. Regurgitated Alpha Bits: June 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Teachers Rule, Sixth Graders Drool

Batter Up!

We had our annual sixth graders vs. the teachers softball game today.

We won!

Not that it was too hard to do. It's not like many of our kids play on softball or baseball teams. If we had played them in soccer, they would have creamed us.

To make matters worse, we don't actually "teach" them very many fundamentals either so those kids basically wing it out there. All the sixth grade teachers give them time to practice in the weeks prior to the game with a little instruction, but that's about it.

The teachers' team doesn't exactly have it made in the shade either. The biggest thing they have going against them is ME. Sure, I can swing a bat, keep my eye on the ball, and run if by some miracle that bat makes contact with the ball. I might even run in the right direction too.

But fielding a ball is a different matter. Catching is not my thing.

The other day, I asked a teacher sitting two feet away from me to pass me a marker. She cocked her arm back to toss it to me and asked if I was ready.

"Yup," I replied heartily and then the marker sailed right between my hands and landed on the floor.

"I thought you said you were ready?" she said.

"Did I mention I was in band in high school?" I replied sheepishly.

I guess my first instinct when something is hurtling towards my head is not to stay in its path. I guess it's to shut my eyes, scrunch up my face, and brace for impact in a fetal-ish position. I'll probably also squeal or scream or something like that as well.

So my team placed me waaaaayyyyy behind first base where only the odd leftie might hit a ball. PERFECT! The cherry on top was that first base was being played by our super athletic counselor who's played softball for 11 years. She was told she was to cover first base and Edna.

As the game progressed, and mercifully nothing came my way in left-right-whatever-the-heck field I was in, I became a bit bored. So I decided to try to get The Wave started with the spectators.

I know, I know… shouldn't I have been manning my position? Really! What are the chances I'm going to catch anything anyway? An empty field has a better chance of fielding a ball than I do.

But I did learn a valuable lesson today.

No matter how hard you try, first graders do not get the wave.

I started The Wave with the third graders on the end, then on to the fourth graders seated next to them, but once it got to those little first graders, they just sat and waved AT me. I tried again and again, had kids model what we're looking for, reinforced when I saw first graders doing it right, but to no avail.

Who knew standing up out of your chair while simultaneously raising your arms above your head and yelling "WhhoooOOOOoo" would be so difficult?

And, to my shock, the game continued on without me. I did eventually return to no-man's land and a ball was popped up in my direction, but I think my shrieks of "oh darn, oh darn,
oh darn!" drew that wonderful first base counselor to my rescue because she ran like the wind and snatched it right out of the air.

When I reflect on it, I'm not even sure I raised my glove. I think I just stood there like an idiot shouting "oh darn."

Oh, darn.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

S-T-U-P-I-D spells…

"My District's NEW, WELL-THOUGHT-OUT, GROUNDBREAKING position on standards mastery for K-6 students…"

(Sound the trumpets, please.)

Power Standards!

Can you feel the energy already?

Power standards. Not just any old standard but the best, the strongest, the meatiest standards in the pack.

In all honesty, I quite like the theory behind Power Standards. Instead of insisting that we take every student to the mastery level in every math and language arts standard (of which there are tons) every year and then beating ourselves up because we are unsuccessful every year, we have selected several math (something like 10-15) and several English Language Arts (something like 8-12) in each grade level to be our focus throughout the year because they are heavily weighted on the California State Testing, are in an area we need to improve, and/or are mandatory for success in the coming grades. We will focus on each Power Standard intensely for about 4-6 weeks, really getting to the heart of it and allowing students numerous opportunities for exposure to it.

All this week, I have been working on a committee to select these standards and create the pacing guide for when they should be taught during the next school year. Benchmark tests given every 6-8 weeks will measure our progress teaching the standards. For those Power Standards, we are moving away from the sequential Houghton Mifflin reading and math programs we have been tied to like a dog that runs away. We'll be using lessons from it, but they probably will not be in order.

I like this! I can do this! Instead of developing thematic units around apples or fall, we could develop them around a particular standard. For example, one of the 4th grade standards is the reading standard for cause and effect. For 4-6 weeks, we can look at cause and effect in reading, writing, social studies, science, music, art, and even math. I like this! I can do this!

Of course, this will require quite a bit of legwork on the teachers' parts. We will be hunting around for cause and effect lessons to fill more than a month of instruction.

That's alright. We only have to do that for a small fraction of the total standards, so no big deal there. Breaking that task up between our grade level team members will make that so easy.

…or is it?

You see, there's still the question of what to do with the remaining standards that did not make the cut on to the Power Standards team. We still have to teach those, of course. Not to mastery, but simply as an introduction and for exposure.

Oh! Put those next to the Power Standards we think they go with on the pacing guide, you say? Ok!

But wait, won't that then make not only the Power Standards out of sequential order (no big deal) but everything we do in language arts and math out of order? Won't that mean that not only will teachers have to hunt through 14 teacher's manuals, each other's filing cabinets, and the Internet to find enough lessons to fill more than a month of teaching to mastery, they must also do that for standards that will only be taught once or twice as an introduction?

So I begin to go from grade level table to grade level table and get feedback on what other grades are thinking of this exercise in insanity. Every person I talk to is uncomfortable with what we are doing here. We are, in essence, creating a HUGE amount of work for every other teacher in our district (of which there are hundreds), and cannot understand why the remaining standards can't simply be taught in the sequential order they are found in our programs. Why make more work, right?

So, as usual, it's left to me to raise my hand and ask that question of our Director of Curriculum who's running the show. And the answer is as follows:

"Now Edna, you know that in order to teach those other standards to maste…, I mean success, we must be mindful of where they are introduced."

Am I the only one who fails to see the difference between mastery and success?

And then she throws out my favorite line of all; the line that almost drove me to end up a headline in every national newspaper:

"You know, good teachers are willing to be flexible."

Maybe I just took that the wrong way. Maybe I'm just really tired from this process? Maybe it's the wrong time of the month for me to be on this committee?

But I was a bit insulted by her backhanded accusation that I was not a good teacher or flexible.

And, moreover, where were all the masses that agreed with me about this when I was talking to them earlier? What happened to all the people who asked that I bring this up? Where are the "uh huhs "and "amens" now?

Nothing! Nothing but stony silence from my peers could be heard.

So, of course, I continue:

"So is this a suggested pacing guide for grade levels so that teachers have a bit of flexibility for when they introduce the non-power standards?"

And she replies; "Of course! Teacher can use their discretion about when to introduce the non-power standards. This guide is just a suggestion."

So I say: "Then these other standards will not be included on the benchmark tests at the same time as the Power Standard they are aligned with on the suggested pacing guide?"

And she replies: "No, they will be on the benchmarks with the Power Standards you aligned them with."

Can somebody explain to me how that makes this guide a "suggestion"? How is this a good idea?!?!?!

Anyhooo, I gotta run. One more day of committee to go and I'm about to be late.

It's been suggested we arrive by 8:00 AM, but that's merely a suggestion.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

It’s Never Too Late to Change

Joe C.

Ahhhh…. Joe C.

It's time for another update.





And that IS NOT sarcasm!

That boy is a changed man. It's been three weeks of him being on-task, responsive, well-behaved, polite, and concerned about his behavior. He's even done all of his homework every night. Of course, none of it is correct but that really is asking a bit much of him. The fact that he's actually doing anything is a nice change.

He has apologized to me on several occasions for all the trouble he's caused, saying he "doesn't want to be a bad boy anymore," and announced today that he would like to write an apology letter to the police officers who had to come to school the day he brought the knife to school. We'll be sitting down tomorrow to work on that.

We've actually made him a bit paranoid about getting in trouble. The other day I was interviewing a student about bullying others on the playground and I was taking notes in the "The Notebook." I use this notebook for notes whenever there is trouble with a student. (I write down everything they tell me and then use it against them later in the conversation.)

Joe saw me writing in "The Notebook" and raced over to me with a distraught look on his face.

Joe: Am I in trouble? (He asks as he shoves his way past the sobbing kid standing before me.)

Me: Nope

Joe: Are you sure?

Me: Unless there's something I don't know about, I'm pretty sure.

Joe: But you're writing in "The Notebook!"

Me: Yes, but it's not about you.

Joe: Are you sure? It always has been in the past.

Me: I feel confident it's not you today. I've pretty much pinpointed the crying kid behind you as my target.

Joe: Oh…ok. But you'd let me know if it was me, right?

Me: First thing, I swear. You can relax now.

Joe: Pheew. (Then turning to Sobbing Boy, he pats him on the shoulder and says) Good luck, Man. She's no joke.

Ha! Irony!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Following Directions, Con't

According to the step-by-step directions we identified in the story Salmon Summer yesterday, if you notice that

the crabs you caught

are too small, you should throw them back.

Throw them back where?

Are they suggesting you want to catch crabs that are big?

Isn't there a cream for that or something?

Again, I am SSOOOO glad I teach 4th graders. This mini-lesson would suck with anyone over the age of 14 or so.

Oh! And the lesson continues tomorrow and you'll never guess what those directions are about.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Following Directions

Today's reading comprehension mini-lesson was about reading and following directions. It goes along with the Bruce McMillan story Salmon Summer. The story is about a young Aleut boy on Kodiak Island who learns the family tradition of fishing from his father.

The mini-lesson asked students to reread two pages that describe setting fishing traps and then work with me to create our own directions on...

how to catch crabs.

All I have to say is, I am SO HAPPY I only teach 4th graders. Phhewwww.

Thank goodness this lesson does not coincide with next week's lesson on multiple meaning words.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Is the World Getting Bigger…

or am I shrinking?

My school celebrated its 50th birthday a few years ago. That's quite a milestone. Unfortunately, not only did the school celebrate its 50th birthday, so did most of its contents. We have old furniture, fixtures, and appliances. Rumor has it, our bungalow classrooms were formally WWII barracks. (Imagine the discount we got on those!)

Our yellow-stained sinks emit an unusual odor that I am guessing comes from the omnipresent black slime caked around the drains. The drains, probably due to that viscous black slime, do not actually "drain" anything. They would be better described as "anti-drains." If it were possible to witness a sink be "undrained," that would be what's really happening because the drains somehow manages to add water to what is already collected in the sinks. It's quite an anomaly.

But on to my original question: Is it possible the world is getting bigger? At five foot three (on a good day), I would hate to think I am shrinking.

Here is why I ask:

By some miracle, or act of the Divine, one of the two toilets in the ladies room broke. Actually, it was no act of the Divine, but instead an act of a playground supervisor who dropped her walkie talkie into the toilet and then flushed. Either way, tell 'em what they've won, Tommy!


Our old one was aaannnncient. It was the prototype for what toilets would eventually become BEFORE they had pull chains and a box of water overhead. Rumor has it, Jesus was potty trained on it.

And once it was slain, all the villagers rejoiced! We were finally getting something, anything, NEW at our school! We are so desperate to have something made after 1950 that even a new toilet brought indescribable joy.

On the day they came to install it, female teachers from far and wide came to witness the "unboxing" of that porcelain slice of happiness.

"We won't have to triple flush!"

"Now we don't have to do the Flush and Run!" (The "Flush and Run," when employed properly, prevented you from receiving a facial of your own pee water. How a toilet with virtually no measurable water pressure could do this is yet another amazing plumbing anomaly witnessed at my school.)

"Look how clean the bowl is! It's like freshly fallen snow." (The last one was also like freshly fallen snow…after the dog peed on it.)

Smiles were exchanged, nods of approval shared. It was a damn love-fest among the women over a toilet.

That toilet IS our Sex and the City movie.

Hey, whatever brings the masses together, right?

The time comes for me to give her a test drive.

When I enter, the first thing I notice is that the stall seems markedly smaller. I have to stand to the side of the toilet to shut the door.

No big deal.

I drop trow and attempt to sit down, but I am finding I have to sit "up," so to speak. Wow, this one's kinda high.

Once I finally "mount" the potty, I find that my feet don't touch the floor anymore. I'm taking a leak with my feet swinging like a toddler. I have to hop, literally HOP, off the toilet when I'm done.

And the much-improved flush not only takes all the waste down the drain but also all the oxygen in the room.

Sadly, my joy and love for that new toilet has turned to loathing. It's a beast! Besides, just imagine what it does for my ego when I can't use the "Big Girl" potty like my friends can.

Now I get to hear comments like, "I know it's Edna in there because the door is locked but I can't see any feet."

So now, I wait until the other stall is available. The other stall with the other toilet that is old, yellow, spitting, stinky, and…

doesn't humiliate me.