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I guess it okay, I guess

March 30, 2012 2 comments

Today was our last day of school before Spring Break.  My most active boy was very, very active today.  Literally bounced off the walls (and doors), and told me several times that I “so mean a teacher.”  About 5 minutes before dismissal all that activity. Stopped.

Completely subdued, he came over to me, worrying his bottom lip. “What’s the matter?” I asked him.

“I-I-I no want to go Spring Break.  I don’t know what do.”

“Who’s going to be with you when you’re at home?”

“I don’t know…I guess a babysitter?”

From what I know of his family, that truly is a guess.  He and his sister might have a babysitter, or they might be dropped off at different neighbors or family members each day, or honestly, they might even be on their own for stretches of time.

“Do you want to bring some books home?  Some math games?”  [Head shake no]

“How about one of our jump ropes?”

[Slow nod] “I guess yes.”

He and I spent the last few minutes of the day walking around the classroom, opening cupboards, drawers, and cabinets, collecting anything of interest and stuffing it into his backpack.  When his bus was called he said, “I guess it okay, I guess,” then zipped up his bag, said “I going to miss you,” and ran off.

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Square peg, round hole

March 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Our district is moving to standards based grading on report grades, which means that instead of giving one big grade for Math, one for Reading, one for Science, etc., we’ll report how students have done on each of the state’s standards of learning.  I think it’ll take a bit more documentation, but in the end it makes a lot of sense – if we studied time and fractions in one quarter and your child bombed one but rocked the other, does it really help you as a parent to see that performance averaged out to “on grade level”?

So, I’m in support of the change. But. My team decided to get ready for the change by starting to track our students’ achievement using checklists and rubrics measuring their level of mastery.  It’s been a valuable experience, but now I have about 45-50 data points on each child that still need to be boiled down to a single, old-style grade.  And I’m not sure how to do it.  In this last grading period we taught units on time, money, fractions, and measurement.  Some kids did well on all of them, some did well on a few of them, and happily, no one did poorly on all of them.  Because so many kids did well across the board, I’m worried I’ll create a Lake Woebegone effect, with (almost) all of the kids being above average.

But then if a child did really, really, really poorly on two of the units, but really well on the other two, should they get the needs improvement grade?  Or should that average out to show them on grade level?

My likely solution: put off math grading for several more hours by working on science and social studies, then make whatever choice feels right in the moment, knowing I have the data to back up whatever I decide to anyone who’s interested in understanding it.

Panic!

March 27, 2012 1 comment

As we headed out to recess today I saw two of my girls whispering to each other and heard snippets of a story it sounded like I could ignore.  Oops!

Turns out they were sharing the story of Bloody Mary, a story I remember being scared sleepless by during a 5th grade sleepover with friends.  In the version I heard, if you chant Bloody Mary’s name three times in front of a mirror, the lights will turn out, the door will slam closed, and she’ll come out of the mirror to attack you.

This titillated many of my children, but one, oh one did not like it.  As I prepared to line them up for gym, I heard him gasp as though shot, then start hyperventilating and sobbing, chanting something over and over about not wanting to die.  Knowing his tablemates know his triggers, I turned to them, “did you talk to him about dying?!”  The girls tripped over themselves to offer competing, equally incoherent denials, but somewhere in there I heard the term “Bloody Mary,” and since hearing that seemed to double V’s panic, I realized what had happened.  V turned to me, in the throes of what looked like a full-blown panic attack, saying he didn’t want to be killed, he didn’t want to be killed.

I went with the one construct I thought might break through the emotional haze: “V, that story is FICTION.  It is NOT real.  Someone MADE IT UP.  It is FICTION.”  Still hyperventilating, he gasped out, “Megan. says. it’s. REAL.” His not-so-helpful tablemates quickly agreed with him – Megan DID say it was real.

Time to pull out the big guns.

“V. Who do you trust more?  Me or Megan?”

Through tears: “Y-y-you!”  But then: “But J-J-Jennifer says it’s true too!”  Increased wailing and shaking.

“V! Who do you trust more?  Me or Jennifer?”

Happily, even Jennifer agreed that I was more trustworthy.

“You trust me and I say it’s FICTION.  It is NOT TRUE.  It’s a story people make up to scare kids.”

That brought on an unexpected new problem: “They LIED to me???  Megan and Jennifer LIED???”

I told him that they were telling a story, just like we read stories in books.  This managed to get him just barely calm enough that I could line the class up, but the panic was still in full bloom, and for some reason leaving the room triggered another hyperventilating attack.  My teammate was on her break in our pod, and hearing me say something along the lines of “NO one is going to kill you,” she leapt up and offered to walk my class to P.E.

V and I went on a hunt for the school counselor, after he refused to consider going to any other teacher’s room because they all have windows (the counselor is literally in a closet, giving Bloody Mary no window to come out of).  Although she had a one-on-one counseling session starting when we found her, she pulled V in with her and kept him for over 30 minutes; he returned to class still on edge, but with his intellect back in control of his emotions.

The rest of the day was, for my room, remarkably quiet and drama-free, but it’s amazing how many things the professors don’t even think to prepare you for in grad school!

Focus on success

March 14, 2012 2 comments

It’s so easy to define the day based on what didn’t work.

The kids didn’t line up well from recess.

My lesson didn’t work well in reading.

One of my boys didn’t have a good day and had to have a note sent home.

Another boy didn’t finish his work because he had a temper tantrum after he made a minor mistake.

It’s easy to focus on these things, but if I looked at the day that way, I’d never go back.  So instead I try to look at the positives.

We did line up beautifully, and oh-so-quietly, going to lunch.

The kids did love writing their list poems.

When I gave the vague direction to “clean out your book box and get rid of all the random paper,” the whole class did start cleaning, and did it well.

The students did remember how to measure with non-standard units and did work cooperatively for almost 45 minutes measuring things at their tables.

At the end of the day, my recently-suspended student did recite a long poem fluently and almost perfectly.

Though it doesn’t always feel like it in the moment, these celebrations are just as true, and even more important, than the failures.  It’s what I hold onto every night at bedtime, and every morning as I pull into the parking lot and gear back up for a full day with my class.

Oh. Of course.

March 13, 2012 1 comment

On top of my dramatic kids in crisis this year, I also have a sweet, incredibly bright boy who, although he lacks a diagnosis, is essentially a selective mute.  He is cripplingly anxious about anything that would draw attention to himself, especially attention from adults.  Despite this, he is in many ways incredibly well-adjusted.  When he does talk, it’s usually laughing and playing with peers, or excitedly whispering his ideas “to the universe.” (The phrase I’ve come up with to describe his habit of sharing his ideas out loud in a small group setting, yet freezing if it becomes clear I’m actually listening.)

So, at the beginning of the year this boy was one of my two kids who took on our school’s running program with a business-like focus.  He ran everyday, for all of recess.  But then, suddenly, he stopped.  I’ve encouraged him to run, asked him (and his best friend) why he doesn’t want to run anymore, but he’s steadfastly refused to start again.

Then today I was sorting out a tangled heap of the class’s motivation charm necklaces for the running program.  I saw that he had 4 charms and had already run 10 of the 13 laps he needed for the special 5th charm, the one that the P.E. teachers celebrate by taking your picture and posting it on a wall of fame in the hallway.

And…oh.  Of course.

He would HATE having his picture taken and posted in the hallway.  The entire experience of going down and interacting with the teacher for the picture would be miserable, and then kids would see his picture in the hallway every single day.  He’s a bright kid.  He knows what he doesn’t want, and even though he liked running, he NEEDS to go unnoticed.  Playing this hunch, I mentioned to him at dismissal that getting your picture taken is totally optional – you can decide if you want it, or if you want to skip it and just keep running.  While he didn’t say anything (of course), he did smile, which is WAY more feedback than I usually get from him.

As I am constantly realizing this year, the academics are such a small part of what I really do.  Knowing the kids and their emotions is the key to everything good that happens in the classroom.

Is he dead? Or alive? Or did somebody shot him?

March 9, 2012 Leave a comment

As I think I’ve said here before, I’m so immersed in my (somewhat crazy) class it’s sometimes hard to remember what’s normal and what’s quite odd.  I had another one of those oh-wait-this-ISN’T-normal moments today when we visited our 3rd grade reading buddies to hear their reports on famous Americans.  My between-presentation conversation with a student:

“Miss R, did Helen Keller DIE?”

– Yes, but she lived a long time ago.  She died when she was very old.

“She did not get shot?”

– No, she was just old.

“Oh, okay.  Benjamin Franklin, is he, is he dead or alive?”

– He’s dead, but he lived a long time ago.  He was very old when he died, too.

“Okay.  But Martin Luther King, Jr., he was shot in a hotel.”

– Yes, he was.

“And Abraham Lincoln, too.  But he was shot in a theatre?  Did his wife get shot and died too?”

– No, just Abraham Lincoln.

“Did Martin Luther King, Jr. have a wife?  Did she get shot?”

…and the conversation went on and on, going through the death (by old age or gun shot) of every famous American the 3rd graders had presented (and their spouses).  I thought nothing of it because I literally have this conversation every day, about every single real-life figure I ever talk about in class.  In fact, I’d sat this particular child next to me for the presentations because I knew he’d be intensely curious about what had happened to each person and wouldn’t be able to hold the questions until we got back to our classroom (he was literally shaking from the effort of holding the questions to the end of each presentation).

While I thought nothing of it, I did glimpse the puzzled look from the 3rd grade teacher by our 4th or 5th “is he dead or alive? Or was he shot?” conversation.  I suppose not all teachers actively research the deaths of all people they mention in their classroom, or give daily thanks for being a good student of history throughout high school and college, but we get the kids we get and we do what we need to do.

This is one of those many aspects of my daily life I give little thought to until I see it from an outsider’s perspective, but then I wonder…what must they think?  To me this is one of the student’s most benign behaviors, but to others, I’m sure it seems bizarre.

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