A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ratios Graphic Organizer

Helena is a student in one of my self-contained classes with a severe auditory processing disorder and extremely low reading skills. Helena is unable to read large numbers because she has not been able to master place value and base 10 concepts. She has difficulties with simple addition and subtraction and has little knowledge of multiplication fact families. After reviewing her Cumulative file last week, I have a better understanding of why she often appears so utterly confused, she is processing very little of what I am saying.

Helena's difficulties with processing auditory information have made it difficult for her to read and write problems involving ratios, much less use ratios to solve problems. She has not been able to consistently put words and amounts in proper order, even with simple ratios where amounts are given. I plan to provide her the graphic organizer below as instructional scaffolding. I am hoping that, by providing her with visual strategies, I might be able to help her overcome some of her auditory deficiencies, 

*** Read and Write Ratios, Then Use Ratios to Solve Problems

1.       Read and write ratios (two item comparisons)

a.       Ask, “What am I comparing?”

                                                               i.      Identify which two items are being compared (Word A to Word B)

                                                             ii.      Translate Word A and Word B into Word Form (words in a fraction).

b.      Ask, “What amounts are known?”

                                                               i.      Identify the amounts known and their order

                                                             ii.      Identify and solve for any missing parts. (Hint: it often helps to create tables to organize data)

                                                          iii.      Translate the amounts known to Fraction 1 and / or Fraction 2 in the same order as Word Form

2.       Use Fraction 1 (amounts known) to solve Fraction 2 (parts unknown)

a.       Compare numerators of Fraction 1 to numerators of Fraction 2

b.      Compare denominators of Fraction 1 to denominators of Fraction 2

c.       Multiply or divide both numerators and denominators by the same amounts to create equivalent fractions

d.      Label the solutions with Word A or Word B (the missing part of Fraction 2)

Friday, September 26, 2014

News from an old friend

One of my old friends shared with me an email he fired off to the Chair of the Counseling Department at a local high school this past Monday evening, after his son, Steve, had been abruptly handed a schedule change this past Friday. Upon hearing about how upsetting the sudden schedule change had been to Steve, Sam's wife contacted the Counselor. On Monday, from her job, Sam's wife had been communicating back and forth with Ms. Foley, Steve's counselor, but was getting nowhere with the lady.

Sam became a little enraged after his wife shared with him over dinner Monday evening that that the Counselor, Ms. Foley, had replied to her that, "at this point, it would be impossible" to move Steve back to his original math class. Steve had finally found a Math teacher with whom he could connect, one who engaged learners with math games, had a sense of humor, and was responsive to students, and now, without any warning, he had been randomly moved to another class. Steve was feeling as if he had received the perfect Christmas present, only to be told, "Oops! That wasn't for you."

Sam immediately fired off an email to Ms. Foley's supervisor, Mrs. Strawberry, and cc'd it to Mrs. Strawberry's boss, Mr. Randall, the Principal. On Wednesday, Mrs. Strawberry, Ms. Foley, and an Assistant Principal conferenced with Steve and found a way return Steve's schedule back to its original configuration.


Hi Mrs. Strawberry,

Thank you for taking the time to explain your need to “level the classes.” However, Steve did not have a problem with his schedule until Ms. Foley, without warning, removed him from his English class while he was writing an essay. Steve was extremely happy about his schedule and the relationships he had established. My wife was extremely happy with all of Steve’s teachers, with whom she exchanged information on back to school night. Nobody on our end had any problems with Steve’s schedule, despite some of our concerns with how challenging it is. Steve was all in. We were all in. Don’t the personal relationships and feelings of Steve, which are so important to us, carry any weight in your decision making process and how you go about “leveling your classes?” Sorry, but as a parent, I’m feel as if my son has been steamrolled.

From my perspective, this “out of left field” change was handled rather crudely at best, with zero discussion, and at worst is potentially disastrous for Steve. I cannot stress strongly enough my belief as a parent and an educator that this change is not in the best interests of my child. Therefore, I will not consent to any changes in his schedule this late in the game from where he was originally placed. What I don’t understand is why you can’t simply reverse the changes and go back to his original schedule, which was already perfect?

If you feel a need to meet face to face to discuss the matter further, as you know, it would be rather inconvenient for all of us, as we are all rather busy, but I’m sure my Principal would grant me the time if I requested it because the welfare of my child is so important to me. Steve’s Junior Year is, perhaps the most critical year he will have before applying for colleges, so I’m hoping you’d be willing to reconsider your decision with Steve’s best interests in mind.

Thanks in advance for your consideration,

Sam Oleska,
Deep Woods Elementary School

5th Grade Teacher

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Intervention: the New Buzz Word

Response to Intervention (RTI), a major point of discussion while I was in Marymount University's graduate program, has become institutionalized. Teachers are being required to leave a document trail of "lower-tier interventions" before a student can be disciplined, reported as failing, or routed through Special Education. Nothing new! What's different with a new Superintendent is the level of school-wide focus, and the roles of administrators who are focusing on discipline, and how these new roles are affecting what I do for classroom management to ensure that I am doing everything I can to ensure academic success, and the level of scrutiny we all face as teachers to ensure that are being dutiful in following procedures. In response, I am becoming the King of Intervention.

Back at Allied Plywood, throughout the organization one of our mantras was "CYA," the main proponent of which was Gene Scales, who taught me well as a young apprentice. I would characterize "Intervention" as glorified "CYA." As a Special Education teacher, governed by a procedural compliance framework, procedural compliance is the fishbowl in which I swim.

Students I serve this year range from the self-motivated, vivacious Angelica, who has a 95% average in Mr. Lee's team-taught class, whose Math About Me poster I will save as an exemplar, because it is truly for the ages, to the diabolical Johnny who with his death stare reminds me of Jack Nicholson's character in The Shining, an 11 year-old child whom I hope does not have access to a cache of weapons -- he has a below 40% average, has never turned his poster in or most of his other homework assignments, has still never adjusted to the routines of the class, and has already been removed once for giving another child the middle finger, and once, just Thursday, while I was introducing Ratios, for punching another student in the side while getting up to get materials.

During the first week of school, Dontae was ready to "drop" Johnny, and started toward Johnny in a menacing fashion, with Johnny smiling like a chesire cat, before I redirected Dontae outside for a cool down conversation. Big Al, as students were leaving the classroom asked, "May I tell you something?" after I asked Dontae to stay after class for a short while to continue our conversation, a pause that allowed Johnny to leave the classroom unmolested.

I responded, "Is it urgent?" Big Al responded by describing how Johnny had been threatening other students in the hallways.

When I called and spoke to both Johnny's and Dontae's mothers later that afternoon, I received two entirely different impressions. Before calling, I glanced at the Student Information forms that both students had returned. My call to Johnny's mom raised my heebee-jeebies. Immediately after Johnny's mom responded to my report of an incident by telling me that she had received a text that, after Johnny left my room, that "he had the crap knocked out of him" and that his foot had been seriously injured, and that she had to take Johnny to the emergency room, we had a sudden power outage, the phones died, and I was unable to reply that Johnny could not possibly have been hurt by Dontae after leaving my classroom. I had kept Dontae after class because I could see he was still boiling. Later, I had seen Dontae outside in the hall cooling off with big Mr. McDuff. Immediately after the mysterious power outage, I went to the office to discuss my predicament, and was advised by the Mr. D, the Counselor, to email the mother back and copy Mr. Farmer, himself, and our 6th grade disciplinarian, the multi-talented, kind-of-scary, soft-spoken procedural expert, Ms. Smith, who speaks softly but is the de facto authoritarian for the 6th grade. The next morning, the burly ex-marine, Mr. Farmer, Ms. Smith's boss, greeted me at the door, hands on hips. He was wondering why I had gone directly to him, and why Johnny's mom had left messages on his answering machine that she had taken Johnny to the emergency room. I reiterated the facts, which seemed to assuage his concerns, somewhat, but not entirely.

My call to Dontae's mom left an entirely different taste in my mouth. I called Dontae's mom immediately after school. When I looked at the handwriting on the form and the description of her child, I was impressed by her penmanship and her description of a funny, happy child. My point was that Dontae would not be able to access the curriculum if he continued to hold onto his anger during my class. Dontae returned the next morning wearing a warm smile, and has been an engaged learner ever since.

Yesterday, on a Friday, Dontae asked if he could stay after school for help. For Dontae, I made an exception to my Friday rule since he had missed the lesson on Ratios, since I did not want to lose the momentum he was gaining, and since he is not currently passing my class, and gave him a private lesson on how to read and write ratios, and how to use ratios to solve problems. I handed him a multiplication chart while teaching him factoring procedures, as writing ratios in simplest form is part of the standard, and he seemed to benefit from that accommodation. Dontae shared with me how he enjoys working with his mom in the kitchen, which made the exercise of using ratios meaningful to him.

Johnny's pattern of disrupting my classroom, as well as some difficult but less severe cases have been accompanied by an increased level of scrutiny of my classroom management. as Ms. Smith and Mr. D have been in my room on a number of occasions to observe students with behavioral concerns, and Ms. Glenn, the Chair of the Special Education Department. mentioned, "I heard from Ms. Smith that you were having "behavior problems," since I had a relatively high level of referrals during the first two weeks.

"No, I am just being quicker to document my interventions this year," I replied, which seemed to satisfy her. Having been in an out of my room observing all year, Ms. Smith has given me considerable feedback about things I can improve. Wisely, I have been listening. When Ms. Smith speaks, I listen. It's grad school all over again.

Ms. Smith has provided me considerable guidance in redesigning of my classroom. In response my room has become uncluttered up front, all of my vocabulary resources have been shifted to the back wall, and my classroom procedures have been shifted to a bulletin board. The spaces for hanging student work created by Sianan, who had occupied my room previously, have all been taken down. Yesterday, I set up a special cool down desk in the back corner, just for Johnny. Ms. Smith's latest suggestion, a card system, a common elementary school procedure, which is being employed by Ms. Santiago in the room next door, is one I am struggling with, as it originates from the behaviorist approach to learning, and I frankly hate it. I think I will simply leave this suggested unimplemented, as it was just a suggestion, not a directive.

On Thursday evening, after Johnny surreptitiously punched Arman in the side while walking to get materials, I attempted to call every student in my two self-contained classes. Amazingly, I reached most of my parents from my self-contained classes. I am not fluent in Spanish, but I was able to beg parents to speak in English -- I would say, "Su ingles es mejor que mi Espanol. In one case, little Jose, who has done little of the homework in my class, served as a translator for his mother. Yesterday, Jose completed the classwork, mostly correctly.

Yesterday, Ms. Smith helped me clarify the distinction between "Lunch Bunch," and "Lunch Detention," since Carlos, who was in my room for Lunch Detention, was not making the connection that being in my room was a punishment, and had visited the snack machine, and was all smiles. My difficulty was that I had 5 students from Mr. Lee's class, some who were there by choice, and some who were there not by choice, but all were there working diligently. My other students, about 5 from my self contained classes were there not by choice because they had not been doing their homework. The difficulty I was having was that my focus tends to be on helping students who want to be helped. My room is set up so I can move my rolling chair freely around the classroom. I use multiple white boards when I work alongside students. I don't think about the punishment aspect at all.

In order to punish Carlos, a lower-tier behavioral intervention that I am using as part of the chain of documentation Ms. Smith and I will use in the beginning of October, before we let Carlos's parents know in October that nothing we tried during September is working, Ms. Smith suggested, I will need to punish Carlos 1:1, which in the short-term will punish me and all the other students since I won't be able to have others in the room to work with them. The next time Carlos requires me to punish him, which will be Monday, since he was breaking pencils yesterday, I think I will schedule his punishment for next Thursday after school, since my office hours are Monday and Wednesday.

I get this Intervention thing. I know what to do. CYA.