mark the pages with stickies (allowing me and others to easily see), easily refer to pages in discussions (something that I find harder to do on an ereader), and I am able to reuse the book for years to come (cost effective). Thus, my quandary. I would love any input from teachers who have made the switch or anyone who has ideas on sharing texts on an ereader (even those texts that are not lendable).

Thanks for your help in advance!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Teaching is Like Running

On my run the other morning I began to make analogies of running to teaching. I thought that sometimes I feel like I am running a marathon with my students. When I am teaching the students about research writing for the first time and all this entails I truly feel like I am running a marathon, up hill, the entire way. Just like running a marathon though, I am always excited, joyful and reminiscent of the times teaching this feat to the students. I also feel like I am sprinting when teaching my students. I know my students would argue that they feel I am always at a sprint, but if only they knew how fast I really wanted the work turn around or how much I plan to do, but cannot get to for the year! My sprints in the classroom usually center around my feelings of trying to ensure that all the students needs are being met. I can be seen bopping from one students desk to the next trying to make sure that this happens, thus my sprints are quick but efficient- (I hope!). At other times I feel that I am jogging, at a leisurely pace in the classroom. Mind you this does not occur as much as I would like, but it does occur. This abnormality usually happens when students are used to the regiment in the classroom and know what to expect when entering. For example, on Tuesday's we have our Greek and Latin Root Day! The period begins with a quiz, then an introduction of the week's Greek and Latin roots, followed by a mini-lesson on a writing skill (usually where I try to incorporate roots into something we are learning). This leisure can also occur when I am reading. As I have spoken about before, I love to read aloud to the students to see their thoughts, allow them to hear mine, and to make connections with the students as I read. It becomes a family affair, our reading, and I feel makes us a closer unit (corny, I know). I think that my epiphany, which I am sure is not a new one, was brilliant of me regardless. Thus, running and teaching similar as the journey and pace is different for everyone.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Students Make Me Laugh, Not Cry

The joke with my students is that I have no heart. Yes, of course I literally do, but let me explain how this joke began. I hate to cry, no really I abhor crying. It makes me feel weak and vulnerable, two things I dislike also. Since I teach emotional young teens, this seems unreal to them. Many of the girls that I teach discus how they cried at a movie or commercial (you know the one's with the animals and sad music asking you to donate money), and when they turn to me asking if I cry at those times I state a simple no. This is incredulous to them and as they continue to probe me I explain that I really dislike crying and think if you cry a lot you look silly. Many of my students think this statement is silly and their goal is to see me cry. What a goal, huh?! Anyways, I now have students telling me every sad story they can think of- everything to a death with a family member or pet, to them being hurt in some way. I know am known as the teacher with a stone heart, because I have not cried. I know I say this jokingly, but I know I have heart. I care deeply for my students and they know this (crying aside). I can joke with them, push them in their learning, and discuss their thoughts with mine during lectures. I have a heart because I want each of them to succeed and believe they can, even if they do not share this belief. Maybe, someday I will cry when all of my class does their work on time and at the best of their ability!

My quote of the week from a student occurred when I was teaching the weekly Greek and Latin roots. We were discussing/learning the root hypo (which means under). A student stated "Is under a word?- How is understood with under- how are you under something that stood in your learning?" I stood their looking at her questioningly, trying to digest and truly figure out what she was saying. The rest of the students all paused and looked at her in the same manner. It finally clicked to what she was saying and what she was trying to do- break down the word using her current knowledge of the word. I chuckled and began my description to her about what we can do with the word and different meanings of words. I ended with "New knowledge is ahead of you- old knowledge is under you, solidified in your brain." This seemed to make sense to her and we all had a good chuckle thanks to this students question.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Reading Aloud

We use a program called Plugged-In by Janet Allen to support our teaching of reading. In this the books that are read as a whole group are read generally by a person on a CD. Immediately when I read/heard that a CD was reading to a group I felt like crying. I throughly enjoy reading to my students, with infliction, emotion, and pauses to allow us to discuss questions, thoughts and insights of the text. I asked at a training for this program if a teacher was allowed to read out-loud to students, and of course the answer was yes, with a but. The but was, your voice will be sore and it can be exhausting to do this every day for multiple periods. I just shook my head a bit and said okay. I do not find this exhausting  and I am not trying to say that I am a superwomen by any means. I think it is imperative that my students hear me reading and see what I do when I encounter words I am unsure of or that I love; that I question out loud when I am reading; that I get excited or upset when something happens to a character- basically that I love reading!

This thinking leads me to an experience that recently happened in my classroom regarding reading. I was out at a conference for a day and the substitute was asked to read aloud to the students the whole-class novel. When I returned to one of my classes the next day many students stated "I am so glad that you are back to read to us!" I asked why and the students responded with "The substitute did not read well and it was boring." Now, I questioned why this was the case as we were in a critical part of the text. The students stated that the substitute did not read with any voice, but just a monotone dribble and did not pause to interact with the text and students. Inside I was jumping up and down, finally feeling as though I had reached my students with reading. The students understood how a text should be read and when it was not interacted with, loved, and discussed in any way the love of reading can be lost. I want to thank my substitute for showing my students the difference in a passion of reading!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

PBIS with Winter Carnival

Last week a co-worker, the Spirit Committee (of students) and myself implemented Winter Carnival, for the first time in ten years at our middle school. I had no clue what I was doing, as I had never run this before. The co-worker, who supported with this event, had only seen this run, but again had never run an event like this before. Thus, you had two people with a small group of students trying to do something in which they had no clue what or how to do. Overall, the week went well as many students were excited with the events and had fun (which was my main objective!). I had a small point system given to each winning group (which was done by homerooms), just to throw in some type of competition. The issue is not with the students being competitive, but with the adults. I did not realize we had so many competitive (I mean really competitive) adults working in our building! It was great to see this passion and have them involved with the events all week. I love to compete, but my goal is as always for the students is to have fun and to bond as a group. Competition is good, but please remember that students enjoying themselves is our goal.

We are meeting next week to discuss what changes we would like for next year and what went well.

If anyone has any suggestions about what can be done for a Winter Carnival (even though you do not know what we did this year) or even for a Summer Festival (for the end of the year) please let me know!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Who Are We Pushing?

Okay, it has been a while since I have let off some steam by blogging, but here I am again! Our 2nd trimester is coming to a close in a couple of weeks and as we look at grades some students have us concerned. We have also implemented "Saturday School" where students who are asked are signed up to come in for at least an hour and half for extra support. Our motto and feeling is that failure is not an option. My question comes up from some recent pondering I have been doing on my morning runs...who are we helping the most? Are we reaching the students or are we just putting a band-aid on this issue? I understand that many students learn at a different pace, thus s/he need different supports, such as more time before or after school hours. I am wondering if the student is learning that if it does not get done in class, lets say due to not being attentive, then they can have more attention at another time. Is this now becoming a learned behavior? I do see that having this extra time with students is beneficial, as many are passing in completed work and smiling as they do so (yes positive behavior supports positive feelings of the student). I just want the students to understand that this is a support system, but this might not always be there for them. Thus, students need to have the support and on-task behavior in class. I hope the big picture is seen by all!

On another note, when I was teaching a new figurative language term, consonance, a student made me laugh. As I was describing what consonance was - repetitive consonants in a few lines, usually found in poetry- and showing information on a Prezi, the students stated "Isn't that what we live on?" I looked at her quizzically for a moment and then I understood the word she thought I was saying 'continents.' I then explained what the difference was and spelled them on the board for this student as we all had a good chuckle. I love it when students feel safe in the classroom to say whatever s/he are thinking, it really makes it a better place to learn!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Skyping with Rodman Philbrick

Rodman Philbrick, a talented author who lives in Maine, Skyped with one of my eighth grade classes this week. Some of the students, in two of my reading classes, had read The Last Book in the Universe for their literature circle books. Philbrick is also know for many other amazing books, such as Max the Mighty, The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, and The Young Man and the Sea. Mr. Philbrick was great interacting with the students and did not get flustered by our technology glitch. He was amazing to speak with and I had many students elated after our session. Students were excited about meeting a well-known published author and having someone who enjoys writing listen to them. I even had a student thank me for setting this up - this was just icing on the cake!

Here are some of the answers to questions my students asked him.

Where did you get the idea for The Last Book in the Universe?
The idea came to me when my editor called and asked if I had any ideas on science fiction stories, as a company was currently paying $1500 for ideas. Lying, I said yes as $1500 is a lot of money. When the publisher proceeded to ask what the idea was I looked over my desk and suddenly the idea for the title just came to me - The Last Book in the Universe. When the publisher began to probe about what it was about I told him that I did not want to give anything away. After hanging up with the publisher I realized I know had to make a story out of the title I stated.

How do you draw your reader in on the first sentence, page, or paragraph (what makes a good hook/lead)?
In the first sentence, chapter, paragraph I want to make a promise to the reader that this is a story that is worth your time. I begin by thinking back to the age group that I am writing for and then I begin to think of my manin idea or theme for the text. By thinking of my theme I can give an overall feeling in that beginning of the story to hopefully make the reader to continue on through the book. I know as I am finishing a chapter that I want the reader to continue reader. Therefore, I leave the endings of the chapters for the reader to want more, to want to turn to the next page.

How many drafts of each piece of writing do you generally go through?
I write everyday, usually about 5 pages on a good day, and the next day I re-write what was written from the day before. I am constantly editing my own work and when I write I assume that the reader is as smart as me. Therefore, I do not continually restate what I have already said from earlier in the book, which makes me do a lot of crossing out as I am editing. I am always hopeful that whatever I am writing it is the best thing that I have ever written, and I have to think this way in order to write well. I am pleased that students are continuing to read his books, such as The Last Book in the Universe, which was published in 2000. I think this really says something about the books.

How long did it take to write The Last Book in the Universe?
As I stated from before, this was originally a short story for a magazine, but after I finished I decided to extend it. It then took me about four to five months to finish this to become a novel.

When writing The Last Book in the Universe was there a general lesson or theme you were trying to have your reader understand?
I know when I was your age I hated books that the teachers used to push on us that had lessons. That is why I write my stories to have the reader just to have fun. I hear a lot today about this book having a Dystopian theme. I have to tell you that when I first heard this word I had to look it up because I did not know what Dystopia meant. When I wrote The Last Book in the Universe there was not talk about Utopia and Dystopia, as there is today because of the Hunger Games novels. So I guess I was a forward thinking about this in some ways, but it truly was not intentional. I know that I borrowed from science fiction movies on some of the ideas, such as mind probes. Really mind probes are to be thought as I guess like a series drug addiction and escape to allow you not to experience life (get away).

What is your favorite genre to write and read?
I like writing about a kid who comes from the wrong side of tracks and then somehow triumphs over some adversity. I believe that I use my personal experiences to build on this. Really, what is most important to me is the character and their development, not the setting. I want the reader to really connect to the characters. I want to stimulate reading for students to not only pick up books that I have written but other books as well- just to have you get out there and read!
I am an avid reader and I usually read mystery or suspense novels. I can invision what is occurring, like a movie when I read these texts and it keeps my mind sharp.

Thank you Mr. Philbrick! I also want to thank my 4th period Reading class- you were great audience members and asked some really good questions!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Standards Based...

Recently my school is looking at standards based learning/grading. I feel the largest game changer with this type of learning and teaching is that students are in charge of their learning, instead of the traditional way of the teacher leading the group. Students are allowed to choose how s/he will show their learning to meet the standard, which allows creativity and individuality. I love this type of classroom teaching, but do have apprehension at times with this thinking. My apprehension stems from having the students and parents on board with this total 180* of how things are taught and learned. Additionally, for those students who love to procrastinate, as I have seen in the past where I used to teach in Southern Maine, this type of learning can be a hinderance. The student has a hard time trying to figure out what needs to be done and how to do it, as s/he is used to being TOLD what to do. With this type of learning being told what to do is not the norm, learning is in the students hands. I also wondering, as this only happened with one student I have seen before, how a high achieving student transitions to high school standards (because I teach 8th grade) before the end of the 8th grade year? As we slowly transition to this type of teaching/learning I look forward to the challenges and adapting a new way to teach students.