Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reading Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web was the first book I remember reading on my own. I didn't go to a school where children were taught to read with authentic books in first grade. We had lots of books in the classroom and we listened to a lot of read alouds, but I really can't remember reading by myself for most of the year. We did round robin reading from a textbook in groups. I didn't dislike the approach. I can remember looking forward to my turn to read in the group. I didn't mind it mostly because I was a strong reader and a fast learner. What I do remember is borrowing Charlotte's Web by E.B. White from the school library and reading it in the classroom toward the end of the year. I was captivated, transported to a new world. This was the book that led me to discover the magic of reading. I wanted to share that same feeling with my first graders (a vast majority of whom will not be reading Charlotte's Web this year, and many who might not even get there next year).

A coworker warned against it saying it was too hard for the ELLs and they wouldn't understand. I couldn't help but think about what one of my professors from my masters program said, "It would be a crime to withhold English from the children." She is a bilingual educator and strongly believes in dual language education. What she meant was that we owe it to the children to give them the best possible programs like dual language so that they can learn English at school to the best of their abilities, so they can transfer the knowledge of their first language to English. This statement was ringing in my head like a broken record. I have done a lot of read alouds this year and I just had this feeling that my students were ready for some magic, so I began one day.

Now, usually when I do a read aloud, it involves a chart with vocabulary and pictures and reflections. Sometimes I have a K-W-L or a character web. I just didn't feel like doing any of this with Charlotte's Web. I wanted them to have a pure experience in listening to the story. I wanted them to envision what they were hearing and to absorb the language as it is written. So I decided to implement a few strategies I thought would support them while not over-scaffolding. The first is bilingual preview, view, review. This is where I preview the text in Spanish (for my new arrivals) before reading it. Then I read the text as written in English, and we recap in Spanish. I scaffold for vocabulary by doing a lot of vocabulary-related think aloud and drawing little sketches on the board as we read. It's usually only 1 or 2 words per chapter. I'm also doing think aloud for higher level literacy skills like envisionment, inference, prediction, and even some for basic comprehension. The students think aloud at times too and I don't discourage it.

All I can say is that my class is captivated. Even my recent arrivals sit there in awe of the way the language sounds. My students are silent throughout the reading of entire chapters. I can see their eyes processing it all. Sometimes one of my new arrivals will repeat certain words to himself as I am reading. I've even heard him translate little things to himself without interrupting at all. It shows me he's following. For example, every time the goose talks he utters, "el ganzo" quietly to himself. His eyes light up when I do the Spanish review and he chats away with his turn and talk partners when I prompt them at the end of the chapter. When I am finished, they beg me to know the title of the next chapter.

This is the pick-me-up I needed right now. I was feeling really down about my job, the profession in general, my school, even my students at times. No matter how many programs the system tries to shove down our throats and infiltrate our classrooms with, we will always have authentic literature to bring us back to life.

The grass might not be greener

For those of you who follow my blog, you know I am actively looking for a new position within the New York City public schools through the open market transfer system. I'm looking for a school where children, parents, and teachers are valued, a place where years of experience mean something and teachers have input into the curricular decisions they make and how to best serve the needs of their students. I'm looking for a school with functional collaborative structures (not just show), for a school where teachers have leadership opportunities. After 4 weeks of searching, I am wondering if I will ever find a place like this. I have some interviews lined up and I have been receiving phone calls from schools, but I can't help but feel discouraged by what I am encountering.

Just today I got a call from a new school that opened to ease overpopulation in one of the outer boroughs. I had passed the school while dropping off a resume at it's much older counterpart across the street (complete with a yard full of trailer classrooms). It was so new it was practically glowing. I was fascinated by this new building, full of new possibilities for children and families in such a needy area. When I saw a posting for an open position there on the open market, I applied. When I got the phone call, I was eager to hear more. They wanted to interview me and to see a demo lesson. "Great!," I thought. So I asked them to tell me what grade level and what kind of lesson. They said it would be 1st grade literacy. "Excellent," I thought and then I asked, "What kind of curriculum do you use for literacy?" (keep in mind, I was transfered to the "literacy specialist" to answer this question). That's when the conversation turned sour. "What do you mean?" asked the voice on the other end of the phone. "You know," I said, "like Balanced Literacy or TC?" "Oh, yeah," she said, "sometimes we use balanced literacy, and Reading (can't remember the second word in this program, but it sounded like a basal reader-type program) but you know, we use a little bit of everything like right now we're learning about the life cycle of a frog, you know, so we're writing everything about frogs." "Okay," I responded, "so you plan thematically?" "Yes, each week we (grade levels) teach one strategy to the children until it is mastered and then we teach another the next week." WHAT!?!?!?!?!? Okay, first off, how can you "sometimes" use balanced literacy? Not possible! AND, how is teaching a uniform strategy to classes across the grade level each week constitute thematic planning. So you get the idea. The conversation was confusing at best and it made me really sad. Are you kidding me? Such a beautiful new school in such a needy area full of immigrant children (and you KNOW how I feel about teaching my ELLs). I couldn't help but think "How dare you go near those children!!! How dare you (city) build such a beautiful building with NOTHING inside for our city's kids." They sit there learning about frogs all day when there is critical thinking to be done and literature to devour. I thought about the conversation and then called the principal back immediately to decline the interview. Maybe I'll be back at my school next year. At least we know what program we use for literacy and know how to plan thematically for deeper learning.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The naming of new schools

I am apologizing in advance to anyone who works at any of the schools I am about to mention. I do not know your schools individually nor do I know you. I know you are working as hard as you can to maintain a vision and to serve your students. This post is not about you, it's about the system.

Okay, now I begin! So... I have been perusing the Open Market System, looking desperately for a new position. I've reached that point! I can't help but notice as I browse a certain trend in the names I see of new schools. Here are some examples:

West Prep Academy

The Global Learning Collaborative

Innovation Diploma Plus

The Urban Assembly School For Green Careers

The High School For Language And Diplomacy

Business Of Sports School

Quest To Learn

Global Technology Preparatory

Global Neighborhood Secondary School

The Urban Assembly Institute For New Technologies

High School For Excellence And Innovation

Soundview Academy For Culture and Scholarship

These are not charter schools folks, these are new public schools in the system. They are a whole lot of fancy names for a whole lot of nothing! You see, one of these Global Urban Preparatory Assemblies For Excellence In Scholarship, etc., etc., etc., actually occupies part of the building where my good ole PS 000 is located. I can tell you that this particular school practices NONE of it's name. It's actually a very disgusting place where teachers mistreat students and do not teach them what they deserve to learn, a place where students do not even have the necessary classes in their schedules, a violent and unhealthy place that I would NEVER EVER send my own child. What is the DOE thinking? If they give a big fancy name to a school, it will change the system? It will make things better? Who are they trying to fool? Teachers? Students? Parents?

I am just so disgusted, I can't even believe I am a part of this system. Burnout? Maybe.

PS. Thank you to Frank McCourt High School for picking an appropriate name.