Friday, June 30, 2006

It's Friday Night, and I have a whole summer-long weekend

It's still weird.

Right now I've sort-of adjusted to not being in school because it feels like a weekend. So roundabout next week things will get strange-feeling again. Find out more in this funny and true post.

On Wednesday afternoon, at least partly to distract me from teaching thoughts, I took my online math final. I am proud to report that I scored 38/40! Along with my other scores, that means I will receive an A in math for the first time in eighth grade....fitting because this class was about on that level. Nice. And I'm done with math, for reals now!

Four more classes of grad school left, too. Wow. Yet another thing to get used to is never having to be in class again. And not seeing all my fellow Fellows. It's been TWO YEARS! People in my group have gotten engaged, married, and had children. And every new semester we catch up on life and teaching. We have shared learning, annoyance, and plenty of laughter. There are a lot of really good people in my program. And I'll never see them again, I suppose.

I've been devouring books like a...thirsty person drinks water. Uhh, I suppose I better add "work on figurative language in the blog" to my list of summer to-dos. In the last ten days I've read nine books! It's been fantastic to lose myself in novels instead of school matters. Recently I got hooked on Donna Andrews' fun mystery series. Today I started another Christopher Moore novel. His book Lamb is one of my most favoritest books, and one of the funniest I've ever read. It's way up there in a tight cluster along with A Prayer for Owen Meany (by the inimitable John Irving) and Ordinary People (Judith Guest) on my Top Books of All Time list. Go read them all, and recommend your favorites. (I am intrigued by this "Bookshelf" blog site thing, and may make one of my own soon.)

My legs have been really achy the last couple days. It feels like growing pains, except more in the muscle instead of deep in the bone. And it hurts and I like to whine. Last night it was my right leg hurting. Starting early this morning and getting worse the longer I was on my feet today, my left leg hurts. Boo hoo, waah, etc etc.

This afternoon I attended a teacher event. I will, I hope, write a separate post about it very soon. In the meantime, it was fun to meet pre-service teachers and meet other teachers who want to help new teachers.

I'm going away on Sunday, for two days to Philadelphia for the Fourth. I'm excited for my first trip of the summer! It will be extra special.

Have you ever had a mojito? It's a yummy cocktail involving mint leaves, sugar cubes, lime, rum and soda water. Did I mention the yummy? I keep looking forward to having one (...or three) at the weekends during happy hour. Sadly, that has yet to actually happen. Teachers, shall we arrange something?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

It's Over.

I've been home for over an hour already. School is over. Done.

I awoke with a migraine with an especially queasy stomach. It hasn't yet gone away, even though I took some medicine at 7 this morning. I suppose the stomach is perhaps a nerve thing.

I've taught for two whole years. I'm about to complete the Fellows program. I'll be applying for real certification in the fall.

Last year's end was more of a triumph, because I had survived the year, and I had overcome such obstacles.

This year's end has really affected me, most probably because it has so snuck up on me. I feel quite emotional. A bit bereft and confused, to be honest.

I hugged a lot of my students this morning. Lots of them were signing uniform shirts, and they asked me to sign shirts or take pictures with them. I got a few homemade cards and gifts. This year my kids have been really great. Several of them have said they'll miss me, and I believe them. I'm going to miss them! I think I already do!

Earlier I got an instant message from a student who said she misses me already. How adorable is that?

I saw two of my girls in tears this morning as they were filing out, and that got me teared up. I know that I was in no danger of that a year ago.

Tears sprung up as I drove away from my school this morning, and I felt quiet and empty. Unsure of myself and what has happened this year. I just don't know what to do with myself. I'm rather teary again right now, contemplating it.

I cannot express how in denial I feel--how in the world did it get to be the end of June already? To say this year was a whirlwind would be...well, a huge understatement. How did it happen? How did it go so fast? When did I get so attached to my kids? When did I get so confident in myself? When, for pete's sake, did I almost start feeling like a grown up and a real teacher?

Last year, dealing with so many troublemaker students, I had a lot of failures. But I also had a few successes--I got through to a couple of them, and they turned themselves around. Those students saw that I believed in their ability and that I wasn't going to take any lazy crap from them. They got that without me ever saying that, or doing anything. In the fall of last year, no less, when I was frazzled and desperate about everything. Something about my attitude got through to them, eventually, and they came over to 'my side.' I felt really good about those successes, like my first year actually meant something to someone else.

This year, I didn't have that many kids with those problems or issues. I definitely had lazy kids, but they weren't really behavior problems. Smart but lazy. I don't think I really reached any of them. A couple seemed to get better, on their own. I tried to make encouraging comments when I could, but they were more off the cuff and random. No special conferences or phone calls or anything. I suppose they picked up on my attitude of expecting excellence and pushed themselves a bit more. I don't know.

There's this one girl who sometimes has this attitude, and gets lazy. She was the one I started keeping an eye on, and occasionally I'd take her aside to keep her going. She was never the top student in the class, or turned in all her homework, but sometime earlier this year I noticed her putting more effort in. She was a wonderful participant, raising her hand and really trying to do her best. Diligently taking notes and doing group work and making her she was doing her job. I made sure to compliment and encourage her, and this week I gave her a Most Improved Award, and gave her a bit of a talk. She knows that I am proud of her and that I think well of her.

I certainly had some enjoyable relationships with a bunch of kids. Those girls from Class 3 came to my room almost every lunch, the ones who threw me the surprise graduation party, were so sweet. They always wanted to help me, and talk to me, and hang out around me. It's weird; I definitely enjoyed them, but I don't know if I affected them, you know? Maybe they just wanted a place to go other than the lunchroom? Did I make a difference for them? They were all decent to good students on their own. I didn't turn any of them around. Though one of them did have trouble getting work in or just showing up every day on time. She's gotten better at doing her work, and she's very smart and a great writer. I hope she got at least a little more confident in herself, and began to develop a better self image and work ethic that will help her really succeed next year.

As I've been writing this, two more girls have been IMing me. So cute! Such great kids. What in the world will I do without them?

This summer already feels surreal. It's stretching out before me, and it's intimidating. I've said before that I'm not sure what to do, and that I'll have to find things to do and reasons to get up and dressed every day. Last summer breezed by without me knowing much about it. I suppose that I was in class for most of July, and traveling for at least half of August. I definitely didn't do all the things I'd wanted to; I didn't take advantage of all my time. I got very lazy.

This summer should be better, since I've got the boy to do things with. I'll have more reasons to go into the city and do all those free things everyone's always raving about. We'll see how it goes, I guess.

It's over. I still can't believe it. I wonder when the shock will wear off?

A Reminder of What It's All About

I will get things done for America-
-to make our people safer,smarter, and healthier.
I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.
Faced with apathy, I will take action.
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Ever So Close

Three Days of School!

Tomorrow the students will be performing their group plays. Break a leg, kiddies! Tuesday...I suppose we'll do MadLibs and Boggle and such. Wednesday is a half day; I'm thinking that once again they'll have a big assembly. Then it will be time to pack up the rooms and GO HOME! For the WHOLE SUMMER! WHEE!!

I am very excited that--so far--I've got my same classroom for next year. Unpacking plus moving was a huge pain this past September; I'm thrilled to plan for mere unpacking.

I have no idea if there are going to be end-of-year celebrations with my school friends. The staff party was last Thursday and I didn't go. I hope to go out with my two friends N at least, for some margaritas and laughs.

I'm already trying to figure out what to do this summer. I'm doing a week of the UFT workshop with Ralph Fletcher, in mid-July. In late July, I go to Seattle for two weeks. The rest of July I suppose I will:

--catch up on doctor and dentist visits,
--scan pictures,
--post them (lucky you!),
--get into an exercise routine,
--catch up on my Netflix queue,
--think and plan and shop for next year,
--see concerts and shows in the city parks
--hang out with friends
--explore my own neighborhood
--explore the city more
--go to a restaurant with fried pickles
--continue my unofficial Tour of Nachos (with reviews on the as-yet-imaginary't steal it!)
--eat crepes (found several creperies recently!)

Seattle is the only "travel" that I have upcoming. I think I'm too poor to think about it right now. I haven't bought tickets to go anywhere for Thanksgiving or Christmas or February break. I should be getting raises in the early fall, and perhaps I'll let myself start planning.

Have I mentioned this yet here? What I really want to do is travel for several weeks next summer. No school, no real work, other than broadening my own horizons (and walking off some other horizons, if you know what I mean). Take three or four weeks to revisit some European favorites and find some new ones. I doubt I'm spontaneous enough to just wing it; it's too tempting to make a list of all the things and places I want to see. I definitely want to revisit Prague in the summer, exploring more and of course buying more banana chocolate and hazelnut wafers. Then visit Vienna, Budapest, and Munich. Perhaps a jaunt to my old home of Paris. I'd love to re-do Rome and explore more of Greece.

But for now, all that is a pretty pretty daydream for another twelve months.

I really don't want to work this summer. I'm worried about money, though. I'm even more worried that I'll start thinking about part-time work at a coffee shop or something. Back between college and AmeriCorps, FIVE years ago, I swore up and down that I was finished with the green monster (a large corporation whose name rhymes with Bartrucks). It was a good college job but I vowed to move on. Eventually--three years later--I got desperate between the mortgage gig and New York, and went back to the beast for a couple months.

I'm terrified that I'll be bored and poor this summer, and end up going back to the monster. I don't wanna! Keep me away from the apron and steaming milk!

The prospect of teaching and only teaching next is very appealing. No silly grad school to take up time and brain (un)power. I've got the go-ahead to plan for an overnight trip next year, as well as real field day. (If anyone here has planned a real field day in New York [ie, land of blacktop not grass], I'd love to hear about your experience!) My extra thing is going to be the bookroom, and I am psyched.

The department bookroom is, first of all, in a secret, weird location. Second, it's always open. Third, it actually looks like a bomb went off inside it. Books are piled haphazardly, gathering dust. The wide variety of test books, novels, anthologies, and all manner of other resources have been flung all over the shelves and floor. It is a pitiful disgrace.

I had a group of girls bring a stack of old anthologies back up to this alleged bookroom, and they were just as astonished and appalled as I was. They were also eager to help organize it. Isn't that great? Because as messy as I can be, I LOVE to take something apart, make a huge mess, and organize the hell out of it, making it neat and pretty. So it will be a fun project this year. I will take lots of before and during and after pics for you, discerning readers!

It's my last Sunday night of the school year. Wow. Unbelievable. I still can't wrap my brain around it.

On Friday, the students filled out evaluations of the year. Those will be typed and posted soon, along with my own reflections and evaluations of the year. If I can remember anything; it has passed in a giant blur, for which I suppose I should be grateful.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Three and a half days left!! Whee!!
This week at school has been a joke. It's been hot and humid and the kids are being babysat rather than taught.
Monday morning was a 'field day' that once again consisted of five hundred children sitting apathetically in the concrete, fenced-in 'yard', with a handful of bouncy balls or jumpropes to keep them occupied. The teachers just stood around talking to each other. I wasn't so much a fan of that. If I had to be out there, I wanted to do something fun. And I wanted more kids to do something other than just sit and sweat.
So first I joined a game of monkey-in-the-middle started by my AP on the girls' side. Kids drifted away and then I started a game of kickball. Hoo, boy.
I don't know about you, but kickball (along with tetherball and the other kind of four-square) was an integral part of my school recess experience. These kids? Not so much.
They mostly understood about kicking the ball and loosely the running of the (chalk-drawn) bases. I had to stop several times and tell them they had to actually touch the base, not just in the general direction of it. The fielding was a disaster. Every single time it got kicked, I had to yell to "Throw the ball! Get it in! THROW IT!" Argh.
Of course, since I'm cool like this, when I get into things, I start jumping up and down and around, especially when they can make a good play. Usually it never worked because a girl would watch the ball soar over her head, or get it and stand there, or throw it to the wrong base, or throw it at (and miss) the runner. Oh man.
Once again, kids eventually drifted away and we had to stop due to small numbers. But I felt good about getting the girls to do something mildly athletic and more involved than sitting against the fence gossiping.
Tuesday morning, the kids were supposed to stay inside for a movie. But another event was in the auditorium, so back we went outside. Ugh. It was a mere 85 instead of 90. Sheesh. But we got more kickball started almost immediately. The girls were actually coming up to me asking if we could play. Cool! A big crowd started off, and the play definitely got more streamlined, and I did more calling out and reinforcing and jumping around. My voice and throat was starting to feel the strain.
After lunch, our grade did go watch a movie for two periods. Then, last period, what did they do? Yep, they went outside!
Of course, time for more kickball! Most of the same faces, eager to continue their raggedy education of the kicking ball game. I stopped calling fouls; my throat hurt and the girls by then knew when to call on. And the plays started to get good! They didn't get outs necessarily, but they got good at stopping the ball and getting it to a base, usually second, to hold the runner. I highly doubt they understood why it was important, but I was impressed and did lots of praise and encouragement. It was fun. The girls seemed to like it. It's always fun to play with students in a different environment that a classroom.

My throat continued to be a bit scratchy the rest of the day, and then Tuesday evening it blossomed into congestion, a cold given by the otherwise-wonderful special someone.

Wednesday morning, the kids were being babysat by a movie in the auditorium for most of the day. I felt absolutely miserable, and went home after an hour. My throat hurt really badly and my head hurt, and I did not want to waste time sitting at school and trying not to talk to the kids.

I took naps and read at home. Later I had to run an errand, which I wasn't happy about, but it will save me money for my online course and education award.

Today is Thursday, I think. I was feeling marginally better this morning, though still hoarse and weak. I spoke quietly and evenly, as little as possible. I sat on the big stool or at my desk, rather than stand or walk, because my equilibrium is off and several times I've stumbled, trying not to fall over. Nice. I made the kids laugh by blowing my nose and tossing the tissue at the garbage can--and missing by three feet. In the afternoon, my friend Ms B said, "You look..." and covered her face as if blinded. I giggled and said, "What, more white than usual? Yeah..." She laughed and agreed.

I should be at grad school class right now...but I'm not. I still feel weak and I can't stray far from the tissues. Being sick in a stupid class for three stupid hours is not the ticket to feeling better. I've done it several times the last two years, and I am finally allowing myself time for recovery. Hurrah for gumption.

Three and a half days!! Eee!!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Take My Final Exam!

1. Draw the plot chart. Label it. Give definitions for the first and last points.

2. If an ad slogan says, “Everyone is doing it—you should too!”, what kind of ad technique is being used?

3. Choose any two poetry types. For each, give three characteristics.
Type_______________ Type________________
1. 1.
2. 2.
3. 3.

4. Identify the rhyme scheme of this poem:
Today I managed something
That I’ve never done before
I turned in this week’s spelling quiz
And got a perfect score

5. What kind of poem is this?
There once was an old man from Esser
Whose knowledge grew lesser and lesser
It at last grew so small,
He knew nothing at all,
And now he’s a college professor.

6. Write the mnemonic sentence for the parts of speech.

7. Write the parts of speech. Give a definition for EACH. Give examples for FOUR of them.

8. Identify the parts of speech in the following sentences. EACH WORD must be identified. Be specific!

John walked slowly toward me.

She resembles a green monster.

Wow! My cat won a gold medal!

Cats and dogs are friendly animals.

9. Read this short passage:
Pat left all the car windows open. Pat also did not lock the car doors. That night it poured for three hours.

Make an inference about Pat:

Make a prediction for what will happen:

10. What is wrong with this dialogue excerpt? Fix it so it is in correct play script format.

William: walks to door. When will I see you again

11. A book is divided into chapters. What is a play divided into?

12. You pick up a book and look at the back. The story is about a young soldier and a nurse who meet during the War of 1812. What genre bin does it belong to?

13. Identify the type of figurative language in each sentence. For each type, give a definition.

You are the sunshine of my life.
It’s so cold that my fingers have turned to icicles.
His face was as pale as the moon.

14. Decide where each word goes and write it in the blank. NOTE: Not all words in word bank will be used!!
Word bank: they’re, their, college, break, there, where, collage, brake, were, wear

When I go to ______________ I will major in chemistry.

_____________ is _____________ house?

I better get my _____________ fixed; I don’t want to get in a car accident.

What ___________ they doing over _____________?

15. Draw a four square. Fill it out in response to this prompt:
What are the three most important inventions of all time?

Use the four square equation! Remember, a four square should not take very long.

ON THE BACK of this page, write the FIRST TWO PARAGRAPHS of the corresponding essay.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Unit Plan! for sometime this fall

The other day while at class, I wrote out a unit on narrative accounts. I've done it twice already, taught it I mean, but neither was very satisfactory. So this one is more detailed and I included texts to use for specific pieces.

There is so much great children's literature out there that it's almost overwhelming. So, friends, I'd love to hear about specific texts that you use or know of, and what strategy it might be good for. Thanks!

Here goes, enjoy!

Narrative Accounts Unit Plan

Texts Used:
Paper Bag Princess--Robert Munsch
Frog Prince Continued--Jon Scieszka
Fantastic Mr Fox--Roald Dahl
Eleven--Sandra Cisneros
Two Bad Ants--Chris Van Allsburg
The Wretched Stone--Chris Van Allsburg
Harry Potter series--JK Rowling

1. Elements of Plot
Read Frog Prince Continued
What is plot? Discuss plot chart and five points:
Exposition, Rising Action/Conflict, Climax, Falling Action, Resolution

2. Practice Identifying Plot Elements
Read-Aloud Paper Bag Princess and discuss plot together
Identify elements in independent reading books
Use Aladdin/Lion King worksheet

3. Quiz on Plot
Draw chart. Listen to new story and fill in plot chart.

4. Begin read-aloud of Fantastic Mr. Fox
Keep track of plot
(begin characterization)

5. Take note/discuss/write plot elements of other books and movies

6. Use four square to map out plot ideas for students’ own stories. Storyboard the plot in cartoon form.

7. Use knowledge of plot to make predictions
Predicting Fantastic Mr Fox
Option: foreshadowing in The Westing Game?

8. Write new endings of picture books and independent reading books.

9. Write Draft #1.

10. Descriptive/Vivid language
Read aloud Two Bad Ants without pictures
What things did you hear described? How were they described?

11. Types of vivid language
SNOT, figlang, sensory
Practice rewriting boring scenes or descriptions
Practice describing the same thing in opposite ways

12. Identify vivid language
Read aloud Eleven

13. Character Traits
Re-read aloud Paper Bag Princess
What kind of people/How can we describe the characters?
Actions and Statements reveal personality
Come up with personality traits
Describe and define traits
Choose one or two and write a scenario about a character with that trait

14. Analyze characters from books--Making Inferences
Fantastic Mr Fox
Draw pictures
Harry Potter

15. Revise Draft #1 and Write Draft #2
Include vivid language
Use clear character traits

16. Dialogue
Elements, Rules, Punctuation
Macaroni/Comic Books

17. Practice with Sentence Strips/Dictation game

18. Speaker Tags
Same words, different speaker tags create different story atmosphere

19. Quiz on dialogue

20. Revise Draft #2 and Write Draft #3
More descriptive language
Correct dialogue format
Dialogue with purpose

21. Leads
Different types: action, descriptive, dialogue
Practice identifying
Practice Using

22. Revision
First for peer work, then own work
Questions: Can you easily identify the plot?
Does it make sense? Does it move at an appropriate pace?
Can we ‘see’ the main character?

22. Editing/Proofreading
Spelling and grammar
Discuss run-on sentences and fragments (Use grammar books)
Review commas
Review dialogue rules
Comment and mark peer draft then own draft

23. Revise Draft #3 and write Final Draft (#4)
Include Title page and at least one illustration

Rubric elements to evaluate final drafts:
--Complete, identifiable plot
--Plot pace
--Lead technique
--Descriptive language
--Character Traits
--Dialogue format
--Dialogue with purpose
--Free from run-ons and fragments
--No spelling errors
--Typed and neat
--Title page

Friday, June 16, 2006

Woohoo! NOW the end feels near.

We still have a week and a half, but ooh, damn! is it gonna go fast.

Miracle of miracles, on THURSDAY we got information about schedules for next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The first two will be practically half days for my grade. Hurrah!

The rest of the classes/time will be spent writing and typing and hopefully performing plays.

All this week I gave tests. That's FOUR DAYS! Bwahaha, I am so evil. The first two days were the gradewide reading tests--sort of a pre-baseline. My kids took the practice 7th state test. I was actually surprised that they did fairly well on the high-level multiple choice questions. The writing was another story, and the editing...whew, what a disaster.

Yesterday and today I gave my kids a final testing the major things we have covered this year. I'm going to post the questions so you, dear readers, can challenge yourself to middle school academic standards. Heh.

The bad thing about all the testing is the large piles of tests which must be "graded." But happily for us all but most especially my sanity and good teacher standing, I multitasked. While the kids took tests, I graded others. I'm finished with all the first set. And, because I'm a big fat NERD, I made a spreadsheet with a breakdown of those scores, to see which things they did poorly on. I still need to input a few things, and then I'll print it out and give it next year's teacher. Fun for him/her; he/she will probably toss it. But at least I did my part proactively!


In personal news, today marks the two-year anniversary of my move to New York City. Twenty-four months ago today, I lumbered around the Brooklyn subway system--three trains? and all their attendant stairs--with two bags, one of which was large and awkward. I think it took me two or three hours to get to my sublet apartment, and I was extremely sweaty and irritable and tired. It was the first of my Herculean efforts of living in this damn city.

Two years! In one place! AND as a teacher! Holy shit.


Last night immediately after getting home from class, I did three of the six sections of math homework. Yay me! It was fairly easy stuff like prime factorization and exponents and integers and fractions. Some of it I didn't even need to check the book. That was a relief, to know that I had at least some basic skills.

Sadly, this afternoon the internet was out, so I had to wait and hope. I had dinner with my friend N whom I've hardly seen lately, which was fun. Then when I got home, the internet was back and I got to work on that math. Finally, I completed the other three sections and then took my quiz. Ladies and gentlemen, I got 19 out of 20, which is a 95%. Yay me! I really thought I'd gotten 100, but hey, I'm still happy. I think it's the highest quiz score yet.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Now I feel like a REAL teacher...

This afternoon, during a phone call, a parent threatened me!


More later, perhaps. Not sure if I should rile myself up all over again by rehashing it.

Now I must run to my silly two-days-a-week class. And I didn't even get a snack yet!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Education Carnival Fun!

The Science Goddess (from my homestate!) is hosting this week's festivities, about end-of-year madness. Go check it out!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Already Thinking Ahead

The principal announced this morning that our school has successfully escaped the shackles of the city regulations! We can do our own thing and be more creative in raising student achievement.

I knew this was coming, but of course it's a relief to know that it's actually going to happen. Plus, we got the official go-ahead to begin planning for and with our own curriculum ideas.

Last week I actually began planning for September anyway, after we discussed a pacing calendar for next year in common planning.

Here are my thoughts and theories:

I want to start with and emphasize the basics. These students do NOT have any foundations in spelling, vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar, not to mention the reading deficiencies. So I want to get that going right away.

We'll use an art-like project to introduce the writing process, and we'll use a book like Fantastic Mr Fox--funny, simple clear plot, very short chapters--to introduce the elements of a story.

Then, every weekend's homework assignment can be to write an essay or creative fiction. Inundate them with writing, and allow them to explore different topics and discover their own writing voice. Then, to make it even better, use the rest of the week to work in the writing process: on Wednesday night do some brainstorming, Thursday do the planning/graphic organizer of choice, over the weekend write the essay/story, Monday night revise and edit, and Tuesday night publish. How awesome is that?

I'm of two minds about this idea: One, that the structure and repetition will be great tools to help the kids grow as writers. I hope to get them to think about a lot of topics and genres of writing. Switching between essays and stories will, I hope, keep them from getting bored and slacky. Working on the process and publishing every night will result in a lot of products, and open the kids' eyes to what writing really entails. Two: that I will get off track and want to have homework that is more relevant to the classwork. But perhaps, since this is the beginning of the year, the work will be these kinds of things? I'm not sure. Also, again with the boredom.

I will give them my fun mnemonic (remember those snooty aardvarks?) and begin work on the parts of speech. I have been SO impressed and proud of my students in the past month or two. I've really been pushing them to know AND apply (see the Bloom's taxonomy??) these basics. By God, it's working! When they master that next year, we can easily move into parts of a sentence (subject-verb agreement, fragments, clauses, all that fun stuff, as well as punctuation quirks). Just imagine how EASY the editing test portion will be! To state it in more educational terms: mastering the knowledge and application will make the evaluation a walk in the park.

(Er, I have a sidebar about that. Keep that in mind.)

We will certainly have lots of word study. Perhaps we'll begin with prefixes and suffixes; they should have at least a rudimentary knowledge of that anyway. Then we can move into Greek and Latin roots. I'm thinking about "Root Families of the Week" to get them to see how these words are already in their lexicon and all around them. As much as I want to get them to learn sophisticated language, I recognize that they first must master the basics and grade level language.

I was conferring with a colleague after the session this afternoon; we were talking about vocabulary and other unit ideas for next year. She brought up the fact that fiction passages are really easy on a test, but the nonfiction passages require more thought and careful attention. So it would be a good idea to do some nonfiction work in the fall--reading test passages for practice, reading real magazine excerpts, and writing some reports. Perhaps build into this with those weekly essays? We can write about people or places or things. We can incorporate other disciplines, like science and social studies.

Once we get good at writing for a purpose, we can really explore stories more. My colleague suggested creating children's picture books, and then linking with a nearby elementary school. They could be matched with classes there and share their own published writing. Since younger kids look up to the older kids, my students would be more intrinsically motivated to push themselves to create a better product to better impress the little ones. Obviously this kind of thing would require a lot of logistical planning and organizing and blah blah blah, but it's pretty damn cool and I suppose I should keep it in my agenda regardless.

Okay, back to my sidebar. I was talking about giving my students a better foundation in the basics, and how that will not only transfer to their everyday writing skills--good lord, we hope--but it will be perfect preparation for their next-year's big test involving proofreading/editing.

Here's the catch--their next-year teacher!

First, I need to admit to a bias--if you're an adult, I expect you to have a firm grasp of the written English language, and that includes not only an appropriately highish-level lexicon but an understanding of mechanics. I don't stand for grown people not knowing the difference between their/there, or lose/loose (holy cow, I see that mistake all the time from adults), or not knowing how to use commas and semicolons.

You can be a good teacher all you want. But in the field of reading and writing, if you teach it, you need to be fluent and talented in it. You need to have your own knowledge that's higher-level and more sophisticated than your students'. I expect you to know how to really read and write, and that includes grammar and sentence structure and literary devices and poetry and punctuation and all that.

Sadly, all English teachers are not created equal. There are people in my department that I don't really 'trust' to impart true content knowledge to the students. They are nice people, probably decent teachers, but I know they won't get the real job done, so to speak. There are only two teachers in the next grade that I do trust--and it's likely both of them will not be on that grade next year. I am really concerned about the welfare of my kids! Their educational welfare, that is. Sure, they'll get by okay. But I'm so worried and annoyed that all my work this year bringing them up to speed (not even grade level here) will go to waste. If I pass my students along to another teacher who would continue where I left off and get deeper into it, and that the year after that, yet another teacher would keep on going with these things, we could achieve true mastery of material. Good writers should be the rule, not the exception.

In this era of test madness, we are raising, and only pretending to educate, an entire generation of people who cannot write or think deeply for themselves. To understate it, I am very concerned. I'm going to do everything I can to counter it; how about you?

Thursday, June 08, 2006


I have--we all have--been really spoiled by once-weekly classes at grad school. Tonight I had to go there AGAIN! Ugh!

As soon as I got home after our professional development-type day, I did my math homework (the second time that I've got it done a day BEFORE it's due! Look at me!). It was not easy. Monday I did logic, and that was all new and strange to me, so I had to really concentrate on it. This time it was number representation, like using other systems (Babylonian or Mayan) and using different bases. I went with it pretty well until I got the part about using division. Problems were like "Change the numeral 362 into base seven." You had to use the calculations for exponents of seven and divide the 362 by the largest seven exponent, and then keep dividing remainders by the next seven exponent. I did NOT get it and got a bit frustrated. Somehow I followed along with the examples and got it done, and it started being slightly less mysterious. But still.

Oh, and I got 9/10 on the logic quiz, but a mere 21/25 on the logic exam. They said two were incomplete? That was weird. Anyway.

So right after finishing the crazy number stuff, I had to leave for class. I was kinda hungry and just not in the mood to be in class. Then I got there and people were all cliquey and chatty and talking about things that were not relevant to the class subject matter. Gah! Shut up already so we can leave!

Sitting in one class for three hours is NOT cool. In undergrad, all my classes were two hours, and I could hardly deal with those. That's why I always had snacks or doodled or something. But three hours? Yikes.

I have said absolutely nothing of value or interest just now. Sorry about that.

Here you go: Less than three weeks of school (teaching)!! Hurrah!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Totally Made My Week

You know what the girls from Class 3 did? The ones who hang out in my room at lunch and help me with things and give me their tater tots? They planned a surprise party for me, for a week. It happened today at lunch, and I really had no idea.

They pulled me into another teacher's room and yelled, "Surprise!" They were all there, with a table piled with goodies--beverages, chips, cookies, donuts, even a little cake with "Congrats Ms --." Decorated balloons were strewn around, and crepe paper streamers, and there was a message written on the board. Someone also bought a tshirt from my college, and they all signed it.

I was so touched! It was really so, so sweet. I gave them a big group hug and took pictures. SO adorable. They like me, they really like me! Aww!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Fun and Smart Lessons!

In the last month or so, I've been going back to the basics: parts of speech and homophones. In this last silly few weeks of school, I'm still working on that. Today we even attempted to cover transitive or intransitive verbs! Eek.

On Monday, I once again told my students that words are like Legos: put small pieces together to make bigger ones. For words, we can use prefixes, roots, and suffixes. I gave them an example on the board. Then I gave each table a bunch of construction paper cards. One color had prefixes, another color had roots (things like 'act', 'geo', 'anim', along with origin and meaning), and a third had suffixes. They were to mix and match and see how many words they could build.

They set to work and it was great! They saw words right away and started playing with the word parts. I had to prompt a few of them to find all the words: if they saw "impossible" then they could also get "possible." Or "possibly" too. But it was definitely successful and the kids seemed to enjoy it.

This lesson was to be a primer lesson for the lesson which I composed while trying to sleep last week. I've noticed all year that the kids have no idea about spelling rules and things, so this lesson is to address that. Better late than never, I say. Enjoy!

Previous lessons: What is a prefix? What is a suffix?

Objective: Students will learn when to double consonants.

Name all the vowels.
Name five consonants.
Name some common suffixes. (ing, ed, er)

Quick review: What are long vowels? Make the sound of the name of the letter. Ee, eye, oo, [you], ai
What are short vowels? Eh, ih, ah, uh, etc

Mini Lesson: Let’s think about certain verbs, that end with a vowel-consonant-vowel. How do you know what to do when you add a suffix—do you double the consonant or not?

Bring two students to front of room. Tell one to be the letter A, and the other to be the letter P. Teacher is the letter E.

When you have a vowel, consonant, followed by the letter E, the E can reach over the consonant and lengthen the vowel to make it a long vowel sound.
Demonstrate reaching over the P and pulling up the A to make it a long vowel.

If there were two consonants in this word, the E would not be able to reach over both of them and the vowel would stay short.

So, when you add a suffix like –ing, that I can do the same thing. Let’s take the word Write. Students to be W, R, I, and T. Teacher is E, shows that the I is a long vowel.

Let’s add the suffix –ing. First we drop the E though.

Bring two more students up to be N and G. Teacher becomes I.

See how the I can still reach over and elongate the first I? That makes the word “write-ing.”

Let’s check our answer. If we put another T in there (doubling the consonant), what happens? One more student to be the T. Look, now as the I in –ing, I can’t reach over both Ts, which leaves the I a short sound. Should “write-ing” sound like “ritt-ing”? No! So we know NOT to double this consonant.

Thus, when you have a word with a LONG vowel sound followed by a consonant and ending with another vowel, you DO NOT double the consonant when adding a suffix.

How about words that end in a short vowel and a consonant?

Four students to be S, P, I, and N.

Let’s add the suffix –ing. Three more students, I, N, G. What’s that I going to do?
Tell the second I to reach over the N and pull on the first I.

Should “spin-ing” sound like “spine-ing”? No! We need another consonant, stat!
Grab another student to be another N. Tell the second I to attempt to reach over both Ns.

Observe, boys and girls! If you have a word with a short vowel sound, keep it short by doubling that consonant!

Your turn: Think of as many words that fit both these rules. Add –ing or –ed or –er suffixes, and decide whether or not to double the consonant.

Once you’ve got a list of a few words, write some sentences that include correctly-spelled suffixed versions of these words. For instance, write a sentence that has the words “spinning” and “writing” in it.

Examples if they need them: Spin, Begin, Cut, Scrap, Run, Ape, Write, Skate, Hate, Bike, Scrape

NOTICE! If it has two consonants at the end, like “jump,” you don’t add or subtract anything! Leave the word and add the suffix letters. “Jumped,” “jumping,” etc.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Congratulations to me!

This morning I attended the commencement exercises for my grad school. Technically I graduate in the summer, since I still have to take another class that starts next week. But they let us walk anyway. Only about five of my cohort classmates were there, but it was a relief to see familiar, friendly faces.

The ceremony itself was kind of blah. One of the Senators spoke briefly; his theme was "Go For It!." Also, Canadian military guy spoke. He'd been involved in the Rwanda 'peacekeeping' efforts, and his theme/motto was that "All humans are human. No one person is more human than another." I definitely agree, and there are definitely lots of thoughts and analysis to be done with the statement. If anyone wants to get started, go ahead. :)

The other reason I'm congratulating myself (Note to Universe: Don't worry, this is not hubris, this is merely celebration) is the math. My online math course has now gone for about a week. As you recall, the first chapter homework and quiz was due on Friday. Chapter 2 homework and quiz was due yesterday, Wednesday. Not wanting to break my productive streak last week, not only did I complete my report cards on Monday morning--two days early--but I also did three of the five chapter two sections!

Yesterday evening, I got home at 6pm. The internet was down! I could not deal and I was trying not to freak out when I remembered the rest of the math was due. Eek! Thankfully, around 9pm it came back on and I got right to work. I completed the last of the homework sections and then I took the quiz. Sadly, I only got 11/13. But that's a solid B that's mixed with my chapter 1 100%.

Today was Test #1! I just finished it. It was thirty questions and I got four wrong. I wish I knew how to review the answers so I could 'fix' it in my head and not get them wrong anymore. But anyway, that's still an 86% on the test. With the homework, quizzes and test, my grade is currently an 89%! That is pretty great for someone who hasn't gotten an A in math since eighth grade. PLUS, the two lowest quiz grades and the one lowest test score will be dropped. So things are looking good indeed!

My mom arrived safely last night. I was so excited to show off my awesome apartment (the rest of you will be seeing it in a couple weeks!), and she indeed loves it and is so impressed with the size of it and the furnishing that I've done. Hurrah!

In an hour or so, we're going into the city for dinner at a new restaurant. Fun times for celebration!