My projects

TODDCAST RADIO, WWW – After several consecutive weblog entries about movies he’s seen recently, Toddcast Radio has gone dark.  Will it return to the Web once again to propagate ripples of zeros and ones through the information superhighway?  Or has its signal silenced permanently? *crackle, buzz, static* Hello, faithful listeners!  I thought I’d let you know what I’ve been up to.  If I just said “work,” no one would be impressed, so let me share with you some details on the exciting new initiatives I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of at our school.

…let me share with you some details on the exciting new initiatives I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of at our school.

First of all, I’m in charge of our school’s AIMSweb management.  AIMSweb is an online software tool that assists in student benchmarking and progress monitoring.  I’ve been putting in “overtime” learning the program, managing login accounts for our school, and putting together tools and resources for our assessment team to utilize during this year’s three benchmarking periods.  As the year goes on, I’ll be working hard behind the scenes taking and managing our school’s data and generating all manner of reports from the program, in preparation for its use in our building’s “response to intervention” (RtI) implementation over the next few years.

Speaking of schoolwide initiatives, Continue reading My projects

Internalizing

When faced with a child who misbehaves, I usually work with the homeroom teacher to try to determine what may be causing or reinforcing the behavior. Standard procedure, I know. But when developing a plan to help manage the child’s behavior, one thing I usually say first of all is, “We can’t ‘make’ a child behave in an appropriate way. What we have to do is take what we have learned about the child and create an environment that compels the child to make the right decisions with regard to his behavior.”

I’ve always thought that was a rather accurate and wise way to put it, if I don’t say so myself. I’ve been explaining it that way to general classroom teachers for over a decade. But I recently went to a conference on PBS, positive behavior supports, and was privileged to hear one of my old grad school professors, Dr. Tim Lewis deliver the keynote address. As he went through his speech which sounded so familiar, I had to chuckle when I heard him say this:

I’ve always been quick to internalize things that work, without attribution. Isn’t it amazing the impact a good teacher can have on students, even when the student is a teacher, too?

Honors

The end of the school year is always a melancholy, contemplative time for teachers.   We send students off to their next challenges with all the knowledge and experiences we were able to give them during the year.  It is also the time of the teacher retirement ceremony, where we say goodbye and farewell to those who have devoted their adult life to the education of children.  The true impact of these sad farewells won’t be felt until next fall when that trusted resource, a wealth of experience and information, is no longer with us.   But then we will add new teachers, young and full of enthusiasm and energy.  It takes both kinds, really, to balance out a good educational staff.

I paused from packing down my classroom for the year to reflect on the year.  About then, a teacher I’ve worked with for the past few years came by and put a piece of paper on my desk.  It was a page from a teacher’s calendar.  By the time I had read it, she had almost slipped out.

Those teachers with the patience to stay true to the task, those teachers with the skill to bring order to the confusion, those teachers with a kind and understanding heart to see all children as capable and worthy, those teachers who teach special education children – these are truly the “saints of education.” – Harry and Rosemary Wong

“Thank you very much, but I don’t think I deserve this.”   She turned before she left and said simply, “Yes, you do.”

High stakes test anxiety

Validity and reliability are the two necessary pieces that make a test that actually provides useful information about learning.  Validity goes to whether or not a test actually assesses what it’s supposed to.  Reliability goes to whether or not the results of a test are reproducible.

I heard an interesting podcast from Scientific American the other day.  Here is the link, and following is part of the transcript.

… her studies showed that the best students were the ones most likely to choke under a high-pressure test situation. That’s because normally they use their higher memory capacity to methodically work through a problem. But when the pressure’s on, the good students resort to the same ineffective shortcuts the poor students use all the time. Another researchers shed some light on this with his study showing that anxiety actually occupies working memory, wasting it instead of devoting it to the task at hand….

Leading to this conclusion:

They say their findings suggest that high-pressure tests might not be measuring what they’re meant to, and schools might want to try de-emphasizing their importance.

Statewide tests can be a real pressure-cooker for children because so much weight is put on them by No Child Left Behind.  How much do tests assess “test-taking” skills and level-headedness?  If a test’s results are colored by a child’s test anxiety, that erodes the validity of the instrument.  Could regular smaller quizzes or something less stressful than the big statewide test “book” that student are handed out every year be better at measuring student progress?  Something to consider.

A tale of two teachers organizations

goofus…in the style of Goofus and Gallant.

Goofus is locked in an “us vs them” mindset.

Gallant practices collegial negotiations based on trust.

Goofus sends a chunk of your dues to a national chapter.

Gallant keeps all of your money in Missouri.

Goofus has exclusively supported Democrats for president since its founding.

Gallant supports candidates based solely on education issues.

Goofus sends 90% of its political contributions to Democrats.

Gallant does not use membership dues for political contributions.

Goofus spends its money to support liberal causes like Rainbow Coalition, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Amnesty International, AIDS Walk Washington.

Gallant spends its money on professional development opportunities for teachers and teacher grants.

Goofus petitions to become sole bargaining authority even if he is clearly in the minority.

Gallant sticks to his principles allowing everyone a seat at the table, even when he is clearly in the majority.

Goofus tells teachers to remove all references to Muslim terrorists in lesson plans for September 11th attacks.  Goofus suggests teachers  discuss “historical instances of American intolerance” instead.

Gallant believes in local authority to set lessons and curriculum.

Key:  Goofus is the Missouri National Education Association; Gallant is the Missouri State Teacher’s Association.

Sources:  nea.org, msta.org, School and Community Magazine, Summer 2008, Wikipedia

Goofus and Gallant is a feature in Hightlights Magazine.

Teachers’ summers

classroomI never thought I’d choose as a mate someone who was in the same field as I was in, but, as is often the case in my life, God had other plans. As time goes on, the wisdom of that move becomes more apparent. Only another teacher can understand 13-hour days to get the latest round of mandated paperwork. It’s nice to have someone to go in to work with you on Saturdays or Sundays to get individualized lesson plans done. And of course it makes for good “quality time” to have someone to grade papers with of an evening over a mug of hot chocolate.

Many people outside of education don’t really understand a teacher’s calling. In fact, there are those out there who try to minimize the job of school teacher. Never mind that a very high number of teachers get out of the profession within the first few years, and for those who stay, burnout is a disproportionately high occupational hazard. Teaching requires more time, effort, and energy than most people realize. Plus, no one gets rich off a schoolteacher’s salary, and for those who think that the real benefits of being a teacher come in “cushy” hours and summers off, think again!

Our contract time is for 40 hours per week, barring any extra duties such as coaching, clubs, or other sponsorships. There is, of course, time spent at home grading, planning, researching and contacting parents. Actual in-school time for us averages 56 hours per week, which, by simple mathematics, is much more than enough when spread out to cover 40 hour workweeks for summers and other vacations.   Continue reading Teachers’ summers

The bad behavior trap

As a teacher, it can be easy to find yourself in “corrective mode” in your classroom, getting after students when they are misbehaving or not attending.  The very best teachers I know are the ones who add “catching students being good” to the mix.

Children will seek out attention, and it’s often easier to get it by being bad.  To many children, attention is attention.  The students who really struggle in the school setting (the ones who teachers can make the most profound difference to) are most likely to go the easy route and get attention from bad behaviors because it is that much harder for them to get the positive attention.

Teachers who reinforce students when they observe appropriate behavior show students there is another way, and make it attainable for the children to get attention from positive behaviors – a habit which can stick with them for a long time.

Positive Rewards. When trying to change the inappropriate behaviors of children, it pays to ‘catch them behaving appropriately’. Inappropriate behaviors are a method of ‘getting attention’ so give the attention for the appropriate behavior and use this list of incentives to keep… [About Special Education]

Sugar-water addiction

Okay, there are a lot of issues here:  generating funds for schools, nationwide obesity, teaching children nutrition, and more…

Taking Candy From Pupils? School Vending Bill Says Yes. The State Assembly has passed a bill that would severely limit what could be sold in school vending machines. By Marc Santora. [New York Times: Education]

Here’s my own experience with this.  In the school I started my teaching career at, there were vending machines that sold one of the more popular sugar-water “faux juice” drinks (5% juice).  These machines generated a lot of money for the school.  I was not the only teacher to note that many of middle school students who enjoyed those beverages at lunch were “bonkers” with attention problems and other behaviors that made it harder for them to learn in the afternoon.  It was a stark, “Jekyll and Hyde” difference for many of them, too.

Of course, to a sub-par administrator, behavior problems are easily dealt with by assigning a detention, ISS, or some other disciplinary action, but the cash those machines bring in is coveted.  Can this be thought of as exploiting pre-teens for their own good?