Category Archives: Goals

Wow – Where Did the Time Go! Or, Was I Procrastinating?

I meant to take a short break from writing… due to the busy time of the Holidays.  I reread my last post and, apparently, my student’s question about Thanksgiving and Christmas being the same break was a prophesy for me.   After I graded over Thanksgiving, I assigned another essay to be due before Christmas break.  I encouraged students to turn it in early for some extra credit, and five students did.  The rest, well, they validated the reason I do not give weeks to write an essay or create a project.  We work in class for 2-4 days and then it is due two days later.  This gives the kids a chance to turn it in early for some extra credit or ask me for help before the due date.  But I digress…

Of course, I have Romeo and Juliet essays to grade right now, but procrastinating by writing can be more fun.  See, I learn from the students every year.   The essays were due on Friday by 7:30 a.m.  and we did not have school.  The busses would not start due to the extremely cold weather we are experiencing.  Luckily for the students, our district began using Turnitin.com this year.

Little side story here: Eleven years ago several of us asked for the district to purchase a license to use the website.  However, we were told the money would have to come out of the English Department’s budget of $500.  Yes, you guessed it, the license cost more than that.  Evidently, none of the administrators saw a use for checking the originality of science, history, foreign language, and every other subject’s writing assignments.  Thus, while the English department was teaching proper citation of sources and how not to plagiarize, the rest of the school may have been fine with copying from Wikipedia, the bane of all researchers!  Never fear, we asked again around year six, and were told there was no money, which was true.  In fact, the district had to layoff dozens of teachers and two curriculum department administrators. Luckily, this year the Teaching and Learning Department, formally known as the Curriculum Department, has grown beyond pre-cuts days and saw the advantage to using Turnitin.com.  (I guess it makes one sound more intelligent or more powerful if the department has two names.)    

So far, only the English and Language Arts Department is using it, but I am sure the Math, Science, and the rest of the departments will learn how to use it during one of our weekly Professional Development meetings.  

Back to the main topic (Procrastination): My favorite feature of Turnitin.com is the time stamp.  I can have the submission deadline  be midnight or 7:30 a.m. or whenever.  I can then learn when the student turned it in.  I also do not have to deal with using instructional time to have students staple papers together (no one owns staplers), needing to print during class, and listening to excuses of forgotten folders containing essays at home.  Some students still have the excuses, “I couldn’t submit my essay” or “I do not have Internet” or “My printer was out of ink or broken, or “the dog urinated on my laptop.”  Therefore, I have instructed them to (A) email a copy to me or share it with me on Google Docs, (B) bring a typed or hand- written copy to class to give me as they explain the problem, (C)  print from our computer lab before school, or (D) take ownership of YOUR problem and solve it.  The reality is that 92.4%  of the excuses come about because of procrastination.  (I found that statistic on the Internet, so it must be true!)

Although, the company checks originality, it also enables teachers to grade the essays online.  There is an automatic grammar and punctuation checker; however, it is not always correct.  For example, it always indicates the title of the essay and the first sentence is a run-on-sentence.  Teachers are able to create their own comments; thus, no more writing the same comment over and over again.  We merely highlight the mistake and click the comment!  I am finding it an easier way to grade, as long as I have an Internet connection.

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Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Goals, Humor, Learning, Lessons from students, Measuring Student Success, Writing

The Authentic Audience – Blogging

I am thinking Kidblog.com is working.  Currently, I do not have high expectations as far as writing skills are concerned.  I did not have the students write rough drafts.  I wanted them to write and post quickly.  Their peers did comment on the need for remediation in some areas, but this is not the forum I am using to evaluate writing skills.  (It will be later.)  For now, I am using it as one way to discuss literature, and the comments have been good.  They do have room for improvement, but without any modeling, the kids have done a good job.

Of course, I do have some students who are extremely anxious about sharing their thoughts with others.  In talking with the parents I have learned this is not shyness.  It is anxiety.  For now, I have allowed theses two kids to write their responses on notebook paper.  I hope to have them give me an alias.  As long as I know it, I can give them credit for commenting on other’s blogs.

As all of our computers are tied up with testing for the next two weeks, I will have the students complete one blog on their own.  By the end of the nine weeks, they will pick one response to revise and I will use a rubric I developed to evaluate their writing skills.

I have a good feeling about this.

Students' Apple iMac G5 computers at Faculty o...

Students’ Apple iMac G5 computers at Faculty of Informatics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)  What I wish we had at school.

English: Students working in the Statistics Ma...

English: Students working in the Statistics Machine Room of the London School of Economics in 1964. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) What we currently have.

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Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Goals, Learning, Measuring Student Success, Writing

Staying Positive During Assessment Week

Last year, I really began to stress out.  I felt ill many times and became distracted by all of the noise.  I was taking it personally that “everyone” wanted to judge my ability as a teacher.  It is not that I doubt my abilities.  Am I the best teacher ever?  Hardly.  However, I work with them everyday.  Every day I have learned from my colleagues.  They do whatever it takes.

When I was in high school, the athletes around me motivated me also.  I swam with some of the best in the state.  Coach (for the first month I thought that was his name) made me swim in the sprinter’s lane.  These guys swam the 50 free in 23 seconds.  One day Coach gave us a set of 10 x 50 on 30 seconds.  If we swam the two laps in 25 seconds we would have 5 seconds rest before we swam the next one.  Only Coach, with his wisdom, experience, and sadism, told me to swim breaststroke, the slowest stroke, and my best time was 29.5 seconds!  How was I going to swim 10 of these in a row in 30 seconds with half a second rest? Coach had a T-shirt that with “Rule #1: Coach is always right.” On the front, and “Rule 2: If you think Coach is wrong, see Rule #1.”

"Retired" Coach being a commentator at the State Swim Meet.

“Retired” Coach being a commentator at the State Swim Meet.

Of course, I tried my best.  And, my teammates encouraged me to do my best.

Many say swimming is an individual sport, like a teacher alone in a classroom.  However, my teammates wanted all of us to swim fast.  All would succeed! And, my colleagues share this sentiment.  They have always shared and collaborated to have every child learn and improve.

Each day, I see the great things the teachers around me are doing and I marvel.  How can I keep up?  What can I do?  It is the kind of challenge that makes teaching fun!  (The students also create a challenge, which is fun most of the time.)

Luckily, I have realized that my teaching will survive the scrutiny made from assessments indifferent students take.   Survive?!  On the contrary. My teaching will improve as I tackle the challenges of devoting six – eight days for these tests and a shortened schedule for five days as other students take the graduation test!

images  Assessments?  They are nothing compared to Coach’s workouts.

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Achieving Goals: Face Forward

It is getting closer to the start of the year, and my To Do list for school and home keeps growing like the weeds in my flowerbeds.  (There’s another thing to add to the list.)

As I prepare for the opening week, I keep thinking of what our surf instructor in Costa Rica kept telling me:  “When you stand up, face forward and look where you are going, not at your feet or where you have been!”  IMG_0825

It seems like good advice for students.   Keep your eyes forward!

Freshmen can be intimidated by mature upperclassmen, and I am not referring to bullying.  I remember a time before a class period was going to begin.  A group of boys were talking and joking while I was grading papers at my desk.   Suddenly, the room became silent.  I looked up at the boys wondering what happened when I heard, “Hi Mr. W.”  Walking into my room was McKenzie, a senior.  We exchanged pleasantries, she handed me some paperwork and she left.  I don’t think the boys moved.  They just stared in that awkward stalker-like manner.  The boys were certainly intimidated by her.  I am willing to bet that they had trouble keeping their eyes forward and refocusing their thoughts during class.   Luckily, they are teenage boys and forget most things within twenty-four hours.  Focus would happen the next day…maybe.

There are other ways students can forget to face forward or focus on their goals.IMG_0809

I have seen students come to class discussing what “he” said or “she” said and this gossip overtakes their learning.  (However, perhaps they are preparing for a new reality serious similar to the “Housewives of —“ and they will be wealthier than myself.)

I have had students argue with me that they did not need to pass English 9 to graduate.  I brought in other authority figures.  All but one student at least believed the guidance counselor.  This stubborn know-it-all spent his summer retaking the class.  Since I have been married, I have learned that some people are more stubborn than others.

I have learned that during certain times of the year students really struggle with facing forward; for instance, during the NCAA basketball tournament.  Many a student is looking at the past records and statistics to fill out a bracket.  Schoolwork loses its luster as game after game is on TV.

Without a doubt, all of us parents and teachers have struggled with facing forward in high school.  Imagine if we could go back in time.   I am positive I would think high school would be pretty easy.  I thought I had a lot of responsibility, like study, do some chores, and go to swim practice.  Oh, and I HAD to complain about doing the chores!

Today, I still do homework, do some chores, and drive my kids to practices.  Plus, a few other things that go along with marriage, children, pets, etc.

IMG_0858This school year I want to remember to face forward.  I want to be less sarcastic.

What will you face forward for?

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Romeo and Juliet and Rebels in the Classroom

I taught Romeo and Juliet while student teaching, about a decade or two after Shakespeare produced the play at The Globe Theatre.  I still remember the reviews: “Thy best performance ever!”  – The London Times; “Thine drama shall have freshmen enduring it for centuries!” – The Evening Bard.

Needless to say, I kind of know the story and sometimes forget that some of the students do not know any of it.  However, today, one young lady befuddled me.   She has been physically present everyday we were reading and listening to a production of the play.  She was writing down notes and answers to guided reading questions as we discussed what was going on.  However, she proved the point that sometimes people just write without thinking.  They listen without being an active part of the conversation.  They forget that they have two ears and only one mouth, and they should place the importance on the listening.  I did not need the educational buzz tool of the year – The Exit Ticket – to tell me there was a problem.  If you have a basic remembrance of the story, you can see for yourself:

Dana: Why is Juliet in the Capulet tomb?  How did she get there?

Me: In Act 4 she took a magic potion to pretend to be dead.

Dana:  Why?

Me: To avoid marrying Paris.

Dana: I thought she wanted to marry Romeo.

Me: She did marry Romeo.

Dana:  She did!?  When?  Nobody told me!  I hate listening to things being read to me, like we did yesterday.

Me: Me, too.  I would have reread the material last night and answered the guided reading questions then.

Dana: Why would you do that?

Me: Because the questions were due today.

Dana: They were? Well, nobody told me.

The Reconciliation of the Montagues and Capule...

The Reconciliation of the Montagues and Capulets Watercolor, approximately 15.5 x 20 inches. Yale Center for British Art, New Haven. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thus, the blame game begins.  I want to scream.  Instead, I laugh inside my head and calmly ask, “When is your study hall?  Come in on Friday, and I can help you.”

She is one of my rebels I wrote about yesterday.  She does try to do her work, but at the first problem she blames something or someone else.  Tomorrow, I will show her some websites that offer summaries and give her an old study guide that offers additional information.  I am not sure she will take it upon herself to do the work this second time around.

Perhaps she can watch this attached related article:

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Educating Rebels

What happens when a student does not want to do the work?  I wish I knew one answer!  Instead, I, like every other teacher, try to find the solution to the enigma with each particular student.

Students come to school carrying book-bags and personal baggage. They come from troubled homes, like Pony Boy and the other greasers in S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.   They come from homes where illness strikes, like the children of Randy Paush, who gave The Last Lecture on September 18, 2007.  They come from homes with single parents; however, not all are like Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. They come from everywhere.

Cover of "To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Ann...

Cover via Amazon

The truth is that we all have baggage.   However, some students’ baggage consumes their thoughts.   It prevents them from doing work at home and school.  It preoccupies their minds when they are supposed to be writing or reading.  These distractions may have been happening for years, and now the student is struggling because she reads below grade level.

Every teacher faces these students.  We try to make a connection.  We try to find ways to encourage, teach, and show we care.  I am struggling more this year, and I cannot put my finger on a solution that will work everyday.

I have three girls, good friends from the same neighborhood, and who moved into our community a few years ago.  They use to live in an urban environment that to be called rough would be an understatement.

Each day, right before the tardy bell rings, they saunter into class complaining about something or someone.  I believe that they are creating their own drama, but I know they are not getting a lot of parental support.  Their grades reflect this.

I spent the first few weeks encouraging them to complete assignments, and point out the positives in their writing.  Nonetheless, I still got negative feedback in the form of sighs, rolled eyes, and “Tsk!”  I could not allow the rude behavior, so I gave them detentions.

This worked to stop the behavior in class, but it seemed to cause two of the girls to stop doing assignments.  It seemed they wanted to punish me by failing.  I never understand this line of thinking.  If I disliked my English teacher, I would write a five-page essay when he asks for a three pages.  I would make him read a little more every time, so he has to spend more time grading.

Now, I face the dilemma of spending a great amount of time and energy on two rebellious students while ignoring 26 students who are trying their best to learn.  How can I reel in the rebels and challenge everyone to push strive for success?

What I have done that seems to be working for now…

  • When the girls enter, I whisper to them about what we are doing today and remind them about my expectations, even though it is written on the board.
  • I have them seated away from each other.
  • If they are not working, I give them a nonverbal reminder by walking up to their desk and motioning for them to be reading or writing.
  • I do not engage in a conversation; I walk away.  I have found if I stay near  the student, she will become stubborn and try to show me who is boss.
  • If she does not get started working after I leave, I walk to my desk and fill out the paperwork for a detention.  Then, I look up to see if she is working yet.  If she is, I don’t deliver the detention.  I save it in case she gets off task later.

I have nearly given up on changing the girls’ negative attitudes.  However, every few days, one of them contributes to the class discussion or does well on a writing assignment we completed in class.  Then, I am reminded that they have developed their negativity over years, and I may not be able to change it during the 225 minutes a week I see them.

Do you have any other ideas?

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Habits

Cover of "7 Habits of Highly Effective Te...

Cover of 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

Habits.  While teaching The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey, I am reminded about my habits.  Last year at this time I was writing in this blog everyday.  Three days before Christmas I had to stop writing because of a detached retina.  Once I regained my sight, I had already changed my habits.  I was only writing a few times a week.

The start of this school year has been busy.   I have postponed what I enjoy doing, writing.   I am venturing out and teaching a couple of new books, and the school is inundating me with information on formative assessments.  Neither of these are bad.  In fact, I am learning and adjusting my sails in the winds of change.  However, I, like our entire English department, has increased our student load.   I have 18 more students this year, which is a small class.  Keeping up with the grading has been a challenge.

School, two aging parents with medical issues who live 3 hours away, and my own children and their activities have made me change my routine.  These are all things I have limited control over, though.

I am in control of when I collect assignments.

I am in control of arranging to take care of my parents with my siblings.

I am in control of letting my wife continue to arrange for carpools, so I have more free time.

And, I am in control of making the time to write.  Making the time to write this short blog has lifted my spirits.  I know it is not a witty or  profound post, but the process of making my writing a priority again has rejuvenated the muses within me.  Changing Habits.  It begins with me.

What habit do you want to create?  How do you get back to doing what you enjoy?

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The Art of War or The Art of Teaching?

When I teach subject / verb agreement, my old handouts and even older textbook review the rule: certain phrases, like “many a” always have singular verbs.  Of course, one kid always has to ask, “Who says “many a” any way?”

My reply: “Many a person does.  Or, at least they did, last century, when I was in high school.  I have to plan for inquisitive, facetious students who like to question authority.  To be honest, I love those kids.  (I just like them to raise their hands first.)

As many a teacher does during the summer, I have been planning for next year.  I have worked with colleagues on the new CORE curriculum.  I have read new novels and stories, created activities, writing assignments, and quizzes.

I have even mapped out the entire year.  As the great New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said, “You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”  Thus, I have an idea of where I am going this year.

Like most teachers during their first year of teaching, my plan was to stay a few days ahead of the students.  I succeeded most of the time.  I remember thinking that teaching is similar to preparing for war.  I once said that to a curriculum director for gifted and talented students, and she proceeded to admonish me for thinking schools were battle zones with the teacher and student always in conflict like Muslims and Christians during the Crusades.  She was missing my point and did not stop talking long enough for me to explain.  I guess she was used to lecturing gifted and talented kids and having them sit passively as if she was the sage on the stage.

Sun Tzu, the Chinese military strategist and author of The Art of War, said, “When one treats people with benevolence, justice, and righteousness, and reposes confidence in them, the army will be united in mind and all will be happy to serve their leaders.”  Replace army with students and leaders with teachers.  Most teachers are kind and fair.  Most students are well-behaved and courteous.  Of course, every once in a while, there is that one kid who wants to create conflict, like an enemy soldier on the filed of battle.  Sun Tzu describes the best way to handle the disruptive student: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”  One of my old principals gave me similar advice: “Never get in a stink fight with a skunk; you both come away smelling bad.”

Thus, teachers treat their students with respect; after all, we are in the battle to learn together.   In addition, teachers plan, plan, and plan more lessons.  Like the great generals, teachers know, though, that every great plan will change.  For example, prior to a meeting with the Allies Supreme Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, General George Patton began to create plans to move The Third Army to help save the valuable crossroads at Bastogne. During the meeting, Ike, hoping to have the Third Army relieve the paratroopers at Bastogne within two weeks was surprised when Patton responded, “As soon as you’re through with me,” Patton claimed.  I can attack the day after tomorrow morning.” He had thought his moves out the night before and had three alternative plans.  All he had to do was telephone a code word to activate his troops.  Later, Patton commented on his plans: “The point I am trying to bring out is that one does not plan and then try to make circumstances fit those plans. One tries to make plans fit the circumstances.”  He realized that in battle, no plan survives contact with the enemy.

Bradley, Eisenhower, and Patton

Bradley, Eisenhower, and Patton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a classroom, no lesson plan survives contact with all learners.  Students learn different ways and at different rates. Today, creating multiple plans to reach all types of learners is called differentiated instruction.  Many of us still just call it teaching.

So, a kid questions authority or students struggle with a concept.  Do teachers keep to their plan like Generals did in WWI: send the boys over the top, hoping the enemy’s machine guns run out of ammunition?  No.  Teachers adhere to the words of Winston Churchill:  “Those who plan do better than those who do not plan even though they rarely stick to their plan.”  Teachers have back up plans.

Unfortunately, Miss Gifted and Talented Curriculum Creator, did not listen to my use of the word “planning.”  I was not comparing the classroom to a war zone.   I was comparing the amount of time and effort it takes to prepare.  Our good teachers are willing to make decisions quickly.  Good leaders do that.  They have contingency plans and like good sailors, they adjust their sails when the wind changes.

And, now time to go back to planning…

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Summer Pause

Swimming Pool

Swimming Pool (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What a school year!  I was absent way too much.  The last time I missed this much school was seven years ago when my last child was born.  I took six weeks of paternity leave and after two weeks, my wife was ready for me to go back to school!

This year, I survived a detached retina, a dog biting one son and it becoming infected, another son needing stitches, and a few bouts of illness in the family.  I guess I could use a change.  I would say break, but with the way the year has been, it would be a poor choice of a word…

What will I do this summer?  I am taking two classes, teaching an intervention class for the reading section of the OGT, working on the changes to our curriculum, and volunteering as an assistant coach with a local swim team.  Plus, I want to write more.  Last summer I started out blogging everyday.  As the school year progressed, I had to reduce it to twice a week.  Then, in the spring it became once a week.  I would like to be consistent with twice a week.

What are your goals for the summer?

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Taking Risks: Take Two

A few weeks ago, I wrote about our family’s experience learning to surf while vacationing in Hawai’i. However, there is more to the story than what I originally wrote.

It all began as we were searching for the beach where we were to meet our instructors.  You would think it would have been easy to find a beach when on an island!  We missed it.  However, as we drove by one area, we noticed six or seven emergency vehicles with lights flashing.   The police had used their yellow crime scene ribbon to mark off an area.  We wondered if it was a car wreck?  A drowning?  A hear attack?

We drove on, found the beach and our instructor and learned how to surf.  You can read about that below.

The next day I was reading the morning paper and noticed an article about a shark attack.  It grabbed my attention, as we don’t have many sharks in Ohio.  The article explained the enigma of the emergency vehicles!  The crime scene ribbon was where the shark attack occurred.  “Was it a land shark?” my mind wondered as I recalled the Saturday Night Live skit with Chevy Chase, Dan Akroyd, and John Belushi.

I learned that the 8-10 foot Tiger Shark tore the tendon on the surfer’s leg, and he would make a full recovery.  And the surfer’s attitude was reflective of all of the Hawaiians: “The shark was not acting maliciously; it wasn’t a personal attack.  I was on the shark’s turf.  I have to respect nature.”  The shark got away.

Juvenile tiger shark Bahama's

Juvenile tiger shark Bahama’s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then, I realized the attack occurred two miles from our lesson! Two miles!  How fast do sharks swim?  Were we in danger?  What if it was a feeding frenzy and there were many more sharks?  What if they zombie sharks?  OK, that last thought did not cross my mind.  Still, I realized we took a risk.  Luckily for us, all we saw were a pair of sea turtles.

We did not share the news of the shark with our children.  We feared they would become afraid.  Plus, they wanted to surf again!

My wife and I discussed it and made arrangements for the kids to improve their surfing skills.  After all, the next day’s paper reported that the lifeguards patrolled the area, a helicopter flew over the area, and no sharks were sighted.  Besides, there are only four attacks each year in the waters surrounding all of the islands of Hawai’i.   Surely our kids would be safe!

After surfing, we ate at the North Shore’s famous Grass Skirt Grill.

grass skirt grill

grass skirt grill (Photo credit: KE-TA)

Burgers and Ahi – $30

Drinks – $9

Finally telling the kids about the shark attack at the time of our first lesson – PRICELESS

Sometimes ignorance removes fear. (In Ohio, deer kill way more people than sharks do.)   Sometimes, we have to ignore the fear to accomplish goals.  What has prevented you from doing something?  How did you overcome it?

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