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A New Year: A New Beginning

What a great year of teaching ideas! New for the 2009-2010 school year, be sure to check out Justin Lim and all the teacher advisors at Classroom Solutions for more tips and teaching strategies from real teachers.

You’ll find lots of videos, photo slideshows, and quick-to-implement teaching ideas. Come check it out and leave a comment. We’ll be glad to see you there.

When it comes to Shakespeare- keep it REAL

One of the most "used" strategies that many English teachers like to employ when teaching the works of William Shakespeare are parallel texts- those with translations into modern lingo or even altogether new characters involved with a parallel plot. 

While this may lower an affective filter for some, I say KEEP IT REAL- give them the real stuff.  The challenge is overshadowed by the cleverness of the Shakespearean text!

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Class grades and Standardized Test Scores

One of the most effective strategies I've picked up from PHENOMENAL teachers is how to hold the best parent-student-teacher conference.  Listening more than talking (which if you knew me, is quite difficult most of the time!) earns my trust in parents and affords me opportunities to openly discuss issues such as failing grades, lackluster attendance, counter-productive behavior, or potential learning difficulties which are all uncomfortable issues for parents' ears.

It is because of my skills in the parent-student-teacher conference, I was asked to attend a meeting with a young man's parents about his consistent failing grades in honors and AP courses. The recommendation from his teachers was that he was probably inaccurately placed in these course, and that perhaps his schedule needed adjustment.  I was "debriefed" that these parents were unhappy about this meeting.  No prob- I pulled data on their son and found out that over the past three years, he performed at the Below Basic level of proficiency in all CA Standards Tests.  Ok- I would place him on my student monitoring list, provide beyond-the-bell assistance for him, and his parents would leave happy and satisfied that their child was receiving all of what he needed from our school.

Or so I thought...

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Making learning ESSENTIAL for struggling students

Years ago,working in an affiliate school of Ted Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools, I became intimately knowledgeable with backwards planning that centered around an essential question.  What I found then and still find today is that for struggling students, whether it is because of language development, motivation, or any other potential academic roadblocks, making learning meaningful and relevant provides the BEST opportunities for academic growth.  And the best way to do this? Start and end with essential questions!

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Is Technology Leading to a Loss of Etiquette?

I'm a mom and a teacher so that pretty much means that I never stop being one nor the other-regardless of where I am.  It's because of this that I got involved as a mom/teacher recently when I confronted a young college student displaying high level of "proficiency" in using profanity outside my local grocery store.

She was shocked that I said something to her about her dropping "F-bombs" loud enough for me and my 9 year-old daughter to hear.  SHE was shocked.  I find this the most ironic part of the story.  She felt she did not do anything out of normal.  It was just then (thankfully before I lost my mom/teacher cool) that I realized that she wasn't lying- she really didn't think she was inappropriate.  Why should she? In her lifetime, social rules for acceptable language has changed dramatically. 

I've seen profanity appear in my students' writing and used in my class without reservation- until I make it known that it is, despite what they see or hear on the radio or TV, very inappropriate.  Am I just becoming square or out of touch?  I doubt it (smile), but what I think is surfacing is a "side effect" of the electronic revolution in which Generation Y or "net generation" kids have been raised.  These kids born between 1980-1994 are the ones who are the prolific users and shapers of the world wide web, the inventors of IM and text message lingo, and those who feel insecure or unequipped if not connected via WiFi or Bluetooth to the rest of the world at least 75% of their day.

Which leads me to understanding the lack of regard for others around them when it comes to social ethics.  Most of 15-29 year-olds' interactions occur via some sort of electronic media and lack face-to-face, physical contact with a human being.  I asked three high school students this weekend how often they have deep conversations with someone in person vs. the computer.  While all three admit they prefer to have face-to-face interactions, two admitted to spending most of their free time on the computer either emailing, or chatting with a friend, even if that friend lived just a few houses down the block.

Maybe this lack of physical proximity to another person during conversation has led to a disintegration of moral or ethical discourse.  Think about it- if you knew that you were not going to be immediately held accountable for your words or actions during a conversation (which only a face-to-face interaction could provide), what motivation would you have to maintain appropriate conduct?  In the case of the net-generation, where the majority of conversations occur electronically, the lack of this type of accountability has led to a decline in social grace merely because there has been no real need to learn it.

What implication does this have, then, on our future workforce, educators, parents, and world leaders? When a situation arises where social ethics will pave the way to an outcome, what will this net-gener do?

Going back to my story about the foul-mouthed college student, she told me to mind my own business.  I told her that when she spoke that loud, she made it my business.  She told me that she wasn't talking to me.  Who was she talking to? 

Rolling her eyes, hands on her hips, she replied, "Ugh- I was leaving my boss a voicemail, ok?!"


Pink Friday!

The economy is taking its toll on California teachers.

Public school employees throughout California have been warned of wrenching classroom cuts as local officials faced a deadline for issuing layoff notices to educators. The State Department of Education estimates that preliminary pink slips will be given to more than 26,500 teachers. Another 15,000 bus drivers, janitors, secretaries and administrators were also expected to receive the written warnings, according to Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.

California's 1,000 K-12 school districts will be forced to absorb more than $8 billion in funding cuts over the next year. To draw attention to the situation, teachers and parents wore pink clothes and waved pink protest signs for a day California's largest teachers' union dubbed, "Pink Friday."

To avoid issuing layoff notices in the San Diego Unified School District, the school board committed to a series of cost-cutting measures. Although fewer teachers and other staff members are planned for the 2009-10 school year, no layoffs of permanent teachers are planned as a result of this budget. Increasing class size, eliminating some bus transportation, imposing furloughs, early retirement incentives and higher health care costs for all employees have been suggested as ways to eliminate the $146.7 million deficit in next year's San Diego school district budget.

This news is certainly distressing, but thankfully SDUSD if making an effort to retain its teachers. Lets all hope for the best.

Students "Get Real" with Their Teachers

Our most recent staff meeting was an eye-opening event.  Teachers were released from sitting through our ritualistic staff meeting agenda of birthday announcements, reminders of policies regarding parking, copy machine usage, and submitting attendance, and the marginally successful presentation on PLCs or teaching strategies.

At THIS meeting, our AVID students ran the show.  They requested to be heard; they wanted to "get real" with teachers to know what they felt was working in the classrooms and what wasn't.  Most teachers walked onto campus that day expecting to hear that we gave too much homework, that we cover too much content, and ask too much from students.  Isn't that what most students report about their teachers? 

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Frederick Douglass's Enduring Impact

"Once you learn to read, you will forever be free"

As a reading and writing teacher, I have always wished for a magic potion to give to my students that would immediately illuminate the power and necessity of growing as a reader on their lives.  The closest I have come to that magic potion are the words of Frederick Douglass from his powerful Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

I am sure that if he were alive today and acted with an ounce of courage and dignity that he did in his time, there would be no doubt that he’d be revered worldwide as the most influential person for most people on the planet.  It’s with this in mind that I recently turned to his words and ideas to convince my 9th graders that power- whichever type of power they sought- lies in their ability to read and write.

I’ve got a big problem, though.  Most of my students feel that they are already “literate enough”.  Competing with social networking and video gaming, my reading and reflection assignments designed to increase independent reading habits loses nearly every time.

So- I posed this question to kids:
What would you do if you weren’t allowed to read?

WOOOOO HOOOOOO!!! is the general response.

But, I interject, that means, NO reading AT ALL- no text messaging, no email, no guitar hero (no reading the lyrics), no shopping (no reading price tags), no working for a paycheck, no driving (reading signs on the interstate), no trashy teen mags, nothing- nada.

It gets a little quieter then.  I find time to hook ‘em into my world.

We time warp back to America, circa 1830’s.  We discuss what we already know- how smaller the country was, how technology was as complex as a horse and buggy, and how unless you were a white male, you were a slave in some sense.

Quieter yet- slavery- never a fun topic to jump into.

Talking about slaves who became famous for bravery and for never giving up hope of emancipation and equality I steer them towards Frederick Douglass.

Born into slavery in 1818, rumored to be the son of his master, Aaron Anthony, he was “fortunate” to have been sold to Hugh and Sofia Auld at age 8 after his mother dies.  Sofia Auld teaches Douglass how to read until Hugh Auld instructs Sofia to stop, fearing that educating slaves, particularly in learning to read, leads slaves to rebellion.

We stop there.  Why would learning to read be a threat to slave owners?  Power would be a threat to slave owners- using some geometry theorem (can’t remember) we make the connection that reading=power.

A few “Aha’s”.  Still not enough to satisfy.

I hand out a gift to each kid, rolled up and wrapped with ribbons and a gift tag from me.  It’s chapter seven of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.   I start a shared reading of it, and assign a short guided reading with a “suggestion” for independently reading the rest before the next class meeting for discussion.

One day passed and I began to build up defenses in case students did not dare pick up and read my gift of text.  Then, during lunch, a student popped into my room asking if I had another copy of what I gave his friend to read in my class.  Apparently, there was growing discussion of the power described by Mr. Douglass among my students.

My heart sings at the thought of their new found freedom.  Thank you, Mr. Douglass. 


Poetic Teachable Moment-Obama Inauguration

A few weeks ago, I posted some great ideas I found online that secondary teachers might like to commemorate this very historic month.  I received a lot of positive feedback and questions on how to incorporate the Inaugural Poem into lesson plans, etc.  Here is my original lesson plan based on the great activity found at http://www.teachervision.fen.com/poetry/lesson-plan/4414.html?detoured=1


If you don't plan on viewing the Presidential Inauguration with your students, here is an idea to incorporate perhaps the most notable inauguration in US History with a current/most recent study of poetry.

Elizabeth Alexander will be reciting an original piece of poetry for today's inauguration.  When interviewed on Friday by CNN, she quoted some verses from her poem, "Ars Poetica #100: I Believe"€ that may demonstrate her vision of the poem she will read today.


Below are some discussion questions, etc. that can anchor students to this inauguration to any current (or recent) investigations in poetic verse.  PLEASE feel free to embellish discussion and SHARE your ideas! :-)



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iPods good for the classroom? Yes! Check out how!

Most middle schools and high schools have strict policies regarding cell phone or mp3 usage on campus during instructional time.  Where I teach, for example, there's a policy where cell phones must be turned off during class time and iPods and other mp3 players aren't even supposed to be allowed on campus.

Recently, a friend called to ask my opinion about his son's 7th grade teacher allowing her students to listen to their personal iPods during independent work time in class.  My knee-jerk reaction to this was not just no, but "HECK NO"!  How can adolescents fully concentrate on their tasks with Lil Wayne bumpin' in their ears?!

Afterward, though, I wondered if there was a crafty way to tap into the pervasive desire for students to be connected to their mp3 players that could actually enhance instruction.  I did some investigating and found out some really cool ways to incorporate iPods and cell phones into instruction!  Here are a couple of ideas that you can implement right away...

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Amazing ideas for teaching in January 2009

January 2009 has a different feel about it compared to most Januarys, doesn't it?  A new President with immense historical significance will be sworn in a day after we honor what would have been the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s  80th birthday. And despite the ongoing pessimism about our economic forecast as a country, a stronger feeling of renewed optomism permeates communities all across America. I just couldn't imagine a more poignant month to be a teacher! 

I searched around and found two great activities that we all should consider for this very historical month.  Connected to history, poetry, great speeches, and financial literacy, these activities hit the mark with signifying to students that they are living during an incredible period in US History.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Inside Patty's High School Grade Classroom are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.