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

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