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Monday, June 23, 2014

Quick Write - Enhanced with Natural Supplements for Increased Brain Size

For this year's AVID Conference in Dallas, I am enrolled in a strand focused on English language learners. I am the ESL lead teacher at my school, and with an ever increasing need for ESL strategies on campus plus my love for AVID, this was the ideal choice for moving into the 2014-2015 school year. 

We started today's strand with a Quick Write. Unfamiliar with Quick Writes? They are exactly as they sound. In my classroom, they look like this:

  • I assign a prompt. 
  • I set the timer for two to five minutes. 
  • Students are expected to write the entire time. 
  • There is no focus on writing rules. The goal is to get any thoughts down on paper. 
  • If students get stuck, they write the last word they wrote over over over over over over over until they get unstuck. 

I love this strategy because it get students thinking and provides an opportunity to write without the pressure of rules and regulations like spelling and punctuation. 

Our AVID Quick Write assignment was to discuss something difficult we learned how to do. Prior to our writing, the instructors shared their own writing  and stories. Modeling is essential for all students, not just ELLs. I usually write for my classes because I never know what random ideas will pop in my brain, and I often try to show frustration and thought processes for them. 

The way we wrote and used the writing today reminded me of drinking a protein shake after a hardcore work out. It was refreshing and rejuvenating. 

Enhancement #1: Sentence Frames 

  • I use sentence frames and starters in my classroom all the time, but I never thought about using them for a Quick Write. The frame provided, however, clearly provides structure for those who do not know where to begin or end:

  • Frames are designed to provide structure but are not necessarily meant to be followed word for word. Students, like me, can modify for personal needs. Having just blogged about my frustration with Zumba, I was able to describe my ongoing learning and desire to accomplish the flamenco. 
  • This enhancement helps meet the writing needs for ELA, ESL, and AVID. 
Enhancement #2: Discussion
  • Steps:
    • Pick a partner. 
    • Choose who will be Partner A and Partner B.
    • Partner A reads his/her Quick Write while Partner B actively listens. Active listening instructions- maintain eye contact, nod your head, communicate interest non verbally - and speaking skills - adjust volume for the listener, maintain eye contact - were provided by the instructors. 
    • Partner B has 30 seconds to ask for clarification and/or paraphrase. 
    • Partner B then writes down a few notes about Partner A's story. 
    • The partnership is reversed and repeated. 
    • The Partner As then stand, move around the room, and find a new partner B. 
    • The steps are repeated. 

  • I have used Quick Writes for discussion but not like we did in today's strand. I have not considered giving instructions regarding speaking and listening skills, but once we practiced this routine, I realized how much our students actually need it. Most have no idea how to be effective listeners and speakers because no one has ever told them that they need to be. 
  • One participant asked, unconnected to Quick Writes specifically, how we can use the AVID ELL strategies in all content areas. Quick Writes are incredibly flexible. You can have students write about anything to share prior knowledge or to review what they are learning. I see numerous possibilities with this routine. 
  • This enhancement meets writing, listening, and speaking skills for ELA and ELLs, in addition to collaboration for AVID. 

  • In addition to meeting ELA, ELL, and AVID essentials, I jotted down a few things that came up in the debriefing discussion that I found to have great value in the classroom: 

    • The Quick Write process allows students to take ownership of their ideas and thoughts. Simply by putting them on paper, students are learning that their thoughts are valuable. 
    • By sharing with classmates, we are building classrooms of trust and honesty and showing respect for others. These are not the easiest concepts to "teach" because they do not come listed in a textbook. 

    The whole reason I started this blog was to reflect (an AVID skill) upon my own growth and learning. I particularly want to share in instances like this, when a simple idea like a Quick Write can become so much more meaningful than a two to five minute writing exercise. 

      Sunday, June 22, 2014

      Why I Dislike Zumba (and what it has to do with teaching)

      Although the world is full of many Zumba fanatics, I am not one of them. Despite what most people realize, Beto actually released a failed home version of Zumba in 2002. I know. I asked for the videos for a birthday as an alternative to my Tae Bo workouts. (And yes, I still have them AND a VCR.) My review: cheesy, cheesy, cheesy. Not Kraft mac and cheesy. Velveeta mac & cheesy. And every time I pull these old videos out, I cannot help but see Beto as a pervert. 

      Since 2002, my love affair with fitness blossomed first with The Firm, then with Beach Body and Chalene Johnson and Shaun T. and Tony Horton. (Take a peek at my Instagram page for verfication.) I love the intensity and the insanity and the sweat and the pain. Unfortunately, as I get older, my body is not willing to keep up with my brain on my desire for constant beast mode. My knees ache (I already had surgery on both when I was 23), my lower back hurts, and I am developing tennis elbow. 

      A few weeks ago, I invested in some of the newer Zumba videos because I got offered a really good deal, and I was already looking for something lower impact. The newer workouts are much more intense then the 2002 versions. My abs and hips hurt for days (but that probably stems from my inability to dance more than doing anything correctly). I still find them a bit cheesy, but at least Beto does not seem so pervy to me anymore. 

      But I still dislike them. 

      Even with the guided workouts (those with actual instructions), I often have no idea what I am supposed to be doing. I stop the DVD. I pause. I rewind. And sometimes I just modify (walk in place) because I cannot figure out what is happening. With one of the workouts, I keep skipping a whole section simply because I have no idea what is going on. The instructors' feet move so fast at times that I am not even sure what I am looking at. Getting through a Zumba workout is like sitting through a class with no clear instruction that moves too quickly and does not leave a great deal of room for questions.

      So, being a teacher, I wondered how often my classroom is like this:
      • Even when I model, am I going too quickly?
      • Am I scaffolding enough for my students to pick up on the pieces one part at a time?
      • Am I allowing students an opportunity to review what my expectations are for their success?
      • Do I let them ask enough questions to figure it what they are not understanding?
      • Are they skipping parts of assignments simply because they have no idea what is going on? 
      • Am I expecting them to catch on to things simply because I am good at them?
      • Am I causing physical pain and mental anguish for some kids?

      As teachers, I think sometimes we forget what it is like to learn something that causes us frustration. Sure, we do professional development things that bring us new ideas, but they usually involve ideas for which we already have background knowledge. How often do we branch out to learn things that are brand new to us, that cause us frustration? 

      I am not willing to give up on Zumba. It has only been a few weeks, and I know with practice, I can and will get better. Do our students have that same mentality, or are they shutting down once that frustration kicks in? What do we need to do to keep them from giving up? What do I need to do?

      Monday, June 16, 2014

      What is your vision?

      I have been sick since school ended, and most of my time has been spent in bed either sleeping, watching television, or reading. Last night, one of my reads presented the question, What is your vision? And my first thought was, Am I supposed to have one of those?

      After eleven years of teaching, it is difficult to keep the years straight, but I do believe one of my three principals asked the teachers to write vision or mission statements at one point in time. When we adopted Personal Learning Communities (PLCs) a few years ago, there was again discussion about this. On a personal level, however, I have never written one, partially because I have always felt it needed to be something incredibly formal. 

      But I do have a vision, and it is a simple one:

      Whether they are three or eighteen, our students are kids. They rely on us for their learning and guidance, whether they are aware they want it or not. How can we possibly give up on these people who have abusive parents, are homeless, cannot read, have no food to eat at home, have been abandoned, and/or are dealing with more severe issues than I even want to think about?

      We had a few situations at school this year that made this echo in my head repeatedly. I will admit, I have not always kept this at the forefront of my teaching. I am human and get frustrated and complain just like anyone else. Kids do that. Like I tell my own children, annoying us is in the Being a Kid Rulebook. But these particular situations made me step back and take a good hard look at those students to whom I may have done a disservice .

      I teach eighth grade. I do not want to look at a student and say, "You know, at fourteen, you are completely a lost cause. There is no hope for you. You may live for another seventy years, but by now, I have already determined that you will never be better than what you are right now." Pardon my language, but I think the best way to put this is, Hell no! I do not want to be that teacher. 

      We teach kids. 
      • Dig deep, even when it hurts.
      • Build relationships, especially with the kids who have been labeled the worst.
      • Help them discover their passions. You will have to weed past future dreams of playing professional sports, and you may need a bit of fertilizer to make other dreams grow, but they are in there. 
      • Teach learning strategies, not just content. That part comes and goes by the year. The strategies will last a lifetime. 

      So what is your vision?

      Friday, June 6, 2014

      Last Morning Chaos

      7:00: Email colleagues about going to lunch at 12:30. Hey, I worked out this morning, and I am already starving. 

      7:50 AM: Where are my school keys? Has anyone seen my school keys? Why can't I find my keys anywhere?

      8:10: I decided to go to McDonald's for breakfast, something I never do. Run into another teacher and a student who was recently sent to the alternative school. Listen as he tries to lie to me, then nail him for it. 

      8:15: Seriously, who drives 55 MPH on a Texas highway? I would honk, but that gets people shot around here. 

      8:25: I have an email telling me I need to come sign paperwork in the teacher's lounge. I am supposed to be on duty. I am already late. 

      8:26: There is a parent in the office waiting to talk to me about grades for her student. Um, ain't nobody got time for that on the LAST DAY! 

      8:27: Sign paperwork for my class, the long-term sub class, and for ESL. Grab a donut on the way out. Man, I am really hungry. 

      8:30: Tell my AP that I have to go back to the ESL department at 11 to pick up paperwork I dropped off yesterday that we did not do correctly. 

      8:37: Why, no, I was not aware that grades had to be finished today because our data clerk will not be here tomorrow. 

      8:45: I need to pee! Another teacher stops me on my way because help is needed in another hallway. I run to the other hallway, yelling at students, wondering where all the teachers from that hallway actually are. 

      8:50: Finally make it to the urination station. 

      8:55: First test of the day. Kids are mad because I am not making big emotional goodbyes. Nine months is over. Time to put these babies up for adoption. 

      9:14: Phone call from another teacher asking if a student in my class has her science project that was due last week. 

      9:20: Delivery from another teacher. Other teacher needs a delivery sent back. 

      9:24: AP stops by to sign paperwork for my end of year checkout. 

      9:32: Message from another teacher asking if my former student teacher is certified and able to cover maternity leave next year. 

      9:37: Is is really only 9:37?