Wednesday, October 30, 2013

No Class Lists, Again

And AGAIN.  I know teachers do attendance on their computers, but subs can't do that.  It is very difficult to take attendance, if you don't have a list of the students' names.  This time - no homeroom list.  A list for literacy class (from the emergency folder), but no list for math class.  Two of the lists in the emergency folder were from last year. I wonder if the list of medical alerts was current.

Subs do not have time for chasing class lists and have very limited means for checking their accuracy.  PLEASE include them with your sub plans. 


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bullying of Teachers

I don't plan to return to the high school, where the kids were so difficult last week.  It is a very long drive for me and I only took the job, because they desperately needed a sub who could speak German.  But I am still thinking about some of the behaviors of the students in two of the classes there.  At what point does bad behavior turn into bullying of the sub?  When kids talk loudly and interrupt the sub constantly, does that constitute bullying?  (probably)  Does passive refusal to do anything constitute bullying?  (probably not, but it still makes life difficult for the sub)  What recourse do subs have? 

If students are bullied, we tell them to tell an adult.  If subs are bullied, what can they do?  I called the administration to come remove a student from one of the classes I taught.  No one came.  So the students all learned that subs have no power and no way to stop them from doing whatever they want, short of violence.  I didn't feel physically threatened in this case, although it would have been possible - there were a lot more of them, and the odds would have been bad.  But, I was hired to teach them, not babysit them, and their behaviors certainly did interfere with my job. 

What else could I have done?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Higher Grouped Classes Larger

I was subbing for a 4th grade with around 25 students.  The kids switch classes for math and I had a group of 30 students.  I was not explicitly told that they were the higher group, but this is the common way of dividing kids when they switch classes.  Usually the top group gets more students, the middle group has an average number, and the low group gets fewer students. 

And now I am pondering what the effects of this are for gifted and highly gifted students.  On the one hand, the level of the whole class can be somewhat higher.  Generally, these groups use exactly the same textbooks, but sometimes their homework or side activities are a bit different.  And, if there are exceptionally able students in the class, the teacher could possibly cluster group them (though I have never seen any indication that teachers have done so).  On the other hand, the classes are larger, which means more grading, more classroom management challenges (even finding enough places for the extra students to sit), and more communication duties (parents, homeroom teachers). 

So, is it helpful?  Probably.  Is it sufficient?  Probably not, in some cases. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Building Keys

Keys are a huge problem for subs.  The rules for acquiring keys vary tremendously from school to school and from district to district.  The procedure lately in most of the schools I have been in is to NOT issue the sub a key, but rather to get someone to unlock and re-lock the door, then put a magnet over the the door jam, so that the door remains openable, but the magnet can be quickly removed in case of a lock-down. 

These procedures leave subs in difficult positions.  At the high school I was at last week, I was a floater and had to keep my things in one of the two departmental offices.  Since I couldn't lock this door when I left, I had to wear my purse with me all day, as I went from classroom to classroom.  In addition, many times when I left the office, someone (yes, I suspect a student or two) would steal the magnet from the door jam, leaving the room locked.  I would then have to either call the office or get a teacher with a key to open the door for me.  It was VERY annoying and rather demeaning.

Some schools also lock the teachers' bathrooms.  I don't mind using the students' bathrooms, but the kids are sometime uncomfortable seeing a teacher there.  They feel as though I am spying on them.

And, today, I was in a mobile classroom.  I am not sure why nearly all of these VERY NEW schools weren't built large enough to hold all the students at the school, but every single one of them has a few mobile classrooms.  At any rate, I WAS given a key, because, in order to get into the school for specials, the bathroom, and the office, you have to use a clicker key.  Confident that this was sufficient, I used the key (to the mobile classroom) and the clicker card all day just fine.  Then, as I was leaving, I tried to get back into the school to check out - only the clicker card no longer worked.  I tried several times, until one of the secretaries took pity on me and came to open the door.  Evidently the clicker card stops working at 2:30 - the very minute school gets out.  I am not sure what a sub is to do to get back into the school after that time, unless the secretary happens to notice.  (And I wasn't told of this fact beforehand, so I could anticipate the problem.)  I am never ready to leave the moment the students leave, so this would always be a problem for me.

The schools and school districts may trust us with the children, but they don't trust us with working keys.  Yes, I understand that some subs may forget to turn in keys and it is incredibly expensive to re-key a building and issue new keys, but there are solutions to that.  One school had me trade my car keys for a room key.  I am not entirely comfortable with that, but I think schools that have me sign out keys to be returned at the end of the day don't have as much of a problem.  Annoying.


Yes, I am shouting - because teachers neglect to do this so often and I am tired of it.  If the office is supposed to give the sub the attendance lists, the sub STILL needs a copy to keep when they are sent to the office.  If you want me to tell you how your students did while you are gone, I need a list to make notes on, so I can write that up in my note to you at the end of the day.  I can see dozens, if not hundreds, of students in a week.  I can't remember them all, but I can make notes on a class list so you can congratulate the great ones and deal with the not so great ones.

And, don't forget, if you switch classes for a subject, say social studies or math, give me a class list for the other class, too.  This isn't just for the above reasons, but also in case of an emergency.  The emergency folder by the door won't help, if the class I currently am taking is a different one.  And, if kids mysteriously disappear to a special class, I need to know that.  Who goes where and when?  When do they get back? 

Yes, I do know that I can ask the office to print extra copies of some of the above mentioned lists, but that takes precious time away from trying to figure out how to do my best with your lesson plans.  In order for me to prepare well, I need time to read through the lesson plans, locate all of the appropriate materials, check the classroom rules and disciplinary procedures, figure out the school layout and where various rooms are - library, nurse, restrooms, lunch room, where I pick the kids up from lunch, etc. Typically, subs have 30 minutes or less to get ready for the day.  If I am walking back and forth to the office to get class lists, this can take a good deal of this time, especially if I have to wait for the secretaries to help others and then print my lists.  [And subs are frequently NOT allowed to use copiers, even if they could find them.]

I need to know what the plan is for special education students in your class.  What do I do if Student X can't hold it together and needs to have someone come help her?  How do I use your telephone?  [No, they aren't all alike and all of the front offices in the various buildings I go to aren't called in the same manner.]  How about printing up and laminating directions and common phone numbers and leaving it in the sub folder? or PROMINENTLY near the phone?

Finally, please keep these lists updated.  Usually the kids can tell me if a certain student has moved away, but this ISN'T always true.  Don't leave this information for the kids to supply.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Subbing - German - Day 3

I was anticipating that the third day of subbing with no lesson plans and two (of three) extremely disrespectful classes would be even worse than the second day.  Only, it wasn't. 

The upper level French teacher had asked me to sub for her for the first three classes.  She assured me that they were just taking quizzes, so they would be fine with a sub who, for all practical purposes, knew no usable French.  [One semester of college French more than 40 years ago doesn't go very far.]  And I knew she was actually an excellent teacher.  Her room was across the hall from the office where my non-existent teacher's desk was and I could hear her leading her classes - excellent accent, no nonsense teaching style, but very supportive, too.  So I took her first three hours.  They were, in fact, fine.  The only slight glitch was that the office had given me her sub folder, which was supposed to contain attendance rosters, didn't.  So I just had the kids sign their names on a sheet of paper.  I didn't have time to go down and back up at least 3 sets of stairs to get to the office, so they had to deal with the attendance problem. 

Then came my first (and second worst - according to the previous day) class.  Dread.  I had decided that today, as a follow up to the lesson yesterday, I would have them do a lesson from the textbook.  Yesterday, according to a suggestion from the other German teacher, I had had them make a poster of a family.  So, I chose a lesson from the book which discussed a family tree and how to describe various people in the family.  At least there would be some continuity of lessons.  I did not hand back the posters from the previous day - I left them for the new teacher.  This class had 2 extremely talkative students, who felt it was their jobs to regale the rest of the students with jokes and comments whenever they felt like it - which was pretty much constantly.  There were also several hanger-on kids, who joined in the fun whenever they felt like it would provide an additional amusing annoyance for the sub.  Again, there were also a large number of absences - nearly 1/3 of 30-some kids.  My tactic this time was different.  I separated the two continuous talkers - and got disrespectful protests from the student I asked to move.  I told all of the students that they were not obligated to listen, but that they were also not allowed to disrupt the learning of those who wanted to get the lesson.  I had to do this several times and repeat it at various times during the 50 minute lesson, but eventually, the two talkers subsided a little and I got to the lesson.  I just followed the textbook, picking the sections that required little student interaction (which I could not risk) and having the students who were actually making an effort write their answers down.  I required every student to hand in a paper at the end of the class on their way out, with at least their name on it.  At the end of the class, I was shaking with nerves and suppressed anxiety, but at least I felt that I had accomplished something and the students who had participated had had a productive lesson.   

Then came lunch and a chance to calm down a bit.  The second German class was the class that actually tried, so I wasn't particularly worried about it.  The second German class was, indeed, much better.  It was almost fun.  In addition to the same lesson I had given for the first class, I read a little bit of Babar, in German.  I didn't have to spend all my energy trying to control the class.  I am glad this class will have the new woman as their teacher.  She will do well by them.

Then came my "planning" period.  I graded the papers of the first two German classes and updated my notes for the new teacher.  But the biggest challenge was still coming up and I was not looking forward to it.  Fortunately, it was in the great French teacher's room (who was back from her morning meeting).  I explained to her the disrespect I had had to deal with the previous day in relation to her special chairs, so she casually sat at her desk working for a few minutes as the class started,  It was a great help.  There were around a dozen kids absent from this class of 38, so that helped.  The same lesson.  But, for some reason, this class was not disruptive.  There were around a dozen students who absolutely refused to do any of the work, but they didn't interrupt and there were 4 or 5 students who were actually participating and learning.  I count that as success. 

And that was the end of the day.  I cleaned up and then went home. 

It occurred to me on the way home that bullying can actually happen in a way that isn't normally addressed.  Students can bully teachers, too.  These two classes were actually bullying the sub - verbally and emotionally. 

But it also occurred to me that the suggestions of the other German teacher were probably wrong.  He didn't provide me with any lesson plans, but said that I could do review of letters, numbers, colors, body parts, etc.; and I could do an art project with them.  Last on his list of suggestions was to do a lesson from the book, but there was no indication where in the book the students might be.  Given the chaotic nature of the first quarter for these students, I think I should probably have started out with the book - no matter where.  They needed the structure and assurance that they were actually supposed to learn something and that they were capable of doing so.  Art projects and relatively unstructured review made them view the classes as just place holders, until the real stuff came along. 

Oh, well.  Live and learn.

But one thing that gives me a little satisfaction:  after hearing the other German teacher speaking German, I have the smug knowledge that, even if my grammar is a bit lacking, I have a MUCH better German accent than he does.  I still sound like an American when I speak German, but not as much as he did. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Subbing - German - Day 2

Well, yesterday may not have been horrid, but today certainly was.  

I was hired to sub for the German classes. One of the 3 classes was great. The other two were horrid. 

The teacher will be a "floater" - no room of her own, so I had to go around to different rooms.  I followed a suggestion by the other German teacher and planned to have the students make posters of a family.  They could choose their own family or the Simpsons or even just make up a family.  They had to have at least 5 members in the family.  They had to label each of the members of the family and they had to draw arrows with the relationships between the family members.  (He is her father. She is his aunt. And so on)  All of the words they needed to use were either on the board (for rooms with no overhead projector) or projected from my plan.  The first class did the bare minimum of sloppy work.  Only a few really rude kids in this class - just passively non-compliant.  

The second German class was the saving grace of the whole day.  For some reason, the kids in this class actually seemed to want to learn and do a good job.  What a refreshing surprise!

Then, the next hour, which I was supposed to have free, they assigned me at the last minute to sub for a social studies teacher. They said that the lesson plan would be on the desk.  Nothing was there.  There were a couple of worksheets on a table, but there weren't enough of the one on top for the number of students in the class.  So I handed out the other one and told them to read it and highlight the important parts (as per what one student said they usually do).  I did try to discuss it after a sufficient amount of time, but no one in the class was paying attention. 

AND that "hour" was immediately followed by 30 minutes of "extensions", with the same class, for which there were also no instructions. I gave up and just let them talk, draw on the boards, and play with their ubiquitous electronics.   

The third German class was the worst.  37 registered students, about 7 of whom were absent (I guess I should be grateful).  The teacher in whose room I was for the last hour class asked the students specifically NOT to sit in her special chairs. They moved. But as soon as she left the room, one boy went back to the chair and refused to move when I asked him. I called the administration to come and remove him - and no one came. GRRRRRR!!!  And most of the students in the room refused to do ANYTHING.  No one answered questions; very few listened to what I said.  Some just wrote their names on other people's work.  Some just talked the entire time with their neighbors or on their phones. 

And this rant is the SHORT version of my complaints about the day.

Rude kids, unresponsive administration, unprepared teachers.

I don't care how badly they need a German sub. I am done with that school!  -- after tomorrow.  Unfortunately, I have to go back one more day.  UGH!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Subbing - High School German

A week or so ago, a plea came from the sub office of one of the school districts that I work for.  They desperately needed a sub who could speak German.  I looked at the job posting:  high school; much further south than I usually go.  I turned down the job.  Then, a few days ago, the plea came out again.  They needed a sub who could speak German.  I talked to the sub office.  The job was for the rest of the week and could possibly turn into a long term position.  I am not really looking for a long term position in high school, but I do like to use my German, so I took the job.  

Today (Wednesday) was the first of three days.  I couldn't go yesterday, because I already had a job for that day.  

And now I remember why I stopped taking high school subbing jobs. It isn't so much the attitude (though that isn't good for a sub), but it is the difficulty of getting to know any kids in such short time slots. You end up feeling like (and being treated like) just a place holder.

It wasn't horrid, but the possibility of a longer term position is out, as they have hired a permanent teacher who starts on Monday. Many of the students were pretty surly, but I actually don't blame them. I was the 5th teacher or sub they have had this year.

There were no lesson plans, so I just ended up having them write answers to simple questions - What is your name? How old are you? How do you get to school? What do you do in your free time? Do you drink coffee or tea or something else? They were supposed to write in complete sentences (in German). You would be surprised (or maybe not) at how many high school students can't write a complete sentence correctly, even when given most of the words. Sigh.

I met the new teacher. She is nice. She will get them up to speed when she starts. Thank goodness.

And now a word about the attitude.  This is an IB school (International Baccalaureate).  One of the requirements of an IB school is that the students have at least three years of a world language.  About half of the students in the classes had Spanish sounding surnames.  A few of them even spoke Spanish to their friends.  When the principal of the school came in to talk to the classes about the progress they had made toward getting a permanent teacher, several of them mentioned that they would rather be taking Spanish.  Evidently not every student got their first choice of world language.  Since their classes are taught in English, they are already fluent in two languages.  It makes German a third language for them.  Given that, and the fact that I was, as I said, the 5th sub or teacher they had had since the beginning of the school year, I could understand the attitude.  Nevertheless, it is a bit discouraging as a sub to be the brunt of their confusion, disappointment, and resentment.  

As I said, it wasn't horrid.  But I am glad it is only 3 days.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

High Standards

I hear it a lot - teachers need to hold students to high standards, but I often wonder what they really mean by that.  One interpretation could be that we need to have goals that are substantial and make sure that kids are encouraged to meet those goals.  The problem is, sometimes the goals are so specific that we can check them off of a checklist, but students still aren't doing as well as they need to be.  They may have accomplished that specific goal for that specific time period, but the learning isn't being incorporated into their overall education. 

A while back, I subbed for a class where the students were supposed to do some writing.  On September 7th, I wrote a post about handwriting.  5th grade students were supposed to write a conclusion for a science activity they had done.  Only they couldn't print correctly; they couldn't write sentences correctly; and most of their conclusions were superficial and even inaccurate.  So, what do teachers typically do?  They give the students a grade for the conclusion and move on.

I see lots of kids' writing.  Most of the time, it is far below what I think students at that grade level should be able to produce.  I was in a fourth grade the other day and was looking at students' writing.  They were doing a final draft, before typing up their pieces on the computer (which is backwards in my mind, but that is for another post).  This was a very good school and the problems weren't huge, but still, how much should the kids be held to producing quality work?  Should everything on the page be spelled correctly?  Should the grammar be correct?  Should paragraphing be correct?

One boy wrote with very poetic language.  He was writing a fable and the ideas and organization of the story were fabulous.  His spelling was atrocious.  How much should we hold him to correct spelling?  Does it hurt his development as a writer to make him spell correctly on his final copy?  My personal bias is to frankly tell him that his writing, and especially his word choice, is fabulous, but his spelling is atrocious.  In order for people to really appreciate his wonderful writing, he needs to spell correctly, so that people can understand and appreciate what he is saying, without being distracted by misspelled words.  I corrected his spelling, but honestly told him what a great fable he had written.

How many times should we go over students' writing?  One girl had the beginning of a good story.  I was there the day she was working on her final draft.  I could see it was getting much better than her original draft (both were available).  How many times should a teacher have her go back and revise her work?  What is the meaning of a high standard in this respect?  She seemed capable of going at it again - should we have her do so? 

I don't usually get to see the whole process, since I am just subbing, but I often wonder what high standards mean in this respect.  And, are we holding the kids to them? 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Job Switch

I really don't like it when schools switch jobs on me.  I understand why it is sometimes necessary - and I probably would do the same if I were in their position, but I don't have to like it, do I?

I got to the 5th grade job I took at a bilingual school today, expecting that 5th graders would be able to speak English well enough for the sub, since the job didn't say that Spanish was required. The first thing the secretary said is that I was switched to 1st grade. I don't do first grade, because the little kids wear me out. And, in this case, a lot of them don't speak English very well. I didn't dare refuse, though, because they really did need me, but there are times when I wish I could. 

And yes, they did wear me out.

The curious thing about it is that they said that there have been a number of days lately where they have not been able to get enough subs.  What is curious about that is that I frequently check the sub caller system for this district and I RARELY see any sub jobs advertised.  Now, it may be that I already have had a job for the particular days that they have lacked subs, but it still seems unusual that I so rarely see subs jobs available in this district.  I wonder if they don't show me the jobs for some categories, such as the primary grades or jobs that require Spanish fluency.  I guess it is worth checking.   

I checked and I am listed for 3rd through 5th grade jobs, but I have often taken jobs at the high school level, so I know that I am called for more than just 3rd through 5th grade jobs.  And I do occasionally see other jobs, so I know I am not seeing only 3rd through 5th grade job postings.  Still very weird.

And yet another "job switch".  In this case it was only minor.  The job was listed as 5th grade.  But it was really 4th grade.  This happens sometimes when a teacher, who used to teach X grade is switched to Y grade, often because of numbers.  I wish they would have the secretaries update the system with these changes.  The teachers never seem to remember to do it - or they don't know how.  

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented - CAGT 2013 - Day Two

Since I do not have a regular position and I just sub, I chose the sessions I attended at this conference mainly on the basis of simple personal interest.  I don't need to focus on specific areas of education.  I could just go where I pleased.

So, for the second day, I started with a presentation by Lindsey Reinert and Penelope Heinigk titled "Going Deeper with Technology".  They specifically addressed one of the major concerns I have had about the way technology is typically used by classroom teachers in the elementary schools.  The topic is assigned and kids are told to use a given technology, usually PowerPoint or Prezi to make a presentation on their topic.  Sometimes, to help the kids along, the teachers give out requirements for the presentation.  Example:  at some time or another in their schooling, kids will be assigned the "do a slide show about your favorite animal" topic.  The teacher specifies that it must be at least X pages long (X being equal to approximately 6 slides), with a title slide, one slide about habitat, one slide about food, one slide about reproduction, one slide about geographic distribution, and one slide with a bibliography.  So the kids go to Google, and find the answers.  They then cut and paste whole sections of their reference work, usually without even reading them, except to make sure they contain the required information.  It doesn't matter if they have no clue what the article says, that they don't understand many of the words they have just copied.

That said, I am VERY glad that these women emphasized that there is a GREAT deal of preparation work, "front-loading" that needs to be done BEFORE the students even begin their presentations.  Personally, I would have liked to see them step us through the entire process.  Choose a middle grade level and outline the steps from beginning to end product.

The presentations they showed were good examples of the final products, but I would like also to have heard a bit more about why a particular tool might be best for a particular type of presentation.  Personally, I think Prezi's are more flash than substance, but straight PowerPoints can get repetitive and boring.  What are some other products and why might one choose one over another.  They gave us two web sites that list a number of tools, but no guidance in why one might choose a particular tool.

This was one (of several) presentations that simply needed more time.

The second presentation I attended was the keynote panel of gifted students, moderated by Jim Delisle.  I have seen Dr. Delisle on numerous occasions now and I never get tired of hearing his insights (though I must admit that I didn't really listen as intently to the leaf poem the third time he used it).  The problem I have with his presentations is that I usually end up wiping tears from my eyes far too often.  Even the panel of students had that effect.  What the students had to say wasn't particularly new to me, but it is worthwhile to hear them say it.

And, to prove that I still hadn't gotten enough of Dr. Delisle, I also attended his next session, entitled "Can't You Just Chill Out?:  Appreciating the Intensities of Gifted Individuals"  This was basically a talk about Dabrowski's OverExcitabilities.  I am not terribly fond of that term.  I actually prefer "Intensities".  This was familiar ground for me, but I ALWAYS appreciate the stories about the kids that highlight what he is talking about.  Since this conference was basically just for me, I felt free to apply all of these insights to myself.  In particular, the Emotional Intensity seems to be dominating my thoughts lately and causing me a deal of pain.  But it is hard for the patient to treat herself.

The next session was Susan Jackson again.  I find her presentations interesting and with some great insights, but I am left afterwards feeling a bit confused as to what I can take away from her talk.  As with Jim's stories, I LOVE the talk about real kids and real approaches to them and their difficulties.  But sometimes, I had a hard time telling how she got to that particular point with that particular kid and what the next steps might be.  I don't think I could tell you what more than a very few of her 27 points were.  She is undeniably brilliant, but some of us lesser mortals have a hard time making the connections that seem so obvious to her. 

The final breakout session I attended was Ed Zaccaro's.  He has written a number of books to use for teaching kids mathematics.  I have long loved his books and I wasn't disappointed in his lecture.  I don't agree with him exactly on his views on acceleration - he thinks there are problems for underage kids, especially in when they get to high school.  I agree that keeping kids with other approximately their own age and ability would be better, but this is just not happening in schools nowadays.  Yes, I would prefer to have all the highly mathematically gifted fourth graders working together in fourth grade.  But I just don't see it happening.  At least with acceleration, you are sure SOMETHING is happening.  I even agree that it isn't always the right things that are happening - greater depth or complexity.  I am just frustrated that most teachers and schools don't do those things.  At any rate, I enjoyed his talk.  It is another one I wish had had much more time.

It was a worthwhile two days for me.  I still feel alone and frustrated by my own failures, but at least I understand them better.  Ha. 

Further Thoughts about Yesterday's Post

I said yesterday that, "I would describe our job as educators to be to take the raw giftedness and gradually turn it into talent.  And there are a huge number of areas in which talent can be developed.  My goal would not be eminence, but rather self-actualization." Although I still mean that, I agree with Delisle, Silverman, and Betts that understanding the social, emotional, and intellectual being of the gifted individual is the most important orientation for teachers.  The goal is, again, self-actualization.  Not fame, not fortune - those are limited to the few, the connected, and the lucky.  But a self, developed and developing in areas of growth and mastery. 

Monday, October 07, 2013

Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented - CAGT 2013

I am attending the CAGT conference at the Denver Tech Center's Marriott Hotel.  It is a two-day conference, with the first day (now over for me) today and the second day tomorrow.

Small personal victory:  I took the bus to the Tech Center, instead of driving, and it was fine.  Easy and on time.

The first session I went to was Jim Delisle's presentation on Underachievement.  He breaks down underachievers into two categories - the true underachievers and the "selective consumers".  The typical example of the selective consumer is the boy who gets into trouble and is disruptive, unless he is in a class he really likes or has a teacher who "gets" him.  The typical example of the underachiever is the quiet girl, who does everything fairly well, but is devastated by any negative feedback - she credits her successes to luck and her failures to inability (stupidity).  Most people focus on the disruptive kid, because, as a teacher, you have to - or the whole class spirals out of control.  The quiet kid is the one who concerned me more - probably because that was me.  I just kind of slid by in all of my classes up until college.  I was such a good kid and so smart that no one worried about me.  I did what I was told and did it well, so no one ever knew that I felt like a failure.  I think Jim was a bit surprised at what I recommended for helping the quiet underachiever - the chance to really fail.  But I still think it would help.  I needed to fail at work that required real effort.  I needed to know that I could survive failure on something really difficult and I needed to learn 1) that is isn't the end of the world, 2) that I could try again, and 3) learning is sometimes really hard. 

The second presentation I heard was Susan Jackson's first keynote.  Because of the federal government's shutdown, Deb Delisle, who was scheduled to speak, wasn't allowed to come.  So Susan Jackson filled in.  It was an interesting presentation.  The major focus of it was on the necessity of play in our lives and most especially in the lives of children.  Sadly, I see this all of the time in schools.  Time is so structured that children never have time to just play with stuff or with each other.  Even when they can play games, the games are almost always limited to games with a hidden objective - math games, spelling games, etc.  Free play and the beautiful manipulatives languish on the shelves (see blog from two days ago).  Even recess times are cut woefully short.  Recess AND lunch for the kids are 30 minutes.  If they are lucky, the kids will get another 15 minute recess.  Most are not lucky. 

The next presentation I attended was Linda Silverman's talk on Giftedness though the Lifetime.  I have heard much of this talk from her before, but this time a good deal of the emphasis was on the plea for us to understand that giftedness is something you are - the way you see the world.  This is in direct contrast to the recent emphasis in NAGC on talent development.  While I agree with Dr. Silverman that giftedness is something you are - intrinsic to your whole being, I think too much is made of the supposed abandonment of that view to the talent development model.  I have long thought that the best model of giftedness and talent is the Gagné model, where giftedness is the left-hand side (of the usual visual representation).  This is the giftedness that Linda Silverman talks about.  In Gagné's model, the other side of the visual is the talent side.  I would describe our job as educators to be to take the raw giftedness and gradually turn it into talent.  And there are a huge number of areas in which talent can be developed.  My goal would not be eminence, but rather self-actualization.  The people who achieve eminence need not just giftedness, but culturally-related education and luck.  E.g., in a culture that does not value the arts, even the most gifted artist may never turn into a talented artist.  And, in a culture that does not allow for education of women, even the most gifted female mathematician will never develop her talent.  In a culture dependent on inherited connections to wealth and power, the gifted poor child can never become eminent. 

Jim Delisle also gave a keynote presentation titled Learning to Exhale.  I agree with him wholeheartedly on this.  When I first attended full time gifted classes as a 6th grader a million years ago, it seemed to me that my whole mind was waking up from a long dull stupor.  I get along well with a huge variety of people and, as a sub, I connect with a huge range of children and adults.  But I come fully alive and cherish the time I spend with other gifted people.  It is truly my lifeline.  It is sad to me that more gifted kids don't have this opportunity.  I am a swimmer.  Being with other gifted people is like coming up for air.  I need that breath of air to keep me going through the rest of the stroke.  Gifted kids don't just WANT peers, the NEED them, with their whole beings.

The final presentation I went to was Mary Ellen Sweeney and Brooke Walker's discussion of Ethnographic Research.  I have long been interested in other cultures and chose this presentation to see how others approach the topic.  I found some useful ideas here - especially the graphic organizer about the various aspects of culture.  I wish they had started their presentation with a preface, though.  I would like to have known that they had written a book about this process and that the book was aimed for middle-school and high-school teachers.  I gradually found that out as the presentation progressed, but it was unnecessarily confusing at first.  And, rather than the process of doing the unit, I would like to have heard some specific case examples, e.g., one student who was taking notes on his soccer team came up with these artifacts ..., these customs ..., and these rituals ...  I did like that we got to talk to other attendees for a short time.  I had a good person to talk to.

All in all, a worthwhile day. 

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Big Class - Fewer Hands On Activities

I was subbing in a fourth grade class the other day.  The teacher's homeroom class was 30 students, but all of the fourth grade teachers teach math at the same time and they switch around, based on ability, I assume.  The math class I had was 34 students.  The assignment was to cut out math "code" cards.  There were pieces for hundreds (100 through 900), tens, ones, tenths, hundredths, and thousandths.  I am not sure if there were also pieces for thousands.  But, even so, not only is that a lot of cutting, it is a huge task to keep track of all those pieces.  I eventually found enough baggies for each student to put his/her pieces in, but the cutting and bagging took WAY more time than was allotted for the lesson.  We didn't even begin using the pieces, because most of the students were still cutting - and losing pieces on the floor.  A few students forgot or didn't have the appropriate workbooks, quite a few students didn't have scissors. 

The lesson is actually an interesting one.  The cards overlap, so that to form the number 264.25, you would use the 200 piece, the 60 piece, the 4 piece, the 0.2 piece, and the 0.05 piece.  Then, to change to expanded form, you just expand the cards and you see right away:  200 + 60 + 4 + 0.2 + 0.05.  But doing this with 34 students is a challenge.

One of the other (regular) teachers asked me how the lesson went and I was explaining to her that I had a hard time getting through even the cutting out part, because of all of the logistical difficulties.  She teaches one of the lower ability classes and has a slightly smaller group, but she says that she doesn't do those activities, because they are way too much hassle for their worth. 

I have subbed in a LOT of elementary classes and I am finding this to be almost universally true.  The beautiful, well-thought out manipulatives collect dust (or languish in unopened shrink wrap) and the hands-on lessons are simply skipped. It is a shame.  Kids often really like the manipulatives and, even though they are a lot of work, I think some kids really need them.  But using or making manipulatives with 34 nine and ten year olds is daunting. 

I wonder if there are Montessori materials that do the same lesson.  It would be nice to have more solid pieces than the flimsy paper ones.  But, of course, that would be horrendously expensive for such a class, even if two kids shared.