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

Friday, November 28, 2014

A stream of consciousness

The musical stream flows like a rushing dream.
It whispers, ripples, pools, and plays back scenes.
With gravitas it channels memories.
Everything is washed into the sea,
Except  some sticky remnants that line the shore.

The musical stream flows like a dream
Whispering merrily, meandering along
Temporal pleasures and sad song treasures
It filters and files as memories. 

The stream is but a dream
A flow past an unseen sea
A whisper of today.

Today together

 Flows ...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My kids can't do long division. Time to try something different ...

    Partial quotient method of division: An alternate to traditional long division

If a typical 6th grade student is given the same simple fraction computation problem over and over over, one that only involves just a few simple steps, such as a simple fraction multiplication problem, eventually after a few trials most will remember the steps, be able to mirror them during direct teaching, do it on their own during guided practice, and are quickly ready for independent practice. Even if a typical student does not fully understand why each step is required, most can at least match, mirror, notice a pattern, and do a series of steps independently. Not my most at-risk class for which I am being challenged to teach 6th grade curriculum when only a few can perform 3rd grade division, even during guided practice. Independent practice? What a joke! Solving word problems? Heartburn!

Even though the steps are posted, with each step a different color, the ability of most of these students to follow a simple multi-step procedure breaks down after about the second or third step, leaving many of these students smiling obtusely, sitting like bumps on a log. After multiple repetitions of the same problems, the majority can at lest perform steps one through four and are able to get to the fifth step when they must change an improper fraction to a mixed number or reduce a fraction to simplest form, a step that involves division. I give students credit for 80% of an "exit ticket" problem. I give students unlimited opportunities to do retakes throughout a quarter, but only a few take advantage of my unlimited opportunities policy. Only a few care enough about their learning to come for help after school or during lunch, so I am constantly trying to chase squirrely students down. The lack of independent learning skills, lack of stamina, and overall listlessness is maddening! 6th grade math is a life skill, but these kids in self-contained classrooms just don't seem to get it!

Long division has been problematic largely because most of these students do not know their multiplication facts. Most have no automaticity with their addition and subtraction fact families to 20, which makes computation without a calculator virtually unbearable. The root of the problem with division seems to be a general inability to follow multi-step procedures, even if they sort of get the concept of equal grouping. I noticed Lena getting stumped by the concept of how many 7's go into 63, guessing 6 instead of 9, looking puzzled as usual. After observing Grant successfully solve a fraction multiplication problem using what was a combination of guessing and repeated subtraction, it suddenly dawned on me that my "division problem" is not going away unless something changes drastically. Division is becoming a black hole, a destroyer of motivation for frustrated learners.

Time to try an alternative strategy. What I like about the partial quotients strategy is the way it allows students to chunk a larger number down even if they cannot quickly find appropriate multiples of a divisor to find "the right" quotient. Close can be good enough, Even not close can be good enough. All students need to remember is that, whatever multiple of the divisor they choose, the product cannot be larger than larger than what remains of the dividend, (or the amount that is being divided). Having studied partial quotients for a few hours, having found a few well-written notes, and having found a nice video courtesy of Khan Academy, I am ready to teach the partial quotients strategy, and praying that this strategy will prove to be a magic bullet!

On Monday, even if students can take advantage of the visual scaffolding and explicit strategy cues I have provided on their quiz, which I spent over two hours after school yesterday modifying and perfecting with feedback from a master teacher who works with intellectually disabled students (students with IQ's below 70), I expect most to still fail because they cannot perform the computations. My value added chart for my self-contained students remains mired in the red, but hopefully I can pull a few of these students up a little.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

An allusion to Robert Frost

Stopping by the creek on a Saturday Morning

These woods are ours, we know them well
Long in the suburbs we have dwelled, also
No one will see us stopping here to hunt for stones where tribes once dwelled.

Mabel knows this is our norm to escape from the suburban swarm,
Between the Potomac and Accotink Creek, on any given Saturday morn.

She snorts and gives her head a shake
She knows that there is no mistake.
The only other sound’s the stream and rustling leaves and referees.

These woods are sanctuary from the swarm, but I have promises to keep
And every day’s another step.

One step at a time. One step at a time.
I can still recite "Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening," by Robert Frost from memory. My second grade teacher, Mrs.Brown, had everybody in our class recite it, and it has stuck with me through all these years. As I walk with Mabel in the woods, I often repeat it from memory.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Olfactory Joy

Savor the garden.
Would that time permitted more
Olfactory joy

This grey and haunting November morning, Mabel briskly led a meandering path along the dappled borders of the greens, around the calming fountain, past the lillypads, down to the spring fed stream. We trudged across the pied leaf strewn bridge, up the hill to the nursery at Green Spring Gardens, and back to my Chevy truck. Today amidst the gloom, I followed pensively. Mabel's nose savored fall's scents in lusty breaths while I observed fall's colors and searched for the right words, Saturday sniff walks are my reward for her patience with my daily dark arrivals, to which she unbregudgingly brushes her door bells, snorts, and greets me with howls of joy, however late I arrive. 

It's been a brutal week with the Quarter 1 Math test having been a bit of debacle for certain squirrely students for whom the 6th grade curriculum, despite accommodations, for various and sundry reasons is not sufficiently accessible. Far too many of my students are not responding to what I would consider reasonable interventions and accommodations, Bi-weekly progress reports indicating failing grades, calls home to parents, and the future prospect of never graduating from high school have often seemed to have fallen on deaf ears of students for whom academic failure has become far too excusable. When I post my grades later today, tomorrow, or Monday, I shudder to think about how many F's will remain, despite consistent opportunities I provide to students to raise their grades. This week, I jealously observed the converse, a student in another classes being consoled by a teacher after receiving a C on the Quarter 1 Final. Why is it that my students have become numb to academic failure and remain so resistant to becoming engaged learners?

I have limited homework, maintained a consistent homework checking procedure, adjusted seating, pruned the classroom environment to eliminate visual clutter, made the content more accessible for students who have audio and visual motor processing problems by reducing writing requirements, by using color to help students distinguish procedural steps, and by adjusting my pacing. I have regularly communicated with colleagues to see what is working in other classes. I have held students for Lunch Bunch, sometimes involuntarily, but mostly voluntarily, held students for After School Detention when discipline issues have arisen, but used the time to help students complete missing assignments. have maintained daily office hours, made myself available to parents, worked one on one after school on Fridays with some of my extreme cases. How is it that so many 6th graders cannot read, write, or do simple math, while remaining blissfully ignorant of the long-term consequences of academic failure? What do I need to do to help students understand that academic failure is largely a result of lousy choices?

Fortunately for my sanity, during the last few weeks of the quarter, responsiveness to my interventions seemed to gain a little momentum. A few students in my self-contained classes finally did show a little life, particularly those who enjoy a little structure at home. I treated a few who stayed after school, after calls home to notify parents that their students were failing got their parent's attention. to a real-time demonstration of the effect of changing zeroes to A's in the grade book as I allowed students to turn in missed assignments with teacher assistance,

By the end of the week, Hector, who for some reason as a 6th grader still hasn't learned how to modulate his booming voice or learned how to refrain from routinely inappropriate comments in a classroom setting, was asking to stay with me after the other students left so that he could work with me one-on-one. A month ago, Hector mocked me after I revealed to him, "I am the silent assassin, you may have gotten away with your rotten behavior last year, but I won't stand for it -- I'll contact your soccer coach." By the time Hector left at 5pm on Thursday, Hector was starting to sort of get fraction multiplication, although since he has never learned his multiplication facts, he has difficulty finding common factors and common multiples when reducing fractions. Hector is one of the lucky ones. His parents care. His soccer coach supported him with a decision to not allow him to play until he raises his grades up.

After I sent Hector home at 5pm because it would be getting dark outside, I broke for a quick bite at Thai by Thai, which recently opened in the Bradlick Shopping Center, What a delightful surprise it was to enjoy a hot bowl of noodles in such a tastefully decorated little restaurant. I hope they make it, as I was the only one in there, There are simply not enough quality restaurants in Springfield. What a huge disparity between the quality of their food and decor and their prices. Another example that the economy sucks and nobody has any money! Instead of returning back to school which I typically do to eliminate as many risks as possible, I went home and took Mabel for a long walk along the creek behind the Audrey Moore Recreation Center. She excitedly pulled me further than usual in the cool October twilight. Thankful I was that I had managed to pop my back and was able to walk my dog through the woods without much of a limp, after had I limped home late Wednesday evening barely able to walk.

Unfortunately, far too many of my students in my self-contained classes do not enjoy reasonable parental support, or suffer from an inability to persist or handle the truth that how they have been approaching their responsibilities has not been good enough. On the second day of testing, I had Jasmine call home because she could only answer a few of the 27 questions, I finally reached her mom, who apologized for not returning any of my calls and requests for a conference because she has been in the hospital suffering from kidney problems. Both she and her husband, she apologized, do not know enough english to help her daughter with homework. Jasmine's mom wants to conference with me on Tuesday during my Teacher work day. Of course, I will accommodate her. All throughout the 1st quarter, I have been begging Jasmine to stay to work with me so that I can help her, because I have seen enough to know she can do better, Now, maybe Jasmine will begin to stay a little more consistently. Dontae was on a roller coaster all quarter. Perhaps he felt that if he tried to be nice and stay and come for help every once in a while it would be good enough, while I bent over backwards to make his time enjoyable, but I wouldn't stand for it when he threw paper wads at his friends while I was teaching a lesson. He responded to being held from participating in Dance Club until he served his time in After School Detention by quitting the club. Habitual failure is a hard habit to break.

Legal precedent exists for schools to withhold supplementary aids and services to students in cases where no clear educational benefit is evident (Board of Education v. Rowley 458 U.S. 176, 102 S. Ct 3034 (1984). At my school, the culture is to provide the maximum support and opportunities, and the result is our school performs on par with schools with students who enjoy far higher socio-economic status. "[Rowley] held that IDEA's appropriate education" requirement includes a process and an opportunity to benefit." (Turnbull, H., Stowe, M., & Huerta,  N., 2007). Thus, we have procedural due process to guarantee FAPE (a free and appropriate public education, but procedural compliance is not good enough.

I feel the burden of noblesse oblige, a concept I wrestled with when challenged with descriptions of "sublimated idealized selfishness" in Lord Jim. which I read as a senior in high school. I don't know if dad has already given his speech to the War College, but his opening line, an allusion to Diodorus Sicolus, is something I reflect about often. Somehow, I need to help students understand that, ultimately, they are responsible, and that I don't give grades, grades are earned, and that grades have lasting consequences.


Turnbull, H., Stowe, M., & Huerta,  N. (2007). Free appropriate education: The law and children with disabilities.  Denver: Love Publishing Company.

Board of Education v. Rowley
458 U.S. 176, 102 S. Ct 3034 (1984)