Posts Tagged ‘fifth grade’

Keep Reading Aloud !!!!


My school is a “Teacher’s College Project School”, which means that we are all following the strict interpretations of Lucy Calkin’s reading and writing programs.

That wouldn’t be so bad, given that Ms. Calkins knows what she’s talking about, believes in the wonder and magic of the written word, and used to have great respect for actual teachers.

In the world of “TC”, though, we are reduced to such inanities as, “We teach reading strategies, we don’t teach BOOKS.”

Really.

As an old lady teacher and a long time speech/language specialist, I firmly believe that children learn to love great books when they hear them read aloud with passion and excitement.

When my own kids were small, I remember reading “The Hobbit” out loud to them.  They loved it, and couldn’t seem to get enough.  When the book finished, we went on to “The Lord of the Rings”.  I remember, very clearly, closing the book so that I could make dinner.  When I came back into the living room a half hour later, my then 9 year old was reading the rest of the chapter out loud to her little brothers.  “We couldn’t wait”, they explained when I came in to ask what was going on.

I once had a student tell his mom that he wanted to improve his reading skills, “Because someday I want to do “read aloud”.

It’s the best part of the day.  The kids forget the class hierarchy of coolness for those twenty precious minutes. They forget that they are trying desperately to be mature.  Instead, they curl up like a pile of puppies on the rug at my feet.  They listen with such rapt attention that I can’t look away from their sweet faces. They lie still, so unlike their usual bouncing selves.  They plop down together, a head on a stomach, a leg stretched over a leg. They are a beautiful woven fabric of childhood imagination, and my voice is what animates them.

I am nearing the end of my teaching days.

I have only so many “read alouds” left in me.  I have begun to make a list of those books that I simply MUST read to my class.

“The Liberation of Gabriel King”

“Granny Torrelli Makes Soup”

“The One and Only Ivan”

“Heartbeat”

But what about “Tiger Rising”?  And “The Hobbit”?   What about the beauty of “Mr. Lincoln and His Boys”, such a poignant portrayal of war and power?

There are so many wonderful books.  The library is the same rich treasure chest that it was when I first discovered it at the age of 8 with my best friend, Sue.

There are so many beautiful, touching, moving, powerful books.

May every child hear at least one of them read aloud by a loving and attentive adult.

May every child find himself falling in love with the sound of the sounds of the language, and my ever one of them think, “I can write a story, too.”

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So you think we’re exaggerating?


Dear Standardized Testing supporters,

I am writing this post after having spent the past two days administering the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System- Math, Grade 5.

I have a few little anecdotes and insights for you folks, given that you believe all this testing is actually useful.

Let me give you a very brief description of the absurdities of the educational testing world.  If you still believe that High Stakes testing is good for anyone who spends his/her day in a school, then you are either delusion of on the Pearson Payroll.

Scene 1.   As a public school teacher in my state, I had to participate in an “MCAS Security Training Session.”  I had to watch a Powerpoint presentation, and then sign my name on a document swearing that I had watched the presentation.

Scene 2.  On Day 1 of the testing, every teacher who was giving the test was required to come to the school office to pick up our materials.  Materials were available for pickup from 8:45 to 9:00 AM.   All 18 of us showed up in the office right on time.

Scene 3: Before we were allowed to take our Boxes of Test Materials, every teacher had to count every test booklet, answer booklet, MCAS Approved Reference Sheet and “any additional materials”.  We then had to sign a document where we recorded our counts. Then an office staff member had to repeat the process and write the same numbers, and sign.    This took a long time. To say the least.

Scene 4: We read the directions.  We are instructed to tell the children that the test session is scheduled to last for two hours, but that they will be given as much time as they need, up until the end of the school day.

Scene 5: We tell the children, our sweet, trusting eleven year old kids, that “cheating in any form is forbidden”.  We tell them that they are not allowed to use cell phones, game consoles, music players (?) or any other electronic devices.  We tell them that they can’t use scrap paper, but they can scribble all over their test booklets.

Scene 6: The test has begun.  A very bright, hardworking student raises her hand.  I signal for her to come to my desk.  She does not recognize one of the many words that mathematicians use for “number”.   I am forced to give the scripted and MCAS approved answer.  “I’m sorry. I can’t tell you what it means.  Use your best judgement.”

Scene 7: My wonderful, smart, exceptional Chinese student, who started the year with exactly one phrase of English is working very hard at her desk.  Uh, oh.  I notice that she is using her everyday Chinese-English dictionary, given to her by our ELE teacher.  She is supposed to be using the MCAS Chinese-English dictionary, given to her by our ELE teacher!  This could be a violation!  I hurry to her desk and crouch beside her.  Her beautiful dark eyes rise to meet mine. I can see by the flush in her cheeks that she is anxious.

“Honey,” I say, “I’m sorry, but you can’t use this dictionary.  You have to use THIS one.”   She frowned a bit.  “But this book doesn’t has the math words.  THIS book has.”                                                       “Yes, I know.” I say, “But you have to use this one.” I hold up the everyday dictionary.  The one with no academic vocabulary.

My student frowns harder.  She is a very diligent student.    She holds up the forbidden dictionary, given to her on the first day of school by her English Language teacher.

“This book has math words.  THIS book,” she holds up the official MCAS Approved dictionary, “THIS book no has this important words.”

My heart sinks.  “I know,” I say, as I take the forbidden dictionary away from her.

Scene 8: The room is silent.  22 kids have completed the test.   One is still working.  I have to keep the 22 silently in their seats, reading books.  No talking.  No walking around the room. No pulling out your unfinished work.  No writing in your journal. No drawing or sketching or painting.  Why not? No one can tell me.  This goes on for nearly an hour.

Scene 9:  My colleague and close friend texts me in the middle of the test.  Her husband has been taken to the hospital with chest pain!  She isn’t sure what to do!  The MCAS Security training has told her that she can’t leave the room while the kids are working.  But she wants to go to see her husband!! Luckily, our fifth grade assistant is in my room!  She has worked for this school for almost 25 years. She has subbed for us all, she has taught small groups, she has come on a hundred field trips.  She offers to stay in the classroom while the kids finish the test.  “Sorry”, she is told. “You haven’t taken the Security Training.  You haven’t signed the papers.”  She cannot monitor the test.  My friend and her husband must both wait.

Stay tuned for tomorrows set of “Scenes from an Insane Asylum”.  They are even crazier.

Lemme get this straight……


Ok.  Let me just get this straight.

If I want to be a classroom teacher in the United States today, I have do do a few things, and I have to accept a few realities.

If I want to spend my life teaching children to read, to write, to understand math, to become educated voters, I have to go to college.  OK.  Then I have to get a Master’s Degree. Oh..Kay….(lots more cost, lots more debt, but I get it.  They want me to be well educated.)

After I finally get my Master’s Degree, I have to take and pass several exams that theoretically qualify me for the job.  I have to pay for these exams myself.

If I pass, I get to apply for teaching jobs.  Fun!

And once I get a job, I have to submit to a CORI check (just to make sure that I am not a pedophile or anything.)  AND I have to be fingerprinted.  In case I passed my CORI check but somewhere in my past I committed a crime.  I have to get in line, pay out of my own pocket, and go through the very same process that purse snatchers, rapists, drug runners and murderers go through.  I have to swallow my embarrassment,  push down my discomfort and submit my fingerprints to the local police.

Even if I’ve been teaching for 25 years already and this is coming far too late to do anyone any good.

After all that, when I have finally achieved my dream and gotten a teaching job, I have to accept the fact that people who have never, ever , ever taught one single child one single skill will be the ones who pass laws that define my job.

I will have to come to terms with the fact that giant corporations intend to make millions of dollars off of my students, my classroom and my school.

Once I have become an actual, real life elementary school teacher, I will have to find a way to work 22 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to score every rubric, plan every lesson, follow every teaching guide, gather every bit of data and make sure that every student meets every standard.

I will have to accept the fact that if I actually follow the “Teacher’s College” reading and writing program, I will be losing all of my language impaired, learning disabled, hearing impaired, emotionally impaired students.

And I will have to grin and bear it when my administrators follow the state guidelines on teacher evaluation and pop into my classroom for ten minutes at the very end of a Friday afternoon and then write up a scathing report on how our students are “failing to work toward a uniform goal.”

All of this for the chance to earn an average salary with average benefits.  All of this so that you can check the news every day and see some airheaded politician referring to “our failing schools.”

So I have to ask:

How stupid do you have to be to want to be a teacher today?

What I KNOW to be true


Good God. I have just about had it.  I am at the end of my rope, the last bit of my patience, the final smidgen of my compliance.

I am being forced to teach my kids to read using a slick for-profit kit, written by the much admired Lucy Calkins of Teacher’s College.  This kit tells me that I have to reduce the great glory of reading to a series of minute, thinly sliced “skills” like “recognizing text features”.  I’m supposed to sit the kids down and overpower them with a “mini-lesson” where I cleverly explain/show/demonstrate/advertise the target skill.  In TEN minutes.

Then I’m supposed to have the kids “turn and talk” about the topic that I just taught at warp speed. Next in the script, I tell the kids “off you go!” and they are supposed to happily and successfully employ the teeny little micro skill as they read on their own.

Um.

I’ve been reading since roughly 1963 and at no time in my life have I ever stopped myself to ask if I am recognizing the story arc.

I believe, with every fiber of my being, that reading is a complex and wondrous human skill that evolves differently in every young child.  I believe that at the very same time that we are decoding, we are also making inferences, wondering about the motivations of the characters, recognizing the conflict and predicting the resolution.  I believe that children slowly and hesitantly grow into each of these skills.  This complex web of cognitive and linguistic processing skills is a marvel.  It should NOT be reduced to its smallest parts.

I believe, I truly do believe, that none of these “skills” will mean a thing to a child until the moment where he or she has fallen completely in love with a story.  If the child isn’t walking home from school while picturing himself as the hero of the adventure, no “mini lesson” on earth will get him to care about reading.  If the child isn’t soaking in a bubble bath and holding the book above the water to see what the bad guy does next, it doesn’t matter how carefully I follow the cookbook reading program.  If that child isn’t dying to know what happens next, all the “turn and talk” in the world won’t get her to really truly read.

I do understand that Lucy C is a reading guru.  She is clearly smarter than me, and I am sure that she’s done tons of research and is a major player and all that crap.

But here is the simple truth.

She has come up with a product that matches the “Common Core” and she has found a way to sell that product for a whole boatload of money by marketing the entire Teacher’s College pre-packaged literacy kit.

I’m not a guru. I’m sure as hell not an educational entrepreneur.  There is no shiny, glossy, expensive box of lessons with my name on it.

But I know kids.   I know language development, and I know reading.

And I know, beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt, that you CANNOT break a complex neuropsychological task like reading into the tiniest threads and try to teach those threads as discrete lessons.  It makes no sense to do it this way, because unless the students go on to synthesize those skills, they won’t be reading.

Or writing.

Or learning.  Or thinking. Or problem solving.

When my babies were little, they learned to walk.  I helped them.  But I didn’t try to separately teach them to flex their calf muscles and then a day later teach them to relax those muscles. When they learned to talk, I didn’t show them how to make the sound “b” and then wait a day to teach them “a”.

Complex neurological tasks cannot be reduced to their component parts if they are going to be mastered.

And that’s why I am frustrated beyond belief by the lessons I am being forced to teach.

 

 

First day nerves


Oh, my God.

What should I wear?

I have a nice new purple dress, summery and embroidered.  Maybe I should wear that? But I look sort of fat in it. And its kind of hippyish.  And sort of old ladyish.

But its so pretty!

And I have my new Etsy purple earrings.

OK. Purple dress it is.

What should I bring for snack? I don’t want to eat a banana, because no one in the world can look non-monkylike while eating a banana.

Maybe an apple? I can’t bring nuts; two kids are allergic. And no cookies, for sure! I want to set the tone, let them know that we are trying to be healthy.  OK. An apple. Or some fresh carrots.  Not those stupid little nubbins of slimy orange things they call “Baby carrots”.  Nope.  Some fresh, crisp, farm stand, pulled-right-out-of-the-ground carrots.

And what should we do in our first morning meeting?  I want it to be fun, but organized. I don’t want it to feel like its too chaotic. I want it to be engaging.  No singing; that would be so. lame.   No goofy games with hand holding.

Dude, this is fifth grade. We need to be very cool.

Word games are always fun, but I do have one student who doesn’t speak any English at all.

So maybe no word games.

Maybe….a cooperative game? Lava challenge?  Human Knot?

sigh.

I gotta admit.

I’m nervous!

It’s almost the first day of school.

What if the kids don’t like me? What if they think I’m kind of lame and old and stupid?  What if they won’t do what I say?

sigh.

It’s almost the first day of school.

Trust me. It isn’t only the kids who are nervous.

Happy New Year, to every teacher and student in the world!  Have a good one!

Mistakes


I had a student a year or so ago.  She was sweet, pretty, funny, creative, shy, warm and wonderful.  She was a kid.

This girl’s heart was in creative arts.  She wanted to be a fashion designer.  She came to school every day in the most inexplicably adorable combination of leggings, colorful shoes, off the shoulder sweaters and hair bands.  As a person with absolutely no fashion sense whatsoever, I was intrigued and impressed every time she walked into my classroom.

This girl was not a strong math student.  Her mom was in a panic, fearing that her child was showing a learning disability or a lack of motivation or a character flaw of some kind. I did my best, all year long, to reassure the mom.  I told her that I found her daughter to be absolutely cognitively and mathematically competent, in spite of her shaky test grades.  I thought that the little girl was slightly intimidated by the math, but I also told her, honestly, that her daughter just didn’t consider fifth grade math to be a huge priority.

I told the mom, as I told the girl, “Math isn’t a goal in itself. It’s just a tool.  If you want to be able to figure out the cost of clothes on sale, you’ll need math. If you want to calculate how much you will pay every month for a new computer, you’ll need math.”  The child began to relax, and the mom seemed to take a deep breath.

It was at the very last conference of the year when I realized that this traditionally very anxious Momma had begun to trust my judgement.  As I finished my description of her child’s academic achievements for the year, she leaned forward and smiled.  “Lily learned so much this year!”, she said, putting her hand on my wrist. “She taught me so much!”

I wasn’t sure where she was going with this thought, but I smiled in return. She seemed pleased, so I was happy!

“I love what you told her about mistakes!”, she said.

I frantically searched my memory, trying to recall what I could have said.  I knew that as a “big picture” learner myself, I often overlooked little details like the operation sign or the carried digits.  As a child, I was often accused of making “careless mistakes”. I found this to be enormously frustrating: it didn’t seem to matter how much I “cared”, my mistakes were still considered “careless”. I wondered if I had passed on the same message to my  not so mathematical student.  I waited with some trepidation as the mom leaned back in her seat.

“She told me what you said about math mistakes!  You said, ‘ There are no careless mistakes. There are only mistakes that you know how to correct’.  She feels so good about her math skills now!”

She beamed at me as I sat there, my jaw agape, my mind a blank.  Did I really say that?  Jeez, I hope I did!  What a wonderful thought to pass on to a kid!

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I don’t know if I was really that wise, or if this lovely little girl simply interpreted my words this way. I don’t actually care! She went on to sixth grade, and did very well in math.  

 

Back to school


April vacation is over.

The kids have rested, gone to Disney, travelled to Europe, slept late.

The teachers have planned the rest of the math lessons, read and scored the essays, created the next writing prompt, chosen the book groups, made the class lists for next year, ordered the new book bins and science materials, set up the end-of-year conferences and commented on the kids’ stories.

And now its time to go back to school.  This is the last push, the final segment.  This is the time of year when we will take our state tests and will move on to the true curriculum.

This is the time of year when I will let the children create, write, produce and perform a play.  They will have to learn how to work to to consensus. They will need to compromise if they want to do the play. They will negotiate with each other, solve problems together, work as a team.

It will be REALLY hard for them.  There will be tears, and hurt feelings and anger.

I will be absolutely resolute in my  determination to Make. Them. Solve. The. Problems.

I will listen, guide, facilitate.

I will NOT make the decisions.

Every year, at this time of year, when the damn tests are finished, I watch my students learn how to be creative and cooperative and sensitive and caring.  Every year, when I can finally stop feeding them answers, I am allowed to watch them as they find those answers for themselves.

I am excited.

I love this time of year, because this is what true teaching is all about.  This is the time of year when I will be amazed as I see which quiet, awkward child emerges as the director of our play.  This is the time of year when I will see the athletic superstar stepping back to the let the nerd come forward as the star of the show.  The sensitive math brain might become our technology expert, creating the backgrounds and soundtrack for our play.  The silly goof-off might become the primary writer of a show that is based on fifth grade humor. The silent observer just may end up with the funniest ten seconds of acting in the entire production.

This is the time of year when my hardest job is to stay out of the way, to let the kids take the reins.  This is the time of year when I believe, with my whole heart, that the best and most meaningful learning will take place.

Without me.

Which is exactly as it should be.

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