Friday, November 30, 2007


My four-year-old has just figured out how to truly use a computer independently. She uses the trackpad on my laptop fairly well. She can now choose videos to watch and play games on the preschool websites we open for her.

Neither my husband nor I did any direct instruction on using a computer. A while back her grandparents had a child-sized mouse and keyboard for her and probably taught her some things. But it's been a while since she was using them. However, she's sees us on the computer frequently (most likely too frequently) and has played games with us controlling things for a while now.

She's not even four and a half and I'm wondering when she'll get her first email address. How long before she joins social networking sites? When will we she begin shopping online? Will she have a blog soon? I'm excited and terrified by the possibilities.

Her grandparents are getting her an XO laptop for Christmas. I can't wait to see what she figures out how to do on it. Learning new technology is a challenge for me, just as learning a new language would be. However, at four it comes easily.

This has re-energized me about using technology with my students. Her ability to pick it up so quickly has reminded me that my students are capable of learning and utilizing technology as well. We'll be in the lap next week.

Famous Folks

We just completed a biography unit in writing. I was astounded by some of the subjects my students choose. Some wrote about typical subjects for 5th graders: Shakira, JK Rowling, Emma Watson, and such. But others were much more creative. They wrote about William Shakespeare, Pythagoras, Martha Graham, Emily Dickinson, Edward Lear, Pocahontas, Al Capone, and Edgar Allen Poe.

I gave them no guidelines on who to choose. It was completely up to them. I am fascinated by their choices. As an added bonus, I'm enjoying reading these much more than I would if they had all chosen pop culture icons. Possibly I should thank them.

My big question now is how much influence I (or the student teacher or their previous teachers) had on these subjects. Were their choices influenced by us, in which case I'd like to know how so that I can replicate it, or would they have made these choices regardless of outside influences?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


My 5th graders met for the first time with their head start (3 & 4 year old) buddies this morning. Some of the little ones were shy and uncomfortable and some of the older kids didn't really know how to interact with their buddies. However, on the whole, it was quite a success. I feel compelled to write about it because of what I noticed with one student.

One girl in my class, very bright, friendly, and well-adjusted, never seems to be enjoying anything we do. She's happy with her friends and jokes and plays around, but during lessons she has a flat affect and is very serious. Serious doesn't really explain it though; she seems almost unhappy, but not quite. I'm not really worried about her, but I'd like to see her smiling more.

As soon as she sat down with the little girl in head start, she softened. It was a visible thing. I felt as though I could see hard corners and stiff lines melt away. She leaned in to her buddy to read and talk about the book. She smiled at her, made eye contact, and encouraged her. Her body language was completely different from what I am accustomed to seeing. She seemed maternal almost.

I could have sat and watched the two of them the entire time we were there. Other partnerships went well. I saw other fifth graders being strong mentors; asking questions of their buddy, getting their buddy to talk about his/her thinking about the book, etc. But nothing compared to watching this girl.

We will meet with our buddies every week now. I haven't done this for a few years because I haven't been able to find the time. Today's experience left me kicking myself about that. This may not help my students earn better grades or score higher on tests, but they are learning and giving something so much more important. For at least one student this half hour may be the most important thing we do all week.

And I haven't even started truly reflecting on how this benefits the little ones!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Edublog Awards

The Edublog Awards' finalists have been announced. (I have to admit that I'm still new enough to the whole blogging thing that this wasn't on my radar. I'm still learning.) In Practice is one of the finalists in the Best Group Edublog category. It's been such a pleasure to write for and read this blog. These educators are dedicated professionals who give their all for their students and, in addition, share their thinking and expertise in the blogosphere.

Check out the various finalists in the different categories. There are so many fantastic blogs out there.

Reflections on Blogging

Doug, at Borderland, has written a post about educational blogging. It came at a time when I was already doing some serious reflecting on why I blog. I began blogging solely to force me to reflect because I don't do so as naturally as I would like. It has worked quite well for me. Blog posts float around in my brain constantly. The jury is still out on whether or not this makes me a better teacher. On the positive side, I do reflect more which I firmly believe improves my teaching. On the negative side, sometimes I have to stop in the middle of the day and have my students read silently so that I can write or I feel as though I'll burst.

My big thought from all this, and I promise there is one, is that this is why I've had my students start blogging. (There's nothing like the zeal of the converted.) I know what blogging has done for me as a writer and a teacher and I want that for my students. For me, blogging has been transformative.
I don’t see “transformation” as a particularly strong selling point for the blogging practice since transformative experiences are generally unsettling to people.
Doug makes a really good point here. Expecting this result for my students is ambitious and probably just a bit unrealistic. Knowing this won't stop me for having them blog, but hopefully it will mean that I'm not crushed when blogging doesn't change their lives as learners.

And, if by chance, one of them really latches onto this, it will have been worth it. And if not, it certainly gives me more to reflect on.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

High School History Class

I'm in New Mexico so that my daughters could visit (and meet, in the baby's case) their great-grandparents. A highlight for me was getting to spend the day with my aunt while she taught her high school history classes.

She begins each class period with a 'news journal'. Every morning she audio records 3-5 minutes of NPR. She writes on the board a sentence about several of the main stories from the segment with blanks. The students fill in the blanks as they listen. They spend a few minutes talking about the news. They are able to make connections to previous days and even weeks or months in the news. The Iraq war has come up on many occasions. They also make connections to history. Yesterday, when I was there, one story was about a virus that is resistant to drugs. Students were able to connect it to the plague they had recently studied. I was so impressed with how much more they will understand about the world around them and the history they study through this ten minute beginning to class. After the discussion they write a three sentence commentary to reflect.

I think this is such a fantastic practice because of their learning and their practice writing. However, having watched a day in a high school I think it is helpful for the teacher as well. The teachers are in the hallway during the transition between classes so they come in after the students are seated and have no time to get anything together. Playing the recording of NPR gives my aunt a few minutes to get organized and get her brain in gear for the next class. Smart on so many levels!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Testing Hell

Right now I'm administering a practice SOL (Standards of Learning) test to one third grader alone. He's being given the test alone because he is autistic and very easily affected and distracted by others. I'm glad that we are able to offer him this accommodation to the testing. However, I don't believe that we are really going to learn anything about his achievement through this process.

A multiple choice test is very difficult for him because he is so literal. He has trouble analyzing the various answers. He completed the sample question and choose an incorrect answer. When I asked him about it, he was able to explain his thinking (which made sense in a convoluted way). I believe that if he were to answer questions about these short texts without multiple choices, he would do quite well.

He also is unable to work for an extended period of time. Just looking at the first passage, which is about a page long, stressed him out. He spent the morning yesterday taking the math practice test and is now spending the afternoon taking the reading test. He kept asking me why he has to take these tests. I had no good answer for him. According to his classroom teacher, he is able to read longer texts, but broken up over time. They are working on his stamina while reading or working, but he isn't there yet. Taking this test is torture for him.

He is an unusual example because he is autistic. For him, time spent taking this test is not helping him learn and for us, it is not giving us useful information about his learning. But, he will still spend four days this year taking practice SOL tests and five days taking the actual SOL tests. That is five percent of the school days in the year.

While he is an unusual example, I believe that there are many students for whom testing is hell and about whom we learn little from the results. We give the test on one day of the year and expect that it will tell us all about the student's abilities and achievement. Many students, even in third grade, have test anxiety, which also impacts the results.

I'm not against accountability. I'm happy to open my classroom to anyone who wants to come in and see what is happening. I'm happy to show the various ways my students can and have demonstrated their learning. I have nothing to hide. But I'm tired of spending my precious time with students taking multiple choice tests.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Education through the Eyes of Mothers

DC Metro Moms spent yesterday blogging about education. I love reading this blog and was excited by the idea of them all focused on a topic so near and dear to my heart.

I think I posted comments on every single blog post from yesterday. And not for the reasons I had hoped. Again and again the posts were about parents struggling with the choice between public and private schools. I can understand that.
My issues with these various posts fell into two categories:
  1. sadness for families because of their local schools
  2. frustration with how public schools (and private) are judged
There are bad public schools; bad private ones too I'm sure. I sympathize with anyone whose neighborhood schools are not up to snuff.

However, many of these parents voiced frustration with the boring work students do in these schools, worksheet after worksheet. Then they also voiced disappointment with the test scores. My thinking is that those two things are closely linked. Schools begin to panic about test scores and resort to drilling students rather than teaching engaging, interesting lessons. Our focus, as a society, on test scores is resulting in mediocre teaching, at best.

There are a lot of ways to judge a school. I think that test scores is one of the least useful. The problem is, it is the easiest way.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Classroom Environment Illustrates Priorities

I've been out of my classroom for a couple of weeks now because an intern is independent teaching there. It's always fun for me to have an opportunity to do other things around my school. This time, I've been observing in some primary grades because I'd like to teach younger kids next year.

I spent most of today in two different classrooms. Somehow, observing in these two rooms opened my eyes to changes in classroom set-up. Neither of these rooms has much "teacher space." Each teacher has a small table for themselves - a place for their computer and some papers to deal with, but nothing big. Each has a bookshelf for their things and a filing cabinet. But, it would take some looking around the room to recognize the teacher's place. The fact that these teachers rarely spend time at their tables also adds to this. The focus in these rooms is on the students, their work, and their learning.

Both of these classrooms also have tables rather than desks for the students. This suggests that the focus is on collaboration, discussion, and team learning. Added bonuses to tables is that they take up less space per student than desks and are easy to move around as needed.

As I continue observing for the next week or two, I'll be looking more closely at classroom arrangements. The set up of a classroom is an immediate, clear clue about the atmosphere and priorities of that class.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

In Practice

I've been lucky enough to join a talented group of teachers and bloggers writing at In Practice. All of us work (or have worked) in Title 1 schools. I originally discovered the blog through Doug Noon who writes at Borderland. I've been impressed with and enjoyed his writing and was thrilled to discover another place to read him. Then, through In Practice, I discovered Michaele at Tending the Kinder-Garden. Alice Mercer is the driving force behind the site. These two women have become favorites of mine.

Reading the blog was wonderful, writing for it is an honor.
I've been doing a better job lately of keeping up with reading blogs than I have done with posting to mine. That's not a bad thing at all.

I've noticed, however, that the majority, by quite a bit, of the education blogs I read are written by men. I read blogs from all levels of education, including colleges and universities. I read blogs written by classroom teachers, resource specialists, and consultants.

I've been weeding out blogs and trying to cut it down to a more reasonable number. It's this process that made me note the gender difference. In other areas, I have more gender balance. I read blogs about parenting, children's literature, and some that are simply for fun. The parenting blogs I read tend slightly more towards women writers, but not by a lot. Those that I read for fun are just about equal. The children's literature blogs are almost all written by women, interestingly enough.

I'm left wondering why this is. Have I just not found the large number of well-written blogs by female educators yet or do they not exist? Is this a gender gap in technology? (The blogs in other categories would suggest this is not true.) Are there lots of female teachers blogging but because they do so in addition to all of their teaching and family duties they aren't promoting their blogs for us to find them easily?

I'm not looking to add a lot more to my blog reading, but I'd love to know about some fantastic women bloggers in the education realm. If you have any thoughts, let me know.