Tag Archives: Education

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.

Leave a comment

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

Ready to Teach

Thank Heaven last week is behind us.  We survived assessment testing and little instructional time.  This next week will feel more normal with a writing assignment and actual teaching.

Of course, last week also gave me a chuckle.  An Honors student looked at our text book and asked, “Is this just full of stories?”  In an effort to not be sarcastic, I answered, “It also has poems, essays, a play, and part of an epic.”  However, some of the things I wanted to say were:

– “No, it has math problems, too.”

– “Of course not, the book merely has disconnected words.”

– “Are you sure you belong in Honors?”

– “No.  It is just a heavy weight and part of the President’s fitness plan for the youth of America.  Here, you need another book.”

Well, back to teaching!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Learning, Lessons from students

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Education, Goals, Learning, Measuring Student Success, Teacher Evaluations

Another Sunday; Another Change in Plans

Students of Saint Mary's Hall

Students of Saint Mary’s Hall (Photo credit: Robert of Fairfax)

I always begin lesson planning on Thursday, so I can stay focused on my goals.  I have been planning to try Kidblog.org to have my students use the tools of the 21st century to analyze and write about literature.  The blog also allows them to respond to other student’s opinions also; however, they cannot merely say, “I concur.”  I expect students to support their opinions with facts from the reading selection.  It’s Sunday and I am ready to go…

Except I checked the English department’s laptops and we are down to 21.  Five of my six classes have more than 21 students.  I am left with the dilemma: how do I have students create a blog when they don’t have a computer?

I think I will go back to the 20th century and have them write on notebook paper, then share their analysis with a partner who will write a response.  I can cover the same standards in the curriculum.  I have reserved the good computer lab for the first open day, Jan. 6, so I can introduce the blog then.  But, it is late.  Perhaps I will have a different idea in the morning.

 

 

6 Comments

Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Lesson Plans, Writing

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?

.

4 Comments

Filed under Goals, Learning, Vacations

It’s Not Always a Bad Day

Today did not start well.  I was blamed for a bad grade.

 

The Question Is What Is the Question?

The Question Is What Is the Question? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

STUDENT: Why did I get a zero?

 

ME: You did not answer the question.  Your answer was off topic.

 

STUDENT: I didn’t know what the question was.

 

ME: It was in your Reader’s Notebook packet.  You were to respond to Ch. 9-11.  See, it says that right here on the rubric.

 

STUDENT: But, it doesn’t have the question there!

 

ME: The question is in the Reader’s Notebook that I gave you.

 

STUDENT: But, Sally stole it from me.

 

ME: You never told me you needed another one.  Plus, I wrote the topic on the board and explained to the class what was being asked.  You were here that day.  Why didn’t you copy it down?  Why didn’t you ask me if you didn’t understand?

 

STUDENT: But, Sally stole it from me.

 

I guess if you run out of excuses or blame, you just repeat yourself.

 

I walk away to get her a new copy of the Reader’s Notebook.  Fortunately, she did well on today’s writing assignment.

 

Later, I learned why one student struggles in class even though she sits right in front of the board where I write the homework assignments:

 

STUDENT: When did you get that large cupboard?

 

ME: It’s been there since the school was built 10 years ago.

 

STUDENT: No Way!  I have got to start paying attention, more.

 

Thinking of grades, I could only nod my head in agreement.

 

Then, she asked if she could go to her engineering class because she just noticed she forgot her books and binders there.

 

I could only nod my head in agreement again.  I wrote her a pass.  After all, I have had these moments, too.

 

However, my day continued to improve.  After writing creatively for a class period, I had this conversation with a student:

 

STUDENT: I think I got carried away.

 

ME: Why? What were you writing about?

 

STUDENT: I wrote 600 words on having a monkey as a pet.  I started with some background scientific information and then went into a story.  I will continue it tomorrow.

 

ME: Excellent!  Good luck with it.

 

And during the last class, a student shared the start of an amusing story that he began in class and continued at home.  So far, his first four pages (he only had to write two) describe a man waking up late and locking himself out of his house when he went to get the morning paper.  I look forward to reading more of it.

 

What kind of day did you have?

 

1 Comment

Filed under Education, Humor, Learning, Measuring Student Success, Writing

Why Do Student’s Test Scores Drop? It’s Complicated…

My number one son is in seventh grade, and has had to take an on-line standardized test three times this year to measure his growth in learning.  His September test score had him reading at a college level.  His December test score had him reading at the 11th grade level.  His March test score had him reading at a 9th grade level.

I am Procrastinating by Taking a Procrastinati...

I am Procrastinating by Taking a Procrastination Test: I scored as an Above Average Procrastinator (Photo credit: Tricia Wang 王圣捷)

When I saw this, my mind reeled with thoughts… If he takes another test, will he be reading at grade level?  What if this trend continues?  Will he regress to the point that I have to read Dr. Seuss books to him at bedtime?

First, I called my local congressman.  He always has the answer.  I explained the situation and asked him what he thought.  He replied, “It’s obvious; the teacher is terrible.  She must not be doing her job.  The test scores prove this.”

“I can’t believe it, sir,” I replied.  “I have met her, seen the work she assigns, the passion in her eyes to help students become better.  She can’t be the problem.  Can she?”

“Constituent, she has fooled you into thinking she is doing a good job.  The test scores are the proof!  Your son’s learning was measured.  There is no other answer.  She is making your child less ready for college and career.  Teachers like her are the reason we have the new evaluation system.  Fifty percent of her evaluation will be based on your son and his classmates last test.   Now, thanks for calling.  I have to attend a fundraising dinner and discuss why evaluations based on economic growth for congressmen are not fair.”

“Um, OK.”

I hung up, more confused.  My daughter saw my confused look and asked me what was wrong?  I told her about her brother’s scores.  Of course, she came up with the answer.

“Duh, Dad.  He is 13.  He IS getting dumber!”

“Of course! I forgot what you were like at that age.  It’s not the teacher’s fault.  It is Number One Son’s fault.  He needs to take responsibility and ownership for his learning.  Thank you daughter!”

“No, Dad.  I meant that he takes after you and Mom.  Look at you.  Mom tells us you got good grades in school.  You even have a Master’s Degree.  But, you don’t know how to fix things, can’t find your keys, and think your own jokes are funny.  You get dumber every day! Plus, Mom calls orchards apple-tree farms, forest rangers bear catchers, and recently thought the air conditioner in the car was not working… then she pushed in the AC button.”  Face it, you two are not rocket surgeons!”

“Funny.  Real funny.  Go to your room!”

After all, what else could I say?  I begin to wonder if she is right.  I have been forgetful lately.  I forgot the wife’s birthday, Christmas, and our anniversary.  I couldn’t help Number Two son with his fourth grade math homework.  And, I didn’t win the NCAA March Madness tournament at work.  Number One’s regression is my fault. Do I tell my wife? No way!

I decide to ask Number One.  I show him the scores.  I ask him if he has any idea why the scores have dropped?

He laughs.  I wonder why he thinks that his getting dumber is so funny. 

He explained: “Dad, the first test day was the third week of school.  I was excited.  I was pumped up.  I tried my best to impress my teacher and make you and Mom proud.”

“Well, Number One, I am very proud of those scores.  You were awesome.  However, what happened for the next test?”

“It was in December, Dad. I was distracted with the thoughts of what I was going to buy you for Christmas.”

“Really?  You were thinking of my gift? You are so thoughtful… Wait a minute.  You didn’t get me anything!”

“Just kidding!  I was thinking of all of the gifts I would be getting.”

“OK, Number One, that makes more sense.  That explains test number two.  What about the third test in March?”

“Oh, I didn’t do my algebra homework and needed time to do it.”

“It was an English test.  I don’t understand, son.”

“As soon as I finished my test, I had free time.  I could do my Algebra homework.   You know me, Dad.  I was the kid who would color a picture in first grade in one minute in order to go outside and play.  I skip steps in Algebra because they take too much time, and I get the right answer.  It’s all about efficiency, Dad.  I play soccer the same way.  One touch passes.  No one ever out runs a pass.”

“Number One, let me see if I understand.  You scored low because you rushed through the test.  You had other priorities that day?”

“You know Dad, you aren’t as dumb as you look.  Want to go outside and kick the soccer ball?”

“Why not, Number One.  As long as I am not tested on it.”

No one I know takes standardize tests for a living

No one I know takes standardize tests for a living (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Humor, Learning, Measuring Student Success, Teacher Evaluations

School Time Fun

Last week my fourth grader brought home a flier for a fund-raiser.  Let me go on the record: I loathe fund-raisers.  I would rather go to the dentist.  However, Sonny likes basketball and the fundraiser was to watch a game between teachers and the Harlem Wizards.   I saw the look in my son’s eyes and knew he was very excited.  This is the kind of event kids love.

We even talked the second grader into going.  (He prefers watching Star Wars and using his imagination instead of sports.)

Well, the evening was a success.  There were funny jokes, dancing with basketball stars, and the ever popular: teachers losing!  Sonny’s work during recess with his fourth grade teacher did pay off though; she scored two points!

I enjoyed seeing friends entertain the kids.  There was my son’s best friend’s mom pretend to use her Ninja skills to fight a wizard player who was a foot taller than she.  Luckily, it ended peacefully.  🙂  And, the community member (a former U.S. Professional Football Player) who was asked to try out for the Wizards during the game missed his one shot by a mile.  The kids did not know it was on purpose, but I know it was.  His shot was worse than my best attempt.  He could not be that bad.  Seriously.

The best part was the referee.  It was my boss, the principal of the high school.  Apparently, she played basketball in high school and college.  She followed the directions of the Wizards and called a “great” game.  She was a great actress and my sons believed everything she did, whether it was a bad call, putting up with disrespect, or even giving the benefit of the call to the teachers.  For her acting, Mrs. H. deserves an Oscar or at least an Oscar the Grouch.

Tonight reminded me why I teach.  It is not the tests scores.  It is not the novels, although I do love them.  It is the fun!  It is the connection with the kids.  It is the immeasurable that no test will ever show.

Think about it.  Do you remember a test score?  Or, do you remember a teacher?

I remember my third grade teacher, Mrs. Duda, who let me help her grade papers and get the films from the office.  I remember Mr. Collins, my eight grade English teacher, who saw my reading and writing ability enough to let me read the main part for a play in class.  I remember Mrs. Collins, my senior English teacher, who saw more potential than I was ready to admit to.

Next year, I will be evaluated on student growth, which is not a bad idea.  However, the growth is to be measured by one test.  The day of the test could be a “bad day” for the kid.  The student could be like my oldest, a “bad test taker.”   What about the impact or influence I have had on a student?  Unfortunately, this is not easily measurable.    Thus, my evaluation will not be accurate.  For now, if you want to know who are the good teachers, listen to the kids.  They will tell you, either directly or indirectly.

What I have learned in twenty-five years is that a good relationship with students creates success.   Now, I have to figure out how to turn the standardized test into a positive relationship.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Learning, Measuring Student Success, Teacher Evaluations

I Refuse to Work!

What happens when a student refuses to do the work?  What would you do?

Yesterday, I had a young lady with a 2×4 chip on her shoulder refuse to comply to class procedures.

The background:

Since day two of school, I give the students 3 words and their definitions.  The students then create a sentence with context clues.  Yesterday, I walked around the room, looking over shoulders and offering encouragement until I came to Angie’s desk.  Once there, I stopped in my tracked and looked at an empty desk, for she was not on task.  Before I could say a word, she said, “Don’t talk to me.”  Of course, being the rebellious person that I am, I had to say something.

I reminded her that she was to be copying the vocabulary words and creating an original sentence.  She felt the need to repeat, “I said don’t talk to me!”

With that, I sent her into the hall.  She was poising the class with her negative attitude.  I have tried to help her, but her anger prevents her from succeeding.  At the start of the last nine weeks, I feel that I have to concentrate on the kids who want to do well.  It is a constant struggle any public school teacher faces.

Well, I told Angie to sit in the hall, and class discussion was a positive experience.  I wrote a discipline referral and the vice principal suspended out of school for two days.  It seems that her attitude and behavior is not confined to my class.

I am left with the feeling that she has a lot of baggage in life and will not succeed.  However, I do have to teach the other 29 students in class.  Am I suppose to cut the losses and give up on her?  How much time and energy do I devote to her?  This is something every educator in the United States struggles with.  If you have the right answer, I am all ears.

8 Comments

Filed under Education, Learning

How do I Differentiate Instruction?

Meeting kids where they are: Differentiating I...

Meeting kids where they are: Differentiating Instruction (Photo credit: Wesley Fryer)

Our school district is collecting data on the idea of removing all honors classes from the junior and senior high schools.  The theory is that teachers can differentiate instruction in the classroom to challenge the students at their different abilities.

I have done this in the past by offering extra credit assignments to students who want to push themselves beyond the curriculum.  For example, while studying oral traditions (folk tales, mythology, etc.)  students can research mythologies from other cultures other than Greek/Roman.  According to the picture above, this seems to be ok.

I have to admit, though, that I am a neophyte on differentiated instruction.  Offering extra credit to challenge students does not seem to be true differentiated instruction.  Some kids prefer to challenge themselves in a different manner than completing extra work in English / Language Arts class.  For example, Tina has an A in class and is the lead in the school musical.  She would rather challenge herself with theater, which is her passion.  She wants to be an actress.

I think I should be grouping the students and assigning them different projects based on previous grades or standardized test scores. I have begun to research and ideas are bouncing around my brain like popcorn in the microwave bag.

I could use some feedback from folks in education and those of you who have other life experiences.

1. What do you think about eliminating honors classes?

2. Do you have any ideas how I may incorporate differentiated instruction in my classroom?

8 Comments

Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Learning, Lesson Plans