Thursday, July 30, 2009

Summer School--Working out of my comfort zone!

Summer school begins next Monday. I am excited to be with kids again (other than my own!) I'll be taking a break from the middle school level as I will be the lead teacher for the group of students entering 4th grade in the fall. My own younger daughter will be a 4th grader this fall and she is quite a character. I seem to remember her sister being rather strange at this age as well, so I am interested to see if it is a phenomenon with 9 and 10 year olds, or if it is just my girls! (As an example of her silliness: last night my 9yo used a key to unlock my head, opened it up and said, "My it's very dusty in here. You must not use your brain very much! Let me just clean it up for you." At which point she, blew on my head and then closed me back up and locked it tight!)

I am a bit nervous about working with these kids as I've been in the middle school now for 16 years. I think I will have to make a conscious effort to slow down in my teaching. Right now my plan is to work in a genre study on folk tales and then work with them on strategies for reading expository text.

On the first day, I want them to be involved in setting the norms and guidelines for our work together. After that, I want to have them set goals for themselves. I am hopeful that they will be able to do this, and I know that they are going to need more scaffolding than I have to use with my middle schoolers. But I am not quite sure what that scaffolding should look like. I plan to try using a mind mapping activity to get them to think about how they want to be different at the end of our work together. Then perhaps to put their goals into words, I will use a close paragraph that they can fill in.

Please share any words of advice or wisdom!

Monday, July 27, 2009

So Confused!

Sometimes learning new things can be very taxing! I'm finding this to be especially true with the new information I find myself bombarded with on Twitter. Here are the new terms I've been exposed to:
Second Life

And then there are the terms I already knew, but still have not much idea about how, when, where and why to use them:

I am taking baby steps with all this new information. As you can see, I've begun the blogging process. I am a part of a couple of nings, and I really like the networking and collaborating I get from that. But as for the rest, I feel like I just need someone to tell me which are the best tools to use.

I also need guidance on time management for all of this. On Twitter, many of the people I follow seem to be on the computer all the time! I am sure this is just my perception, but the conversations I see that took place while I slept leave me feeling jealous that 1) I missed out and 2) that I have to sleep! And aside from sleeping, I have to do all the other daily routines that being a wife, mother, pet owner, teacher, friend, daughter, etc. come with. I don't want to log hours on the computer!

So, someone (or lots of someones!) out there on the net, please share your computer-time management skills. And please help me sort out how to prioritize these new-to-me-tools.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Why Middle Level...cont.

The fact that many structures of model middle schools are being tossed by the wayside in these tough economic times makes it even more crucial for teachers to pursue graduate studies in middle level programs. We all know that in education, we're riding a pendulum that swings back and forth. Ideas come and go, but even if they have different names, the philosophies behind them are usually the same.

In the middle level program at CMU (and hopefully in all!), a teacher will first learn about the distinct needs and characteristics of these "kids in the middle." These sweet darling are undergoing such dramatic changes physically, cognitively, and emotionally. It is imperative to understand them in order to best help them grow into democratic life-long learners.

The second important part of a middle level program is the structures that best suit the needs of these kids. Teaming, flexible scheduling, advisory, parent communication and contact are all crucial elements. Teaching in a school that does not already employ these structures makes it even more important that we have qualified and knowledgeable staff who can advocate for them, and who have the desire to implement them in the toughest circumstances.

In order to understand middle level kids, we need to understand the diversities that enter our classrooms. These kids are diverse in every way-from their rate of their development to ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic diversities. The middle level program will help teachers understand these differences and then go on to model the instructional strategies that will allow teachers to meet the needs of all students, in spite of their diverse natures and backgrounds.

Understanding curriculum that best meets the needs of middle level students is the next step in the journey to becoming a highly effective middle school teacher through the program at CMU. The National Middle School Association advocates for a curriculum that is integrated, rigorous, and incorporates student voice. This type of curriculum is best planned in collaborative teams, but even teachers who find themselves still working in isolation can implement the elements of effective curriculum within their own classroom.

Becoming a middle level specialist through an endorsement or masters program will enhance the practice of teachers at every level. It will change the way you teach. Maybe more importantly, as many middle schools do away with teaming and common planning time, flexible scheduling, and the other components that make a model middle school, it will make you an advocate to maintain instruction and programs that research shows are best for middle level students.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Why Middle Level training is important.

Today I completed my 5th year of teaching as an adjunct instructor at a nearby university. Every summer for the past 5 years I have taught two classes in the Middle Level Master of Arts program. The two classes I teach are Meeting the Diverse Needs of Middle Level Learners and Middle Level Curriculum. The 6 credits are taught in three weeks, and they are fast-paced weeks!

This year, as in all others, I am left in awe of the tremendous learning that my students pack in. Between the two classes, there are 5 required texts, all of them packed with valuable information and teaching strategies. The reflections that my learners turn in at the end show the way their thinking around middle school curriculum and teaching strategies have changed. But I also feel sorry for my students this year. Situations in educate in my state have led to a dramatic decrease in the number of teachers seeking to further their education with a middle level masters degree. In my first 2 summers, I had classes of 12 and 14. But these numbers have decreased so that this summer I had 6 students for one class, and although it is best to take the two classes together, it is not necessary. My afternoon class, therefore, had 5 students.

The lower number of students means that they are missing out on substantive conversation that comes from having more voices in the classroom. All of our tasks this year were completed in record time, and I really missed those one one or two "devil's advocate" voices.

Today, the class and I brainstormed with the department head what might be the causes of diminishing numbers in the middle level program. We all agree that university costs are exorbitant, but beginning teachers still have to complete 18 hours in 3 years. Other departments are not experiencing the same struggles. The one possible answer we came up with is that the dismal financial situations facing most school districts has caused most to put the middle level concept on the chopping block. It takes more staff to be able to have common planning time, advisory, and flexible scheduling. It seems that teachers think if their school doesn't follow the middle school concept, the masters program is not right for them. But this is faulty thinking! If anything, middle school kids need qualified middle level educators who understand their developmental characteristics and needs now more than ever!

I will discuss these ideas more in my next post. Stay tuned!

Legitimate beef or disgruntled softball mom?

My 12yo daughter, G, is a good softball player; one of the best on her team this year. She pitches and plays first base. Not only is she good, but she works hard. She gives 110% at every practice and every game. Being a very non-athletic mom, I often marvel at her skill and perseverance and tenacity. This year, she was chosen by her team mates to be on the All Star team--a team made up of 4 players from each of the three regular season teams. The All Star team was coached by a regular season coach, but not G's regular coach. G attended the one practice that was held before the game, a 2 1/2 hour practice. Her dad said she was the most accurate pitcher, though not the fastest, and she did well at first.

G's team ended up playing 5 games in the All Star tournament, an average of 25 innings. G sat out 10 of those innings, played first base in maybe 7 of them and was relegated to left field the rest of the time. I tried to soften the blow by explaining that left might not get much action at her age, but it is an important position in high school. The sitting out is what frustrated me. The coach had the same two girls pitching the whole tournament--which is ok, they are good pitchers. But in one game, G's team mercied their opponents. This seemed like a great time to me to mix it up some. All 4 girls from G's regular season sat out 2 innings per game. The girls from the coach's regular season almost never had to sit out an inning. I don't think this is right. These girls are young; going into 6th and 7th grades. They haven't finished growing and developing and their talents and skills could still grow. Yet, I felt this coached had made some major decisions about each one's abilities. That wouldn't bother me, except that this coach is also the Varsity softball coach for the school district. I don't want my daughter to be "softball tracked" right now based on his (I believe faulty) assessment of her ability.

So my question is, are my concerns legitimate and would it be appropriate for me to address these issues with the coach? Or am I seeing things through the eyes of a mom and not being fair about the situation? I would appreciate any insight!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Decisions, decisions!

Thanks to my twitter friends who have ventured over to offer suggestions and guidance! I think I am going to try to do an all-inclusive blog rather than separate personal and professional. I'm not sure how it's going to work and maybe I'll only be writing for myself, but that's ok!

But this is going to have to be a short entry. The husband is out at the boat for the night and I should not be neglecting my girls! They've been so great about working on to-do lists that I've left for them the last couple of weeks as I put in my time at the university.

Next week is all about them and the houseboat!

Welcome to My Blog

I am not sure how to start this off! Let's begin with why--why did I create a blog? Well, I recently created a Twitter account. In the few short months that I have been tweeting, I have learned tremendous amounts about all of the different ways to use the web, both personally and professionally. My job title is Literacy Coach and my goal is to advance the professional development of my staff. Technology is changing the way we do so many things and I would like to be able to help my staff navigate that change. But I would feel lost in helping them navigate uncharted waters, so here I am--charting a course.

I am starting with a Blog, but who knows where it will go from there. In fact, if you have recommendations about where it should go, I'd love to hear them!

I'd also love input on personal vs. professional blogs. Do I merge the two parts of my life into one blog? I work in a middle school but I also live with a soon-to-be 7th grader and a soon-to-be 4th grader. And the stories I could tell about my husband! Part of me feels like maybe there should be two blogs. But another part argues that I am only one person and I'm not even sure how I'll be able to keep up with one blog, let alone two! I would like to actually LIVE some experiences to write about! In yet another facet of my life, I am an adjunct instructor in a middle level master's program. One of the major tenets I preach about teaching at the middle level is that we need to have integrated curriculum; a blending of the boundaries between the subject areas. To then chop up my life into little separate parts seems hypocritical.

That's where I'll leave it for today. I have a lot to learn and guidance would be good!