Friday, October 15, 2010

Backward Design: Understanding

Knowledge v Understanding

Why, after several days of modeling and practicing, can my students not solve this problem?

Joe works at Pilgram’s Pride making $8.20 hour. He gets time and half for overtime. What is his total salary for the week?

My math class has been working on problems similar to this one since school began in August. Even the students are asking why I still bring up these problems when we have moved on to yearly wages, commission, budgeting, etc. My answer: “Well, first and foremost, this is a real life problem. Second, life is made up of reading problems. People rarely walk up to you and ask, what is 40 time $8.20. You live your life solving problems.”

Now, what I have discovered as I muddled with the concept of Understanding from Chapter 3 of Backward Design is that I am working with many students whose parents do not work, or only work part time. Most of my students had no concept of what a “normal” work week even meant, much less “overtime”. For years they have seen math reading problems as something difficult and something that had no place in their lives. They do not have the necessary background knowledge necessary to understand the problems.

How did I turn this around? My students, many who are now in Jag, became the characters in the math problems. As students begin to look forward to their first real pay check, suddenly, number of hours took on a new meaning. When they discovered they could only work 15 hours a week, the 40 hour week also took on a new meaning. As one of the students who does work at Townsends and works full time (40 hours) began looking at a new truck, overtime looked really good.

Now, that I had their attention, and they seemed to understand the many problems created in class, I turned the tables. The students had to create the problems, and then introduce their problems to the class. What I discovered in my observation: All but one student proficiently understands how to calculate salary based on hourly pay and time and half for overtime over 40 hours. The students are still not ready to introduce problems involving commission, but we will get there. They now have more than a basic knowledge of the process which can be forgotten; they understand the process and its’ purpose in their own lives.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Work Begins

The young man I began working with on Thursday afternoon would not fit Allen’s criteria for her literacy intervention classroom, and that disturbs me. I understand that she needed to prove the program could be successful; however, I question the motives. It seems to me that the school addressed the immediate needs of fourteen students who would be borderline in passing the state test. Sad but probably true.

Only years of teaching helped me get through my experience on Thursday. Don’t get me wrong, Billy is an adorable, intelligent, interesting young man. But, I realized within sixty seconds of meeting Billy that he was well below his 3rd grade placement, when I handed him the map of the building so he could help find our classroom. As I ask him to find the library, he pointed to the lounge on the map. Being over prepared paid-off; as I was unable to give all of the tests I planned, due to Billy’s inability to read. Looking back, I really do not know how I could have planned any differently, with so little information. I learned more from sharing a read aloud, asking questions, and listening, than from my assessments. Of course, observation is assessment, right? Now, I really move out of my comfort zone into assessing phonics skills. As many classes as I have taken, the fact that I was not taught to read using phonics has forever plagued me in my teaching. At this point, I really think it is more apprehension with unpracticed strategies, than lack of knowledge. I am concerned about our space, as Billy speaks loudly, not in a whisper, and two other students are in the room working. I did not hear them, and Billy seemed unphased by their presence, however, we may have disturbed them. As we talked in our groups after the students left, I listened to the frustrations and fears of new teachers, realizing the importance of collaboration among colleagues. What each of them must realize is they bring something to the table also, fresh ideas, a desire for success, and undoubtedly, knowledge of phonics!

Book Studies and Bubble Kids!

In “Becoming a Literacy Leader”, Jennifer Allen indicates that as a teacher she often found that her needs and interests were not met within the professional development time each year. I certainly can relate to these feelings; often resulting in frustration over wasted hours and a continual need for new ideas and strategies. Just as Allen began meeting the needs of her teachers through voluntary book studies, so has a small group of teachers I work with at BHS. Her perception of the need for study groups and not a “teaching” situation with one person being the expert reflects her ability to release control and provide teachers with a format that allows growth and sharing of ideas and strategies. I continue to wonder at their choice to continue with one book study for more than a year. As I reflect on our own book study over Strategies That Work by Harvey Daniels and Anne Goudvis last year, I realize that maybe we should have spent more time with the strategies as a group, implementing more of them in our classrooms and discussing outcomes with one another as Allen’s teachers did in their book study. This would enable us to become more proficient with the strategies before moving on to another study.

Allen’s literacy intervention classrooms created to address students on the “bubble” stirred mixed feelings. The strategies implemented in these classrooms were obviously successful, based on test results; however, I find it obvious, and a little disturbing, that the school targeted the very students that might score just a few points below proficient on state testing. It is not that I think these students did not need the extra interventions, but I do wonder at the school’s motives? As I read Allen’s strategies on weeding out who would and would not be in the literacy intervention classrooms, it concerned me that the young boy I began working with last week would not have been one of the chosen. What happens to those not receiving special education services and not in the literacy intervention classrooms? Reading Recovery? Title I? As a high school special education teacher, I often ask myself how a child gets to tenth grade that cannot read on a 2nd grade level. Thursday, I found myself asking, how does an intelligent child get to third grade reading below 1st grade level? I hope I can find the missing link. I don’t want to see this young man in my classroom when he is in tenth grade.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pre Reading Camp Reflections

August 29, 2010

As my journey begins with my final graduate reading class, Reading 633, better known as “Reading Camp”, I find myself apprehensive about meeting two young students who I know absolutely nothing about and beginning our relationship with assessment. As a high school teacher, the apprehension doubles due to years of experience with teenagers, and very little experience with fourth grade and under other than my own grandchildren. There is one connection to my high school students however; due to their reading disabilities, most of them usually read within the same range as the students coming to reading camp. As I consider my first lesson plan, my first objective must be to get to know my student’s interest and ability so we can proceed with a positive, successful learning experience.

Jennifer Allen’s “Becoming a Literacy Leader: Supporting Learning and Change”, offers a very positive outlook on reading growth in the school. As we have two new literacy leaders at BHS, I can’t help but wish to share this book and the possibilities for our own staff. Allen offers many ideas and resources, as she explicitly talks about her growth as a literacy coach, beginning from scratch with little money and a very bare room. Allen’s beginning struggle with professional development workshops where the teachers sat as observers rather than willing participates reminds me of many workshops I have attended. I must confess that I plan to borrow her idea “My Life in Seven Stories” for my own English classes. Of course, I must get busy with my own “first story” so I have a model for my students.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Authentic Projects

Are you looking for new, authentic reasons for students to talk about their reading?  Check out this website where students tell "Whyy I Like This Book".  This is a reading promotion project of the public television station WHYY in Philadelphis that won this year's Internation Reading Association Broadcast Media Award for Television.  Students of all ages describe why they like a particular book.  Students submit an application, and those chosen participate in a videotaped audition.  Not only could some of our students participate on WHYY, but we might borrow their idea for our school website. Browse these authentic booktalks.  I read "Paper Towns" by John Green this summer.  It really is an awesome read.  What do you think?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Thing 6: Ning

Within minutes of connecting to Ning I found individuals working with special needs students, students at risk, and web2.0 tools. I had never explored Ning, but immediately found it more useful for collaboration than blogging.  Blogs are a useful place to reflect, but often sit idle if you are new to the blog world, waiting on collaboration.  Nings are like magnets for sharing knowledge! I will explore this tool further.

Thing 12: Delicious

I created my Delicious account last year, but used it very little.  I prefer Internet Explorer to Firefox and assumed Firefox was a requirement to having a Delicious toolbar.  However, the first thing I noticed today when I explored Delicious was the button for Internet Explorer.  That accomplished, I am now ready to expand my use of Delicious as an organzational tool rather than copying and pasting everything into my Photopage.