Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Genetics has not gifted me with the best eye sight, but I work with it. I actually like my look with glasses more than without, most of the time. I look sharper, more awake (probably because my glasses magnifies my eyes to twice their normal size) and thus more authoritative. Contacts are for high impact sports and dressy events. Thus, I normally don't wear contacts for teaching.

On the rare occasion that I do, my students always give me these funny looks and ask me what happened to my glasses. Depending on my mood, I would say:

- "I lost them."
- "What are you talking about, I never had glasses." (this one is the most fun because 90% of the time they believe me - until I show up the next day in glasses)
- the truth

Then they would always ask why. Why are you wearing contacts instead of glasses, Ms. Ng? Or the vice versa, why do you wear glasses when you can wear contacts?

Because I can. That's why.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Clues, problems, and wanderings

Clue: hints to what the thing is. Problems: difficult words, phrases. Wanderings: questions about the story.

Clues, problems, and wanderings come from Open Court and it is quite possibly the longest, most convoluted way to do SQ3R to stories that range anywhere from 6-16 pages.

I don't really have a problem with it, although I know quite a few educators who do. It's actually a really good version of KWL for EL students. My current students seem to enjoy it a lot. My students from last semester never did this in their classroom. My students from last, last semester hadn't gotten to the point of reading in their anthologies yet.

Here's how we do it:

- Students look through the first 4 pages of the story
- A student facilitator calls on raised hands and passes a plastic ball to them as they give a clue, problem, or wandering. There has to be 6 in each category before this part is done.
- The class reads the story.
- On the day after we finish the story (usually Wednesday or Thursday), we go back to the ball passing and answer all the problems and wanderings.

That's about it. It sometimes seems like a gigantic waste of time, but I'm surprised at how well my current students retain information from the story through this routine procedure. It probably has to do with the fact that they get to toss around a plastic ball during the process.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Much talk, little meaning

Pretty tunnel vision.

I'm torn in opinion about the president making so many speeches in a relatively short period of time. I'm all for speaking less in order to say more. But I also agree to some extent that people will ignore you unless you are in their face constantly. People get wrapped up in their own world, pushing anything not within their immediate circle out of sight and out of mind. It happens.

The first day of school, the principal decided to show Obama's back-to-school speech in the MP (that's multi-purpose room in teacher lingo) for any class that wanted to see it. My class voted a majority for going. I would too, if I were them, just to get out of the boring lessons involving nothing but the textbook fighting to keep from going on a mind vacation.

So we went. I had read the speech transcript online the night before. Plus, NPR talked incessantly about it during my fifty minute commute that morning. I enjoyed it I suppose, but I couldn't help but take a mind vacation anyway.

Then my parents wanted to watch it online in the middle of the week. And of course I'm their IT person, so I set it up and was made to stick around within ear shot in case the computer exploded or something. Because that's what my dad does to computers. That and allow trojans to infiltrate our system like water goes through a sieve.

THEN I had to sit through another showing of it in EDTE 226. By this time, I was pretty tired of the speech. It was the end of the first week back at teaching and I was pretty tired, period. So I was grumpy. And ended up being rather critical of the speech. Out loud. Teachers, of course, are usually too polite to flame people with anything other than raised eyebrows.

Still. What did he mean by telling students they can achieve anything, then turning right around and telling them it's highly unlikely they will become sports stars or pop icons? What did he mean by implying that success comes only through college and school and higher education? I had just finished reading Tyack, so I saw a lot of bureaucratization going on here. With such a dramatic speech, given in such a dramatic way, I'm suspicious of any underlying intentions that the government has for the education of its people.

Disclaimer: I don't disagree with everything he said. I just have questions about a good portion of it. The stuff about working hard, having a good attitude, and overcoming difficulties were pretty good.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 writing applications (genres and their characteristics)

It's only photographic evidence that I was here if I was actually in the photo. Although I could have shopped myself into it somehow.

Ha, it seems like the titles for this tag gets longer and longer as I go. We must be so specific! We must be so wordy! Because that is the one and only way to write!


Students will:

A) write narratives with plot, point of view, setting, and conflict in a way that shows rather than tells the story.
B) write responses to literature that shows understanding of the text, gives supporting evidence, and develops interpretations.
C) write reports that have framed questions around a topic and develops said topic with details and explanations.
D) write persuasive letters or compositions which clearly state the objective, provides relevant evidence, and is organized to address reader concerns

Basically, the main goal is to provide supporting evidence for their writing, whatever it may be. Which is really the most difficult thing to do for many writers. Even in at the graduate level, this part is creating a lot of headaches for my classmates. My issue with it is that sometimes I write evidence in a way that looks like an opinion. And that confuses me to no end.

Connections between the evidence and opinion are rather delicate to deal with too. It's probably important to read with a critical eye - since evidence can be misleading. So in the end, a good writer is a good reader. And a good reader is a good writer. They go hand in hand.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lessons from the post office

Creepier than those murals in gothic cathedrals.

Lesson #1

It is usually never convenient to visit the post office.

Lesson #2

There is usually a long line at the post office.

Lesson #3

Don't give the postal workers a hard time, because their job is one of the most boring on earth.

Lesson #4

I feel bad for the people who sit outside the post office and ask for change. Because I usually don't have change. And because I wish we live in a world where asking for change isn't necessary.

Lesson #5

Printing postage online is pretty cool.

Lesson #6

This is quite possibly the easiest chore to postpone.....and postpone.....and postpone..... It's a wonder I manage to ever get anything sent to anyone.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The one best system

It looks the same from here.

There's a lot that's different between bureaucratization of education in the 19th century and James Banks' Multicultural Education theory. Yes Banks, I said theory because it is a theory, not yet a reality.

But there's a lot that is the same as well. What is with the general need for schools to be uniform and the same from campus to campus? When I teach art within the same district, I sometimes forget which school I'm at, until I see the students, because they all look the same. Same building colors, same campus layout, even the teachers and staff all seem the same.

So if we make all schools use the Multicultural Education system, then how is that any different from NCLB? Which, by the way, has an eerie similarity to the urbanization of schools around the 1900's. It's all "same same but different."

And I think I've found an idea for my thesis. Or at least for one of the projects on the way.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

V.V. Elementary

I only have two photos for this school. Each time I went here, I was too busy doing stuff, or thinking about things other than the blog. It also happened that this school was the first one I taught at after The Great Disaster That Was Phase 3 Spring 2009. Yeah, many things other than the blog were on my mind.

But I like this school, and not only because the initials make an intense face with a V-for-victory. It's a relatively more parent-involved school, yet the students definitely need a firm hand with discipline too. Well, all students need that. I suppose their acclimation to discipline is what varies.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"What if this kid keeps calling me gay?"

I'm in a 5/6 split this semester and I can't even begin to describe the logistical headache that is. 1/2, sure. 2/3 ok. 3/4 is stretching it a little but still manageable in most cases. But a 5/6? As in super low 5th graders and super high 6th graders and barely anyone in between? How do you meet in the middle?

A little less of a headache (although it still is in a way) is that sixth graders have certain special events and assemblies that they attend because they are sixth graders. And one of these events is a sexual harassment assembly led by the principal.

Say what?

Well, apparently, in CA it is a criminal act for 4th-12th graders to sexually harass each other. Which I get, and that is as it should be. But this type of assembly is certainly new to me. Although some of the questions during the Q&A session made me think this was addressed in a timely manner after all.

Then there are things like the title of this post. Does a fourth grader really understand what that means when they are teasing someone like that? It's very derogatory, yes. I would swoop down on any behavior like that at once, yes. But it reminds me of when I caught a first grader calling another student a "racist." We had a very serious discussion and this young person told me that a "racist" was something like "stupid" or "dumb." Setting the record straight on that was sobering and funny at the same time.

Because students hear things, all the time, from parents and other adults, from TV and movies and music. And all they know about it is from context, which can be skewed already.

And thus, it comes back to another unwritten duty of the teacher. So many misconceptions, so little time. It really is more effective to set things up so students figure out the right thing for themselves.

In the end, bullying is bullying, whether it be in physical, verbal, or electronic form. Schools have dealt with it from time immemorial, and we will forever have to deal with it to the end of the world.

Random fact wall

Random box of random stuff.

The other day I had a random idea of incorporating a random fact wall into my classroom. I probably won't do it unless I get students like this one:

Student #1: (in the middle of a math lesson on algebraic equations) Ms. Ng, why do they call it algebra?
Me: Because a person named Al Gebra invented it in the 5th century.
Student #1: That's a weird name.
Me: Well, it isn't weird for people from the Middle East.

So that was a partial truth. Algebra DID originate from the Middle East. Probably in the 5th century, but I can't be sure unless I look it up. The person, Al Gebra, is of course fake.

Here's another:

Me: (during after school art class) The aborigines of Australia are the oldest civilization that is still alive today.
Student #2: Then who is the oldest person alive today?

With a random fact wall, I can address all these random questions stemming from bunny trails that students love to take. Pedagogically, it's called a "teachable moment." If you grew up watching Animaniacs, you know it as the segment called, "Useless Facts." I love Animaniacs - there is no cartoon like it on tv today. It's where I learned that star fish don't have brains and how to sing all nations of the world.

Most of all, random facts are just fun. Of course, to make it a little more challenging, I would have a weekly random fact quiz - to test student recall and have them make connections the to actual curriculum we are studying.

Not every student goes for the random facts, however. Some might just get overly distracted, or bored, or resent the constant interruptions. Which is why I'm going to be careful about this activity.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Courses: technology

I always feel a little sorry for people who have extreme frustrations struggling with technology. But I also have no mercy for them either. It's their job to figure it out for themselves as teachers. And if they are a little older, or a little less familiar with tech in general, then they have to work that much harder to get it.

They are the same people who are nearly the only ones actually following the instructor. You know everyone else is on instant messaging or facebook, or doing the homework assignment so they don't have to do it outside of class time. And it's really sad, because these non-tech savvy people are trying so hard to follow along, but they keep getting behind because the instructor is clicking through the screens WAY too fast for anyone to keep up with. Because the instructor also knows that most people aren't listening and he just wants to get through the university prescribed lesson and return to his own instant messaging or facebook.

Ok, that's not true all the time. But it's true enough of the time, no?

All of CSUS' credential centers (i.e. Twin Rivers, Folsom, Elk Grove, and my own UTEC) require a technology course. This is where we learn how to record digital videos (or convert analog to digital videos) and upload them, upload photos, scan and print, use Powerpoint for teaching, and a variety of other things.

We were also given a demonstration of the interactive whiteboards. Which are cool and awesome and l33t. But the type of schools I teach at will never see one until they become obsolete, so I'm not going to talk too much about this.

The main thing we focused on in that tech class was how to use Taskstream. Which, IMO, is completely useless. One of their problems is that you have to pay to use it, and there is no free version like flickr and youtube does. Another problem is that only other Taskstream users can see your work, it isn't viewable to the general public like a blog. Taskstream also does not have the internet's most user-friendly platform - all the color choices and screen layouts are pretty distracting too.

I did enjoy reading academic articles on tech in teaching. That part was really helpful. And I enjoyed the project and presentation on said articles. My group did our project on how sensory overload through technology can hinder learning rather than aide it.

Now that I've listed what we did in tech class, I'm surprised we didn't do more demonstrations of actual lessons involving technology. Showing photos and video and powerpoint are all well and good, but there has to be more than that. I think we should have created a lesson plan teaching students to use technology themselves (my fifth graders last semester were still typing with one finger - painfully slowly, they were not even familiar with the layout of a keyboard) rather than have the teacher throw tech at them. Something to remember in my own teaching.

In both my MA seminars this semester, we have papers that require research. And a lot of research journals are available online through the university library site. I spent an hour and a half Saturday afternoon after class to do my research. I found 22 articles to possibly use for three different papers in that short time. Great efficiency yeah? Well, several of my classmates were pretty stressed and had to have a lot of help from me to just figure out how to print articles out.

Which was why I was a little taken aback when I asked another classmate to point me in the direction of the theses shelves, since I saw her holding some of those green covered books as I headed downstairs to that part of the library. She snapped back at me and essentially told me to find them myself.

This is another word I don't use very often but here is a time that warrants it: MEOWRAR much?

I understand that she was probably stressed about all our individual workloads and didn't want to take much time to help someone else when she could barely handle her own stuff, but what was that? It wasn't like I was asking her give up an hour to help me. Just a point in the right direction of a place that she just came from would suffice. The university library is a very large place, with very few signs indicating what shelves hold what books. It is easy to get lost in there.

Well, in this case, technology brought people together while the old-fashioned way created more tension than it was worth.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Blogger of the week: Joanne Jacobs

Screen cap taken from Joanne Jacob's blog.

To be honest, I didn't really get all the praise about Joanne Jacob's blog at first. She does post multiple times a day, but all in snippets and snatches of news, when I wanted something more in depth.

But over time - namely, several months of following her blog using Google Reader - I've come to look forward to her posts. Most of them have to do with things outside of the day-by-day function of the classroom. But it is pretty much all relevant. Sometimes it's funny. Sometimes it's poignant. Sometimes it's just plain weird. Because education today is like that.

It's a good place to keep up with the news front. Let's face it, what kind of effective teacher has the time to monitor the major twists and turns of education policy? Definitely not this teacher, and definitely not during the school year. When there are 35 other important items on my mind.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 writing strategies

Good writers tend to keep pens and paper close at all times.

Let's make something clear here: in many classrooms today, especially in the urban, Title I, Program Improvement schools, there is very little writing. Oh, there is plenty of copying, yes. But very, very little writing.

And yet, fifth graders are expected to compose multiple paragraph narrative and expository essays with:

a) plot, setting, and an ending
b) establish a topic with chronological order
c) provide details
d) use transitions to link one paragraph to another
e) conclude with a summarizing paragraph
f) use and cite relevant resources, both traditional text and electronic
g) use electronic media to produce documents
h) edit and revise their own work in order to improve it

I've said it before, I'll say it here again, and I'll probably say it as long as the Standards Sundays feature will exist on TCLB: Holy cow, that's a lot.

And it can't be taught in a self-standing unit. Nope, this is stuff that is continuously taught throughout the school year.

I'm a little weirded out by the fact that revision is such a small segment of the writing standards. Revision is big! HUGE! It's one of the reasons why I've been writing my blog entries with several days before actual posting. I can re-read it and make it better after the first write.

Well, I don't do that all the time, and sometimes the entry posts before I'm satisfied with it - which is why I also sometimes go back and revise posts even though they've been up in internet-land already. Which is why I like blogging: so fluid, always a work in progress.

Which is what writing is, no?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Anger management

You don't need to be a teacher to know there are a lot of angry people out there. ANGRY people, I mean. This isn't your run-of-the-mill annoyed feeling. Serious issues at work here.

So here we come to another afternoon yard duty story. A fourth grade boy had jumped on his bike and was riding around on campus. Which is not allowed for safety reasons. They need to be off campus and a quarter of a block away at the corner before getting on their bikes.

So I spotted this kid and I called out to stop them. Most of the time, GE students are pretty compliant. They know the rules, they don't want to run over somebody, they just forget sometimes because getting out of a long day of school just feels too awesome. Well, that's what afternoon yard duty is for, and that's fine.

But this kid didn't stop. He was still a few yards away when another teacher joined me in calling out and approaching him. He still was on his bike. The other students looked around and stared. Finally my CT joined us too and it took all three of us to persuade him off his bike. My CT told the kid to walk back to the bike racks and do it again properly.

Which is fair, right? I thought so.

So this kid STOMPS back to the bike racks, throws his bike and backpack to the ground. He fumes and shouts complaints to a passerby kid who was kind enough (and innocent enough) to ask what was wrong.

I shooed Angry Boy's friends out the gate, where they waited while my CT handled Angry Boy.

"He is piiiiiiiissed." commented Angry Boy's friend #1, under his breath.

"He is so pissed. He'll be mad to get a citation." commented Angry Boy's friend #2.

I was pretty glad my CT dealt with Angry Boy and not me. Not that I wouldn't have stepped up, but it's always an unpleasant thing to do. I know this well. Remember Jerry*? He had anger management issues too.

Angry Boy has a quiet discussion with my CT for a while, then he stomps off out the gate, not even turning to speak to his friends, who follow after him rather sympathetically. Angry Boy did not receive a citation for the bike riding that day, however.

"I have not seen a kid that angry in over ten years. I'm going to remember him for a good long time. He'll probably end up in my class next year too." said my CT.

My CT seemed rather exhausted when he said that, and I would be too. But I also see it as a mark of an exceptional teacher: when the principal sticks you with the most troubled students. It's one of those things that are great, yet not so great at the same time.

Friday, September 18, 2009

What makes donuts so good?

Not the donut I ate, but close enough.

This week was a long one. Or maybe it was just today. I could tell the students were glad it's Friday too. I picked up my art teaching supply refill this afternoon, going out of my way to pick up my favorite cake donut with vanilla icing and peanuts as a celebration.

I'm learning a lot in this new classroom. Many things I see that I would like to use in my own classroom. The grammar is backwards in that previous sentence but I'm too lazy right now to fix it. One of the things I'll be using happened today:

(My CT draws a raffle to give out "crowns," which are his extrinsic motivation for all things academic - except during the raffle, which students get if they manage to keep the number of cards pulled to a minimum. I guess I have to explain the card system too, sooner or later. Maybe later.)

CT: Ok, here we go, we have six to draw today. Right now are the ones from ::pauses and thinks:: Wednesday.
Student: From Wednesday.
CT: If your name is called, come up to draw the next one.
Student: Draw the next one.
CT: Is there an echo in here? ::pointedly looks at student::
Student: ::blushes and shuts up::

So many pedagogy/management books tell you to not use sarcasm in the classroom, but I'm glad that decision is up to me. Sarcasm is fun, I think. And as long as I'm tactful about it, it won't leave any emotional scars. Like the above example. Half the class probably didn't know who was doing the echo. The other half that did know forgot about it the next second, because the raffle is exciting. The kid who echoed probably forgot too - but the action solidified the teacher's authority.

Not that I agree with my CT all the time. Actually, I'm surprised it took until today before I found something I disagreed heavily on. He doesn't have much mercy on EL students - which I understand, because only half his class is EL. A relatively low proportion. So he keeps the class on their toes by not really giving full and complete instructions.

And it's true - I see myself getting hung up on making sure every single student is on the same page. Which isn't really a good thing, especially if the goal is to bring students up, not take the standards down. But all my CT did in giving instructions was say there would be a quiz on the parts of the cell on Friday. Nothing more. Not surprisingly, only a handful of students passed the quiz. And the ones who did pass were the ones who were in his class last year too.

Personally, I wouldn't throw something like this at any student younger than 7th grade. If I did, and 75% of my class failed the quiz, I would definitely add this material again in the next test. I would also re-teach it - especially when the first (and only) instruction consisted of reading the textbook. A very dry, very boring reading.

I know "babying" students is something I need to work on. But I'm pretty sure I won't take it that far.

The class "Hermione Granger"

This semester is the very first class where I actually have blonde kids in my room. Multiple blonde kids. It's quite amazing that I'm still getting used to that.

Well, they aren't your typical white bread American blonde kids. They are first generation Russians and Ukrainians. Diversity: one major reason I love California. And I mean REAL diversity, not the type of diversity that people (especially politicians) like to call "diverse" when it is more like 99% African American. That is not diverse. That is 99% African American. Call it what it is, folks.

Anyway, there is this one blonde kid, Irene*, who is actually a sixth grader (split class - the way things are these are going to be more like the norm than not from now on). Smart kid, very sociable. You know, just from the way she dresses, speaks, and carries herself, that her home life is decently healthy and happy. She is one of nine at GE who scored a perfect 600 on the CST last year. She has this Eastern European accent that is very pleasant on the ears, similar to the way a British accent sounds exotic and cultured at the same time.

And I swear she is the spitting image of Hermione Granger (aka Emma Watson). No joke. From face to personality to brains. Well, ok, her personality is one peg down from bossy, but still. You can't believe how odd that is for me. Would that make me Professor McGonagall?

Hm, would it be too forward of me to suggest to her parents to consider professional modeling activities for Irene? Any extra curricular activity is a learning experience too.

Photo: Guardian News and Media

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The f-word

As empty of meaning as these cups are empty of froyo.

This word, tossed around so often by so many teachers, in so many staff lounges, at so many educator meetings, makes me want to hurl. Yep, the f-word. That f-word, F for "functioning."

What did you think I was talking about?

I cringe every time I hear teachers talk about this "low functioning student," or that "high functioning sixth grader," like a car advertisement. Check out this high performance functioning vehicle, equipped with the latest GPS system, climate control, side airbags, and a whopping SIX cup holders! APR financing at 1.8%!

It's gotten to the point that the term holds no meaning for me anymore. Why do teachers like to generalize things so much? Is it because we summarize the information we teach a lot? Why can't we be more specific and say that so-and-so does not have basic math skills, or what's-that-name is more than ready to take on algebra?

But then, sometimes it's hard to find the exact words to describe a student. Sometimes, there are no words. And when another teacher or the principal, or whoever asks, "So Ms. Ng, how is this-and-that doing in your class?" I might resort to terms vaguely pedagogical in nature like "Oh, he's a high/low functioning student, but it's still too early to tell."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Books on tape

Utilizing books on tape is awesome, although I guess it would depend on HOW a teacher uses them. I'm not a big fan of the recorded stories that come with Open Court (other ELA currciula would have it to, I'm sure) - that awful "ding" sound that signals a page turn. I mean, really. Does ANYONE need a signal to turn the page? Shouldn't it already be obvious? As in, once you have read all the words on any given page, it is time to turn to the next page!

But no, these curriculum creators must think the general student and teacher populace are complete morons and need a signal to know when to turn the page.

Ok, enough of that rant. Just thinking about it makes me annoyed.

I would like to use books on tape/cd/mp3 as a totally different way of experiencing text. Students will need to read the text too - recorded readings are NOT the only reading, which is the typical way many teachers use these resources. Which is very sad indeed.

It's a good first read technique though. But for deeper comprehension, there should be some interaction with the text, as in searching for a particular quote, or studying the graphics, or comparing and contrasting with another text, etc.

Recorded books are great for ELs, below level readers, and of course the Blind. Students who rely more on their audio senses for learning would benefit too.

Something I would REALLY like to do is this: acting out the reading right then and there. Sort of like that game on Who's Line is it Anyway? where there's a narrator that guides the silent actors. However, there are many things that need to be in place in the classroom before this can happen with any effectiveness. A safe environment for taking risks, practice in mime and interpretive movement, and some familiarity with improv.

Because it would NOT be a good idea to throw students into an activity like this with absolutely no preparation prior to it. Especially 4-6, which is where these activities should be found.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My teaching career downfall is because of a purse

At least it was a good purse.

GE is the first school where I've experienced "after-school" yard duty. WB had it too, in a way, but different because I was in lower primary and also because students were not allowed direct street access from the playground.

But the campus at GE is situated such that the upper primary classrooms have easier street access through the playground. And as with most 21st century campuses, the ten minutes before and after the final bell is like a car show. Worse than when Cal Trans decides to work on the Bay Bridge during the rush hours.

Thus, two teachers must monitor that route, making sure students walk (some will run) and wheel their bikes out (some will ride and cause a safety hazard) as well as preventing any pedestrian/auto accidents. Didn't think traffic police was on the list of duties for a teacher? Think again. Because there is absolutely NO duty off limits to a teacher. Vomit patrol? Check. Nurse? Check. Interior designer on a shoestring budget? No doubt. Inserting yourself between fighting students like a human punching bag to make them stop? You got it.

So on the first day of school, we leave the classroom a minute before the bell to open the playground gates. Except that my CT had to leave school right after yard duty was over. Which meant he locked the classroom when we left for yard duty. Which meant I had my bag with me during yard duty.

Which meant the principal saw me, bag over my shoulder, during first day yard duty as if I couldn't wait to leave.

This is definitely NOT the most professional of appearances. I saw it in her eyes too, and a little in my CT's eyes as well, although they said nothing about it. Awesome. Great first day impression, Ms. Ng.

That's not a big deal, you might say. But you did not have a two hour lecture on professionalism at student teaching orientation. You did not have the exact same lecture TWICE because you had to repeat phase 3 student teaching. Frankly, if I hear "student teaching is like an extended job interview" one more time, I'm going to wear a sandwich board that says, "IT'S ONLY A JOB INTERVIEW IF THERE ARE ACTUAL JOBS AVAILABLE!" With flashing neon lights. And glitter.

For the record, I scored 5's (out of 5) on professionalism on my evaluations in both phase 2 and phase 3. My middle name is professionalism. I am known to NOT PEE during an entire school day, holding in two cups of coffee and then some, because going to the bathroom would have meant neglecting my teacher duties. I've arrived at school two hours early, stayed two hours late. I have a collection of shirts Banana Republic would envy. The only time I missed a day of teaching was when I had a sinus infection so bad I COULDN'T HEAR OUT OF MY LEFT EAR. I do not remember the last time I wore jeans. THAT is the state of my professionalism.

See, I should have clarified with my CT whether he was returning to the classroom or not (he ended up doing so, although the gods of communication decided to cross our signals so that I took it completely opposite). Even if he wasn't returning, I should have just dropped my bag somewhere out of sight rather than have it strapped over my shoulder like some banner for defeatist laziness. Many things I should have done. Many things I didn't.

And of course, the one time I slack off had to be the first day of school with the principal watching. Swell.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Media Mondays: Great Schools

Screen capture from

So nearly ever educator and parent out there already knows about this site, but I'm highlighting it anyway because I don't utilize it enough. It is the first resource I go to for school background facts and figures. And even though statistics don't show the real face of any school, it's still useful stuff.

API figures, student and teacher demographics, even how much money is spent per student. Plus, you can compare this data with other schools.

My favorite feature is that Great Schools takes into account "similar schools." As is schools with similar student demographics and spending. It is very easy to compare apples to oranges when it comes to schools, but at least Great Schools attempts to do away with that.

Of course, what people will do with these statistics *ahem*skewthemlikecrazy*ahem* is up to them. Knowing things like this helps me, at least, to take what goes through the media mill with a grain of salt. Just like how absolute test scores don't determine a student's learning potential, API scores don't necessarily determine a school's worth.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 literary response and analysis


There are only seven different sub-topics in this content strand, but just reading them makes my mind boggle a little. Also, I've come to realize with this closer inspection of the standards that the standards themselves hold no clue as to how to go about teaching students these things they are supposed to learn at these particular time markers of their young academic life.

And that was an awful sentence structure. Hm, I've got to work hard to teach this subject well, haven't I?

Things fifth graders are supposed to know about literary response and analysis:

> identify and analysis the structure of fiction, non-fiction, drama, and poetry as well as explain the author's use for each
> identify the conflict in the plot and explain the resolution
> discuss character actions, motives, and appearances and their importance to the story
> know what theme means and recognize it in text
> describe functions and effects of literary devices
> evaluate archetypal patterns/symbols across different cultures and eras
> evaluate author's techniques to influence the reader

I had to look up the word, "archetypal." How sad is that?

The most important ones here seem to be the first on genres and the one about recognizing themes. Or that's what I think.

Most of this stuff is apparent just by close examination of text. It's pretty much a certain thing in some cases, however, that examining the text so closely just sucks the joy out of reading. I'm also out of ideas on how to teach this stuff: other than the "archetypal" method of using discussion questions.

Hm, story mapping would still be put to good use here. I love graphical organization of information.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Detective Stories

Detective Stories Selected by Phillip Pullman

This book is skewed for a lightly older audience than the grades I'm certified to teach. Perhaps 8th-9th grade reading levels are appropriate here. And to be honest, I didn't finish this book before I returned it to the library. Short story collections are not really my style of reading.

Still, I like detective stories. Sherlock Holmes is my favorite. But I like Encyclopedia Brown, Pullman's own detective/mystery trilogy, and the like. Not a big fan of Poirot, which is one of the selections in this volume. And definitely not a big fan of "stupid kid" stories like Emil and The Detectives, which is another selection in this volume.

Stupid kid stories are annoying. Well, should I say it's more like "lack of common sense kids" stories. The kind where their own naivete puts them in increasingly more ridiculous situations than the previous one before. Like Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief.

Spunky kids, random kids, adventurous kids, mean kids, innocently wide-eyed kids, those stories I can handle. But not the stupid kids. Seriously, stupid kids don't belong in detective stories - unless they are the victims.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Field trip Fridays: the woods

I live in central CA, so the closest "woods" in the traditional definition are the redwoods along the north coast.

That's a good three hour drive, and from what I know are typically reserved for the 5-day science camp in the 5th or 6th grade.

Still, it's a nice place to go, even if only for a day trip. It will be so different from the urban jungle, or even suburban lawns.

Getting some hiking and fresh air doesn't hurt either. Plus, there are all sorts of science and geography lessons to be tapped.

Who says a field trip has to be confined to four walls and a door?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

And so it begins, hoping this is the end of the beginning

About as skillful as a radish rose.

Ok, it began two days ago, but what the heck. It's been pretty crazy and I haven't even taught a proper lesson yet.

The first day was quite calm and everyone did their best and tried their hardest to their utmost. That was the first day though. However, I kept telling my CT that I thought it was a good group. And he kept telling me that it was too early to tell, which of course is the correct and proper response. But I'm comparing this from the hell of spring semester, so really this to me is all clover and honey and unicorns.

Not that I'm not experiencing students testing me. But I'm up for it. That's one of the good things that came from last semester.

GE is WAY different from EIB, and even WB. Same district, still Title I (but barely), yet so, so different. So different that "different" is the only word I can think of right now to describe it.

But in many ways some things are the same. Students are still generally lower in ELA than in math. There are still IEP kids. There are still behavior intensive kids. There are still teacher intensive kids. There are still both minor and major things to deal with. World without end, amen.

Those are the things that are probably found in nearly every California public school. Unavoidable. Here are the notable things so far that are different from my previous experience:

* I'm loving the level of individual classroom and school-wide discipline. WB had this level too, although EIB certainly did not. Definitely up my alley.

* OMG the amount of science instruction at the fifth grade level astounds me! MORE than once a week for an hour? MORE than just the textbook? My CT actually RAISES STEELHEAD TROUT AND RELEASES THEM INTO THE RIVER WHEN THEY ARE GROWN. Definitely one of the times when blogging in all caps is appropriate.

* It's nice to have a classroom with a non-leaking roof. Or dust bunnies the size of actual bunnies. Or piles of disorganized papers where student work gets lost and never found. Or pencils that are constantly broken into a million pieces and found strewn into even the darkest nether regions of the room. Or student notebooks that are always missing so that the student has to take notes on binder paper (or more likely, any scrap of available paper, even dirtied ones) which they will promptly lose once note-taking time is over.

Ack! Begone evil demons of last semester! You suck, and I'll probably have to face you again sooner or later, but right now, let me enjoy the eye of the storm!

Ok, bad karma mostly gone. Another scoop of waffle cone sundae will banish it for a good long time. Although I'm still having nightmares about behavior issues. That may never go away.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Media Mondays on a Wednesday: Calisphere


Yeah, yeah, I know it isn't Monday, but I posted an activities tag on Monday so I might as well do a flip-flop switch and go back to the media on activities Wednesday.

Although I've added a couple links to the lists on the right, I haven't actually taken the time to read any of them carefully enough to write about them here. So instead, I'll talk about another educational resource.

Calisphere is awesome, free, hosted my my alma mater conglomerate, and I'm deeply, deeply in love with it. And I've only browsed through 1% of it's entire database. It'll be a life-long love then.

I found Calisphere through my history/social studies methods class. Most of it is specific to California only, but with some creativity and Powerpoint magic, it can be turned for the use of all subjects - even outside of social studies.

Most of the time I spend on this site is just looking at random photos. Whatever random clicking I do, I'll follow it: from Japanese internment camps to gold rushing to the 'fro-riffic civil rights movement like above. Yeah, I know there's more to learn about the civil rights than their clothes, but I've been reading through Painfully Hip's archives recently and that's really all I can think about right now.

Pictures, where history comes alive in more ways than just the "pretend to be those people back then" one.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A matter of height

Well, excuse me for being frivolous once again. But this is really a big issue for me. I'm on my feet 6+ hours a day, typically non-stop (uh-uh, don't tell me that 15-20 minutes is a lunch break, I will throw my shoes at you).

And thus, I'm here to talk about footwear. This is serious stuff folks.

I typically wear these two for teaching. They are flat, comfortable, and allows me to chase down those little booger-snot miscreants. Just kidding. Actually, they allow me to run away from the heftier 5th-6th graders. Some of them are taller than me!

So because they can be taller than me, I do like to add a little height, you know, for that "authority" look. But nothing says lack of authority than tripping all over the school like some sort of drunk ballerina. Thus I end up with the above three.

The red pair recently died - as all Payless Shoe Source shoes will do after about a year or so. The black open-toed ones kind of pinch. Besides, clumsy me can't seem to stand up straight in open-toed shoes without looking like this:


The gold pair I got on my HK trip this past summer. They are on the expensive side, so I don't like to wear them among the dangers of gum and spit and mud. Not to mention the perils of American public transportation. I can never understand that image of a woman stepping off of the bus in shiny, costs-more-than-the-bus shoes. You can't see from the crappy photo, but they are open-toed too. But they are much easier to wear than the black ones, probably because of the wedge. Only for cars and special occasions, this one. But I'll remember your fit in later teaching shoe hunts.

These next two are slightly higher, at about the 2" mark. The navy ones are from my HKU days when I had to wear them to high table dinners. They hurt like nothing else and really belong in the "to donate" bag. I don't anticipate wearing them to anything anymore, let alone for teaching. Despite the fact that they are my most "professional" looking shoes.

The transparent/silver ones I wore as a bridesmaid. I've only worn them once or twice in the five years since. They are nice, and the sole is molded very well for my feet. I wonder what would happen if I wore these to school? Shall I try it? Will it be painfully hip, or painfully "China fab?"

This last pair hovers at around 3.5-4", from H&M and is the tallest shoe that I have. I love this pair. It only took me one wear to get used to them. They are comfy, provides Amazonian heights, don't make me wobble, makes that confidently authoritative clicking sound with each step, and they go with everything. Only problem is, I have to walk twice as fast because they make my stride twice as short.

Which I can live with.

Note: What is China fab, you ask? Here's an example:

It's usually sparkly, and glittery. Full of Engrish as well as boot-legged from legit designers. Cheese to the max.

Monday, September 7, 2009

And this is why he's such a good speaker

This is worth posting and reposting again and again.

Today is my last day of summer 2009 - my last day of freedom until Santa comes back again. I'm excited for the new semester, but I'm also dreading it too. More so today than previously.

But reading a speech like this, I can't help but be more energized about it. Happy Fall 2009 semester, everyone.

Labor Day!

Crafters would be a perfect guest speaker - they generally have more flexible schedules

Finally, a national holiday after over a month of nada. It's funny how completely 180 Labor Day in the US is from Labour Day in some other countries.

Labor Day in the US:

# marks the end of summer
# the beginning of NFL and college football seasons
# some people find it fashionably unacceptable to wear white past this day
# in general, is a day of rest from labor
# contains lots of parades (am I the only one who finds absolutely no meaning in most holiday parades?)

Labour Day outside of the US:

# demonstrations for better labor laws are held
# some people do get a day off, but they use it to work on other things (see the previous point)

And that's all I know about it so far.

It's nice to think that the US has decent enough labor laws so that the masses don't feel any excruciating need to march with banners that say "Better working conditions for all!" on them. Not that the US is perfect by any means. But I do find it funny that Labor Day isn't really for laboring anything.

What would I do with Labor Day in the classroom? Well, my school district doesn't even start school until after Labor Day so it's a moot point for me right now. But I might end up at a school that starts in July later, so it'll be nice to have something prepared.

I would study, well, labor. Occupations for younger students. Actual labor laws, a la Cesar Chavez and the like, statistics on US labor (i.e. how many people work in this field, etc), and the history of labor are some that come to mind. Lots of math and social studies related lessons here. Perhaps an essay on what students want to be when they grow up and why.

A quick Google search on Labor Day activities for the classroom doesn't really bring up much variety. Most of it is about occupations, and that's a pretty narrow box to me. Not that it isn't a worthy topic.

One of my more impossible ideas is to have a panel of guest speakers come in and talk about their occupations and how they've professionally and personally developed because of (or for) their work. I've never done anything like this myself - finding and asking guest speakers to the school, I mean. It seems like it wouldn't be too difficult, but I foresee much planning and prep work. Not all guest speakers will know what to say when they face a room full of ten-year-olds. Some pre-guest speaker prep for the students might be necessary too.

Well, the work never ceases. Luckily there's still plenty of time.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 reading comprehension

Story mapping would be helpful too.

It really must show how completely unaware I am of these things when I stumble upon content standards descriptions like this. How did I now catch it when I first read these standards? Oh yeah, because I was busy being confused by all the other stuff (see CA credentialing tag).

Fifth graders are supposed to read a wide variety of text, but in this area of comprehension they are supposed to focus on informational text. Plus all this stuff here:

@ how graphs, pictures, charts, and other text features are used to make information accessible
@ sequential and chronological ordering
@ identify the main idea/concepts of the text and assess evidence that supports these ideas
@ draw inferences, also with supporting evidence
@ tell facts from opinions

To be honest, I don't have a lot of experience with elementary level informational text. Mainly because I think the way they are written is a snore-fest. Although I do like kids National Geographic, or other such magazines. I should probably read more of these things.

One way to teach this content is to have reports. Book reports. State reports (fifth grade is all about the Revolutionary War era and the formation of the country). Animal reports. You get the picture. Anything that requires students to do some reading research and then to spit that information out again in some sort of project or presentation. With a written component of course.

I also like having students make timelines. This is really fun when you can make it really big - have it stretch out all the way around the classroom's walls. Or clear down a hallway on campus. Special permission is needed for that latter idea.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Courses: language and literacy

I like L&L. Not only does it involve a lot of reading and writing, it reminds me of Hawaiian barbeque.

No, seriously. Beef BBQ with spam sushi, come to me!

Anyway. Although L&L methods courses differ in different programs, mine was pretty sweet. We did a case study, learned various methods of assessment (some of which were VERY scientific and research-ified), studied a lot of flow charts/activities/poetry scaffolds/etc, and became familiar with the world of children's literature. We also became bonafide Scholastic book order whores. 50 cent book deals, come to me!

Most of all - or perhaps it seemed like a "most of all" since it was at the top of everyone's minds - we prepared for the RICA. The Reading Instruction Competence exam which, when passed, gives the "English Language Authorization" part to the Multiple Subject 2042 credential. Which is what I'll get in December.

Side note: I better pass this semester of student teaching, damn it!


Well, more details on the RICA later. I'm mentioning it now because it and my two semesters worth of L&L were so closely tied together that it's hard to tell them apart sometimes.

We also created original lesson plans, which we implemented in student teaching, as well. Although I think my cohort had grown a little teacher-whine by the second semester. Our professor had mercy on us and shortened the assignment from a minimum 5-lesson unit to a 2-lesson collaboration done with a partner.

In hindsight, I still don't think I'm completely prepared for the rigors of teaching ELA and ELD on a daily basis. A handful of teaching ideas per week for two semesters does not a perfect ELA program make. I own these three resources, plus another binder full of activity ideas, and still it won't be enough for a full school year's worth of lessons. I kinda wish I had more - although this will come with more time and experience too.

But then, what is a "perfect" program? Who knows.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Field trip Fridays: Micke Grove Park and Zoo

Micke Grove Park and Zoo is a small place. You can walk the zoo portion in about five minutes.

The part is very pretty though. There is a small Japanese garden too.

There was also an amusement park area, but it's never open whenever I go here.

It takes about an hour to bike here, from my house. So two hours round trip biking. Not a bad route for exercise. Exploring the park itself takes another half hour or so on bike. Depending on how lost you get.

And I get lost easily. Well, I probably won't take students here on bike anyway. But it's a nice little place. Perfect for a scavenger hunt, or some sort of science fair gathering. There are big open spaces to launch tissue paper balloons and cardboard tube rockets.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I think I'm going to like this semester

My natural habitat - like streets for pigeons.

Structured classroom. Check!

Layered, flexible, hierarchal management system. Check!

Clearly stated, set out, and enforced procedures for pencils, drinks, bathroom, lining up, and movement (or in this case, restriction thereof) within the classroom. Check!

Motivating, separate rewards/consequences system for academic success. Check!

The fact that I don't have to arrive at school 2 FREAKING HOURS before the bell. Check!

The luxury to take my time observing. Check!

Everything in its place and every place assigned for something. Check!

Students with backgrounds that make them very unlikely to bring golf balls to school to smash the light covers with. Check!

Weekly desk checks. Check!

A CT who did not inform me on our first meeting that he has failed many student teachers in the past, but one who has NEVER failed a student teacher. Ever. Check!

So I told my CT that I LOVE desk checks. I think he got the wrong idea, considering the way he replied. What I meant was that I love desk checks BECAUSE IT HELPS TO KEEP STUDENTS ORGANIZED. And there is nothing like an organized student to facilitate learning. But he probably thought I was crazy to enjoy looking into those black holes for books and papers and trash.

Please, oh please, let it be my final semester of student teaching.

Lessons from a road trip

Lesson #1

Portable GPS: $200. Maps: free with AAA membership. Mapquest-ed routes: approx. $0.01 per side. My own workable sense of direction: priceless.

Lesson #2

I-5 is a very, very long freeway. It looks much shorter on a map than when driving from one end to the other in real life.

Lesson #3

In Oregon, people will scold you for pumping your own gas. Because if you do, you'll be taking away someone's job. A job which most people are more than willing to do for themselves. But it's a job, and it would be un-American to oppose it.

Lesson #4

Do laugh at the many, many oddly named signs along the way. You might stumble upon such treasures as "Auction Road" with "Hooker Yard Road" posted right underneath or an advertisement of "Dirt for Sale."

Lesson #5

Bring water, snacks, listening material, wet wipes, tissues and a good friend.

Lesson #6

Belongings and trash will pile up. Grasshoppers might want a ride and hop in, especially if you've just walked through a wooded area in the dark barefoot. Said grasshopper might get squished underneath all that junk and won't be discovered until the next day, several hundred miles away from where it got on. Refer to the 4th and 5th items listed in Lesson #5.