Grading Notebooks Yes or No? Archived Post 8,5.11

(Originally posted 8/5/11)
Ay….the debate over notebooks and binders is about as long-winded as the debate over grading participation!!

In the last (almost) 30 years, I have tried it all..from detailed checks, grades and checklists, to nothing. My observation is this:

1. Think of your instruction first. What do students need to have their hands on IN CLASS and how do they get access to it?

Truth is…in most TPRS classrooms, there is very little need to refer to a notebook for most of the class.

2. Think of homework next. What do students need to have their hands on in order to do the homework and how do they get access to it?

That will depend on how you approach homework.

Other than those two questions, the binder has nothing to do with language acquisition.

Now….if you believe that is a teacher’s responsibility to help them with organization etc…then you have the professional freedom to incorporate that into your program!

What I am learning is this: It’s easy to be out of touch with how kids organize these days if you are not of the techie generation. (You are!! I’m not!!) Students keep track of things on Iphones and Blackberries, not the little books schools have been handing out for decades. Students and parents are always checking online to find out what assignments are and looking for papers that the kids didn’t bring home.

It might be a better use of teacher time (depending on your students) to post papers and assignments on line than to check and grade binders.

Truth be told…very little is kept in a “hard copy” anywhere these days so it’s possible that the keeping and grading of binders will soon be (if it isn’t already) ridiculously obsolete.

As teachers (and former star students) we LOVE binders and notebooks and collecting lists and stories and keeping them for years and years. Because we love that, we mistakenly believe that that helped us to be language learners.

So in my long-winded way….here is my suggestion:

Before school really kicks off, ask yourself how important is it FOR ACQUISITION for your students to keep a beautiful (or not) binder? And follow that answer to it’s logical conclusion.

If you believe that it is important, but the kids rarely seem to pull it off…then maybe some out-of-the-box solutions are required:

*smaller composition books for “Do Nows”, Vocab, Freewrites etc. kept in plastic dishpans from the dollar store in the back of the room.

*a shelf set aside for binder storage for students who would be better off with a copy at home and at school.

* Buddy binders where students share. (I have kids every year who ask someone else to carry the important things for them)

Whew…ok…that got long but there it is! Enjoy the days you have left and I wish you a great beginning of the year!!!

with love,
Laurie

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On Perfectionism Archived Post 1.9.11

(Pat Barret asked a question on perfectionism in January of 2011…and of course the post with that question has disappeared. The answer below can stand alone though I think. Originally posted 1/9/11)

Just my thoughts on this one Pat…

Perfectionism is the perfect mask (pun intended). It creates a wall between us and others that is nearly impossible to break down. If I am building the wall, I will choose to be a perfectionist about the things that I am best at. (and I learned to do this so that I would be loved, appreciated or at the very least not punished. I have built my entire sense of worth and self-worth around it. )

I can appear to be in control (and I think I am) I can be better than others. (because I learned early on to divide the world into two categories: those who are good enough and those who aren’t). I instantly know how to deal with others. ( see last parenthetical reference lol) If you are perfect also, then I am right. If you are not perfect then I am right. Life is perfect; I’m always right. I never have to deal with my fears and I never address any inadequacies I might have hidden deep inside.

Perfectionists are, at heart, scared to death. However, the longer you live as a perfectionist, the less you remember and deal with those fears. It is also a very lonely, lonely life. But for most perfectionists, it is a price that they are more than willing to pay. Their paradigm is self-fulfilling. If I have high standards, then that is why people don’t like me…because they don’t have high standards. If they don’t have high standards, I don’t want to be around them. I’d rather be alone….at least that is what their paradigm tells them…repeatedly.

Perfectionism is extremely hard to cure for that reason alone. I truly believe that most perfectionists are petrified and miserable, but living in a self-created world that controls not only their own lives but seeks to control the lives of others so that no one, ever, will put them (the perfectionists) in a position to have to address any of their fears. What they fear most is not being good enough.

Because they have put people into two distinct categories: good enough and not good enough; the perfectionists are completely alone. The other ‘good enough” people are not really, inside, like them at all….because perfectionists never ever let go of the inner realization that they are not perfect (have I said that this is primarily an affliction of folks who are intelligent by nature?) They will gravitate towards other perfectionists (hence the poisonous atmosphere at lunch in the faculty room…) but only long enough to remind each other that their way of life is the best.

Spending too much time with other perfectionists is dangerous…it makes people worry that they aren’t as good as other perfectionists. (perfectionists rank EVERYTHING. it is how their paradigm functions….hmmm life within a grading system no?) They will spend time with lesser mortals to remind themselves that the lesser folks are just that..somewhere underneath them in the ‘system” ….but extended time has negative consequences as well: a) they are reminded too often that imperfect people exist b) it tries their patience to have to deal with lesser/lazier/dumber/fatter/poorer etc. folks.

I humbly admit that I have my perfectionistic tendencies. :o) TPRS has been a saving grace for me (as has flylady.net which is where I really started to understand perfectionism…) My heart goes out to perfectionists…and to those who have to survive living with them. :o)

Sadly, schools are a haven for them. Schools create, honor and perpetuate the myth and hand out masks as rewards.

with love,
Laurie

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Thank You Mrs. Zengerle! Archived Post 5.7.13

(Originally posted 5/7/13)

Thank you Mrs. Zengerle…for accepting me…

Mrs. Zengerle was my first grade teacher and I have absolutely no idea what she looked like. All of my memories of her are of what she allowed me to do and who she allowed me to be.

Mrs. Zengerle let me help anyone in the class who wanted a partner instead of assigning me one.

She let me read whatever books I wanted instead of staying with the reading group. She let me create a four-box diorama when everyone else made a one box diorama. She didn’t make fun of me when I brought in clean underwear for my friend Deanna to wear because she didn’t have any.

Mrs. Zengerle let me climb on the top of the monkey bars even though I got too scared to come down and the principal had to come and get me.

Mrs. Zengerle had rules, don’t get me wrong. And there were consequences for students who didn’t follow them. But I was an obsessive rule-follower. I was a worrier and a classic over-achiever.

And Mrs. Zengerle “got” me. She saw the strengths and the weaknesses of a six-year old and honored them both.

I practiced saying her name for weeks before school started, and then, within minutes of the start of the school day I found out that I had been practicing it WRONG all along. I was in tears. I know…a bit silly from an adult perspective…but I had wanted her to like me, and so I was very careful to say

Hello Mrs. Zengerle (Zen-girl-y)!!! VERY LOUDLY when I came into the room. She came over and read my name tag and hugged me and told me how glad she was that I was in her class.

When she said, “Good morning class, I’m Mrs. Zengerle (Sang-earl) ” I cried silent tears of embarrassment for having mispronounced her name. I was sure that she must hate me. But of course, she did not. She didn’t even mention my mistake. It wasn’t long before I realized that in her room, mistakes were not a reason to feel humiliation. What a wonderful gift!

I’m pretty sure that Mrs. Zengerle made all of her first graders feel special and important. It just doesn’t get better than that. So thank you Mrs. Zengerle….so very much.

with love,
Laurie

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Thank You Mrs. Root! Archived Post 5.6.13

(Originally posted 5/6/13)

Thank you Mrs. Root…for teaching me Perspective and so much more…

(FYI…I’m talking about the school year 1966-1967….it was a different world….)Mrs. Root was my very first school teacher. (We didn’t do pre-school or nursery school back then…)

She must have been incredible because I have incredibly clear memories of her and her class. And they are all good ones…

Kindergarten was held in a separate building and we rode our own bus…no big kids to help us or to intimidate us. (although maybe that would have kept Patrick from biting a big chunk out of my friend’s leg on the way home one day….but that is another story.)

It was only a half-day, maybe even only two hours, but it seems that we did a million things each day when we were there. To me, it was is was heaven. It was beautifully clean and organized, each area labeled and organized. We learned to take care of every pair of scissors, every paste jar, every circle-time mat. It meant that we were big enough to handle those jobs.

There was a glorious job chart that changed often so that we each had a chance to have the best jobs. (Actually, I don’t remember there being any really bad jobs, but some were more highly-coveted.) I loved being in charge of the scissors center….on those days it was my job to make sure that every pair was returned to it’s holder, always point down and the finger holes lined up like an army of keys ready and waiting to open any door. I had a hearty disdain for the pasting table where my male classmates were messy and smeared paste on the table like finger paint and dared each other to eat it in large quantities.

Of course the most-coveted job was line-leader and if you were lucky enough to have a birthday during the school year, you were guaranteed to be the line leader on your special day!! (On the other hand, I had an elementary school gym teacher who had the class line up in two straight lines on your birthday so that we could run through the line as quickly as we could so that the class could give us our birthday spankings!! Like I said, it was another era…)

Forty-five years later, I still have several momentos of kindergarten. The first is a hand print cast in Plaster of Paris and spray-painted gold with my name and 1966 scratched into the back with a pencil in five-year old sprawl. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill hand casting….it’s in reverse!! We made a cast first, and then a cast of the cast so that each line of my hand stands out in clear relief against the plaster. Mrs Root always went above and beyond…and she encouraged us to think outside of the box.

My most prized possession however is yellow and black. It is the cut-out of a yellow sneaker and it has my name on it. There are actual laces on the sneaker made from household string and I tied that bow myself. I was so proud!!! When we could tie a bow on our own shoes…the real way, not bunny ears, not in Mrs. Root’s class….she encouraged us and encouraged us until we could do it…she had us tie one on our school sneaker and she posted our sneakers for all to see. Every adult and child who came into the room checked to see who had a new sneaker on the board and found that child to shake hands with him or her. It was a proud, proud tradition.

I’m sure that there were many wonderful lessons in her classroom but I have a crystal clear memory of one particular day. It was circle time and we were all gathered at her feet to talk about the calendar and the weather and to hear a story.

Then, she asked one of the boys in the class to stand up. She asked us to look at him with one eye closed and then “measure” him with our thumb just under his feet and The pad of our forefinger on top of his head. We had to hold our hands in that position and compare them with our circle neighbor. Then she had us close our eyes (with our fingers still in the measured position) and she asked our classmate to go to the farthest corner of the room. On the count of three we were to open our eyes and check our finger measurements again. One, two, three……????????

I still remember the shock of seeing this little tiny person in front of me. How could that be?!! I knew that he wasn’t that small!! How did he get so small?!! The class exploded with questions.

“That,” explained the amazing Mrs. Root “is called Perspective.”

Wow.

Can you imagine?!! She figured out how to teach that to kindergartners. Our minds blew up.

Every one of us wanted to be “measured” to see if it would happen to us too. She let each one of us be measured. One by one we came back from the other corner of the room, assuring the class, and ourselves, that we hadn’t shrunk and then grown back like Alice in Wonderland….even though in their eyes it appeared so.

I’ve never forgotten it. Still blows my mind.

Thank you Mrs. Root. You were an amazing teacher.

with love,
Laurie

P.S. If you want a glimpse into what kindergarten was like then, I hope that you can find a copy of the children’s book, “I Like Kindergarten” written by Clara Cassidy and illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. (first published by Golden Book in 1965) It was one of my favorite books then, and still very special to me now.

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Flipping The Switch 1 Archived Post 4.21.13

(Originally posted 4/21/13)

Twice last week I had the chance to see the light bulb go off over (or is that in?!) my students’
heads. I love that.

The first time was with my seniors. A young woman from a nearby college is working in my classroom twice a week with this group. She has worked with them individually and in small groups.

This was the first time that she had led a lesson with the entire class. She had a great PowerPoint for them and was asking them questions to get them engaged in discussion about the slides. They stared at her like deer in the headlights. Who had never heard Spanish before. When she called on them individually, they asked if they could answer her in English because they couldn’t think of the Spanish. What?

I knew that they knew exactly what she was saying and how to answer her. But they wouldn’t. So we hit the pause button and had a little discussion in English about what was going on. What was happening? They were comfortable in front of her individually, or in a very small group, but they were very worried about embarrassing themselves in front of this very lovely young woman AND the rest of the class. They weren’t as worried about that with me because, well, to them I am not a lovely, young woman. :o) And…they knew that I would put a stop to anything that might be said that was negative. If they made a mistake in front of her it would be much more embarrassing and they weren’t sure if she could smooth it over. So they completely shut down.

This was a very important discussion. This group is going on next year to another world. Some will
be in college classes and others will be in the work world….all will be out of my room when they get the opportunity to use the language. It’s time that they understand, and be truly confident in, their own abilities. It was time for them to realize that being embarrassed or worried is going to keep them from too many great things in life.

So we talked about the Affective Filter, what it is and how it works. We talked about how “an object in motions stays in motion and an object at rest stays at rest” (Thank you Uncle Ted for teaching me high school Physics!!) We talked about getting started, mistakes and all, is the only way to get past the fear. Our lovely young college student shared her stories about her feelings when she first arrived for study in Argentina and some of the mistakes that she made.

Then we went back to the lesson……and it was as if someone had opened the floodgates. The conversations began and it was amazing. Light bulbs!! Not just for them, not just for my trainee, but for me as well. It takes very little for the Affective Filter to kick in. The relationships our students have with us and with each other are extremely important. And a little bit of encouragement, honesty, conversation and faith can go a long way.

with love,
Laurie

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You Are Not Alone ..Students and Tragedy Archived Post 4.15.13

(Originally posted 4/15/13)
Tomorrow will be the second time in the past few months that we will have to get up in the morning and go to school after a tragedy. These are the moments we feel most helpless, and yet, these are the times that we have the most to offer. We need to approach tomorrow with grace and dignity.

Parents all over the country would like to stay home tomorrow with their children…and won’t be able to. We will have the responsibility of facing the day with their children. We must take that responsibility very seriously. We cannot let our own fears, doubts, prejudices….anything negative…invade the space we bring to the classroom. Our students need to know, again, that adults feel and adults grieve, but adults are calm, strong, and caring when children need those things most. That is our job.

It won’t be easy. This tragedy too is personal for many of us. Newtown touched us because it took place in a school…in our home away from home…to children and teachers. It rocked us and it rocked our students. This situation in Boston hits close to home as well. Many of us have gone to college, or have loved ones with college connections, to Boston. Boston is a city full of American history. Many of us visited there or vacationed there with our families. Many of us are also runners. Many teachers run. It keeps them sane. Most of us know at least one person who has run the Marathon. Perhaps you yourself have run it…or have been there to see those runners pass by that exact spot.

What is hardest is that it makes us feel so very vulnerable. Particularly if you spent the evening watching the coverage over and over again. It will be tempting to share our sorrow, our frustration, and more with our students. We must be careful about what we say and how we say

it…whether we are speaking directly to students or to colleagues within earshot of students. Each age group has it’s own vulnerabilities.We must be aware of those even as we deal with our own emotions. Tomorrow, as always, the children come first.

So know that tomorrow, we will all be in this together. We’ll be tired. We’ll be sad. We’ll be worried. We’ll be angry. But we’ll be the only adult in a room full of children….who need us to be a source of calm and strength. So when it’s tough, close your eyes for a moment and call on the strength of a colleague who, that very minute, will be in the same position in another classroom.

You will not be alone.

with love,
Laurie

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Accepting Things Archived Post 4.9.13

(Originally posted 4/9/13)

Spring has arrived (we hope!) despite our doubts. This month I’m going to try to think about the things that I need to accept. Not approve of. Not necessarily like. Not support. Not endorse. Not encourage….although maybe those things as well. But accept.

The things that, in order to function with some semblance of sanity, I need to accept. Fighting their existence is one thing; denying them is another. Acceptance means growing up when I want to have a temper tantrum. Acceptance means that I can analyze, adjust and even reject if I want to…but first, I have to accept that they exist.

First on my list? Probably the hardest one; I don’t have time to do all of the things that I would like to, or feel called to do. If I work on accepting this, instead of denying it, perhaps I’ll actually budget my time a little bit better, create a few more boundaries, and appreciate the time that I do have in my day enough to honor it.

So there it is: I don’t have enough time to do everything on my to do/want to do list. And THAT’S OKAY.

(yes, if I’m writing in caps I need to tell myself that a few more times) :o)

with love,
Laurie

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Teachers Make a Difference Archived Post 3.23.13

(Originally posted 10/23/13)

Today I had the chance to spend a day at an event with over 150 teenagers from 17 different school districts. I was “gobsmacked” at what they had to say. Over and over again I heard the same message. What we do matters a great deal….and what we teach about doesn’t.

They told us that the pressures are everywhere and they know that they aren’t wise enough to deal with it all. They shared that they didn’t know how to juggle the demands of school, work, activities, family responsibilities, friends and romantic relationships. They said that they had received few explanations on HOW to do things, and many demands that things be done right.

So, it is the little things that we do that make a difference. I asked a group of students what their teachers did that conveyed understanding, support and caring. Here are some of their responses:

● When a teacher lets me borrow a pen/pencil without embarrassing me.

● When a teacher holds a door open for me and says good morning.

● When a teacher makes eye contact in the hallway and says hi.

● When I miss a question and the teacher says, “I see how you might have thought that.”

● When a teacher doesn’t let kids walk all over him.

● When a teacher stops kids from making out in the hallway.

● When a teacher doesn’t allow cursing in her room.

● When a teacher stands in the hall between classes to keep an eye on things.

● When a teacher compliments something I’ve done.

● When a teacher doesn’t let a class know who the favorites are.

● When a teacher apologizes.

● When a teacher explains something that I don’t understand, just because I don’t understand

it.

● When a teacher checks to see if I understand.

● When we can laugh in class…not at or about people but at life.

Not one thing about lesson planning, assessment, mastery learning, critical thinking or documentation. Not that those things don’t have their place…but not in the hearts of our students.

with love,
Laurie

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A Light in The Darkness Archived Post 9.30.12

(Originally posted 9/30/14)

These past few weeks have been difficult. We are struggling with how the new pre-assessments required by our district have affected our relationships with our students. It has been soul-sucking to say the least. We work so hard in the first few weeks in our department to create and maintain an environment of welcoming, trust, companionship and caring. Then we have to take an entire week to test our students, with a test that we had not seen, on material we, and they, knew that they did not know using skills that we, and they, knew that they had not yet developed.

Our students rose to the occasion beautifully. But it was still heart-breaking. I would say more, but I still don’t trust my emotions enough to put it on the blog.

Our goal this week was to disregard whatever “curriculum” plans we had in mind, and focus the entire week on activities and interactions that re-established an environment of success and trust. (my colleagues are amazing, by the way) Then I was out sick for two days! I feel like it has been an uphill road to get (back) to where I wanted to be three weeks ago.

As always, it is the students that lift us up. I’ll share “Brian”‘s story with you this morning. Brian is a senior and this is his second year as my student. I know his family very well professionally and personally, but I didn’t feel that Brian and I had much of a connection. He is extremely bright, and extremely quiet. It has always been hard to get a response from Brian, in or out of class. I have never really known if he is shy, withdrawn, non-communicative, anxious, socially awkward or if I just don’t register on his scale of “things important enough for a 16 year old to get involved with.”

(I don’t take that personally, many times I was so involved in my own world at 16 that I couldn’t have cared LESS about my high school teachers!!!) If I asked Brian a question, I would get, after a long pause, a one or two word answer at best.

One day last spring, after class had ended, Brian walked over to my desk and said, “I’d like to know more about colleges that teach languages. I think that I would like to become an interpreter. I really like this class.” From a student who rarely smiled, much less answered. He left the room so quickly that I didn’t even put together a response!! And that was the end of our communication for the year.

On Friday, Brian came to my room at the beginning of one of my planning periods and asked for a pass to come in. He said that he had no friends in his Sr. Lounge that period and that he got bored.I gave him a pass, he came back, started talking and didn’t stop for 35 minutes!!!!!!!

The conversation started when he asked if I had ever heard of “vocaloids”. (I hadn’t) and asked if he could show me an example of some songs that he really liked on youtube. (like this one)

He said that this song really put into words how he had been feeling about the world for a long time and that it taught him that he had created a very small, protected, but unhappy world of his own to live in. It was a dark place and he thought about leaving the world to escape it. He realized that if were strong enough mentally and emotionally to do that then he also had the strength to step out of it and look for happiness and purpose.

How does one respond to that?

What an incredible young man. What a gift on a dark day, in a dark week.

His message to me was that he didn’t give up. And he wanted me to know that. Having been there myself at his age, and numerous times after that, I was humbled and honored.

That is what four years of departmental support and safety can bring to a child. I am his third Spanish teacher. The two that he had before me had created a safe path for him to be on. He trusted me as he trusted them. Some people need years before the feeling of safety allow them to step out verbally into the world. Input before output. Not just of language, but of trust, confidence and self-acceptance.

Before he left for his next class Brian said to me, ” I appreciate that I can be myself and that you are interested. It feels good to know that. We can talk about what matters in this class and you will listen.” From a boy who only two days ago started to speak….

There are Brians in every class. Just know this. Because you many not see the connection does not mean that language acquisition and personal development are not occurring. Trust me, it’s happening.

I was just lucky enough this week that Brian shared his light with me.

with love,
Laurie

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Forward: March! Archived Post 3.8.12

(Originally posted 3/8/12)

So now I have received this amazing pile of blessings! I realized that I haven’t been appreciating and getting to know my students. I had a student who usually isn’t obviously engaged step up and extend an offer of help and support. I have a room that has 3 of it’s 4 walls clean, bright and new…..ready for a new start. I have a new desk arrangement, that “accidentally” occurred when we had to block off the “messy corner”.

Next week will, undoubtedly, be another typically stressful and busy week. But we will be one week closer to Spring. I am starting Monday with the questions…In September who were you? Who are you now? In June who will you be?

I’ll start with a sports theme…in September were you a Buffalo Bills fan? Now are you an SU fan? In June will you be a Yankees fan? And we’ll move into a few other things from there…we’ll just see where it takes us….Because I have 4 classes of juniors and seniors this year, we’ll have a lot to talk about.

And over the weekend, I’ll do a bit of reflection myself…as much about my “outside of school” self as my teacher self. We also need to get reacquainted with ourselves from time to time to be any good to our students.

with love,
Laurie

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