I Want More Time

As I begin a position at a new school after 18 years, it’s hard enough to get things organized, let alone having to get things organized and begin a new (and unfamiliar) job.  I used to know what to expect in the first few days of inservice training.  I knew when I would have time to set up my classroom and plan the lessons for the first few days of school.  This year is the first year in at least 16 years that I’m not sure what is going to happen on the first day of school.  I feel like a brand new teacher (except I have miles of experience to help me).

Over the last 3 days (and we still have 1 more), I haven’t had a chance to work with my co-teacher to really establish what we are going to do next week when students come back.  We’ve put a lot of time into setting up our classroom space (off contract time, before we were required to be back at school) so that our students can feel welcome in our special education classroom.  We’ve also spent countless hours collaborating online via Google Docs to make sure that our first unit is up-to-speed.  But with all of the meetings and trainings at the beginning of the school year, we don’t have time to finalize our plans.  That must be done on our own time.  And many people don’t realize that teachers work well beyond their contracted time and hours in order to help students or to finalize plans so that things run smoothly.  We want what is best for kids, but with all the villianization of teachers in the headlines, I don’t think people realize this.

We have your child’s interest at heart.  We have your child’s strengths at heart.  We know your child’s weaknesses and work hard to accommodate them.  We are here for your child.  We want your child to succeed.  We are teachers.

Standards Based Grading in a percentage based world

Curiouser and Curiouser

I’m participating in the math blogging initiative and thankfully the list of writing prompts is not intimidating. I could write about how I chose the name for my blog—I am extremely curious and I want my students to be too. But I really want to talk about something else. Something that has piqued my curiosity.

Standards based grading. It’s what I want to implement this year and yet I need to do this within the limitations of our district’s percentage based gradebook reporting system. It appears my colleague from the other middle school and I will be the first in our district to implement it. I’ve been reading blogs and Marzano’s work all summer so I think I know what I’m getting into. But I need your feedback.

I have the formative and summative assessment pieces identified with the standards, I’ve created standards based student goal setting sheets (they can…

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A Reading to Learn Activity Plan: High School Debate

Curriculum Area/Topic:  Current Events topic related to the Olympics for a 10th grade literacy class with small group instruction.

Instructional Strategy:   The Creative Debate strategy allows students to practice their social skills (working together, giving feedback to peers) and it allows them to practice speaking skills (making eye contact, choosing appropriate language, speaking in front of people).  Students are also, of course, working toward meeting Common Core Standards (which aren’t written for special education students who are below grade level like mine, but that’s another conversation entirely).  This reflection strategy is useful because it gives students more realistic practice in an important life skill:  supporting opinions with facts.  Most of my students like to say “because” when asked “why”; I prefer that they learn to give good reasons based on facts and understanding.

Goals and Objectives:

The Common Core states that 10th grade students will present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance and style are appropriate to purpose, audience and task (SL.9-10.4).  It also states that 10th grade students will write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence (W.0-10.1) and they will produce clear and coherent writing…(W.9-10.4).  So the objectives of this lesson are as follows:

  1. Students will find evidence from the text which supports their side of the issue.
  2. Students will write a brief summary stating their side of the issue; the summary will contain clear, concise writing with logical and supporting evidence, and it will contain proper grammar, usage and mechanics.
  3. Students will present their side of the debate in front of a class using clear, concise and logical information.

Prerequisites:  Students should already be familiar with the 2 articles and their subject matter due to class work and discussion in previous classes including vocabulary work, main idea/topic work, and gathering supporting details for a class summary of the articles.

Procedures:

  1. Each student will have a copy of each of the articles:  “The Waste and Corruption of Vladimir Putin’s 2014 Olympics” and “The Elusive Economic Lift of the Olympics
  2. Tell students that it is now time to prepare for and debate a major issue set forth in the Vladimir Putin article. Give them the debate sides:  Russia wasted money on the Olympics, or The money Russia spent will help bring an economic boom to the economy.  Tell them which side they will defend and organize the students into two teams.  Go over the grading rubric for the debate.
  3. Give students each a graphic organizer to help them keep track of information that will support their side (see “materials to prepare”). Indicate additional resources students can use to find more support for their side:
    1. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-06/russians-rue-economy-as-most-expensive-olympics-begin-at-sochi.html
    2. http://www.businessinsider.com/economics-sochi-olympics-2014-2
    3. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/27/putin-s-olympic-shame.html
    4. http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2014/01/25/russian_president_vladimir_putins_50billion_olympic_games.html
  1. Students will review the information they already have and they will find information that supports their side of the debate and enter it into their debate preparation graphic organizers. Students will work as a group to find information, but will each complete their own graphic organizers.  For students who need extra support, teachers can scribe.  The teachers should circulate and check-in with teams to make sure they are getting enough relevant information to support their topic and that they are adequately summarizing it.  This part of the lesson will likely take an entire class period.
  2. When the organizers are completed each student will be given notecards to use during the debate; they can complete them as follows (or in a way more comfortable for them—though I find that my students like to be told how to organize because they never learned how):
    1. Opening statement (front) Ending statement (back)
    2. 3 cards: Major point with supporting facts (front) Major point with facts (back)
    3. Points the opposition might use (front) counterarguments and rebuttals (back)
  3. Allow time for practice (each team in a separate space working with a teacher). Students can adjust their debate points based on teacher feedback.  Steps 5+6 will likely take another whole class period to prepare.
  4. The two teams will present their debate in front of teachers and students from another class. For students with significant anxiety, they can present their arguments individually to the teacher and will become part of the audience during the debate. Tell students how the debate will progress:
    1. First each side will begin with an opening statement
    2. The “wasted $” side will begin with 3-5 minutes to make their major points
    3. The “economic boom” side will make their major points (3-5 minutes)
    4. The “wasted $” side will make counterarguments (3 mins)
    5. The “economic boom” side will make counterarguments (3 mins)
    6. Rebuttals will continue as necessary
    7. Each side will end with a closing statement
  5. Once the debate is completed, the audience will each complete a scoring rubric.
  6. Students will write a brief summary of their side of the issue in a well-written short essay that has proper grammar, usage and mechanics (homework).
  7. Students who wish to complete “make-up” work (because they have been absent) or who wish to earn extra credit can do a write up for the opposing side.

Assessment:

The students will be assessed based on completion of the scoring rubric by the audience.  The teacher will also have completed a scoring rubric during the presentation.  The students will also be assessed on their short writing piece (whether their arguments were logical and well supported as well as for proper English conventions of writing).

Materials to Prepare:

Graphic organizer (outline) for debate preparation:

My side of the issue is:

5 points that support my side (each point has 1 fact to prove it):

5 points the opposition might say:

Counterpoints (facts I can use against the opposition):

Debate Scoring Rubric (PDF)

Common Core and Special Education

I hope that as more and more research is done on reading and writing that we use our common sense about it.  It is, in some ways, regrettable that there is so much standardized testing and assessment because it shifts the importance of learning from “becoming a good person in society and making good decisions” to “making sure students meet the standard.”  I believe that the research we do sometimes ends up having a negative effect because we see all these things that need to be done and in order to do them we have to hold people accountable so we put qualifications and standards in place that seem arbitrary sometimes.  We lose sight of “the student” while nit-picking details and making comparisons.  We forget to ask ourselves, “How can society as a whole contribute to making children the best possible people they can be?”   Instead we put pressure on teachers to “bring children up to snuff” and we fit them into molds they might not fit into.   We blame teachers and wonder why they need more money when they work in a “failing school.”  Until we see education as one small piece of child-rearing, of making a child ready for society, then we aren’t going to make huge changes in our population.

We also need to maintain our focus on children as individuals; not every standard fits every child—some children are more emotional than others, some more delicate, some more rigid.  Education can’t end up being so “cookie-cutter” that every child is seen as a carbon copy who needs to fit in, meet a standard or otherwise get special help.

Special education costs are rising all the time as we fine-tune and re-assess.  Does this need to happen? We’re at a point now where new laws have made it tougher for children to be identified as special education in order to keep costs down—this just makes these children fall behind because they don’t get the help they need early on.  I hope in my lifetime that special education isn’t special education anymore—that all education is special, individualized for each child–where smaller schools are set up that meet certain needs rather than having schools like we do now where everyone must fit or be taken out.

Everyone needs a place to belong and if it is quite apparent that school isn’t where one belongs, they’ll find a different place, usually a negative one.  A lot of special education can be “cured” by proper teacher training and enough money in education to train and hire the right people for the job.  Without a whole community’s support to help children grow and help people overcome their difficulties, then we’re going to continue to blame each other and then wonder why all these great standards, expectations and assessments aren’t making us a more literate nation.

ELL:  Equity and Excellence and the Common Core

When teachers work with a population of students (be they low SES, new Americans etc…) they need to have cultural sensitivity and they need to understand where the child comes from and how that affects how they learn.  The teacher is one of the most important factors to helping kids become more literate.   It is also important to remember that teaching a child is not just the job of the teacher; the parents and the community need to be part of the equation as well.  It’s like a tri-pod:  one leg is the parent, one is the teacher, and one is the community–the student is the “camera” on top being supported by the three legs.  If everyone is working together then a child is being educated better and will become more literate.

In our school district we have partnered with a neighboring district and the two school communities to help bring equity and excellence to our schools (www.partnershipvt.org).  The goal is to create equitable curriculum and education practices that take cultural backgrounds into account and prepare Americans and New Americans for high school graduation and beyond.  Further, teachers are trained in equity where we talk about issues related to diversity and tolerance, and we are given training in biases in order to better understand them, so that all students can feel safe and respected, and so that we, as teachers, can provide a bias-free classroom.  Historically there have been huge bullying issues among students of different races, backgrounds, and cultures, and there has been discrimination toward students by teachers; those problems are not completely gone now, but teachers have been trained to address it–not ignore it or think its “normal.”  When there is a general feeling of safety in a school then kids are more able to attend to their learning.  You can be the best teacher in the world, but if your classroom isn’t a “safe” space, then the anxiety a student feels will block him/her from being the best learner they can be.

Neuman, Copple, and Bredekamp state that very early in life: “Children learn to use symbols, combining their oral language, pictures, print, and play into a coherent mixed medium and creating and communicating meanings in a variety of ways.”   What we need to remember is that a child can be literate in their native language and we should be measuring their progress in reading and writing in that native language.  An ELL child should be immersed in English, but we shouldn’t test their literacy in it until they’ve had several years of instruction and immersion in it.  Literacy is extremely important and being literate in the language of the country you live in is beneficial, but remember that individual students need to feel safe and respected and teachers need to treat students equitably and they need to be properly trained to work with students from different cultures and backgrounds.

Common Core and Special Education

I refer to the Common Core Standards quite frequently with my students to show them exactly why they do the activities I have them do.  I also do progress reports for students bi-weekly (since we have parent-teacher meetings every two weeks) so parents can get feedback about how their child is progressing and I am able to show parents the standards.  My students are all on IEP’s so I also have to keep track of reading comprehension goals that they have; at my school we (the teachers) have worked on developing reading comprehension goals that are realistic but that also support Common Core standards.

Helping my students meet standards is difficult.  Many of them have reading levels significantly below grade level (4th or 5th grade on average with some students at 1st and 2nd grade).  Having them meet high school standards (or middle school standards for those in middle school) can be significantly daunting.  If we didn’t have one-size-fits-all expectations then students could show that they are progressing.  For example, if a student can choose details from a text at their instructional level which support his/her thinking then that, to me, is just as good as being able to do that from a text at his/her grade level.  The student has shown me that she can do the skill so has met the standard.  Working with the student to help increase their reading level is still a good idea, but it’s not realistic to think that a student who reads at the 2nd grade level in 10th grade is ever going to read 10th grade material–not without significant intervention that takes away time needed for learning other school subjects.  By the time a student is in high school he or she has learned many accommodations for reading and writing.  Many teachers use audio books or audio formats to reach these students because a student can show comprehension and understanding without having to read a 10th grade text (for example), and students can dictate into software like Dragon in order to get their thinking across in writing.   Students can be thinkers and can participate in discussions without being “literate” according to the Common Core.