Category Archives: Professional Development

GISA Confusion

As I have previously mentioned, I am presenting a session on using blogs and wikis in the classroom at the GISA conference this fall.  I was reading through the descriptions of the afternoon sessions (mine is a morning session) so I could decide what to take, and I was more than a little dismayed to discover someone else is doing pretty much exactly the same session as I am doing in the afternoon.  I am not upset at the other presenter at all.  In fact, I think it’s great that so many teachers are using blogs and wikis and want to show other teachers how.  I do, however, think it is redundant to have two sessions on the same topic, even if they’re at different times.  I think it may take participants away from both of us.  I wonder how it is that GISA managed to make this mistake.  If the other teacher’s proposal arrived before mine, they should have told me they already had a session on that topic, thank you very much, or vice versa.

Well, here’s hoping we will both still have success.

Schools Attuned Workshop, Part Two

I spent one week in Charlotte, five full days, in the Schools Attuned Subject Specialist course.  I need to complete a practicum and portfolio in order to earn CEU credit, which will be quite a few credits.  Plus, I can do this online, so that works out great.

My first thought on completing the course is that I wish I’d had it as part of my teacher ed training or had taken it earlier.  Some of my peers were somewhat daunted by the terminology that Dr. Levine uses, but it didn’t really bother me much.  Basically, Levine breaks down learning, or neurodevelopment into the following constructs:

  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Language
  • Social Cognition
  • Spatial Ordering
  • Temporal/Sequential Ordering
  • Higher Order Cognition
  • Neuromotor Functions

The first thing I wanted to do after completing the workshop was “attune” (evaluate, figure out areas of strenth and weakness) myself and my daughter.  It was kind of like after I took psychology and wanted to figure out what my loved ones’ mental issues were.

I noted that all of the participants were from private schools.  Most taught at schools that specialized in students with learning disabilities.  It seems to me that it would be easier for a private school to implement the Schools Attuned program across the board, but I don’t think that individual public school teachers would have much of a problem trying it in their own classrooms.

One of the things I really liked about the program is that you have a handy glossary that gives examples of what students who have strengths or weaknesses in each neurodevelopmental construct look like.  It’s like having a mini-rubric.  I think it will help me pinpoint students’ strengths and weaknesses much more quickly.  I also think it will help me better help students, as I can locate management strategies in my notebook that will work with students’ specific weaknesses.

I should back up and say that a lot of the strategies are things that good teachers already do.  However, I think it is handy to have the notebook of management strategies anyway.  For one thing, it will save a lot of time.

One of the things our facilitator said is that most teachers don’t learn how people learn in ed schools; rather, they learn theory.  She’s partly right about that, I think.  This class would have been great to have in ed schools.

I know that Levine’s non-labeling approach is not exactly practical in a school system that requires labels in order to help students; however, in my school, I can very well see how a smaller private school could make this work.  I do think Levine’s system makes sense.  Often times, a student’s problems are much more complex than ADD.  If you used Schools Attuned to evaluate a student, you might learn more about his/her strengths and weaknesses and be better able to help him/her.

Frankly, if I may level with you, I think it will be extremely helpful in terms of talking with parents.  I can foresee being able to use the information I learned to explain what students’ particular problems are.  I will admit to not always being able to do that.  I can tell, for instance, that there is an attention problem, but not necessarily what kind or where the breakdown occurs.

The course’s pricetag is quite hefty.  I do not know that it is practical for most people to take it for that reason alone.  However, if the tuition is not too daunting, I have to say I recommend it highly.

If you have questions about it (and I am able to answer — I did sign an agreement with regards to copyrighted information), then please leave them in the comments and I’ll respond.

Schools Attuned

I am going out of town tomorrow with two colleagues to a Schools Attuned workshop in Charlotte, NC. I will be gone for a whole week. I will have a laptop with me, so I will be able to keep up a little bit, I think, but I don’t know for sure how much time I’ll have to update — I might have plenty of time, but I just don’t know. I should be able to check e-mail and respond to comments, however.

I need to go ahead and finish getting ready for the workshop. I am supposed to bring some lesson plans, and I have to dig those up. I also need to do some laundry. It was about 10 degrees cooler here in Georgia today than it’s been in a week, so perhaps I won’t be sweating if I run the dryer! I live in a house that’s about 100 years old, and the central air conditioning doesn’t work that well. I don’t know if it’s the house’s age or it’s odd you-can-tell-where-it-was-clumsily-added-onto feel.

Well, I’d better get to work.

Attention Controls

As Liz pointed out in my comments,

One of the difficulties of the Schools Attuned approach is that it does not map directly onto [IDEA] [NCLB] [DSM-IV-TR] (pick your poison). As a parent of a child with a specific learning disability, I think that Levine’s approach is more beneficial for the child — but the flaw is the conflict between the various laws and Levine’s non-labelling, discrete approach.

She probably right. I teach at a private school, which makes things easier for us. We are not beholden to the same entities as public schools are; however, we do still have an obligation to provide the services necessary to students we accept. To that end, I do think we can adopt this approach if we get everyone on board. Asking the faculty to read Levine’s book, All Kinds of Minds, would be a start. I know that I have been guilty of assuming laziness on the part of students whose performance is inconsistent. I doubt I am alone, and education might be key to changing some perceptions.

As I read the chapter on the Attention Controls System, I wondered what Levine’s take on medication was, as he didn’t mention it until the end. He feels that medication may help, but is not the whole solution and that often kids’ attention problems are addressed through medication when they also had other problems that didn’t get properly addressed. I think he’s probably right on both counts, but I was glad to see he was in favor of medication. I think too many people dismiss its effectiveness for kids who do have attention problems. Perhaps it is overprescribed. I don’t know. I have never suggested to a parent that his or her child needed medication. I don’t feel qualified to make that decision, since I’m not a doctor. However, I have encouraged parents who are concerned to have their child evaluated for problems (attention, LD, whatever) with their doctor. I have heard stories of teachers actually recommending medication, and I find that shocking.

I am concerned with one assertion Levine makes in this chapter. He chides secondary schools for their “frenetic” pace — timed tests, deadlines, etc. He explains that at this point in an adolescent’s brain maturation, it is ideal to teach them to “work slowly.” Well, he’s the doctor, and I’m most definitely not. However, I have students who lollygag on purpose, and he doesn’t address that. Students will be given plenty of time to complete a task and procrastinate. He also advocates not timing tests and letting students finish later. What about cheating? What about the fact that whether we like it or not, students will take timed tests in the form of college entrance exams and AP? Are we helping them by reinforcing the idea that they always have as much time as they need to complete tasks? I think teaching deadlines is fairly important, especially with adolescents. Teachers are competing with so many other things that I don’t see how anything would get done if they took Levine’s approach to teaching high school (at least where deadlines and timed assignments are concerned).

Mel Levine and UbD

  • Reading: You should have received a copy of Dr. Mel Levine’s A Mind at a Time in your course Prep-Packet. Please read Chapter 2 “The Ways of Learning”, Chapter 5, “Ways with Words: Our Language System” and Chapter 8, “Some Peeks at a Mind’s Peaks: Our Higher Thinking System.”

Well, that’s one required chapter down. Actually, I finding myself very interested in the things Levine writes in A Mind at a Time so far. My son, Dylan, is three years old and doesn’t talk, excepting mumbling “M” sounds. We have had him evaluated by a speech therapist, who agrees he needs to begin regular speech therapy and have been working with him at home with some simple sign language commands, identifying pictures in books, and making environmental noises (animal sounds). But I look at him and worry about how he will do in school with a teacher who doesn’t understand and writes him off as stupid. I also am angrier and angrier about how my oldest daughter, Sarah, has been treated in school. She has ADD, and her teachers have given her detentions for doing things she has done as a direct result of the fact that she has attention problems. It has never worked. I try to be supportive of teachers since I am one myself, but I have grown increasingly frustrated with how schools handle kids like Sarah. Almost every meeting I’ve had with teachers is “She’s a bright girl,” but… That tells me they feel her problems are a function of her intellect instead of one area of her brain — one learning system, to use Levine’s term. She is gifted artistically and she has highly developed language skills. I think she would make a wonderful children’s book writer and illustrator one day. But school is really hard for kids who have attention difficulties. The second chapter of Levine’s book, which I just finished, gives me a great deal of hope for Sarah. She will make it through school OK, probably with some run-ins because of her attention, but I really worry about how Dylan will be treated.

Now that I know what I am going to be teaching next year, I want to begin lesson planning. I had to turn in the copy of Understanding by Design: Professional Development Workbook to our school library. I simply need to buckle down and purchase some more professional development books for my own library. I spend too long with them to check them out of the library. Meanwhile, I did make some templates for unit planning utilizing the UbD method. If you would like them, I have them available in Word or PDF. If you don’t have a word processor that reads Word documents, download the PDF. Otherwise, I’d recommend downloading the Word document so that you can tweak it and actually use it for planning.

A Negative Educational Experience

I am going to work on restoring some posts that were on my blog before my old host went down.  If you subscribe via Bloglines or another RSS reader, you might be wondering what’s going on as those old posts appear; those of you who visit directly probably won’t notice anything unusual.

As promised, here is the entry I wrote about a negative school experience:

I am hard pressed to think of one experience that was so profoundly negative that it stands out in my mind, that it still makes me feel hurt or angry. I have many experiences in P.E. that make me feel that way. I never felt coordinated. I was always picked last for teams. I dreaded Field Day, which most of my peers absolutely loved. I never won ribbons—I always had to take home purple participation ribbons, which my mom saved and joked about. I joked, too, but inside, those ribbons were painful reminders of inadequacy. My sister brought home blue 1st place ribbons, red 2nd place ribbons, and white 3rd place ribbons in various events every year. Why couldn’t I hit a ball? Why was I scared the ball was going to hit me? Volleyball was horrible. I remember missing the ball every time it came near me when I was in the front row because I was scared it would hit me. I could serve OK, but that didn’t seem as scary. One time I actually made a basket in basketball, but I had run the wrong way and made it into the other team’s basket. To teach me a lesson, I suppose, my P.E. teacher counted the points for the opposing team. My team hated me. One time, we were playing baseball, and it was well-known and universally accepted that I couldn’t hit the ball. My team advised me to try to let the ball hit me so I could get a walk. I was so upset. It hurt my feelings so much. I remember that I tried to hit the ball anyway. I failed. My teammates were mad and yelled at me for not letting the ball hit me.

I really did try to do what I supposed to do in P.E., but I just couldn’t. I did have a P.E. teacher who I loved in 7th grade. She tested us objectively on the rules of games, which I always knew. It was putting the procedures into action that I couldn’t do. I remember telling her so proudly that I made a double-bogey on a hole on the golf course—which is a really bad score of five strokes—and she was so pleased that I knew the term and congratulated me. Other teachers might have pointed out that it wasn’t a good score, but she realized that it was good for me. That same year, I caught a pop-fly in baseball. I was on cloud nine all day. I had never managed to do such a thing before (or since). I still try to downplay this by writing it off as a lucky accident. The ball just plopped into the mitt I was holding over my head. I wasn’t even looking. I was scared it would hit me. It landed in the mitt instead. So I caught it and actually made an out! I remember the kid who hit it sought me out after the inning and congratulated me, in his way—he wanted to know who the lucky kid was who caught that excellent hit.

I’m supposed to be recounting negative school experiences, but I can’t help but try to find some positives. I wish there were more, but that one year was the only somewhat positive experience I ever had with P.E.—I subject I came to loathe and dread. I never went so far as to try to fake illness or figure some other way out of it, but I think that was because it never occurred to me I could possibly get away with it if I did. Instead, I just went every day. It never occurred to me until I wrote this that there was a sort of courage in that. I faced it every day and didn’t try to get out of it, even though it was almost always an embarrassing failure.

A Positive Educational Experience

  • Complete the Journal writing activity [discuss a good and bad school experience].

OK, I can cross one more thing off my to-do list. I also read the first chapter of my book. Here, in its entirety, is the most positive educational experience I had. I’ll post the negative one tomorrow.

When I was in 7th grade, my history teacher, Ms. Snyder, had us do an activity she called “The Great Redwood Controversy.” Upon reflection, I think this must have been a unit plan she purchased, because our materials all had a very professional (i.e. not hand-created) quality. My teacher assigned us all roles; we were not allowed to pick. I remember this clearly, because I didn’t like the role I had been assigned. I was probably the most liberal kid in my class. I was the only kid in my class who voted for Walter Mondale in the mock election we had. I was concerned about the environment. The controversy we were to examine in this unit is what we should do legally and morally regarding usage of resources in the National Forest. I played the part of a lawyer arguing a case before congress. My clients were a company who wanted to use a part of the forest land for logging. Well, naturally, I didn’t agree with that at all. How on earth was I going to argue for it? I dove in and did what I was assigned to do, as I often did in school—I was a good student. I knew I wasn’t going to win, but after I started working on it, I really wanted to. I wanted my peers to vote for my company to use the land. I was frustrated by my peers’ unwillingness to see the logic in my arguments. Surely most of the land must be set aside for preservation, but did that mean all? Couldn’t my clients use some of the land? I knew it wasn’t going to go my way, but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed when my classmates (the Senate) voted me down.

Shortly after the unit was over, I was sitting in Ms. Snyder’s class and was asked over the intercom to report to the assistant principal’s office. I had never had to go to the principal’s or asst. principal’s office for any reason, and I was scared. I had no idea what I had done. The asst. principal had a little bit of fun with that, too. He asked me if I knew why I was there. I fearfully confessed that I did not. He smiled, which put me at ease a bit, and he said for me to relax; it was for a good thing. He then read me the contents of a special award Ms. Snyder was giving me for my work on the Redwood Controversy unit. She said I argued my position well without becoming overwhelmed. She was acknowledging me for my work, even though I didn’t win. I saved the award for years. I think it is still around the house somewhere, but when I went to look for it just now, I couldn’t find it. I know I’d never throw it away. Of all the awards I received in school, I’m proudest of this one, and I didn’t realize that until I wrote it just now. I am proudest of it, because a teacher recognized me for working hard and doing well on an assignment when I didn’t think I had—I didn’t win, after all. However, in Ms. Snyder’s view, winning and losing the debate in the eyes of my classmates wasn’t what mattered. What mattered is what I learned and how much effort I put into fulfilling my role in the activity. When I went back to class after getting the award, I remember Ms. Snyder caught my eye and smiled, and I smiled back. I don’t think I could have articulated then how much the award meant. In a way, I wish I could let her know somehow, because she probably never knew the impact that acknowledgement had on me. In fact, for some time after the activity, I considered being a lawyer. I had decided at the age of six to become a teacher and only wavered for a short time after this unit.

Schools Attuned Checklist

In about a week, I will be leaving for a Schools Attuned workshop in Charlotte, North Carolina. I received an e-mail today from the site director reminding me of all the things I need to do/prepare for the trip:

  • Access the Schools Attuned website, www.schoolsattuned.org, create a user name and password and review, print out and sign the Participant Agreement and bring your printed acceptance with you to the Core Course.
  • Complete the Journal writing activity [discuss a good and bad school experience].
  • Complete the On-Line Preparation Activity.
  • Reading: You should have received a copy of Dr. Mel Levine’s A Mind at a Time in your course Prep-Packet. Please read Chapter 2 “The Ways of Learning”, Chapter 5, “Ways with Words: Our Language System” and Chapter 8, “Some Peeks at a Mind’s Peaks: Our Higher Thinking System.”
  • If you are a subject-specific teacher [I am], collect and bring the following with [you]:
    • A copy of the school, district, and/or state curriculum that you use when planning lessons in your subject, course, or level (e.g., Chemistry, Algebra II, Creative Writing)
    • Two lesson plans that you have used this year from the same subject, course, or level
    • Three examples of assignments (e.g., projects, activities, reports) and/or assessments (e.g., quizzes, tests). Select one piece of your work that you would like to look at with the group and bring two extra copies of that document.
    • Several examples of student work from the same subject

That sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? I’ve crossed off the things I’ve already done. As you can see, that’s not a lot. I’m having some trouble thinking of a really bad school experience to share — at least something specific. I have had poor teachers and can share a general sense of dissatisfaction with some aspects of my education, but I can’t think of a single incident that really inspires strong feelings of anger or ill-treatment. I’ll have to think about that. I will post both journal entries here once I have them written.

I am going to sit down and start reading the book tonight. I am glad we only have to read three chapters, but I think I’ll start from the beginning and plow through anyway. If I am finding it difficult to read, then I’ll skip as they suggested.

In terms of collecting my curriculum, ours is a little too nebulous. We have one, and I follow it, but it isn’t composed of objectives like the state curriculu; I think I’ll just print a copy of the Georgia standards.

Lesson plans should be easy to figure out. Examples of assignments, too, as I have them saved on my computer here at home and on my flash drive. I am lucky I have some student work samples to bring in. I didn’t get a chance to hand back reading journals for Postmodernism to my 10th graders.

Nine Week Reflection

Nine weeks have passed since the beginning of this year. If you have been around since the beginning, you might recall that I am using Jim Burke’s The Teacher’s Daybook for planning, organization, and reflection this year. After nine weekly plan pages, Burke included two purple reflection pages. This is what I wrote on the Professional Reflections page.

Good teachers bring us to life. Literally. It’s as if they take us by the hand when we are unsure of just what life is, and they lead us to the fullness and beauty of what it means to be alive. I think the Latin educare means to bring out into the light. ~ Alice Walker

I read Alice Walker’s quote for inspiration. I guess I never thought about where the word “educate” originated. If true, this etymology is interesting.

I don’t feel good about how I’ve done with my goal of organization. I’ve not used this planner to greatest effect over the last six weeks especially. I started out so well! Then, I gradually stopped using the daily planner. I had lessons planned each day, but I didn’t pause to reflect over them as I should have [which the daily planner template in the Daybook allows for]. I’m not sure whether my students felt the lack, but I did.

I also allowed myself to get ridiculously far behind in grading. The paper jungle! Will I ever learn to stay on top of it?

I feel good about my lessons and what my students have been learning. I feel overwhelmed by our disjointed October calendar [Jewish holidays off left us with nine days of instruction over four weeks]. I feel relieved NHS inductions are over [I am advisor of National Honor Society].

I am glad I’ve figured out a way to assess my students in light of the standards of my school.

What I’ve managed to “bring out into the light” is that I need to start — tomorrow — with the daily reflection again. I also need to stay on top of grading. Ironically, I think the regular schedule, i.e. lack of holidays, will help me in that regard, because I get nothing done at home.

Ah educator — educate thyself.