Exploration and Discovery

Exploration and Discovery
The Outdoor Classroom

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

one good lesson makes for a great day

In the middle of a four day sub job with no lesson plans- unexpected absence and illness- during CST testing I decided to take a little control and do a lesson based on where the kids were in their anthology and Language Arts when I stepped in. We had read a story called Thunder Cakes in their anthology (great story by Patricia Pollacco who I love) on Monday and not done much to follow up on it. When I looked through the Houghton Mifflin teacher's guide and the practice book it emphasized the words with an -ed and an -ing ending. Short mini lesson in their book about the rules surrounding this. I had the kids do a second reading working in pairs and try and find as many -ed and ing- word endings as they could in the text. One partner was the secretary and the other student spelled the word from the text to the person writing. OMG- we worked steady for about  30-40 minutes before we were done and had a list of 53 ed words and 7 ing words from the text itself.  All the rules were represented by the text and there were some beautiful new vocabulary words like glistening and cooing. I LOVE seeing students engaged and having fun and learning without trying. I felt so successful and when we did the compiled list on the board and talked about the different rules the kid's volunteered their own examples of the rules. I cannot describe how quickly and seamlessly it all flowed. I assigned a practice book page that would have taken me twice as long to explain as do following this "exercise" and they blasted through- no explanation necessary because they had already done it in a REAL text. so gratifying.

Now the rest of the day was a little more challenging, but I try and remind myself this is my first year, not my classroom, and I HAD SUCCESS0 keep the focus on that. How did I get it? BY being prepared and setting a clear objective.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

and then today....

I was on a panel at SF State today. My student adviser, Dr. Isabel Quita, asked me if I would be available to answer questions from 2nd semester students in the credential program about what it was like after you got your credential, began subbing, and how hard is it to get a job,,,etc etc etc. There were two other people on the panel- a teacher from Berkeley, a black male (always grateful to see a man of color as an educator!) who it turns out I knew from my previous incarnation as a chef, and a woman who had been a principal for 10 years in the district and returned to the classroom, to her love, in a Spanish immersion 3rd grade.

I was blown away by her, after so many years of teaching and being at the helm, she was still reinventing her classroom, and learning, and reaching out. SO INSPIRING! I hope that I can do that...keep it alive, no matter how long, or how many hats I wear. I, once again, felt so fortunate to have the luxury to be subbing and volunteering and making contact with educators all over the city, learning from their experience and seeing what is REALLY out there, in the trenches, happening in the classroom every day.

I will never be able to be an immersion teacher, I think I can say that with some knowledge that my ability with Spanish or French will never land me a job in a bilingual environment, and I do think the environment of an immersion classroom will always be different in part because the children and the families CHOOSE to be there- so there is a fair level of commitment going in/ but, that said, kids are kids and a teacher with commitment, dedication, and systems that work is still an invaluable resource. SO ..I will be volunteering in that classroom as soon as I can find a day to go over and make it happen. What a gift!

WOW! What do you do when your class is WILD?!!?

I was working as a Special Ed para yesterday and found myself in a classroom where the two kids I was assigned to were really quite manageable compared to most of the other students! There were kids that were outright defiant, several ADHD boys walking around and bouncing out of their seats, one had this need to spin two pencils in his hands as he walked around that must have been calming to him, and a couple of girls that talked nonstop, despite repeated warnings and having their seats changed. I was impressed at the teachers calm and persistence. She never yelled, went around and reminded kids who were NOT doing what they should what they SHOULD be doing, but meanwhile helping the kids that were actually trying to do the work. I could not imagine facing this same situation day after day, week after week, for an entire school year. I had the opportunity to talk briefly with the teacher about how she dealt with it and her answer was that she just kept trying. She planned good lessons, she tried to remain calm and consistent, and she gave them a chance everyday, all day, to get in to something.

When I came back into this same classroom later in the day she was modeling a How To writing assignment by showing the kids How To make fresh squeezed lemonade- they were mesmerized, excited, engaged. They were writing in the sheet as she modeled (all but one student who was spinning his pencils) and each got a turn to come up and squeeze a lemon into the pitcher. When the writing was done, and the lemonade made and drunk (it was delicious!), the kids starting going back to wild...only a few of them were beginning to think about what their How To would be about or how to describe what they were doing.

But for 15-20 minutes this teacher was teaching and the kids were engaged and appreciative. And that is what keeps her going, knowing that every day, or maybe once every few days, it happens...the kids are receptive and calm enough to engage and get excited about what they are doing.

This is a veteran teacher. She has a bag of management tools and years of experience. She has been successful at bringing students through year after year, learning and acquiring what they need to go on and be successful in subsequent grades. She has an impossible situation this year, there should be at least three adults in this classroom and a number of the students need services who are not getting them. But rather than standing at the front of the class yelling for order (which she says she has tried but to no effect and it just leaves her feeling terrible about her own teaching) she just keeps trying. I imagine a sailboat with a changing wind constantly re-tacking and trying to make progress without capsizing.

This is why subbing is a key part of my education. I can see that every child is different, every situation is different, and that I will always be learning and reevaluating, reflecting and adapting- I am impressed by teachers that are still learning after 20 years in their jobs to be responsive to the group of children in front of them NOW...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cooking Class Today

As a fundraiser for CSS I offer my chef skills up for bid and teach a class to 5 or 6 adults. The menu requested was a brunch menu so we will be making Chicken Apple Sausage in Brioche with a Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce, Mixed Greens with Mandarin Oranges, Black Olives, Red Onions, and Pistachios in a Balsamic Vinagirette, Chocolate Fondue with Assorted Fruits and Shortbread Cookies. As I pull the menu together, test out the recipes, write them up, and then insure that I have all the ingredients and equipment I will need assembled for the class, it dawns on me that I have been doing lesson planning for years...why does it seem different or more official or more worrisome for a classroom of younger students?
Maybe it is because of the OUTCOME of not anticipating every possible need- the kids need me to be better prepared than the adults I am teaching do...It is more than the subject or object of the lesson; it is the drum beat that keeps the flow of the class moving and engaged. That is what I am planning for in the classroom- maintaining an order and some semblance of calm.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Motivational Find as I was Prepping for the Next Class

“What a Garden Can Teach Us”
adapted from “What the Prairie Teaches Us” by Paul Grunchow

Young garden plants put down deep roots first;
only when these have been established
do the plants invest much energy in growth above ground.
A garden can teach us
that the work that matters doesn’t always show.
Diversity makes the garden resilient.
The garden can teach us to see
our own living arrangements as stingy
and to understand that his miserliness is why
They so frequently fall short of our expectations.
The garden is a community.
It is a dynamic alliance of organisms depending upon each other.
When too few remain, the community loses its vitality and all perish together.
The garden can teach us
            that our strength is in our neighbors.
The garden is patient.
The garden can teach us
to save our energies for the opportune moment.
The garden grows richer as it ages.
The garden can teach us
to be competitive without being destructive.
The garden is tolerant.
The garden can teach us
to see the virtue of ideas not our own
        and the possibilities that new-comers bring.

The garden turns adversity to advantage.
The garden can teach us
to consider the uses that may be made of our setbacks.
The garden is bountifully utilitarian.
But it is lovely too.
That is what, over all else, the garden can teach us:
there need be no contradiction
between utility and beauty.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Garden Class Debrief

I had been expecting 16 students and was a little nervous that that would be too many students for the space, but we had a few no shows and the class went VERY well. I was so glad that I had planned out beyond the first class because one hour was a lot more time than I had figured so we started some of the explorations I had planned for the second class...now I'll have a better sense of how capable the kids are as I plan future classes. Usually just putting on the gloves takes 15 minutes, but I had an assistant I wasn't expecting and there are more second grade kids than kinders so they could help the younger ones as well. We lucked out on the weather- I will have to build two plans in case the weather forces us indoors or just have one or two lessons at the ready for inclement weather.

The KWL chart was great. The kids know quite a bit since Hedda is so spectacular and the 2nd graders are old pros by now. But the W part was my favorite- they had GREAT questions...like how does a plant "use" the sunlight ( they knew a plant needed water, air, soil and sunlight to live and they could understand how it accessed the water and the nutrients from the soil but weren't so sure about the sunlight)...a lesson will be built to explore this for sure.

At the end of the class we regrouped and filled in the L part of the chart. My objective had been for the kids to understand that what we call dirt is actually soil and it is pretty complicated stuff. It has nutrients, it is alive and it affects the health of the plant. One kid said it perfectly when I asked what they had learned that day, that "not all soils are the same", some are dark and crumbly and some are hard like clay. Success!

The observation game was good- it would have been a little easier with kids of the same grade level or age group because the little kids didn't always get that what they changed had to be visible. With practice I can see making this a good team building or fun rainy day activity in the classroom.

All in all the class went well...and the garden looks a heck of a lot better already from all those eager weed pullers. WE FOUND A LOT OF WORMS!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Afterschool Garden Class starts Tomorrow

I will be leading a one hour class for the next six weeks after school at CSS. I am doing this through the YMCA after school program and the training I have had to take to be an employee for them is impressive. Seems like I should have had to have similar training to be a credentialed teacher, but maybe I will when I get REALLY hired by the district. The child abuse and how to prevent child molestation trainings were haunting and enlightening. 1 in 4 girls is molested and 1 in 8 boys is molested. 60% of the time it is someone they know; 30% of the time it is a family member. Took my breath away and led to an intimate Q&A with my boys I should probably have had years ago.

Anyway, after all that, I am still looking forward to the class! Especially if the weather stays so spring like for the next few days. I have planned the first five weeks of the class out on paper, breaking each hour long class into fifteen minute time segments and trying to get a sense of what we can accomplish at each session.

First class will involve name tags and a look ahead at what we will be doing, what do plants need to live and thrive (a KWL chart), what do gardeners need- tools and keen observation. I will go over the tools and how to handle them, lay down the safety guidelines and then we will play an observation game. The kids line up in two lines facing each other. The kids will look at each other and try to notice everything they can, both lines will turn around with backs to each other, one line will change something very subtle- ring on opposite hand, untie shoelace, change hair slightly- and the kids will turn back to face each other and try and identify what changed. Then we will walk around the garden and have the kids make observations, documenting what they notice- end of the class is filling in the L part of the KWL chart. And the following week we have the list of observations to start with to see if anything has changed. I feel good about the class - we'll see how it REALLY goes. Ah, the difference between the plan and realty.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Touch of Greatness

Just watched the most inspiring documentary on Netflix Instant Queue. This teacher, Albert Cullum, was a rare breed and a visionary. Actually he was "just" a gifted, transcendent teacher, but his courage to be different and to elicit the best in kids is (was) remarkable. My cynical self kept wanting to focus on his effeminacy and question his motives, but the longer I watched and listened to his former students speak, about their memories and how they felt in his class, the more I wanted to know how I could be this nurturing and enabling a teacher.

I had the same reaction to reading Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire...these are teachers who go well above and beyond their classroom commitment... I am sure that I will do that, it is how I am wired...but I worry about finding creative, highly intellectually stimulating projects that kids will embrace and be engaged by. I wonder if these teachers worried about the standards or meeting academic requirements. I know there must be a way to do both, but I think the key lies in my knowing the required curriculum inside and out and finding my own passion in it.

Reading Doug Lemov's book Teach Like a Champion and watching this film I noticed how many of the "key ideas" Mr. Cullum demonstrated ...recapping what the student said using rich vocabulary, asking a student what they meant by a certain thing and having them rephrase it better, asking a student to explain WHY they thought something not just taking the answer flat out. A natural. What he wanted to be was an actor, and teaching was his avenue and stage and he was a star. He credits Dewey for the school of thought that the teacher is really there to open the door, but the classroom belongs to the student. I have not read enough about Dewey and think that is the next road to follow.