Friday, February 26, 2010

Math Woes

On Wednesday, I gave my students a test of Math Topic 12- Area and Perimeter. Throughout the entire Topic, I did all I could to make sure that my students understood the material. I had them take notes in their Math Journals, we completed the first couple of problems on their homework together so they would understand exactly what to do, and I also had small group interventions with the students that did not seem to understand the concepts. I also created a study guide before the test and we spent one entire Math lesson working in groups to review for the test. With all of this said, I just knew that my students would do better on this test than they had on any other. I could not have been more wrong. I had one student get a 2 and everyone else earned a 1. I was almost in tears after grading these tests.

Well, I came to school today and showed the tests to my CT. We looked at the test questions, how many students missed each question, and what type of question was missed. We wondered, and have wondered, if the problem with our students’ performance on Math tests results from not understanding the questions. Many of our students struggle with reading comprehension, so it would make sense that they would possibly struggle to understand the questions on the test. So today, we gave the same test again, only this time, I read each test question aloud. The hope was that students would better understand the questions if they were read aloud and thus they would be able to show what they really understand about the topic.

I still have about 5 more tests to grade, but right now, the vast majority is scoring the exact same as they did on the previous test. I am at odds with what else I can do. If students do not do their homework and do not focus on the content presented during the lesson, how can they show an understanding of the information? I do not know what else I can do outside of providing interventions and working diligently to engage students in the lesson each day. Any suggestions?? All are welcome!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Board Meeting Wash Out

I attended my first school board meeting tonight. It was decided that a community forum was needed in order to address the expected budget cuts for the next school year. I know that Springfield is one of many districts affected by the budget crisis in the country and particularly the state of Illinois. I feel I have a vested interest in what happens with the budget in this district because of my desire to stay in district for my first year of teaching.

I expected to go to this meeting and listen to the explanation of the real issue from the mouths of the people making it. This did come to fruition. The members of the superintendent cabinet spoke about the fact that our expenditures exceed our expected revenue for next year. After hearing the issue, I expected that the audience would be allowed questions which would be answered by the superintendent. Only have of this expectation came to be. There was a Q & A session, during which very relevant and pressing questions were posed; almost all of which went unanswered by the superintendent. I have never seen someone dance around such a tough issue like 56 instructional leaders, reading teachers, and other instructional professions positions being cut. I left the meeting feeling more uncertain about the state of the district than I did when I came in. If our own superintendent was unwilling to provide us with substantive responses to our concerns, can we really expect him to take our concerns into consideration when making proposals for what next year will look like? Tonight was a lesson learned in how political our field can really be.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


In the Science lesson I taught on 2/19/10, the focus of the lesson was on the process of photosynthesis. I anticipated this being difficult topic because of the terminology (carbon dioxide, oxygen, photosynthesis). I also thought it would be a difficult topic because it was not concrete/tangible. It is very difficult for students to “feel” or “see” the photosynthetic process. In alignment with my plans, I gave students a passage to read about photosynthesis with a partner. We came back whole group to discuss it. After asking questions to guide their comprehension, I observed that some students were not “getting it”. They were able to respond to the questions I asked in a very rote manner, but they lacked a connection to the entire process.

Then, in a split second, it hit me. I knew I needed to find a way to make photosynthesis come alive and that is exactly what I did! I stood up and started acting as if I was a tree. I wiggled my legs, acting like they were roots, pulling up water from the ground and used my arms to pull in carbon dioxide from the air. Then, I had one of the students come up behind me and act like they were giving off oxygen. Next, I had someone come up and poor water on the tree (me). Then, I had students come up in serve as the sugar and sunlight. I made the photosynthetic process come alive! The kids loved it and can tell me not only the components of photosynthesis, but also which student had that role in the reenactment!! The kids truly enjoyed being an active participant in their learning experiences. I think their physical involvement helped them make stronger connections within the concept of photosynthesis.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Second Round of Conferences

Parent Teacher Conferences were today. It was a long day, but I think it was made even longer because out of 8 scheduled conferences, only two showed up. One of those was a home visit that was an incredible experience, and I don’t mean that in a good way! Well, my CT, Parent Educator, Special Ed. Resource Teacher and I went to the home of one of my students. It started out crazy because as soon as I walked through the door, my student’s grandmother said with a very snippy tone “Who are you?”. I immediately felt on edge and it made me question for a split second who I really was and why I was there! After I got over that shock, I got a strong whiff of the marijuana that was filtrating the house. Grandma was spraying Febreeze, trying to mask the odor, but it was clear to all of us visiting the home what it really was.

I don’t think the marijuana would have bothered me so much if she was there by herself, but there were 6 little kids under her care at home, all being exposed to this illegal drug. What adults do on their own time is their business, but when kids are affected, the game changes. The student who lives here is consistently off task, does not turn in homework, and is a distraction to others. I think it is important to hold students accountable for their conduct in the classroom, but thinking about what they deal with at home definitely sheds light on what may be contributing to their behavior.

Goal: I will think more holistically about how my students behave and perform in class. There is no excuse for their behavior, but there may certainly be factors outside of the classroom that explain their behavior. Understanding these explanations may help me to better meet their needs in the classroom by creating an atmosphere that counteracts the negative forces they may face at home.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Hectic Day Indeed

Wow, what a day this has been. In my meeting with my coordinator, I talked with her about how things were starting to look up a little bit with me and my CT. I felt like we were making strides to increase the time we spend planning and the amount of support and guidance she gives me in my journey through student teaching. No sooner than I had this talk with my coordinator did things go completely down hill. First off, her husband and daughter showed up 30 minutes before the end of the day, completely disrupting the class, of course. She was totally disengaged from what was going on in the classroom because she was totally immersed in conversation with her family.

At the end of the day, one of my students punched another student in the back. As this was the second time I talked to this students about keeping her hands to herself (not to mention the fact that the principal spent the entire lunch recess talking to all fifth graders about respecting each other), I immediately wrote her up for a level 2, which requires intervention by the principal. While all of the commotion was going on, my CT did absolutely nothing to intervene. So I walked the rest of the class down to go home, came back to get the girl who hit another student, and took her straight to the principal. All the while, my CT did not intervene once to see what was going on. I was all alone in this process and it was my first time every doing it.

I needed her support and she wasn’t there. She left soon after I got back to the room (not sitting down with me like we had planned to discuss my writing unit or my science plans like we had discussed). Then she tells me “Don’t stay here all night”. Easy for her to say and she doesn’t even stay the time she is required to be here! Some of the teachers talk about how I am always the first to arrive and the last to leave each day, but what other alternative do I have? If I don’t come early and stay late, things won’t get done. I cannot count on her to support me and pick up the slack as I transition into “the teacher” in the room. I know this was a huge venting session for me but it feels good to release it all. One of my goals for next week was to find something outside of school to engage in to release stress. After today, I need to find something!

Thursday, February 4, 2010


One task that seems simple but has proved to be a great challenge for me is checking in/grading homework. In fifth grade, the students get so much homework each night that it is very difficult to check it all in, grade it and get it back. I see homework as a way to practice the concepts learned in class. So, there is not point in students spending time doing the practice incorrectly and not having an opportunity to go over it and adjust any misconceptions they may have had. My CT collects homework by calling individual students over to check it off. I prefer to collect everyone’s homework at the same time and check them in. I feel like my method allows me to look at the homework with a finer eye. The problem is that when I collect the homework, I have very little time to look over it, grade it, and get it back to students. My CT’s method allows her to get it all checked in, but she does not check over the work a meticulously as I would like to. I have to find a way to get homework checked in and give feedback to students so they know how to do the concept.

Goal: My goal is to check in homework using my CT’s method, but rather than looking over every single detail of the homework, I will glance through them to get a general understanding of commonly missed questions, pass back the homework the next day and go over those misunderstandings whole-class as a quick review of the material. I also will try to adjust my lessons so that I give students 3-4 minutes at the end of the lesson to get started on homework. This will also give me time to look over some of the homework that was turned in that day and make notes about what to review the next day.