Elementary Schools


That is the how I interpret Senator Dan Patrick’s letter to me in response to my request to kill new legislation that would remove class size restrictions in Texas. In this open letter, I will try to share my constructive opinion about this politically-motivated legislative mistake.

Dear Senator Patrick,
For reference sake, I’ll include large segments of your letter to me:
“… As the Vice-Chair of the Senate Education Committee, your thoughts are important to me. I authored Senate Bill 300 to eliminate certain mandates on schools. One provision in this bill allows districts to create classes based on a 22-to-1 campus average. This will enable more students to remain in their established classes throughout the school year. The current class-size requirement applies to kindergarten through fourth grade classes. Class sizes at higher grade levels, fifth grade through twelfth grade, are not limited because local districts should decide the most effective class sizes for their community. State restrictions on class size are ineffective, costly, and disruptive to students’ lives and education. This piece of legislation came from numerous meetings with superintendents and teachers. A campus-wide average will allow districts to create the best educational setting for a child rather than the state.”

I would communicate my feelings to your extensive, professional classroom-based experience, but lacking that, I’ll just use small numbers for you.

Class Size Example

Class Size Example

This chart shows some 22 to 1 school averages that I assume your bill would allow. Size1 shows what typically happens today. We have lower numbers in kindergarten and very high numbers in 5th grade. Please spend 2 weeks in a kindergarten classroom with more than 18 students and then show me your successes there. Putting the rest of the classes to at least 22 gives the school the allowance for 30 5th graders for each teacher. You would probably be safer painting yourself blue in a Steelers locker room than spending a year with 30 10-11yr olds and meeting the No Child Left Untested demands.

As a fifth grade teacher for 12 years, I was always astounded by the Texas law that made clear that 10 year old students are not as important, yet fundamentally much more mature than 9 year olds. I never had a class with fewer than 26 students and for several years has 30-31 students. Again, I’d love to see the Vice-Chairman on Education in the Texas senate teach 28 10 yr olds with Gifted, academically-challenged, autistic, poor home life, attention deficit, and other student labels while being told to test more in order to increase their 92% scores that allow the school to get a higher rating. (I know, I could have added more. I was trying to keep it simple.)

State restrictions seemed to work fairly well in the K-4 classrooms, some even having a waiver to go to 24. How in good conscience can you suggest that restricting class size is ineffective and disruptive? Ineffective is having to know each of your 28 students’ academic needs and making individual plans for all of their various levels in all subject areas, including an increased presence of liberal arts and technology curriculum standards and over-testing each one…. all while selling the idea that they should value coming to school because it is important. Disruptive is having a larger audience for the one attention-seeking clown in the classroom to play to and distract.

Why did my school have 30 5th graders in 3 classrooms? Because the district couldn’t afford to pay for another teacher. I have yet to work in a school where the admin has been able to keep all 5th grade classes down to 24 students because there was some extra money that they could play with on salaries.

We already have to beg and fight for adequate staffing in some cases. Letting district legally raise the class size limits will only hurt elementary schools. We already have waivers built into the system. Why not help students by making K-5 have 22 to 1 ratios for EACH classroom and allow the larger classroom size waiver for those forward-thinking schools that really do want to have an over-crowded and ineffective class size setting for their community.

We can’t just change class size restrictions as easily as some people change their name because they don’t like the way it sounds. There is a REAL impact on teachers and school performance when our young children are forced to meet the educational demands of the government in crowded classrooms.

Show me one respectable teacher that thinks that students would be better off in a larger classroom and I’ll gladly shut up. Otherwise, please reconsider removing class size mandates in the tragic mistake called Senate Bill 300.

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Blogs are intended to be chronologically organized posts that allow for feedback.  There have been several universities that have maintained a website that assumes the identity of a particular historical figure. For instance, students could write Thomas Jefferson, ask him a question, and get a response.  A classroom blog could do the same thing in a couple of different ways.

One project a class could undertake would be to have the whole class assume the identity of one historical person. The class would write introductions and post some support background. Each week or two, they could post a new story about their person.  Readers could reply to the blog with questions about the historical person and the class could continue that dialogue.

Another way of impersonating people would be to have a shorter-term blog where the teacher gets to be James Lipton (Actor’s Studio guy) and pose broad questions to be answered by students.  Students can be in small groups and assume the identity of a person.  Mr Lipton could ask, “What was the defining moment in your life?” One group could respond as Abe Lincoln while another responds as Harriet Tubman. After answering the initial question, the historical person could also respond to something someone else said in that series of replies.  I wonder how well Dolly Madison and Susan B Anthony would get along in the same blog. J

For the younger students, a class blog could be just weekly posts without the need for responses.  The class could invent a character to write about together. The blog would be his own ‘Day in the Life’ blog as seen through the eyes of the students. The students would collaboratively write about the character’s day, about his likes and dislikes, and even create a family for him. By the end of the year/project timeline/, the class would have a substantial story created that would undoubtedly reflect the attitude and opinions of the class without giving any personal identifications of the students.  After the character has been ‘alive’ for a while, have your own Flat Stanley project by inviting family and friends from across the country to write a response on a blog entry.   Creating that opportunity for communication with others would benefit the students in ways that seeing Flat Stanley come through the door would do.

Impersonating fictional characters, famous historical figures, and creating a story character are great purposes for a classroom blog. Maybe some of these ideas will help you find a new purposed for a writer’s blog.

Ever been in an assembly or have the counselor visit your classroom and you look around the audience and see puddles of drool forming under the chins of your lovable students? Think back to last week’s staff meeting and remember when you were one of those lovable students? 🙂 The audience probably had little buy-in or ownership of the lecture being presented and probably missed a good bit of what was shared. Since the blog is a discussion forum, why not use it as a follow-up to that meeting?

If I was the counselor and I was talking to fifth grade students about what it means to be respectful, I could follow it up with a blog session with the students. “Tell me about a time when you felt respected at school.” “Call someone out on the way that they showed respect to someone else. How do you think it made the other person feel?” Give students the expectation that they will be blogging about the session and maybe they’ll be more attentive.

In a well-moderated school blog, high school assemblies on prom planning or career counseling could be followed up by the teachers with comments by students. Students could give suggestions or input on the decision-making process and further debate them online. Maybe what once was controlled by a few vocal students could be owned by a broader section of the population. Perhaps the comments could be question and answer sessions where the students can learn more by reading the questions others have posted.

A librarian’s blog can be a home for new book discussion or school-wide book studies. What better way to have a teacher present something new to a very broad population and still have the ability for a vast range of student comments?

The classroom blog can be used for a small group of students or a large number of students and can provide an ‘open door’ for the traveling speaker or teacher who sees many students during the week.

Remember, a blog doesn’t have to have an indefinite life span. A blog on an assembly topic may provoke a lot of interest, but limit it to a two week planned life span then turn off commenting. The posts can be left visible for those who want to review the topics, but the purpose of the blog may be over and not necessarily something you want to maintain.

Do you have an experience where a school blog was a tool for student communication?

I was talking with a teacher the other day about this blog. She made the comment, it would be nice if you included some real examples of class work. Well, okay then. Below is an excerpt from my class blog in April 2005. We were studying character development and I wanted the students to write more about it.

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Thursday – Character
From Michael Cricton’s “Timeline”: “She tried to place that rumbling sound when a teenage boy burst around the corner, racing toward her. the boy was wearing black hose, a bright green quilted jacket and a black cap. He was red-faced with exertion; he’d clearly been running for some time. he seemed startled to find her walking on the path. As he came near her, he yelled, ‘Hide woman! For the sake of God! Hide!’ “

In an instant, the author has a character painted with words. He’s young, not dressed in modern clothing, and has been running scared. I can picture in my mind a teenager with eyes wide open and the look of true fear on his face.

As you did yesterday, quote your author’s work where he or she described a character. It can be from any place in the book that you have read already. DON’T FORGET: write about what you think about the description. Did you get any extra meaning from it? This is character development, not plot.

Blogger Mr. M said… (I cheated. I posted the first reply this day.)

Okay, had to add one more from the book, ‘Timeline’, by Michael Crichton.
The driver of a car just hit a guy in the road. “As the dust cleared, he saw the man lying at the side of the road, trying to raise himself up on his elbow. The guy was shaky, about seventy, balding and bearded. His skin was pale; he didn’t look Navajo. His brown clothes were fashioned into long robes. Maybe he’s a priest, Baker thought.”
The setting is a dusty, desert road. The man doesn’t look Navajo, (American Indian.) So, he’s out of place. His clothing is out of place as well. This character presents a mystery because he’s an old out of place guy in the middle of the desert…in the middle of the road. It made me want to read on.

What did you find today that made you want to read on? Mr M

12:01 AM
Anonymous B.R said…

The boy named Marty loves dogs he works for money to buy Judd’s dog.Judd is not nice to his dogs he shot one of his dogs for not lisining to him.Marty keep him a secrat from him because he does not want him to kill the dog.He buys his dog from him.So Shiloh is his dog.

11:19 AM
Anonymous NM said…

“And suddenly, according to my imagination, I’d been on my feet, screaming,’Why didn’t you leave us alone? Why did you have to drag us in? You’re scum, filth. I hate you. Go away. You deserve everything, everthing, you understand? Everything that you get. IT’S NOT MY FAULT.'”
You can tell that she really hates Jack(dad’s friend).
She had the same nightmare over and over again. This is what she says right after.
“It was so real I was trembling.None of it happened of course. But for hours Cindy gazed at the TV, I watched this movie in my head, running it over and over, changing the dialogue each time, trying to find words I could say to him that would be more powerful, more affective.”
I don’t really know if this “nightmare” really happened or not. She either already told him or is thinking about it.
She says she needs words more affective so maybe it didn’t happen…maybe she thinks thats what will happen.
Jack and her talk a little bit before that. I couldn’t right it because he says a cuss word. Well…thats all for now.
BYE!

11:35 AM
Anonymous sb said…

The book i’m reading is The Mystery of the Cupboard by Lynne Ried Banks. The main charater of my story is a boy named Omri.I think he likes to read because he’s reading a journal he found in thatch & he likes the journal so much that he has trouble breathing when the writing gets to the climaxe.Hears a part of the story so you’ll get what I mean.”Pressuredas he was by the life around him, he was sorely temted to just flick throgh the thin pages of the notebook, picking out the bits that concernd him the most.”Gotta go bye!!!

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We had 27 posts during that class. There was a lot of typing with one hand going on since their other hand was keeping their place in the book where they were quoting from. I really felt that they were using great lit skills that day.

I found a new tool last week that makes an amazing amount of good sense. I spent hours highlighting text with students or teaching them how to highlight.  Couple that with the young internet researcher who finds that perfect article on George Washington… that goes on for 42 pages. How do you help them pick out specific parts or highlight them?

diigo.com to the rescue! This free resource will let you highlight webpages, bookmarks sites, and even attach sticky notes to a web page. You can login or use a shortcut in your browser to have instant access to the edits you make.

diigo1

After a quick install, you simply highlight the text and right click/cntrl click to get the highlight option. The text will stay highlighted each time you return to that page, given your diigo login is still active.

diigo2

Attach sticky notes with student-specific notes or lesson suggestions. The sticky notes just pop up when you mouse-over the highlight.

I would want to install it on each of my classroom computers so that the diigo toolbar shows in my browser. Then my bookmarked pages will be accessible from each station and the day’s research lesson can be pulled up as pre-highlighted pages.  Imagine, the sticky on real-world text would say, “Read this section and answer this question:…”  Or, better yet, “Read and then give your answer on our blog. If you have time, make sure you ask a question or comment on someone else’s answers.”

Ah, online instructions on ANY webpage my students are directed to by me.  Heck, if the toolbar is on the browser, I bet students will start asking to highlight their own sites.

I’m sure diigo isn’t perfect, but I am liking it so far.