Saturday, December 18, 2010

Expanding the School Community

Inspired by the principal from Ocoee Florida who showed that "Gotta Read" video, I started the Got To Read campaign. I couldn't call it "Gotta" as I work too hard with the students to get them to stop writing "gotta, wanna, gonna". Everyone will still call it Gotta Read. I was a little taken back when I realized I'm jumping on a bandwagon that has been on Oprah. Oh well... Anyway this project will help me in a number of ways connecting with local businesses and getting kids to read. We are going to get businesses and community members around our school to support it. We are having the students keep booklogs that include word counts. Prizes will be given at half a million and a million words. We are going to make posters that describe the project and post them in local business naming the business as a supporter. The businesses will make donations, gift certificates for prizes, or items, what ever they can. So we are bringing businesses into our school community.

The Harry Potter books a while ago made every kid want to read books with supernatural elements but now these Eclipse books have all the girls wanting romantic literature. I could only think of the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen. I need to do some research on current tween romantic lit.

One of the issues with the students is how little they read, so maybe this will get them to read a little more. Those students who do read will read even more. They started the day we gave them the book logs. I took all the students to the library and bet some will have 500,000 words by the time we get back from vacation. Some teachers had issues with the fact that we aren't requiring proof and there is no book report due. The California Framework states:

…A variety of methods are available to assess reading done outside the classroom, including student-maintained reading logs and book reports in various formats (Snow 2002). According to the standard, the instruction should be focused on the reading itself rather than on the final report on reading.
Independent reading significantly improves a student’s reading comprehension and vocabulary and increases familiarity with models of good writing and conventions of writing and spelling. It also serves an important affective purpose; that is, to develop a lifelong appreciation for reading for pleasure and information. Recent research indicates that the volume of reading also affects general cognitive development.”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Asking Students About Teachers

During the conference there was a lot of videos shown where students talk about what they like about different teachers and different schools. I wrote down one quote. "A good teacher makes me feel confident." I thought that during advisory I would pose the question: "What do you think makes a good teacher?" to the students and have them respond using iMOVIE. I wonder if some other teachers could do it as well. We could edit responses together into a short clip and maybe view and discuss it during a PD.

At the fest, we interviewed a high school student. We asked her what she enjoyed about school, what made school difficult, her favorite subjects, etc. It turned out that all her classes had the teacher lecturing in front of the class except biology. During biology they sometimes worked in groups but even then the experiment was written out and they followed prescribed instructions. We were wanting all this information about whether she preferred to work certain ways (we came with our own ideas) but she could only reference what she knew. She liked test because she appreciated the quiet. This is true of many of my students as well. Lunch was her favorite part of the day though, from this you could possibly infer that she enjoyed socializing and maybe that should be including in learning. You think? It's hard not to feel defensive when your class is full of chattering students and someone walks in. Hey, some are on task. Maybe more than we think. Tomorrow I'll experiment with groups of four taking tests together. I'll just give one test per 4 people.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Making Connections and Using some Big Ideas

Continue to see connections everywhere. I'm writing pretty fast though and my husband, Jeff, remarked that for an English teacher my English is not so good (that's not the expression he used). I am like the kids here, skipping the revise step.

Anyway saw an amazing magic show last night that was a benefit for Theatre West. There were just a few kids in the audience (well we were all like kids watching this) but they were enthralled. Jeff said, isn't there some way you can teach Science and English using magic. These kids are hooked. Actually I'm sure someone has a curriculum linking magic to science - one act last night was a great lesson on centrifugal force. Rob Zabracky, the host, was this strange, enthralling character that I just loved.

Anyway at my school we are trying things out. There is a possiblity of getting IPADS or something similar so we can use the lesson from Hole in the Wall and have kids work in groups of four with the teacher stepping back. Both the science teacher and I did group work in our classrooms yesterday with groups of 4. I only have two computers in my room though, so students who needed to research sounded like they needed to use the bathroom. I kept hearing, "Hurry up I really need to use it."

Friday, December 10, 2010

Back at School

I came back inspired. I feel strongest about the lecture from Diego Navarro because he teaches the kids I have now 5 to 7 years later. He spoke to healing the injuries (I'm at the site where these injuries can easily occur). We have the kids wanting to go to college but there are a lot of obstacles and statistics are not encouraging. Of my students who do go to college only 30% can expect to be successful. The students I work with are so smart and capable yet so many are failing school. My hope is to help the students find ways to be successful and to support them in initiating their own learning. So between

A. Diego Navarro (finding ways to let these kids know how smart and capable they are and helping them succeed instead of failing them because they aren't working in class or doing the homework),

B. Sugata Mitra (I am determined to have 10 IPADs in my class so every block can work in groups of 4 to research at will, and on the fly, and of their own volition tapping into their own natural curiosity.)

C. Christopher Rush (Can we find a way to be flexible enough to let students not only learn in the way that suits them but also show mastery in a variety of ways? How can we do this logistically in a school with a student teacher ratio of 36 to one and few resources?)

D. Salman Khan - Can we integrate the use of his videos in order to enable students study the work without a teacher who is inadvertently or not, making them feel stupid? Can we create a flexible work space for students?

I had a field trip as soon I got back. We took all the 8th graders to see a play at a new performing arts high school. They had a wonderful time! The play was very long but they were a great audience. I think it is possible that most of the students had never been to a theatre production and one said (very excitedly), "This was better than any movie." The Crucible is perfect for middle school kids. Anyway I thought of Word Nik as one of the students described the production as being very commotional. The play had a lot of action in the aisles and it really was "commotional".

I just went into WordNik signed up and discovered a funny exchange about the word "commotional", a CNN reporter reporting live said the scene was very "commotional" the newscaster said back "Did you just say "commotional"? I tagged myself there as "middle school living language".

I'm going to to keep this blog up for a while as I continue to make connections between the fest and my own teaching.

I also want to try and find a video of that high school that did a kind of flashmob to support reading. I absolutely want to do a version of that at my school, for the same reason to support reading.

I'll continue to insert links to videos, articles, and blogs on all the people and projects mentioned above.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Meeting People From Everywhere

I just had lunch sitting next Nikos Palavitsinis from Athens. His organization is It's all about bringing organic gardening to schools in Athens and it was all started inadvertently by a retired teacher who got a donkey and some chickens and kids started visiting his garden. We have a similar program in LA. WE need to get it our schools.

I wish I could bring Diego Navarro of Cabrillo College in Watsonville, to our school. He talked about working with young people who think they are stupid and can not learn because they continually failed in Middle School and High School, and even elementary school. He showed a short video that was really inspiring. We should watch this during a PD and think about ways we can help our students be successful.

It's been great getting all these different perspectives. I met another gentleman who is a director of a High School with an innovative curriculum and he s having a hard time trying to help teachers who keep falling back into the whole class lecture model. Sometime we feel administrators aren't supportive when we want to try new ideas but how can we learn to teach in a way that was different than we were taught.

Last night I met Liz Lian who has founded an organization that tries to empower parents to work with schools to transform them. HEr group is called empowered*parenting.

All of these people are working hard to create models of schools that support students emotionally, empower parents, create community connections, and provide for the different ways that students learn. We all pay lip service to emotional intelligences and Blooms taxonomy but we need to create support, change the architecture, use technology in a much smarter way.

How Can I Remember Everything?

I have to remind myself that all these people are available online and I will be able find them again or at least information about them. I feel this desire to remember everything I hear. I feel like I have this responsibility to bring everything I learn back. I have every intention of coming back next year, I just hope that someone else comes with me. I just think I would remember better if I had someone from the school to use as a sounding board and we could imagine how we could use some of these ideas, resources and people to help our school.

I just listened to Christopher Rush of School of One. This is a school in New York developed by a middle school science teacher who said that we are failing not because we aren’t great inspired teachers but that basically the job is impossible. He describes a typical class rooms containing a high level reader who is always truant, a disruptive students, a student who can only function when it is quiet and she is alone or with one other person, and so on. All different levels (varying by 5 grades levels although they are the same age) all different preferred ways of learning, different interests, He said a typical lesson might be teaching fractions, at the end half the students get and half don’t. Do you move on or not. Anyway they have created this amazing school that uses computer technology to move students around putting them in small groups, larger whole class type situations, one on one with a real tutor, on a computer with a virtual tutor depending on their learning style and the standard they are trying to master and they don’t move on till they have got it and the computer tries to aid them in trying to figure out different ways they might learn it and based on their experiences (kind of like Pandora) and guesses what might work best for them. It was really amazing. I would love to go to New York and see this school. Anyway I want to read all about this school it they every want to create a proptype in Los Angeles, I’m there.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


The first day at the conference was great. The drive here was beautiful as well. It is lovely to be next to the Pacific, even on a cold blustery day.

The conference has already been very helpful. I came here with specific personal and professional goals. One was to see a model of professional interaction that works. I am really happy to see that people can come together and address issues that matter with vigor and sincerity.

One of the first activities we took part in was to speak in groups of three about our own experiences as learners and tell each other stories about how we were affected by issues of cost, access, or quality. We each were to concentrate on just one of the three. We then had to condense or distill these three stories using just one to three words.

One of the people in my group of three was Alesha Daughtrey of the Center for Teacher Quality. I had a great talk with Alesha. I am at school that is brand new, we have some growing pains and she had some smart suggestions that include becoming friends with a school that is quite like my school (trying a integrated, project based curriculum that is based on a collaborative model) but is a few years farther along.

Later I brought up that my school is about to pay some teachers for extended hours for Saturday school for those students who scored below basic last year. This is a case where the students will have access, and cost isn't an issue but how do we assure quality? She wonders if more hours at school is the answer. If you have a student who isn't engaged during regular hours, are more hours at school going to help? Can we develop an innovative and engaging curriculum for after hours and Saturday and assess the value of this program?

I thought of this when Ashley Nand, a junior in High School spoke about Road Trip Nation and about how empowering and engaging it was to learn away from the classroom. The Road Trip Nation students interview people in their community.

Then Sugata Mitra spoke to and presented evidence of the natural curiosity and capability of students. As teachers we need to ask questions, step back, and have faith in our students. He was really wonderful and inspiring.

During dinner I met Jacob Lauser and Anteneh Hailu high school students who participate Roadtrip. Talking to them has made me want to bring this program to my students.

At dinner I also met Steve Rich of WAY Program. Way stands for Widening Advancements for Youth and they have a program for kids who aren't finding success in traditional high school. They provide access to teacher/mentors 24/7 and come to the students home and install an apple computer and internet. The students and teachers work together to design a program that is individualized, meets standards and is of interest to the student. If something traumatic happens in the student's life and they disengage, they won't be allowed to fall through the cracks. The teacher will continue to work with them till they are back on track. They get a regular diploma. The program has proven to be successful for many students (they have some incredible retention rate) and it is now funded by the state (Michigan).

I am one of those people who was saved in middle school by an innovative program. I was about to drop out when instead of being punished for truancy I was put in a very small alternative school that was big on student led experiential learning. Every single student in that program with me that year went on to the university. I know from experience that one size doesn't fit all.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

5 Days Till Big Ideas Festival

ISKME was kind enough to give me a scholarship to attend the conference so I will do my best to contribute as a blogger.

I'm excited about the festival for a number of reasons.

1.The more open the better. We can rethink the whole idea of textbooks and get as many resources as we can online, free and shared across the world(see #2)

2. Social Justice requires sharing of resources.

3. We need some Big Ideas! In the area where I teach - the drop out rate is 50%. The kids are funny, talented, and full of surprises and we are failing them.

4. Generating big ideas is great but implementing them...hmm. I'm looking forward to learning what people have going on.

I teach Theatre and English in a brand new middle school South East Los Angeles. The school was designed by a few teachers who thought that the curriculum should be interdisciplinary and project-based and infused with visual art/music/theatre/dance/media and engage students. One of my goals is to return with ideas for professional development that can help us learn to work together and fulfill the vision of the school.