Monday, December 12, 2011

An Amazing Moment

I know. I know. It’s been a long time since I have written in this blog. It seems like each year there are more hoops and or initiatives to jump through and less and less time for my own life, let alone a hobby. I am an inveterate writer who has become flooded with work. I think about writing all of the time, but do not have the time to entertain the stories and concepts I want to write about. Today I had several ideas to write about. I became adamant that I was going to write in at least one of my blogs today. Of course, this would be after school hours.

What was the best moment of today? Well, it had been a phenomena that I had heard about: everyone on task, digging deep into a book, a real page turner, but that’s not all: I was able to sit with the students, relax, and chill with them. I looked around several times and thought to myself, is this really happening? I was able to READ with them. No walking around checking to see if they are on task etc. This class was running on autopilot. I had students in reading chairs, students with their legs propped on chairs, and students reading on the floor. I also joined the prop-my-feet up agenda. The kids thanked me for a great class.

Tomorrow we will discuss the book. I did not want to interrupt their new found pleasure. Reading teachers try to get each student hooked on a good book or a good reading series. I saw the fruit of my labor today. I had so many kids appreciate the time given to devour their book that I am going home patting myself on the back!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Teenage Brain Research Reveals an Interesting Explanation for Risky Teenage Behavior

My class is reading and analyzing David Dobbs’s (2011) National Geographic article: “The New Science of the Teenage of Brain" (pgs 42-59). I found this text rather informative and intriguing.

Advancement in Teenage Brain Development
Going back 2300 years ago up until recently today, parents and society have had a negative spin on the teenage years. They ask the commonly asked question why do teens behave the way that they do? They have been caught up in observing and trying to understand their risk taking behavior, their need for novelty and social networking with peers, and their desire for excitement. Since the 1990’s, medicine and technology, married in a closely knitted relationship, has given inquiring minds more insight on the teenage brain, which goes beyond merely making observations and drawing conclusions.

Teenage Brains are Being Rewired
Scientists discovered that the brain goes through a rewiring process between the ages of 12 and 25. During this lengthy time, there is a rewiring wave that begins in the back of the brain and moves towards the front. Teenage brains have the ability to reason like adults, but they are interested in risk taking, novelty, and excitement. This desire actually prepares teens to leave his or her safe world and go out into a world that is unknown. While teens are busy learning to take risks, even calculated ones, this may be why so many teens die taking risks or engaging in destructive risk taking behavior, such as drug abuse, which infects their adulthood.

The Adaptive-Adolescent Story
Scientist now accept the “adaptive-adolescent story” to explain both teen behavior and brain activity and development. Teens are undergoing a reorganization of their brain. Teens require their peers to make sense of their world and to take the final exit of risk: moving out. Parents can’t understand it, but they may remember how it was like. Thus, scientist say that teens can appreciate that their parents once lived in a teenage world and may listen to their parents if they stay somewhat connected but allow their teenager some independence.

To read more about this fascinating topic go to:

*Photo taken from google images

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Late Work Conundrum Dilemma

There has been a debate going on for decades between teachers and administrators: should they accept late work? I think it goes MUCH deeper than this question. Isn’t about the students learning the content? If they need more time, should they be able to have it? If they decide to get on board, don’t educators believe in second chances? Does zeros promote responsibility? Do zeros motivate most students to achieve? Well, this week I found myself in the late work conundrum trap, but I am embracing it. It’s funny how rigid I used to be when I first taught. I am reaching far more student with understanding and love than I ever did.

This week I sent out 50 letters to parents and students letting them know that there is missing work and that it has to be turned in to show mastery in the content and skills for quarter one. I offered my services after school once again. I am sure that there will be several types of responses, both good and bad, but I hope that parents understand that the last thing that our students need is to passed on to another grade without gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to function in the adult world. It’s a lot of work for me to take late and missing work at the end of the quarter, but I am there to serve my students and parents. If that is what they need, I am willing to extend myself.

Some students need more time. They may or may not have put it off, but once they do decide to do it, I can go back in and change their grade. When a student does not complete their work, I believe there has to be a reason. There are many reasons; nevertheless, if they need more time, I will give them an incomplete on their report card until they complete it with mastery.
Folks, what does a zero do? It does a lot of things and none of it is good. None of it gives the correct message. Most high school students could care less about a zero, but what they do care about is if the teacher who has invested in them wants them to grow and succeed. If the teacher gets this across, one is more likely to get more work and growth from his or her students. Since I sent out half of my entire class load, I have a lot of work to do building relationships etc. I am not giving up! I will keep trying to reach them and help them to see the importance in what they are doing.

True, students are not adults and do not understand what they will need to be able to do when they get out there in the real-world, but parents and teachers do. In short, we are on the same side and want these teens to be successful both short and long-term.

You don’t have to agree with me on this. We can agree to disagree!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Suspense and Horror is the Hook

This month my 11th graders are reading Bram Stoker’s 1987 Dracula. I stumbled upon this book as an 11th grade book choice when I took over another teacher’s assignment right before the school year started. It looked rather large; I wondered if the massive size of it would intimidate and scare my students. Yes, they were a bit apprehensive about it; but once we got going, they were excited and at the edge of their seats. This is because there is much left for the mind to ponder and think about it. Though they will tell me it’s not true. This book is setup the way things used to be. It reminds of the movie Psycho. You don’t see it all, but man, if your imagination goes wild….. you are terrified! Also, the story is being told in the genre of real-time horror. As one reads Harker’s journals, it appears like it is happening as he tells the story. This too adds to the tension and reality of Dracula’s evil presence. It is nothing like the horror genre of the McDonald's generation. There are no secrets or things left to question. You might say it's the silver platter generation getting all they want served up blatantly. This type of in-your-face horror ruins it for me. I need suspense and things left to the imagination to truly appreciate a book or movie. Funny how the kids are realizing the same thing.

Anyway, I am reading it on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays with them. On Thursday, many of my students came in saying, “Are we going to read Dracula today?” They were telling me how much they were looking forward to it. I was delighted that they were enjoying the text and learning all at the same time. They have not complained about their Dracula comprehension quizzes, and they are doing quite well with them. My classroom copies of Dracula seem to be disappearing each day. Though a hardship in the long run, I guess this is a sign of a loved book!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

FCAT Retake Anxiety: It's Real for Both Teachers and Students!

In order for my students who are taking the Reading FCAT retakes a week from tomorrow, today I downloaded the ePat Launcher software. They will have one practice test. Though I have been creating online testing simulations, the students are concerned about not being on this software to practice many times.

Since this is not a new concept, I am perplexed with the idea that we do not have more practice tests in the new online testing format. Why isn’t FCAT Explorer converted into the new format. There is a big difference between taking an online test and pencil paper test. Are the students, teachers, and parents the only ones who understand this? I feel like a skipping CD. Is this more about money and less about student success? I have to answer this question with a mighty YES!
Let’s not forget that our paid is tied to these new online tests too. Teachers feel their hands are tied. Students feel like both their hands and feet are tied in knots. What else can I do to make them feel better? I praise, encourage, teach them with whatever tools I have, and I hope for the best.

Teachers feel powerless often to the laws, policies, and new testing requirements and procedures coming down. We seem, for many, to be the last people constituents want to listen to or respect now days. I hope someone reading this will email or call our state representatives and our governor and tell them enough is enough! Write the president too! Flood the White House. Now is a good a time as any!

Here is a complete email list. Click here!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Highlights of an Engaging Week

#1- This week we practiced taking an online FCAT, as we prepare for the FCAT retakes. With no software to practice with as of yet, students open a pdf FCAT file I have linked to my website. They open a word pad document and adjust it to be on 1/3rd of their page. It is less than 30 days away. I don't want my students to fail because they are not used to reading the test online and typing notes instead of writing them. I hope that teaching them how to set up these practice tests will lessen their test taking anxiety and help them to pass this test. I mean really. How is it possible that we did not have practice software at the start of the school year? As usual, we do what we can and hope for the best. Changes are being made with little thought in regards to the people it will effect. Nevertheless, one must move on and try to remain hopeful.

#2I have been looking for ways to make vocabulary learning concrete. Too often students try to memorize the words the night before or as they are coming in the doors. I want them to learn the words and be able to use them in their future. I know this if they can write a sentence for each one using a context clue. No short-term multiple tests for me. This is a bear to grade, but it's worth it to me.

This week we I took teacher made quiz cards and allowed them to play the Kagan review game: Show Down. I put a neat spin on the game. For every time the WHOLE team was able to spell the word or write the definition, they got to wad up their papers and "shoot" them into the trashcan. I was telling them all week to get ready for the opportunity to make shots with their papers. Tell your team mates to study and get ready. It was a win-win.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Attitude Changes Everything

This week has been full of challenges. The mark of a champion teacher is one who can easily roll with and through the punches and do what needs to be done. This means making many adjustments with lesson plans, changing test dates, making MANY parent phone calls, doing an extra review, etc. This also has to be done at the drop of hat. For me, that "hat" could be a phone call, email, student, parent, needing supplies, etc. I seem to notice there are a lot of hats as the years go by and etcs. Hats are hoops I often have to jump through, but sometimes it calls for problem solving creative solutions to make it ALL possible.

One challenge I am facing is dealing with the cuts in my pay and the cuts in the budget. This cut extends to the amount of school supplies I can purchase from the school warehouse each year. In the past four years, it seems that teachers are being asked to take on more of the expense of education themselves. There are being asked to print from their printers less, provide pencils and paper, books for their classroom libraries, rewards, etc. The problem is that many of us, like the rest of country, have had budgets cut down to the bare minimum. There is no extra. A fellow teacher had her car taken away last week. Another friend lost her home. We are feeling it too!

So this year, I decided to do it as cheaply and effectively as possible. I asked each student to bring in three supplies for classroom supplies. And then I gave a huge list of supplies to pick from. I even told them they could be pulled out of closet, 1/2 open packages of lined paper, etc. I did not ask them to buy a bunch of extra stuff for their child: one duotang folder and a compostion book. The two can be purchased at Walmart for under a dollar.

The response from both students and parents has varied. Some argue that their child always brings their own supplies. I do not see this very often. I'd rather help provide for the ones who are also struggling to make it around us; I also do not want to single out students for not coming to class prepared. They may not be prepared because they are living in a garage or car. I'm telling you. Things are really bad! Do we have to rub in their struggle, or can we become part of the solution?

I am also trying to promote a sense of community in my classroom. When students enter, there are supplies are the table and ready for their use. They don't have to worry about borrowing a pencil. I know you are probably thinking that students walk of with these supplies. On the contrary, they are both respectful and grateful. No everyone does not like the way I handle supplies, but my attitude about it changes everything. I am going to focus on what WE CAN do and not on what we can't do. I am willing to look for creative ways to enhance every child's education. I am not going to leave any children behind because of the lack of supplies.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Native American Folktale Presentations

This week we continued to read Native American Folktales in class. The students were given a choice between two folktales to read, analyze, create a script (retelling), and incorporate each person with either a speaking part and or playing some type of instrument or make some type of sound to improve the overall quality of their presentation. We watched a short folktale presentation last week. In short, the students had an idea what an authentic folktale sounded like; they had a clear target!

This activity was another hit in class, but breaking down either "Fox and Coyote and Whale" and "Coyote and Buffalo" proved to be quite a challenge. Though this is not an FCAT preparatory class, I incorporated many reading skills and strategies throughout the lesson. In the end, some students performed a more traditional retelling and others made the folktale more present day.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Magical Moments #1- 9/3

Dear Readers,
I plan to write one entry a week. It should post by Monday evening each week.

This week I am writing about a magical moment that happened this week in my English 3 course. I was given the idea by one of our drama teachers to incorporate music into telling and reading Native American Folktales. I have to admit that at first I was thinking that my students would accuse me of going back to elementary school, which is where I first started teaching. Nevertheless, I trusted her and got the instruments yesterday morning before my first English class!

It was a hit in all three of my classes. They read the story and enjoyed using the instruments. It evoked a discussion about cultural, religious, and historical perspectives, which are objectives for this course. Once again, I saw bright-eyes, engaged learners, and adventure on my students' faces. It's the little things that can spark the interest for learning. Finally, they experienced it and that made the difference.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Blown Away

Today I had the privilege to sit and learn from a dedicated, literacy minded, and caring staff as a facilitated the training. We began to talk about literacy and how to incorporate literacy strategies in our classes; I was blown away by the responses of our staff. We created a lengthy list of ideas to use in our classroom. The sharing went on for a long time. Again, I am grateful for NPHS’s dedicated staff and leadership. It was a difficult year last year, but it was good to come back, hug some necks, talk education shop, and put some new plans and goals in place for the sake of our students. We went home today having our minds refreshed. We had to time to collaborate plan, which is something NPHS teachers have been asking for.

If your child attends or plans to attend NPHS, you would be happy to know how much NPHS staff cares about your child and wants to help them succeed.

Back to School Already!

Approximately 70 teachers reported to NPHS yesterday to analyze our school data, get acquainted with our new gradebook program, and collaborate and plan with department members. I came home exhausted but somewhat excited about the new school year.

This year we broke the data slides down into four teacher groups instead of a lengthy data report. We had teachers analyze the data and make recommendations on how to improve stagnant and declining scores, as well as how to continue to improve the areas with gains in informal presentations. It’s hard coming back year after year and hearing the “score” news. Often sitting in those seats listening makes me feel like I have to do more. I wonder how much more can I sacrifice of my life for students and the school. Having said that, this year I felt like we were in same boat together and many content area teachers were making suggestions about what they could do to help the English and Reading teachers, the school grade, but most of all, our students! We then took those recommendations and worked on the school improvement plan (SIP).

Our department collaboration was about how we could incorporate the things that staff recommended. Many teachers began to use focus calendars, resources, and textbooks for the new school year!

The gradebook training was an overview, but after I left there, I knew I had so much work to do to get my gradebook ready that I had a migraine by the time the day was done. I’m teaching a new subject this year, which I am excited about, but it means new planning and a lot of work.

I went home exhausted but look forward to today’s sessions!