Friday, June 1, 2012

Jurassic Park Insight

I decided to spend my evening tonight watching one of my favorite movie trilogies as well as movie version of some of my favorite books; The Jurassic Park series!  During the third movie, Dr. Grant said something so incredibly insightful that immediately reminded me of the students we have in our classroom.   He said "I have a theory that there are two kinds of boys, those who want to be astronomers, and those who want to be astronauts.  The astronomer, the paleontologist, gets to study these amazing things from a place of complete safety." "But then you never get to go into space"  "Exactly, that's the difference between imagining and seeing, being able to touch them."  What incredible insight into our students.  There are those whose education can suffice on imagination, upon hearing and reading about certain things and gaining complete understanding of something, and those who need to see, touch, and experience something to fully understand and appreciate it.  Something to keep in mind =)!

Taboo Topic

For a long while now I have wanted to post something that might be considered taboo in the education world but it is something that I believe to be very important and something that because of it's taboo nature in the education system, isn't talked about for fear of the repercussions, however, the other day, a conversation about the ELA 11 curriculum prompted a this discussion between myself and a few teachers on my campus and I wanted to get the perspective of others, especially those I was in the program with and have a fresh teaching perspective. The topic is about religion in school. I want to first start with one of the most prominent issues in our education system and with our students and that's bullying in schools. We have seen more and more in the news issues of bullying in schools and we are finally realizing that this is a HUGE threat to our students, more so than we ever did before. However, the news has mainly focused on the issue of students sexual orientation and the bullying that comes with that topic. Now, I believe that any kind of bullying is wrong, for any reason, and as teachers it's our job to protect our students from this kind of ignorant behavior. This topic though is what prompted the aforementioned conversation at my site. Why is it that in schools now, we are very open and supportive (and rightfully so) of students speaking out about their sexual orientation; that we are encouraging students to stand up for who they are and pushing acceptance for all students, but religion is still taboo in schools? Unfortunately what I have noticed is that religion, whether you are Christian, Catholic, Mormon, Buddhist, etc. has in our society, for many people, become synonymous with hatred. It is unfortunate the the views and hate of the few have created this stereotype for all religions alike. The conversation that came up was about Puritan literature, which is 100% based upon religion and the religious beliefs our country was founded upon. Interestingly enough, many teachers at my site believe that for students to understand the literature, they need to understand the biblical stories the writing references or was based upon. Now, isn't that history; isn't that our job to teach our students the historical facts of various time periods? Apparently, during the time some teachers taught this curriculum, students became afraid in class and actually asked "are we allowed to talk about this in school?" and there was issues with parents calling the school with regards to teachers "teaching religious beliefs." This shocked me. In a society, where we are pushing for the rights of all human beings, religion discussion is still seen as taboo. Now I understand the importance of Separation of Church and State but does this mean we have to censor the historical facts? I.e. are we supposed to censor the fact that Puritan literature is based in religious and references many religious passages?  Whether or not you believe the Bible stories are true, the fact is that those who wrote during Puritan times DID believe in those stories, and referenced them in their poems, and literature..  Does this also mean that we have to censor our students. If a student wants to speak out about their beliefs in God in a classroom, why are we so adamant to silence them, but if they want to talk about Gay rights, or gay marriage, we encourage such discussions. Again, I don't want my message to be misconstrued. I am a proponent of students being able to speak their minds whatever the topic may be, as long as it is done in a respectful manner. So I guess where I am going with this is what do we do as educators that are pushing for the acceptance of all beliefs, of all thoughts, and yet we are told to separate religion from anything school related when religion may be something that is incredibly important to who are students identify themselves as. I also am very curious how those who teach science approach this topic. We believe it is okay to teach Evolution in schools, but we do not touch any other beliefs on creation of the Earth. How do you science teachers address this issue of a one sided belief? How do you address those students who stand up and say that they don't believe in evolution, that they believe God created the Earth, or Allah is God and he created all? Do you allow students to stand up for what they believe in, or do we censor them for fear of the responses it may create? English teachers, how do you address students, who feel uncomfortable reading Puritan literature that is centered around God and religious belief without teaching the Bible passages they reference in the text, to ensure students gain a full understanding of the literature? I just find in interesting that topics that used to be taboo, like gay marriage, (and I am coming short on any other examples so any you could share would be great as I am not trying to create a debate between religious freedom and orientation freedom, these were just the two comparisons discussed the other day) are encouraged in classrooms, but discussions about religious freedom or lack of religious belief are "taboo" How do we tacle this incredibly sensitive subject? How do we support all of our students without silencing them? My belief, is that all ideas and beliefs, should be supported and celebrated in our schools. We are told in our program to ensure we support our students, that we allow them to celebrate their identities, celebrate their culture, celebrate their traditions and encourage them to talk about them, be proud of them. Why then, do we silence the students who want to discuss and celebrate one of their constitutional rights; religious freedom, why are we so afraid of this topic?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

QR Code Game Round 2

This semester gave me the unique opportunity to re-try a lesson I had already taught earlier in the semester, a literary device review game using QR code.  Please click here to access my previous post.  While I was really excited about the game itself, even with the creating process I found myself lost and confused.  I knew right away that I made the game MUCH more complicated than it needed to be.  It took almost 6 hours to create (cutting each QR by hand, pasting, more cutting, organizing) and I found myself getting flustered and lost so many times I should have known then that handing this off to 10th graders wasn’t going to go as well as I’d hoped.  To my surprise it wasn’t TOTAL chaos, though there was a lot of confusion.  I reflected upon this experience to see what I could have done differently to make the activity more effective.  I was elated when my placement was changed and I was given the opportunity to try again.  I threw out all of the old games I created and started fresh.  I printed out all of the QR codes and had them labeled so I knew which was which when I began cutting.  Also, one of my saving graces was that I recently invested in a paper chopping device so my lines were precise and I was able to cut much more at one time rather than cutting each code individually.  This not only saved time, but also made the game look much cleaner and well put together (an important aspect for someone like me, an OCD freak) I built an assembly line, cut, glue, labeled and put in a game bag.  This time around I also labeled each QR code with a number but whether it was the definition or the word, it still had the same number on the back again making things more organized.  The change that I think made the most difference was eliminating the cut and pasted versions of the words and definitions that were NOT a QR code.  Instead, I wrote those directly into their graphic organizers, still creating 2 different versions, one had words 1-15 and definitions 16-20 and vice versa.  This not only made things much easier to understand, but it also differentiated for students who may be struggling with these concepts because for half of the assignment they simply need to match the word with the definition.   I will link my graphic organizers below.  Finally, I created a page of directions that was included in each Ziplock bagged game and I also went over the directions using the document camera.  I also created an example using 2 words not included in their list and modeled the assignment.  I brought out my phone, showed them the proper way to scan the QR code, and when the word/definition popped up, showed them how to fill in their graphic organizer.
The game started and every student was actively participating, whether they were the scanner, reader, writer, passer, everyone had a job.  After about 30 minutes though, one student had caught something that I missed while trying to remain extremely organized.  As they were writing the number that correlated with the QR code into their GO (as a way to know which QR correlated with which word/definition) They started to realize that the answers were in numerical order, so the challenge to find the right answer was taken away and they then just had to put them in order and write the information in.  I was discouraged when this happened but it sparked an additional idea in my head.  My thought is when I do this again, in my own classroom, I would use the numerically ordered GO at the beginning of the year, I wouldn’t tell them it’s in numerical order but if they figure it out so be it, at least they will have the definitions to 30 literary devices.  Then, at the end of the year while they are reviewing, I would provide a new GO where all the words are mixed up and the numbers would be completely out of order, thus adding the challenge of recalling and reviewing what they have learned.  For this particular activity this time around, I really just needed the students to all have the right answers so they could use it as a reference for the next few days activity’s so figuring out the “secret” wasn’t a big deal in the end.  All in all I am extremely happy with the way it turned out, from the way it looks, to my examples, and the organizer.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Teacher Appreciation Week/Day

This past week was teacher appreciation week and Chaparral High School dedicated Friday May 11th to Teacher Appreciation Day.  I was humbled, excited, overwhelmed, and overjoyed when one of my ELD students brought my a PINK rose for Teacher Appreciation Day, followed by a hug and her saying "thank you for helping me learn"...Keeping my composure and not crying in that moment was so hard.  I felt to honored.  I hope all of my fellow classmates had a great teacher appreciation week.  You are all such incredible educators and I am truly blessed to have been able to go on this credentialing journey with you.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Teaching ELD

Okay, I know I already touched on my new ELD class in my post "Starting Fresh" but coming to the end of my week I wanted to reflect again on my experiences.  First off, I LOVE teaching this class.  Everyday the students come in and seem so eager to learn.  While we read, they ask so many questions; they're never afraid to say "Ms. Sorben I don't understand this" or "how do you say that, what does it mean?"  Additionally, every one of my 10 students is constantly chomping at the bit to read which really excites me.  Usually, it's like pulling teeth to get students to read aloud in class, but in ELD, it's like they KNOW how much it helps them with their literacy skills.  Teaching from the EDGE text book makes asking critical thinking questions very easy because they're listed in the teachers addition.  I know where to stop, and what areas to focus on with my students, and for a first time teacher, especially a first time ELD teacher, this makes standing in front of a class ensuring they learn key concepts a lot less stressful.  I was also pleasantly surprised how welcoming these students were.  On my first day they were raising their hands and asking me for help; they really trusted me to educate them.  You can tell when they finally understand a concept, or are able to articulate it in English that they truly feel excited inside.  We do a lot of pair-shares in this class and they kids get really excited to share out when they know they've understood something.

One of this aspects of teaching this class that I have found challenging is sometimes understanding my students.  I pride myself on being an incredible multi-tasker so usually I am able to listen to a student and do other things like read the text or write something down etc.  With these students, because they have difficulty with English I've noticed I have to pay sole attention to them when they are talking.  I don't want to be the teacher that's continually saying "huh, what did you say, can you repeat that?" because I assume they get that all the time.  English is my first and only language (aside from ASL) so learning to understand various accents is challenging for me, but something I am excited to improve upon; I guess I've had some years of practice having family from Scotland, THOSE are some hard accents to understand!!!  I've noticed that if I look directly at the students mouth and completely focus on what they are saying I am able to understand them better.  This is a strategy that has really helped me but if you have any others, please share.

Finally, the SIOP book is literally my new classroom Bible.  My CT uses almost every strategy in the book on a daily basis and I strive to do the same.  I realize watching those tips and tricks in action really help the students to understand better.  I've also learned that it's okay to take a step back and re-do/re-teach something I failed at which is something I experienced today.  I tried/failed/tried/then succeeded at teaching analogies.  At first when the students didn't understand the concept I became frustrated with myself because I was having difficulty finding the right words, or different words to better explain to them the concept.  It took me a few tries, but I finally found things that they could relate to and said the concept in such a way that they finally understood it.  Truly though, it was very difficult for me and challenged me to try and find a way around my normal way of teaching that concept.  I think that teaching ELD is going to continue to challenge me, but in the same way, give me many more tools and ways of teaching.  

This is by far one of my favorite classes I've taught in this program, simply because the students make it so amazing to teach.  I feel like I am actually accomplishing something that they APPRECIATE when I am done teaching.

P.S. I had one of those AWW teacher moments today.  I was a little late walking into their class today.  The class is 2nd period and the first 10 minutes is dedicated to video announcements.  I was caught up talking to another teacher who is overlooking me at the school about my experience thus far and how everything was going for me.  Anywho, when I walked into class the students kept saying "You're here you're here!!!  We we're wondering where you were.  We were upset because we thought you weren't coming today."  After the announcements their regular teacher started the day by going through some of the concepts they learned previously.  One girl raised her hand and said "Mrs. Hemsath, does Ms. Sorben get to teach us today?" and other students chimed in with "yeah, yeah is Ms. Sorben teaching today?"  I felt so humbled that a group of students I met 5 days ago were already excited to have me teaching them.  It made all the trials and tribulations I've experienced this semester melt away and reminded me why I chose this profession, and why I love teaching so much!

P.S.S. If any of you readers have/are teaching ELD and have any tips and tricks for someone new to the class please share!!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


#edchat experience

My first experience with an online Twitter chat was on January 26th.  I tweeted out “ I am very interested in using e-readers in the classroom , which ones do you all recommend?”   My first few responses were from fellow candidates in the program.  Then I started getting a lot more from other people all over.  They would send me links to various sites to get more information about a particular e-reader or they would tell me the benefits of a particular reader.  For my first experience it was-interesting.  I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get the large response I was looking for.  I was also disappointed that I did not get the large variety of answers I was seeking.  It seemed the overwhelming response was for the iPad but there was no reason behind it other than it was the new, popular piece of technology out there.

On March 5th I engaged in 2 different #edchat Twitter conversations.  The first was regarding literacy.  A father asked for tips for his two sons on how to improve their literacy.  He stated that he had basically exhausted his attempts and was looking for new ideas.  Despite being in the program my biggest piece of advice to him was something he had heard many times and that was to continually read aloud and have the children read themselves.  My belief is that there is no substitute for reading and listening to someone read.

The second Twitter chat I engaged in on March 5th ended up being very interesting, and something that I had a very strong opinion about.  A girl tweeted a question regarding a conversation she had with her sister.  Her sister stated, “she didn’t have time to learn on Twitter.”  Since the beginning of this semester and my introduction to Twitter I have continually expressed my distaste of the site.  I am not a Twitter fan and I find Twitter very frustrating.   Throughout the semester we learned many different ways to organize tweets and how to accurately search for certain topics on Twitter.  The benefits I am seeing now are that Tweets asking a question generally send you to a site, picture, or source to help answer the question and in this way it is beneficial.  The downside I see to Twitter is that it is if you are looking for a direct and precise answer from a person it is hard to narrow down many statements into 140 words; furthermore it is difficult at times to convey your own message or ask questions properly in 140 characters.  Also, to add to the girls tweet question, I think that, while Twitter has a large pool of people to attain information from, whether or not you get a reliable answer can be difficult to tell, also, gaining answers can depend holy on the time of day that you ask the question; asking at night might not garner many answers.  Though I can see the benefit for some people to use Twitter to learn from, it is not my style I will continue to gain my information using other resources.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Starting Fresh

As some of you may or may not know I recently was assigned to a new school and a new CT for reasons I choose to keep private.   My new site is Chaparral high school in Temecula and after 2 days my experience is already exponentially improved.  My new CT is an incredible teacher.  The first thing that I noticed about her was that she uses every SIOP strategy in the book.  The first thing she starts class with is bell work and instructions to get out whatever it is the students will need for the day including books that way no class time is wasted gathering supplies.  Once they finish with their bell work my CT goes through a review.  She asks students to share out what they learned the previous day/week, and what important concepts were learned.  She then asks the students to pair share the concepts they learned in their previous class.  Anytime my CT gives instructions she gives them twice, writes them, asks for questions or clarification, and then has the students pair share what is being asked of them.  While she reads aloud she explains confusing vocabulary words and asks her students to pair share an additional example using the vocabulary word.  She also uses strong emphasis when she says something important or an important key word.  It is incredible to see an educator using the SIOP model so frequently and evidently.  She is an exceptional example of how every teacher should be in the classroom.  Another aspect of my CT’s teaching I really like is that she constantly does formative assessments 2 weeks before any grade level benchmark exams.  She gives the assessment, grades them, and creates an “intervention” day whereby, students who are below average and not understanding the essential benchmark standard are put into a group to work together to attain the concept.  The students who have a clear understanding of the benchmark state standard are put in a separate group and are given a more challenging form of the standard to accomplish.  It’s awesome to see a teacher ensuring her students succeed, and for those that have, continuing to challenge them further.

With my new experience came a class I’ve never taught before, nor did I think I would ever teach, ELD.  The class is a block scheduled ELD 3 class with about 10 students total.  Already this class is proving to be one of my favorites.  The textbook they use is called EDGE published by Hampton-Brown.  This book is incredibly helpful to me as an instructor.  It gives explicit instructions on which questions to ask the students, what portions of their reading are important for the students to comprehend, what focus areas there are etc.  The school asks that the book be followed exactly and in order, which makes lesson planning a breeze.  I introduced myself to the students yesterday and they were all very eager to work with me.  There are students from a variety of places such as the Philippines, Guatemala, Japan, China, and Mexico. While working independently they immediately began asking me questions, which surprised me; I didn’t think they would be that comfortable and trusting of me right away.  I am very excited to be working in an ELD room.  These students really want to learn and when they learn a new concept you can see how excited they are right away.

Finally, I am very excited because I have a deaf student in one of my classes.  This student is very embarrassed about their deafness and thus does not have an interpreter, nor do they use their hearing aids.  This students’ only requests are to sit near the front, and ensure they can see their teachers lips because this student is very good at lip reading.  My initial excitement about having this student was because I took 6 years of ASL so I knew I would be able to sign to this student with ease.  However, finding out this student is embarrassed about signing and requires other forms of communication excited me even more.  Signing to this student would have been an easy way to solve the communication barrier, but now, I have to continually be conscious of my explanation of directions, where I am standing in the classroom and whether or not this student can see my lips moving, ensuring that my written instructions are clear and concise, and also, ensuring that I clarify my instructions, because as my CT has informed me, this student will not ask for clarification.  I see this as a challenge for me as an educator in training.  Differentiating for this student is vital to their learning and every move I make in the classroom (literally) could be detrimental to their learning.  I  am very excited to take on this challenge.