Search This Blog

Friday, December 16, 2016

Game Day

Fridays in AVID are designated as Fun Fridays, a day for building community through teamwork. In my few weeks as the AVID teacher, my seventh graders participated in a photo challenge, my eighth graders created do and don't videos for our school drills, and then we had a game day. 

I honestly expected that the kids would dislike card and board games. Catching me quite by surprise, something magical happened. Phones were set down. Actual face-to-face talking took place. Competition filled the atmosphere. Laughter and smiling ran amuck.

Game day has now taken over the AVID classroom. Students from my previous English classes, my current AVID classes, and from none of my classes come by during their advisory class (a study hall period) to play Uno and Battleship and Sorry. When assignments are finished in class, I hear, "Can we play a game?" As I write this, I have students who came to school an hour early sitting in my room playing Candy Land, filling time before final exams begin. One of my girls just stood up yelling over a successful spin.

I am currently holding a Go Fund Me campaign to buy some new games for my students. If you are interested in helping us out, you will be helping to build community in my classroom and on my campus.

Heart Mapping in a Post-Election World

November 8 was officially my first day teaching AVID. It was also election day. I was able to avoid too much election day discussion because it was an AVID tutorial day, and the kids were occupied with their group work. 

November 9, however, I knew there would be questions galore. I teach at a high diversity middle school which includes many immigrant families, many Mexican families, many Muslim families. Based on earlier conversations, I was already aware that many of my students and their families were afraid. 

I did not want to get bogged in negativity and anger. I did not want to deal with the upset and depression. So upon waking up to the election results, I made a last-minute decision to spend the day creating heart maps and focusing on the positives in our lives.

The Heart Map assignment chosen comes from Georgia Heard's The Awakening of the Heart, a book about teaching poetry to children (that's a road I still have yet to venture down). The only instruction I gave my students was to fill their hearts with things that matter to them, things that are important to them. I drew an example and filled mine with things to make them giggle: Diet Coke, Snickers, failing students, elements of the AVID classroom... (And throughout the day, I was hijacked and students added to my heart. For some reason, they all wanted to be included within the walls of my heart.)

I was really impressed with the work the kids ending up producing. Not every heart was a traditional heart symbol. One student knew how to draw a heart organ, and many students asked him to draw one for them. The concept was the same, but the approach was slightly different, adding a creative edge I had not considered on my own. That's a significant part of the reason I enjoy open-ended assignments; there is no right or wrong.

The benefits of heart mapping:
  • As a teacher, I learned a great deal about my students. Building rapport is high on my list of must-dos for an effective and successful classroom, especially under the circumstances of taking over for a much-loved teacher mid-year.
  • The information contained within the heart map can be used for making connections to readings and as writing springboards.   
  • There are no language or cultural barriers to creating a heart map.  
  • Students are afforded choice, something they do not often get much of in school.  
  • Heart mapping can be done at any time of the school year.  

Even though this work was done my first week in a new classroom environment, one student included me in her heart map. Hers is a class I had already been in on almost a daily basis, and she had the benefit of getting to know me sooner than the majority of my new-to-me students. She said, "I drew you with a ladder because even though you are just getting started in AVID, I know you are going to climb the ladder and be a great AVID teacher."

And that folks, is why we do what we do. 

How will you use heart mapping with your students? 

Friday, November 11, 2016

"But she isn't you!"

This week, I transitioned out of the English classroom and into the AVID classroom. I do have some of my former English students in AVID, so I have been able to keep tabs on them.

Today I asked one of my students (former English/current AVID) how things are going upstairs this week with the new English teacher. This was her response in regard to the new teacher:
  • too tall (I am only 5'3 1/2" on a good day)
  • too not-Italian (we talk about culture a lot)
  • too not from New York (I am a transplant)
  • too black hair and not enough blond hair
  •  too new (I am pretty old at this point)
  • too much brown eye and not enough blue
I know that all of the kids are going to be fine in a few weeks, and this conversation will have no meaning anymore, but I thought it was pretty funny - especially when there is no focus on the teaching. It is definitely a memory to cherish. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

When your student teacher has control

Today my student teacher prepared and delivered a lesson. In order to set the class up as hers, I told the kids that I was sitting back and observing, a.k.a., keeping my mouth shut. They laughed at me. They LAUGHED at me. They said there was no way I could keep my mouth shut the entire class period. 

It was my intention to keep my mouth shut, but they started taunting me from the sidelines. 

Read these in a mocking tone:

  • "Ms. Garcia, class goes so much faster when you teach."
  • "Ms. Garcia, I wish you could be our teacher forever."
  • "Ms. Garcia, I rate you much higher than Ms. Foti."
  • "Ms. Garcia, you are by far my favorite teacher." 
At the end of class, I finally had my moment of retaliation. I growled, "I emailed your parents, and I'm blogging about you! Take that!"

They told me I am being vindictive. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Grand Reveal

Anxiety and I are not friends, and for many weeks now, I have lived in a constant state of heart palpitations, sweat, sleeplessness, and nausea. I have had to make a very important decision based on someone else's important decision, then I had to keep it a secret.

The current AVID coordinator and elective teacher on my campus is moving to another position within our district, an opportunity he has been working toward for years. The vacancy of his position led to an opportunity for me, and I was offered the chance to take over in his absence - three weeks into our new school year. I said yes, and while maintaining this secret, my colleague and I have been not-so-subtly working together every spare moment we get to prepare me for my new role while he prepares for his new role. I have been assisting daily with one of his classes as a student-teacher of sorts and meeting with him during my conference period.

The start of this school year has been amazing, and even though we are only in week six, I feel like I have known my current students for much, much longer. I build relationships quickly, and I was filled with love for my 2016-17 crew within moments. And now I will be leaving them for other students. Or in their words:

This decision was not without heavy consideration. Not only will I be exiting my teaching role with my current students, I will be leaving a content area and department for which I have devoted over thirteen years of my life, and I will be taking on new students in a system to which I have devoted and impassioned for ten years. This is a going to be a big adjustment for over two hundred young minds as well as quite a few adults. 

We have been holding on to the grand reveal for weeks, causing both my colleague and I some discomfort. Last week, he decided it was time to start easing the students in, so on Thursday, he began telling his classes. Two students who are in both AVID and in my English class addressed me directly, but for the most part, the information was blown over quickly. By Friday, however, it was something else completely!

Two of my five classes were informed last week, and three were informed today. There have been tears, begging, hugs, more tears, threats to steal my teddy bears, concerns of never seeing me again (I am only moving downstairs)... One students told me she would have never gotten attached to me had she known I was going to leave her so soon. A few told me that there is no way they are ever going to like a new teacher. Kids I will still be teaching directly are acting like they were never, ever, ever going to see me again anywhere. 

I have done my best to comfort my kids (and they will always be my kids), to let them know that I am not leaving them as much as they think. I will make time for them. I will have lunch with them. I will come to games and concerts and events for them. But they are still teenagers, and emotions run on high. I know we will all survive the transition; they are not quite sure as of yet. If nothing else, however, they are fully aware that I love them, and I am certainly aware that they love me (even a few I didn't think liked me at all). 

There is not currently an official date for the change of teaching venue, but it will be coming soon. With this new assignment, my blog posts will shift in focus to some extent, but I hope you follow along in this new adventure and that the strategies and information I share continues to encourage you.


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Quote Analyses in Canvas Discussions

My Pre-AP students took a test over their summer reading today, and I needed an extension activity for those students who finished sooner rather than later. Since I administered the test in Canvas, I decided to create something else for my kids to do online, as that is usually what keeps them the quietest. 

This summer, I attended an AVID conference strand called AVID Academic Language and Literacy. One activity introduced was using a quote analysis (reading) to lead to academic discussion (for listening and speaking), as well as review and revision (writing). The process involves responding to a quote with a writing frame, then sharing and discussing with a partner using academic language scripts, leading to revision.

I needed a quiet classroom, however, so I moved this process to a discussion board within Canvas. The discussion board allows threaded replies and likes, similar to Facebook (but without all the cute cartoons). I am also able to join my two separate Pre-AP classes together for one cross-class conversation.

Although there were some initial struggles due to the lack of direct instruction with this instruction, the kids caught on quickly. For a first try, they didn't do too bad. Their responses included statements like "I agree with..." and "I like what you said about...". Then at some point, they became the grammar police, pointing out mistakes that needed to be corrected and directing classmates to use the entire writing frame for their responses. Talk about teaching made easy! 

This initial trial run has definitely given me incentive to pursue this further, adding depth and rigor as we move throughout the year. My student teacher did inform my kids that this is part of what she has to do in her college classes, so she may prove to be a valuable resource in this arena.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Reading Intervals

This semester, I am taking a graduate class called Understanding, Valuing, and Teaching Struggling Readers. In my first class session last week, my classmates and I had to create a list of characteristics we associate with struggling readers. My partner and I included a lack of interest, stamina, and the ability to retain information, among many, many others. These, in particular, stood out to me as traits that I could immediately address. 
Image result for intervals 
The next day in the intervention classes that I teach, I established Reading Intervals to address these concerns. I explained how when we train as athletes, we often partake in interval training. So why not try it with reading and see if it helps us? 

  • Lack of interest
    • In the article "Taming the Wild Text," Allyn notes that students have may be reluctant or lack basic skills "because they haven't been exposed to materials suited to their interests, ability, and temperament" (19). To offer my students a wide range of materials, I stopped by the public library and picked up numerous kid books - books, award winners, graphic novels, comics. I left this out for class use, in addition to my classroom library. All students were allowed to choose whatever they wanted to read, regardless of the level of difficulty or ease.
  • Stamina/Ability to Retain Information
    • Instead of sitting down to read for a long period of time, we started with three minutes of reading. Once the timer went off, I had the kids make some notes about what they were reading in an attempt to help them retain information. They were then given the option to stand up and stretch and/or choose something different to read. 
    •  Before setting the timer for follow-up intervals, I asked the kids for their input on how long they wanted the next interval to be. Allyn states that, "For some reason, setting the timer to odd times...really helps!" (21).  I asked if they wanted to stick to three minutes or bump up to five. Every class choose five. One class got brave and asked me to set the timer for ten minutes so they could see how long they would last. The average was seven minutes before they found themselves losing focus.  
By the time we got through the entire class period, each student had completed at least fifteen minutes of independent reading. For many, this was an enormous accomplishment. 
There were also some unexpected surprises that came along with this impromptu lesson:
  • A few students asked if I could get more chapter books from the library for them. They wanted to see if something would catch their interest enough to get them to read an entire book.
  • Students were sharing their struggles during the note-taking intervals, allowing me glimpses into their thinking. One of our big focuses in class is metacognition, and this was definitely a moment when my kids were thinking about their thinking. 
  • Impromptu book talks were taking place. I had helped some of my boys find sports books to read, and every chance they had, those boys were comparing notes about story lines and arguing about who was going to check books out from me first. Can you say "Happy teacher"?
I am definitely going to continue on this adventure as I create reading athletes. I highly recommend checking out Allyn's article, as she discusses strategies to help struggling readers "become fierce, unafraid, and strong" (16).


Allyn, Pam. "Taming the Wild Text." Educational Leadership: Reading: The Core Skill:. ASCD,      Mar. 2012. Web. 05 Sept. 2016.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Oh my goodness! I have never taught my kids to collaborate.

As a member of my school's AVID site team, I put a great deal of emphasis on the WICOR strategies in my classroom and lessons:

I can guarantee that I explicitly teach WICOR strategies. While reading Peter H.
Johnston's Choice Words, however, I realized that I am not doing a very good job at truly teaching my students how to collaborate. Johnston writes, "Even when they work in groups, [students] rarely work as a group, sharing ideas and working toward a common goal" (65). 

This really caught my attention. Do I really think my eighth graders know how to do this? We usually get there, but I am very aware that I have left out critical information regarding this process, and in order for my students to truly participate in group activities, I need to do a much better job if my students are going to "have some shared understanding of the situation and activity in which they are jointly engaged" (65). 

So time for a new approach to collaboration, especially with a new state teacher assessment beginning this year that focuses heavily on student-centered learning. From now on, when my students are going to be engaged in group activities, there will be a discussion ahead of time focused on the work to be done:

Classes do not start for two more weeks, so I do not know how this approach will work until I try it out. It is a small component, but I have a feeling it may pay off with huge dividends. More to come once we get started.