Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rachel K. Reflections

The Principal at Gumball Elementary has all of hte student interns write weekly reflections so she can speak to our strengths and focuses as teachers when she writes us letters of recommendation.

Here is mine from this past week at Gumball Elementary:

Weekly Reflections
Rachel K. Sreebny
March 19 – March 23

                The fifth graders are becoming undeniably more puberty-stricken as the months fly by.  The frequency of girls and boys exchanging unkind words has increased and classroom management has become central to my focus as a student teacher. While I strive to keep peace and order in the classroom as any town sheriff might, I also feel strongly that our students need to be reflective of their actions and words in order to develop into responsible and mature middle school students. As a result, I have had more one-on-one conversations with certain students (Betelhem, David N, and Abdi) in order to acknowledge inappropriate behavior and facilitate student-led ideas for improving our learning environment.

                To attend to the focus maximized learning opportunities for all of the students in E-1, Leslie and I have been practicing some of the techniques from Teach Like a Champion, including “3-2-1 pencils down,” “3, 2, 1 – track me,” and tight transitions. The more we practice these techniques, the better they are at getting student attention so I can give specific directions. These techniques are now a part of our tool kit for helping to create better learning in our classroom. They are excellent additions to the techniques we already use, which include “Threshold” and “No Opt Out.”

                Space Colony Storypath came to a conclusion this week, during which the students came up with a set of values in a class discussion. From these values, students wrote laws and rights for all colonists in pairs. I will include our laws and rights as an attachment to this e-mail because I think that they reflect our class values well. Our classroom now boasts a colony constitution and list of rules (and penalties) that will be displayed until we need the space for something else. While the students are sad to say goodbye to the colonists, we will keep up the dolls and mural for a few more weeks. Many students are also keeping an interest in their colonist characters through their fiction writing, which will be a central focus of the coming week.

                My main accomplishment of the week was engaging students in improving their mean calculation skills. Many students struggled with calculating the mean last week as I was introducing landmarks and how to interpret sets of data. To support this procedural understanding, Leslie and I decided to shower the students with mean calculating handouts and games until the students could find the mean, “upside-down, backwards, and in the dark.” Students completed three separate worksheets for which the only objective was to calculate the mean. They had the most trouble when working with decimal values, so that will be a central focus for next week’s boardwork. We also played a game called, “I Mean It!” that I invented:

                Table 1 students come up to the front with their whiteboards and markers.
                Table 1 students take 5 seconds to write down any number between 0-99 (for the first round)
                Then, Table 1 students quickly put themselves in numerical order without speaking.
                Once they are in order, they become a SET of VALUES.
                All other students quickly calculate the mean.
                If students do this quickly, they will go back and find the median, too.
Each Table 1 student will call on a member of the classroom to see what answer he/she got. Once all Table 1 students have called on a classmate, we decide if we are in agreement or not. If all students had the same answer for the mean, we move on. If there are different answers, one of the Table 1 students will calculate the mean on the whiteboard to find consensus.

The students loved this game. They requested this game. I cannot overstate how successful it was. Better yet, a handful of students who usually struggle with math were successful on the Unit Test this Friday. Karla, Brian, and Asia were the most memorable “values” in our class “set.” What I’ve learned from this week is that practicing skills cannot always be put aside for conceptual explanations or group discussion. At a certain point in a student’s learning, he or she just needs to practice a skill until he or she can do it “upside-down, backwards, and in the dark.” 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rachel K. Hunger Games

From what I understand, getting a job within a public school district is ridiculous and competitive. All the jobs come out around the same time (April or May) and none of the interviews really happen until the summer unless you are applying for a really specific or specialized position. Kevin has been listening to my building woes about interviewing without any real idea of how I'm doing or whether or not there is a purpose to these "pre-screening" interviews on campus. Today he told me he felt like vying for a teaching job was basically the Hunger Games.

I was born into a broken family an educational system that does not have any money.
I volunteered to head into "the game" to save my younger sister's life to earn the income to buy back my younger sister's used car.
I become a tribute for the 2012-2013 Hunger Games school year.
People tell me what to say, how to act, what to wear, and how to fake a relationship with Peeta Melark write resumes and cover letters.
I desperately want to head to District 13 the Seattle District, but it is a graveyard (for new teacher positions).
All at once, I and my competition are brought to the arena.
At the sound of the horn completion of the budget, the games begin.
Utter chaos.
There is only one stack of resources and everyone heads towards them at the same time.
Few survive.
Then I hopefully kill everyone receive a job offer and win the games the right to a one-year contract that will likely expire.
Then basically the same thing happens for two more books years until I reach my melancholy ending continuing contract.

Behold, the illustrated version:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Rachel K. 7 Devils

Boof, the stress is starting to surround me from upcoming interviews, information sessions, resumes, cover letters, student teaching, the daily disappointments of public school curriculum (not always, but sometimes), revving up for classes at the end of March, and the overpowering knowledge that come the 2012-2013 school year, I have no idea what I will be doing. Will I have a job? Will I be on a waiting list? Am I any good at teacher interviews? I feel like I am, but am I good enough to compete with other people who are good?

So I'm contenting myself with sweatpants, computer games, and lesson planning while I take the "final breath before the plunge," as Tolkein put it.

I'll be honest though. I could easily just listen to Florence and the Machine for the next three hours and cry.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Rachel K. Reflections

Rachel Sreebny’s Weekly Reflections
March 5 – 9, 2012
This week, I began teaching writer’s workshop alongside Leslie. She coached me a lot in terms of what the 5th graders have done in the past and how to tackle the amounts of information without talking for too long. The students are starting to dream up their fiction ideas, and it was up to me to get them excited about imagining their own characters. Students were able to make connections to their space colony characters, which they made the week previous for our Storypath unit. We created lists of traits and reflected on our own traits (positive AND negative), which was interesting to assess later on. Space Colony continued this week and we launched into learning about the solar system. I have combined the core content standard mini-unit on space science into the more engaging, narrative curriculum that Storypath offers. This way, the students are learning what they need to learn in order to be at grade level, but I am presenting it to them with a more meaningful and aligned premise. The gravity lesson during the “great blackout of Friday” was a big hit, and even the ELL and special needs students hit the learning target and were able to explain how gravity keeps us on the earth. Students also created informational planet posters, which allowed them to demonstrate their mastery of non-fiction reading and writing for the purpose of gathering and referencing specific research. This research will help students choose a planet that they’d like to colonize during our next episode of the Space Colony.

The only challenge this week was that students for the most part were unable to apply their knowledge of landmarks (maximum, minimum, mode, and median) to a set of values. In order to give students more practice with this skill, Leslie and I are going to use landmarks as our warm-up whiteboard work every morning until
the students can do it upside-down and in their sleep! Other than that, it was another wonderful and wild week at Kimball. I will miss these kids deeply when my internship ends on April 13th.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Rachel K. Reflections

Rachel Sreebny’s weekly reflections for Week 20 (Feb 27 – March 2, 2012)
                This week I started teaching all subjects and leading the classroom in place of Mrs. Cake.  It was very challenging, but I had a lot more fun each day and the hours seemed to melt away between the first and last bell of the day.  I had used a great deal of mid-winter vacation to plan for Reader’s Workshop, CMP II: Bits and Pieces for math, Space Colony Storypath for our content and writing subjects, spelling, vocabulary, and general daily items like cougar of the month voting, transitioning, and supervising on the class field trip to the EMP.
                Reader’s Workshop is a lot of fun to teach, but was challenging in that I had to present a lot of information quickly and still ensure that students had plenty of time to build their reading appreciation and stamina. This was particularly difficult coming back from a week of vacation! I enjoyed the curriculum a lot and was able to adapt it effectively so that all students were able to use reading strategies and think about unifying ideas in their personal reading selections. I am looking forward to starting Writer’s Workshop next week because of the similarity and connections between the curricula.
                Math was interesting because the CMP curriculum was originally designed and implemented in 6th grade classrooms. While the subject matter of fractions, decimals, and percentages is nothing new or impossible for the minds of 5th graders, the tasks set forth in the text books were indeed a bit challenging for the majority of students. The most effective way that I was able to teach this curriculum was to have students practice daily on their white board, which Mrs. Cake advised, and I scaffolded strategies through which to solve tricky problems on the board and then let students practice these strategies on their homework. I believe that giving the students opportunities to work on homework in class was a deviation from the norm, but the effect was clear: all students attempted to complete their homework. When we switch back to Everyday Math next week, I will be glad of the 5th grade friendly directions and workbooks once more.
                The Storypath: Space Colony was my favorite part of the week. Although I always felt rushed for time, I chose to look at it as “teaching with urgency,” which was something we were advised to do in our teacher preparation program. I brought in sample books of wallpaper and upholstery and created skin tone paper dolls of all skin tone colors. The students set forth to create their own individualized space colonist dolls, representing multiple nations, ages, and occupations. Students also filled out job applications for their characters, wrote in personal “Travel Logs,” and gave self-introductions in front of their class. It was challenging for students to be heard during their introductions because of the general noise of the open-concept classroom, but I didn’t observe any real nervousness or shyness as I watched the students, and I believe this speaks to the progress they are making as students and as young people. Travel log writing was successful in that this group of students who usually hates writing anything down on paper seemed almost eager to put down their character’s story, feelings, and hopes for the space colony future. My shining moment was when I read ELL student Tam Ta’s travel log, in which she had included the phrase, “See you later, Earth!” It was the most creative her writing has ever been, and I feel confident that student buy-in has been achieved this week in our content and writing areas. I am enthusiastic to start next week with more attention to science  - particularly to the solar system and attributes of its 8 planets.
                My greatest challenge this week was in classroom management. I am not the seasoned teacher that Mrs. Cake is, and so students often took their time during transitions, as if to test how patient Ms. Sreebny could be. However, I believe that my patience and rationale for any reprimands or corrective actions I took were understood as necessary by all of the students. I also had students practice their classroom transitions during the first few minutes of recess; students were timed and judged as they lined up, came to sit down, and returned to their desks. We practiced as many times as we needed to until it was perfect, and I have noticed a small but significant change in their transition behaviors. I will continue to work on my classroom expectations with the 5th graders this following week, and I look forward to reflecting on strategies that are effective so to add them to my own classroom management tool belt.