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, 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?

 

Posted in Teaching, Writing

Attics, Windows, and Weirdness

Happy Monday the 13th! Muahahahaha!

I realize it’s usually Friday the 13th that you have to beware of, but once you see what I have to share with you today, I think you’ll agree that this date has a sinister side too.

The Horrors of Standardized Testing

First, it’s STAAR testing week. If you’re a teacher or a student in Texas, that’s enough to make you shudder right there. If you’re reading this post between 8:15AM and 12:45PM central time, please know that I am stuck in a silent room with thirty seventh graders and no access to the outside world, trying to keep myself from going crazy by anagramming their names in my head and making mental pie charts of the types of shoes they’re wearing. Oh, the horrors.

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More Entertaining Horrors

Don’t worry; there are other, better horrors today too. For instance, my short story, “Window,” was published today at Havok. It’s a flash fiction piece, so it’s short enough to read on a bathroom break (<– if you have a job with unscheduled bathroom breaks, thank your lucky stars) but there’s a pretty strong creep-factor packed into those few pages.

Think you’re too scared to read it? You better decide quick because the story will be free to read today only. Beginning tonight at midnight, it will be available only to subscribers. So, in order not to be reading it during the witching hour, you might as well buck up and read it now. If you enjoy the story and have a Havok account, consider rating it. The stories with the most votes will be included in the upcoming print anthology.

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If you read “Window” and survive, then check out my longer short story, “The Girl in the Attic.” This story was originally published in Growing Pains by Sinister Saints Press, but it can now be read for free in Allegory. There’s no clock ticking on this one, so read it at your leisure. It’ll give you a good reason to put off cleaning out your attic for another year.

Horrors of the Weird Variety

If you’re not dealing with standardized testing today and can’t bring yourself to read about creepy windows and attics, then spend your Monday the 13th considering this madness.

A few days ago, a couple of very good friends of mine stayed at our house. They slept in our guest room, which is also my office. This isn’t usually a problem, but these particular very good friends are also very good pranksters, and my collection of books and office supplies offers them plenty of fodder for their mischief. I never know what I’ll find (or not find for days, weeks, or months) after they visit. This time was no exception. Shenanigans were definitely afoot, and I know I haven’t discovered them all yet.

One thing they did was use my set of wooden letters to leave me a message on my bookshelf. That was easy to spot and pretty cute. They also left me a cryptic note that looks like a piece of a larger puzzle, something I haven’t even tried to figure out yet. That’s also harmless and cute. But today when I looked up from my desk, I got more than a little creeped out when I saw THIS:

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That is a stuffed pony that I loved when I was a little girl wearing the fake witch nose I wore last year for Halloween.

Not only is it really, really, really, really disturbing, but I had no idea where these very good friends got my witch nose! These people are not above a bit of snooping. I know this because my wooden letters were in the closet. Then again, they were in a box clearly labeled “SET OF WOODEN LETTERS” so, yeah, not hard to find. But my witch nose? Even I couldn’t have told you where that thing ended up after Halloween. If I had to guess, I’d say in the trash or in a box in the garage.

I immediately texted the above photo to my very good friends and asked them where the heck they found my witch nose, wondering just exactly how much of my stuff I need to keep under lock and key during future visits. The reply I got did not make me feel better.

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Um, what?!?!?! Freaking out, I showed the photo to hubby, who said, “You just now saw that? I did that months ago.”

*sigh*

Apparently, I am not very observant. When I get home from actively monitoring the STAAR test, I’m going to take a GOOD, LONG LOOK around my guest room and see what other little treasures I can find.

But I’m not going in my attic. Nope, nope.