Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Time Limiting as a Proficiency Booster

So, I've been tutoring this student from Chabot Elementary. Its been going pretty well. There's one idea that I've found particularly useful. I've been using a phonics wheel. This is how it works. You have two paper plates. Both one paper plate rests on top of the other. The paper plate on top has a two letter ending for a three letter word (e.g. -an, -at) at the very right center of the plate. Also, in the top plate, a rectangular window is cut out just left of the two letter ending. The two paper plates are bound together with a brass fastener thrust through the center of both plates. In the bottom plate, there are letters such that you can turn the bottom plate and whichever letter you turn to will appear in the rectangular window of the top plate.

Now, I could just stop there, but there's one other element that made this phonics tool particularly helpful. I tell my student that the name of this game is called "Me against me." He plays the game once. I will turn the wheel. As I turn the wheel, he will say each word that is formed by the letter that appears in the rectangular window and the two letter ending that is on the top plate. I let him borrow my watch and he times how fast he can say all of the words in the cycle. I showed him how to use the timer on my watch. He gets a kick out of using it. After he plays the game once, he checks his time. Then, we see whether he can beat his own time. He usually beats his own time.

My student wants to get the fastest time possible. What I find interesting is that when I include that time element, he actually performs better than when he has all the time in the world to pronounce a word on a flashcard. Frequently, when I merely give him a flashcard to read, he will guess what the card says based on a previous two letter ending that he had learned (e.g. he will read "fan" as "fat" since he had learned how to pronounce three letter words that have the -at ending just before three letter words with the -an ending). My guess is that he feels that when he's being timed, he can't really spend time thinking about a guess. He just has to say what comes to mind.

Whatever the case may be, its been one of my most effective tools in getting him to learn two letter patterns. Here's a link if you're curious about the phonics wheel.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Students & Microphones

My current mentor, Ms. Massey is one of several teachers who were selected for a pilot program. The pilot program involves Massey using a set of hardware with one of her classes. The hardware set consists of a headset, a transmitter, speaker, and a handheld microphone. The transmitter is to convey a signal to the speaker so that when Massey speaks into the headset, you hear her voice from the speaker. The handheld microphone is for the students.

In my view, this microphone set isn't really for the teacher necessarily. In all the elementary classes that I have sat in, I have never thought, "I can't hear what the teacher is saying. I'm gonna ask the teacher to repeat him/herself." However, those are thoughts that I have at least each lesson with the students. Also, there are definitely instances during lessons when students cannot hear what other students have said. So, the microphone set is really for the students.

The thing with this microphone set is that the volume could be set so high that even if a student whispered into the mic, you would still be able to tell what they had said. Further, the likelihood that other students hear what a speaking student is saying also improves.

The aim of making students more audible to each other and the teacher is not necessarily simply to make them more audible. It's that when they are not audible, time must be taken out of class time to get them to repeat what they had said. If they are heard the first time because they are using a microphone, then they won't need to waste time by repeating themselves.

If you want to be hard on your students, instead of using the microphone, you can just skip inaudible students and move on to the audible students. That isn't something that I would personally do because I think that it would serve as a confidence killer.

Some kids are afraid to talk because they are worried that their ideas will not be approved of (to speak generally). If they are heard and their ideas are respected, then it's my conviction that those instances will build their confidence to speak in class. That's basically what I think a value of having the microphone set in a class is.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Restroom Ordeal

Every Monday through Friday, I am in the auditorium for the afterschool program that I work in. We start the afterschool program by taking roll. That is, we are trying to determine which students are present and which are absent. We have about 120 students to take roll for. That's a lot of students. So, it takes a while to account for everyone. The easiest way to take account for everyone who is either present or absent is for everyone who is present to remain in the room in which roll call is being taken. That's why no one is permitted to go to the restroom while roll call is in progress.

If we did allow anyone to go to the restroom while roll call was in progress, then when a student returned from the restroom, we would need to go back to record them as present (assuming that there name had already been called). That is inefficient and inconvenient because all students are accounted for in alphabetical order.

A couple days ago, this second grader is squirming where he is sitting because he needs to go to the bathroom. He runs over to go to the restroom. I stop him.

Me: Hey. Where are you going?

2nd Grader: I need to go to the restroom really bad.

Me: You can't go during roll call. Sit down.

2nd Grader: But, she said that I could go.

Me: Go back to your seat. Sit down.

So, I talk to one of the afterschool teachers that I work with and she tells me that he appeared like he was going to wet his pants. So, she urged me to let him go. I gave into it. In retrospect, I wish that I had held my ground.

This is what I was thinking in retrospect. Every student has several opportunities to go to the restroom. They have morning recess, afternoon recess, lunch, before roll call, and students are even allowed to go to the restroom during class time. So, in my view, this kid has no excuse to be going to the restroom during roll call. Let's say that this kid wets his pants. So what? We have a spill and he learns that he has to plan when he goes to the restroom. Also, it needs to be clearly explained to him that he cannot go to the restroom whenever he wants because sometimes it is an inconvenience to other people such as those taking roll call.

An argument that one of my coteachers made was that he would be embarrassed if he wet his pants. I have a response to that. Every student will have some day throughout their entire school life from K through 12 when they get embarrassed. So, what are we going to do? Are we going to cater to every single embarrassing moment that any given student has? No we're not. Why? Because its not feasible and it doesn't teach students to deal with their shortcomings, flaws, mistakes, and so on.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Advantage of a Class Website

So, my current mentor has mentioned her interest in setting up a classroom website. On it, she would post the assigned homework for the current day. To me, that's a pretty big deal. It's a big deal because I hear so many students in class say that they didn't bring their homework because they didn't know what the homework was.

They could've not written the homework down in their planner while in class, misplaced their planner, not having listened while in class, didn't know someone who knew what the homework was, or even a genuine and serious situation like being sick. A classroom website can serve as a response to all of those excuses. For every one of those situations, there is an easy solution. Look at the website.

As long as your internet is not down or your local library is still open, you would be able to independently figure out what the assigned homework is for the present day. Thus, you could still know what the assigned homework is.

Although I think having a classroom website to list each day's homework is a great idea, I think some students would still try to find ways around it. I think some students would make up excuses like my internet was down, the website wouldn't open, my computer wasn't working, I didn't remember the website address, or even just, I forgot to check. Hopefully, I'm wrong about some kids pumping out excuses like that, but I've already seen too many kids trying to excuse themselves for their mistakes, so I'm still a little pessimistic about this great idea. I would be less pessimistic if I knew of an actual teacher who did this and got good results from it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Descriptive Writing About Monsters

My current mentor brought up an idea to the class a couple of days ago. Her students seemed really into it, so I'll share it with you. Just as a reminder, my current mentor teaches 4th grade. Basically, I think my mentor wanted to form an idea of how her students perform in terms of giving precise descriptions.

First, everyone made their own monster. That is, they used a lined sheet of paper to write a paragraph describing how their monster appears. That took them about 15 minutes to 20 minutes. Then, everyone lined up in alphabetical order. Ms. Massey, my mentor, paired them up. There was one group of three. For every two partners, each partner will read the other's description of their monster. After doing that, they would draw the monster for each others' description. It's important to note that they cannot add any details that are not in the description.

So, what does a student do if they lack certain details? For example, one student was lacking information on shape. Another student was lacking information on color. In both cases, anyone's guess is literally just as valid as another's. For shape, the monster might just be given a human figure. If color is not specified, then you don't need to give it any color. At the same time, it would seem acceptable to give it any color as well.

This activity was great for three reasons: #1 It shows you your students abilities to provide precise details. #2 It shows you your students abilities to interpret details (i.e. through their attempts at their illustrations) and #3 It gets students involved in an activity that almost every (if not, every) student likes; drawing.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tutoring Elementary Students

So, a while back, I told you about my strategy for getting some tutoring jobs to make some extra cash. Chabot Elementary, the school that I'm a before and after school teacher has a "broadcast." Basically, that's an online newsletter. Interested individuals submit their ad to Chabot Elementary by email before Wednesday and their ad is included in the following week. The "broadcast" is displayed on the website. Parents view this "broadcast." I haven't looked at it myself, so I'm not quite sure how it is arranged.

In any case, I have good news. Thanks to advertising myself on that broadcast, I have a 1st grade student to tutor. Apparently, he cannot identify words or even break down words into their phonemes. That is, he can, but not independently. I'll be honest. I was a little nervous prior to meeting with this student. So, I did a few things.

The parent of this first grader told me who his teacher was. So, right away, I sought his teacher. I wanted her idea of what exactly his needs are. And, that's how I found out that he was behind on sight words and blending letters to form words.

When I met with him, I did a couple assessments just to personally have an idea of his ability to pronounce lower and uppercase letters as well as to break words into phonemes. It turned out that there were just a few letters that my student got confused on and if I showed him how to break words into phonemes, he could do it, but if I just asked him to do it, he wouldn't know where to begin.

I made some progress with my student. What was most helpful was giving him a formula like 'd' and 'ay' make "day." "What word do 's' and 'ay' make? Try saying it." After I did that, he started saying words on his own. Before, he wasn't blending letters into words on his own, so that was a huge development for me.

The parents were satisfied with my progress. They want me to come back next week on Mondays and Fridays. I'm pretty excited about that. That's $20 per hour for two hours a week. She said she would give me a recommendation if needed, but I agree with her husband that she should wait a little longer before doing anything like that. But, if this tutoring experience continues to go well, then I'll definitely have their word of mouth to rely on.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sparking Student Inquiry via Real Events

So, 9/11 was yesterday. Originally, my current mentor wasn't planning on talking about it, but the principal announced that each teacher would indeed talk about it.

Basically, my current mentor explained how a couple American Airlines planes were hijacked and crashed into the twin towers and the pentagon. She also described how a couple thousand people had died. She said that the attack was done out of a hatred so deep that they were willing to give up their lives to fulfill it. She went further by saying that she doubted that anyone in the classroom had that kind of conviction. After giving her explanation, she handed off control to the kids to ask questions.

The kids asked a lot of questions: "Why did they crash the plane into the World Trade Center?" "Why was the plane on fire?" "Were the terrorists caught?" "Were they trying to get attention?" "Why did they risk their lives to kill so many people?" "Where were they hiding?"

Unfortunately, I didn't record all the questions. But, they asked a lot more. Whenever you get the chance to use a well known event to teach content, use it. These students were way interested in talking about 9/11. Once you have their personal intrigue, then it will be easier for you to steer the content into the lessons that you desire. In this particular case, it just led to a lot of discussion on the students' parts which is still pretty good.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Making Chairs Unstoppably Quiet

This is something really small, but its such a distraction. Its when students scoot towards or away from their desks. On a solid floor, depending on the chair, the screech of a chair sliding on a floor surface can directly compete with a teacher's voice. The bottom line is that the less disruptions you have in class, the better.

For whatever reason, students will move their chairs about. It could be simply because at one time, they were comfortable with their chair's position, but now they're not. It could be because they dropped their pencil behind them, need to go grab a tissue, throw some trash away, etc.

Anyway, here's a solution. Assuming that your chair has four feet, grab four tennis balls. Slash them open. You want to be careful not to slash them too narrowly. If you slash them too narrowly, the feet of the chair may not fit. At the same time, you only want to slash it enough so that the feet will fit in the tennis ball. That is ideal. And, this is what you get:

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Principal's Pedestal of Shame

Last week, I was supervising the upper yard of Chabot Elementary. I was watching three 4th grade girls mind their own business. They were simply conversing with each other. This 3rd or 4th grade boy comes up behind one of them. He's holding a basketball. He's got this devilish smirk on his face. He chucks the basketball at one of the girl's backs. He runs off. I point straight at him and yell for him to come over.

First, I ask him why he threw that basketball at that girl's back. He says, "Because...," and then I cut him off mid sentence. "Actually, you know what? I don't care what your reason is because there is no reason you could give which would justify you throwing a basketball at her back. Go to the lower yard. If you do that again, I'm taking away your ball." Just then, the principal sees me talk to him.

He says, "Mr. Auto. He's in Adventure Time." I reply by telling him that I wasn't talking to that male student about whether he was in Adventure Time or not. I was talking to him because he threw a basketball at a girl's back. So then, I point him out to the girl's back that was hit. After that, the principal snapped. He seemed genuinely pissed about the whole situation. You could hear it in his voice, wide gestures, and hard stares at the boy.

The principal asked for the boy's reason for throwing the basketball. Unlike me though, he actually listened. The boy's reason for throwing the basketball was because his friend had done it to him before. That made him feel justified for throwing the basketball at a girl's back. That upset the principal more. He had a series of responses to that "justification."

"Someone hit you with a basketball and so now that gives you license to break every rule?! You can't think like that! That's stupid! You're not going to get anywhere in life thinking like that! This has gotta stop! You're better than this! We need to talk to your mom."

He basically shamed the student for 5 to 10 minutes. I don't think the principal needed to go that far, but nonetheless, he was pretty effective in putting a guilty look on that student's face.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Eye to Eye Farewell

You might remember that I was missing one of my students, but she turned out to be with her dad because she doesn't go to the after school program on Wednesdays. Well, her teacher uses an extremely simple technique which helps him keep track of where students are or are going.

At the end of every class, he has every one of his kindergartners look him in the eye and then, say "bye." On the surface, it looks like all that's being done is saying good bye, but there's a little more to it than that. You don't want your kindergartners leaving if they don't have a trusted adult to go with. So, if a kindergartner says "bye" to you, you figure that it's because a trusted adult is in proximity. But, if you look at the kindergartner straight in the eyes, you look up, and see no trusted adult, then you know that that kindergartner should not leave.

Also, because you establish the routine that students must look you in the eye before they leave, you're reassuring yourself that your kindergartners aren't just walking off. In that case, you wouldn't know what to think about their whereabouts. Whereas, if they look at you in the eyes while saying good bye and you immediately see a trusted adult within range, you know that each and every individual kindergartner is accounted for. That's the significance of an eye to eye farewell for each and every individual kindergartner.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Introducing Self to Parents

Last week, I was picking up the kindergartners for the after school program. I took attendance. I was missing one of the kindergartners. I looked in the classroom. I didn't see her. The teacher said that she was supposed to be with me. I know that I saw her stand up, so I was expecting her to be in line with the other kindergartners that I had took attendance for. So, I was kind of nervous that she wasn't in line with the rest of them. I took all the kindergartners to the portable.

I was looking around the portable hoping to find her. I didn't see her. I asked a few of the after school teachers whether they saw the student that I was looking for, but the kindergartner that I was looking for was a new student. So, they didn't know who I was talking about.

Finally, I went to the office. I asked the office to page the student over the intercom. So, they do it. I constantly looked outside the office. No sign of that kindergartner. I step outside and I see her walking up the stairs outside to the entrance of the office. She is holding a male adult's hand. Soon after they walk up the stairs, I introduce myself to him and him to me. I figure out that he is this kindergartner's dad.

Apparently, he was waiting right outside the door where I was waiting to take my kindergartners to the after school program. He said that had he known who that I was an after school teacher, then he would've told me that his daughter doesn't go to the after school program on Wednesdays.

So yea, the bottom line for me is that I should introduce myself to the parents of students in my after school program because then they will know to give me valuable information which pertains to the both of us. And, based on the information which they provide me, I can plan accordingly (e.g. expect for a particular student not to show up).

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Student Teacher VS Volunteer

CalStateTeach, the credentialing program that I'm in, requires its students to be placed at a school for student teaching. Essentially, a student teacher is the equivalent of an intern in a teacher's classroom. My current supervisor, James, was helping me find a placement, but I was trying to quicken the process by getting in contact with other principals.

When I started my first year with CalStateTeach, I wasn't aware that I was a student teacher. I just saw myself as volunteering. So, when I presented myself to any given principal, I would ask them if any teacher would want a volunteer. It was pretty easy for me to find myself a placement. Go to any given elementary school. I would guess that 100% of the time, someone in there would find a way to make use of a volunteer.

Of course, after I met with the teacher, I would discuss what exactly I was looking for in my experience as a volunteer. For example, I would want to eventually teach at least one lesson a day. And, as the teacher becomes comfortable I would become comfortable taking control of the classroom in other ways.

For this last term, I've been advertising myself as a student teacher, I've found it much more difficult to find placements. I have a lot of elementary schools that are actually rejecting my offer to student teach for one of their teachers. I was a little surprised by that. I have a guess as to why that is. This is a definition of "student teacher" that I just pulled off of Google: "Web definitions:a college student who is teaching under the supervision of a certified teacher in order to qualify for a degree in education." Google pulled it off of 

So, if other elementary schools are operating off of that definition, then that means that a student teacher adds more work for a teacher. And, if a student teacher adds more work for a teacher, then teachers will be less focused on other aspects of the classroom. Whereas, if I'm just seen as a volunteer, they can direct me as needed as opposed to keeping an eye on me like one of his/her students. 

This is the bottom line. If you are trying to student teach at an elementary school, you are better off presenting yourself as a "volunteer." It seems that a lot less pressure or burden seems to come with the connotations of a volunteer. After you are accepted by a teacher as a volunteer and as a teacher becomes comfortable with you, you can begin to solidify details that will give you a student teacher-like experience. So then, you have the acceptance rate of a volunteer and the experience of a student teacher.