Archive for September 29, 2011

Why I hate spelling tests – they exist in the gutter of Bloom’s Taxonomy

Today I walked out of a voluntary meeting where our principal was lecturing us on our unacceptable performance during an unexpected walk-through of our school by a new, non-elected, mayoral appointee of our city board of education: a draconian woman who stalked into my classroom on her walk-through with her shoulders hunched like a linebacker and her face frozen into a snarl. She marched into my classroom, took one look at what I was doing – a heinous spelling test I have cringed at giving since teaching at my current school – and then marched right back out with an even bigger grimace than when she tromped in.

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Now, let me make one thing clear from the beginning: I DESPISE SPELLING TESTS! In fact, I have never given a spelling test any of my students in my entire career until working at my current school. Yes, I taught about word patterns, but never gave a traditional spelling test until my 13 year of teaching.

The sole reason I was forced to administer them? I was told to give spelling tests weekly because it was part of the designated basal reading curriculum. A curriculum, by the way, that has been deemed the only reason our test scores have risen by our assistant principal who, replying to my inquiry about why our school’s reading scores rose a whopping 14 %, adamantly stated “Our tests scores have risen because to due diligence – fidelity to the curriculum.” By they way, fidelity to the curriculum has included weekly spelling tests for the past three years at every grade level, or so I assumed a I have never taught fifth and sixth grade using the curriculum before.

The principal held up my classroom as an example of what not to do: the school board harridan’s visit to my classroom was held up to be exactly what the board member said she didn’t want to see in our classrooms. Hating spelling tests as I do – this made me see red! After all, the only reason I have given spelling tests is because I, and every other teacher, have been told give them! And did I mention I HATE giving spelling tests?

Anyway, when I brought up the fact teachers have been required to give spelling tests as part of the mandatory curriculum, the principal ignored me and acted as if I hadn’t said anything and went on to give a brief lecture as to why spelling tests SHOULDN’T be given – AND THIS IS THE SAME RATIONALE I USED TO JUSTIFY NOT GIVING SPELLING TESTS FOR THE PAST THREE YEARS – BUT TO NO AVAIL! Succinctly, she expounded upon the fact students can receive 100% on a spelling test and then chronically misspell words while writing, another thing I have said to justify not giving them, to no avail.

This is exactly the type of situation that makes me feel like Alice in Wonderland as an educator because, like Alice I am pointing out gross inconsistencies in administrative directives and I am completely dismissed – just like the Queen of Hearts saying “Off with their heads!” In the book, no matter what Alice says to justify heads not being cut off she is ignored. In fact, when the assistant principal asked who told me to give spelling tests I simply replied “You” to which she quickly shoot back “I never told you to give spelling tests! Your aren’t teaching first grade anymore, you’re teaching middle school!”

This is when it became apparent I had to leave the room because if I hadn’t walked out I could have said something in anger I would have regretted such as “Well, taking spelling tests has been a part of my lesson plans for a month now and no one has mentioned this. Did you even read my lesson plans? Did you ever tell me ever NOT to give spelling tests? Why have you approved my lesson plans containing spelling tests since school began this year? I’LL TELL YOU WHY – BECAUSE YOU HAVE NEVER READ MY LESSON PLANS – YOU’VE ONLY GLANCED AT THEM TO SEE HOW THICK THEY WERE! “ But of course, I left the room fuming, demoralized and mortified an administrator had used me as an example of what not to do. After all I’ve taught first grade the past three years and have never taught middle school language arts before. Could I have a little guidance here?

Now, you might wonder what the big deal is about spelling tests and why I just can’t let this go. For me, the big deal is the difference between higher order thinking and lower level thinking based upon a little hierarchy of knowledge called Bloom’s Taxonomy. To simplify things, following you will find a diagram of Bloom’s Taxonomy. As you can see, “Remembering” is at the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy because it is the lowest level form of knowledge and remembering is exactly what a spelling test relies upon because a spelling test creates nothing new. Unlike the crowning glory at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy – creating -spelling tests are mere rote memory and do not require students to take information and create something new with it – which is the true test of a student understanding what they have learned.

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And this my friends is exactly why I hate giving spelling tests and why I have NEVER, EVER administered them to any of my previous students before working at my current school and why I have spent this entire blog ranting on about being called out for giving a spelling test when I don’t even want to giving them in the first place. Luckily, now I WILL NEVER HAVE TO GIVE A SPELLING TEST AGAIN! At least not while the current school board member who visited my class today has her way…

8th grader fathers himself

I’ve been teaching my middle school students friendly letter writing at the behest of my principal for future Santa letters. But, when I initially taught friendly letter writing today, I didn’t tell them about my ultimate Santa Letter goal. The first day of letter writing, I had students write letter telling me about their favorite genre of books and why it was their favorite genre. In addition, I asked them to write about what they previously liked best during language arts in order to use their ideas for engaging lesson plans. Why reinvent the wheel when my students can inform me how to best engage them during language arts?

As added incentive to write me a letter, I told them they could write a letter to anyone they wanted after they finished writing a letter to me. Hands shot up asking “My cousins in Puerto Rico?” “My mom who I don’t live with cause I can’t?” “Even someone in prison Ms. Wave?” Of course, I affirmed “YES ANYONE! This is your letter.”

Many wonderful letters were turned in but a profoundly touching letter was written by an 8th grade young man whom I can’t think of as a boy, or even a teenager, after reading his letter, so magnanimous and mature. Following is the letter word for word…

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Dear Father,

I want to thank you for taking care of me since I was little. I am grateful that you brought me into this world. And I have fun hanging out with you because we always telling jokes and going out places.

I’m also grateful for all my sisters and brothers, without them I wouldn’t know what to do. I like when we have family day out and we go to the movies and we all have a great time. I thank you for being me.

Sincerely,

Tyrone

The kicker in this letter is “Thank-you for being me.” Because as his teacher, who has previously read Tyrone’s reply to a prompt about taking on adult responsibilities, I know what you do not – he doesn’t have a father. He lives with his grandmother and siblings and actually is his own father because, as written in his own words: “I am the man of the house.”

When I read this letter I was felt so proud of him, such a wise young man. Then I began to cry – no 8th grader should have to be his own father and so many of my students aren’t an old soul like Tyrone, they really can’t be their own father nor write a letter to themselves in gratitude. I am so grateful I have the opportunity to work with this deep feeling young man. This is one of many reasons I teach…

NYTimes article on 90 minutes more of school per day via Dublin

A close friend from Ireland sent me an article from today’s NYTimes and her subject heading was, “ok, I know it’s not news to you, but thought you might like to read it” However, it was indeed news to me that teacher’s struggles here in Chicago were reaching the nation and the world through the NYTimes. Today’s blog is my gut reaction to the piece about how merely working 90 more minutes per day solves all our educational problems, or so says our new mayor…

Chicago’s Mayor Challenges Teachers Union

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/us/politics/rahm-emanuel-angers-teachers-union-over-longer-school-day.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha23

Greetings Alma,

OK, no it’s not news BUT I HAVE BEEN SO BUSY WORKING THIS PIECE WASN’T EVEN ON MY RADAR although the subject matter has been! Worked most of the day yesterday on school stuff including phone calls to all the homes of my 7th grade students. I had to call six homes about disruptive behavior yet decided to call all the homes to give positive feedback as well – there are so many smart, attentive students in that class I want them to be the leaders not the two fools who completely disrupt teaching and learning…

ARGH!!!!!!!!!!!! IF WE INCREASE THE SCHOOL DAY 90 MINUTES PR DAY I HAVE NO IDEA HOW I WILL COMPLETE THE OTHER 50% OF MY JOB! SINCE AUGUST I’VE BASICALLY HAD 4 – 5 HOURS OF SLEEP EACH NIGHT. LAST WEEK I WORKED 7 – 15 HOUR DAYS AND COULD HAVE EASILY WORKED MORE.

ON TOP OF THIS, OUR STUDENTS GET 10 MIIN FOR BREAKFAST – IN THE CLASSROOM WOLFING DOWN FOOD – THEN 20 MIN FOR LUNCH OFTEN TURNED TO 10 – 15 MIN DUE TO LONG LINES AND VARIOUS OTHER REASONS! TEACHERS TOO HAVE THIS MINIMAL TIME. WHEN I TAUGHT IN ANOTHER DISTRICT WE ALL HAD AN HOUR OFF AND TEACHERS WOULD HAVE TIME FOR MEETINGS, PROJECT COLLABORATION, AND, MOST IMPORTANTLY – CONVERSATIONS ABOUT STUDENTS. AND STUDENTS HAD TIME TO JUST BE KIDS PLAYING!

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I AM SICK TO DEATH OF HERDING CHILDREN FROM PLACE TO PLACE LIKE SHEEP! IT IS NOT HEALTHY AND THEY BECOME TOO HURRIED – OH BUT THAT IS WHAT WE ALL NEED TO DO IS JUST HURRY AND DO MORE TO MAKE THE WORLD BETTER. ARGH AND DOUBLE ARGH! COULD THIS BE PART OF THE REASON OUR CHILDREN SEEM TO HAVE ADHD? THEY REALLY HAVE NO TIME TO NURISH THEMSELVES BODILY LET ALONE THEIR MINDS AND SOULS. WITH NO TIME TO METABOLIZE WHAT THEY EAT HOW CAN THEY FOCUS AND REFLECT UPON WHAT THEY ARE LEARNING. MIND FOLLOWS BODY!.

SO YES, I AM ALL FOR LONGER DAYS BUT I WOULD LIKE TO B PAID PLEASE. WE WERE ASKED TO GIVE UP OUR RAISE LAST MAY AND NOW WE ARE BEING CALLED UPON TO WORK 1.5 HOURS MORE AND NOT BE PAID FOR IT! AND 15 MINUTE RECES MORNING AND AFTERNOON LIKE I HAD WHEN I WAS A KID AS WELL AS AT LEAST 30 MIN FOR LUNCH. OH! BUT THEN THERE WOULD HAVE TO BE PEOPLE PAID TO WATCH THEM! LONGR DAYS MEAN MORE MONEY AND WE’VE BEEN TOLD THERE ISNT ANY MORE MONEY TO PAY US MORE SO… HUH? This all makes very little sense to me, but little about CPS does.

OK ALma, thank-you so much for providing me the opportunity and inspiration for my blog today. Hope to have it come out SOON…

xoxoxox,

Margo

PS – HOW ARE YOU? How are things across the pond?

School inferno

Having sworn this blog would not be a place to just kvetch and complain did not take into consideration I’d be working in 100 degree plus weather lugging supplies, heavy books, and furniture! IT WAS BEYOND MERELY HOT ALL WEEK WITH TEMPERATURES EXCEEDING 100 degrees!

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It has been brutal: without air-conditioning my classroom has felt like a blast furnace with temps inside the school surpassing the heat outside – those ancient brick building sure hold in the heat! Older suburban schools without AC, which are already in session, cancelled classes calling the summer version of a snow day: HIGH HEAT DAY NO SCHOOL! However, our urban students have never been grated such a reprieve, I guess the powers that be assume most of the inner city students attending public school don’t have AC at home so they might as well be at school sweating? We teachers preparing our classrooms for students next week have had no choice – being in our classrooms has been a necessity.

To give you an idea about how hot it has felt – just sitting at a computer was a sweaty endeavor and at one point sweat was dripping onto my keyboard when I decided to take a break at my desk. If mere typing was this uncomfortable you can imagine the amount of schfitzing involved when lugging materials around a classroom as well as moving boxes from my previous classroom, on the first floor of the school, up six flights of stairs to the third floor, where my new classroom is located.

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Luckily my partner humped most the boxes up the stairs after I sprained my knee trying to move things up six flights myself earlier in the week. Needless to say he was drenched in sweat after his first trip up the stairs with a crate of books! Guess I’ll add day laborer to the long job list of rolls I play being a public school teacher in a funding-light inner city school…

Heat addled inspiration as I prepare my room for students

Went into school today – Saturday – leaving my home at 7:30 As I envisioned my room with boxes of books on all the desks and things scattered from ‘hell to breakfast’ as my late grandfather Anderson would have said. “Suck it up!” I coached myself as I lugged my body around to the front of the school to be buzzed in. (Our school is located at a heavily trafficked inner city intersection where there were many shootings this past year due to gentrification and the accompanying turf warfare. But more on this later…)

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After being ringing the buzzer, my principal met me at the locked school doors saying, albeit with a smile on her face, “I was just emailing you. Your room is a mess with boxes of books on all the desks.”

I looked at her sleepily and shot back jokingly, “Tell me something I don’t know! Why do you think I’m here?”

After I trudged up four flights of stairs to the third floor feeling exhausted I realized I felt panicked – my principal was right – I had so much left to do! As I ‘went at it like I was killing snakes’ I coached myself to prioritize and get the things done I needed to for Monday morning and let the rest go reminding myself what the only experienced principal I have ever worked with once told me “Do what you can and what you cannot do go without. Our jobs are never done.” Then I focused on what I needed to get done. Glad I have his realistic, empowering voice of experience reminding me to do what I can and let the rest go…

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As I sweatily unpacked box after box of books, files, and supplies packed away last June I ruminated upon that principal – the only experienced principal I’ve had the opportunity to work with. He was a great teacher of teachers, a wonderful manager who always supported his staff in whatever way he could. The one thing I remember most about him is the casual, early morning meetings he held once a week for whomever wanted to attend. He jokingly called them his ‘fireside chats’ because we all just sat around and talked about whatever was bothering us.

He would have a theme for each week always based upon issues he knew were on the minds of his staff – he was a great listener and always knew just what needed to be addressed with his teachers. As I have changed districts due to various moves I have yearned for another principal like him: he had over twenty years of experience as a principal, as did his assistant principal, and since that time every principal I’ve had was a newbie principal with one or two years of experience. But, unlike the newbies I have worked for, he never forgot what it was like to be a teacher and he told us he always tired to be the principal he always wished he had the opportunity to work for.

Filling shelves, I began to envision how I would teach my middle school students as I would have wanted to have been taught when I was an adolescent: to have firm boundaries but given more freedom and opportunities to work on my own with my peers. To have a sense of humor in the face of having my authority challenged, because that is what adolescents do – challenge authority in order to begin to break away and make choices for themselves; create fun, active projects to engage them in grammar and extended responses; to develop teacher-student relationships to nurture them while at the same time set high standards for them to achieve; and to fill my students with the confidence that comes from being taught where they are at, not by rote as I filled the shelves, but with insight my favorite, wise, experienced principal once did for me when I was a beginning teacher.

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Fear of not having time to write…

Today I woke up even earlier than yesterday – I awoke at 3:00am even more overwhelmed thinking of all I have to do in preparation for students in my classroom with ideas and tasks to complete ricocheting around my heat-addled brain. Did I mention the fact our school lacks central air conditioning and temps have soared to over 100 degrees inside our ancient, brick-insulated school? I vaguely remember mentioning this yesterday but I am unable to rally the energy to look back at my last blog! It’s especially hot on the third floor. So exhausted I can’t even write more… AGAIN! I hope I will be able to actually continue this blog. The tech-guy whose company is helping me design and implement this blog told me most people start a blog yet slowly let it wane: I hope not to let my wring dribble into nothing…