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Showing posts from August, 2010

Academic Language

In my previous post about "Chantal," I mentioned that she said she had never been to "no restaurant."  Actually, I think she may have said "I ain't never been to no restaurant."  A couple of people expressed surprise that a high school graduate who is now attending college would have said something that grammatically incorrect, and I realized that I haven't explained academic language. While Chantal may not have received the best education (except in third grade, of course!), she did get an education, she did well in school, and she's a smart person.  I haven't seen her high school papers, but I'm sure she knows not to use double negatives or the word "ain't."  There's (probably) a difference between how she writes and how she speaks. The interesting part about this is that many people are aware that there is a difference between Black English Vernacular ("ebonics") and academic language.  So we know that


I just saw my former student " Chantal " who's now a student at a community college.  I was telling a friend who is also a former volunteer in my classroom about what a hard time Chantal's having and she and her husband decided to help her out a little.  Another friend gave her a laptop which was a huge stress for her because it's hard to get time in the computer lab to type her assignments.  I've had some generous people read this blog before so I'm going to put it out there - if you want to sponsor her for a class or a textbook or whatever, anything helps.  She's still trying to figure out this financial aid mess that her parents will not help her with by giving her nay of their tax information that she needs and she's pretty determined but it's hard.  Let me know if you want to help and I'll give you details. Anyway, it was nice catching up;.  She's a beautiful tall young woman who presents as tough and confident and loud but is ac

Four Hours with a Second Grader

I spent the afternoon with my Little Sister today and I am exhausted.  She seemed perfectly chipper as I dropped her off, but I came home and fell asleep at 4 pm.  This was our schedule: Pack a picnic Go to A&W to buy root beer floats Drive to Tilden Park (about 30 minutes from her house) Picnic on the grass with the dog (I forgot the picnic blanket so we sat on a yoga mat) Tie up the dog Ride the old-fashioned merry go round twice.  Once on a giraffe because it's a giraffe but it didn't go up and down so she had to go on a horse (with a rose because it was the prettiest) after that which did go up and down.  And I had to go because "it's not fun by myself!" Go to the Little Farm and feed the farm animals celery Go to the park and look for blackberries to pick (there weren't any) Drown the disappointment about the blackberries by finding a very tall concrete slide with lots of pieces of cardboard to use for sliding down it Do that over and over

Test Scores, Blood Pressure, and Good Teachers

I was going to write a post on why we're not measuring the right things with standardized testing, but it seems that two people have already done it for me.  They're very interesting reads - please check them out! First, a retired Oakland teacher shows how easy it can be to have the wrong benchmarks for both health and education.  Also, I love the title: My high blood pressure and test scores: The connection is not what you'd think . Second, insight into how Los Angeles public schools are ranked and how that doesn't measure teachers' merits or students' learning, but instead just measures who is in the schools. It's true.  We're going about it all wrong.  And we're spending a lot of money on doing it wrong. Two years ago: Three Things to Remember... Four years ago: Getting Ready

Tips for New Teachers

I wrote a new article about tips for new teachers , and I'd love for people to take a look and let me know what I've left out (I'm sure I've left something out!) so I can update it.  Feedback is always good.  Thanks! Three years ago: NCLB: The Jim Lehrer News Hour, Part III                           What's Wrong With Our Priorities?

Job Conditions

This is the fourth year in a row I am not setting up a classroom in late August.  There's a tiny bit of me that is sad but very little.  Mostly, it's a huge relief.  This was my least favorite part of the year.  Usually the classroom isn't clean and ready for me to set up, the supplies are insufficient, the class lists are not made, there are a bunch of inane meetings detracting from time I could actually be getting ready, the staff isn't completely hired, and the textbooks are not in the correct classrooms.  And I'm lucky - I always knew which grade I was teaching beforehand.  Some people don't even know that. One year I got a new classroom.  I was teaching third grade and the classroom was previously for first grade.  There is a big height difference between the two ages.  I had three days before school started and all the desks were the wrong height and the chairs were the wrong size.  There were still first grade books in the classroom and not all the thir

More on My Kids

My Little Sister (from Big Brothers Big Sisters) and I went to get our nails done yesterday.  She clearly got the better artist and is very happy with her flower and glitter.  Every time I hang out with her, I am amazed by how much she trusts me.  She's seven years old and has had many, many adults let her down, and yet she is completely trusting in someone she's known for all of two months and seen maybe six times.  She climbs up into my lap, holds my hand, hangs onto me in the swimming pool, and jumps up on me if a strange dog comes near her.  There's no hesitation at all. I've talked before about how I believe that all these kids are ours .  I don't have children of my own, but I have all the kids I've ever worked with .  When I say that, I often get the response, "Oh, wait until you have kids of your own - it's totally different."  And I'm sure it is, in many ways.  I don't have full-time responsibility for any of these kids (althoug


Quick tip for anyone who teaches, or works with kids in any capacity: Choices. If you want the kid to do reading and math during a tutoring session, you don't tell said kid the plan.  Instead, you offer it as a choice - do you want to do reading first and math last or the other way around?  Do you want to do reading today and writing tomorrow or start with writing?  Simple, but all of a sudden you're not giving orders, you're letting them choose.  Most of the time, they forget that they didn't want to do reading or math and get excited that they get to pick.  It might work with adults too.


I had some of the most overqualified volunteers ever in my third grade class.  This may have had something to do with the fact that I shamelessly begged my friends to help in any way possible.  I think there were a few friends who I asked to come as soon as I met them, before I was entirely sure of their names.  Some of my volunteers included: -Someone with an MFA helping kids read -a PhD candidate in chemical engineering from Stanford helping with math -a PhD candidate in civil engineering from Cal helping with math -several PhD candidates in engineering from Cal teaching about construction (several years in a row) and helping with a field trip -my extremely talented brother bringing his drums several times -a friend from Pixar who got us tours three different years, once when they were no longer giving tours - and came to the class to sign the kids' toys from Cars . -a physical therapist (who I think has a masters') who helped the kids with reading -many athletes fro

New Plan

How's this for a plan:  I'll just be independently wealthy so I can spend all my time helping my former students go to college, volunteering in the neighborhood I used to teach in, and maybe making private loans for them to go to college.  Any takers?  Only one flaw that I can see. Three years ago: The California Report, Murders, and Other Violence

Succeeding Against All Odds

I got a phone call from a former student yesterday - I'll call her "Chantal."  Chantal was in my third grade class during the 2000-2001 school year and she is now 19.  She just graduated from high school - with a 3.83 GPA.  This was a girl who was very angry and had good reason to be.  Her dad was 60 when she was born and her mom was in jail and then just uninvolved.  She describes her older brother as a "stupid crackhead" and is really upset with him for resorting to drugs.  She decided in middle school that education was her only way out of the area and the situation. I was so excited to hear from her but things are still tough.  She desperately wants to go to college and got accepted to Cal State Hayward, but she has absolutely no money.  She's been to the financial aid office at a community college and was told that she had to get her dad's information in order to get any aid, but when she asked her dad, he said he wasn't giving her any informa