Friday, February 22, 2013

The Common Core: "Digging Deeper"

In January, I promised myself that I would write every Friday, and find something to reflect on. Today, this discipline seems difficult, and the only words that come to my mind are "digging deeper".

Over the last couple of weeks I have witnessed great progress with my students. However, almost everyday I feel like I am way in the deep end of the pool, sitting on the bottom, my legs crisscrossed like a pre-schooler.  I sit there, and then suddenly realize that I will need oxygen soon. So I awkwardly uncross my legs, throw my arms out wide, and struggle to push my way up. Although deep in the water, I can still see the bright sun above, which gives me hope that soon I will breathe again. However, the closer I get to the top, the further it seems. I want to panic. I want to scream. But, I don't. Deep in that water, despite the struggle, I must remain calm, knowing that I will get there, eventually. I will breathe again.

This feeling comes from the common core. I've worked for several months to learn and break apart the standards. Once I broke them apart I had to put them together again like a puzzle, finding ways to integrate them into my lessons everyday. Each strand takes the students and I deeper and deeper into the content.  As a result, the students are seeing progress and they recognize it. They know their reading and writing is improving, and it is thrilling for them and me as their teacher. Although, I feel overwhelmed most days by the simplicity and complexity of the common core, I do believe in the standards. I just have to learn to feel comfortable sitting at the bottom of the deep end of the pool, and continue to dig deep.

Friday, February 15, 2013

21st Century Skills:Common Core

Common Core Standard 6.W.6 states:Use technology, including the internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact with others, and demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of three pages in a single sitting.

Depending on the background of your students, meeting this standard can be trying at times. However, I believe it is one standard that truly translates into real world, work place knowledge.Over the last two months, I’ve worked diligently to bring my own students up to speed.

·         Blogging: A blog excites students because they love to see their writing published online. It also helps to reinforce the fifth stage of the writing process, which is to publish. It makes the writing process tangible and real. My students type one essay a week in Microsoft Word, and then they publish it to their classroom blog. At first, it took almost the entire class period to type one essay and post. Now, only a couple of months later, many of them finish in thirty minutes or less.

·         Prezi: Prezi is an internet based program that allows students to upload power point presentations, and quickly add in videos, images, and cool graphics. I have my students create a simple power point first with all of their content. Once they have finished, they can upload their power point into their Prezi. Then, they can choose a cool template, upload video, music, and images quickly and easily. They absolutely love it, and the best part is that they can work on it at home as well, if they have internet access, without having to save it to a flash drive.

Students love using technology, and it is vitally important for all students. My only warning to teachers is before attempting these types of projects is to first: plan out every step ahead of time according to your students’ skill level, and to make sure that you get plenty of sleep the night before. Patience is required!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Teacher Man: Enjoyable Read for Educators

Teacher Man, the last memoir written by Frank McCourt, is a timeless read for educators. Being first introduced to the writing of Frank McCourt in 1996 as a sales clerk in a local book store, I read Angela's Ashes in one night.  I absolutely fell in love with the book. His use of language and descriptive writing captivated me.

For years, I did not think of McCourt again until I read Teacher Man as part of my teacher certification program about one year ago. Again, I fell in love. The way in which he describes his first days in the classroom made me laugh, and assured me that all teachers feel inadequate at times in all areas of teaching, especially classroom management.

That being said, the absolute best way to experience McCourt's stories is in the same way his students did:audibly. Due to my constant need to multitask, I often listen to audio books while cleaning my house or folding my family's endless heaps of laundry. McCourt's Irish brogue makes any seemingly boring task a breeze. So, teachers, if you are in need of a fabulous read, I highly recommend Frank McCourt's Teacher Man, in print or audio.

Below is a great article on McCourt and his past students.


Friday, February 8, 2013

No, I Won't Back Down: A New Teacher's Journey to Effective Classroom Management

"Sit down!", "Be Quiet!", "Shhhhh!!!" These desperate commands are often heard in the rooms of beginning teachers. I know that I have used them. In a desperate attempt to seek control of the class new teachers often fall back on these. Even as a student teacher, I often heard the more experienced teachers use them. Albeit effective in the short run, is it the most effective way to manage a classroom?

The tried and true guru of classroom management, Mr. Harry Wong states in his book, The First Days of School:How to be an Effective Teacher, "A teacher who is grossly inadequate in classroom management skills is probably not going to accomplish much." He further states, "The ineffective teachers, each day, become more stressed, burned out, frazzled, negative, cynical. and angry." Wow! This is not what I want. With the desire to become a teacher of excellence, I must understand that the difficulty of managing middle school children will not just happen. Furthermore, I must also understand that creating a great lesson won't magically make them behave either, no matter how many hours I spend on it. There must be a plan, and that plan must be implemented every day and in every class.

This week I reread a book called, Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College. This book speaks to me because it is not full of educational theories. It contains what first year teachers need: techniques. It offers ideas on how to maintain attention, transitions, effective seating arrangements. The book also includes a DVD with clips of master teachers around the country using the techniques in their own classrooms.

After realizing that I needed to gain a stronger foothold with my students I used the "SLANT", "all eyes", "strong voice", "track speaker", and "100 percent" at the beginning of last week, which are all strategies from Teach Like a Champion. Over a period of two to three days we spent time at the beginning of each class going over the techniques and practicing them as a class. Then, I consistently used them each day. So far, I have had great success with it, and we are able to accomplish more during class. Additionally, I began creating a T-chart before each class day, listing exactly what I needed to do on one side, and what the kids needed to be doing on the other side. The t-chart exercise has helped me tremendously to keep the flow going without minor interruptions. The t-chart was in addition to my lesson plan.

Finally, I listened to music to mentally prepare me for the day. My song for this week was "I Won't Back Down" by Tom Petty.

Well I won't back down, no I won't back down
You could stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down

Gonna stand my ground, won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin' me down
Gonna stand my ground and I won't back down

Well I know what's right, I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin' me around
But I'll stand my ground and I won't back down

As the year moves forward I will use these strategies, and continually reflect on their effectiveness.

The resources from this blog post are listed below:

Harry Wong:

Teach Like a Champion:    You Tube Introductory Video to Teach Like a Champion

 Tom Petty song

Friday, February 1, 2013

First Year Teachers: You Gotta Get Up and Try.. Try.. Try..

The title of this post references a song lyric by Pink. I enjoy her music, and most transmit a positive message despite some bad language. The song,"Try" demonstrates how I feel almost daily as a first year teacher.

Where there is a desire
There is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame
Someone's bound to get burned
but just because it burns
Doesn't mean you're gonna die
You've gotta get up and try try try
Gotta get up and try try try
You gotta get up and try try try

Burning inside of me is a strong desire to be a master teacher. Master of content, master of classroom management, master of finding that perfect balance between teacher and mentor. Managing all these elements seems an overwhelming task at times for a first year teacher. I have to take each day as it comes, and meet each new challenge head on.

Furthermore, with this strong desire comes the inevitability of getting burned. It may be from a lesson, that although looked great on paper, fails miserably in the classroom. Or a student, despite being remediated daily, suddenly stops coming to school and is removed from the classroom because of discipline problems. It may be a surprise visit from an administrator that sends you reeling because try as you might to demonstrate your best, you know your flaws are screaming out as loud as thunder in the classroom.

Many times, these trials as a first year teacher can make me feel overwhelmed or leave me wondering, "What am I doing wrong?" However, I believe all new teachers must remember, "Just because it burns...doesn't mean your gonna die. You gotta get up and try.. try.. try. You gotta get up and try.. try.. try."

So, thank you, Pink, for helping me to remember that despite stumbling blocks I must try everyday to be the master teacher that I want to be in the classroom. I just gotta get up and try...try...try.