Thursday, April 9, 2009
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Mr. and Mrs. Alot
Tuesday, April 7th by Carla
A few years back I had a group of students who routinely wrote “a lot” as “alot.” I wanted them to use a more specific adjective, but first I first wanted them to spell “a lot” correctly. The following approach seems to have been helpful.
In advance, I write “alot” in large letters on a long, narrow piece of paper that tears easily. I like to use half a sheet of construction paper for visual appeal.
My spiel goes something like this:
“If you read the paper last night, you might have seen a small notice in the Divorces column. Mr. and Mrs. Alot got a divorce.” (At this point I hold up the sign.)
“Now, divorces usually aren’t friendly events, but this one was especially messy. She caught him running around with other consonants — he accused her of cheating on him with other vowels. He started harassing her, and eventually she had to get a restraining order against him. Now he’s not allowed within 500 feet of her.” (At this point, I tear the paper between the “a” and “lot” and hold them a few inches apart.)
“She has custody of the kids.”
“So when you are using “a lot” in your writing, remember: they got divorced, and there is a restraining order. You have to leave a space.”
I usually tack the two pieces of paper on the tack strip above the blackboard for a few days.
When I run across “alot” again in student writing, I circle it and write “Don’t violate the restraining order” in the margin.
I’ve had good luck with this approach. What do YOU use to help students remember fine points?
Monday, April 6, 2009
Friday, April 3, 2009
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Those days are heartbreaking, but once in a great while, one of our students makes it - really makes it. Kama Cutler is just that girl to me.
I remember specifically hoping the best for Kama. She was sweet and so intelligent, especially in English. I loved to read what she wrote, and it was easy to read too. None of those crazed blood stained papers for Kama!
When Kama was a junior in high school, I took her class to Winnipeg to see a theatre production. Kama loved it. On the way home we talked about our upcoming birthdays that were less than a week apart (sadly, I was much, much older!). I am a birthday freak as anyone who has read this blog can attest to.Kama was not looking forward to hers, even though it was her 17th.
As it turned out, she had once loved her birthday, but the year prior, when she turned 16, she was waiting for a party and presents equal to those that her older sister had received.
She was not waiting in greed. She was waiting in anticipation of the attention, the love, the recognition, the significance of reaching 16. The morning of her birthday, no one mentioned the occasion. She assumed it was that they were all waiting to surprise her. Anticipation built. But, when the end of the evening came, no one had remembered.
I'm not sure that any story has bothered me as much as that one. I know there are many kids who do not have lavish birthdays. I know that not everyone goes berserk over every year older. But I will say this. It bothered me that this wonderful, perfect, talented, honest, sweet, and selfless girl was so hurt.
So, on her 17th birthday, her classmates and I gave her a surprise party. We had cake, German Chocolate (her favorite), and presents and candles and decorations. Kama cried so hard that she ended up covered in hives!
Did I use those fifty minutes to teach English. No. I used those minutes to show love. I used those minutes to create for Kama something that I hope she will remember for the rest of her life (in addition to 'dangling participles' hehe).
I love her. I love her like she belongs to me. I am proud of the beautiful articulate woman that she has become. I guess, in a way, she always was. There were about four years where we lost track of each other. I do not even think I can count the number of times I thought of her and wondered how she was. Now I know. She is just as perfect as I remember. She was my student first, but sometimes student is not enough. Sometimes students become family.
Kama, you are my family. I will be here for you always. Never forget that.
And there are many, many more.
“America the Beautiful”: Using Music and Art to Develop Vocabulary
This lesson starts with an online activity to activate students’ prior knowledge about well-known sights and scenery throughout the United States. The activity is followed by a read-aloud and introduction to the song “America the Beautiful.” Next students engage in a vocabulary lesson in which they learn the meanings of the song’s words through shared reading and by reading and using words in a variety of ways. Students then use drawings, descriptive language, and photographs to create a mural shaped like the United States. Finally, through pictures and words, students reflect on what they have learned. This lesson is appropriate and adaptable for any patriotic event or holiday, and many of the vocabulary strategies are adaptable for other texts or word lists, as well.
From Theory to Practice
In her introduction to Lively Learning: Using the Arts to Teach the K–8 Curriculum, Linda Crawford describes her personal difficulty in learning geography when she was in elementary school, until one day her teacher gave the students the opportunity to present information in any way they chose. Crawford found that the active and tactile experience of creating a paper-mâché map of North America helped her learn and remember the topography of the United States. Also tapping creative learning strategies to teach content area knowledge, Michael Graves addresses the importance of teaching individual words using strategies such as giving students opportunities to use words more than once and in a variety of ways. In this lesson, students use visual art, music, and multiple vocabulary-related strategies to help them learn vocabulary words that describe many features of the United States. At the same time, they learn one of the most well-known patriotic songs in American culture.
Students will :
* use pictures to help them describe places and scenery located throughout the United States.
* create multimodal vocabulary posters that describe, illustrate, and define targeted words from the song “America the Beautiful.”
* demonstrate understanding of the meanings of selected words from “America the Beautiful.”
* draw pictures and write words that exemplify and describe geographic features of the United
* use pictures and words to demonstrate what they have learned about the United States.
America the Beautiful picture book (Scholastic)
a large sheet of butcher paper cut into the shape of the United States
assorted colored markers
Lyrics for “America the Beautiful”
magazines with colored scenic pictures of the United States (such as Sunset, National Geographic, Via, Smithsonian)
white construction paper, crayons, scissors, and glue
photographic essay book showing scenic features of the United States (e.g., America: A Celebration of the United States)
topographical map of the United States
“America the Beautiful” Extended Book List
“America the Beautiful” Reflection Sheet
Sample Paragraphs and Questions
CDs or appropriately accessed downloads of various versions of “America the Beautiful”
CD player, mp3 player, or computer that plays music downloads
ReadWriteThink Multigenre Mapper
Sample Multigenre vocabulary poster Preparation
Bookmark the National Geographic United States Photo Gallery Web site on the computers students will use for this lesson.
Find several different versions of “America the Beautiful” on CD at the library or downloaded from the Internet.
Gather several magazines with scenic pictures of various locations and landforms throughout the United States.
Use white butcher paper to prepare a large mural shaped liked the United States. (Tip: Print this map, make an overhead and project it onto the butcher paper).
With a black or brown marker, write the words to “America the Beautiful” on chart paper and hang it on the wall. Have colored markers available to highlight and underline key words.
Review the Sample Paragraphs and Questions, which includes a paragraph and multiple-choice question for each word students study during this lesson, including spacious, amber, grain, majesties, plain, and brotherhood.
Prepare overheads of the Sample Paragraphs and Questions for display to students.
Arrange for students to have access to Internet-connected computers for the necessary sessions.
Test the Multigenre Mapper interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the Technical Support page.
Begin the lesson by directing students to the National Geographic United States Photo Gallery to generate their prior knowledge about sights, sounds, and places in the United States. Have students identify and name features of the geography in the pictures they see. Encourage students to use descriptive words and phrases such as “a huge lake” or “a field of purple flowers.”
After some time exploring online, ask students to tell about places they may have visited and the kinds of things they have seen in their travels, as well as the geography of their local area. Chart students’ responses if desired, and keep the chart for later.
Using one word at a time selected from the first verse of “America the Beautiful,” ask students if anyone has ever heard or knows the meanings of the word (e.g., spacious, amber, grain, majesties, plain, and brotherhood). Accept all reasonable responses and tell students they will learn more about these words.
Read aloud the book America the Beautiful, showing the pictures while you read. After reading, do a repeat “picture walk,” and allow students to respond and make connections to the text or the photographs. When students have finished responding, tell them that the words in this book are actually the words to the song “America the Beautiful” which they will learn to sing.
Post and call students’ attention to a chart prepared with the words to “America the Beautiful.”
After singing the song once or twice, ask students to identify any words they do not know.
Gather students into a group where everyone can clearly see the chart with the words to “America the Beautiful.” Have students sing the song with you once or twice while you track the words on the chart.
Then, one at a time, focus on each word you’ve underlined on the chart (i.e., spacious, amber, grain, majesties, plain, and brotherhood). Show students the prepared overhead of each paragraph (from Sample Paragraphs and Questions) for each word, and then read the paragraph aloud.
Repeat steps two through five for each vocabulary word.
Review the words students learned in Session Two by writing the words on the board, or have student volunteers write them. Then ask students to read the words and give informal definitions for each word.
Then, have students work in small groups to choose one or two of the words. Alternatively, the teacher can assign words to the groups so that each group will work with a different word, or the teacher can choose just one or two words for all students to work with.
Share with students the Sample Multigenre vocabulary poster, direct students to the Multigenre Mapper, and give the following directions:
Entitle Space A “Definition” and put the definition of the word there.
Entitle Space B “Sentence 1” and write your first sentence there.
Entitle Space C “Sentence 2” and write your second sentence there.
Draw a picture that shows the meaning of the word in the remaining box.
Check your work and print.
When all students are finished, have them share their vocabulary posters with the entire class. Then display them on the wall.
Add all the words to an existing classroom word wall, or create a thematic word wall just for this lesson’s words. Then encourage students to use the words in their writing and conversations.
Before beginning this session, collect magazines with pictures of topographical features or direct students to images available from National Geographic United States Photo Gallery. Also have drawing materials available for students.
Post the cut-out paper for the United States mural on the wall at a height that students can reach.
Show students a topographical map of the United States, and point out your own region.
Have students volunteer ideas for drawings. Make sure students understand that the pictures they draw need to be large and colorful.
Distribute drawing paper and allow students enough time to draw whatever features they choose. Alternatively, provide words on slips of paper (such as vast, cliffs, ocean, shore, rocky, river, waterfall) that students can select from a basket, and have them draw an illustration for the word they pick. As drawings are finished, have students label their drawings with descriptive words, especially words that are present in the song “America the Beautiful.” Have students cut their drawings into interesting shapes, keeping the word labels intact. Then have students glue their drawings onto the mural in appropriate places.
Give students plenty of time to fill the mural with drawings and/or pictures, adding an additional session if necessary.
Have students work with partners to create “America the Beautiful” crossword puzzles using ReadWriteThink Crossword Puzzlemaker.
Allow students to work with partners to create “America the Beautiful” postcards using the ReadWriteThink Postcard Creator.
Have students do a red, white, and blue collage with stripes, stars, and scenic pictures on a white construction paper background. Display these around the mural.
Encourage students to continue to use the words in their writing and conversations in and out of school.
During the duration of the lesson, play different versions of “America the Beautiful,” encouraging them to listen and also to sing along.
Have students offer additional words that describe or name places in the United States, and make a word list for the wall.
Read aloud additional related books from the “America the Beautiful” Extended Book List to supplement and extend students’ learning about American symbols, songs, and traditions.
Have students “act out” the different vocabulary words: spacious, waves of grain, plain, brotherhood, etc.
Challenge students by moving into an exploration of additional verses of the song.Web Resources
National Geographic United States Photo Galleryhttp://travel.nationalgeographic.com/places/countries/country_unitedstates.html
This page provides images of the United States categorized by state and city.
Maps of the United Stateshttp://www.united-states-map.com/
This site offers printable topographic and other maps of the continental United States; these maps could be used for reference for placement of pictures on the mural.
Have students complete an “America the Beautiful” Reflection Sheet. Assess the quality of work, considering the following as you discuss the reflections:
Did students use words and pictures to show what they have learned?
How appropriate were the words and pictures?
Observe each student’s participation in discussions. Assess how well students demonstrate their understanding of the vocabulary words from “America the Beautiful” as well as their understanding of the geography of the United States.
Evaluate students’ vocabulary posters.
How well were students able to use the new words in sentences?
Were the pictures they included appropriate in relation to the words’ meanings?
How well did they respond to the questions they were given?
Evaluate students’ drawings and labels for the United States mural.
Did their drawings reflect an understanding of places and features of the United States?
How effective were the descriptions in the students’ labels?
Were their descriptions appropriate in relation to their drawings?
1 - Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.3 - Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).6 - Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts. 10 - Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum. 11 - Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Digital Booktalk - Students create trailers, as if their books were movies. This site provides support for trying this with your students.
Mrs. Ojeda's MyLitSpace Assignment - Students create a MySpace page reflecting people and events from their reading. Requires MS-Word or compatible application for access.
Ten Questions - Students interview the main character of the book they've just read.
Twitter Book Reports - A suggestion for writing book reports in the style of a popular social networking site. Includes a link to a model.
What do you need? - This approach imitates a Facebook meme and requires Google. It should be appropriate for middle school and above.
Other book report ideas - Follow links to lots of nontraditional ways to respond to reading!
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Friday, March 20, 2009
- My Kindle needs a name so I can refer to her properly. If she is going to be a constant companion, she needs to have a name. My son named his laptop Helen. That's a good solid name. Any suggestions would be welcome.
- Love it.
- None of that 'hard to hold open the new hard cover book' difficulty. I do not have to feel guilty that I am breaking the books binding for the convenience of holding it open easily.
- The digitized man voice will not be reading to me unless I feel the need to be entertained by a computer's pronunciation. Not good. On a bright side, I do not want anyone reading to me anyway.
- Love that it always knows where I am in the book.
- Love that I can have many books with me all the time and can switch from one to another. I have ADD and cannot stay on one book for long. I can jump from one to the other super easily.
- I am going to download the Bible. I cannot ever find mine. Maybe this will get me reading it more often.
- Love the dictionary feature. Just navigate to any word and the definition shows up at the bottom. Genius. I wonder how many words I have missed learning because I was reading and did not have a dictionary or thesaurus handy?
- Have not used the 'notes' feature yet. I hope it works well as I am counting on that for the works of literature I teach.
- Love it. I already said that.
I was honestly thrilled to death to hear the dogs bark at the Fed Ex truck as it made its way up my long driveway. I never say that about the dogs! I could not wait to get into the box and see my new friend. I was especially excited because I had ordered about six books last night (way too easy to do, by the way) after I found out that Amazon would 'send' my books to my Kindle en route to my home.
What do I think, now that it is out of its box? I love how it feels. It is light, but very sturdy feeling, just like Amazon promised. It is super, super easy to use. I did not look once at the 'get started' instructions that came with it. The books they promised were all there, just waiting for me. I am now dying to pick it up and get reading.
The only drawback so far - I miss the 'flipping through' of the new books. I kind of guessed I would have that feeling. I like to sit and look at my new purchases all stacked up on my counter. I like how books feel and smell. I just like books. I am probably just feeling a little out of joint because my new prize has to sit and charge before I can carry it all over the house while I go about my day.
We will see. It is definitely just what I expected. I just have to get over what it felt like to order paper books! Stay tuned for what I think of using it.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
I catch myself saying things like, "Jill, you are going to be sooo mad at the end of this short story. I can almost predict what you are going to say about it tomorrow." I know how each and every one of my students is going to react to the literature that I put in front of them because I take the time to know each and every one of them from the inside out. I think this is why I do not ever accept 'zero' as a plausible grade. If I do not find out what they know or do not know, I cannot really know them. I also can 'predict' what kind of problems they are going to have, which vocabulary will be new and difficult, why one student loves grammar and the other hates it, etc . . . Taking the time to know them helps me in ways that are too extensive to list here.
Yesterday I was asked by the elementary principal if there were areas of deficiency in the writing of the students who entered junior high. It took me a long time to answer. I sat there, contemplating this very vague question, thinking about each of my students, one by one, trying to make connections between them regarding their writing ability. I did not even consider that I should be thinking about them 'as a class.' I rarely think about my students as a class. That would be doing a great injustice to the individuals that just happen to sit in the same room at the same time and have the same chronological age. Each individual brings with them strengths and weaknesses that can only be discovered by looking at their work and actually KNOWING them as individuals.
Let me explain more:
One of my classes has a child who is very colorblind. When he enters my classroom, I just 'know' that part of what makes him unique is this one aspect of his being. I do not use anything but black and white during instruction in that period. If I happen to, I correct the mistake, even if it means redoing something that took me hours to do in the first place. The other students in the class KNOW him too. They are sure to remind anyone who uses color, to correct her error. There is no stigma attached to this disability because we have all taken the time to know him for who he is, not what color his eyes see.
In the same class, there is a student who is almost exclusively an auditory learner. He has a very difficult time synthesizing written text in silence. He needs to either read the text aloud to himself or have someone else read to him. Because I have taken the time to know him as a person, he trusts me. I can compare his difficulty in visual processing with the color-blindness of his friend. He accepts that this is just a difference in his learning that is the same as needing black and white. The class knows that we do a lot of oral activities for one classmate, just as we worked almost exclusively in black and white for the other. They also jump in when needed. If I do not read an entire passage to them, one of the students will jump in to read aloud. They are also intelligent enough and articulate enough to comment on the fact that reading aloud helps not only the listener to understand, but the reader too.
I could continue on and on with examples of how I accommodate for all of the different learners in my classes. I make accommodations for those with all kinds of learning disabilities, personalities, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, family backgrounds and situations, behavior issues . . . you name it. The ability to make them is directly related to taking the time to know the person first, so he/she knows that the disability is not all I am concerned with.
So why, you may ask, is my Evan at the top of the page? That handsome little face also needs accommodations. Evan has been 'running in the red' on his Dibbles tests since the time they started testing his reading speed. He is not a fluent reader according to the regular tests. Evan will probably never read quickly. Why? He is thinking ALL THE TIME! When I read a book with him, he will stop mid-sentence to predict what is going to happen in the story. He will stop mid-sentence to tell me how the action of the plot is directly related to the title. He will sometimes just stop to think or react. And sometimes, he does stop because he is having a hard time figuring out a word. God forbid he go on until he does!!!
BUT. . .
Evan scores proficient on any reading comprehension test he takes as long as he is allowed the time to finish the reading. He understands, really understands, no matter how painfully slow his reading speed seems to those around him. Isn't that what really matters in the end.
Concentrating on our students as individuals allows us to know them in a way that fosters trust and understanding. It feeds a teaching style and classroom environment that sees disabilities as simple differences. It removes stigmas. It gives each student what they need to succeed.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
I have always been a big believer in accepting late student work. If I do not get the work, then I do not know if the student has learned the concepts I have been teaching. Sure, zeros are easy to make and take no effort to correct, but they really do not tell me anything about the learning that has or has not taken place.
I was really happy to stumble upon Mr. Bibo's approach to late work. He does a wonderful job of rewarding students who get work done early, having consequences for late work, and assuring that he always knows if students are really learning.
Hopefully, I have peeked your interest. You can learn all about this approach at http://calteacherblog.blogspot.com/2009/03/late-work.html . You will be glad you did!
Thanks to http://open.salon.com/blog/sierrasong for the clip art!
I was thrilled to find out that my school district would pay for the purchase of the novels I teach on a yearly basis. In fact, my superintendent has suggested we write a technology grant to pilot a set in my classroom next year.
Until I get it, I cannot tell you if I love, love it or not. So I am wondering . . . what do you all think?
Photo thanks to www.amazon.com.
Monday, March 16, 2009
I dug out some letters I have received over the fourteen years of my career. Each is from one of my students who, for one reason or another, felt the urge to write to me. I find that I, like many people, focus on the negative. I can remember every parent complaint, every talk with the principal or superintendent, every disgruntled so-and-so. I more often forget or push aside the compliments. Stupid, stupid, stupid. (I say that a lot!)
Below is a letter I received sometime in the last 14 years. For even more anonymity, I have left off the name of the student. I will say that this particular student is still in my community and is currently raising a child of his/her own. He/she has turned into a wonderful person who I am proud to say wrote this about me.
Dear Mrs. Mickelson,
I have been going to school for twelve years now, and I have not known a teacher with as much spirit, enthusiasm, and knowledge as you seem to possess. Though I have only had you for two classes and a summer session, I have never learned and been inspired by a teacher quite like you. You always made going to class fun, instead of my usual feeling, dreading English class.
I have picked up many habits from your teaching. One was that I have begun to be aware that if I take the time and really concentrate, I am able to write my reports with real profound meaning. I have also learned how to see what I was reading. I used to be able to just read what the author was saying. Now, I feel I can grasp the true meaning and hidden significance in each book.
Unlike my other teachers, you take the time to take explanations to a whole new level. You did not only explain what we could not understand, but you also added real depth to your words, making us think harder, and realize there was so much more to the words than just what was being read.
It was truly a great experience being in your class.
Letters like this one are the real evaluation. If you have one or hundreds, take them out regularly to remind yourself what you are capable of and why you do this crazy job. Students are the ones who should be doing our evaluations. They are the ones who really know. Period.
Friday, March 13, 2009
For those of you who are from states other than North Dakota, the requirement for teacher evaluation is one written evaluation per year for each teacher who has been teaching more than 3 years (hmmm. I should check that, maybe it is 2 or 5). Anyway, in my case, it is one per year as this is my fourteenth year.
I do not like Yearly Teacher Evaluation Day. I never have. I do not like this one little snapshot of all of the effort and work I put into my job on a daily and monthly and yearly basis. Over the years, I have had many different forms used on me.
Sometimes I was asked to evaluate myself; sometimes I was not.
Sometimes I was shown the sheet ahead of time; sometimes I was not.
Sometimes I was told when the principal would be visiting; sometimes it was just a drop-in.
None of those factors contribute to my liking or disliking being evaluated. Each form is what it is. Each visit is what it is. What I do not like about teacher evaluations is the tiny window of what I do and what I am that it actually evaluates. Most of the time the evaluation is based on one or two visits to my classroom. One time it was based on NO visits to my classroom. Even if you have administration who stop in 6, 7, or 10 times a year to watch and evaluate, they are still getting such a tiny, tiny picture of what you do, who you are, what you believe in, what you expect, how you assess it, etc. etc. etc.
Then it gets put in your personnel file where it is free for public inspection. In the fourteen years that I have been teaching, only two people have asked to see my file. For the most part it just sits in there waiting for me to finally decide to apply at another school, so it can 'effectively' show my next employer what a good teacher I am or am not.
I wish it were different. I wish the evaluation showcased my personal successes and failures. I wish it offered me the opportunity to list my strengths and weaknesses. I wish it then had a suggestion box to help me improve. Would that make me happy? Probably not.
I have only gotten sound improvement advice a few times in my career from my administration. I get some sound advice from my colleagues or from classes I take and books that I read. I have gotten some good suggestions and advice from parents. The best advice I have gotten has always been from my students themselves. They paint the clearest picture of who I am and what I do. They say it best. They know me and my strengths and my weaknesses. They know.
Should my students do my evaluation? Maybe. Part of me rejoices in the idea; part of me shudders! :)
I will keep looking for the answer. For now, here is the 2009 evaluation of Danielle Mickelson (High School English) dated January 24, 2009. (I just now noticed the date. What the heck?!)
Choices for the first 11 statement about my teaching were Y(yes), N(no), or NA(not applicable)
1. Clearly states lesson objectives. Answer on form: Y
2. This teacher speaks clearly. Y
3. This teacher explains things clearly. Y
4. This teacher is stimulating and interesting to listen to. Y
5. Presents material in an organized manner. Y
6. This teacher sets high expectations for students. Y
7. This teacher seems to understand the subject matter. Y
8. This teacher encourages participation. Y
9. This teacher has a sub-folder accessible. Y
10. This teacher uses a variety of instructional methods. Y
11. This teacher is available for students before and after school if assistance is needed. Y
12. This teacher's explanations are: a. ___too technical b.____too simplified c._X_ satisfactory
13. Time spent on lecturing: a.___too much b.__too little c._X_ satisfactory
14. Student time on task: a._X_ Satisfactory b.___ Needs Improvement
Overall Evaluation Statement:
Mrs. Mickelson has done an outstanding job in the use of her "word wall," which is something that all our high school teachers are required to do. Mrs. Mickelson makes use of her word wall in her classes, which makes it valid for her students, rather than just having a bunch of words up in her classroom.
Mrs. Mickelson is active in the state and has worked on both state standards for English and also has worked on the North Dakota State Assessment. Mrs. Mickelson has a very firm grasp of the State Standards and Benchmarks, and uses them on a daily basis for her classroom instruction.
I would encourage Mrs. Mickelson to continue to stress the importance of the standards to her students, and to hold students up to a very high standard in the learning of these standards. I would also encourage Mrs. Mickelson to continue to hold students accountable for staying on task for the whole period, and make sure students are engaging in appropriate conversations that deal directly with the subject matter.
Mrs. Mickelson is very knowledgeable in her subject matter and has a lot to offer the students of Rolla High School. Mrs. Mickelson does a very good job of accommodating for students with disabilities as well as accommodating for the different learning styles of her students. She is the first one to admit when something doesn't go as well as she would have liked, but that doesn't discourage her from expanding the ways in which she presents material to her students.
Signed by me and my principal.
How do I feel about my evaluation? It is an evaluation. Does it accurately evaluate the kind of teacher I am? Yes, in the tiny little window that it looked through.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Many 'experienced' teachers (notice I did not say 'old') assume that if 'we' know about a good resource then 'everyone' knows about that good resource.
While pondering this, I tried to think back to my first year of teaching. All I remember is being pregnant, throwing up, and praying to keep my head above water in the classroom. It could not have been that bad, could it?! I do not remember anyone stopping by with good resources or ideas or websites. That is sad. I really could have used the help.
I will end all this rambling and get to the point. I wanted to share the website for the Purdue Online Writing Lab. The resources at the OWL are seemingly endless; a site worth bookmarking, for sure. http://owl.english.purdue.edu/
Part of what this proves is that local often means better. I feel that the AIMS test would be better if teachers from Arizona wrote the questions. Instead, we end up with McGraw-Hill -created questions that fail to address our state's actual standards.
I found myself responding in a comment that was much too long to say the least. Since I had sooo much to say about it, I thought maybe I should document it here.
To sum up my answer:
While we were reviewing the test questions with the McGraw-Hill representative, we asked if we (the ND English teachers present) could be hired as test writers for McGraw-Hill. The answer was a resounding "Yes!" BUT, we could not write for our own state because that would be a conflict of interest. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
In our tiny neck of the woods we have a county competition called the Knowledge Bowl. Teachers from the curricular areas write 2 or 3 questions each that are put in an ever-increasing pool of questions. The teams from the county compete using questions drawn from the question pool. Rarely do my student report back that they have gotten more than one of my questions during the entire competition.
If teachers from each state were able to write questions specific to their own standards and benchmarks, students would then be assessed on what each state believes is the most important in curriculum and what they 'actually' teach each and every day.
A 'conflict of interest' they call it. Really?! Is it really a conflict of interest to have students assessed by the people who teach them?
Maybe I am just being idealistic. Maybe there really are teachers out there that are so bad that they are not teaching anything during the school day. Maybe there are multitudes of them who know nothing of what should be taught in their curricular areas. Maybe they are completely unable to write a question that accurately assesses the curriculum they teach.
I do know that McGraw-Hill hires teachers from all over the country to write questions for the tests. What I do not understand is why these teachers who are writing cannot simply write for the state they teach in?
Oh yeah, I remember. Conflict of interest. Hmmm.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Back to education.
One thing that I truly believe and always will is that education needs to be 'fair.' I know that there have been times in my own career when a lesson that I have created has been unfair to one student or another.
Sometimes I am too focused on lecturing, at the expense of my creative types.
Sometimes I am too focused on creative writing, at the expense of my technical learners.
I could continue this list, but that is not the point.
What is most important about my growth as an educator is that I recognize these 'truths' and work constantly and consistently to change my preparation and teach in a way that is fair to all.
Fair is when everyone gets the instruction they need to succeed - not when everyone gets the same instruction.
My critics will inevitably be thinking or saying that it is impossible to individualize instruction for each and every student who comes through the classroom door. I agree. It is easier for me than it is for many of my colleagues across the state and nation because my largest class is twenty-one, and my smallest is twelve. I also have the advantage of teaching the same students from the time they are in junior high until graduation.
I am only at a disadvantage in the number of levels I must prepare for each day. During a normal school year, I prepare for grades 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 daily. That is a lot of preparation, especially when small schools are notoriously understaffed in special education areas.
None of this matters. O.K., I will clarify. It does, and it does not. These factors matter in the day to day challenges each and every teacher faces. The factors do not matter when the education of students is concerned. Each of them deserves what they need to be successful. Period.
Do I have all the answers? No way. Do I have some suggestions? Yes. I cannot pretend to know what will make each and every individual teacher a success. I do know what has worked to help me improve, and I want to share.
1. Know the standards and benchmarks. Having a healthy working knowledge of the standards and benchmarks of the curriculum you teach, along with the ones above and below your grade level/levels allows for a consistent scope and sequence of curriculum. I am not saying 'memorize' them word for word. Just be able to attach one or more standards to each lesson you teach. It will keep you grounded.
2. Be open minded to new brain research and actively seek out the new discoveries. Try not to get stuck in the belief that, "If it was good 20 years ago, it is still good now." This may be true, but think of it this way. Would you want the doctor operating on your two year old child who has tragically been diagnosed with a brain tumor to use the technology and resources that were available 20 years ago, or those on the cutting edge today?
3. Try to make a connection that establishes trust and respect with each student that you teach. This is not always easy, believe me! I have learned that common kindness and courtesy go a long way. Students notice when you take the time to say "hello" every time you see them, or reexplain an assignment without any condescension or sarcasm. Study their faces. A face can show understanding, confusion, sickness, worry, fear, or satisfaction. Taking the time to understand how they are feeling on a particular day may make or break the quality and quantity of the work they will do for you. (I do know they should be doing the work for personal benefit, not 'for me,' but many of them do not see it that way.)
4. Take classes whether you need the credit or not. I began writing lesson plans that focus on different kinds of learning and personality styles only after I took 4MAT training. I love 4MAT and recommend it, but there are many different, wonderful planning strategies that can clarify and improve your teaching. Find a class that peeks your interest and take what works for you from it.
5. Work closely with the special education specialists in your school. They know where to find the information you need about your special education students. They can give you strategies to help them that are easy to implement into your daily routine. Many of the accommodations for students with special needs are useful to regular education students.
6. Use authentic assessments.
7. Find assignments that are valid for assessing students of differing levels.
I feel like I am getting long-winded. No, I KNOW I am being long-winded. It is one of my weaknesses. I have other suggestions; I have been trying to improve my teaching for at least 13 years. I have been teaching 14, but I am pretty sure the first year I just tried to survive! :) I will continue and elaborate later. For now, I am off to enjoy my family for the evening.