Monthly Archives: March 2014

Sneaking Around

While everyone is watching Dumb and Dumber, for the umpteenth time, I sneak away to write my slice for today. And, as I do, I realize that I am often sneaking away to do something or other while everyone else is otherwise occupied.

In the wee hours of the morning, I sneak out of bed to do some work. Work. That is my catch all term for school work and doctoral work.

While my son is in his piano or art class, I sneak away to the bookstore for a few moments of browsing through the shelves.

While everyone else eats cafeteria food, I sneak away to the corner sandwich place by myself. It’s my time to meditate and ruminate the day.

While my son and husband are in the pool, I sneak away for a mani-pedi. (Is that OK to say on a serious teacher blog??)

While my students are doing independent reading, I sneak around to observe their reading positions, what they’re reading, and how engaged they seem to be. Then, I confer with them, one-on-one, about what they’re reading.

When my students are in the “flow” of reading and writing, I sneak away and let them be. Later, I come back to talk, listen, learn, and teach.

Sneaking away and around is a good thing.
It gives me an escape,
lets me observe what’s going on around me,
before I act.

Cross posted to March Slice of Life, Day #30.

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Another Busy Saturday

Just another busy Saturday.

I got up early.
I was in and out of the house several times during the day,
I’m almost ready to go to sleep.
It’s close to 10:00 p.m.
I don’t have much energy to post anything long or too complex.

Maybe just that I’m upset about the lack of progress
on the house we’re building;
there are some things we’re not happy about,
including how long everything is taking.
Plus, the money we’ve spent.
And, we’re not done yet.

We need to be patient but firm.
We need to demand what we envisioned
and were promised.

Makes me sad in a way.
Our dream house.
Maybe the last house we’ll build or own.
The house we’ve been talking about for the past 8 years or so.
That house that got interrupted when we moved to Canada.
Now, it needs to happen.

We’ll make it happen.

Cross posted to March Slice of Life Challenge, Day #29.

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Small. Inconveniences

No internet again. Writing on my iPhone but not enjoying it at all. I had plans to continue my series of posts on assessment tonight but it’s not going to happen. Just checking in so I don’t miss a slice day. I guess this is my slice – a regular part of what my life is like living in a developing country. I can live with these small interruptions because the benefits are so much greater. Hopefully, by tomorrow there will be wifi and I can slice on my laptop. 

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Who is responsible for making sure students learn?

Over the next few days, I am going to try to respond to some of the questions I posed in yesterday’s post about assessment. You can read that post here. I don’t pretend to have all the answers to these questions but ruminating about them allows me to consider some possible solutions or points of view. I invite readers of this blog to engage in this conversation with me. 

I also want to acknowledge my PLN – #sblchat – for bold discussions on standards based grading and learning that are enriching my thinking about assessment.

Whose responsibility is it to make sure students learn? 
Is it the responsibility of parents? 
Teachers?
Students?
Or, perhaps a combination of two or more of the above?


The short answer to this question is: everyone who touches the life of a child is responsible for his or her learning. This includes the child, of course. However, when it comes to learning in schools there is no doubt in my mind that the primary person responsible for a child’s learning is the teacher herself. 

As the more expert learner in the room, it is the teacher’s responsibility to do everything she can to make sure that students learn. 

It means puzzling over a child who isn’t learning according to expectations, however this is defined. 

It means trying out many different ways to reach a child who poses a challenge to the teacher either through resistance or something else.
It means dispensing with blame and looking for solutions. 

It means seeking the help of colleagues, if necessary.

It means not giving up on a child.

It means withholding judgements about aptitude, family life, etc.

It means recognizing what a child brings into the classroom and capitalizing on that in order to be a better teacher to that child.

It means that if a child “fails” then the teacher has failed also. And, the teacher needs to determine what went wrong in order to improve her teaching.

Teaching is an intriguing profession. There’s no teacher’s guide that can address the many needs and peculiarities of a classroom full of individual students. A teacher who abides by a one-size-fits-all mentality cannot meet the needs of her students. In fact, every teacher needs to be many different teachers depending on the child. 

I think this is what some people miss when talking about differentiation. It’s not only about adapting tasks to different levels of understanding or skills. It’s about knowing each student so well that the teacher is able to change her strategies according to the needs of her students.

Some teachers can’t do this; I’m beginning to think they should be coached out of teaching. 

Since schools are places of learning for adults and children alike, teachers cannot abdicate this responsibility. Students need teachers who are learners, first and foremost.   

As Carol Ann Tomlinson said in the foreword to Rick Wormeli’s book on differentiation: ‘look for the learners in your school and become their friends.’
(Please note that this is paraphrased since I don’t have a copy of the book with me at the moment.) 

Cross posted to March Slice of Life Challenge, Day #27.



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Filed under #sblchat, assessment, differentiation, learning, PLN, responsibility, Rick Wormeli, standards based grading, standards based learning

Questions on Assessment

In my conversations with teachers, and in no particular order, the following questions keep coming up. Some questions are borne out of a deep frustration with practices that are not working, and with students that don’t do school the way teachers think they should. 

I offer these questions as food for thought. In future posts, I will attempt to answer them from my current perspective as a middle school ESL teacher. 

I welcome comments on any of these questions including new questions that need to be addressed.

Whose responsibility is it to make sure students learn? 
Is it the responsibility of parents? 
Teachers?
Students?
Or, perhaps a combination of two or more of the above?

What should teachers do to prepare students for an upcoming assessment? Is that even the right question to ask?

Is it enough to have students review material before a test? 

What does that mean exactly?
Should teachers provide study guides?


If a teacher provides a study guide, with time in class for review, and provides a practice test that is exactly the same as the real test with some parts slightly changed, such as the numbers on a math test, is the teacher then absolved of all responsibility?

Are retakes OK? All the time? Some of the time? Under certain conditions? For full credit?

Are partner quizzes OK? How should they be scored? What is the purpose of partner quizzes? Quizzes in general? For formative purposes? As a summative grade?

What role do/can/should students play in their own assessment?

How do we shift from a focus on punishment to a focus on learning?

And, we come back full circle, if a student doesn’t meet our expectations, who is responsible? 

Can we teach in a different way to help our students learn better?

Who is responsible for student learning? 
And, what does that mean exactly?? 
Who is learning? Only the student? Just the teacher? Both?
Who is responsible? Only the student? Just the teacher? Both?
What’s the learning to be done? 
Who decides that?

Who is responsible for making sure students learn?

Are we coddling students? (Some teachers really want to know the answer to this one.)

Can we truly make students learn? (This is not a trick question.)
And, what should happen when they don’t?

You’d think that we’d have figured this out by now.

Cross posted to March Slice of Life Challenge, Day #26.

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Another Challenge

In January, two new 6th grade students enrolled in my school.
Both are beginner ESOL students.
One studied English in her native country and the other one attended an international school here before transferring to my school.
They’re both making progress.
Student A is outgoing and a risk taker.
Student B is shy and doesn’t like to speak in English too much.
Today student A was arguing, in a respectable way, with the math teacher about a problem she missed on a quiz. Arguing!

#evaluatethat

In the end, we realized that the issue wasn’t the math; the teacher and my student basically agreed.
The issue was how the problem was worded. Although I could see how it could be interpreted to mean one thing, I could also see how my student read this problem because I read it in exactly the same way.
This incident demonstrates that learning a language is an amalgam of nuanced experiences and encounters that go beyond memorizing vocabulary or knowing how to use punctuation appropriately.

My student used her emerging English skills to argue her case and in my view, she won; I would have given her credit for the problem.

All of this is making me wonder how to get student B to be as bold. Is it just a personality difference between the two girls? Or is it that student B is not as passionate about learning another language as student A? Or maybe I haven’t found the hook that will motivate my student to take greater initiative as an English language learner? And, as I write this, I remember that student B loves to read. I need to capitalize on that and engage her further by providing guided opportunities for conversations.

Recently, an administrator said that I had my work cut out for me when observing my students writing at the computer, and I agree. But, it’s not about teaching grammar or the conventions of the English language, which are anything but conventional. My work is to discover what topics interest my students and use that to guide them to using English to learn.

Thinking about this challenge rejuvenates me as a teacher.

More on this another time.

Cross posted to March Slice of Life Challenge, Day #25.

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Challenges

Today I read a post about not letting challenges get in the way of who we want to become or what we want to accomplish. In fact, according to the writer, challenges are the way to claim necessary changes, and to face our fears.

Yet, sometimes it feels like I overcome challenges, and then a little time later I am faced with new challenges that need to be addressed. But, I need to remind myself that challenges are not obstacles placed in my way to obstruct my path. Rather, challenges are what will get me to the next stage of my life, the next great project, the next dream realized.

Challenges to what I want are the ones I should welcome.

Challenges will make me stronger though it may not seem that way at first.

Knowing that I am deserving of whatever big dream I have right now, is what’s going to push me forward. Welcoming the challenges is the icing on the cake.

Cross posted to March Slice of Life Challenge, Day #24.

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