Posted in Teaching

On Fire: A Completely True and Not at All Sarcastic* Look at Differentiation in a Middle School Classroom

* ok, maybe a little sarcastic

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Imagine trying to light ten different fires while simultaneously trying to put out seven. That’s what differentiation in a classroom of thirty students feels like.

I once taught a dynamic, interactive, differentiated lesson that included modeling, group work, individual accommodations, and a reflective recap of the learning objective in front of an intern, an observer, and my inclusion teacher, and it all went near-perfectly. (Once. I said this happened ONCE. It was like seeing a unicorn standing on the back of the Loch Ness Monster.) Afterward, my inclusion teacher told me, “Wow! You were on fire!” I said, “Thanks, yeah, that’s pretty much what it felt like.” Then I collapsed into a plastic chair for a full 30 seconds before setting up to do it all again for the next period, during which neither Nessy nor the unicorn made an appearance.

Accounting for every student’s distinctive learning style, individual accommodations, unique personality, and level of stress makes direct teaching difficult and giving inspirational speeches almost impossible. It seems like I’m always pressuring my students too much or not enough. I can never find the proper balance. I don’t think it’s my fault, though. Mixed-level classes and large class sizes and the amount of variation in accommodations make it tough for one person to address an entire group the same way.

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Consider this: What if Abraham Lincoln had been required to accommodate the Gettysburg Address? What if Martin Luther King, Jr. had wanted to inspire half his audience to action while also thanking the other half for all the work they’d already done?

Abraham Lincoln:
“Four score and seven years ago (that’s 87 years) our fathers brought forth on this continent (North America), a new nation, conceived in liberty (that means formed in freedom), and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. (I’ll pause here for a moment while you think about that. Danny, here’s a paper copy of the speech. Yes, Betty, you may go to the restroom.)”

Martin Luther King, Jr:
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. (Sally and Albert, you’ve done an excellent job exalting valleys so far this year, and Robert, you’re making good progress on straightening those crooked places. You should feel proud of yourselves.) Let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. (Mississippi, I know you’ve been struggling with the whole freedom thing. You just keep applying yourself, okay?) Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado…”

I’m not critiquing the practice of differentiation. It is absolutely the right way to teach and the best way to help students progress. We have come so far from the days where every lesson was a teacher-centered lecture that left bright, creative, differently-engaged students behind. My point is only that individualized instruction is difficult, especially in large classes. You need a lot of matches and a lot of damp towels to concurrently ignite and douse the coals of each individual student’s motivation to the appropriate level, and if you do it right, there will likely be smoke coming out of your ears by the end of the day.

I think that metaphor got away from me. Sorry. To clarify, don’t bring matches to school.

 

 

 

Posted in Life, Poetry, Reading, Teaching, Writing

News, Updates, and a Little Havoc

Hello! Happy Summer!

It’s the end of July, which means…

1) Going outside in Austin in the afternoon = recreating the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

2) The start of the new school year is close enough that it can no longer be ignored, so I’m desperately trying to finish all the books I’ve started this summer.

3) It’s time for some summer updates.

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New Publications!

product_thumbnailThis summer, my work appeared in two new publications. You can read my humorous poem “Conquest or Coincidence” in this year’s issue of Best Austin Poetry, available at Lulu for only $1.75 + shipping. My poem, which is about the time my very fat childhood cat caught a mouse, is in good company with several poems from the talented and entertaining Diana Conces and many other gifted Texas poets.

IMG_20190710_094437535Also, I’m happy to report that my creepy flash fiction story “Window,” which was published at Havok in May, was selected for their season one anthology, Rebirth. Print and Kindle versions are both available on Amazon. The forty-eight very short stories in the collection range from scary and suspenseful to hilarious and thought-provoking. I recommend “The Devil Went Down to Costco” by Stephanie Scissom to make you laugh, “Words” by Katherine Vinson to make you think, and “If These Walls Could Talk” by J.L. Knight to give you shivers.

New Shopping Opportunities!

isla_280x280.25948040_fd2syi7nThis summer, I updated the Shop page of my blog, added new items to my Etsy store, and created a Teachers Pay Teachers page. Check them out and see if there’s something there with your name on it. (Psst! Want a super-secret coupon? From now until September 1, use the code JULYBLOG at my Etsy shop to get 15% off your purchase!)

New Cat!

Back in the fall, we quickly went from being a four-pet family to a two-pet family when my two cats, Gink and Toby, passed away within three weeks of each other. Toby was eighteen and Gink, who had been my familiar since he was a kitten, was almost twenty years old. Suffice to say, their passing left a deep chasm in my heart and my home. We still have our dog, Uno, and our other twenty-year-old cat, Gabby, and I love them both SO much, but I missed my boys. So, in May, hubby and I adopted an eighteen-year-old cat with a thyroid condition.

Everyone, meet Sneakers.

 

Somehow, this sweet, handsome, friendly, charismatic little guy spent TWELVE YEARS in a shelter in Pennsylvania. I still don’t understand how he went so long without finding his forever home, but I’m so glad his journey led him to us. (You can read more about his adoption story in this interview with Austin Pets Alive.)

Sneakers is more like a big kitten than a senior cat. He talks in his sleep and snores and plays with toys and gets the zoomies around 11pm. He eats like a pig (both in volume and manners) and tries to stick his paws in whatever we’re eating as well, whether it’s cereal or salad. He follows Gabby around the house singing to her (unfortunately, she is deaf and therefore immune to his siren call) and plays bongos on the dog’s ribs when he walks by too close. Sneakers is such a character, and we’re so happy to be his family.

Also, I’d just like to say that I never intended to adopt an older cat. All the elderly cats we’ve had in the past have been homegrown. In fact, I’d been hoping to get a kitten in the next year or so. But after adopting Sneakers, I have to say… old cats are awesome. Consider giving one a chance. Check out the available senior kitties at Austin Pets Alive or visit your city’s local shelter.

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Well, that’s what’s new with me this summer. Writing, reading, weird trinkets, cats… the usual, really. What’s new with you?

 

Posted in Life, Teaching

My Numbers

I love the scene in Erin Brockovich when her neighbor asks for her number and she says, “Which number do you want?” Then she proceeds to give him the ages of her children, the number of times she’s been married, and the amount of money in her bank account before sharing her phone number. It’s a great movie moment because Julie Roberts delivers her lines so well, but it’s also a great reminder that people cannot be summed up with just one name, label, or number.

Here’s a clip of the scene. Be forewarned, Ms. Brockovich has a bit of a potty mouth:

I’ve been thinking about my own numbers this week.

Tuesday was my last day of work for the 2018-2019 school year, and my school had our annual end-of-year breakfast to celebrate the year’s achievements, say goodbye to staff members who are moving on to new adventures, and welcome new teachers to the campus.

During the meeting, our principal handed out pins to teachers who have been in the district 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, or 30 years. (Yes, when you have taught in the same school district for THIRTY YEARS, you get a PIN. Welcome to public education.) I didn’t get a pin because my years of service don’t add up to a multiple of five, but it got me thinking about my numbers anyway.

  • 16 is the number of years I’ve been teaching 7th grade.
  • 2 is how many districts I’ve taught in and 3 is the number of schools.
  • 4 is how many years I took off from teaching to recoup, relax, and recharge.
  • 58 is how many times I’ve read The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.
  • 1,200 is roughly the number of students I’ve taught during my career.
  • 1 is the number of times a student has thrown up in my classroom (and thankfully, it was in the trash can).

Those numbers might not be pin-worthy, but I think they’re pretty impressive.

Of course, those aren’t my only numbers.

Today is my wedding anniversary.

  • 9 is the number of years I’ve been married.
  • 13 is the number of years I’ve been in love with my husband.
  • 0 is the number of children we have (by choice).
  • 3 is the number of pets we have (sort of by choice… if it were up to only me, we’d probably have about 7).
  • Uno is the name of our dog.
  • 18 is the age of the cat we just adopted.
  • 0 is the number of times we have adhered to the rules about traditional anniversary gifts.
  • 100,000 is roughly the number of times my husband has made me laugh.
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Hubby doesn’t like his photo to appear on social media, so I drew a picture of him instead. It’s pretty accurate.

But there are still more numbers. For instance…

  • 42 is my age.
  • 3 is how many cups of coffee I’ve had today.
  • 21 is how many books I’ve read this year.
  • 7 is the number of novels I’ve started writing.
  • 1 is how many I’ve finished.
  • 74 is the number of summer vacation days looming before me that I hope to fill with coffee, books, stories, laughs, pets, and adventures with the hubby before it’s time to go back to…
    • 9+ hour work days…
    • 150 new students…
    • and roughly 10,000 papers to grade.

I’ll take those numbers. Most days, they make me feel like I’ve won the lottery.

So, what’s YOUR number?