Saturday, December 20, 2008

Behold That Star!

In most classes I visit there are "star students". They just sparkle. You can spot them if you are paying attention to what "turns them on" academically. Suddenly they shine. Their fellow students know it too. It is my job to bring them out and "let them shine". Like the Rubik's inspired "BrainTwist" above, they are multifaceted with many sides, faces, corners and colors. The challenge is to find the ways to twist and turn the curriculum and assignments to bring out their best.
This figure starts out a 4-sided pyramid but has 8 star faces from light green to dark, from purple to magenta, from blue to yellow and from orange to red. It can be quite frustrating and take hours. It takes patience and tenacity...just like teaching.

This last class before the Holiday Break there was a little first grade "sparkler". I like to play my "Music Box CD" when they come into the room. I watch how different kids respond or don't. This particular girl was just transported and immediately became "a music box dancer". She twirled and swirled around the room oblivious to her peers and me. She was up on her toes but I could tell she had had no formal instruction. The rest of her "day" was magical. She was quick to respond to all assignments and questions. She volunteered to help others and was "caught" being "good" so she could have a better "fun friday". She was a shining gem...a pearl.

One of my favorite teachers was there and I spotted her at lunch time with her kids. She never eats lunch with the teachers so I decided to visit her in her room with a "gift". She likes to have her kids do poems, recitations and skits. So I brought her the classic poem I had printed up: "The Owl and The Pussy-Cat" by Edward Lear. This was a Broadway Play/Musical a few years back with my favorite actor, Alan Alda. I also brought her the masks that are needed to act it out in pantomime. (owl, cat, pig, turkey). We had just done it two times in our first grade class. They loved it. Some were more into it...especially the dancing. There are "star teachers" too. They are leaders on their staff's and not afraid to "take the roads less traveled"...and that can make all the a career.

I've noticed that recently a mega-star, Will Smith, has made another thoughtful movie for the holidays. I started this blog with his "Pursuit of Happyness" using the Rubik's Cube as my symbol of the difficulty of teaching/learning now days (with all the emphasis on testing) Now Will has come up with an equally powerful concept. "The Pound of Flesh" from the Shakespearean Play, "Merchant of Venice". He calls it "Seven Pounds" because he tries to help/make amends with seven strangers. I haven't seen the movie yet. It may be awhile. In the mean time, I'm going to continue to "help strangers" as best I can as a roving sub. Maybe I too will make up for some of my "errors" character. Hope springs eternal. RRR

Friday, December 12, 2008

'Twas the Week Before Holiday...Break

'Twas the week before "Holiday" (break)
And all through the class
Every student was writing
Descriptive adjectives en masse
The children were nestled
All snug at their desks
While all five of their senses
Danced cozy arabesques
Their principal and teacher
Had called for more "copy"
Of Santa Letters and fantasy stories
No matter how sloppy
Now dashers ---, Now scribblers
Now printers and cursives
On commas! On phrases!
On sentences! and missives
To the top of the pile
Is it right (write) for the stage?
Let's edit, recopy
And smooth draft to "pink page"
I just spent the day, yesterday as a "rover sub" a a local school which was doing an "inservice training day" for all 3rd through 5th grade teachers on new technologies. As I stood outside with the 3rd grade class for the all-school reciting of the flag salute, pledge and motto, I heard the principal remind all students/classes to turn in their synonyms for a few, positive seasonal adjectives. i.e. jolly, merry, happy etc. Names and room numbers had to be on all "Santa Letters" if they were going to be "answered". Aha! Is this some academic leadership?...from an administrator? Wow!
When we arrived back at the classroom I began to see what was being referred to. On the white boards there were large sheets of butcher paper with lists of adjectives organized by how they described the five senses. I eventually found the "lesson plan" magetized to the white board next to these lists. It was all about "team time" and the writing projects they had been doing. They were to continue on these "projects" they had in their "writing folders" and try to take them from "sloppy copy" to "smooth drafts" on special pink-lined paper. They were all at different stages of the process. I was to rove and help with editing, spelling and suggestions for more use of descriptive adjectives at this "happy time of year". This is what I used to enjoy doing as a teacher of Language Arts. I'm sure they could sense my enthusiasm.
I could see that the regular teacher was very creative and a bit "messy"...just like I thought I used to kind of room. These were all mostly motivated and confident kids who got right to it. They were used to assignments like this and only had to be encouraged to sprinkle in a few more adjectives. There were no "templates" or formats to "copy". Everyone was doing something different, but mostly their own stories. (third grade level) For now, nothing was "turned in" but kept in their folders for future work...none of the usual "I'm done! What do I do next?" out loud announcements by the gung-ho ones. Just amazing!
This was also the class who all had their "recorder lesson" down pat when the special teacher came. We were ready for her and she did nothing but praise them for how well they all played. Since last year she had instituted "contests" class vs. class, 1/2 class vs. 1/2 class and groups of 4 or 5 vs. other groups where they chose what to perform. She even had a roll of the dice for a "prize recorder". This was a happy and proud class...highly motivated.
In the P.M. it was a slightly different story with the 5th grade. The teacher confided that the whole school (district), this school and his class was being asked to devote more and more time to "Language Arts" i.e. Reading and Writing especially. There were more warnings about disruptive behaviors and "how mean" I, the sub, really was etc. But basically, the class was mostly "on task" and motivated. We took turns reading through a "hand-out" on "Clouds" and the "fill-ins" attached. I was given the freedom to stay with it or move on to a "Persuasive Writing" assignment. I gave them a choice: Finish up the Clouds Packet or do the "Letter to the Parents"...asking for a party on Saturday. About half and half did each. The difference here was that there was a suggested "Topic Sentence", four supporting details for the body and a sample closing sentence, restating the topic sentence. Most that were turned in, stuck strictly to the "template" and didn't add any of their own descriptive, emotive adjectives to plead with their "parents. Here their collective goal seemed to be: get it done, get it over with. We then read a few pages about "watershed usage" and what happens to the precipitation from the "clouds". Most were not done with either the packet or the letter. We then had a Math-Art project of graphing on X and Y coordinates. Some students really got into this. I could see with others, it was dying...too I got out my Uke and we sang their "Holiday Show" songs for practice..."Up on the Housetop...and Must Be Santa" They enjoyed that and we slipped in some other P.C. carols. So we got some "Oral/Vocal Language Arts" into the lesson plan. In both classes we also had a visit from my "robot" "20Q" where they are fascinated to read the scrolled questions as it guesses their "Animal, Vegetable or Mineral". It teaches them how to ask "inductive and deductive questions"...just like those used in Science.RRR

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Foxy Family Feast

The Fox went out on a chilly night,
Prayed to the moon to give him light,
For*he'd many a mile to go that night
Before he reached the town-o,
*He'd many a mile to go that night
Before he reached the town-o.
He ran 'til he came to a great big pen
Where the ducks and the geese were kept therein;
*"A couple of you gona grease my chin...
Before I leave this town-o"...(x2)*
He grabbed the gray goose by the neck
Tossed a duck across his back
*He didn't mind their quack, quack, quack
And the legs all dangling down-o...(x2)*
Then old Mrs. Flipper-Flapper jumped out of bed,
Out of the window she cocked her head
Screamin', *"Fred, Fred the gray goose is gone
And the fox is on the town-o"...(x2)*
Then Fred, he ran to the top of the hill
Blew his horn both loud and shrill.
*Fox, said he, "Better flee with my kill
For they'll soon be on my trail-o"...(x2)*
He ran 'til he came to his cozy den.
There were the little ones, eight, nine, ten.
They said, *"Daddy, Daddy, better go back again
'Cause it must be a mighty fine town-o"...(x2)*
The fox and his wife, without any strife,
Cut up the goose with a carving knife.
*They never had such a supper in their life
And the little ones chewed on the bones-o...(x2)*
Our tale of this family feast is done
The farmers and the geese didn't have any fun
*Clever Mr. Fox fed his family,
All down in their cozy den-o...(x2)*
This is a fun song we "dramatized" with two first grades this past week. We used masks for the fox, the farmers and the geese. We discussed the meanings of all the bold words. We talked about "young-uns" ie. baby foxes -"kits", baby geese - "goslings", baby ducks - "ducklings" and Mrs. Fox - "Vixen" Then we talked about what it meant to be "foxy" or clever and predation comparing "pray" with "prey". Yes, we did all this with first graders and it would be even better with second graders. We had them spaced out in groups around the room. ie. the foxes in a corner "down in their cozy den" (all 12). The ducks and geese in another corner. The farmers, just the couple, were laid out on top of desks, "sleeping". They loved fact, they loved the whole thing and wanted to do it again and again with new casts. We suggested alliterative names for all the "leads" ie. Foxes - Phil and Fiona, Geese - Gladys and her gander, George, and farmers Fanny and Fred.
This is the kind of "teaching fun" I was used to..."back when dinosaurs roamed the earth"...B.T. (Before Testing) This was when schools and teachers were "trusted" and didn't have to prove every year that their kids were learning and "improving academically" they could get more funding. Yes, budgets were still limited, teachers made do with what they always but it was almost "economic" Supply was "down" so...demand was "up"...and kids seemed to learn anyway, in spite of our "limited (paper-pencil) efforts" Amazing!?
Now our "Foxy-Clever" Schools have a greater "supply" of "ignored kids" (both work, in day-care all day, with grandparents etc.) and the "demand" is greater for more "results" that can be measured and proven so "funds" can be bestowed to "deserving" schools/teachers who know how to "test" pre- to post. What have we done to our "great, free, educational system"? The "foxes" are having a "feast"! And there's no one to even clean up or care about the "feathers"!?
The "moral" of this "Foxy Fable" that we, once more can have "morale" our schools is: "Allow our kids to learn and grow as whole persons, using all their modalities for learning/experiencing Life." (ie. aural, visual, audio, tactile, kinesthetic...playful, creative...enigmatic, trial and error, asking, questioning themselves...not just for tests of proof.) Talk about "going green" in our about doing the same with our most "precious supply" (our future- kids) Consume less...demand more...even with a greater supply...and we'll get more (quality) returns and live within our "budgets" Yes, I think there are parrallels to our current economic "recession". We all have to adjust our thinking and acting (consuming) downward and become more frugal in our "wants" and "demands" even from our schools. Then, maybe, just maybe, they can find their own "true value" again and we can "demand" what really counts and have a better society and future.RRR

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lincoln/Obama - The Man vs.The Icon

There is essay in a recent "Times" magazine by our nation's President-Elect, Barack Obama. It profoundly speaks to our nation's leadership during very difficult times. Reacting to the classic - "iconic" portrait of our 16th President, "The Great Emancipator", Abraham Lincoln, Mr Obama reminds us all of challenges before us, as a Nation, a Culture and a People in these next few years. We have chosen him by a "close" election similarly to Abe.
Having been a teacher of American History most of my career, I would've loved making "rubrics" for study and writing about these "fascinating times, challenging moral issues and leadership principles (also principals)". Forget "testing" for awhile and just "seize the moment" historically to teach Character and Self Discipline. We, now and then, need(ed) inspiration and example. Yes, we can learn from history and it can repeat itself. We, as a Nation and as Individuals, can rise to all these that our "Nation will not perish from this Earth". We still have many "nay-sayers" and "glass-half -empty-ers" that are going to continue to "snipe and criticize" those we have chosen and the people and policies that are putting in place in the next two + months. This kind of negativism and lack of faith is what has gotten us where we are in the world, economically and morally. (among other emergencies) Now it is of utmost importance to us all to support our leaders as they try to save our "way of life" and "our culture" Yes, we are in a cultural war and it is for keeps.
The deep lines etched in Abe's face should not make us think of his "imperfections" and "self doubts" during such stressful times in our Nation but of his "determination" and "moral courage" not to "pass on" the current problems to future generations. Of course, "Honest Abe" continues to inspire us all to seek the truth in all our worldly and personal "dealings". That has tragically been missing of late in our leadership. My sister reminded me of a quote (paraphrase) from Ghandi in reference to "the Christian World", "I admire your leader, Christ, and what he taught, but I question many of His followers (religious leaders) and what they have done (are doing)". i.e. "torture", Guantanamo. etc. We can't just point the finger at other cultures (Islamic, Muslim) for bad examples of "Man's inhumanity to man". We have to strive to get our own "house in order".
As a man, a husband, a father, a teacher of children, a student of "mankind" (I'm really getting profound here today) I have my challenges and self-doubts. Circumstances shouldn't always dictate my behavior and reactions and I continue to try to be and do my best from what I've been taught and what I have taught to my kids and those in my classrooms (our nation's future). I love all my family and will continue to support them in whatever way(s) I can as long as I am able. This is what I "get" from our leaders, past and present. RRR

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I Like to Move It, Move It, Move It!

" Push back the desks! We're gona dance!" What a shock when you announce this in today's primary classes. "We've never done this before," they all say. "This is fun!"

Yes, I still think the subject of Dance is part of P.E...but not in our Public Schools anymore. "Physical Education", what they now call "P.E." is max two to three days a week, 20 mins. or less and it always happens outside. i.e. run/walking around the track two or three times (to "wear them out, or calm them down." I was recently told by a co-teacher) swinging on the "big toy" apparatus with no assignments or directions. That's P.E. now. Forget calesthentics, responding to the rhythm of music or marching, stretching, cardio for kids etc. No time for it now with all the mandated "testing". When I left regular teaching they were even starting to do away with the mandated "Physical Fitness Testing" every Spring. We had, years before, voluntarily participated in the "Presidential Physical Fitness Awards" where every kid got to try. Those achieving 80% or better in the 8 tasks got an award certificate signed by the P.O.T.U.S. It was a big deal. Even back then we had no dancing, folk or square mandated, let alone all the "modern ones" We would have "dance parties" in our rooms for the last half hour usually around the holidays.

At these young ages most kids are not "socially conscious" or not "embarrassed to dance in front of each other (male vs. female). In upper elementary and into middle school, it gets to be a real issue. Oh, I have stories I could tell. The fact remains, kids like to move (move it!) and usually in rhythm. I saw alittle of it last year in "special classes they had once a week for 6 weeks with their "Orff-Schulwerk" teacher, but that was mostly marching and interpretive movement, not dance or free-form "creative movement". You can observe it on the playground, in formally, when they think no one is watching and without any "stimulus mood music". It happens, despite our institution's efforts to stifle it. ("not enough time")

So, I got this "hot CD" from a website of acapella singing I check out regularly. It looked/sounded interesting. Very modern rhythms, sounds, scales etc. set to "really rather old" classic kid tunes. i.e. "Do Your Ears Hang Low?", "The Wheels on the Bus", "Pop Goes the Weasel", "If Your Happy and You Know It", (my favorite) "Itsy Bitsy Spider", Then some new ones: "Jammies" (kids loved) "The Crazy Dance" etc. They even had an extra 13th cut, "It's Hard to be Cool (in a mini-van)" This one kind of departed from the "theme" of the disc..."Party Like a Preschooler" and not drive your parents bonkers. (the music is modern and cool, throbbing beats, but the songs are tame) The last song was telling the story of a "young dad" driving his mini-van full of his young family and he see this "hot chick" in a convertible next to him...he "tempted". The sleeve is small but covered with "testimonies" of the "converted" dads of the group "Go Fish". There are no other "religious references" in the other songs.

We had an extra half hour or so at the end of the prescribed "lesson plans" this last Thursday; so I had the kids push their desks back along the sides and "come out and just respond" to the songs, move...not dance per se. Out of a class of 20, one boy went over and sat in the corner and hid, crying. We kept going, but I made sure he, and the class, understood that no one had to "dance". It was volunteer.(he "didn't like the girls looking at him" evidently) From then on I had them take turns, boys sit out and "rest" while the girls danced and visa versa. They liked that better. Some were more/less "self conscious" and some did sit out a bit. However, most "moved and enjoyed it". They wanted to do more when I called "Time Out." I gave out "reward tickets" to several, at their suggestion, who "got it on" so to speak for primary aged kids. Some, really came out of themselves and were alot less shy than they were during their "lessons" and when they were called on to read or do a math problem aloud.

Why aren't our schools even trying to educate/train the "whole child" anymore? Lots of "left-brain" activities and tasks, but very little for the "right-brain". They say they don't have time and that it is a province for the "family and/or the church or social group" after school. To my thinking, we all learn with our whole being/body. We need to react and learn kinesthetically to some topics/subjects of interest. I always have. This is why I always used drama and music in my teaching. Otherwise, It would get pretty boring...especially for me. I asked the kids, how many watched "Dancing With the Stars" on TV. Most put their hand up. How do you account for the enduring popularity of the "70's Musical Mama Mia"? It is one of the oldest, most primal forms of communication and we are ignoring it in our classrooms. When I was in my teens and earlier it was considered "sinful" to go to dances and movies. Are we reverting back to those enlightened times? RRR

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Wacky Wednesday Song

The Wacky Wednesday Song
It's Wacky Wednesday Time,
And we sing songs that rhyme.
We roam from room to room,
We walk, and do not zoom.
We learn our A, B, C's,
And count each other's knees.
We make a friend or two,
Having fun at ______ _______ "zoo".(school)
We do not swing from trees,
Our teachers all, we please.
Now it's your turn to think,
And end this song with _________! (?)
(Take that last rhyming word and just repeat it over and over again to the melody you've been singing...just for the "sheer silliness" of it. The tune, by the way, is "It's Howdy Doodie Time"...if you can remember it from classic TV) i.e. sample, suggested words: "wink, or blink or pink or...stink" you could even use a nonsense word that rhymes with "think".
This is a song I came up with for the two Kindergartens where I "volunteer" weekly, on Wednesdays. Every month or so that the teacher have a "minimum day" on Wednesday. They decided to group the kids differently among the three or four rooms of "morning kindergarten". This was "cutting into" my "math game time" with my classes so...I decided to give them a "song" to "help"(?) them march from class to class.
It was also my objective to emphasize the necessity of "rhyming" for this age learner...pre-readers. They have got to "hear" rhymes and sounds and feel free to "play" with them. Creative verbal "babble" has to happen with all young learners and some don't even begin to do it until kindergarten or first. What I do see alot of is regimentation and strictness and no talking, especially in "lines" and walking from one place to another at school. Why not sing? and rhyme? I would've...and still do, I guess. Tunes and words are always going through my head...and I'll bet other kids, even grown up ones, have that same "malady".
Back in the early days of TV, one of my favorite shows was "Howdy Doodie Time". It was so silly and creative. It had puppets and "Clarabell the Clown". It had a "Peanut Gallery" and lots of songs were sung. We sang along and learned them all. There was my favorite puppet, "Princess Summerfallwinterspring". We learned alot and it was mostly through "silliness"...even though it was all in black and white. Yep, no color TV then. Color didn't come in until I started babysitting at our neighbor's house 'cause they had it. "Wonderful World of Disney" (in color) was on Sunday night and a great night for babysitting. Then we memorized songs like, "Davy Crockett". We also watched a serial called "The Last of the Mohicans". Ahh, those were the days! What do the kids do now? Don't even ask. It can't be as innocent or instructive. Que lastima!
I digress...Will the teachers involved with these kindergarten classes actually use this song or even teach it? Probably not. It was introduced just to get them to think about having some fun with their kids and help them be "creative" in their verbal play...through singing and wit. School should be fun, especially in Kindergarten, don't you think? RRR

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Fabled "Playwrights" Unmasked

The Grasshopper and the Ants
A Fable
This last week we brought out the masques and they were a "big hit" in the primary classes where I worked. The lesson plans actually called for masks but the regular teachers didn't have any and their wasn't time to make them. The timing was perfect since this was Halloween week. One class actually had been studying "Fables" and "animal masks" were suggested. It was amazing how enlivened the lessons/readings (dramatic) became with just two or three kids in masks romping around the room. They were expressive and emotive and wanted to do the "Story/Fables" over and over again. Fortunately I had been collecting masks and had a whole bag (40+) in my car. Kids who were having trouble reading the text, being prompted every other word, got into the spirit of the "ad lib performances" and became our narrators over and over. When we discussed the "meanings" of the fables and their "morals" they got into quite a discussion. i.e. "Would you rather be "an ant" or " a grasshopper"? Why? We took a poll. It wasn't unanimous. I told them, I liked the grasshopper because he liked to sing, dance and play and have fun. I knew I'd probably starve during the winter...but I could lose some weight, and maybe I'd make a new friend or two.
I noticed, in the teacher's edition, for a future day's assignment, that they were going to have to make up, write, their own "fable". I said nothing. A few minutes later, after some "free time" (which is now called "may-do time"), there was a neatly printed "story-fable-play(?)" on my desk. I went over to the boy and asked him about it. He said he loved to write stories and that this one was a "gift" to me. I was in the old days...when I knew I had created a "spark of learning" in a child. He and I read it over. It was short but good as "dramatic plots" go. We corrected the spelling and usage errors together and made sure that his "creativity was honored" I told him that he could always correct the "mistakes" in later "drafts" but that he got the "ideas written down" and that was the key and best part.
Here's where the "magic continued"...we dug in my mask bag and found a "rabbit mask" (the play was about a rabbit). He wanted to be the "lead performer" this first time, and also the director. We chose "a log", "a seat" and "a tree" to also "pantomime/perform". "The Star/Performer" gets to die in the end. What could be better for your first attempt as a "playwright"? To die, on stage, is an honor...and has to be done just right. I coached him. He then took over, cast it again and directed his friends...he also narrated it. Instead of keeping his original draft to show to his regular teacher, I gave it back and told him to "recopy" it. He was alittle reluctant. Soon I had another "story" on my desk. We were out of time. I told them I'd be coming back to "sub" in November so they could have somemore "plays" ready for me. I then showed them all my "masks", mostly of animals. They were very interested to say the least.
They were all being "ants" and working being "grasshoppers"...and they didn't even mind or resist it. Think of all the teaching/learning that can now happen in the "rewrites" and "rehearsals". It will be interesting to see what the regular teacher does with any of this. Will her time schedule of test preps and overhead fill-in sheets allow for this "crass-gorilla-type" learning? School can't be too much fun, can it? RRR

Saturday, October 25, 2008

E.L.D. - Story Theatre?

In the Dual Immersion classes I've taught lately, the lesson plan always includes a section on "English Language Development" (E.L.D.) It is usually scheduled late in the day, after lunch for sure and it is more relaxed in foremat. Usually there is a contingent from another class or two to participate. These are kids who don't hear much English at home or in their daily lives. They have a very limited vocabulary in both English and Spanish. No one close to them speaks to them in any language more than the usual monosyllabic, interactive commands and directives of everyday living. There is no exposure to books in the home or visits to the library.

For these reasons I have found lately that they, most of them, just love to do "Story Theater" in English and/or by song. It is full of play with and on words that has been missing in their verbal lives. Some of your basic nursery rhymes and stories are just missing. Fairy Tales, whether they be Grimm's or Andersson's are fascinating to them. You could read them a different one everyday. It was always part of my culture growing up but it is missing from theirs. They may have other stories i.e. "Lorena" or (currently) "Dia De Los Muertos" stories. They are just starved for this kind of verbal interaction.

This past week in at least three different classes/grade levels I tried: "The House That Jack Built" in choral verse and story Theatre. You remember "Story Theater". It was very popular and even on TV a few years back...maybe 20? I remember taking our Indian Guide Boys Tribe to the Music Center in L.A. (smaller theater) to see a production of several stories...including "The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg" - my favorite. It was done with a giant scrim - panoramic screne where the characters, all attached, froze in silhouette. The main characters "narrated themselves" as they performed the story. (that's the pure form of Story Theater) It is very charming and effective. Full costumes and props are used.

Well, with "Jack" we modified it to where the main group of the class was the "narrator" and the actor/charactors formed tableaus only moving when a "key" word was spoken over and over again in the narration. i.e.
This is the house that Jack built.
This is the cheese that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the rat that ate the cheese, that lay in the house that Jack built.
This the cat that chased the rat, that ate the cheese, that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the dog that worried the cat, that chased the rat, that ate the cheese, that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the cow with the crumpled horn that tossed the dog, that worried the cat, that chased the rat, that ate the cheese, that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the maiden all forlorn who milked the cow with the crumpled horn, that tossed the dog, that worried the cat, that chased the rat, that ate the cheese, that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the farmer (Jack) out sowing his corn who loved the maiden all forlorn who milked the cow with the crumpled horn, who tossed the dog, that worried the cat, that chased the rat, that ate the cheese, that lay in the house that Jack built.
This the priest all tattered and torn who married the farmer all shaven and shorn who loved the maiden all forlorn who milked the cow with the crumpled horn that tossed the dog, that worried the cat, that chased the rat, that ate the cheese, that lay in the house that Jack built.
They just loved it and wanted to do it again with different people doing the parts...they choose. Each bold word is a verb or adjective which had a "look" or an "action" attached to it and was only done at that moment in the story. We even added another verse to include the left-over kids in the voice choir as "their (Jack and Jill's) progeny" i.e.
These are their kids, all of them born after the priest...(etc.)
Now, what message do you think this subliminally sends to these kids about how we might feel about "marriage"? It is now coming up for a it is not part of the our 2nd grades. Any school district will tell you that. But this is the "cultural" moral environment in which we teach/learn. It is bound to be passed on.
We tried to make each "action" or movement connected with the verbs and adjectives very dramatic and decisive. i.e. House = two kids raised their arms/hand facing each other to form a "roof", "lay" = cheese squeezed up into a ball in the "house" "ate" = rat nibbled with his fingers on the shoulder of the "cheese", "chased" = cat made a cat-like clawing motion and hissed at the "rat", "worried" = the dog snarled and bared his teeth at the "cat", "crumpled horn and tossed" = the cow making a crooked "horn" on her head with her right (upstage) hand and doing a "tossing" motion at the "dog" with it and her head. "all forlorn and milked" = the maiden looked sad , downcast and wiped down on her cheek and then did the "milking motion" toward the cow with her two hands going down, "sowing and loved" = the farmer broadcasting the seed motion and then looking over at the maiden and placing his hand over his heart and looking "struck", "tattered and torn" = the priest looked downcast but so serious as he "blessed" Jack and Jill by placing his hand over their heads consecutively, "shaven and shorn" = farmer Jack spruces up by wiping his chin and hair as he approaches the priest and Jill to stand, "born" = the kids, any number romp and play in the audience.
A follow-up would be to discuss the meanings all the new words and phrases and how we used them. We could even have a "writing lesson" follow-up" writing it all down as we remembered it or creating new ways to use the words we learned. What I would've seen years ago is that "whole play" make it out to the playground under a tree and performed "ad lib" over and over again at recess (mainly by girls). You never see any of that kind of "play" anymore...even in kindergarten. The dubious "gift" of TV and force-fed imagery in video games? RRR

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hail and Not Farewell to Pete Seeger

" On May 3rd, 2008, shortly after completing (the above)recordings, Pete Seeger turned eighty-nine. Some might ask, 'Why put out another recording at this late date?' The answer is simple, 'Because.' Because, at 89, Pete is still vibrant and interested and creative." (from the notes of the Album) He still chops wood and drives his car and ice skates on his driveway at midnight. He sill attends the Beacon Sloop Club potluck suppers, collects donations for the VFW, boils maple syrup with his wife Toshi, and stands out in the heat and cold every Saturday at the vigil against the Iraq war - and he still writes songs.
He has long been a "mentor of mine". It started when I tried to learn to play the banjo with Mrs. Chase of the Folk Music Center. She had classes at Memorial Park every week and recommended his book. I soon found out that I was more of a "strummer" instead of a "picker" and I gravitated toward the autoharp and ukulele as accompaniment instruments. My career's goal, like his, was getting people (young people) to sing along with me. (not sing solos) Mostly it worked and continues to work as I now substitute teach. My words and content have been more instructive and less "revolutionary". I was very active in the early Environment Movement which has now caught on again as "The Green Movement". I served in the military (Navy) even though, like him, I was against war. (he was in the Army) I can remember having lots of fun singing "Abiyoyo" after I heard his rendition. It is his playfulness with kids that I like. That is when I'm at my happiest.
His on-going support for cleaning up the Hudson River around where he has lived reminds me of drives and endeavors I got into with some of my classrooms. i.e. We did not live anywhere near the beach but we got all the paraphealia to clean-up beaches. We met at a local park. In my visits around to different schools now days I see very little of this type of activity. Kids like to be active and involved in projects and then learn to read and write better with a purpose for their future. Not much of this anymore. "One of these days...or else", a song on this album, is especially meaningful to us now.
I was so encouraged to hear of the artistic success of Springsteen's Seeger Sessions. To hear young people now singing the songs of Guthrie, Dylan and Seeger with new meaning and it is... heartening. "This Land is Your Land" (all the verses) are still being learned even by Kindergarteners. They get "a kick" out my calling my Uke "Woody"...talking to and about it. They think it is "Woody" from "Toy Story". They don't know, it is "Woody" Guthrie.
Just to think that he is soon starting his tenth decade of this kind of "fun life" gives me hope. He has had some "dark times", like being "Black Listed" and admitting to be a "different kind of communist". I don't aspire to any of that. But, I do believe that I do better with "a cause", something to improve and work on in our schools. That's why I'm continuing to write this blog and teach the way I do. I again could've worked everyday last week. I was requested. I had to take a break and only work three. However, in those three days, I was able to suggest and demonstrate some "rubrics" of change, of hope and fun...not just prep for tests. So, Hail to you Pete. Long may you...wave! RRR

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Usage Quotient?

Another week of "guest teaching" and some new challenges and observations were brought up for consideration. I actually worked four out of the five days in seven different classrooms. On Tuesday I started in a very organized 3rd grade dual immersion (DI) class in the inner city. They had requested my services again and I found them just as enthusiastic and well behaved. The twenty of them were grouped(4's-6's), with team names and they were used to working together to help each other with assignments. I tried to motivate individuals/teams by putting up a potential list on the board entitled "Muy Bien Hecho" (Very Well Done). They had responded last time and they did again. There was a "front" to the room with an "ELMO" which is a state-of-the-art overhead that can project book pages etc. and not just transparancies. However, I was encouraged to move around the room to motivate and help groups and individuals. I immediately separated two girls who hadn't gotten along last time and were starting again. They were asked to "write" their opinions in their journals and to share them with each other. There was lots of "evidence" of the importance of writing on their bulletin boards. We even had "visitors"=observers who were from another district or within the district who seemed to be impressed. I would give this class a high U.Q. (usage quotient). My definition of "usage" in writing is right out of the dictionary:1. "The act, manner or amount of using. 2. A usual, habitual or accepted practice. 3. The way in which words or phrases are actually used in a speech/writing community." I actually had the question, over and over, do you want us to write this response in English or Spanish?

The next day, a different school and a vastly different challenge was had. I was replacing two teachers who were being "inservice trained" for 1/2 a day. I started in a First grade in the A.M. and again had a "writing/teaching" challenge. They had a story starting on the "group rug" about a bug that made a "secret-hide-away home". We then discussed if they had ever made or had a secret hideaway at home (made with a draped blanket say). This was a long and lively discussion/contribution of all the possible "forts - tents" etc. We then wrote a "story" about it on a big piece of lined paper as an example...with their suggestions for least four. Then a picture of it. They were then asked to go to their seats and produce their own "story"/"picture" or copy mine/ours. They were all gung ho to do it with varying degrees of success. I let them come and ask how to spell key words they needed. I put the words on small "whiteboard slates" and sent them back to their desks with the word(s). It was very indiviualized and rather chaotic. They were involved and using their own language. The key was when they or I tried to read what they had written back to them. This was about 50% successful...but it was a first grade. I'd again give this effort an above average U.Q. but it was much more difficult to get these results.

In the P.M. I was shuttled to three different Kindergartens (one was even a Pre-K) where my challenge was more in the area of teaching decoding, reading rhyming words, and singing songs with the groups that used rhyming words. The key was to get them to listen and repeat those sounds and identify them when they saw them again. We played "Phonics Bingo" over and over again with four different groups. We dipped down deep into my "songs" repertoire. We ended up singing "Happy Birthday" and "Las Mananitas" twice in two different classrooms. Here, with these aged kids, U.Q. was very basic and verbal/outloud. Many/most were not coming from a very verbal family, not rich in vocabulary or even "word play" even making up nonsense words for rhyming. This has to preceed any kind of written expression in my book. What a challenge for these kindergarten teachers.

The next day I was again in another inner city school, third grade, D.I. class. This time the challenge was one of constant interruptions of "pulling out individuals for testing" every ten minutes or so. We again tried some "positive motivation" with "extrinsic rewards" (a special sticker) We called the list: "Ganadores" (winners) to replace the usual list of "warnings for getting in trouble" "Let me catch you doing something good or helpful." There was a great response with many kids trying to help me and trying to get a positive way. Here the classroom was orientated to one front with the teacher/overhead/white bulletin board in the center. There was no attempt at grouping or getting them to work together. There was no "creative writing" assignment but a series of fill-in hand-outs to go over as a large group. I went through them by calling on individuals to respond in a very predictable way, so they had plenty of warning. It was hard to do much else with all the interruptions. Their highlight of the day was "Silent Ball" played with my "Balzac". I'm afraid I'd have to give this class, these 3rd graders, a lower U.G. because there was not much evidence of their attempts at "usage" of their language, Spanish (30%) or English (70%) as advertised in the lesson plan.

Yesterday, my final day of Usage Observation, was probably the most revealing and pathetic. It was a combination 4th-5th class (not D.I.) and again there were on-going interruptions for testing. However, the other big challenge was the "movement/shuttling" of 1/2 or more of the class every hour or so. This was an attempt to have a more homogenous grouping for teaching Language Arts or Math. I still have a room filled with desks and backpacks on the floor, with 34 plus in each group.
(hardly space to walk/get around to help and observe/correct spelling tests on the spot.)

The Language Arts Fifth Graders were being asked to all write a paragraph about "A Favorite Relative". This was first facilitated?by an "organizer sheet" asking for topic sentences and then supportive detail/reason sentences. They had to fill that out first, then write the finished paragraph in their spiral journal notebook. Of course, we got the questions, how many sentences was minimum? and what is a relative? It was a valid test of their U.Q. I thought and I was looking forward to reading their attempts at this assignment. However, we all had to do a "reading assignment" follow-up sheet. Earlier in the week, I guess they had read a story in their Reader about "La Bomba". They had to listen to the CD of it again and follow along in their books. This was no problem and it took about 15 minutes. The response sheet asked five multiple choice questions about the story and two essay question responses of a sentence or two. I corrected these sheets later and found that they responded to the multiple choice questions with ease but the essay questions were another "story" (pun intended) They didn't get what a "summary" was and only one or two even got close to summing up the "Bomba Story". They were mostly telling how they felt about it. The other question was also lost on them. i.e. the pivotal role of the friend/relative trumpet player in scratching the performance CD to cause it to skip and repeat. There were few capitals, punctuation marks or standards of usage.

I also noticed that their traditional Friday Spelling/Vocabulary Test had no usage component. They were asked to spell 20 words in printing or cursive with no capitals. They were asked to then match them to pre-written definitions on the same page. I asked them if they ever wrote them into sentences, one or two spelling words per their "made-up" sentence (underlining the words)? Nope.
This, at the fifth grade, is one of the best "usage" exercises and should be always given for homework first. I would give extra credit for two or more spelling words in the same sentence or exclamation, declaration or question with the proper punctuation. This would prove that they really knew how to use the words and their meanings. So, I'm afraid that this last class would get a very low or even no U.Q. A quotient is the name of an answer in division. When you divide by zero, in our schools, what do you get? RRR

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Froggie Went A - Courtin'...

Poem by Jack Prelutsky
The frogs wore red suspenders
and the pigs wore purple vests,
as they sang to all the chickens
and the ducks upon their nests.
They croaked and oinked a serenade,
the ducks and chickens sighed,
then laid enormous spangled eggs,
and quacked and clucked with pride.
This is the first poem, title poem, in a anthology of poems from the Poetry Foundation and its "Children's Poet Laureate" - Jack Prelutsky. This past week, I found myself four out of the five days in a cute, little first grade class reading books like this to my charges. When I got there the lesson plans were all laid out for the whole week with all the extra procedures and instructions that, "I was allowed to make any supplemental additions to those lessons." So...I have a "bag of tricks" that all subs must have full of stuff I like to share. This was going to be a "fun" week, I thought...
Well, I came to the end of the day (which seemed long) and then realized that I hadn't "covered" all the math. It was still in the pile on the desk. "Oh oh, now I'm in trouble," I thought. I decided to come in early the next day and see how I could fit in the missed Math. I noticed that the regular teacher had already been there. The lights were left on and her purse was still there. I hurried to plan "my plan" and then she walked in. She was very concerned to say the least. I could skip other things, but not Math. Those lessons were numbered daily and it was "tight". I assured her that it was inadvertant and that I would redouble my efforts to "catch up". The objective for the day was to teach "sums up to 4, 5, & 6". I had done that with a very popular game that everyone watched called "Gopher It". In it, you collected cards of nuts, carrots and apples by digging them out of a central pile. In up to three consecutive, elective turns, you could not duplicate a draw or you would lose your turn and what you drew.(a bit of gambling) They loved it and were adding their little heads off. I thought that "covered" the objective of the day without using the overhead transparencies, fill-in sheets etc. Wrong. Well, the next day I did plan to use everything including the "manipulatives" two-sided/colored coins for counting. Now we had to review 4,5,6 and teach sum of 7,8.9. & 10, 11, 12.
We, the regular teacher and I, went back to the office to get the roll sheet and check about upcoming assignments. Evidently, I was now not need on the following Mon. and Tues. and that had to be changed in the computer by the secretary. On the way we passed by the Principal's Office (my favorite one) and the teacher, in passing, told the principal that "things were better" she had run into me when she went back to her classroom. "Wheeew!" Yep, she had "told" on me. Boy, the pressure must be tight to use the "prescribed materials" with no creative deviation by a "master teacher" who likes to teach with games and songs.
Later on, in the week, I was informed by my next-door-neighbor teacher that I was to "walk" my class all the way to the playground at recess and keep them in line and quiet...even when I was taking them to the "exciting awards assembly". She never introduced herself or followed up on her "correction" of me, a lowly sub, or my "unruly class". I must say that another teacher in the first grade team did remind me of the "Fund Raising Assembly" and the "Disaster Drill" (probably planned) just before they happened. I thanked her. Another "team teacher" told me to bring my class right from recess to the assembly. I had decided to calm them down for five minutes in the classroom since I had checked with the "fund raisers" and they had said the assembly would start, ten minutes after recess. Guess what, we were late. They started early. We, of course, came in too noisily. I, mistakenly, had told the kids to quietly sneak down the hall and into the assembly "like Ninjas". The boys took me literally and were doing "summersaults" Big no-no! Oh, well...The assembly was led by one of most positive, encouraging administrator/leaders I know. Too bad "her wonderful attitude and ways" don't rub off more on her team of first grade teachers.
Part of the problem might be that wherever I go now on that campus kids of all ages are calling out my "name" in a friendly greeting. Why? I've been volunteering there in the Kindergarten for four years. One of the teacher commented about my "popularity" as we walked to recess. She didn't know that I had been doing that for four years. What do I do?...and still do?
I bring songs and skits and games as supplements to all levels. I try to have fun and make their learning fun. They seem to remember that. Case in point:
The Frog Suspender Poem/book reminded me of a wonderful song that I used to sing and act out with my classes:
Froggie went a-courtin' & and he did ride
*A-huh, A-huh
Sword & pistol by his side
**A-huh, A-huh, A-huh
Well, he rode down to Miss Mousie's door*
Where he had often been before**
He took Miss Mousie on his knee*
Said, "Miss Mousie will you marry me?"**
"I'll have to ask my Uncle Rat,*
See what he will say to that.**
Without my Uncle Rat's consent*
I would not marry the President."**
Well, Uncle Rat laughed and shook his fat sides*
To think his niece would be a bride**
Well, Uncle Rat rode off to town*
To buy his niece a wedding gown**
Where will the wedding supper be?*
Way down yonder in a hollow tree**
What will the wedding supper be?*
A fried mosquito & a roasted flea**
(veggie = 2 green beans & a black-eyed pea)
First to come in were two little ants*
Fixin' around to have a dance**
Next to come in was a bumble bee*
Bouncin' a fiddle on his knee**
And next to come in was a big Tom Cat*
He swallowed the frog, the mouse and the rat**
And last to come in was a big ol' snake*
He chased the party into the lake**
Well, you can imagine how much fun this was for them, and me. We read the poem Thursday and sang the song with dramatic action on Friday.(I just had to wear my red suspenders that day) We had to do it twice...and could've done it again. When the snake finally slithers in...there is panic and screaming. I'm sure we'll get complaints about that. Oh well, probably won't be invited back to that class/team again.
The first time I heard that song was from my dad on his old, covered, front porch in Kentucky. It ignited such images in me, I never forgot his lesson and the fun of that song. This, I think, is the way we pass on our "culture" and the fun of learning, rhyming, chain of predation etc. Pretty hard to "test" for this kind of stuff...don't you think? RRR

Monday, September 22, 2008


Meet "Moxie-Crime Fighter"
Ferocious Feline
My Grand Kids' Guard Cat
I would venture to say that most of the students and teachers I work with have pets. They love them and care for them more than their "homework". They teach them "lessons" that are just as valuable and important as any school curriculum "rubrics". Probably the biggest one is one of my most important "R's" - RESPONSIBILITY - These cute, little creatures rely on us/them to "love" them and protect them. They provide "practice" for bigger responsibilities as they grow up and mature.
If you want to get "instant buy-in" on a school assignment, make it one about the student's pet(s). Most kids love to tell you all about their pet and will write pages about them. They will bring in pictures, make posters and volunteer to bring them to class for a visit. In my long career, I have found it very useful to agree to those visits, for an hour or so just to be able to get through to a "reluctant" or uninvolved learner. I've had snakes, guinea pigs, ferrets, and many dogs and cats make the visit. Then, of course, everyone in the class, not just the owner, has to write stories about them and their care and feeding. We have had "Pet Faires" where they all bring their animals on a certain day/hour. This stimulates lots of verbal interaction and can even produce many a "math lesson" about their life-spans and costs of care.
When I first started teaching there was this article in the newspaper about "Room 8" This was a cat that had adopted a class room of kids and was allowed to come and go all during the day/semester. No one knew where it really lived or where it went at night or during the summer vacation. It kept coming back each new year. It was an inspiration to those classes and the kids actually cared for each other more because of that cat.
When I "student taught" I had a master teacher who wanted to give me his snake to start my first classroom with. I was all jazzed to do it...except that I would have to keep it over the summer in my garage. My young wife, we were newly married, put her "foot down". No snakes. It was either her or the snake. I had to find some other "classroom pet" to start out with. We had hamsters, mice, rats, fish, but no permanent pythons. One of those early years a kid brought in his "pet snails". We observed them "scientifically" and tried different foods on them. Several boys dared each other to "eat" one as "escargot". I tried feeding them oatmeal and water to get rid of the green slime that continued to ooze out of them. In the end, no one was actually brave enough to sample one, not even the teacher.
As a family, we probably had more cats as pets than any other animal. We had had some sad experiences with dogs and fish/aquariums. Two or three times I had my whole class writing daily journals to my "literate" cat. I had found a rubber stamp of a paw all I had to do..."was leave out a bottle of ink...and my cat would dip his index claw in a spill and write little notes in their journals over the weekends and at night when his master, me, wasn't watching." Wow! Did that take off! Everyone wanted to write to my cat and find out all kinds of secret stuff about me. He would scold them, in writing (printing) about improper spelling and capitals and sentences etc. Many kids were eager to "suspend reality" to use their creative imagination and write to a/my pet. Sometimes their pet would write to mine. These were normally kids who had trouble writing less than a half page a day about their life, which I required weekly.
"Moxie" what a great name for a pet cat. (a cute kitten, right now) It means "courage in adversity". Boy, what I could do with a classroom. What does your pet's name mean? Why did you name them that? What is it's personality? What could it teach you? Do you have "moxie"? Does it have "spunk"? Will you need it to get through school? survive life? RRR

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Fund Raisers?

Money makes the world go 'round,

The world go 'round,

The world go 'round...

Yes, it's that time of year again in our Public Schools. Don't you just love it. Sad to say, selling and collecting things for money is now, even more so,a vital part of the curriculum. From Kindergarten all the way to High school, students and their parents and relative/friends are "expected" to help raise funds for all those "extra curricular activities" that would be missing if the schools just relied on the taxes. "Now, kids, here's how you sell, sell, sell!" This is not the "hard sell", this is the "guilt sell".

When I first started teaching...back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, selling stuff to help the school's budget was unheard of. Kids might be caught selling other "stuff" to each other, but, back then, it was rarely a "hard sell" if you know what I mean. Candy, gum, cinnamon sticks that burned your mouth, this was the merchandize. There was no "quality control" back then and my folks warned me not to buy or taste..."because you never knew where those sticks had been" (images of toothpicks dipped in dog dirt on the way to school before the sale). One of my sons used to sell "Jolly Ranchers" (sour candies wrapped up) to his friends between classes in Jr. Hi. Part of the thrill of it was "not getting caught". He then branched out to "widgets", as he called them. He found old bicycle chains, took them apart, cleaned and polished them and then linked back together in groups of three or four to make a "handy plaything". They sold, big time. Now, he's a "bench jeweler" and still makes good money. When I ran the student store as a 6th grade math project for the school, we got the "idea" to make money for our field trips by creating and selling (at that store during recess, before and after school) "Philberts". These little hazel nuts looked cute with little eyeballs and feathers, felt feet etc. They came with printed "care instructions". They loved to "sit on the corner of your desk and watch you work". You were cautioned never to put two, together in a "darkened desk"...They sold like hotcakes until the principal and several teachers "banned" them. We went on our field trip though.

Back then we had "Paper Drives" on a school-wide basis. Rooms competed against each other for the "grand prize" of a "movie" or an extra recess. It was at one of those cursed "paper drives" that my wife, in unloading our contribution of papers in the parking lot, lost her engagement diamond. It must've been picked up by the tread of the tires of the next car in line. Magazine sales were big at Jr. Hi. They probably still are. Discounts on magazine you could never ever get through...all for that good "cause" of "band uniforms" or extra orchestra instruments.

Yesterday, while I was subbing in a first grade, I had them coloring illustrations for their "free writing" (stories). During that "free time" I was instructed to "yank out the center of all the sales booklets going home" It was 4 pages on how to sell magazines. I guess the principal didn't want these K-4th selling magazines yet. There were "wonderful" and fairly cheap items of all kinds for sale and "glorious prizes" increasing in "value" for the more you sold...took orders and collected the checks/or cash. The assembly announcing all this was "very motivating" with lots of "audience response" (yelling) called for and gotten. Hover craft, heliocopters, electric cars (remote control and hands-on) were all there on display for motivation...if you just sold 15 or more items. Then the "whole school" would be eligible for an "X-Treme Party" with massive inflatibles on the field (not just bounce-houses) Well, there went the rest of the I didn't let them see the booklets. They were stuffed in their backpacks to go home.

So now, we are not only teaching kids how to take more and more types of tests so we raise our pre-to-post scores and get more funding, we are also leading them into the world of "super sales" and using all the "extrinsic motivations" of that world. I would guess that the upper grades could have lessons on "bookkeeping" and adding up all the sales figures. They could plan and plot how to sell the most expensive items for greater profits and quicker numbers for rewards. Most of these kids don't have parents who work in offices. If they did, they could send the broschures with them and "big sales" would return, especiallly if their parent(s) were "bosses". This is the way it is done now days. Early training as little "capitalists". Don't you just love it? RRR

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Importance of Self Disclosure

In our profession, as in many, a key factor is openess. If you want the students you work with to try their hardest and commit to their learning, your teaching and improvement, you must allow them to feel unthreatened, and free to "make mistakes" and learn from them. One of the best ways to do this is to "model" it yourself as a teacher and guide. In that initial example of self disclosure you let them know that they will not be ridiculed or deprecated in front of their peers. It is also very valuable to let them know about "you" and what makes you happy, your interests. I try to do this even as a "sub" coming into a class so I look more approachable and less intimidating. It especially works for the younger ones. When I goof, in front of them, I readily admit it and show no embarassment. I admit to my short-coming up front and assure them that I expect them to have some and do the same. A non-threatening environment is the best for learning and making new friends which is also a big part of school.

This past week I was pleasantly surprised to witness this going on at my favorite school with my favorite administrator. Yes, even principals could follow this advice: "Open yourself up more to your teachers and students. Be approachable and accepting of suggestions." This time I peeked in the office and had to wait to be acknowledged because a little 1st grader was sharing his little "bio-assignment" with the principal. This, I found out, is often done at this school. Reward and recognize a student(s) when they do something good by sending them to the principal. Usually it used to be only for something bad...and a tsk, tsk. Catch them doing something good and reward it, not extinguish it. I was told that this principal had recently told each class about her/himself in a sort of bio and how they got to be principal. Then they were encouraged to write back about themselves. Can you think of the positive presidence this sets for the future with this child?

Later that day I was in a class at another school. It was the first time I had volunteered there. I was visited by both the principal and vice principal, shall we say, "observed". With the former, there was no interaction with the students, the resident teacher or me...just checking to see if "I was following the lesson plan". With the latter, much more open and approachable. I was introduced as I was with my small group of "Math Game Players" and I actually shook hands. This is a big new school with at least 5 teachers per grade level.

When I was into my own career and actually studied for being "an administrator". The emphasis then was more on "school manager" not "educational leader or inspiror". What are the qualities of a good leader or motivator? For teachers as well as students? From my point of view, after a few years of observation and working for/under more than a dozen principals, I vote for the "more open and self-disclosing" leader. There can to some relaxed joking and teasing but mostly what you want and expect is "Earnestness" Truth in valid interactions and the absence of "threats" or negative consequences.

I was in my first classroom subbing yesterday. I couldn't help but notice in this 5th grade class, the absence of any of the above. There were at least three systems in place for dealing with discipline and disruptive behaviors: names on the board, warnings, clothes pins pinned in colored areas on a chart from green to yellow to red to black...all with increasingly negative consequences. There was a binder with pages of names, times and incidents already inscribed. On the positive side, there were "group points" for paying attentions and participating...but they were all confused and arguing about which group was which numerically. I even read them the seating chart with the group numbers. No wonder kids starting at these levels are increasingly turned off to the "class experience" of learning. I tried to add a bit of positive fun/games and play to a lesson plan which had none. We played "20 Questions" to reinforce "nouns" and we did some choral, dramatic reading with them after P.E. It was amazing how many didn't want to "risk" getting into character in front of their peers...even at this young age, 10+. This was at a "Middle School" where they are grouped with olders and rotate classes. Lots of "socialization" going on in between classes. Now that's when there is "self disclosure" to each other but I'm afraid it is more "role disclosure" and posing for each other. It might be better to leave these 5th's with their younger "home neighborhood schools" where they can be more themselves without such social pressure and intimidation. What do you think? RRR

Friday, August 29, 2008

Off We Go...?

Off we go!
Into the wild blue yonder
Flying high
Into the sky

Yes, the sky is the limit as another school year starts. We all remember that feeling when we have that first day/week of school with a new grade, a new teacher and maybe, even a new school. Of course, we don't think of it as a "new spaceship" or "flying saucer" let alone a very challenging puzzle (another from the Rubik's people) where each of six sections splits and divides but also the top and bottom halves also rotate. I'm sure the metaphor is not lost on any of us... our puzzling public schools are again being called upon to "prove their worth" and come up with curriculum and assessments that define and limit the scope and sequence of each grade's subjects and lesson plans. They are minimal requirements strictly to be followed so the responsibility falls squarely on the teacher's and administrator's interpretation of what their student's basic academic needs least paper and pencil needs. So forget about "flights of fancy" and "sky's the limit" when you are bound and evaluated on what in solely in the latest text books and their "test-able" matrices. Creative Rubrics are a thing of the past in most of our schools and woe unto those caught straying from the set grade-level agendas.

In this past (first) week, the above philosophy or point of view was very directly impressed on me as I visited a brand new school. State of the art facility all in very institutional blues and gray tones, I was impressed with how much had been done to make it ready in the last two weeks. "Twelve-hour days." I was told. I was visiting a teacher friend and offering my (volunteer services) once a week for an hour or so. I was welcomed because this teacher had seen me in action last year at another school site. I thought it best to "get the Okay" from the principal before I began next week. I was cautioned and warned that what I was to do and present, as a volunteer, had to be checked by the teacher/administrator ahead of time for how strictly it fell in line with that grade level's curriculum i.e. scope and sequence, lesson plans, "universal access". No "songs" or "math games" that might be too much fun, or off the "subject". I told the administrator what I had just done at another nearby school (and had been doing for the past four years, without complaint) i.e. "The Alphabet Song", "Do Re Mi Song" and "Magic Penny Song/Game". I didn't mention that I had also been asked to give six students a "pre-test" assessment what they already knew coming into the class. (minimal is hoped to show greater growth pre to post) There was a wariness and reticence in the acceptance. My reputation must be proceeding me. (maybe through this blog) It is no secret what I like to teach and how I like to sing with kids and get them to "enjoy" school and their learning. This, evidently, is not the role of a "substitute or guest teacher". Just follow the lesson plan "to a Tee". But couldn't this be a refreshing "act" or "gig" for an itinerant volunteer? We'll soon find out won't whee! Yes, Off we go! RRR

Friday, June 13, 2008

In The Good Old Summertime

There's time in each year

That we always hold dear,

Good old summertime.

With the birds and the trees

And the sweet-scented breeze,

Good old summertime.

When your day's work is over

Then you are in clover,

And life is one beautiful rhyme,

No trouble annoying

Each one enjoying,

The good old summertime.

In the good old summertime,

In the good old summertime,

Strolling through the shady lanes

With my baby mine;

You hold her hand

And she holds yours

And that's a very good sign

That she's your tootsey-wootsey

In the Good Old Summertime.

The 2007-08 school year is over today...Friday, the 13th. Most kids and teachers are counting it as a "lucky day" (not unlucky). This will be my last post for this school year. I'm undecided whether I will continue it next school year in late August. It has been fun and I have learned alot because it made me much more observant. The blogs effectiveness is still in question on whether it changed any mind-sets, opinions or practices in relation to its goal: to promote and be an exponent for the expanded 3 R's (cubed) i.e. less teaching to and for testing and more learning/teaching for the pure pleasure of it. I have observed the very best and the very worst in practices and rubrics and tried to report/journal on them. I have tried to suggest and summarize my beliefs and opinions about what our public schools (k-8) should be doing. Who knows if it will have any measureable or recognizable ripple in the mainstream of current curriculum.

Two days ago I had occasion to visit three of my favorite classrooms/teachers from this past year. I had to thank them and let them know they were a positive part of this blog. I also had to sing a couple new songs to two of the classes. In the one, I had to share "woody" my new ukulele. It was in this class that my old one broke in my hands while I was playing it. I shared a song that came to me while I was "reclining" in my new chair and feeling "retired". It is the song above. It is probably an old "wood-shedding" barbershop ditty. (yes, that's part of me too) I asked the kids if they knew when summer, as a season, really began. None knew it was the "Summer Soltice", June 21st, the longest day of the year for us. Most thought that summer started when they got out of school for the year...when I was I child, I did too. It was just a different feeling time, i.e. I could go barefoot, run in the sprinklers, play board games and go camping. They had a laugh when I tried to explain "tootsey-wootsey" as an old fashioned way of saying "sweetie-pie" or "honey-bun". (or whatever they say today) Actually for me, it was a time when I missed my "school friends" especially my current "girl friend". Now I'm with my life long "sweetheart" and we hold hands alot. I met her at camp in the good old summertime.

I also sang a new version of an old song they knew, "My Bonnie". I got these new words from my daughter-in-law from Va. She has recently been our house-guest. They go like this:

All rabbits have cute shiny noses.

I tell you this just as a friend.

The reason they have shiny noses?

The powder puff's on the wrong end.

Wrong end, wrong end...

It is cute and they had another laugh. One of the special teachers gave me the pencil you see above leaning against the hour glass. She was giving them out as prizes to her top students in music.(she was the Orff-Schulwerk teacher) It allows me to come back next year and "play any of her marvelous instuments". Oh joy! (my favorite is the biggest bass marimba)

The other teacher was in between classes and handing out yearbooks. She had some of the most creative art lessons that I had to interprete...under the stress of a few reluctant, recalcitrant and rambunctious students. I don't know how she does it everyday. I could see that the kids use her room and her as a "harbor" and "safe place" in that "storm of a school". Yes, I assured her, she could invite me back next year, even though I know I'll have to go where they send me on my "art prep period". (it is the law) "They own me for 7+ hours" and I may not end up where I signed up to go and teach. My lesson from her? Her level has to be a "nicer, kinder place" for these intermediate aged students. I saw the results of her kindness and "second-third-fourth etc. chances" that she regularly gave these stressed out students. Her rubrics were there, first of all, to help the kids find themselves and like themselves and Art.

There are other teachers that I have shared this anonymous blog with. They are also my favorites. They were trying to do the job on top of "testing" and teaching how to take tests. They are creative and inspiring teachers and I wish them well. I hope they don't get burdened down in the "testy" district's regs/standards and their obsession with proving their worth only on paper tests at the end of trimesters. School and Life Long Learning is so much more than that. Peace out! RRR