so much muchness, again

I have been remiss in updating, and this is to my detriment. Because it’s so valuable to me to think outloud about what I’m seeing in the classroom, and process it in writing.

But it has been an exhausting and trying month.  Still, I feel good.

My eng1p9 class is the one that challenges me. I only learned last week that one of my students has been diagnosed with autism, and also diagnosed as having MID – mild intellectual disability. As I understand it, this is based on a rating of the standard I.Q. test.  What business that has being applied to people with autism and to be found reliable I have no idea.

No one told me in advance that this student had this diagnosis. I had to find that out for myself, and because he is in grade 9, and the IEPs were slow to upload to our system, and because he was well behaved (i.e. he sat down and shut up when told), I didn’t make him a priority when I went through the OSR’s file by file when I had the time.

ya. I’m pissed off.

plus, he did very well in writing an organized paragraph, which was basically my first unit, along with establishing routines and dealing with behaviour issues.

It was only when we started watching Buffy and talking about why people acted the way that they did that I noticed that he was not able to follow along.

He had great difficulty understanding the motives of characters.

And he was very sensitive to the sound of static in the headphones. “Do you hear electricity?” he would ask me.  He was worried about getting shocked.

this is a new chapter in my learning. there’s more, but it will have to be more to come.

 

 

 

 

 

going to camp

I was asked, a little late in the day, to help grade 9 students who wouldn’t normally attend our Algonquin trip find their way their. Unlike some schools, and you know who you are, we provide an Algonquin experience for ALL students of the school. But of course there are those somewhat visible and somewhat invisible barriers to participation.

First, the trip is promoted to the grade 8 classes of our feeder schools in May-June of the preceding year . I’ve never been part of this process so I don’t know what it looks like. But it must do its work well, because 2 of my wobblies in my wobbly class came to me the day before the final deposit was due and said, “We want to go to Camp Tamakwa.”

Also, the Trip leader who has a heart for equity and whom I regard as an ally always reserves some spots because he knows that some of the kids who we most want to be there have the hardest time getting forms filled out and returned, etc.

During the first week, we had our opening assembly and the camp was promoted again. I was at the back of the cafetorium, looking to safely usher in my eng1p9s and prevent them from being scolded for being late because who knows what their reasons might have been in the first week. so I got to meet a student and his dad, and introduce them to the school and the student was interested in camp. so I looked at his timetable, saw a friendly english teacher I knew, and said I would be his contact if he was interested.

after school, I called the parents of the kids who said, “we want to go to camp,” cause the full deposit was due the next day. I got an answering machine with one. and then a dad for the other. he said, “The C.A.S. is paying for it.”  I said, “I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” He said, “the C.A.S. is paying for it. Talk to B.J. Jones.” (not her real name). I said, “B.J. B as in Barry?” He said, “Yes, D.J. Jones.” I said, ” wait now.. D.J.? D as in Dog?” He said, “That’s right. V.J. Jones.”

Fortunately, Dedrie Jones (not her real name) contacted ME the next day. And what the dad had said was true. We had raised enough scholarship money to make the camp cost 95$ for anyone who needed any kind of financial assistance. And this amazing woman had gone out of her way to find money through the C.A.S. to make up the rest.  But the adventure was just beginning. The funds were available. But this kid’s dad didn’t read. And she was going to be out of the office for the next two weeks. And you should see the forms he needed to sign. And these forms ain’t no joke. The legal issues around school trips to camp are nothing I ever want to deal with in my life.

part two comes tomorrow.

 

 

teaching week 2, getting there

so, week 2 in eng1p9 is a bit easier. I have a better sense of them. I know that if I adapt my 3 chunk 1p lessons into 2 chunks, we will accomplish things without tears.

the girl who felt she was misplaced got tired of waiting for me to collect data and took matters into her own hands and got switched into eng2p. and I couldn’t be more pleased or proud. she’s got a great, sensitive teacher, and I asked if there were tears, and she said no.

so! that’s one less worry and our class is more or less on the same page.

except for Johnny. Johnny is in grade 10 and didn’t achieve a single credit last year because of poor attendance.
Johnny knows his power because when I call his name, even when I’m standing one foot in front of him and looking him in the eye, he ignores me and keeps saying inappropriate things to the other kids in the classroom.

what Johnny doesn’t know yet is that this doesn’t work for me.

He got 7/10 on his first paragraph. It was missing transition words and a concluding statement but it would pass the literacy test because it had very specific examples. He’s a smart kid.

but I will find other places for him to be until he is willing to look me in the eye and show me and the other students in the class respect and courtesy. And he will be supported and taught how to fake this until he feels it.

I’ve managed to recruit a couple of other volunteers to help out, and I think these extra bodies in the room will help.

I’ve been going over the OSRs (Ontario student records) in the filing cabinets because the IEPS (Individual Education Plans) haven’t been uploaded to the server yet, or weren’t before I went to camp. Many of these students were working at a Modified grade 4 level when they were in Grade 8. So I’m going to need to talk to our Spec Ed. head, currently our VP, cause we don’t have one, how to continue to Modify their achievement level.

But the most of the rest of last week I spent in preparation for camp. see the following post.

 

 

 

awesome moment with zorba, #243

at lunch, I hang out in our Focus on Success room, which, due to the amazing staff, past and present, is a thriving, functioning, warm and joyous place.  Students go there during the day if they have been referred for help with academic or emotional issues, or if they need a distraction free work space.

At lunch, we have “lunch time friends.” There’s an xbox 360 with a wii attachment, computers, cards, jenga, and any other board game you can name, and, because no guitar classes are running this year, an increasing number of students who want to jam or learn to play guitar with me.

one of these is a student I will call Zorba.

Last week, we had a fire alarm during our open house at lunch, so I was hanging with these students, and especially Zorba. We have a fairly deep rapport with each other, bonding through classic rock and Bruce Cockburn. And we play a lot of music together, and he’s also got an amazing sense of humour and is very quick witted. He’s also on the aspergers-austism spectrum.

So, we were outside, for about an hour, waiting to get back in. And Zorba and I got into a bit of teasing back and forth. And he gives great full bodied reactions when I tease him. So, he challenged me on my teasing him,  all still in humorous tone ( I can’t at all remember the subject, but it wasn’t anything personal), and I said, “How can I help it, when your reaction is so satisfying?”
He replied, still teasing, without dropping a beat, “So my autism is your pleasure??”

!!!

We were standing near the office administrators, who are an amazing bunch of people, and they overheard this whole exchange and burst out in a round of applause at this!

As did I!

I then had to reassure him that he hadn’t done anything wrong- the kid is so empathetic, and so concerned not to hurt anybody. He said he was worried I was going to go tell the Principal what he had said. I told him that if I did, *I* would be the one in trouble, because all he had done was shown me where the line was, and that was well within his rights.

So then he started drawing imaginary lines on the sidewalk to limit my movements :)

I’m going to keep writing these down so I don’t forget them.

 

intro to section 9

It’s my first week back, and, for the most part, it was a good week.

This semester I have two grade 9 academic courses- both bordering on 30 students. They’re shiny! Attendance and attention is consistent. I have a few scattered throughout who are visibly looking a little out of place, and performance backs this up. But none of them are on our usually comprehensive “at-risk” list that the elementary feeder schools send us. I’ve read these notes in the past and always been encouraged by the warmth and compassion expressed by the 8 grade teachers, and gained so much from their insights. But apparently, this year we have more grade nines from outside our catchment areas for some reason. So, for the first time since I’ve started teaching here, I have concerns about students in my class that isn’t backed up by data anywhere that I can find to help me.

I’m worried that they’re going to get lost in the shuffle.

Cause my 1p9 course is going to keep me running.  I’ve taught applied level classes every year for the past 10 years at least, and I have known that 70-80% of these students had diagnosed learning disabilities, and the other 20% had learned bad behaviour, or severe economic deprivation or neglect or ….

So I’ve whenever I’ve looked at the IEPs for the diagnosed students, I’ve realized that I’ve been doing most of the recommended teaching strategies as a matter of course.

1p9 is different.

The learning blockages are way more severe. Attention difficulties way worse. And memory issues and anxiety are through the roof.

I think this is the best way to illustrate it.

I have a student who I will call Brad (i have never taught a Brad in my life).  On Friday, I saw him in the hallway 10 minutes before class. He asked me for help. He couldn’t find C8. C8 is our classroom. It is the classroom he has been in with me for 3 days previous. It is just down the hall from where we are standing. Unfortunately, I have to do 20 things in the next ten minutes to prepare for the rest of the students in that class because I need to try to set up success for all of them. So I can’t walk him there. But I slow down, and point.

He shows up to class 10 minutes late, in an anxious state, saying he couldn’t find the room.
And I believe him.

Unfortunately, the IEPs haven’t been uploaded yet, so I have no data other than my observation and anything the feeder schools have sent on what the majority of these students are dealing with.

I wish I could spend more time doing research but I had to do hall duty for half of 2 of my three preps, which I do support…
but hell. I need to know.

My first two days with this group were great. In fact, the second day was so good as to be miraculous, and I drove home full of hubris, singing, “I can teach anybody, I can teach aaaaanyone.”

I forgot that the students who have behaviour issues tend not to show up for the first two days.

So, I have this group thursday, last period. It is boiling hot in the room, and I’m trying to get them to write a paragraph. Modeling first, using highlighters to demonstrate the different parts. Me demonstrating on the computer and projector. And it’s nuts. The student whose behaviour issues are most severe (he’s in grade 10- didn’t earn a single credit last year) showed up that day.

I wasn’t prepared. I was basing my lesson on the class I had the day before.

Hubris.

I tell them that I had planned to do other work, but that I would let it go cause it was so hot once everyone had finished their paragraph, and show a video instead.

We never really got there.

The next day, I do a behaviour boot-camp based on With All Due Respect, by Ron Moorish. I make it fun, I make it interactive, kineasthetic, interpersonal, visual… and 6 out of 9 of them still act like little shits. And this is with having an EA in the room. not sure about her yet.

I also have the sweet-tempered LD students who have other challenges. I don’t know exactly what these challenges are yet (no IEPs).

But one of them feels anxiety from the bad behaviour of the others and starts to cry. And wants to talk to me privately.

I know her a little from my work with the spec ed program last year (she’s actually in grade 10, moving from 1L to 1P9), and I ask her if anyone has behaved badly towards HER. (cause I would have drop kicked them out of the room if that happened.) She said no. So I said that if there was anyone that should be crying because of the bad behaviour in the room, it should be ME! I tell her that I’m on it, and that I need to teach everyone how to behave, and I ask her to give me three weeks. In the meantime, I offer her several escape routes. But she won’t take them.

This is a new thing for me. I’m going to have to learn how to help her develop internal strength. I know that she’s come a long way (from anecdotal reports from the spec ed team last year).  But she’s clearly got some distance. I’m going to appoint someone in my 1D classes to make sure we have Kleenex in the room.

And I have another lovely who struggles with this. My musical pal, “Zorba”, had a total meltdown after his first music class. And I had never seen that happen to him. And my rescuing instinct kicked in- I am so glad I don’t have kids. But fortunately, we have an excellent Child and Youth worker, and she gave him what he needed. He needed to be patient with himself.

Anyhow, I think this is the major lesson for me for this year- learning how to help the sweet strugglers who get overwhelmed by anxiety and breakdown find their strength. It’s something I can relate to. deeply. I just don’t know that the way that I’ve been learning is the right way to help them. but at least I understand it.

I’m going to learn a lot this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

big fonts, and big hair

A number of years into my education career, while at a massive Professional Development conference, I realized what I could do if I ever got really burnt out at the teaching gig. I could take a good idea  (it doesn’t need to be original, although I flatter myself to think I’ve got a few of those, but the majority of B. Ed. students feel insulted that they should be asked to read theory, cause theory has no lesson plans. So you can really grab any idea from the past 2000 years of pedagogical history and they won’t notice) and write a book about it in big font- 10 point at least, 12 point if you’re going after the elementary market- and that book will contain really that one idea, a lot of acronyms, and a bunch of heart-warming anecdotes. I’d get a publicist, get a big tease blow-out hair-do, and do the speaker circuit. Maybe adopting a bit of a drawl when I’m touring the States. (I think I’ll need to set up a US address as well).  Bitter much? You fucking betcha.

Despite my well-honed, I-should-know-better bitterness, I play Charlie Brown to Lucy’s football more often than not. So when I read in The Atlantic that Lee Sheldon has a new classroom approach involving gaming and education, I bit. Look, I forgive Melanie Plenda when she says that Sheldon is a pioneer in what she calls “gamificaton”- gack. how can anyone think they’re doing anything good for education when they themselves invent such a lazy indutrialized capitalist word like that. Surely we can work with what has been in place for longer that the 8 years that Plenda affords Sheldon’s solitary grunt work- Ludology. Ludology is the study of games. Homo Ludens- the person who plays.  Surely we can work with that noble root.

But I order the book regardless. I played dungeons and dragons as a kid. I’ve been a gamer on and off, digital and analog, since then. As I was learning to become a teacher formally, I was hanging out on educational MUDS and MOOS and reading about Seymourt Papert and Amy Bruckman.

When I entered the traditional highschool classroom, in 1998, the technology wasn’t there to do the things I wanted to do. So I applied what I’d learned from web sites, and tried to make my classroom a website- with knowledge nodes and yarn. It was a big mess. but it was instructive.

The last 5 or 6 years have been rich in technology, and poor in pedagogy.  We all know this. I won’t say more.

Because I was very curious about Lee Sheldon’s book, because it talked more about the ethos of gaming and gaming technology. And it referenced Jane McGonical. And I had seen Jane McGonical’s Ted Talk and it had addressed some ongoing questions for me. Why is it that the kids who struggle in our classrooms, the ones we protect from feelings of failure, these are the very same ones that are happy to game and when they aren’t successful at a level or a task, they are INSULTED! they DIE! they are told that they SUCK!!! but they don’t care. They get up off the mat, and they try again. Jane McGonigal addresses this in her Ted Talk, “Gaming can make a better World” and I highly recommend it.

 

So I ordered the book. It came today.
And now I don’t want to read it.

If you’re going to write a book called THE Multiplayer Classroom, published by Nelson, hardcover, with 12 point font, you’d better reference Seymour Papert and his work with Logo, and if you’re going to talk about MUDs, you damn well better talk about Amy Bruckman. And I’d be interested to know why you don’t make any mention of the work that Mary Flanagan or Jennifer Jensen have been doing.

And I’m also curious about whether the politics of gender are addressed here.

The book is purported to be for any level classroom. But I don’t think his students are my students.

I will dig in. And we’ll see.

 

 

 

 

 

ipads, take 3

ENG1P- Ipad beginning 2013

 

GOALS  for ipad introduction

 

1) initially, ipads should have very few apps

 

2) establish from the start that we are doing this for marks, skills

 

3) orient to ipad routines and attitudes

 

4) figure out best app for workflow, and for regular writing/journaling

 

eng1p- to group or not to group

 

what’s his name, the With All Due Respect guy says that arranging students with attention difficulties in groups is quite unfair to them, giving them too much to overcome.

I’m also so often aware of how sensitive, and socially volatile the 1ps are, not to mention vocal.

But I have also seen the power of co-operative learning in these classes in particular.

And the attractive power of the social is impressive.

Plus, there’s the teaching of socialization…

and my dream of a classroom community.

It will be interesting to see how that plays out if my classes stay as small as they were predicted to be in June…

 

“We need to examine every aspect of the class- room-what we teach, how we teach it, how we organize and manage students, how we re- spond to questions, how we solve problems, and how we talk about concerns. Within this framework of SociallyConsciousCooperativeLearning (Schniedewind&Sapon-Shevin,1998), children learn and live a philosophy of mutual care and interpersonal responsibility.”

http://www.marasapon-shevin.org/files/resources/Ability%20Differences%20in%20the%20Classroom.pdf

eng1p-binder or no binder, homework or no homework

 

so, in Exceptional Learners, it talks about how homework is a significant difficulty for the LD student. Partially because of their learned helplessness. So they will often forget to do it, bring it home, bring it back, etc.

I have seen this, and it makes sense. No one can tell you you got it wrong if you didn’t do it.

But there’s another factor about homework in the 1p classroom. Socially, many of them don’t want to identify as kids who care about school. And, of course, we’ve grouped them in the class of kids who aren’t expected to do well at school. So they don’t want to be seen with a backpack in the halls, or coming too and from school. Is it reasonable for me to try to compete with that pressure?

is it necessary?

Then of course there’s the home environment. Do they have a quiet place to work? Do they have support at home?
Because of the social pressure, they’re not going to want to stay at the library, after school, or be seen to.

if they were to be given a “detention,” which was really stay after school and do your work with me… would that work? would they be seen as bad-ass, and have an excuse?
probably not with all students, but maybe?

there’s no reason to have binders if they don’t have homework. We can keep their work in duotangs at school.

But I don’t like infantalizing them that way- we start with this expectation that they won’t be “good students.”

Then again, is it necessary? what are the advantages?

 

purchasing power

Margaret Christakos posted the following on facebook after the “Do you Copy” event that she organized in response to the Post-Script conceptual writing show:

“last night at the Power Plant event my son and daughter staffed the book table. total book sales at this free event, 1 book. tonight at dinner my daughter said, I don’t get it, why wasn’t anybody buying the poetry books? a lot of people looked at them, they’d rifle through them and look interested, then put them down. I did my best to explain.”

i was that 1 person. And it got me thinking about the opposite question: why do I buy poetry books?

i bought Adam Seelig’s book, every day morning in the (slow), at the event because I loved what he read from it, and wanted more. And when I buy a book AT an event, that’s usually the reason, a desire to prolong the experience, to revisit what I heard and let it deepen, and see what difference the page makes. (and oooh boy- whatta difference! beautiful, beautiful book!). So, that’s why I bought that book in particular.

I probably already owned … 70% of the rest of the books on the table? I am currently re-organizing my poetry collection. It contains multitudes. I tried to do a bit of culling last night- surely, I thought, there must be some books here I can bare to part with. I found 10. 4 of them were because I had two copies.

I often feel like I’m in a bit of a unique position when it comes to the economics of the poetry world. If you cross-index lovers of poetry, and experimental poetry in particular, with income, I would be willing to bet that there’s an inverse relationship between love of said poetry and disposable dollars. I love dangerous poetry, but, as a teacher in the public school system, I have one of the most secure, and, arguably, most socially conservative jobs. And I have no dependents.   So, I’m not constrained- if I see a book that I want, I can buy it without having to do a calculation in my head about whether or not it’s prudent. I’ve only arrived at this position in my life in the past 5 years or so. And, believe me, I understand the privilege of it. It hasn’t always been like this.

I also feel secure as a reader of poetry. I’m fairly used to buying a work of experimental poetry, something that friends have been raving about, getting home, opening it up, and not having a fucking clue what is going on. I know that’s this is not my fault! That there is value in reading “the difficult poem,” or, as I prefer to think of it, poetry that confounds my readerly expectations. I know it requires work on my part-this is no easy consumer transaction. And if none of the strategies I’ve acquired in the past 15 years help me see how the poem is operating, I have time, in the summer at least, to do a little homework- read an interview or bio, read a review, find an online reading, etc.  So, if I do have this experience after buying a poetry book, I don’t feel like I’ve been had.

During my undergraduate studies, I took a course in Contemporary Canadian Poetry with the most excellent Prof. Marilyn Rose at Brock University. The syllabus consisted of 6 single-author anthologies by Ralph Gustafson, P.K. Page, Erin Mouré, Lillian Allen, Stephen Heighton, and George Elliott Clarke.  So we read each anthology from cover to cover. And we discussed the poetics of these anthologies- I began to have a deep appreciation for how a book of poetry is constructed- the value of the book as part of the meaning of the poetry inside it. The course took place in the fall- we followed the Governor General’s awards, and their coverage, and considered their critical and economic impact. I began to look at bookshop windows more critically- most often it seemed that every category of GG nominations was represented in the front window, except for poetry. I’d venture inside. Where’s your poetry section? In the back, on the bottom shelf, behind the boxes, where it can’t hurt anybody. It was then I learned that a volume of poetry is considered a best-seller in Canada if it sells 500 copies if the author is a man, 300 if the author is a woman. I don’t remember the source for that stat, and I have no idea if the numbers have changed.

I am creating a public library. Each year, I bring box-loads of my books into my classroom. There is always extended time for students to paw through these books. Sometimes the books don’t make it back into my boxes. I always see this as a sign of success. Great artists steal. So, I hunt down another copy.

There’s more to explore here- why and how people do or don’t buy poetry. And when?

Aaron and I going to explore these questions in the (as yet unnamed) podcast we’re launching in the fall. Stay tuned.

(draft)

 

 

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