Wednesday, May 10, 2006

What Kind of Day It Has Been

The natives are restless. The kids are pushing, pushing. It's hot, they're taking tests, can feel the urgency and sense of purpose beginning to slip a little as we reach at least one benchmark culmination of all the work. Or maybe they're just sick of each other, sick of work, sick of us. I know I'm keeping it together as well as anyone, but I'm not entirely sure how. We're working through our novels Seedfolks and Wayside School Is Falling Down, writing summaries, doing vocabulary and spelling, heading for a characterization assessment and the next High Point Unit Test.

Today I watched Angry Kid lose it. Like some cartoon werewolf or demonically possessed youth, he literally manifested physical symptoms of I'm-Done-ness. I was standing in front of his desk, we were talking cause-and-effect, and he suddenly sat up straighter, had this little twitch, and got this look in his eye like little Regan MacNeil was gone and not coming back. He leaps up, grabs his stuff and announces he'll be working in the back from now on.

ME: Oh man, I'm sorry about that. Come on back.
HIM: What are you sorry about?
ME: Sorry I can't accommodate your seating preference. You're gonna need to keep working here.
HIM: You're not sorry.
:: he starts moving back::
ME: A little bit. I was more sorry that the soda machine ran outta Diet Cokes, but this one's up there.
HIM: mmsgksljds you sgjusfpjandf sorry msofhsadogj
ME: Yup. You're right. Let's all work harder.

I have purchased the 6th Season of the West Wing. Protocol for watching a newly released season of The Wing is as follows:
1) Watch the newly released season
2) Watch the preceding season, immediately followed by the newly released season
3) Watch the first season and continue through the entire season, up to, and including, the newly released season

The upshot is my kids will be getting a whole lot of previously turned-in, yet unassesed work returned to them tomorrow and Friday.

I workshopped for TFA last Saturday. This, I think, is one of the most powerful things TFA does, which is why I continue to accept invitations to present workshops, even if the organization continues to sell-out the schools and districts it purports to serve, and even if my name is mispronounced during the thanks-for-giving-your-time-and-energy portion of the show. When teachers can self-select how they structure professional development which is highly specific, highly student- and achievement-centered, everyone wins. Mostly kids.

TFA takes in corps member feedback from your workshop and sends you, the presenter, with a neat-o spreadsheet of results. Mine were a little lower than in the past. I received a neutral and somewhat agree response to the question: "this workshop provided valuable content and practical strategies to blah blahh blah..." Usually I rock the agrees and strongly agrees. Slipping.

I was asked to present on how to structure long-term writing plans. How do you talk about that for 90 minutes? I mean, I have a long-term writing plan; it's very nice. I suppose I could make copies and walk them through it and talk about how I spend 40% of class time on writing, which they'll push back on because they can't or won't clear such a space, but man, all that sucks.

Instead, I presented the concept of front-loading -- the idea that before you teach something critical you pre-teach it, either in entirety or individual aspects. Like all decent ideas in education, this one comes off sounding a lot less impressive and electrifying than it really is.

[minor aside: seriously, this is a big deal. every good idea or new[er] reform just reeks of duh-ness. It makes it heard to talk about because the whole time a voice in the back of your head is screaming, how can you be excited about this simple idea? You're getting worked up over this? Teach the standards? Maintain high expectations? Holy shit! end minor aside]

I talk about how we should all plan to front-load the key analytical and structural processes in an attempt lessen the cognitive load they experience while writing. I present the idea that these front-loads can either take the form of extended lessons (like teaching topic sentences for a week), mini-lessons (20 minutes on main idea-detail) or fold-ins, a phrase I think I invented, where you incorporate that skill (theme, making connections) into a host of other activities. We break into groups to break down the various writing tasks into component parts, talked about how to front-load each one, brainstormed strategies for those which were particularly difficult to teach, and then hit a wall when they didn't bring teacher guides of their curriculum because I did not notify them far enough in advance, even though I have a sneaky suspicion it may not have mattered.

State-mandated timed reading tests and the English Language Learner?

Like mayonnaise and pizza.

Like alcohol and night-swimming.

Like maoist insurrections in and around your favorite third-world vacation spot.


Anonymous Magistra said...

Is the appropriate West Wing fan response to Sunday to a) be glad it's ending on a strong note, or b) alternate between shaking your fist at the heavens and mourning the loss of articulate television?

3:44 PM  
Anonymous Jeri said...

The front-loading is SO important in every subject area. But it is also so basic & simple that I often forget that it's basic and important and I rush in for the content. At least that's what I tell myself. Often I'm rushing in to the part of the lesson I like, instead of staying at the part of the lesson they need.

It's always a struggle to do what they need me to do.

I really needed the reminder today that unless I do what they need me to do, they won't do what I need them to do.

Or something like that. Thanks.

6:23 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...


I'm living in a kind of denial about the whole thing. Generally, I think it's good, because when you watch the old seasons (or when the old seasons are simply playing an endless loop as the background to your grading) you realize they've run through about every possible scenario; they really have. At the same time, watching Jed get on the helicopter will be tough.


It's weird, isn't it, how we overlook or ignore the simple things? I used to have this sign over my desk at home that said, "No Cold Reads." I paid a ton of attention to that rule for a year, and then got away from it, and now I need to get back.

9:39 AM  

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