Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Weekly Reader

I used to just love getting the "Weekly Reader" in my classroom. It was usually the first item I ordered for the school year. Then I'd get a new packet almost every week. It was chuck full of short articles and pictures and graphs that were fascinating. I'm sure some of my students were not quite as interested. Another "reading assignment/quiz" they'd probably moan.

I was around long enough to see most of its "life cycle" from a small, two-page, black and white leaflet to a multi-page, color photo, graphic newspaper with "pull-outs". It cost alot and took quite a sacrifice of my "school/family budget"...yes, I was (am) guilty of using my "own/family funds" to buy "extra" school supplies. Most teachers still do it. I think, when I retired, it was up to over $2.50 per student. I was in the habit of ordering 15 to 17 so we'd have enough if we shared (two students per issue).

It always stimulated so much class discussion and writing. It was always "non-fiction", current World and National News and it made us "feel important" as we "solved" the World's problems. Then there were the quizzes and tests. Quarterly, we'd have the "Reading Comprehension Test" in the Teacher's Edition. (answers/answer sheet to bubble) I'd alway take a hold-punch and make an answer template that could be "centered" over the student answer sheet for easy correcting. It was different and more realistically accurate as a "test of reading" in those days. (B.S.S.T.- Before Statewide Standardized Testing) It then allowed you to go over it with the students and discuss why one or another question was "tricky"...something a standardized test never let you do. We are talking 4th, 5th, 6th grade level here.

Now, the copy is all "slick" and glossy on expensive paper. Back then, it was on newsprint/foolscap and very cheap. Back then, it would lead into and enhance their own, required weekly "Current Event Report". Yes, I let them use it for their weekly, assigned, oral report to the class (individually and in groups). Unheard of today...not enough time in the schedule, plus kids just aren't asked to get up and share, verbally, on a regular basis. My kids knew we had a "rotating report schedule" that took up the first 15 mins. of class with 5 days and 5 different groups responsible. One kid would do World News, one, National/local, one, Sports, one, free choice or human interest. They had to tell the "5 W's" + H of news/journalism. (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How). If they didn't, their classmates/me, would call them on it.

I was in two 4th grades this past week. One had a new packet of Weekly Readers; one didn't. The one who didn't was more open to discussion of "current events" even without the WR stimulus. The one who did, kind of moaned about having to go through it again. They were assigned to take it with them as "extra reading" when we went to the computer lab to take a TEST...MAP Test. (and I don't mean a "spacial map" Their current issue had a pull out on Science and the the "latest" discovery that "Pluto is no longer considered a planet in our Solar System". This was news to them as we discussed it. They thought there were still nine planets i.e. My Very Energetic Mom etc. for Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars (inner planets). It was mildly interesting news to them that Pluto is now a "dwarf planet" or "plutoid" along with several others of similar size and distance from our Sun. I just happened to bring an elongated "photo" (artist's rendition of pieced together Hubble photos) of our Galaxy - The Milky Way. They were more than mildly interested in that. I had a student hold the other end while I pointed out a small speck that just might be our Sun (a medium star) in this vast display. Then we were blown away by the fact that our Milky Way Galaxy is just a medium to small Galaxy in our known Universe of billions of them (uncounted). Talk about your "Horton Hears a Who"...moment!

At the beginning of the class, with a "first time class" (this was), I tell them alittle about myself and my career as a teacher. (38 years, drama, music, etc.) I usually end with a questions, "Anything else you want to know about me?" (oh yeah, "I'm not going to embarrass any of you today.") One girl pops her hand up, "Do you believe in God?" That was a first. This was before I showed them "The Milky Way" and talked of the immensity of our Universe. I answered, "That is an inappropriate question for a Public School. I'll be willing to discuss it with you, personally, at recess if you want." By recess, she had forgotten. I wonder if our "Universal Discussion" helped her decide? RRR

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Roosters In The Classroom

This last Friday I had the "fun" of subbing in a classroom that requested me again. I had been there once before this year and a few times last year. This time was different. I've written about this class before, i.e. the posts about Playwrights and Dancing. Now the students have expectancies and specific requests. I'm getting to know them better and especially certain "individuals" who might present more of a challenge to "group learning".

First of all, I got there early to check out the lesson plan. I right away noticed, walking into the portable next to the perimeter fence of the playground, roosters crowing. Outside they were pretty loud. Inside they were still pretty loud. I thought, "Oh well, it's early...this is what roosters do." Well, they continued to serenade us the rest of the day. To me it was distracting, but the children had gotten used to it. I asked them if they even noticed it anymore. "Not really." Maybe it is a "generational thing" i.e. ipods/blue tooths in the ears etc. This is a part of town where it is not unusual to have "livestock" in the backyard...especially chickens. I asked them if they had ever tried to visit the roosters. They were not allowed to go behind the portables in a very small space/wired-off fence. Had they "named" the roosters? "Nope." Had they written letters to them or to their owners? "Nope." By now, I would've had the roosters named and writing letters to the kids asking for responses. They would each have personalities and appeal to different types and interests. They'd have their own "signatures" and I'd have an art contest to draw pictures of them. After all, this is only a 2nd grade...imaginations run wild at this tender age.

I wasn't long before I noticed that there were some "rooster-kids" in the room. Usually you will always have one or two who crave attention (especially the teacher's) and who have a whole "other agenda" than what has been planned in the lesson by the regular teacher or the sub. They are the last to get started on the assignment, or the first to have an alternate suggestion, at least for themselves. They don't usually strut around the room physically but they make sure you know, and their fellow students know, that they are there. The leading one in this classroom was in the habit of speaking out and back to "the teacher" and always having an attitude of defiance...or "I don't care". After about 3 or 4 interruptions..."suggestions" of how to teach the class or "what our regular teacher always does". I asked him to move his "behavior clothespin" from green to yellow. This is a warning procedure to get them to stop before it escalates to 2. missed recess, 3. take work to a next door room 4. note home and the colors go from "def-com" yellow to orange to red to black. This disrruptive student was one of two or three who were always sucking on something that you thought might be gum...2nd grade, mind you! His was a metal necklace of less than sterile condition. I had to take that away next. Then it was denial and hiding other objects. He was very verbal, I'm sure, had a high IQ. Work was usually easy and done super fast/first with ostentation. He also suggested the book to read to the class first thing...when we were on "the carpet". I had my own plans with some "nonfiction" posters and magazine articles. When called upon to recite the next part of the lesson, no problem, quick and correct. He was even answering other student's questions.

When it came time to have "fun friday" the last hour of the day he had a did 3 or 4 others. They hadn't brought back their week's homework packet (all done) so they were "prisoner of chair" for that last period. He was fit to be tied. "I did it but I just left it home." The guy next to him "couldn't remember if he had done it or turned it One wanted to work on it right then and there..."Sure, I'll help you with the parts you don't understand," I said, an proceeded to teach her again how to do subtraction with regrouping. Suddenly, "rooster #1" comes up to me with the homework packed in hand. "It was at the bottom of my backpack. I guess my mom stuffed it in there when I didn't notice." Wow! It was correct. He made a beeline to the one remaining computer for the "games" available at this time.

Now, when I look back on the day's interactions, especially with the "roosters", I realize that...I'm somewhat of a "Rooster Myself". I'm a male teacher in a primary setting where there are very few "roosters" to relate to. Their sweet regular teacher has different, more effective, ways of dealing with these "pecking order" challenges I'm sure. They are used to her ways. I'm not...but then, isn't this a big part of what public education is all about? Adapting to changing conditions which are usually less than "ideal". What would you do if you, as a little kid, were confronted by "Foghorn Leghorn" on a rainy day... couped up with a bunch of chickens? RRR

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"What I want for...every Child in America"

As I sit at my computer desk looking out my office window at the majestic, panoramic view of snow-capped Mt. San Gorgonio, I can't help but be inspired and hopeful. I can see for miles on this clear eve of M.L.K.jr. Day and the upcoming 44th Presidential Inaugural. I so want to be optimistic for our Country and Its Future (Its Children especially) They continue to be the "Building Blocks" of all the great and wonderful things to which we individuals, as families, as communities and as a nation. We hope to be able to "line them up straight" and prepare them for their "brave new world".

In the Los Angeles Times' Parade Magazine today there is a "letter" written by our President-Elect, Barack Obama to his daughters. I'd like to quote from this letter:

"When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me - about how I'd make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly all my big plans for myself didn't seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn't count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that's why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation."
"I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential - schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them. I want them to have the chance to go to college - even if their parents aren't rich. And I want them to get good jobs: jobs that pay well and give them benefits like health care, jobs that let them spend time with their own kids and retire with dignity."
..."That was the lesson your grandmother tried to teach me when I was your age, reading me the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and telling me about the men and women who marched for equality because they believed those words put to paper two centuries ago should mean something."
"She helped me understand that America is great not because it is perfect but because it can always be made better - and that the unfinished work of perfecting our union falls to each of us. It's a charge we pass on to our children, coming closer with each new generation to what we know America should be."
"I hope both of you will take up that work, righting the wrongs that you see and working to give others the chances you've had. Not just because you have an obligation to give something back to this country that has given our family so much - although you do have that obligation. But because you have an obligation to yourself. Because it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential."
"These are the things I want for you - to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That's why I've taken our family on this great adventure."
"I am so proud of both of you. I love you more than you can ever know. And I am grateful everyday for your patience, poise, grace and humor as we prepare to start our new life together in the White House."
This sums it up for me and says it better than I could. It is still what I want for my sons and their children. It is the reason I'm still teaching and volunteering in our public school classrooms. Our President-elect has asked that tomorrow, M.L.K. Day, to be a day of "In Service" to our country. I say, let's strech it out to days, weeks and years. We need it. RRR