Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Readicide Book Study, Chapter 3. No, Really, It's Not You; It's Me.

This chapter tackled what individual teachers do, within their classrooms, to cause Readicide.

This is where it shows that the author's a high school teacher; his students have had several more years' of practice reading novels, and so one might assume that they don't really need instruction like our elementary-aged kids would. On the flip side, his students have also had more years to solidify their expectations of how a school novel works, all chopped up, and I imagine some wouldn't have the foggiest what to do if they had to manage on their own, which is  a point Gallagher didn't address.  Learned helplessness and all that.

He describes his district's pacing guide for To Kill A Mockingbird, a 122-page document of every aspect that could be taught with the book, ever. We have unit pacing guides from the county, too, but they're much more general. Still, when a former teacher mentioned to our county literacy person that she was taking a long time with a book because she was trying to do everything on the guide, the literacy guru looked at her funny and said, "You know you're supposed to pick and choose from that, right?" Obviously, she didn't.

Thankfully, in our county,  literacy instruction isn't a who-can-use-the-most-stickies contest. We're expected to adapt our instruction to our needs. That's not to say it's a free-for-all; downtown's also very into TCRWP, but if your classroom is happy and active and your kids are doing well, you're deemed intelligent enough to paddle your own canoe. If you find yourself up the proverbial creek without a paddle, there's help.

I've mentioned before, I've got a high-schooler at home (He just finished his sophomore year.) who had his English class this past semester, and his teacher was also reading Readicide. He had implemented a solid half-hour of daily recreational reading time into his block. It was a hit, at least at our house. I know he's read at least one class novel, The Book Thief, and a Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar,  so I asked said child how they had been taught. His answer, "He pretty much just let us read them. He'd give us questions, sometimes, to make sure we were reading, but that was about it." Not entirely true; I remember his writing an essay at the end. His self-selected topic was how the change in narrator (from Death in the book to a character in the movie) really damaged the story. I asked if, being a teacher's kid, he thought just letting a class read was an effective teaching strategy. He answered that it was. "I was reading anyway. It's a good book. I mean, it's an honors class; you shouldn't need to have your hand held. I imagine some of the lower classes might need more of that, but we shouldn't."

Which brings us to the real point. In the end, we need to make mindful choices about what and how we teach. If we, as teachers, expect to just follow along without picking and choosing, holding the county's hand while we hold our students', how do any of us expect to teach anything well?

Gallagher goes on to illustrate how he's met teachers across the country making well-intentioned but very poor instructional choices and asking him why they were failing to engage their kids. It must have been horrifying, especially since some of those choices were serious miscues taken from his own advice. (One teacher applied a single strategy from another of the author's books in every single teaching situation, and her kids hated it.) You're left wondering how he responded.

I once had a professor who said regularly, "Curriculum is what happens when the door is closed." It's your classroom. Own it. Make choices based on the needs of each year's/section's needs. Work so that your kids love being in your class because they're engaged, trusted, and growing; the rest will come.

When your lesson plans are so crowded that you hate writing them, chances are, the kids will hate doing the work. If you feel yourself getting lazy, or fried, make a change, look for a new spin, hang out with some young teachers, take a break if you have to. (A friend from down the hall is taking a year to do some missionary work. While she's excited for the opportunity, she's just as relieved by the belief that she'll like teaching again when she comes back.) If your teaching choices are closing more minds than they're opening, dude, you're doing it wrong. You're committing readicide, mathicide, and everything else-icide. (If you're an elementary teacher, you get it all! There's a thought that should really scare the author!)

This chapter focused on what not to do; next time, there will be more solution. I'm looking forward to it.

Next up on the hop is our Whimsical Teacher, Jessica!
Is this your first stop on the hop! Back up the truck! You've missed a few! Begin at the Research-Based Classroom

Adapting Mentor Sentences for Big Kids

While cruising Pinterest not too long ago, I came across this blog post about using mentor sentences as a means of teaching grammar and mechanics in context. As a bonus, kids get close practice with writer's craft, something that has quite fallen by the wayside in my class, since in North Carolina, fifth graders get an extra state test, one in science.

I was intrigued. The work would only take a few minutes each day, offered consistent practice, and came from the kids' favorite texts. I was sold. Too bad the examples I found were meant for younger kids.

So, I got to work. Found some great lines from the books my kids love best and adapted them into Mentor Sentences for Big Kids. I did them up interactive-notebook style because so many upper elementary/middle school kids put everything into notebooks.

Each week's practice begins with a chance to look closely at the sentence with a critical eye. Why is it a 'good' sentence? What's interesting? What techniques were used? The next two opportunities focus on grammar and mechanics. Why the comma there? What kinds of words are used? Can you tell the point of view? Finally, children use a scaffold to create a similar sentence and the next day, a chance to revise it.
I added in an optional bit of notebook notes that relate to at least one of the items on the right-hand side of the notebook. They're on a separate sheet, so you can leave them off, if you like.

The right hand side has four flaps and the work beneath. The top flap on this one directed kids to circle the nouns.
I'm excited about using them this year! If you'd like a taste of Mentor Sentences for Big Kids, I did up a fun freebie. Just click on the image.
If you're ready to jump right in, you can find the first nine weeks' worth by clicking this set:
Now, to keep digging for more great sentences. I'm all up for suggestions...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Cheap Thrills: Upcycling White Boards into Lap Desks

I teach in the South. Therefore, I must be cheap.(Lol, sort of.)

My bouncy bunch loves to work around the room, and they certainly do better that way. They don't always love using clipboards, though, and as a lefty, I totally get that. (We had an inordinate number of lefties in this class, 26 people, counting me, and 5 of us are lefties, and one is quite ambidextrous.) The stupid giant metal clip thingy is always in the way. I typically use them upside-down, which gets me funny looks, sometimes, from the staff at the doctor's office.

So I was looking for a way to make some inexpensive lap desks. Plywood would be heavy and have splinters, and frankly, I didn't want that big a project. Then I cleaned out a classroom closet to move rooms and found where I'd chucked some really beat-down, old whiteboards. Bingo!

I coated one side with chalkboard spray paint and put washi tape around the edges. (Ditched the dotted stuff after one; chevrons looked better and was a wider tape.)

Then I flipped them over and hot-glued the edge of the right side (the patterned side) of a cute piece of fabric to the underside of the board.
I gave that a couple of minutes to cool and to set, then made a fold to glue down the next side. The fold makes sure that I'm still gluing the right side to the board's bottom and gives me room for the stuffing.

I did the same thing with the bottom seam, then sacrificed an old, ratty pillow that was on the guest bed for its stuffing. When I was done stuffing, I tucked under the fabric for the last side and glued.

Ta-da! Since I already had the paint and the tape, I only had to spend for the fabric, which was about $8 at Hobby Lobby and enough to make eight. If you had to buy paint, a can's about $4 at Lowe's and the washi tape was at Target for about $3. A second pillow was sacrificed, but nobody's going to miss it.

Cheap and easy! The kids are going to love them!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Readicide Book Study, Chapter Two: Laying Blame

Our second chapter outlines the three main causes for Readicide and some suggestions for what can be done.

1. There aren't enough high-interest books available for the kids to read. The author is a high school teacher, and that may be the case there. However, most elementary teachers I know work their butts (and their budgets) off perfecting their classroom libraries. I've invested more heavily, lately, in my book club sets than in my library, and maybe it's time to shift focus again. Truth, books are expensive. The author is all about Scholastic, but, frankly, the book club monthlies have had a lot more fluff and far less real literature over the years. It used to be (Yes, I'm dating myself...) that Scholastic had more academic stuff and Troll had the charm bracelets and the 'Movie Companion Editions'.
     However, Scholastic's book fairs have better stuff, and twice a year, they open their book fair distribution center for a monster half-price sale. In Charlotte, that's the second week of December and the beginning of May. If you're interested in finding out when and where your city hosts this sale, click here. You'll want to save up.
     I also need to put more effort into finding out what's new. A.J., now in high school, has grown past the chapter books of the middle grades, so I'm not so on top of the bestest/hottest books as I once was. I've started following some media specialists on Twitter (@MrSchuReads and @pernilleripp ) to help with that.

2. Challenging Material Is Being Removed to Make Room for Test Prep.  Top five reasons it's worth it to have your own. You'll get my Bridge to Terabithia when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. 'Nuff  said..

3.  Students Are Not Doing Enough Reading In School. Again, in elementary, we often do provide SSR time. When I was a  young teacher, we were expected to read along with the kids, but now I use the time to (Okay, yes, to check email.) and do my conferencing. A.J.'s high school is on a 4x2 block system, so classes are an hour and a half long. His English teacher, Mr. Cole, had them reading at least half an hour a day in class, and I love him for it. For the first time since A.J. left elementary, he was reading again, and reading a lot. Better yet, he found out that he still likes to read. Getting time to in which he has no choice but to read has done wonders for his reading life and his intellectual curiosity.

... and now, here's where I get evil. Feel free to get out your flame guns. I probably have it coming, but I'm going to go ahead and throw this out here. I think there's a fourth reason. Or maybe it's just a subgroup of why number two actually happens.

4. We've got some people in the classroom for the wrong reasons. I went to college with a few girls who barely squeaked Cs out of their methods classes and had to retake their NTEs (For reference, we older teachers took those, rather than Praxis. They were sadly easy, thus the change.) because they didn't want to put in the effort to understand theory or even content; they just wanted to make cute things.  I've actually heard someone say that and seen heads nod in agreement.  At the other end of the spectrum, some people teach because they were the Gold Star Students. They thrive on the order of school and the Attagirl that comes from following the rules. They'll support any and everything downtown does because they're scared of disappointing the Powers That Be. These are the ones who privately lament the increased focus on testing, while outwardly riding the bandwagon. They fear disapproval so much (and, they'll claim, for their jobs, but I've been teaching 22 years in a dadgummed non-union state, and I've never, ever seen any teacher actually get fired) that they'll do anything to avoid it. If you find yourself having to fight for what's right and good for children, you've got to fight these teachers, too, and that's not OK. (You, dear reader, are surely not one of these, because you've picked up a copy of Readicide, which means you're a bit of a subversive yourself. Good for you.)

Okay, rant's over. I'll go put out the fires, now...

And while I'm doing that, you're off to visit with The Whimsical Teacher!

Is this your first stop? You've missed a lot! Start at the beginning,  here.

Want to follow along? Join us! The schedule:
Next week, we'll look at some more contributing factors to Readicide. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

TpT Sellers Challenge: Why do I TpT?

Lots of teachers earn a little extra through selling at Teachers Pay Teachers.  What motivates us? Well, I think we all start in the same place... when I switched majors from Economics (I was going into corporate law.) to Elementary Education, I told my shocked parents, "Yeah. Now I'm going to have to marry well." That didn't work out, either. ;)

We all know that teaching pays peanuts, especially in the South, and especially in North Carolina, which spends a notoriously small amount on education. Not only are we paid poorly compared to our counterparts across America, our budget per pupil for textbooks is $15 per kid. Nope, That's not a typo. I haven't had textbooks of any kind for years. Though we've got an OK bookroom for novels, we buy our own in addition, and either get our work from places like CommonCoreSheets.com or Teachers Pay Teachers or make up our own. Eventually, it made sense to start selling.

Our weekly challenge for the TpT seller's challenge was to blog about what it is we're working toward by selling. Mine's pretty modest. Looks a little like this:

Meet A.J., my own big kid. He's a rising junior this summer, and while he's got a job (works at the movie theater) his expenses are increasing. It's time for him to drive, and Heaven knows college is looming. I want him to be able to do the things the others kids at his school do and I want for him to be able to get his undergrad. without taking on a ton of student debt.

I know it's not as exciting as trips to Disney (Although, skiing at Whistler is totally on my bucket list, but one thing at a time.) or a number of other way cool things, but that's what matters in my world right now. So here's my fancy, official challenge visual:

Happy New Week. Sell on, TpTers!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Grouping for Differentation Without Losing Your Mind

So, you've decided (or it was decided for you. In our school, we call this being 'voluntold'.) to take on Guided Math, or Math Rotations, or whatever you want to call it. Bottom line is, most of your instruction will take place in small groups. This sounds daunting, but, in the long run, when done well, will make your classroom a more engaging place, better able to meet individual needs. This is a good thing. Now what?

Here's what you don't want to do: In a staff meeting last year, a friend, colleague, and generally competent teacher said - yup, right out loud - "I don't need all of that data crap. I know where my kids are." and in doing so, violated two Cardinal rules. 1. If the bosses ears turn red, for the love of Pete, shut up. Now. and 2. 'Knowing where your kids are' is very subjective and very general. Sure, Andrew is quite a mathematician.  Is he good at every single skill? What about my EC kids? Are they bad at everything? Of course, the answer is no.

In order to group well, you need to get down to the nitty-gritty. You need to know specifics. You need data.

Now, in her defense, this colleague has 3 boys of her own under the age of 7. She's up to her eyeballs, and gathering data is one more #$%& thing she's got to do. What she needed to know is that it doesn't have to be a big deal. It can be easy.

Five Easy Rules for Grouping
1. Keep It Fluid.  You are not grouping for the year, or even the unit. My units are broken down into very small chunks, often a single skill, like Adding and Subtracting Fractions with Different Denominators. I expect my groups to last between 4 and 7 days, and then I'll assess, which means I'll probably regroup. This accomplishes a couple of things, one, it keeps kids where they need to be. You can't build a house on a foundation of sand. If this is a foundational skill or one I know is hit hard on the state test, kids will stay with it until it's under control. Others move on. Two, it keeps everything positive. Finding yourself in a buzzard group from time to time isn't a big deal, because it isn't permanent. In the end, you'll find that pretty much every child will be a red robin, a bluebird, or a buzzard (How's that for a throwback?) at least once, and that makes a big difference in everyone's attitudes. It puts focus on skills, rather than identity.

2. Keep It Short.   It doesn't take 20 problems to know whether or not a kid can already do long division. It takes 3 or 4. Don't make yourself crazy by creating yourself a ton of grading. Again, if you think of your groups as being for a single skill, that's all you've got to collect data for. This also keeps you from spending a boatload of time in assessment.

3. Keep It Simple. See above. Assessments can be a lot of things. Three or four problems on a sheet, a prompt in a notebook ("Write down everything you remember about fractions." or "What does a 6 in this place represent? How do you know?") or even the quiz you plan to give at the end of this skill. (Seriously, they're not going to memorize the answers.) There are plenty of pre-assessments available on TpT, but you really don't need to go to that much trouble and expense to create groups.

4. Keep It Data-Driven. Yes, you'll have kids, and even parents, who will want to know what happened if a kid who's usually an achiever find him/herself in an "I don't get it." group. These conversations always go easier if you can say, "Here's what I noticed when you did your pre. No worries, we'll get it tackled." rather than "Well, I just don't feel like you're getting it." When you talk data, the kids learn to do that, too, and their conversations change. They generalize less. (I'm really good at whole number division, but I need work on dividing fractions." vs. "I suck at math.")

5. Personality Does Play In. The number of high/middle/low groups is likely to differ as you go through the curriculum. If I've got two middle groups and two personalities that need separation, obviously that's going to happen. Have I ever bumped a kid up or down a group so that those personalities aren't together? You bet. Not often, but if the grouping is likely to disrupt everyone else, sometimes you've got to do what you've got to do. (You may even have behavior data to support it.)

A Bonus from a Veteran Teacher: Four groups seems to be, in any subject, the most any  one teacher can handle. Any time I (or anyone else I know) tries for five groups, it all goes very wrong. I've attempted it with both math and word study. Five's too many. Just don't go there.

I hope this takes some of the stress out of getting yourself ready to make the jump to differentiated teaching (whichever of its many names you might be using.) Questions? Vet teacher experiences that might help newer teachers get it right? Let me know!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Readicide Book Study: Chapter One. If there's an elephant in the room and everyone talks about it, is it still an elephant?

I'm hopping along with a fabulous group of fifth grade teachers doing a collaborative study of Readicide. It's fairly new and just getting traction (when my copy came in, my high schooler said, "Oh, my English teacher's reading that.") , so it seemed like a great book for bouncing around some ideas. At first, I thought that the author would really just be preaching to the choir, but then I thought about it, and I do know some teachers that would totally disagree with the book's basic premise.

I'm lucky. I work in a district that is very anti-drill and kill. We don't do AR because it promotes one-dimensional comprehension. We have bookrooms loaded with novels but don't have textbooks.I own enough book club sets that if my husband ever finds out how many (and how much I've spent over the years), well ....

Our math department's approach is similar.

Ours is an odd county. A four-lane highway (U.S. 74) run pretty close down the middle.  On the west side of it, where I live, is affluent suburbia. On the east side of it, where I teach, is still country, with large poultry farms, small family farms, and trailer parks populated, mainly, with new immigrants, along with pockets of new, expensive neighborhoods. While my school serves one of those pockets and some surrounding farmland, the schools on either side of us are Title I.

All that to say, our district serves a very diverse population. Our subgroups have subgroups, and even with that, our test scores are among the best in the state.

So why pick up a copy of Readicide?

One, I work in a building where we are allowed the freedom to be who we are and to teach like it. Believe it or not, there are teachers who choose to make their classrooms all about the test scores. What the (Insert your own expletive.)? 

Second, what the author describes as happening in low-income schools is absolutely true. I spent my young years teaching in inner-city schools (Seriously. One showed up in an episode of History Channel's Gangland series.) and this group of children, who live and breathe talk and wordplay, detest reading. If you saw the lesson plans handed down from that county's district people, you'd know why. Isolated skill after isolated skill, selection after selection. Don't think; just bubble, As a result, real reading is just for 'bookworms' or for 'actin' like (you're) white.' and while I'm not normally a conspiracy-theory thinker, a small part of me has always wondered if that isn't on purpose.

Finally, and quite related to the other two, our profession matters, and it's under attack. If we're going to be heard, we have to come correct, with actual facts and statistics. We can't fight a slick, insanely-well funded corporate and government partnership with "That's not nice." and "That's no fun." Nobody cares. There are profits to be made.

It's past time to talk about the elephant, and about the damage it's doing.

Anyone should be able to see that there is a big shift in what American business is all about. The era of manufacturing jobs has ended; there are very few 'We don't pay you to think. Shut up and push your button." jobs left. Why, then, would we educate people to compliance? If we're going to hold our own against the rising economies of Asia and South  America, we have to educate toward innovation and collaboration.  Will our current educational landscape support that? I'm thinking it won't.

So, if I haven't totally depressed you, there's one more stop on the hop! Jessica, The Whimsical Teacher, is next!
If, somehow, this is your first hop page, you'll want to begin at the beginning (in the words of Imogene Herdman). It all begins here, at the home of The Research-Based classroom!

Interested in joining in? Here's our schedule. We'd love to know what you think!