. Regurgitated Alpha Bits: November 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

Billy and the Cliff, Revisited.

Remember the time Billy almost fell off the cliff on a fourth grade field trip?

Well, we went on that same field trip again recently. Thankfully, no one came close to Butch and Sundancing it this time.

Per my usual, I drove the "emergency car" while my fellow teachers rode on the buses, therefore I arrived fresh and ready for a hike…

and my coworkers placed a hex on my kind.

We divided the kids into groups, assigned parents and teachers to each of the groups, and started off on our hikes.

Although it is tempting to assign only parents to groups with the rowdiest kids, we thought it better that we be professionals about this and take those groups ourselves. We rock-paper-scissored to see who got the group with James in it.

(I know I haven't told you about James, but I feel that previous sentence speaks plainly as to his popularity among his teachers.)

I got his group.

So it was James, 3 girls who barely speak English, and 2 other boys who can hardly read.

Now, James is a smart young man. He's a good thinker and learns things very quickly. If only he'd use is powers for good. He does struggle with some severe ADHD issues and a "touch" of Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Let me tell you, a "touch" is all it takes to drive every adult within earshot to drink.

Our first stop is the Plant Identification Station where students are given a clue card with a plant description on it and they must wander among the foliage and identify the plant on their card.

Did I mention about the non-English speakers and non-readers?

So this station became the "Three little girls huddled together giggling while two little boys pulled leaves off of bushes and James hopped up and down on a log" Station.

Stop One: check

At this point, our guide pulled me aside and asked about the group.
I just smiled at him and said that today he would earn every penny of his salary.

Next stop: bird watching.

When we arrived at the edge of the estuary, binoculars were handed out and students were given a quick demonstration on how to use them. There were about a billion birds within 50 feet of us, but my students were using the binoculars to look at bugs on the ground, up each other's noses, and at a drainpipe three feet away.

And then disaster struck.

The guide said, "Oh! I almost forgot to warn you. Never use your binoculars to look directly at the sun."

At which point, six little heads with binoculars firmly in place over their eyes snapped their heads back and looked directly at the sun.

I imagine the screams were audible several miles away, which is, I also imagine, where all the birds flew.

Sorry next group to arrive at bird watching…

"OOwwwww. My eyes burn!"

"I can't see anything! Everything is covered in splotches!"

"¿Por quĂ© el hombre mal nos dijo mirar el sol?"

Don't worry, I called the nurse and she said that if they only glimpsed the sun, the splotches should subside and they should be fine. I was to call back if they couldn't see in an hour.

Stop two: check

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. Their vision quickly returned to normal and we had a fun time digging in a midden and digging for "decomposers" in a dirt-filled shoe box with rubber worms in it.

All in all, not a bad trip this time!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tall Glass of Crazy, Anyone?

Have you noticed how teaching is much like a pregnancy?

The first trimester is the shakiest, with the most queasiness and unexpected pains.

The second trimester is more on auto-pilot. You're used to the weirdness of it all and are comfortable in the rhythm of it all.

The last trimester you begin to feel some anxiety. There's more pressure and more tests, and your excitement is tempered with a bit of dread.

I've recently completed my first trimester of teaching this year, year 13 (bad omen) in my career. Good news for my sanity though and that means I MAY have more time for my beloved blog.

Here's what I've been up to…

Last year, my co-4th grade teachers and I decided to experiment with teaming. We dipped our toes in the water by leveling the kids in math and each of us took a different level. As kids showed progress we moved them up to another level. If they needed remediation, we moved them down. Flexible and ever evolving groups designed to meet the needs of the kids.

It was a huge success. Our math test scores were the highest of any grade level in the district. (That's not meant to be bragging…)

Soooo, we thought that since it was such a huge success with math, why not try it with Language Arts?

In fact, let's see if we can't make it even more engaging for the students and, with our principal's permission, ditch the adopted language arts curriculum. Let's use science, social studies, and novels to teach the language arts standards!

And that's the exact moment we drank the kool-aid. Three cups of sugar and a packet of fruity crazy, in case you were looking for a recipe.

Hurdle #1: One teaching partner lost her spot at our school, so we had to convince someone else to drink some crazy. Luckily, our principal is very supportive of us and made it pretty clear to our new partner that she was onboard whether she liked it or not. Thankfully, she liked it (or she's the greatest faker in the world) and we've all worked well together.

Hurdle #2: We have 97 students now.

Hurdle #3: We must participate in writing of 97 report cards. (Hush now high school teachers. I know, I know.)

Hurdle #4: We MUST work well with each other. EVERYTHING we do affects the others.

Hurdle #5: About every hour, we have a new group of kids staring at us.

Hurdle #6: Every moment without students in front of us, is spent meeting with each other about the students, the curriculum, the schedule, and then the students some more.

Hurdle #7: Without an adopted language arts curriculum, there is no safety net. Every lesson must be written and developed by us and it must include the language arts standards.

Hurdle #8: Although we teach the same subject 3 times a day it is never the same lesson 3 times. For example, after I teach math to the benchmark students, I teach science to the benchmark language arts group, then the advanced, then the intensive.

The benchmark kids are like driving a Volkswagen.

The advanced are like driving a Ferrari.

The intensive are like carrying a Ferrari on your back.

Through the snow.


Hurdle #9: We can no longer use singular pronouns.

Hurdle #10: It is more work than any of us has done in our combined 28 years of teaching.

But it's not all hurdles. There are some great aspects to teaming for EVERYTHING.

Perk #1: I have learned what a wonderfully gifted teacher my new teaching partner is, however I still miss my old teaching partner.

Perk #2: Our 97 students have 3 teachers who care deeply about their success. They can come to any of us for assistance or just to chat and they have really responded positively to that change.

Perk #3: By participating the writing of 97 report cards, we all have a chance to have input.

Perk #4: Working so closely with each other allows us to steal all the best of what the others do. It also gives us the gift of reflection and perspective. We must be ready to potentially change things we have always done if it conflicts with the vision of one of the other teachers. More often than not, it's made us better teachers.

Perk #5: Every hour we have a new group of kids staring at us and a new chance to teach that lesson even better.

Perk #6: Although we meet A LOT, we enjoy each other's company. Additionally, we can warn each other if one student is having a rough day or if another needs a little TLC.

Perk #7: Our students are learning how to read and write and they don't even realize it. Science, social studies, and novels are so engaging to them that the fact that we're focusing on those mundane common and proper nouns doesn't even faze them.

Perk #8: Grouping the kids has not eliminated gaps between high and low students in each class, but it has lessened it. We can reach more students in a day and target what they need more effectively.

Perk #9: "We" and "Us" replacing "I" and "Me" has given us a voice at our school that few can challenge. In the famous nerd words of Spock: "The needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few or the one." Because we speak with one voice, our principal has been more accommodating of our requests.

Perk #10: Pretty much everyone with a job these days is working harder for less money. We are no exception. We get bonuses in the form of 97 smiles, 97 Good Morning Mrs. Lee's, 97 chances to make even a small difference.

It's all worth it.

But damn I'm tired.