Archive for September, 2010

**No student names are displayed in any examples and the examples provided are a mix from several semesters in order to help protect students’ identity**

I have chosen to focus on the overall theme of poverty this semester.

To prepare students for a reading in their textbook about a singe mother on welfare who complains about being discriminated against and who claims that she receives more benefits for her children through welfare than through working (so she does not work), we discuss some general questions about poverty.

I hand out sheets of paper that have one question. Students write their response and then pass the sheet to the next student, and we continue the process for 5-10 minutes. Example (I know the images are kind of difficult to see, but you can click on them to see an enlarged version):

Example 2:

After discussing several of the sheets, I collect them and place them in a class binder that students will be able to view later.

Then, we read the article on the welfare mom aloud together. The students find the article interesting, so they eagerly volunteer to read aloud (I never make students read aloud. Sometimes I will go around the room and tell students that when their turn comes, if they don’t want to read they can just look at the person next to them).

We discuss the article and many students participate in the discussion because welfare and poverty are topics that many of my students can relate to. Women in the class begin talking about not receiving child support, and a male in the class asks, “Can women pay child support?” After finding out that yes, they can, another male remarks that it would be interesting to find the statistics that show how many males are required to pay child support compared with how many woman are required to do so.

These questions and comments show that students are engaged in the discussion and are thinking critically.

The next class, we read an true article written by a social worker who tells about a seventeen-year-old female who is pregnant with her second child, while her first child is already living in foster care. By the end of the article, we discover that the girl has given the second child to foster care and is pregnant yet again. The social worker discusses the impact that magazine advertisements have on teenage girls and contributes to their promiscuity.

Students enjoy the reading but struggle with several of the paragraphs and it becomes apparent to me that some students really have a difficult time decoding and pronouncing certain words. I notice students replacing words with different words that start with the same letter and continue on reading. Most of the time, no one in the class makes any correction. If I am going to make any corrections, I wait until the reader has finished his or her section, and then as I help to summarize the difficult parts, I will say the word correctly.

For our next activity, I rip advertisements from magazines and have students make inferences on what they are able to observe from the photographs and phrases. Several examples are below:

After reviewing their responses, I will put the photograph and several responses on a Power Point and go over them in class. Examples of responses I have included in Power Points include:

“This ad gives men the sense that if they wear this fragrance that they could have the confidence that this man does.”

“That this is the best selling cologne for men and smells better than any others.”

I also give an example of a response that is not an inference (usually I will choose a response from another class so that no one is embarrassed that their incorrect response is displayed):

Is this an inference? –> “Wearing Kenneth Cole Reaction you will live, love, create, and get a good reaction.”
~~
Second example:
Inferences students have made:
“The significance of having a celebrity promote their clothing line is so it could send sale margins through the roof.”
“If you wear H&M you might get Rihanna’s swagger.”
Third example:
Inferences:
“That the Gap rocks!”
“Making it look like the clothes will pop out when you buy the product and it seems like you will enjoy it.”
Example of something that cannot be inferred:
“Buying Gap clothes saves a lot of money for you.”
The lesson continues…but I’ll post more later.
My point in posting this is to show that this type of information will be very helpful in showcasing exactly what teachers are doing in the classroom and how effective the teaching is. I’m not saying my ideas are perfect, but I feel that this type of reporting is necessary in addition to standardized testing.
*Note* I’m not saying that we do away completely with standardized testing. I’m saying that standardized testing alone is not nearly enough.
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According to the Baltimore Sun article, City schools, teacher’s union to end linking pay to years of employment, “A new pay structure could be easily married to the state’s new laws and regulations that require 50 percent of teacher evaluations to be based on student achievement.” Some teachers are enthusiastic about this change because they work hard to improve the quality of education for their students, and they feel their efforts should be rewarded. I entirely agree that better teachers should receive rewards for adequately preparing students for the future.

My problem, which readers may already know if they are familiar with my blog, is that standardized tests do not provide enough information to go by. We should not place such great emphasis on which bubbles students filled in or didn’t fill in. Students may be English as a Second Language Learners, students may move frequently and their scores are not a reflection of the teacher’s efforts, or students may not have enforced bedtimes and they are working on too little sleep. Students may be distracted because they just ended a relationship or they may have test anxiety. I could continue to provide more examples of why students’ scores may not reflect the progress that is taking place in the classroom.

How do we monitor progress then? Deciding that a certain method is not going to work is easy, but providing a working solution is much more difficult. Anybody can complain. Few provide solutions that are not vague. We have been bombarded with education reform conversation lately and the topic has gained a lot of media attention. Unfortunately, only the wealthy are given the opportunity to speak and the advice they are giving is too abstract to be helpful. For example, one new education spokesperson is the musician John Legend. Several comments he made on NBC include, “These kids are our kids.”

“Get involved. Politically get involved.”

“Go to school and tutor.”

We need more details. What do those quotes even mean? The average person is not qualified to just show up and start tutoring a kid. Teaching a subject, such as reading, is very complex and involves much more than simply reading with a child. John Legend’s advice sounds inspirational, but it’s not really helpful because it’s not descriptive enough.

I’ve decided that I’m going to share exactly what I’m working on with my students, including student examples, in my next blog. Then, I’m going to ask them for their feedback on how they think the lessons are going, and I’m going to display that as well. I won’t hide behind vague statements.

Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, recently appeared on Oprah with the mayor and governor of New Jersey, and the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. Following philanthropists such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg decided to join the club and dump $100 million into Newark, New Jersey schools. I’m sure his intentions are partially good, but I’ve also heard that he’s trying to shed his bad image that is being portrayed in a new film called The Social Network.

He doesn’t know much about education reform, which is apparent on Oprah as he spends most of the time observing what others on the stage and in the audience have to say. I mention him because his $100 million donation has all the big education rock stars pumped up. The mayor of New Jersey, Cory A. Booker, is immensely pumped, I’m sure, because he who gets the money gets the control, hence the idea of mayoral control of the schools. They talk about this great civil rights movement that is going on right now and how the community needs to step up and help out by doing things like volunteering in schools or mentoring a child. That’s great advice and I mean, nobody is going to disagree with that and say, no, lets not give the kids any extra help.

The problem is that the school system sucks. It’s not like it used to suck and now it’s getting better. It still sucks just as equally as it ever did. I just met a mother of a 9-year-old today who told me her daughter can’t decode words yet is being passed anyway and is in the fourth grade. Sure, the community can step up and help, but let’s not hold them responsible for a system that passes along failing students.

Geoffrey Canada proposed a solution to the problem of students who are say, reading on a 7th grade level but are in the 9th grade (that’s the example he gave on Oprah). He said, let’s extend the school day by one hour. Oprah’s with him on that one, and so is the mayor of New Jersey, and I didn’t hear the guy from Facebook oppose it. Canada’s philosophy is, if teachers aren’t willing to put in the extra time, then they have chosen the wrong career and shouldn’t be teachers. I have a few problems with his reasoning.

One: All of these spokespeople who say it is a teacher’s job to do all of this extra work are making WAY more than teachers. Geoffrey Canada, Oprah, the mayor of NJ, etc are not making $40-$50k per year. Why don’t they try making a teacher’s salary and then reevaluate their statements? I mean, teachers already grade papers, create lessons, call parents, and fall asleep thinking about all of that. Doesn’t all that already count as extra work?

Two: Teachers are responsible for professional development and many take evening graduate classes (like me!). If school hours are extended, teachers will be unable to attend these classes.

Three: Subjecting students to another hour of standardized test-preparation instruction is not going to help them. Also, having a student spend an extra hour in an 11th grade classroom when they are really on a 5th grade level is not going to help them. Instead, we need to provide a variety of material that varies in grade level for students. For example, students in 11th grade should have options to read material that ranges from 5th grade level to 12th grade level. That way all students have material that is accessible to them.

I’d rather extend the school year than extend the school day. I also wouldn’t mind sending students to after-school community programs. Students receive enough institutionalized education. They don’t need any more. We’ve already wasted enough of their time.

A new semester!

Posted: September 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

I have been slacking off with my blog writing, but I do plan to get back into updating this site more frequently. I spent the last two weeks of August in Hawaii with my boyfriend. We stayed with his sister, her husband, and their 4-year-old and 7-year-old son. I was able to learn a little about the Hawaii public education system, and I got the chance to work with both boys on their homework assignments. The 4-year-old (who is in all-day  pre-K at the elementary school) brought home worksheets with letters and sight words. His worksheets were dedicated to specific words, such as “two,” “my,” and “that.” After practicing tracing the word, then writing the word without tracing dots, he was required to write the word in an original sentence. Four-year-olds can’t write original sentences, so he would say a sentence with the new sight word, and then an adult would write the sentence, leaving a blank space for him to fill in the word “my.”

I’m not really a fan of those repetitious worksheets. I understand that young children need a lot of practice with writing letters and words so that they receive plenty of orthographic practice, but I feel like the assignments could be switched up a bit. A lot of kids begin to dislike school at a very young age, and I think part of the reason is that there is too much structure. To me, tracing letters, then writing letters, then cutting letters and pasting them onto the sheet, then writing the word in a complete sentence gets to be too predictable. I believe that some consistency is good though, especially when you’re four. Then the four-year-old builds up the confidence to say, I know this drill. I know exactly what to do without even reading the directions (which is great since four-year-olds say things like, “I can’t even read!”).

I spend hours and hours creating my own lesson plans, my own vocabulary study sheets, etc. for my students. I wouldn’t feel right just copying a bunch of worksheets from a book for them. I like to give my assignments a modern twist and add pictures into my Power Points from sites like Fail Blog to help my students understand concepts. By personalizing my plans, I feel like I am really reaching out to the students and attempting to connect with them on a more intimate level. Sure it’s time consuming, but thus is the life of  an educator.

So I’m teaching four sections of developmental reading this semester and taking two graduate classes. If things fall into place as I would like them to, I’ll be finished with my master’s degree by the end of the summer! If things don’t quite work out that ideally, then I’ll be finished with my master’s by the end of next fall. Then I can decide whether or not to pursue a doctorate!

By the way, enrollment where I teach is up 10% from last fall. The enrollment surge was even featured by WJZ.

Students Flock to Community Colleges in Balt Co.