Sunday, September 30, 2012

My Classes Discover that Mr. D is Serious about Learning

For my freshmen students, they experienced their first unit test this past week, and for many it was a wake-up call for the new learning environment called 'high school.' Up until Tuesday they had completed in-class activities consisting of worksheets, videos, quizzes, and guided discussion. One week prior to the test I announced that the unit test was a measure of everything put forth in the first three weeks, stressing how important it was for them to allocate time for study and review. I also explained that the test would provide me with insight on my ability to teach the concepts and for them to retain it. When I distributed the test on Wednesday it was a moment of truth for many in those four classes for the realization that they didn't invest the time nor the effort for study, and there was a realization that Mr. D was serious about what he was doing.

I spent Wednesday evening correcting all of the tests and logging scores onto Skyward, knowing that some students would see their cumulative grade plummet from an A to a D or F. It was tough to see that happen, but it would provide an opportunity for another learning moment about life. Some students had done quite nicely and their efforts were rewarded with scores which reinforced prior high marks. No sooner had school begun on Thursday morning when the first e-mail arrived from a concerned parent..."Jimmy went from having an A yesterday to showing an F today. Something must be wrong." Once students began arriving to the classroom there were similar moments of displeasure and disbelief..."How could I have possibly gone from an A to a D- in one day?"

Thursday's class was the moment I'd been waiting for and I had the attention of 100% of my students during the entire 45-minutes of class time. I explained their school's policy on Formative and Summative Assessment and how it was weighted for testing. I reviewed the policy on Retake Exams and how they had an opportunity to reverse the damage of one blown exam. But most of all I put forth my assurances to them that NONE of them were stupid and without hope...for I believed that each of them had the ability to succeed providing they would allocate time for studying the material and completing assignments on time. "This is your wake-up call for the semester. If you don't understand something, you need to take responsibility for your actions by speaking up, either during class or when you have time to stop in and see me." We discussed test strategies and the benefit of using time after the test to re-check their work.

I can always tell whether my students 'got it' by looking into their eyes, and this was one of those occasions when I knew that 100% of them heard and saw it for what it was. At one point in the exchange, I asked every student to look me in the eyes at the same time in order to convey their acceptance of my message. As the final explanation point on the day, I told my class that unless they chose to make positive changes in their approach to academics, I would begin getting their parents involved in the conversation as well. It was then that you could hear a pin drop from the back of the room. Message received AND GOTTEN!

Friday was a new day at school and for many of them a new start to their class. Notebooks and pencils were engaged like never before, and there was a rejuvenation of good learning taking place. Once Monday rolls around I'll be curious as to whether they will retain these new traits...or if some will resort to prior habits. If so, I'll be there to reinforce in a positive way which will demonstrate my commitment to their ongoing learning.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cultivating the Ability to Write

With three weeks under my belt, I'm in a good position to make a quick observation about my first impressions of youth in today's classroom. I begin each of my class periods with a writing prompt exercise which requires the student to jot a response to a question I pose. Sometimes I make it fun with "If you could be on a game show, what would you choose and why?" and other days I ask them to get serious with "At this time in your life, what is the hardest thing you are pushing yourself to do?"  During those first few days of school, most of my students thought that I was probably going to relinquish this daily task, but then they saw that I meant business with the daily routine. I laid forth the premise that daily reflections provided them with an opportunity to organize their thoughts, and in turn this would benefit their ability to complete essay questions on future tests.

This past week I collected their notebooks for the first time, making a quick examination of their responses to make sure they were in compliance if only in the simplest way. With some I found just that, the bare minimum, but with others I found a wonderful transformation taking place. Over the course of three weeks a sizable amount of the students had begun to develop a style to their writing, and whether they realize it or not, they are enhancing their ability to think and then communicate those thoughts on paper.

As much as I'd like to think that all is well, I am also aware that there are those who are not putting forth much of an effort, producing only the bare minimum in their work. This is the challenge at hand, getting them to see the big picture behind what I'm attempting to communicate. Some will buck the system simply because it's someone of authority trying to tell them what to do, while others are totally uncomfortable with the prospect of having to put a pencil in hand to write.

My challenge is getting both ends of the spectrum to move along with the process, to push them to find new ways of thinking so they don't get too comfortable with where they are in life. To aspire more by thinking outside of the box and being able to see the big picture. I knew this wasn't going to be easy, and in so many ways this is the challenge I love in teaching!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Constitution Day 2012 - What does it mean?

Monday, September 17, 2012 is the 225th Anniversary of the signing of our country's Constitution. I took notice that by law all schools who receive Federal funds within this specific year are required to hold an educational program, and I will hold it before my students with the esteem it is most worthy of as the foundation of the branches of government and rights of the people. No other country in the world has such a document as this, and it is important that we know its true meaning and regard, otherwise it risks being tossed aside and forgotten over time. While we may not always agree on individual issues, we provide respect for both the opinions and rights of others. This is the mark of a republic, not a democracy, and hence becomes the true pillar stone for the United States. I may not always agree on all the issues, but I will defend their right to advocate for the consideration of their opinion. This is what makes us strong as a country of people and ideas, and may we forever hold this close to our heart!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

One and Done...NOT!

As much as I looked forward to my first day in the classroom, the end of the first week requires a moment or two for personal reflection. Since my classroom assignments involved two very distinct groups of students, freshmen and seniors, there is a natural tendency to examine the status of rookie versus veteran. The differential of three years can be huge when it comes to maturity, self-esteem, appearance, and attitude. Freshmen are slow to judgement, while seniors tend to rush to judgement. Regardless, it has been a week filled with opportunities to expand upon everything college prepared me for, whether it's working in front of the classroom, roaming the room during a presentation, or evaluating the work being done by small groups of 3-4 students.

My students are diverse in so many ways and their learning styles vary considerably. On that first day I addressed the concept of respect, not only for myself, but for all students in and out of my classroom. I let it be known that no one agrees with another person 100% of the time, and it was important to stop and listen to what others have to offer. Ltieracy is more than the ability to read; it also involves speaking, writing and listening. That is one reason why each of my classes begins the period with a 5-minute writing prompt, and I emphasized that no student would have their work evaluated on proper use of grammar, punctation, or English langauge. I simply wanted them to THINK....and WRITE.

Day One: What is the most impactful event (so far) in your lifetime? And how would a Historian view it?  (My Economics class wrote about how an Economist would view it)

Day Two: If you lived in Wisconsin 1,500 years ago, which would be the best to own: a horse or a cow or a dozen chickens? And why?

Random Objects.jpgDay Three: You are an archaeologist thousands of years in the future. Try to imagine what it would be like to know absolutely nothing about these random objects that were recently unearthed in an archaeological dig. Pick a few objects to describe, and speculate about how they were used.

Day Four: If you had an unlimited plane ticket for a month, what would you do with it?

This first week I asked for volunteers who were willing to share their their ponderings, and I was pleasantly surprised how some students have already evolved. The core concept of literacy is being witnessed in my classroom, and the long-term effect will enhace student ability to construct good responses on future essay questions. While many Social Studies teachers are focusing on the teaching of history, I am infusing literacy so my students can actually see, hear and contemplate other perspectives. This is NOT easy work; but then, I never anticipated that it would be. It requires considerable thought and perseverance on my part. I know there will be days when students will struggle with my lessons, and I'll most likely be frustrated with their efforts...but this is what good teaching is all about.

When I gave each student a 3x5 lined card in the final minutes of class yesterday, I told them it was "Feedback Friday" and I needed their input on my first week. No names were to be put on the cards and it was completely optional on their part. I assured them that no one would be penalized for their comments, and I needed to know whether I was going too fast, too slow, too boring, too high-strung, what they wanted more or less of, what they liked the most/least, and anything else on their minds. Their comments, as simple or complex as they were, tugged at my heart in a good way...and I could see that this first week was everything I wanted it to be. Game changing and very real!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Livin' the Dream

My classroom is spit spot and ready for the first class of the day. No doubt before the final bell of dismissal on Tuesday I'll find some other "things" which could and should have been included in the decor, but after all the preparation I'm ready as ever. This has been a long time coming, but just as a good soup takes time and effort to brew to its ultimate taste, this individual is seasoned to perfection...nurtured with the finest spices, cultivated by the finest chefs, and now served to patrons who seek unique offerings of magnificent lesson plans. (okay, the "magnificent" might be stretching it a bit)

My colleagues at my new school are interested in why this veteran of business and real-life is wading into their end of the pool where the water is rarely disturbed. Why would someone like me want to attempt a triple-lutz-cannonball-highdive into the chaotic world of teaching? As I have done from the very start, I always remind my peers that creativity and change is good for the world of education as it represents a true vision of the world as it is today. Once my students leave the classroom and walk out onto the street, the world is not knocking on their door asking for their input, and they will have to take matters into their own hands with a positive and proactive methodology. And as prepared as I might think I am, I'm more aware of the importance of being quick on my feet, to adapt to the contrasting learning needs of my students.

Yes...I like what I see, feel, hear and taste so far, but the final product is far from being completed. It will be an ongoing process until the music stops, the lights are turned out and everyone goes home. For those who wander into my postings, you are invited to follow along in the days ahead on my classroom Wiki:   This is used as a starting point for my students, their parents, and fellow members of the faculty in order to communicate expectations, extend recent lesson plans and put forth challenging thoughts. It is not (and never will be) there for social media, but it will change from day to day. Buried within the individual folders are starting points for daily conversations to inspire new ways of looking at history, economics and everyday life. While most people think of literacy as only reading, the Common Core Standards actually define literacy as reading, writing, speaking, and listening...a four sided square of equal proportions. This is the cornerstone of good thought in my universe of good thought, and it will be forever practiced in Mr. D's classroom.