Mississippi...

Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween...

Halloween, 2005. What a strange day! The superintendent stopped by room—she is really nice. She used to be a teacher at Higgins, so I think she has a special affinity for the school. My students were working on “scary” stories—we have been studying foreshadowing. Dr. Wade thought it was “cute.” Even though I hate that phrase when used in connection to a learning activity, I guess it was cute. I thought it was a good idea. Today for the first time, I realized my students have really been opening up with writing— I was looking over their writing in the beginning of the year and they have really improved. My favorite day of the week is when they make a rap, story or a song using as many spelling or vocabulary words as possible. They work really hard on them because they get the chance to perform. It is so much fun!

Everyone was a little crazy today and I was exhausted by three. My husband and I went to help my mother with trick-or-treaters. Her new neighbor told her she got five hundred trick-or-treaters last year. I don’t know how many kids actually came but it was more people than I have ever seen. I started off giving five or six pieces of candy and ended with giving one per person. When I was younger we got three trick-or-treaters—my two brothers and myself—my the world is changing…

The strangest thing happened during the Halloween rush—a little girl of about three just sat down on porch. I didn’t actually notice her for a while because of all the kids. My husband jabbed me in the side and wanted to know if I knew her—I had never seen her before in my life. The poor girl was lost. We flagged down the police and I guess they had been trying to find her for a pretty long time. She never cried, or asked for anything—she did try to give us all of her Halloween candy. She was really sweet. It is funny how kids have such a good sense—she picked our porch—probably because she felt safe. About three police cars showed up—and all the neighbors thought people had egged the house or something horrible like that. It was a sight to see. Anyway, she was reunited with her family and all ended well.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Go Ontrell!

You know that phrase, “instant success”? What a load of capitalistic shit! Reserved for infomercials and advertisements, the phrase shouldn’t be associated with education or learning. Change, or success is gradual and as a teacher you have to look for it (or even study it!). Thinking about what or who to write about for this reflection was somewhat difficult—do I focus on one person? Do I focus on a classroom management strategy that worked? Do I write about a time when one or more of my classes really got into a story or concept we were studying? Only upon reflection do I realize success occurs in my classroom everyday. Like any good researcher I had to look for it and analyze it. None of these successes were instant or easy, but they all felt pretty wonderful. In remembering the events of the last two months, my mind kept coming back a series of successive successes for one charming sixth grader named Ontrell Cocroft.
Ontrell is an eager beaver-- the kid of student that likes to cross his t’s and dot his i’s. No doubt most of his teachers have liked him (and of course I join in that group) and have easily given A’s and B’s. So easily, in fact, that he doesn’t know how to answer complicated questions or think critically. Having received A’s and B’s for most of his academic life, he was pretty shocked that he was failing my class when one-month progress reports went around.
When I think back to the written responses he gave on short answer questions, I cringe. I knew he has done the work of reading and listening in class. Somehow, he expected me to give him all the answers to the questions. He would do well on multiple-choice questions and anything that required route memorization. But when asked to “explain or describe” he would be lost—as a result he would fail tests that included those types of responses.
Ontrell had never failed before, but being given an “F” for the first forced him to reassess himself. I never imagined giving a student an “F” would be a positive thing, but with Ontrell it was—I spoke to him individually about his grade, explained what I thought was the problem, etc. After that, he started really engaging in class. If there were something he didn’t understand—he would ask a question (something I strongly encourage anyone who is failing to do). On creative projects, he would ask for help coming up with new ideas (before he would simply copy the example I provided). Every writing assignment became a little better, and it looked like he was having a lot more fun! He was really “thinking” about assignments and questions. Every time he came up with new ideas I would say, “Go Ontrell!”
The next time progress reports came out—he saw his grade and gave a great big hug and thanked me in the middle of class. I hide my bursting happiness, and simply said, “I don’t give grades, you earn them” like always. The whole class laughed pretty hard. I was really proud of him.
The whole “higher standards” philosophy is true. I could have been pleased that Ontrell was good at copying what I said or did, but that is not my goal for my students. I want them to know how creative and smart they are—I want them to keep getting to the next level of thinking. You have to keep saying, “go.”