Writing my way through the school year!

Archive for November, 2011

10 Gifts a Teacher Can Give Their Students!

Of course, there are more than 10 things that we could give our darlings, but these are the ones that stood out in my mind. They’re not in any particular order, just the way I thought of them. ¬†Feel free to add your own! ūüôā

1.     A smile. If you are miserable, they usually are too.

2. ¬† ¬†Get rid of the worksheets. Granted, if a student can’t figure out 5 problems, they probably can’t do 25 – 100 of the same thing.

3.    Talk to them about things in their life. And maybe, share something from yours.
4.    Give them a fresh start. Every. Single. Day.
5. ¬† Challenge them. ¬†Every kid is not “the population.” They just might surprise you!
6.    Provide consequences. Whether you believe it or not, they will thank you.
7. ¬† ¬†Remember they are only children. Oh boy, that’s a hard one to do sometimes, I know. ūüôā
8.   Try something new.  They are 21st century learners, treat them as such.
9. ¬† Get off task. ¬†Isn’t it great to veer away from the planned topic for a bit?
10. Teach!   Let them learn at least one new thing per day.

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“Are Our Gifted Children Being Left Behind?”

Have you ever heard the saying, “He/She treats me like a stepchild?” ¬†Of course, when it is used, it is not ¬†meant to be a compliment. ¬†It meant that the stepchild was ignored, while all the biological children were fawned over by the parents.

I started thinking about this after I read an article in the Holiday 2011 Instructor magazine entitled, ¬†“Challenge Your Top Students”. Soon after reading the article I had a conversation with my sis-in-law who runs a home daycare. ¬†She complained that the students she taught before they went to kindergarten were not being challenged. ¬†They were given the same work as the other students, who are not close to their level of instruction.

This is how I see the gifted child, like the stepchild in that saying.  I realize gifted is seen as just another label by some, but I think it is a label with merit.  You can call them what you want, but you know who I mean.  That child(or children) who stand out from all the rest academically. The ones who exhibit higher order level thinking every day, in almost, or all, subjects. They shine brighter than the other stars in your room.

I fear that our gifted children are being eclipsed. Thanks to standardized testing, and/or the incessant demands placed on us,these students are often ignored.  Worst of all, they are not being challenged, their talents are dulled. They are no longer given the opportunity to stretch, because they have received high scores on standardized tests.

We have 3 levels of reading, Red, Blue, Green. We are told to meet in small groups with Red, who also get pulled for interventions, and the Blue group, who just need a nudge to meet on state testing, every day. The Green group, once or twice a week. Which group do you think represents the gifted students?

I have found a way around this, and I make sure that I challenge all of my students.  There are schools that offer gifted programs to meet the needs of these students.  However, I am sure, there are a number of  classrooms where gifted students needs are completely ignored.

At a meeting I attended, a third grade teacher stated that she was not teaching cursive because it was not on the state test! I wonder what happens to those students who had no problem passing the state test?  Are they getting the same content as all the other students?  Are they being forced to sit through the  inane testing material that we are supposed to drill into our students?  What happens to that bright child who is subjected to that type of classroom environment?

In an era where so many children are dropping out of high school, we need to make sure that we don’t lose the ones least likely to drop out. Put yourself in that child’s position, where day after day, you are given ¬†worksheet after worksheet. ¬†Or your main assignment is to help the students that don’t get it. ¬†How boring!

Fortunately, I have access to  technology that allows  me the ability to create lessons and/or projects that give my gifted kids a chance to be who they are, smarter than average. And as difficult as it is to differentiate instruction, along with all the other requirements we have to fulfill, we owe it to our gifted students to provide lessons and/or projects that engage and challenge!

Let Students Own, Not Rent! Making it “Our Classroom”

The other day, I don’t remember why, we moved our desks. Instead of 6 groups of four, we¬†ended¬†up in two groups of 12. At some point during the day, my students asked me to leave the tables in two groups of 12. I took their request lightly, and began to dismiss it. But they pleaded, because they really enjoyed the new ¬†layout of the room. ¬†They began to support their request with strong reasons, and I relented. The desks stayed where they were, and have been like that for the last couple of days.

It’s their room too. I came to that realization that it ¬†can’t always be my way, I had to let them own their classroom. When I speak to my students, I make sure that ¬†I say “our classroom”, but I believe my words speak louder than my actions. I am certainly not a dictator, but I know now that I could loosen the reins a little more.

We have to allow our students the chance to make decisions. ¬†As difficult as it may be in this time of standardized testing. We have to allow them the chance to be part of the decision-making process. As the school year progresses, I am going to make a conscious effort to truly make it “our classroom.”Letting them decide the layout of the room was a big step for me, but I am loving it. They were ¬†right, there is more space.:)

“See it, Say it!” Helping to End the Abuse of Our Children!

In 1982, I worked in a Headstart center, I had only been out of college for two years. ¬†I worked in the room with the 3 and 4 year olds. ¬†One day, one of our little girls had an accident, and she didn’t have any clothes in her cubby. ¬†We called the house, and the uncle agreed to bring a change of clothes.

When the uncle arrived, he was asked to change her clothes in the bathroom. As he led her to the bathroom, she began screaming, and pulling away from him. I couldn’t understand why she would react this way, after all, it was her uncle. ¬†Weeks later, we found out that the uncle had been molesting her. ¬†Her ¬†screams were a cry for help, and I feel like I failed her. I use the present tense, because every time I hear a story about child abuse, I think of that little girl’s screams. I failed that little girl.

I realize that we are overwhelmed in our classrooms. We are required to be all things to our students, but I don’t mind being this one. ¬†I don’t mind being one of the people who just might see something and do something about. I don’t mind being the one trying to find out why a student is suddenly withdrawn, or aggressive, or acting out sexually. I don’t mind being in a role where maybe, just maybe, I can help.

The Penn State situation is so sad because they knew, not one person, but many. ¬†Those poor boys, they were expendable. ¬†Was there no one they could tell? ¬†No one who saw the signs? No one who heard their screams? I am not blaming their teachers, by any means. But sometimes when our students “act out”, we take it personally. We shut them out, medicate them, or give them consequences that ¬†simply add to their isolation. We can’t ignore the signs. We must not ignore the signs. Let us protect our children.

President Obama said “Our first priority is protecting our kids, and we all have a responsibility ‚ÄĒ we can’t leave it to a system, we can’t leave it to somebody else. Each of us has to take it upon ourselves to make sure that our kids have the love and support and protection that they deserve.” ¬†I agree 100%!

“Humiliation is Not a Classroom Management Technique!”

My youngest son is no angel, not in any way, shape, or form. He had been getting in ¬†“trouble” since preschool. I would go to pick him up and he would wave, and grin, at me from the timeout area. He didn’t know any better, he was just one of those kids that was always up and about. Back then, if you were that kid, you ended up in timeout.

When he was in the second grade, I had a conference with his teacher. She couldn’t wait for me to sit down as she proclaimed, “He needs to be on medication! You need to put him on medication!” (We won’t go into the fact that legally a teacher cannot tell a parent to put their child on medication.) She then proceeded to show me what she did because he could not ” behave.” She took his chair, put it facing the blackboard in the front of the room, and then if that wasn’t enough, she rolled the hanging chart behind him “so he wouldn’t distract the other kids.” I saw red! What a humiliating experience for my child! She seemed quite pleased with herself. Needless to say, I contacted the principal immediately and had my child removed from her class.He was placed in a classroom where the teachers practiced strategies that allowed them to deal with kids like my son.

Last Sunday, I was talking to a parent who has a son in one of the new charter schools in my state. She informed me that her son had to wear the “yellow shirt.” The yellow shirt states, “Do not talk to me, I am in isolation.” My mouth fell open, and I told her, “Get your child out of that school immediately. She responded, “Oh, it’s ok, the shirt is normal.”

Normal? What’s normal about having anyone’s child walk around with a shirt saying “Don’t talk to me”? Using¬†Color coded student ID’s according to your test scores? ¬†Showing the class a student’s work and mocking them ¬†in front of the class? What’s normal about a teacher humiliating a child in the hope that they will behave better? How could this possibly work? ¬†The natural reaction to humiliation is to either shut down, or to become aggressive. The child no longer trusts the teacher and it has created an intolerable situation in the classroom for the student and/or the teacher. It can also lead to bullying. If the teacher is allowed to bully a student, why shouldn’t the other students?

I know they “take us there” sometimes. I was one of those teachers who had to stop using sarcasm as a classroom management technique, especially when I had a difficult group of kids. But now, I always think of how I would feel in that situation. ¬†I think about how my sons would feel. ¬†You know the adage, “Treat others the way you want to be treated!” ¬†Now that’s a good classroom management technique!

Yawn, Yawn, Go Away! Little Johnny Wants to be Engaged!

I sat with my small group today and listened to my students, and smiled. They had  finished sharing their writing prompt about an imagined device that would make their lives easier. I listened to stories about a teleporter , a robot, and a pen, that can do the unimaginable.  After they shared their stories, and asked each other questions, they began an animated conversation about how they could market their inventions through a partnership. I sat and listened to their imaginations go wild!

We have to engage our students,  understanding that there is a difference between engaging students and entertaining them. I am not an entertainer, I do not sing and dance.(Well, not all the time anyway) My job is to teach, but to teach in a way where my students can wrap their minds around a subject in a way they are used to. My students are bored easily, they spend a lot of time in front of  a television playing video games. Therefore,  every day I make it my mission to  find a way to engage them.

Teaching volume? I used the video ¬†Volume Song¬†to supplement the curriculum. Boy, does that song stick in your head! Learning about Leonardo’s Horse? I located a video that mirrored the selection in the anthology, “The Story of Leonardo’s Horse“. ¬†I added an image of Mona Lisa to Collaborize Classroom, and asked my students to post why she is smiling. And to my delight, I found a video on WatchKnowLearn, “How Mona Lisa Got Her Smile“. We are studying Ecosystems, and I have two wonderful opportunities to make it real for them. ¬†We are participating in a contest offered by the Philadelphia Zoo, and I have registered my class to join the Polar Bear webcast being offered on the Edmodo site. ¬†And, of course, in order to provide access to my students, I post all of these wonderful items on Edmodo, so they can be accessed at home.

Now, I don’t want you to get the idea that all I do is put my feet up while my students watch videos.:) ¬†Not at all, each video incorporates learning, this has to take place. For example, after watching ¬†the video, ¬†“How Mona Lisa…”, the students and I discussed ¬†story elements and sequence. It’s not all fun and games. ¬†At the time I was writing this post, I was also engaged by my PLN in a ¬†#5thchat. We discussed using drama in the classroom. Another exciting way to engage your class as they learn. ¬†Imagine how many more students would stay in school if they weren’t bored out of their mind?

I do not like being bored, (I think back on all the PD workshops I have attended), and I try to spare my students that fate. And again, I’m not suggesting that every minute of your day be comparable to a video game. ¬†But we have to do something to make our kids interested in coming, and staying, in school!

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