Monday, January 25, 2010

Background Knowledge

When we plan lessons, teachers always think about what background knowledge children will bring to the subject. Oftentimes, I expect my students to have very little background and scaffold my lessons to help them create background knowledge through some sort of an experience. Today, one of my students, Marco, came back from a very long (way too long) hiatus in the Dominican Republic and brought in a brochure from a resort in Punta Cana. It was a very appealing laminated fold-out brochure with beautiful pictures of the beaches, pools, a bowling alley, restaurants, hotel rooms, a spa, etc. Marco wanted to share the brochure with the class, so I briefly put it up on my white board and asked the students what kind of activities they thought children could do at this resort. The students successfully identified the beach, the pool, and the bowling alley, but could not articulate the activities one could do. They looked perplexed. One student pointed to the picture of the spa and said that you could get a massage with hot rocks. Several other kids agreed and they all wanted to talk about massages with hot rocks. I was perplexed at this point. Apparently my students know all about hot rock massages but can't express "swimming, splashing, sunbathing, bowling, relaxing, etc." I honestly have no answers to this one. My students are almost all low SES and qualify for free lunch. I guess I learned never to assume to know about their experiences based on their SES status and also not to hold back on showing them everything I can about the world.

Monday, January 4, 2010

First day back

Today was the dreaded day we came back after vacation. It was hard getting up at 5:20 AM, making it to the bus stop by 6:05 (in the dark), and arriving to school by 6:55 (still dark). Like Ms. Brave mentioned, I had also prepped my classroom as much as possible to ease the transition. The last day before vacation I had changed the calendar, schedule, put the homework in all of the notebooks, graded the math books, prepped the phonics lesson, etc. etc. but of course it was not enough. By 7:10 after I'd had a little coffee, I was running around like crazy already trying to get the rest of the day prepped.

The morning went pretty smoothly. I had zero expectations of the children which helped. They usually come back from vacation tired, hungry, and on another planet, but they were surprisingly with it this morning. I actually enjoyed their little company.

By noon, I was feeling the shock of being back at work. I kept thinking that it would be really nice to watch TV or take a nap as if that would be at all possible.

For homework tonight, they had to think of three New Year's resolutions and write them in their notebooks. We did a lot of oral storytelling on the subject and I modeled some of mine for the kids. I think they were genuinely touched when I wrote the one about being more patient with them. We talked a lot about what patience means and how Ms. Peace can be more patient with them. A lot of them wanted to be more patient with each other after that. Some of them said really meaningful resolutions. A girl who gets in trouble a lot said "I want to learn how to play with my friends without hitting them so they don't get hurt." Another girl said "I want to listen to my friends more so I don't yell at them." A lot of kids want to try harder in school. Some boys said that they wanted to help their moms more (I know, sooooo cute).

This is why I love first grade!

P.S. It was dark when I left school in the PM. So much for daylight!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

1. Be more patient with the children- The last couple of weeks before this vacation were not my best. It really hit me that I needed to take a step back and think about how I was treating my students when a colleague told me that one of my students (who she has last period some days) always asks her to help him put on his sweater before he goes to extended day with me. She said that he thinks I'll get mad at him if he can't do it. I do have high expectations of my students and I do expect them to dress themselves at the end of the day. I help them for the first few months of school and had been working with this particular student to help him put on his sweater. We had a little routine where I would talk him through it, "put your hand in the sleeve, other sleeve, over the head, etc." After a few weeks of that, he would talk himself through it with me watching. After a while, it was up to him and he could do it. One day we were late and I caught him and another boy playing in the closet while I was helping to zip up someone else. He hadn't even put on his sweater let alone his jacket, so I sternly told the boys that it was not time to play and that they needed to get dressed. I had a faculty conference starting in five minutes and when the little boy in question began unzipping his bookbag to take out his sweater, I lost it. I couldn't believe that after 10 minutes, he hadn't even taken it out of his bookbag. I said, "Now we're really late and I have dress you like a 2 year old." I dressed him and we went downstairs for dismissal. I guess what I said really stuck with him and I didn't mean it to sound so harsh, I just expect more of my students. After the teacher came to me with the concern, I started talking to him about pack up time and encouraging him to finish his work early so he can start getting ready early and take his time. I praised him for being the first in line for dismissal on the day before vacation with his sweater on and jacket zipped. I have to remember not to fault my students for not knowing how to do things. Although I think the boy did need to be corrected the day he was playing around, I probably shouldn't have called him a 2 year old. I know that comes from my knowledge that my 3 year old nieces and nephews CAN dress themselves and my 6 year old first graders cannot and that is not fair to take out on my students. It's not their fault that no one ever taught them at home or that that is not an expectation outside of school. It's up to me to teach them in a gentle way.

2. Begin a doctoral program- I'm officially saying it now. I am applying to a doctoral program to begin in Fall 2010. The application process is in full swing since I'm working with a January 15th deadline. I took the GRE, got the recommendations, and am working on draft 2 of the personal statement . I am not planning on leaving the classroom anytime soon. I just feel very strongly that I need to begin doing some real research in my classroom to improve my teaching and to serve language minority students in New York City. I want to connect with other educators who are dedicated to the field. I just don't feel that connection at my school, especially not with my administration. I am taking this on with a plan that include me staying at my school and in my classroom for at least 4-5 more years and possibly beyond, depending on what happens.

3. Redecorate my apartment- It's time. My boyfriend and I moved in together over a year ago. Well, actually I moved into HIS place. We haven't done much to it other than try to figure out how to merge all of our stuff. Now that I'm beginning this doctoral work, I envision the need for a giant table where I can just spread out (this IS New York though, so you can imagine the space constraints). I also want my home to be a calming and organized place where I can be healthy and happy, so maybe over the summer I'll work on some home improvement projects.

4. Take the summer semi-off- I always work full time during the summer teaching ESL to adults at a local institute. This summer, I am not going to work full time (ask me if I kept this resolution in April when they always call to sign me up and I never refuse). I would like to teach a summer course at the university level and I'm keeping my fingers crossed I can do some adjunct work over the summer at the place where I have applied to my doctoral program. That would be fulfilling, not insanely time consuming, and get me just enough extra cash to go on vacation.

5. All the usuals- Eat better, bring my lunch every day, get exercise, sleep enough, etc.

Happy New Year!