Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Censoring Email

In my ongoing struggle to get ALL of my email, I have finally discovered why some of it goes astray.  Background: I sign up for most things with my Gmail account, because I have changed ISPs several times and then I don't have to switch accounts if I change again.  From Gmail, I have everything forwarded to my current ISP account and deleted off of Gmail.  I then read my mail using the Mac Mail client. 

A few months back, I logged on to Gmail to change some parameters and I noticed that I had hundreds of bounced email messages.  Nearly all of them said that they were rejected because of the spam content in the messages.  Only they weren't spam.  They were from various groups that I subscribe to - on PURPOSE.  The weird thing was that some email from those groups got through just fine, but some of the posts were bounced back to Gmail as spam.

So, I contacted my ISP (Centurylink) and told them about the problem.  They traced it to a filter default that was supposed to filter out spam.  The rep then turned off the filter - and I thought things were going to be fine.

Only, I kept myself logged in to Gmail, in order to monitor it.  Sure enough, the bounced messages were reduced in number.  BUT, there were still some that were sent back to Gmail as spam.  WHY???  Finally, when messages from Gifted-Teachers and Gifted Homeschoolers Forum were bounced back, I decided I needed to contact Centurylink again. 

The rep I talked to wanted to blame all sorts of things.  Gmail, first of all.  But I patiently explained that the return message said that it was Centurylink's server that was rejecting the email, not Gmail.  Then, he tried to blame the way I read my mail.  It was too convoluted and that made it hard to trace the problem.  After explaining that it was working fine for most of my mail, even from the SAME senders, (and considerable arguing on my part), he finally gave up and sent the problem up a level. 

I got an answer yesterday.  Centurylink subscribes to a service that lists addresses that frequently have spam-related problems.  If a link to any of the black-listed sites is included in the email, then it is marked as spam and returned.  There is no way to "white-list" the sender.  It just is sent back. 

So, Gifted Homeschoolers Forum and Gifted-Teachers list-serve, if you suspect that some of your messages aren't getting through to the subscribers, you may be correct, especially if they contain a significant number of links to other web sites. 

Annoying.  And I wouldn't have discovered this at all, if I hadn't had my "convoluted" way of reading my mail.  Now, I am wondering if some valid mail is also rejected by Gmail.  I don't have any way to see that.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Teaching GT Kids

OK.  I will just admit it.  I love teaching GT kids.  I was at a charter school for GT kids today - 5th and 6th grades and I really enjoyed the day. 

First of all, the atmosphere of a GT school is different.  There is an enjoyment of learning that I don't usually see at other schools.  The teacher left some "Plexer" style worksheets for them to do if they had some time and the kids grabbed them enthusiastically.  Then later in the day, they were reading aloud from a book with multiple characters and they really enjoyed listening to different kids read their parts.  There was a willingness to tackle problems and think about the implications of different aspects of their learning. 

And the students are also a bit different - the interest in things; the acceptance of each other; the acceptance of "the sub" as a person of interest and not an adversary. 

It was fun. 

I suppose this is one reason why teachers in regular classrooms sometimes feel that teaching GT kids is "easy".  In general, they WERE more compliant that kids I teach in regular classrooms.  Their enthusiasm carries over to their work and it makes teaching more interesting and more fun.  And, in general, as this is a charter school, their parents are committed to their education.  The parents who picked up the kids seemed genuinely interested in what their children had to say. 

As a sub, I can't really tell much about their ability levels.  My guess is that most of them were moderately gifted, with a sprinkling of students above and below that.  I still didn't see accommodations for kids who would be outliers, even in this environment, the EG and PG kids, but the general attitude that learning is interesting should make it more comfortable and accepting even for those students. 

Good day, even though I am coming off of an illness and am not at 100% myself. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thinking about Praise

This is an exploratory entry - I am thinking about this problem and haven't yet reached a complete answer or answers.  

Re: http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/08/beyond-grades-and-trophies-teaching-kids-the-definition-of-success/


I have been thinking about this in terms of substitute teaching.  What things can I say to kids that are markers to success, but are not over praising?

One day when I was subbing, I gave out an award at the end of the day for "Best Wrong Answer".   In giving this "reward", which was just a sticky note with a sticker and the name of the award, I explained to the class why the wrong answer was excellent - it showed that the student was thinking about the problem and connecting it to things he already knew.  It was wrong, because he left out one key thing, but it showed courage to be wrong, as well as good, though incomplete, thinking.  Was this an example of good praise?  I think so.

I sometimes also give out an award for "Best Weird Question".  It has a similar premise - thinking about the subject matter and connecting it to things that are not necessarily explicit.  And, again, having the courage to ask the question, when it might seem strange.

Kids seem to like these awards.  I had a class for two days and gave out the Best Wrong Answer award the first day.  The students really looked forward to the end of the next day, as the Best Wrong Answer award had piqued their interest.  

How else can I not overpraise students?  What should I say when students turn in papers?  I tend to say, "Good job."  But is that too much?  In many cases, I don't know if what they did is a good job; I only know that it is a finished job.

I am mindful of Dweck's work on mindsets - fixed versus growth.  Praise the effort and not the inherent ability, but being effusive with "excellent effort"s and "good job"s may also lead students to value the reward, rather than the process.

The other day, I taught a very difficult math lesson.  The students were supposed to use calculators to compute the answer to questions like -25 + (-16) and -4 - (-5).  The problem is that there was no classroom set of calculators.  Some of the students had their own calculators and the teacher had a supply of two different kinds of calculators.  One style of the teacher's calculators had a "change sign" key; the other did not.  There were at least 5 different kinds of calculators in the room.  How can you tell if the students (31 of them) are getting it?  You give them the answers and see if they can explain how to get them with their calculator.  It was very difficult.  But the students did actually work at it.  And I told them so.  "This is[was] not an easy lesson.  These calculators work differently.  So what you need to do is to see if you can figure out how YOUR calculator works.  I appreciate how hard you worked on these two pages."  In fact, I still can't get my own calculator to computer -25 + (-16) correctly, unless I KNOW that adding a negative is the same as subtracting.

I am still thinking about teacher praise.  How much is enough for encouragement?  How much is too much?

Friday, April 18, 2014

No Room to Move

I had two classes this week that have 31 students.  Both were 5th grades.  The other class (of the three I taught this week) was around 20.  The room size was perfectly adequate for the 20 student classroom - it is a charter school.  The room size was also adequate for the 31 students in an upper socio-economic school.  The room in the lower socio-economic school was cramped to absolute capacity.  I don't know where they would fit another desk, should a new 5th grader move into the district. 

Managing a class of 31 students, several of which have special needs, is a challenge, no matter what the room size.  As a sub, it is nearly impossible for me to get to know any of the students.  It makes substitute teaching more like being a clerk (or a prison warden).  The job is to make sure the kids are accounted for; that they pretend to do some work; and that they make it to the end of the day without any major disasters.  There is little time for connecting to students. 

But worst of all, for the students who have to be there every day, the crowded classroom is very uncomfortable for several of the students.  One student was physically very large - just moving around the classroom must remind him several times a day that he is much bigger than most of the others.  Another child seemed uncomfortable sitting - but standing means he blocks someone else's path.  One student was on a behavior plan - and has temper issues.  How do you make sure the other students can be away from him, if he has a melt-down? 

Then there was the terribly quiet girl.  I couldn't tell if she was shy or just completely overwhelmed with all the people.  What pain she must be in every week day, with no place where she can get away from all the kids and not be constantly on guard.  And what about a few of the others, who also seemed introverted.  There was no place to escape from the overwhelming crush of other students. 

And, I suppose it is equally painful for students who need to move.  With 31 students in a packed classroom, any movement is disruptive. 

The students were actually pretty nice, and I was only there for a half day, so it didn't overwhelm me.  But it is painful for me to think about the situation we are putting those children in.  Imagine adults in that situation.  They would find it intolerable.  Why do we do this to kids? 

Because we can.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Montessori Upper Elementary

I got to sub in a Montessori school today - only a half day, but I had wanted to sub in that school for a while.  When I lived in Alaska, I subbed several times in a Montessori school and was impressed with it.  And I have wondered since then how general the Montessori model was for upper elementary age children.  It was interesting to me that several of the things were the same and others different.

Physical characteristics of the room
True to the Montessori model of schooling, there were a lot of wooden materials in both classrooms.   But, also in both classrooms, the wooden materials don't seem to be being used much.  For instance, today I saw a couple of interesting models of the sun and the planets, including the Earth and its moons, but they were high up on a shelf and not in use, while the students worked on a worksheet packet about phases of the moon.  There were a lot of reference books available, but the students seemed to use the information in the packets the most.  The room in Alaska had wooden tables of various sizes throughout; this room had standard desks for each student, with small tables at various places around the room.  The room in Alaska seemed spacious; this one seemed very crowded.  But, in this case, some of the crowding was due to a plethora of large tanks for turtles, lizards, fish, and other creatures.  Personally, I would like to have seen some more large tables for their work.

In both classes, the students had a work schedule that they filled out.  Long term projects were listed in one section, daily work in sections devoted to each day.  In both classes, the assignments seemed to be specific to grade levels and not to current achievement levels.  The 4th graders had one social studies assignment; the 5th graders had a different assignment.  There were two different math books, one for 4th grade, one for 5th grade.  In a way, I am a little disappointed that there didn't seem to be much individualization of achievement levels.  It may be that the classes are differentiated, since there are multiple 4/5 grades in this school.  I really couldn't tell that.

This classroom seemed to use worksheets more than the school in Alaska.  In Alaska, they had a lot of laminated assignment materials that the students rotated in using.  Since the assignments usually came in 2 or 3 week chunks, there was plenty of time for the students to rotate through the assignment materials.  Neither school used textbooks for much of their work, except for math.  

Other interesting things
The class had an aide; the one in Alaska did, too.  What a difference this makes!  Supervision is easier, grading is easier, talking to individual students and small groups is easier.  It was a moderately large class, 25 students, but you can get to know the kids better, even in just a half day, with another adult in the room.  Your focus doesn't need to be quite as widely scattered.

The academic level of the students in this class seemed average.  So perhaps the same work for all of them in each grade was appropriate.  It was hard for me to tell.

Final thing
Both Montessori schools address teachers, administrators, and staff by their first names.  It must be a characteristic of the Montessori philosophy.  I am not sure I am comfortable with that.  I think I would prefer some mild honorific, such as Teacher Laura or Ms. Laura.  I guess I am not as egalitarian as the Montessori philosophy would have me be.  Still, I had a interesting morning.  I would go back.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Class List Rant, Again

Yesterday, I had a class with 31 or 32 students.  Why am I not sure how many I actually had?  Because the teacher didn't leave me a class list.  I found a seating chart - it was outdated.  She said in her note to me that two of her students were in the special education classroom and would be in and out with their aides all day.  She didn't give me their names, so I didn't know if they were included on the seating chart or not.  One girl was mentioned in her note as a person to ask to do a specific task, but her name wasn't anywhere on the seating chart or in the emergency folder.  The kids said there were 32 students in the class, but even if I counted the extra girl and the two "in and out" students, I only got 31. 

When the students went off to music, I went to the office to get a class list.  The secretary hid her impatience with the request pretty well.  The district has class list forms that subs are often required to sign and date, avowing that the attendance so marked is correct.  But these class lists are also very often NOT given to subs, especially in elementary schools.  They rely on teachers to give the subs class lists - and they often don't.

Then came math time.  The students switched around for math.  This time, the class swelled to 34 students - I think.  There was no class list for this class either.  Good thing we didn't have a fire drill or other emergency.  And, 34 students was more than there was room for - not enough desks, so some kids had to double up. 

There were 4 or 5 fifth grades in this school.  Let's say 4.  If each class had 31 students, that is 124 students, more than enough for 5 normal, large classes.  Part of the problem is though, that this school, like 4 others that I go to, even though it is fairly new, was not built large enough for the growing population around it.  The school already has mobile classrooms and there is limited space for more.  Each time they build a new school, they seem to under-build.

I like this school.  I enjoyed the kids.  I just wish there weren't so many of them at a time and I had an accurate class list, so I have a hope of learning who they are.  Subbing doesn't have a lot of rewards, but getting to know kids is an important part of it.  It is hard to get to know them when there are SO many and you don't have a list with their names - preferably one you can keep and not send to the office, so you can write notes about them during the day. 


Thursday, April 03, 2014

"Stop" Means "STOP"

Recently, I was teaching in a 5th/6th grade combination class, where a group of girls were acting silly (not unusual)  and directing their silliness at various other girls.  Some played along and had fun, but it clearly annoyed one girl.  She first politely asked them to stop, but they didn't.  She attempted to physically remove herself, (we were lining up to go somewhere), but that also didn't work.  Finally, albeit a bit late in the game, I realized that this was a good opportunity to give the kids the message that "Stop" means "STOP".  So, I told the girls who were being silly that when someone says the word "Stop", it means that they need to "STOP".  They weren't actually bullying anyone with their silliness (I think it was something like just saying a goofy word over and over again).  I told them that, as long as the people around them didn't use the word "Stop", their silliness was just annoying, but once someone asked them to "Stop", then they needed to do so around that person.  "Stop" means "STOP".

The young girl who was the target of this, but didn't like it, looked at me with extreme gratitude and it occurred to me that I should have been doing this MUCH more often.  I can't believe it has taken me so long to get here.  I guess it is because, in my family we would tease each other quite a bit.  Sometimes "Stop" really meant - "This is funny and if it doesn't get worse, I am actually enjoying the attention."  The problem is, the person doing the action isn't always aware of the point at which "Stop" ceases to be funny and crosses over to "STOP" meaning "This is enough."

Now I need to think of a word to use that means "This is funny and fun, but be careful, because you are getting close to my limits."

"No" means "NO" and "Stop" means "STOP". What would be a good word for "Watch out; I am enjoying this now, but I may have enough of it in a minute."  -- "Careful"?  "OK"?