Friday, October 15, 2010

A Series of Unfortunate Events Goes up against B'Ball Tryouts...Unfortunately

The film adaptation of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events was screened at this week's Books on Film series in the library and ended up with and audience of two for the first half. There had been some buzz about this one and I wondered why it was so sparsely attended. It turned out this was the night Lyons Middle School was holding basketball tryouts.

As the two audience mainstays got ready to leave, a group of boisterous boys came piling into the library. "None of us made the team," one of them announced to me before attacking the snack table I lay out for movie night. The group seemed more interested in loudly discussing what had happened at tryouts and simultaneously getting as many cookies into their mouths as possible than continue to watch the rest of the film. I said, "Hey guys, if anybody wants to borrow this one and watch it at home let me know, but it's a beautiful afternoon and you arrived late, so why not just go outside and blow off some steam?" The kids agreed and for the first time in the series, I stopped the screening early and quickly cleaned up the room. No hard feeling, no drama, we just decided to bail on this one.

The kids are asking for more action-based films and before leaving, a regular attendee suggested Dragon Ball Z Evolution. All the others agreed that this one would be a hit. Guess what'll be showing next week at the Books on Film series. Hey, manga are books, right? 741.5, right?

Who's More Considerate and Perceptive? The Teacher-Librarian or the Student who Perpetually Wanders the Hallways?

A few days ago, I saw one of the disciplinary deans at The Green School with L and her fast friend H in the hallway during a class period. This is a very common sight at TGS. The two buddies, sometimes with a couple of other friends, are often seen passing through the corridors, apparently hoping to avoid being spotted by teachers and deans. The school is small; it occupies only one floor of a junior high school building and escapees are inevitably sighted, and sent to SRC: the place where students are expected to figure out what they've done wrong, atone for it by negotiating with the teacher in question and get back into classes. The way this very reasonable, thoughtful, adult plan plays out among adolescents is inconsistent. For some, it works well and gets them back on track, while for others, it becomes part of a daily pattern. L and H are in the latter category.

As I passed by, rushing to do one of the innumerable tasks required by having taken on three jobs within three schools, the dean asked me if I could let L and H into the library for the rest of the period. I said yes, if upon arriving at the library, the dean could give me a two minute washroom break once I let L and H in. I have to make these kinds of bargains for relief because as a perceived "public" space, teachers send kids to the library at any time of day, even when I'm teaching an ESL class and have sent out a note explicitly asking them not to do so during that period, and kids themselves want to come in when they've got hold of a washroom pass or are avoiding SRC. In any case, the dean agreed, and when I got back to the library after taking care of what I needed to do in the washroom, I settled in to try to help L and H get some work done, which, according to classroom teachers, is a rare event.

One of the things I learned about L over the course of last year was that she has some severe learning issues. I remember one time during the early Spring months, she had spent so much time in SRC, the dean brought her into the library just to give her a change of scenery. I had just printed out a few sheets of bar codes and accompanying call numbers to try to make a dent in the thousands of uncatalogued books left behind by the middle school that closed and in whose former building our three schools are now housed, and L, who had previously seemed 100% apathetic as far as I could tell, offered to help affix bar codes and call numbers to the books. It came as a pleasant surprise. I briefly coached her in how to match titles to bar codes and call numbers, where to affix them, how to measure out enough clear tape to reinforce them and she went to work. For about two books.

"Mister: this is mad boring!" she said, dropping a book on the table, unreinforced. "I'm not gonna do this."

"L," I said, "you have no stamina!" I thought I'd hit on a problem we could fix. Stamina can be built. If you can do two and half books today, try three tomorrow. If you can do three the next day, try going on to do four the day after that. That's how it works, right?

"Mister, you're mean!"

"No, I'm not! I'm just saying you need to build your stamina, L! That's going to help you a lot in your school work!"

"Oh Mister," sighed L, putting her head down on the table. Clearly, she'd said enough and done enough for the day and I obviously wasn't getting it.

This was before I'd asked the special ed teachers about her IEP; perhaps even before I even knew she had an IEP. Not long after that day, I did discover that simple stamina building didn't even scratch the surface of the kind of support L needed. I then thought back on some of the I and other teachers had said to L. We often dismissively told her buck up. To get her butt into class. To crank out some work. Deans and teachers alike seemed utterly exasperated with her and I was no exception.

This year, I thought that if L came my way, I would welcome her in and see how I could support her progress. This day was my opportunity. As we sat at a table right in front of the librarian's desk, I got a text message. L eyed my phone as I took it out of my pocket. She asked me if I was using an iPhone. It's not obvious, because I have a clunky cover on it. L herself carries both a Blackberry and an iPod touch. I told her it was indeed an iPhone with an unattractive cover on it, continuing to hold it closely, so it was facing me and not, L, punching in my security code to read my text.

"Mister," said L, "I know what you need." She turned on her her iPod touch and held it horizontally, parallel to the table at approximately my eye level. "Can you see my screen?" she asked.

"No," I replied, seeing where she was going with the conversation.

"I have a privacy cover on it. I got it down on Graham at the T-Mobile store. Not the one way down by Woodhull [Hospital], the one closer to here."

"Thanks, L, I'll pick one up!"

Now, at this point, I had to ask myself: who's carefully watching whom? Who has some good advice to offer according to their observations?

I was thinking about how much I need to improve my work with students like L when, during our conversation, she brought up the news that she'd been accepted to Co-Op Tech, where she'll spend the afternoons learning cosmetology, which is the field she wants to go into after high school, after mornings in her required academic classes at The Green School.

"So when do I start?" she asked impatiently.

"I'm not sure, actually, and I'd heard you were going to go there. Let me text the guidance counselor and find out."

The text from guidance almost immediately: "Feb. No room this semester."

I relayed the good news to L, who's been trying to find another pathway for her education since I met her.

"Yeah, right," she scoffed. "Mm-hmm."

I texted guidance: "She doesn't believe us."

Guidance texted back: "LOL. Well it's true!"

L remains skeptical. She's probably right to take the 'I'll believe it when I see it' attitude, given her history with the school system. I'm looking forward to hearing about her cosmetology training next semester. I hope it's along the lines of what she's looking for.

I'm also hopeful about Co-Op Tech in general. There are a couple of other students at TGS who might make good candidates. If L's experience goes well, TGS guidance and administration will be more eager to help them get there.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Self Contained ESL Class Begins

Aim: Why is it good to be bilingual?
Do Now: Write three reasons being bilingual can help you in life. Ideas: friendship, economics (money), etc.

Students settled in fairly well and got their Do Nows done. Next we went over my expectations of them and how I can be a super nice teacher if they give me basic respect, but u can also be as mean as the harshest teacher if the don't.

I talked about my plan for this year's class:

Monday- literature
Tuesday- literature
Wednesday- workshop (bring work from subject-area classes and I'll help you with it)
Thursday- audiovisual (analyze a dialogue or scene from a movie or tv show)
Friday- newspapers

Next, I explained my personal background a little, writing about four key sentences on the board. I then had them do the same about themselves, giving them five minutes to complete their brief narratives. Next, we passed them around to each other as a way of getting to know each other (they were alk written in Spanish).

Finally, as an extension activity, I taught them how to introduce one classmate to another. "Katherine, I'd like you to meet Patty. Katherine, Patty, Patty, Katherine," and then have them shake hands and each say, "Nice to meet you.". As they left, they continued saying, "Nice to meet you," jokingly ad they walked down the hall. I take the humor as a good sign that they feel comfortable playing with the language, which will help them progress. Tomorrow we'll celebrate finally having our own class and get ready for a three day weekend.

- Posted remotely via mobile phone.

Turning Big Ideas into Thesis Questions

Today I finally got to work with Ms. K. second social studies class during seventh period, going in with the same lesson plan and handouts I'd used days before for the much larger fourth period group. It was tenuous because Lyons study hall was scheduled to begin midway through the period in the library next door, but we made it work and and because Ms. K's seventh period is a CTT class, we did it in such a way that neither room was ever without a teacher, with Ms. K. and I switching rooms at critical points in the lesson, and Ms E., the CTT teacher staying put.

Although smaller, this group was a little less enthusiastc about the righteous indignation the lesson is meant to generate, at least in the beginning. By the end of the period, however, they were coming up with some broad ideas and were beginning to see how the grahic organizer I made could help them ask ever narrower questions, which could then be used as thesis statements, or even better in my opinion, thesis questions.

As I did last time, I made sure to point out how I'd forgotten to write my narrowest question on the model worksheet as an open-ended question, rendering it unsuitable fir use as a thesis question. First I asked if the class could tell me why I thought it wouldn't work well and they were coming out with ideas that sideswiped the issue. Ms. E. chimed in as we explain open-ended vs. closed questions, and then they got it. The next step was to ask how it could be reworded as an an open-ended question and they were all over it, using How and Why instead of the Is there... I had stupidly used in my haste.

Toward the end of class, we began to work on student T's broad question, which was, "Why do we spend so much money on celebrities instead of helping the homeless?" The class was really starting to get into it at that point. I put T's question on the board and we began narrowing.

Ms. K. already had triangles posted all over her classroom from the work she had continued after I introduced this graphic organizer to her fourth period and now she'll be able to do more if them with this group. As the bell rang, I said, "Remember folks, anger makes a better term paper!" The kids filed out seeming to quietly take that advice under consideration.

- Posted remotely via mobile phone.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Clash of the Distractions

The Books on Film screening drew about 12 Lyons students today. The original plan had been to watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but after feedback from the students, it became clear that they'd seen that film too many times and it tends to show up on cable often. I made a last-minute change and e-mailed the Lyons staff last night that we were switching to Clash of the Titans based on student interest. Although it's not based on "a book" per se, it is based on the myth of Perseus, which has been written down many times over the ages, so I allowed it.

After a fire drill right as Lyons was letting out, the kids were confused as to weather they could come back in the building or not, but I let the security guards know that it was OK with me, as Books on Film night is becoming a tradition. When all was said and done, a few kids settled down to pay attention to the movie, including L. and M., pictured here, who wanted a the best view in the house. L. was particularly interested in comparing Percy Jackson from last week with the way the story was told in Clash. He seems very interested in Greco-Roman mythology and wanted to know which of the two versions of the story was the original.

Others wanted to watch the movie while playing on the computers on to the side of the room. This has been happening since the beginning, but the computer users can't stop talking and I have loud Bose Companion audio system, which makes them talk even louder. I'm going to send an e-mail out to advisors that there'll be no more computer use during movie night. The kids have free reign over the computers every other day of the week, but on movie night it becomes too distracting. All told, it's nice to see the group get excited about watching a film that can be tied to a written work.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Descriptive Review of Curriculum at Lyons

Lyons planned a half day for students today to give teachers some PD and planning time. I was tapped to chair a descriptive review of curriculum based on the Prospect model (Prospect Institue is being renamed The Institutes on Descriptive Review as of this year).

The presenter was a middle school art teacher who wanted some feedback on her curriculum and practice. The Prospect descriptive review process provided a sage space for that discussion.

For my part, the shortened format and the fact the attendees were all my colleagues put me at ease. It was a good way to practice chairing a descriptive review.

Although it was severely abridged due to the one hour time frame, the process did lead to some direct and indirect feedback for the presenting teacher.

- Posted remotely via mobile phone.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Two Research Lessons and a Scheduling Glitch

Co-taught a Global Studies lesson with Ms. K. of The Green School, whose room is right next to mine. The lesson was about choosing a topic for a research paper and I based it on a graphic organizer I came up with last year, tailoring it for this group of Global Studies students.

Ms. K. and I riffed well off each other and the students seemed to be getting something out of the lesson. The whole point of the worksheet and graphic organizer is to identify topics about which you have strong feelings and begin to take one or two of those broad topics and think of related but ever narrower questions.

Immediately afterwards, I had to finish up the prep work for a Lyons research lesson with Amy and Jesse while supervising Lyons lunch time library access. My projector died as I was frantically getting set up but I was saved by Chris, the tech guru of The Green School, who not only loaned me the Dell laptops I needed but a projector as well. Phew!

Ms. K. came in as I was teaching the Lyons class and asked me if I was teaching right then. Only after a second attempt by poor Ms. K. did I realize that I had booked overlapping classes!

The overlap was 15 minutes, but by the time I got back into Ms. K's room to apologize, she had the students working on something else and seemed fine with doing my lesson another time. I truly appreciate her flexibility and willingness to work with me. Juggling the schedules of three different schools can lead to some hair-raising moments. I'm glad to have colleagues who are so understanding about it.

- Posted remotely via mobile phone.