Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Computer

Well, big excitement, in the form of a new computer. After five years with my last faithful Macbook, I now have a new MacBook Pro so that it is all quite exciting although requiring a bit of adjusting. As much fun as it is getting something new there is always the familiarity of something old... I hope that it will inspire me to blog a bit more regularly but it's always an adjustment to using a new instrument no matter how great it is.

One of the nicest things about having two weeks off is the opportunity to catch up on reading. I just read a book that I really enjoyed. One thing I love about teaching grade six and seven is the opportunity to learn new things or revisit things you once enjoyed learning about but haven't for awhile.

If you follow this blog you know that I started science this year with the geology unit (last year I started with ecology and never really got to the other two units.) Now I admit I am still on the geology unit but at least I know my class did quite a bit on ecology in sixth grade as well. I loved geology when I was in school, not that I took it in university, but I always found rocks fascinating, as do my students. Fossils amaze us all!

The book that I just finished reading is my Tracy Chevalier and is entitled, Remarkable Creatures. I am a Tracy Chevalier fan. She wrote Girl with a Pearl Earring as well as one of my very favourites, Virgin Blue. I had read Virgin Blue just before I went to France several years ago, and brought it along for my friend who was travelling with me to read. She had another book on the go and I ended up reading it again as we traveled in the area near where that novel was set. I enjoyed reading it even more that second time.

Remarkable Creatures takes place in the early 1800's and is set mainly in Lymis Regis (a place I first discovered reading John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman). The story is told from the point of view of two women who actually did live, Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot. The book is Chevalier's usual combination of fact and fiction. Mary is a local girl whose father has always been interested in "curios" but she is the one who really has the eye to find them. Elizabeth, from a higher social strata, moves with her sisters from London for economical reasons and her fascination with fossils leads to a friendship between the two. I think it is easy to forget how little status women had in the 1800's. This book is a good reminder of this. Mary's discovery of the ichthyosaur shook the scientific world and questioned the traditional biblical interpretation of the creation of the world, but initially she was given very little credit for this. Great read...

The weather has been amazing here, crystal clear. This picture was taken during a walk along the seawall in Yaletown.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Teach Like a Champion?

Sometimes it just takes awhile to get a blog finished! Today I am going to talk about Teach Like a Champion: 49 Strategies that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov. I was given this book last summer from a friend who isn't a teacher but had heard the author interviewed and thought it sounded interesting. I began with some skepticism as many of the "master teachers" cited seemed to be at charter schools and philosophical I have a bit of trouble with charter schools but I tried to remain open. In the end I decided that this is a good book especially for beginning teachers.

Teaching has become more and more complex through the years. I began my career for instance as a special class teacher. These classes were challenging and you certainly have the danger of children or young adults feeling "stupid" but the classes were small and generally manageable. These classes also meant that the regular teacher didn't have to generally deal with as many difficult students. Also curriculum was more set and there wasn't as much of an expectation of differentiation of instruction etc.

Now there are very few special education classes and most students are in the regular classroom. Initially there was good support but that support has lessoned as well. Also students with English as an additional language are also in your class. Once upon a time there were smaller separate classes for reception level students as well. Now I am all for integration but this all means you have a very wide range of learners with a wide range of needs and the expectations for the classroom teacher have increased as well. For instance, we are now expected to be computer savvy. Currently with the diminished funding there is less and less help from every angle.

Beginning teachers have a difficult time finding positions and are often subbing for several years. They also may find themselves if they do get a job making several assignment changes in a single year.

All this is to say that we may have long holidays, but we need them!!! We also find ourselves reluctant to say how difficult the classroom situation can be because in this city more and more parents who can afford to are choosing private schools thinking that their child will get more attention.

As I was reading this book I tried several strategies that were new to me with the children and actually found them quite effective. Having taught a long time and having access to a great deal of professional development as a consultant, other strategies were not new but I found them well presented in this book.

For those who need to see, there is also a dvd with sample lessons.

When our staff was considering a book club this year, I suggested this book, and since I had demonstrated and talked about some of the philosophy and methods, teachers were interested. Also previously, we had split into primary and intermediate book clubs so that it will be nice to all do the same book.

I think my favourite little strategy is SLANT, one with which many students at our school are now familiar. This acronym stands for sit up, listen, ask and answer questions, nod your head when appropriate, and track the speaker. Students are very good now in many of are classrooms at "slanting".

The following are a few more examples and they aren't exactly rocket science but good reminders to us all.

  • Technique #1: No Opt Out. How to move students from the blank stare or stubborn shrug to giving the right answer every time.

  • Technique #35: Do It Again. When students fail to successfully complete a basic task—from entering the classroom quietly to passing papers around—doing it again, doing it right, and doing it perfectly, results in the best consequences.

  • Technique #38: No Warnings. If you're angry with your students, it usually means you should be angry with yourself. This technique shows how to effectively address misbehaviors in your classroom.

  • I think this book is well worth reading as it is a good summation of how to set up an effective classroom. There is an art to teaching that can't be really though totally ever be made into a science. I am reminded of hearing of someone who would only go to places in Europe, even for a cold drink, that were recommended by Frommer in his guidebook. But this book is full of methods and ideas that are worth giving a try. And I think we may have some interesting discussions and anything to help the dedicated teachers at my school is valuable.

    Thursday, December 16, 2010

    Paint the Town December

    Well we successfully made it through the school musical, Paint the Town December. It certainly helps when your principal is a music teacher and takes all the students in groups for music classes, and you have a PE teacher who teaches all the dances and motions in PE class and in extra rehearsals. It helps when you have a teacher who is a professional artist and creates the backdrops with her students. It also helps when you have a teacher librarian who does a unit with your students who don't want to be actors so that I could have two periods a week for four weeks to work with the actors-from my class and the other grade seven class. And finally it helps when you have all the classroom teachers willing to put on a show. Our whole school did two shows yesterday. That is 350 children. We also had to borrow staging and chairs from my old school, Moberly (we are close by as our school used to be Moberly's Annex), as we were too late to get them from the board so we had to be creative for the finale when the whole school was at the front of the gym.

    This is a multicultural musical, celebrating various celebrations and traditions of December. Now one could say this was a bit forced but the music is great and I think it does give us cultural awareness and appreciation. Just looking at our actors, we do represent the world-students whose parents have immigrated from India, China, Vietnam, Miramar, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Pakistan as well students students with ancestors who immigrated from western Europe many generations ago. These actors have families who may practice Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, or Buddhism.

    This is only the second musical our school has done since it opened as a main school seven years ago. Last year was the first. That whetted our students' appetites for the stage and shows what a small public school can do. People may think they need to spend thousands of dollars to send their children to private schools but once again I am so struck by what public schools accomplish. Most of our parents are working hard, often adjusting to a new country, and don't have a lot of time and money for activities for their children that "West side" parents can afford so the school teaches the academics but for many students we give them experiences that they don't have regular access to receive.

    I may not make a great deal of money compared to those in some other professions and occupations, but on mornings like this I feel a sense of accomplishment.

    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    Twilight is out

    Well the word is out in my class that vampires are passe! Everyone (well I exaggerate) is reading the latest by Rick Riordan, The Red Pyramid. Rick Riordan first hit the best seller lists with The Lightning Thief about Percy Jackson who discovers that that the reason for his hyperactivity is he is half mortal/half god, the son of Poseidon. The first book was made into a movie and this may have gotten many of my students into that series. Many have read all of the Percy Jackson series so now they are beginning the Kane Chronicles and The Red Pyramid is the first in that series. Here we have moved from Greek mythology to Egyptian mythology. Now of course teaching ancient civilizations in Grade Seven I think this is great. Both boys and girls are reading these. The Twilight series was very hot last year with the girls in my class but now that they have moved from sixth grade to seventh vampires are out and gods are in!!!
    I ordered Red Pyramid from the Scholastic Book Club but it was snatched from my hands so I haven't read it yet. We had a book fair at school so several students bought copies and students have borrowed Riordan's books from our library and the public library.
    It's fascinating how movies can encourage reading as the movie may have inspired the initial reading of The Lightning Thief. My "worse" reader who is officially ADHD is reading The Lightning Thief demonstrating good comprehension. He relates to Percy because neither has ever known his father. Riordan has hit a cord with my students.

    How did it get to be December???

    Time has definitely sped away! After the surprising snow in November when lots of leaves were still on the trees (and some still are) we seem to be back to our normal winter environment around here, rain!
    I have had so many good intentions about blogging but it obviously hasn't happened for awhile. I am actually currently writing this blog and my class blog. There is always that question does technology save time or take time.
    In my class blog I was just sharing some pictures of my grade seven class and their grade one reading buddies. I love teaching older kids but grade one students have a special place in my heart. And they have a special place in the hearts of their grade seven reading buddies. Now we do more than read.
    We just completed three sessions of skating at our local community center, which is about nine blocks from the school. Having my kids along makes the walk easier for the little ones and it really helps with getting all those skates tied (although some of mine have struggles in that direction as well). Our school is a school mainly of children of immigrants and skating is not always a familiar activity so that these sessions are great and can encourage families to have their children have skating lessons that are quite affordable. By the third session students had gained a lot of confidence and for most of the grade one children this was their first experience on ice.
    Once a week usually my students read with their buddies and make notes that they share with the first grade teacher. Yesterday we did something different. We brainstormed and then drew and wrote about skating together. This was incredibly successful. Seeing my students drawing and writing really inspired the younger children and of course, my class loved it as well. One really neat thing as well is two my students have siblings in the class. One has his brother,who adores him, as his buddy. Another decided that her sister would do well with her friend and she has her sister's friend as her buddy. It sure is great having this many teachers!