Saturday, February 28, 2009

Testing, testing...Is this thing on??

All year long, I've busted my butt to get my kids to learn fractions, poetry terms, how to draw conclusions, etc., and I know they're learning things. But then, when it came to the district's quarterly tests, it was like nothing had ever entered their heads. Same scores, every time. This time, for whatever reason, they actually made small measures of progress as a class (2%, 6%, etc.) 

However, when they were taking the next day's test, I sat down and analyzed the kids' individual results, and these were the results: 
-18 of 29 kids improved
-9 kids improved by double digits
-Gained a total of 253 percentage points (adding up each individual's gain) 

My biggest excitement was when I realized that my two kids who never try or always give up got the following scores: 
-the first went from a 26 to an 80%
-the second went from a 12 to a 74%
I was thrilled!! I knew both those kids were smart enough to do it, but never tried. Needless to say, I called both their parents and was finally able to give them GOOD news for a change :-) 

The one student just decided to try on the test, for no apparent reason. However, the second one is my giver-upper. He literally refused to learn fractions. Just refused to take in new information!! He just gets SUPER easily overwhelmed and gave up as soon as he got 5 seconds in. This was the reason he ended the quarter with 41 missing assignments. He'd see how much missing work he had and, you guessed it, give up. My mantra to him for the last 3 months has been DON'T GIVE UP. YOU HAVE TO TRY. And periodically, I could get him to learn just one tiny little step here and there, and eventually he got the whole thing, amazingly. Hence, when he came to the test, he actually had a modicum of knowledge and confidence, and did well!! I was so proud.

I've also been really proud of him this week because he's finally attempting to make up his work. If he does it a little at a time, he can focus, not get overwhelmed and get it done. You should have seen his face when he saw his grades at the end of the week and realized he WASN'T failing every subject, for the first time this year! He was thrilled, which thrilled me, because he finally cared! 

It definitely felt like a "good teacher" moment. :-)  


Check out this cool site called PicLits that's kind of a visual version of magnetic poetry. I'm sure I can find out some way to use this in the classroom :-) (Unlike which is still super cool, but I can't figure out a single way to use it in class :-)) Until then, it just looks cool! See what you think-

Friday, February 13, 2009


I was just re-reading some of my previous posts and remembered the one I posted about a student who had made a point of telling other kids not to call names because "we don't do that in here," which is what I always say. It made me sad to remember that, because even though that kid wasn't perfect at that point, now he is a total disaster. 

He has a major anger management thing going on due to an estranged, jailed father (and who knows what else), and at least 3 times a day, I look up to see or hear him threatening someone or calling them horrible, horrible names. It's really awful. (On top of the fact that I have 2 other kids that have their own major issues, but that's a whole nother story.) For instance, today (a half day after conferences before a three day weekend) I gave him some missing work he had to make up, which his mom had requested. He gave me this totally insulted look, like how could I possibly consider making him do work over the long weekend (I told him he should've done them in class in the first place), and then he said that it wasn't his fault that I didn't see his papers when I graded them because they stuck to the other papers. (I told him that doesn't happen with 15 assignments). He took several of the papers and walked away while I went to get another one. I turn around less than a minute later to see him with another kid in a headlock, and didn't let go until I forced him to. I asked the other kid what he had said to set the other kid off and he replied that he hadn't said a thing (which I believe, he's my smartest kid who knows better than to get mixed up with this one). I'm pretty sure he was just mad at me, and took it out on the other kid. I felt bad about that one. 

Another example of the extreme anger and hatefulness inside of him was when I asked him to call his mother about something he was doing wrong after another kid had just used the phone (whom he dislikes). I handed him the phone and he refused to use it until I had "wiped it off" (The first kid to use it has known hygiene issues). He refused several times until he thought I was calling his mom for him. (I wasn't, I was calling the principal.) THEN, he dials and another kid hits his pocket and pipes up, "Hey! Why are you calling me!" So he got caught on that one. He dials again, and this time I take the phone to make sure he's calling mom, and who's voice mail picks up? His own. 

Another time, he was talking about a couple of girls who came in late, and referred to one of them as "that thing." Needless to say, I could go on with the stories. The hatefulness in his voice and disregard (and lack of safety) for others is really disturbing to me. He and his mom wanted him moved out of my class this week, but when mom saw his grades, she realized that that wouldn't solve any problems (which I fully agreed with. I know that if he switched classes, he'd start the same thing all over again. It's not me or the class that is the problem, it's his own issues that are the problem.) So anyway, I definitely have NOT made progress with this one. I know it's an extreme case, but it really does make for very difficult days for me. Hopefully, somewhere down the road, I'll be a better teacher because of this, but right now, it sure doesn't feel like I'm able to help this one be successful...

100% !!!!!

Yay!!!!!! For the first time EVER (in 4 years) I had 100% of my parents show up for parent-teacher conferences!! (including a couple phone conferences). Seriously, in the past, I felt good if I got more than half the parents to come to mid-year conferences. The fall conferences are usually closer to 70% attendance, but 100% is fairly unheard of in our district. I brought home my sign-in sheet and put it on the fridge, this is how proud I am. :-)

I'm fairly certain that two things helped make the difference. The first thing is the student-led conference format. We've been talking about conferences coming up for the last week or two and prepared folders of work they're proud of, work they're not so proud of, grades, self-evaluation, teacher evaluation, test results, and goals for the next quarter. They wrote letters persuading their parents to come, as well as practiced what they would do during conferences, since the kids have to be there as well. And, since they're student-led, it means that the parent and student come in, and the student immediately sits down with the parent and begins their conference. About 10 minutes later, I walk over and look over the goal paper that the student should have completed. (The students write 2 goals in class, and then during the conference the parent and student write a third goal together.) I make sure the goal is useful and offer any sage wisdom I can come up with to support that goal, ask if they have any questions (which they usually don't since the kids have gone through all of the information in their folders) and send them on their way! :-) My favorite thing is that it involves very little work on my part. One of my colleagues whom I love dearly said her agenda for each conference was as follows: 1) Academic talk, 2) Behavior talk, 3) Make them cry, 4) Happy cry, 5) Go home. I don't have the energy for that kind of intensity. She's a redhead though, she can take it. 

And the other thing that helped make conferences successful for me was the brownies (see previous posts). The kids had so much fun making the brownies and were so proud of them, they really WANTED their parents to come to conference (another first). It was so cute watching them point out to their parents which ones they made, and what they did to make them. (The pictures I displayed on the TV of the kids baking brought lots of smiles, too :-)) I had several parents who didn't show up at first, so I called them, and at least twice, the parents said that their child was very upset with them for not getting to their conference on time, after all the work they had gone to. Those parents were very relieved to hear that they could come at a different time. :-) 

So all in all, conferences went really well this time around. Actually, I usually enjoy conferences (except for the fact that I have to work two 12 hour days in a row) because I get to talk to adults and have rational conversations and see kids actually look repentant for once. Like I said, it can be nice, it's just very draining. This time, I didn't feel stressed at all. I was mainly making sure little brothers and sisters didn't tear the place apart, or eat 14 brownies, and the like. :-) So, maybe I'm developing one small area of expertise in this crazy job of teaching :-) Yay!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Chemical Reactions in the Kitchen

Well, parent teacher conferences are coming around again, so in the tradition established by my fall conferences this year, I decided to have the kids make food for conferences. (Hey, it got 93% of my parents there last time, which was a first!) We made decided to make brownies, the kind that DON'T come from a box. (Half the kids didn't know that was possible!) (Disregard my gratuitous use of parentheses.) I was planning on making them in the room, and then having seeing if I could bake them in the home ec room. When I asked the teacher if that was possible, she asked if we just wanted to make them there in the home ec room. This was a total gift and worked SO much better than every other time I've attempted to make food in my own, non-kitchen classroom. 

So, today was brownie day and the kids were thrilled. I foolishly told my co-worker that I expected the kids to have better behavior than usual, because they'd be so excited to be somewhere new and doing something different. (This is actually what happens with the laptops, so I wasn't speaking without good reason to believe that). This morning was crazy and I spent half the morning lecturing the kids about behavior which I DESPISE doing, and am pretty sure I'm no good at doing. 

Anyway, right after lunch, we went over to the home ec room, got everyone set up and ready to go. There were definitely some hiccups, as far as set-up goes, that was my fault. For instance, I didn't realize till this morning that there were only 3 available kitchen set-ups to use, and I had 7 groups making brownies. So, I had to find something else for the others to do while the first half was working, so I had them write a paragraph summarizing the recipe which they'd already read, and then a paragraph about their opinion of how it went. (These are actually skills they need to be able to do on writing assessments--summarize key ideas and justify an opinion with facts.) This worked surprisingly well, and after they finished writing, they (mostly) waited patiently for the others to finish! 

Overall, I was super impressed with the kids. Luckily enough, I did not have to eat my words about their behavior being better (or at least decent) in the kitchen. The home ec teacher was great and had stuff setting out and ready to go for the kids, including aprons and bandanas! The kids were so cute! I was so surprised at how well they worked together in their groups, as well as how they helped out. I had a kid that just started sweeping, without being asked, another who volunteered to help another group with dishes, and another assisting other groups in making sure they were doing things right. 
The only thing I did not anticipate, was how much different it is to have kids mis-measuring when chemical reactions need to take place in order for the whole thing to work! So, I had to be watching like a hawk to make sure that 2 t. of vanilla went in (not 2 Tablespoons) or that they didn't use the 1/3 c. instead of 1/4 c. because they couldn't find the other. The biggest thing I didn't anticipate was when I had one group have an extremely dry batter. They knew it wasn't right and I knew it wasn't right, but we couldn't figure out what they did wrong. Then, I turned around for a second and when I came back, they were trying to figure out how they were going to use the little container of salt to measure of half cup of it!!! I said "No, no, no, no, no!!! You need 1/2 TEASPOON of salt! Wait a minute-is that how you measured the baking powder?" Sure enough, they had put in 1/2 cup of baking powder!!!! Needless to say, that pan just didn't turn out. :-) It was a learning experience right? I felt bad for the kids, because they tried so hard, and were one of my best, smartest groups. Minor misunderstandings can lead to big problems! Oh well, for a first time, 6 out of 7 turned out, so that's not too bad right? :-) The kids had a ball, and even though it was crazy busy for me, it ended up working really well. :-) I'll post some more pix tomorrow. 

It's rarely as bad as I think...

So, today I (finally) had my post-observation meeting with the principal, in which we discuss the observation and go over the formal evaluation form together. I've been too busy to think terribly much about what the whole "pencil in the eye" affair (see previous post), but it has definitely been in the back of my head. I had personally felt like I didn't handle it correctly (that I should have stopped class, wrote him up, and sent him to the office immediately). However, when I mentioned being unsure of how I should have dealt with it in my meeting today, the principal says, "Oh no, I thought you dealt with that beautifully! You had him into the time-out room immediately, and you didn't make a big scene out of it. Half of the kids didn't even know it happened, you kept going with the lesson, and almost no one's learning was disrupted. You did a great job handling that!" I can't even tell you how relieved I was to hear that. On top of that, it's that time of year where I generally begin to feel like a total failure as a teacher, so I really needed to hear that :-) 

And then, bless her heart, she went on to say how I do a wonderful job as a general rule, and that Borman will be lucky if they get to keep me next year and how I'll have a long, successful career as a good teacher :-) (I'm not trying to brag, just trying to make up for all my postings regarding the bad things that happen :-) She actually said these things!) So, that definitely was a high point of my day. It reminds me that no matter how bad I think things are going, its probably not as bad as I originally thought. Maybe I do have some "good teacher" in me yet :-)