March 13th, 2012 | 3 Comments »
To Kristie,
Thank you for helping me figure myself out as a teacher.

Always learning

It is a known fact that teachers are always studying, always learning. But I am not sure it is known that one of the reasons leading to that is dissatisfaction with how things turn out in our daily teaching. Well, I am not certain I can speak for all teachers, but this is how I feel more often than I would like to.

One Among Many

I currently teach in two public schools in Woodburn. In one of them I teach Spanish to English-speaking children, and I teach English to Spanish-speaking children. In the other one, I teach reading to children who are having difficulties with cracking the code, and I also have one English Enrichment class of second graders. This last group is incredibly diverse, but the children in it share the designation of “English Only” in our multicultural and multilingual school community, which means that their first language at home is English – thus their participation in English Enrichment instead of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).

Technology and Programs

Since the beginning of February, I have been using Achieve 3000/KidBiz with the more advanced readers of my English Enrichment class to keep fostering their development, not only in reading nonfiction, but also in text processing, reading pace and comprehension, and test-taking strategies.

With the readers in that same class who still find it difficult to decode text and who encounter challenges in responding to five questions about a 7-page fiction story, I am using RazKids. With the one child who did not bring a signed authorization to use the internet, but who needs to work on fluency, I am using Read Naturally, the Masters Edition.

Personalized Solutions for Differentiated Instruction

Sounds like advertisement, but I am truly thrilled with the personalized solutions made possible by technology and programs out there. The differences among children’s reading development is such that I have in the same classroom students reading at beginning of first grade level and students reading at third grade level – and they are all considered “English Enrichment” students, even though some of them have a lot of trouble using oral language to organize their thoughts in a sentence.

To illustrate, this is what some of my students are reading:

"Animals live in many different places.
Some live above the ground.
Some live in the ground.
Some live on the ground.
Some live in the water"
(RazKids "Where animals live", level D)

While others, are reading this:

"The Great Falls is important in American history. In what way?  
During the Industrial Revolution, Paterson had many mills. It had many factories.  
The Great Falls created a lot of power.  
This power was used for the mills and factories. "
(KidBiz3000 "Welcome to Great Falls Park!")

Programs are Not the Teacher

With all this help, however, I still feel beat at the end of each lesson, feeling like I failed to support certain groups of students, or even all of them in some days. The programs are great but, as commonplace as it sounds, they are not the teachers, I am. And second graders need guidance to make the best use of the programs, otherwise they will inevitably focus on the number of ‘stars’ or ‘points’ they accumulate each time they finish a task, and that creates horrible reading and test taking habits that make me cringe just thinking about.

Putting Things In Perspective

But then I think back to the beginning of the year, when these children would not even sit down, and they would not be quiet long enough for me to explain the lesson, and they would not sit next to one another without someone getting hurt, and I realize the enormous growth we underwent.

To get to where we are now, I invested a massive amount of time and energy on figuring out the students as individuals and myself as a teacher, and I worked deeply on developing a sense of community and respect in the classroom through teaching them sentence structures that would allow them to communicate clearly while being respectful with one another.

This reflection leads me to I realize that believing we can improve professionally, and believing our students can develop if we find what drives them and if we devote enough energy to making it happen, are some of the important propellers of education.

It is a known fact that teachers are always studying, always learning. Maybe not so much because we are dissatisfied as I wrote before, but because we believe things can be even better – I believed it then, and I believe it now.

Posted in Uncategorized
March 8th, 2012 | 3 Comments »

Language and Feeling

On Monday I once again introduced new words to help students communicate their feelings. This time, I am working with Intermediate ESOL Kindergarteners. More than my 2nd grade English Only students, these children’s language limitation is influenced by two aspects of their lives: English is their second language, and they have only been in the world for 5-7 years.

When I asked them about feelings, three adjectives came to the table: happy, sad and mad. Even after I introduced ‘angry’, they still called it mad.

Naming and Feeling

However, more than the language teacher, the idea that children – or adults, for that matter – resort to three single words when referring to their feelings bothers the Psychoanalyst in me. It makes me think of the enormous range of feelings that are being boxed into three categories and not being fully experienced. And it makes me think of an anecdote my mother tells me from when I was very young: I think it was my first day of school, and I told my mom I did not want to go. When asked why, I answered: “I have a stomachache”. “Duchinha, she said, what you are feeling is not stomachache. It is anxiety.” I was probably about 3 years old when ‘anxiety’ was introduced to me as a name for the stomachache I felt when something new and somewhat scary was about to take place.

For most students I work with, that stomachache remains a stomachache, and the child often stays home, not dealing with the anxiety and missing important learning experiences – both from school and from the possibilities that naming our feelings opens in our lives.

Not Seeing, Not Feeling?

During my Masters of Arts in Teaching at George Fox University,  one of my instructors shared her experience with students from a population similar to the one I work with. Rather than shallow feeling recognition, however, her kindergarteners had a rather limited perception of their possibilities for entertainment. According to her, the question “What did you do this weekend” always yielded with the same “I went to the park.” No depth, no novelty, no emotional engagement or learning.

She began a study in her classroom using Cynthia Rylant’s “Night in the Country” to explore all the wealth of life that exists in the field around a home in the country, and the sounds that can be heard, which represent such life.


Learning and Feeling

After bringing children’s attention to how the author uses her senses, she urged her students to do the same. The result was a brilliant, sensitive compilation of experiences from her kindergarteners. I am positive that those children found a new perspective for their weekends on the park.

Hopefully, by the end of this week my students will understand a little better the differences among anxious, worried, angry and frustrated.

Posted in Education, life