Friday, May 29, 2009

All of a sudden, it seems like it is over. We have one more week, 2 full days and 3 halves... but today, I realized, like someone had kicked me in the gut, that these kids are moving on. They won't be mine anymore.

One of the last rites of passage in my room is the turning over of the chalk. I have white boards front and back of the room, and a chalk board along the side wall. I never use the chalk board for anything other than hanging student work on. I don't allow students to just write on the white boards for the heck of writing. Markers and cleaner is too expensive, and to be honest, I hate the mess. But near the end of the year, I drag out the boxes of pastel chalks and hand the chalk board over to the kids to write and draw at will. They can do whatever they want up there so long as they are not mean to each other and it is school appropriate. Some years they write notes to each other, other years, a huge mural emerges. This year, so far, mostly it is little notes to me. It is funny how they can pour out so much emotion in a line or two written in chalk.

Next week will be tough on everyone. The cleaning of the lockers, the last math lessons of the year, the final social studies presentations.... the sad goodbyes.

and another group will be coming in.... "the worst group to ever go through 6th grade...." those teachers profess, just like every year.....

and I look at those faces in the hall, the ones who all know my name..... and look forward to another year!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Back to school for the home stretch... a 4 day week this week and 2 full days next, followed by 3 half days. Wow, then it is over! It already feels like it is over with camp behind us. Camp was great this year, absolutely great. The kids were wonderful, the counselors even better. The weather cooperated for a change!

The best part of camp is getting to see the kids in a different setting and them seeing their teachers in a new role. New leaders among the students emerge when put into new situations. I am amazed at how some of them step up and take charge when there are boxes to haul, litter to pick up, or floors to mop. Quite frequently, it is the ones who are not strong academically who rise to the occasions at camp.

Part of the reason camp was outstanding this year was the massive volume of students who did not attend. Of the 81 7th graders, we took 49 to camp. Of the 32 left behind, about 20 were "not invited" to attend, due to a variety of problems, from frequent detentions to more serious issues - drugs, stealing, alcohol, etc...

It bothers me we cannot take every student along for the experience, because I truly feel this bonding time with the larger group is critical to their future success in school. Camp seems to be a turning point for many students, a place where they can be accepted by their peers as truly being a part of the larger picture. There is just something about sleeping in the same cabin, eating meals together family style, the bus ride, the playing in the water, the goofy classes.... that brings kids together in an entirely new way.
So if being a part of the group is so important, how can we justify not taking all students along? That is the part of the controversy I struggle with often. Is camp a right or a privilege? Do we dare take along all students when some of them would jeopardize the experience for others? How do we decide who is worthy of going and who isn't? We have tried many times to set ground rules to follow but it always seems there is an exception to every black and white line we draw.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The controversy surrounding Accelerated Reader baffles me. Many say this program kills students' intrinsic motivation to read independently. I just don't see it. We have used AR at our school about 8 years now. As I watch my homeroom reading during the half hour slot set aside each day for this purpose, I know students are reading more than ever. Kids are excited about books, authors, series. They talk about books. They beg to go to library together so one can check out the book the other is turning in. The dig through my shelves trying to find one more book by Gary Paulsen or Jean Craighead George.

Our program has seen many changes. Some years, we have awarded prizes for different levels of points earned. Others we simply have students working towards their goal. The prizes seem to make little/no difference in their motivation. Students this year are simply reading, reading for enjoyment, reading for pleasure, reading.... Isn't that wonderful??

Certainly, some students do not read, never make their goal, seldom take a test.... but I see more students than ever choosing to read, choosing to take a book home, utitizing the library.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sitting quietly while my students take their GLAD test gives me too much time to sit and think, looking at them, trying to do their best as they click buttons on the computers, pressing keys on calculators, scribbling on scrap paper, and looking nervously at the clock.

Some students are trying their very hardest; others will simply click through the questions, choosing random answers in order to finish as quickly as possible. Some of the ones who try the hardest will do the worst. They either do not have the skills to be successful, or have missed so much school this year, or in the past, there are gaps in their achievement. Of the ones clicking quickly, a fair number will be successful, scoring in the top tier among their peers, out of luck occasionally, but more often, due to their natural mathematical abilities.

I wish I could somehow cloak them with a superhero type cape, giving them all my own mathematical knowledge, protecting them from making careless errors. I want to know what they really do KNOW, what they really can DO, what they really have learned from our time together.

Of course, right now, even as a type my blog, the questions are coming. JG who wants me to help him with every question, despite me repeatedly telling him he must do this on his own. MN who did not bother to make sure he had power for his laptop before begining the test, despite my reminder to do that. He keeps hopping from power cord to power cord, with no success, because the group ahead of him did not make sure the connections were complete. And, now SL is done, and feels the need to tell the girl across from him, who is still taking her test, that she has something on her nose.

I wish the powers that be could be here today, watching, and seeing the true validity, or lack thereof, in these tests.....

Friday, May 08, 2009

Tick tock, tick tock... let the countdown of days begin. It seems once the weather finally breaks, some well meaning teacher starts posting the "how many days of school are left" numbers. I really wish they wouldn't do that. As soon as the first number goes up, the kids chalk up the school year to being done, and start thinking about summer.

Myself, I am in a panic, thinking about all the many things I need to cover yet, all the topics I wanted to revisit with students, and all the fun activities I swore we'd do at the end of the year when the weather got nice.

We are at the point in the year where I really honestly like the kids, I know them, quirks, strengths, weaknesses, and all, and like them in spite of, or more likely because of those things. We have worked through the honeymoon period where I liked them because they were new, we've plodded through the time in the middle of the winter where I was tired and frustrated with the things they couldn't do, their misbehaviors, and their rambling stories, and we've gotten to the point where we know each other well. My classroom expectations are ingrained in them. They know what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. They are working hard because they want to be successful and want to please me. They are learning because they have seen how it all comes together to explain questions they've been asking.

And I become melancholy... thinking about letting them go to 8th grade, and starting over again with a new group, "the worst group we've seen in a long time". (Isn't it funny how the 6th grade says THAT every year, about every group....)

But then, a 6th grader smiles at me in the hall, and says, "I get to have YOU for math next year!" and suddenly, I realize... it's all going to be OK. By this time next year, I will be sad again.... contemplating letting another group move on.