Saturday, April 23, 2011

Being Able to Make an Argument

I moved to Texas as an adult and went back to get certified ending up having to take the exams many H.S. seniors take. I still remember the essay question-Should college athletes be paid? Make an argument for one side or the other. Now, let me tell you I am such a girl when it comes to sports-I don't even know how many touchdowns you need to win a basketball game :). But I did it, because I can make a logical argument. There was recently controversy about an SAT question asking them to write about the benefits/detriments of reality t.v. People complained that not all kids watch those shows. If you know how to make a logical argument, I believe you can fake your way through any kind of debate.

I came across this article:

Texas opted out of common standards, so I really haven't seen much of them. But I'm glad logical thinking is being included. Kids when they come to me really don't know how to justify an opinion. You ask them which character was their favorite, they respond, you ask them why and they say "because it is". Logic has to be consciously taught.

We do an activity often that I call "pro/con". I divide the kids up into pairs, one is pro the other is con and I give them a topic: Sharks make good pets (for fun) or The Giving Tree was wrong (for a curriculum connection). They have one minute to make their cases, then-this is the hard part... they have to switch sides and make the other side of the argument. They have to defend owning a shark for a pet or the selfish boy. It literally takes 2 minutes and it has really helped develop the answers I now get from the kiddos. Instead of I like them because I do...they give me a more thoughtful, cogent response. Parents probably don't like that I'm teaching them to argue better-but if faced with essays or even talkative dinner guest in the future-- they will be better prepared.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Standardized Testing

I read this article and thought it an interesting take on the process. She talks about how she used to teach logic and critical thinking before testing. I agree with several of her viewpoints.

I hate those 2 words-standardized tests! :) Our BIG test is in just a few weeks and I really dislike that our curriculum just melts away until it's over. We have test prep booklets in Reading, Math, Language Arts and Science from 3 different companies. That's a lot of class time that is expected to be taken up with straight test prep. Part of me wants to skip the prep-work altogether-they've learned what they've learned-hopefully that's enough. Then I feel like I'm short-changing them. They should be used to answering in the multiple-choice format and using strategies, even if it's not something I would use as an everyday assessment of learning. So, it's finding a balance that's really difficult for me.

Now, I know what you're thinking..but GT kids should naturally do well on tests. Not necessarily the case. First of all, sometimes they race through because they think they know everything. They don't need scrap paper for math-"I'll just do it in my head". Doesn't always work that way. Also, not all my students are gifted in all academic areas. I have kids who excel in math but read on an average or even a little below average level. I have great readers who just don't "get" math. And of course, no matter how much we try to make these activities "fun", they are perfectionists and want to get 100% - that just isn't in the cards when it comes to standardized testing-otherwise they'd all score on the post-high school level. So if they run into some questions they just don't know the answer for, they get discouraged and will sit there pouting for the rest of the time. Another factor is: it's a week-long test (that's developmentally appropriate, don't you think?). So by about the 4th day, most are just bubbling in answers, not even any energy left to try.

I really wish I could tell them, it was OK, it's just a test, doesn't really matter in the scheme of things. But since that's the only thing after a whole year of teaching that is going to be able to show my value-I have an invested interest in them doing well too. Those little percentile numbers are all I am worth as a teacher.

I think we will all be breathing a sigh of relief when May 13th has come and gone.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Egg Drop Competition

I wanted to do something fun in class this week and also make it a team building activity. At this age, you have such a range of personalities working together. We have the bossypants, the I'll-put-my-feet-up-and-let-you-do-the-work kids, etc. I made participation and teamwork part of their grading rubric. Before we started we discussed team dynamics and the real-world application of working in teams. We introduced the word "compromise".

In the spirit of the season we did the ever-popular egg drop competition. The students brought materials from home that they thought would help make an apparatus to help protect an egg. We also watched a clip on Discovery Education of the Mythbusters and their take on this project (my kids just love those guys!).  The students made a blueprint of their plan and then set their construction into motion.  3/5 teams were successful and the others identified what they would change if they were to do it again. They used shoeboxes, sponges, bags of air; and I think most creatively--rubber bands around a wooden frame.

But most importantly, they had a lot of fun!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Using GT Strategies with All Students

Teaching At-Risk Kids as Though They Were GT

When I first went through the certification process for Gifted and Talented, I was teaching in a "regular" classroom. I went to work the next day and began putting those strategies to work with my kiddos. We used the depth and complexity concepts. I asked them deeper questions in comprehension and science. They started learning how to identify patterns in everything-literature, social studies-making those connections. I truly believe that all students can benefit from being taught from the standpoint of high expectations-and this study proves that point.

I have worked as a tester for 4-year olds in our district for the GT program. I've tested kids that didn't qualify, but it wasn't because they didn't have any innate ability-it's just they had never been taught. I'll never forget a student I had, I'll call her "Alicia". The 1st week assessment she couldn't count past 3, she didn't know what an "A" was (1st and last letter of her name). About 3 months later she was adding, writing about the "reflection" in the pool. She had just never been taught. Sometimes you have to bring those talents out! She qualified in Kinder with very high scores.

I attended a workshop years ago where they shared research that had been completed in an inner-city school system (I wish I could remember who published it). But they compared the criteria of specific assignments and grading rubrics of the classes designated as a "regular" class and what was considered the "low" class. It was the same work, same objective, same lesson-but the expectations were very different-low students were given low expectations. I think this is the reason I am against tracking students and separating them into different classes based on ability. I think many teachers will start with low expectations for those struggling kids and keep that mentality all year.

I feel like my blog is in such an in-between place. On one hand I know people in the GT community read it, but I also hear from teachers of "regular" classes who find opportunities to implement some of the activities into their daily activities to challenge their kiddos-which of course, I think is just wonderful. In my humble opinion, all kids can benefit from learning how to "think outside the box" and be creative thinkers-it was nice to read an article that solidifies that school of thought.

But that's just my 2 cents! :)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Character Court

We have always done performance assessments at our school, but this was the first time the Kinder and 1st Graders were included.

The Kindergarten kiddos used fairy tales and the 1st Graders used real literature. The students chose characters in pairs and identified an ethical dilemma in the book. They painted the setting on tri-fold boards.

On the back they each wrote a summary of the story, an overview of the ethics and an example of a real-world application for that issue. They worked together to write a little debate. Dorothy debated the Wicked Witch, Scrooge debated Cindy Lou and Miss Nelson debated Viola Swamp. We set them all up in our cafeteria and invited parents to come hear them. It was not only too cute, I think they learned how to work together and a deeper meaning of ethics.

The Wizard of Oz

Cricket in Times Square

The Giving Tree

                                             The Lorax

Tacky the Penguin

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ethics for Spring

My class has really taken to the concept of ethics this year and I really think their work has come a long way. Originally they went for the easy answer-yes, the Wicked Witch of the West was wrong. Or I would help someone who needed help. To really searching for a way to make a different argument to justify an opinion.

The assignment was to write whether it was right or wrong to pick flowers and then justify their opinions. Reading their answers gave me another idea-we're going to compare that to the ethics of picking weeds next week. Because if flowers shouldn't be picked because they are living things, why would it then be ok to pick weeds-because they are seen as "bad"? Anyway, I digress. Here are the best responses to the question:

...they will grow back and it's not hurting them.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

1st Grade Memoirs

This summer while shopping at Lakeshore, I found these blank hardcover books. I thought they would be a great activity for my little authors. This past month they have been working on their autobiographies. They are after all, always making comments like, "that was the best day in my whole life", or "when I was a kid I used to"...:)

 Each student made an outline listing 10 important things that have happened in their lives so far and included a page about what the future holds. I also encouraged them to come up with a creative title-I didn't want them all to be "My Life". It was really hard for some of them to sequence events from when they were really little.They worked on it a little at a time for several weeks. We invited the parents in to hear them read their masterpieces at our Author's Tea last week. Some titles I loved were: The Last Baby, Heights and Ages, The Life Cycle of...., The Wonderful Journey.

Here are some of my favorite pages:

The child loves sushi now too by the way.

So sweet.

Of course, I'm glad she thinks we are learning "Big Things". I love the captions.

The sentence there is similar to the leveled readers we use. And don't I look pretty! :)

"I hope my mom doesn't have any more babies".
She does have 2 brothers, so I can kind of understand her reasoning here.

Again, love the caption labeling her lab coat. She's going to invent a cell phone that makes 200 calls in one call. Wow!

I had to twist this student's arm to even make an illustration-not really into the creative things. But I love how he phrased it as "I met my Mom and Dad".

So cute!

I love the details in the illustration. And this student struggles in math, so that she still loves it warms my heart too.

Isn't that just like a baby to lie around on their birthday!

I think they enjoyed making them and some really got into all the illustrations, some didn't and that's ok.  Hopefully they will keep it and be able to look back on it when their older. From the mouths of babes....