Sunday, August 26, 2012

I'm a fan of...

This simple activity meets the needs of students who sit in classrooms without air conditioning. Create a fan with two simple pieces- wooden handle and stock card.
I love that the fan's simple technology also allows a school to promote... anything! Clubs, sports, a course like Modern World Studies.  It is a great way to promote student artists or students running for election.  It would also be useful to math teachers, they could print formulas or routine equations, English teachers- poetry, librarians- favorite books... Students could decorate them on their own or vote for the best fan... I love it's simplicity.

They do things different here

I think that the custom of bringing a child to school is wonderful and I am fortunate to be able to have the time and means of transportation to do this. My daughter and I are living 1/2 mile from school. Weather permitting, we bike each day and avoid the chaos of the drive and drop off.  In Vermont, our family would park in Hyde Park village and walk  a short way to school.  The walk was
brief, giving me a mental and physical moment of exercise.  I love holding my daughter's hand and leaving her on a positive note.  Our school in New Mexico does offer a public bus but many parents are able to drop off and pick up.  A small number of students bike and today I discovered a small number of people who can pick up their child by horse.  It isn't done each day but seems to be customary because many students ran to the horse yelling, "we missed you."   

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Aha! Quick literacy assessment to improve practice

When I attend conferences I notice that many of us as educators are eager to share what we are proud of. "I teach this..." or "I always have my students learn...." Seldom do we shoot our hand into the air and draw attention to the lessons that were failures or the methods we have used for years that do not reach all students.  I have been in my new position as a volunteer in the reading room at a public school in New Mexico one day and I am already inspired by this program for emerging readers to think of improvements in my own high school courses.

In preparation for my position as a  testing coordinator I reviewed Jerry Johns' guided Basic Reading Inventory, assessing student levels of literacy pre-primer through grade twelve.  Jerry Johns research into responsive instruction is presented as a means for literacy specialists and classroom teachers to utilize consistent routines that identify where a student is in their knowledge and to help them progress incrementally. Students are evaluated for placement at three reading levels- independent, instructional and frustration. This is determined by assessment of individuals orally reading from word lists and expository passages.

 For the literacy specialist, there are many incremental pieces to put into place to help an individual student. A classroom teacher paying attention to the cues for reading levels will increases the chances of preventing frustration and can intentionally help most students progress with instruction, towards independent reading. I believe this is necessary for students in advanced classes.  I know that I tend to expect advanced students to already be at a level of independence, developing their own strategies for learning. Jerry Johns points to  research of Johnston & Allington (1991) "students are often placed in classrooms with instructional materials too difficult" and that of  Johns (1997) "a serious problem in many classrooms is that a large number of students are asked to read books at frustration levels".  This happens at my school and I am not certain that we intentionally do enough to help all students make that progression.

A simple start for classroom teachers in understanding the levels of reading within the classroom is to begin with the provision of the set word lists present with each lesson or unit.  A simple term list would help identify what knowledge a class has maintained from a previous course and to what adjustments could be made to their learning. The current research of Marzano and Wiggins do not emphasize term lists as a final assessment of student learning.  Lists are indicators and guides towards in depth questions and inquiry. (Go to this page for explanation of the flexibility and strategies for teaching with independent, instructional and frustration levels).

Every time people confront new material or studies they become emergent learners. Students who enjoy their learning and make progress are aware of their own development.  Here are simple steps I would like to intentionally implement in all of the courses I teach.
1. use word lists to identify student familiarity with context and eliminate frustration levels.
2. Build and rebuild rapport. Tell students why they are reviewing lists.  Show them the titles of upcoming readings to allow students to predict or share what the readings might be about. Ask meaningful questions about what strategies they will use to engage in this assignment.
3. Provide warm up reading passages that include terms from the word list for setting context.
4. Offer classroom silent reading time and reflective discussion. No one should ever have to prove they are experts with a first time reading nor should we encourage single reading of any given text.

Jerry Johns Reading Award
ALER awards in literacy
Kendal Hunt publishing- includes Lenski's studies on middle and high school literacy
Parents & community members can promote independent literacy 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Part two. Getting ready for school is.. different...

My daughter enters one of three second grade classrooms and to me, it is obvious that the teacher is unprepared for her.  But great teachers are amazing in so many little ways. I was standing in the presence of an amazing teacher. Later, my husband affirmed that the school website acknowledged her as a recipient of a national award but at the time all I knew was that she looked at us and then directly at my daughter and assured her that she was always ready for one more student.  She made certain that my daughter had the same name tag, the same color desk and chair as everyone else.  She took three minutes to meet and converse with us but gave Kata undivided attention and tasks that immediately involved her in the makeup of the room.  Her name was added to charts that allowed students to leave the room for any emergency.  The room was organized with charts and tidy holders for books or utensils.  It was obvious that students learned routines for organization that then allowed them both the responsibility and freedom to engage in learning at their own pace.  The room was also decorated with grammar charts, mathematical equations and images that would act as self help guides for self editing.  We were assured several times that while a bureaucracy attempts to provide a process for accessing education, the individuals in the schools provide systems for learning that are tried and true.  We gave the front office new copies of the same paperwork used at the Central Office.  When we checked back at the end of the day, all of the information was there.  Schools that seem to work are schools in which individuals make it their mission to know people.  The secretary looked us up in the computer and then was able to look us in the eye, remembering aloud that we were from Vermont and that Marc would not be here during my sabbatical.  She was able to remark that the Fe in Kata's name actually meant  "faith" in Spanish.  The teacher walked her pupils to the front doors for all parents awaiting the end of day pickup. She walked right over and quietly assured us that Kata fit in as if she had lived here all of her life.  Being able to build a relationship instantly is so important in education.  Seeing this from the other side in this unique circumstance was enlightening.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Getting Ready for school is... different here...

The Santa Fe school system is quite extensive. I will volunteer in one public school and my daughter will attend the public school in the neighborhood where I reside. Already I am discovering how different school systems are in different regions of the U.S. For the first time I have discovered how difficult it can be to be an outsider.

Friday, August 10, 2012

simple design

In February of 1948, the JNEMA selected Finnish Architect, Eero Saarinen's design for a monument to America's westward expansion.  Saarinen studied the world's most famous monuments and from their design concluded that "an absolutely simple shape" should have "significance and dignity" throughout time (reference to history displayed upon a wall at the monument). His arch was chosen over more elaborate entries.  And yet, Saarinen wasn't satisfied. He would present many more designs before settling specifically on a catenary arch, which is as high as it is wide. The process of the arch design was more interesting than I ever realized.