. Regurgitated Alpha Bits: August 2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

An Award?!? For ME?!?!

Why thank you, thank you Mr. Teacher for bestowing upon me this prestigious award.

I would like to thank a few others while I have the podium.

First, thank you to my mother, a teacher herself, who told me early on in my pursuit of a teaching credential,

"I know you can do this. I still think you should be a speech therapist though. They always manage to leave at the same time as the kids."

But did I listen? Sadly, no. Let me say now, I hear ya loud and clear now, Ma!

Next, I must recognize my dear friend and fellow teacher Caroline. Her words 13 years ago still ring true in my ears.

"Before you know it, you're gonna ditch those cute, fashionable shoes for a pair of clunky flats with big, squishy soles. Comfort trumps style any day in a classroom."

By gumballs, she was right! My shoes could double as flotation devices now.

And finally, a great big group thank you to all the oddball students, incorrigible parents, asinine directives from my district, and George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind for making this blog possible.

I would have never done it without you.

As part of the rules of this award, I must recognize seven other blogs I feel are "Brillante!" I am honored to pass this honor on to the following honorees:

Raw Drip - Because I'm really into porn.

Wamblings - Because she's insightful and witty and deserving of much more.

It's Not All Flowers and Sausages - Because Mimi IS a rock star of a teacher.

Out of the Basement - Because her life is far more interesting than mine because she is far more introspective than I am.

Ramblin' Educat - Because this blog makes me giggle.

Fractions Speak Louder than Nerds - Because I am impressed with Ms. Longhorn's mathematical knowledge.

Ha Ha - You're Reading This - Because she's "a school marm with charm."

Oh my gosh! I almost forgot!

A great big thank you to my readers! If it weren't for you, well, let's face it. I'd still write this blog.

But it sure would be a lonely place in cyberspace without you.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Frank Shaffer Must Die

As I mentioned earlier, we started off the year with an all day in-service on our ELD curriculum du jour. This is like our fifth program in about seven years. Oddly enough, after trying each program, we still had kids who were learning English. Gee…

The presenter from the publisher was not scheduled to speak until after lunch. Instead of starting the meeting after lunch, we sat in a multi-purpose room at a local community college and did "busy work" until the real reason we were all there arrived from another site where she had presented in the morning.

That busy work really got under my skin and got me thinking.

My district abhors busy work for students. What they define as busy work is forbidden in our classrooms. Everything students do must actively contribute to their acquisition of knowledge and that most certainly does not include seat work of any kind such as repetitive spelling practice or coloring for any reason.

And the biggest no-no of them all is worksheets.

I would harbor a guess that in my district's opinion:

Hitler was an evil man because of his senseless slaughtering of humans.

Attila the Hun was an evil man because of his wide-spread cruelty and viciousness.

Frank Shaffer was an evil man because his company writes easily reproducible worksheets popular with teachers.

As a matter of fact, Frank Shaffer worksheets in particular are banned from our classrooms. Principals have been known to go into teacher's filing cabinets without permission and remove the teacher's personal copies under the cover of darkness. No joke.

Until recently, our district mandated that we only use materials provided by our math and language arts curriculums. "Fidelity to the curriculum" was the phrase we heard in our sleep. Absolutely no outside materials or lessons were permitted.


Of course, as all teachers know, what you do when you shut the door to your classroom is a different story. We all snuck in a fun writing lesson involving art or a math lesson with M&M's here and there.

But few dared to give a worksheet, and NEVER a Frank Shaffer one.

Now I have never been one to use worksheets so this mandate has had little effect on me, but I must admit that worksheets do have a place in today's classrooms.

Let's face it, what is a standardized testing book but a giant book of worksheets with bubble-in answers? If test facilitators were going to arrive, give my students rulers, and have them physically measure a a three-dimensional object to determine its perimeter or area or volume, I would have them practicing that skill to prepare them. In reality, they give them a book of worksheets with figures drawn on them and the measurements written on the figures and the students use that information to find the answers.

We should probably practice that a bit.

Of course I do have my students measuring actual objects to determine information because that is a vital component to learning; however they do need to see written examples as well.

The key word here is practice, not busy work. This would not be an exercise designed to keep them busy until the presenter I brought them to this multi-purpose room to listen to arrives…

Wait, I think I might have confused two different situations here.

Or maybe I haven't.

We were not practicing any skills or building any new knowledge as we played the "Two Truths and a Lie" game. We had to listen to a 30 minute explanation of the game, each write two truths and a lie about ourselves on a piece of paper, go around our table and guess each person's lie, choose someone from our table to share with the group, and then have each group share one while the rest of us doodled on our agendas. (I, myself, drew a detailed sketch of my own creation: Eldy, the ELD gremlin.) This took well over an hour and a half to complete. (The game, not the sketch. The sketch was an on-again, off-again project for 8 hours.)

Two Truths and a Lie: Fun dinner party game?


Was I at a dinner party?

If I was, that was the crappiest stale danish dinner I've ever eaten at eight o'clock in the morning.

Helping me to build knowledge about our new ELD curriculum?

Uummm, no.

Busy work?

I'll let you decide.

We went on to do other useless activities that morning which included a lot of working with our table groups, writing on giant pieces of paper with different colored markers, arguing over who had to present our work when we ultimately shared it with the entire group, and then listening to each group share information from their sheets that was exactly like the information on all the other sheets because we have all been to the same trainings about this information.

By the end of that in-service, my district had given me the equivalent of six hours of Frank Shaffer worksheets, one hour of useful instruction, and an acute distaste for "sharing out with the group."

But looking on the bright side, this in-service led to the birth of Eldy, the ELD gremlin!

I love having a new friend.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Slight Raise, then Drop

It was Back To Work for me last Thursday and we all know what that means…

more blog posts!

more staff meetings!

and more teacher in-services that give me fodder for more blog posts!

We started this year off with a full day in-service with a two-fold objective:

  1. 1. Introduce us to our new English Language Development (ELD) curriculum.

  1. 2. Waste precious hours doing busy work such as looking at slides covered in fancy graphs telling us that we have large English Learner populations in our schools (which any one of us could have told you since, you know, we're the ones in the classrooms with them) or working in small groups to compare and contrast direct ELD instruction with ELD strategies and then sharing out our results with the entire group while we waited for the presenter from the publisher to arrive (after lunch) to tell us that the ELD program we adopted is scripted and all we do is read the script directly from a book and do a few wacky hand signals they developed to have the students speak in unison; when what we really needed to be doing was setting up our classrooms since this was Friday and school starts on Monday and they only gave us half the day on Thursday (due to a massive beginning of the year meeting) to work in our rooms that many of us had just moved into from other rooms and that had been stripped bare for summer cleaning.

"Luckily," (as my principal put it) our school secretary was coming in to work on Saturday (unpaid) until noon if any of us wanted to finish our rooms then. Oh, boy!

Why does that not feel so lucky to me?

But I digress. The important thing is that we are now fully trained in script reading and the nuances of the all-important "signal" to promote a singular voice from our class when they must repeat what we say.

Wanna know how to do the signal too?

You hold your teacher's manual in one hand so you can clearly see the script and raise your other one like you're about to swear an oath. To give "the signal," you slightly raise that hand and then drop it in front of you like a tree falling. In case you were wondering, "Why the slight raise?" The "slight raise" is to give the students a moment to process what they are about to repeat.

Let me model it for you:

Slight raise, then drop.

Slight raise, then drop.

Slight raise, then drop.

Slight raise, then drop.

You see? There's a slight raise, then you drop your hand down.

Now let's try that together. Let's have all of you stand up at your computers, grab a book and hold it in your left hand, and raise your right hand.

Slight raise, then drop.


Slight raise, then drop.

Now remember, the drop goes in front. Not off to the side like a Mr. Miyagi Wax On Wax Off move. Like this:

Slight raise, then drop.

Try again.

Slight raise, then drop.

Muuuch better.

Slight raise, then drop.

Slight raise, then drop.

That, in a nutshell, was our all-day training.

Oh, I forgot to mention, most of the ELD curriculum is devoted to students speaking on cue so we must teach with our right hands raised throughout the 30-45 minute ELD block.