Ode to the Five Paragraph Essay

Ode to the Five Paragraph Essay

When I hear your name called

I stop and wonder why.

When I hear your name called

I stop and want to cry.

When I hear your name called

I feel that I will drown

When I hear your name called

I feel weighted down.

Why must my dreams and thoughts and aspirations

Be put in a box?

What do you say?

The STAAR people want it that way!

I wasn’t born in a box,

I didn’t grow up in a box,

But now THEY say,

My dreams and thoughts and aspirations…

Should go that way…

In a BOX.

From the Learners: What Students Need

I love using NewsELA for great articles that strike the interests of the kids I teach. We are comparing two articles written about how students learn and how teachers need help them find meaning in their learning. We are making text-to-self and text-to-text connections and I love the conversations we are having! As a result of these readings, my students are able to tell me what they need as learners, and everything they said reflects all of the literature I am reading on how to differentiate my instruction.

This is what they said:

  • teach me the way I learn
  • teach me more relevant information, especially in social studies classes
  • let me have different ways to show you what I know
  • listen to me
  • don’t go over the information so fast
  • ugh…worksheets
  • show me relationships between history and present day
  • go deeper into the important things
  • use technology in a more meaningful way, not just to replace paper
  • sometimes I need to do things the old way (meaning pencil/paper)
  • give me more chances to learn it

This type of awareness that students have about their own learning helps me to reflect on my teaching–no, it should be facilitating–of my classes. I want to listen to them. I want them to be successful in my classroom. My wish is that every one of their teachers would take the opportunity to talk with them about what they need as learners and change their teaching to reflect that.






Building Relationships with Students

I admit it. I have not been very consistent with building relationships with my students. As a matter of fact, I have had a particularly difficult time this year connecting with one class in particular. This class has many students with challenging behaviors and I know that handled it poorly, but at the end of this school year, with about seven weeks left, I have come to see what I should have done to create those relationships earlier.

One student, in particular, has been quite a prickly pear. I have had trouble with him staying on task and being disruptive, but by pure accident, I think I have figured him out! I am starting Literature Circles with my classes. So far, I have done everything by the book: student choice in reading material, explaining the roles each person must take on each time a group meets, providing resources to make the meetings run smoothly, etc.

This one student chose a book that after finding out who the group members were, decided he wanted to be in the other group. I couldn’t make that happen. The other group was full. He said he wasn’t going to participate, and I explained to him that this is a project that will last a couple of weeks and that he couldn’t afford to not participate. I let him think about it for a while, and then he moved to the group. I think he was really interested in the book enough to make it work.

Here is the part that just amazed me: This student, knowing that other members of his group have lower abilities than he does, took the lead position as Discussion Leader. But the truly amazing part is that he worked gently and patiently to get the other group members secured in their roles, establish a reading schedule, and take care of the other “housekeeping” activities. As I watched him do this, it finally struck me. This kid is a leader, and one that can do it in the right way. How have I missed this?

If only…love (hate) those words. If only I had introduced Literature Circles at the beginning of school like I wanted to; if only I had tried more collaborative learning groups with this class; if only, if only, if only. I could have seen this leadership in him early on and used that for good (not evil). We could have developed a better relationship and I would have had a better year personally. Dang it!

Well, I can’t linger on the if only’s. I am going to take what I now know about this kid and run with it! Starting today. He completed his Discussion Leader organizer after he let me explain the different levels of questioning to him, and my expectations, which is something he has never done. He actually let me show him something. After that, he wrote his questions out. I asked for the questions to see if they were okay. I let him get to his desk and sit down before I read the questions. They were awesome! The complexity of the questions gave me goose bumps. So, I looked up at him and pointed at him and told him to come back. I was making my disapproving teacher face and he walked up ready to hear me be discouraging and asking him to redo the questions. What he heard from me for the (I hate to say it) first time was: “You have done an awesome job writing these questions!” And then, I asked for a high-five, and I got it!

Now, to contact his parents with this good news!

Note to self: find out what makes each student tick early in the school year. I know this. Teachers know they should build positive relationships with their students. Sometimes, we forget. But there is no excuse.

What My Kids are Saying

Just real quick. My kids (students) have amazed me at some times during the school year. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have done a good enough job of letting them know that. We do vocabulary.com for our daily vocabulary practice. They love earning points and mastering words. I even let them put stickers on a chart. They ask me if they can do that! Then, I am starting literature circles in my classes, and after taking care of all of the “housekeeping”, I was asked, “can we read now?” Put a smile on my face and in my heart,

Students’ Thoughts on How Education Needs to Change

Just a few thoughts from students in my classes about the need for education reform.

  • Less power points
  • Change the way lessons are presented
  • Get up and move around
  • Less teacher talking
  • More interactive, involved learning
  • Field trips
  • Learn more important things
  • Students should be able to teach and show what they know
  • Teachers need to listen to students
  • Teachers that have a passion for their job
  • Fewer tests
  • Longer classes
  • More time to read
  • More writing
  • Use games in class
  • Start school later
  • Students need breaks during the day
  • Teachers should work individually with students

So this is telling me that students want to learn, but educators and school systems in general aren’t meeting the needs of all students so they can be more active in their learning. Funny, no one said get rid of school altogether.

20th Century Grading Practices Punish 21st Century Students

I became a special education teacher (like most of my colleagues) because I understand that all students learn differently. It doesn’t matter if the student is in “regular” education or in “special” education, or is “gifted” (which is another, more positive term for special education). All students learn differently. I don’t care what their economic status is, what their racial background is, or any other label that we affix on students in education. ALL students learn differently.
If you happen to be gifted, then you get put in classes that are hopefully designed to tap into your gifts. Students are challenged to work at their highest level, and hopefully those students will learn strategies that will help them to hold onto their giftedness. Regular kids, those in the “general” education, are right there in the middle. They are supposed to be the pegs that fit into the right hole. Nothing special, nothing extra needed for them, they are just expected to perform like most other kids. Then there are the “special” kids. Those who are expected to perform at the lower levels, just because they fall under the special education umbrella. Some teachers blow through the curriculum, not worrying about these kids keeping up; others worry about these kids hurting them when standardized testing comes around. But, many teachers usually don’t worry about whether the special education kids are actually getting “it”.
Too many times I have seen kids punished by 20th century grading practices: you don’t turn in a note sent home for a signature, you get a zero; you don’t pass a test the first time, too bad. You don’t keep up with notes during a lecture, you snooze you lose; you are afraid to ask questions in class, oops, you should have spoken up. I can keep on with this litany of punishing grading strategies, but I won’t.
So, am I the only person on my campus who thinks the way I do? I don’t know. I hear all the time, teachers complaining about their frustrations  with students who supposedly don’t care or are unmotivated. I often wonder if those teachers have taken time to look at their own teaching and ask themselves what they are doing wrong.
The solution to this is easy: start grading based on the standards, not whether a kid forgot to do the meaningless homework; look at the individual learner and understand how they learn; build on their strengths, don’t punish them for their  weaknesses; listen to them. The list doesn’t stop here, there are many more ways teachers can start assessing their students more authentically.
These things should be done so ALL learners can be successful, right? Or am I just crazy?


Reflective Teaching “Me”

Today, I am writing about myself. This #teachthought #reflectiveteaching challenge is something not very different from a “get-to-know-you” assignment that I give at the beginning of the school year.  It wasn’t easy to sit and think about some of these prompts. As a matter of fact, this entry took me a few days to complete, but yet I ask my students to complete  theirs’ within one or two 45 minute class periods.  That doesn’t seem fair. I had trouble reflecting and trying to decide what to include. So why do I expect kids who have a million other things on their minds to do a good job of reflecting on their lives in just 90 minutes.

Life is complex, and for many of my kids, their lives are even more complex than I can imagine. Yet, I ask them to come up with responses to prompts that may not even begin to resemble anything close to their lives, all because I am using prompts that appeal to me.

Hmm…I need to rethink the prompts I ask my students to write about and make sure they have choices in their writing.

Now for my responses.

1. Five random facts about me:

  • I would rather do yard work than house work,
  • I love to bake,
  • I could watch butterflies and hummingbirds all day,
  • I like to do crafts and make things,
  • I have the best husband and kids in the world

2.  My bucket list:

  • To own a Mini Cooper Coupe (check),
  • To visit ancient religious temples, pyramids, and cathedrals,
  •  To live on a beach,
  • To meet Pope Frances.

3. Three things I hope for this year:

  • I want to be a more reflective teacher,
  • I want to build better relationships with my students, especially the hard-to-reach kids, I
  • want to guide my students into learning that is important to them.

3. Two things that have made me laugh or cry as a teacher:

  • I am a special education teacher and I have cried many times about doing more paperwork than teaching. I just want to teach. I have cried because I have interviewed for two general education positions at my campus, over the last two years, and have not been offered the job, because (what I believe) the administration thinks it is easier to replace a general education teacher than to replace a special education teacher. My source in that department tells me that I didn’t get the job because it was “a matter of timing.” If that is the case, then why waste my time with an interview.
  • What makes me laugh as a teacher are the teachers in my special education department. There is at least one time per weak where we can get together and decompress. Thankfully we all have a good sense of humor.

4. One thing I wish people knew more about me is that I am very passionate about learning and that I believe it is the teachers’ responsibility to continue learning so they can keep up with how kids learn. I am not perfect in doing this, and at times it is so easy to revert back to the old way to do things, but I am trying. As a co-teacher, I have witnessed teaching practices that I disagree with. These teaching practices reach only those students who know how to play the game: take notes, do the worksheet, take the test. The kids who are able to do this are motivated by the grade. The kids who can’t do this, are punished with bad grades and the threat of failure.


The Giving of Assignments: Is It Learning?

Being a co-teacher, I have the rare opportunity to observe how other teachers teach. I witness on a daily basis the giving of assignments. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, or be out of line, but some of the teachers I work with, just do the same thing each year. They don’t utilize the technology we have available; the worksheets are the same, used year after year, with no revisions; the same lessons are given, with no creativity. The students aren’t asking questions, the teachers are using lower level Blooms questions, nothing is happening to reach all students. This type of environment feels more like an assembly line than a caring, student-centered, customer always comes first, learning environment.

Assignments are given to be completed, but with no discussion or in-depth questioning. I am always amazed at how students take the work given, most of the time not even questioning the validity of the purpose of the work, and just do it. I know I never questioned any of the work I was asked to do as a student, but that was thirty years ago. Now, students have access to the entire world, but they still aren’t asked to make connections between the assignments they are given and themselves, much less the connections between the assignments and the world.

If a student doesn’t do well on an assignment, a grade is entered into the grade book and that is it. You snooze, you lose. The horrible part of all of this, is the reason for the bad grade isn’t even addressed. Even more, the student may be labeled as lazy, not caring about the grade or the assignment, or, the student didn’t try hard enough. Unfortunately, I have made all of these assumptions. Sometimes I still do, but I am stopping this type of dangerous thinking. It is dangerous because when I think of students in this manner, I am not creating a student-centered learning environment.

So, what do I do while I am in other teachers’ classrooms? How do I begin a conversation with teachers about how they are teaching their classes? It isn’t my job to tell them what to do. I am in that class to support students who are under the special education umbrella. How do I convince a teacher to look at the assignments that are given to the students and ask why is this important for the students to do? What is the purpose? Furthermore, what about grading? Why are students punished because they are seen as not caring, when it is really the teachers’ fault for not making the learning relevant? Are the students even learning with this kind of “teaching”?

One more thing. Teachers on my campus are expected to implement the Fundamental Five framework in our lessons. We are about to begin our third week of school, and I have not seen that being done in any of my co-teaching classes. I have done that in my classes I teach. My principal has made it clear that he expects us to do this, but it isn’t. Why are teachers so resistant to change?

Why Can’t I Use Twitter With My Classes?

My plan was to use Twitter with my classes this year. I have learned how to use Twitter to build my personal learning network, and I have learned so much stuff. Also, I have been exposed to so many awesome and inspiring ideas from the people I follow. Plus, I have found that I am reading more than I ever had before.  As a result, I am finding that there are many people out there who think like I do.

Twitter has opened up a whole new world for me, helping me to become a connected learner/educator. I see the value of having a brief discussion on a topic that interests me. I actively search now for people to follow who look at education in a different way. I almost crave my Twitter time, not just to write posts, but to READ. I have created a long reading list on my iPad just from interesting topics that I have read about on Twitter. I now follow and read several educational blogs, from individuals as well as places like Teachthought, Edutopia, Education Week, Edudemic, and many more. My own professional development this past summer has been more beneficial to me than the professional development provided by my school.

So, I came across KQED Do Now, a weekly activity to connect students across the world and give them a chance to practice civic engagement and digital citizenship skills while they explore ways to connect topics in their classes to the present day (KQED.org). I thought, hmmm…I am a co-teacher in social studies classes this year, this project sounds like a good way to get the kids involved and thinking on a global scale. I applied to participate, and yesterday I got the acceptance message. So, I contact my principal to make sure it would be okay to do, and to ask if we could allow kids to use Twitter to do this. Unfortunately, our school district does not allow students to use Twitter on campus. My principal told me that he has asked several times for Twitter to be made available for our campus, but he has been told no. Now what do I do?

I crafted an email to our technology director, forwarding the information from KQED. I also connected our districts core beliefs to the goals of this project and asked him to visit KQED and read about Do Now. Now I have to wait.

If I won’t be allowed to do this because my district is wary of allowing students to access Twitter in school, then any other district technology initiatives really aren’t that innovative.  I believe that you have to meet the kids where they are right now with technology, if you don’t, then you are behind the curve.