Category Archives: Reflections on teaching

A Slice of a Testing Day (A regular slice)

Slice of LIfe Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers

Step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…
I weave slowly through the tables. I watch for issues,
I watch for cheating, I watch for problems.
I look carefully but I don’t look too closely.
I’m not allowed to look at the test. Only at the students taking the test.

Step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…
I follow rules, even though I’m not necessarily known as a rule follower.
I read my manual.  I’m prepared.
I picked up my tests by 7:50. I counted them in front of someone. I signed for them. I protected them. I never left them alone.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll bring a baby blanket to wrap them in, just for extra protection.

Step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…
I place some things on my rolling stand.
The stand flips up, and all the things drop to the floor.
It’s loud enough, in the complete silence.
So, I silently apologize, and wave the kids back to their work.

Step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…
It’s boring. I try a walking meditation, I stretch my neck, my arms. I even do a squat in the corner of the back of the room.
It’s boring.
I wish I could take the test!
That would at least give me something to do.

Step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…
Active Monitoring! Sounds so professional,
feels so gosh golly boring.
A few students finish too early. This is not a good sign.
There’s no way they read passages and questions closely and carefully! No way!

Step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…step…
I wish my dog hadn’t eaten my fitbit. I’ll never know how many steps I’ve taken.
I collect tests when students have finished.
I pile them in alphabetical order to return them, counting them once again in front of someone.
As if I’d want to take one for myself.

 

#sol17 March 31 A slice of the last slice.

Slice of LIfe

 

 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!

My students filed in, sat down and started their slices.

“It’s the last day!” Someone said.

Another student’s face fell, in puppy dog sadness. “I’m sad that it’s over.” she said, and then paused, shook her head a bit and added, “Well, sad and also kind of happy too, you know?”

Yep. I know.

#sol17 March 30 A slice of marching

Slice of LIfe

 

 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!

 

One of my favorite bulletin boards this year is my “What Would You March For?” board that we made from a collection of the things that my 6th graders think are important issues. This was part of a larger activity from our celebration of Martin Luther King Jr, and watching  Teaching Tolerance’s The Children’s March.

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I love it because the kids were so genuine when they made their signs, and I love that we happened to make the signs on Inauguration Day. I love the memory, even though it broke my heart a little bit that day.  After watching my students write that they would march for LGBTQ rights, The Environment, The Animals, Global Warming, Freedom, etc., I was reading news of White House taking down website pages protecting some of those very same things. But, it gave me hope to see my students thinking about things that were important to them.

Now we are just a few days away from starting our state assessments. All of us at school are trying our best to comply with the rules of what we need to take down and cover up in our classrooms and hallways. Obviously, we can’t have students looking at charts that will help them write Text Dependent Analysis essays, or charts of literary definitions… but not everything is so black and white. I’ve taken to just covering up almost everything with words on it, because the manual says something about covering things that could help students with the test. (Ironically enough, getting my students to use the charts and resources in the room when I WANT them to use them is challenging… thinking of them using it during a high stakes test is laughable. But, I cover everything anyway.) My students, like every year, walk into the classroom after I have slapped colored paper all over and go into mild shock. They ask me why, and I tell them that the PDE wants to make sure they don’t use anything in the classroom to help them, or to cheat. They look confused, asking me “How could we use the sign that says ‘read’ to help us on the test?” I just shrug my shoulders.

Our hallways need to be free of hints as well, so the other day as I passed the “What Would you March For” bulletin board, I stopped to comment to my friend, “Maybe we should just replace all of the protest signs with signs that say “No More High Stakes Testing!”

But, because I like my job, I asked our team para to cover the board instead.

Walking by it today, though, I shuddered.

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Our marchers. Silenced.

Today one of my students looked up at my wall, where I have a little banner that says “THINK.”

“Ms. Feinberg! You better cover that up. It might give us a hint of what we should do during the test.”

I love sixth graders.

 

#sol17 March 26 A slice of Standardized tests… (You knew this post was coming…)

Slice of LIfe

 

 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!

 

“I know what the PSSAs really stand for! “Pretty Stupid School Assessments!”

I can’t help but laugh, but I try to hold it together. After all, I’m having a small group teaching some test taking strategies. I shall not let my personal bias show. I shall not let my personal bias show. I shall not let my personal bias show.

Last week my test prep copies arrived, and I stacked them on my desk. I had ordered them because I want to make sure my students have an idea of what kinds of questions they will get on their standardized test, but the sight of them on my desk has caused me and them a fair amount of stress.

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“What are those, Ms. Feinberg?” Students have asked with a grimace on their face.

One of my girls pretended to try to to sneak them off of my desk and into the trash.

When I look at them they seem to mock me. “Think of all the things you haven’t taught yet.” 

I’m supposed to understand that testing is a part of academic life. So, I tell my students that they will be taking tests for much of their academic life, and it’s good to just get used to it. After I say that aloud, I can’t believe myself.  In a recent post on ditchthattexbook.com, Sir Ken Robinson says, “Don’t think someone is the system. You are the system,”

Cornelius Minor at TCRWP’s Saturday Reunion last week said, “Systems don’t change because we know about them. They change because we disrupt them. To not be a thing is to be complicit. You have to be anti-the thing.”  Now, Cornelius wanted us to look at systems in our classrooms that create unequal outcomes… he told us to look at our “Realm of influence, not our larger realm of concern. But, his point is still on my mind today. Standardized tests are in my realm of concern, but I’m not sure they are in my realm of influence. Or are they?

I tell my students, “You can do this. You’ve got this. You’ve learned so much this year!” and I look over at the pile of practice packets, and It mocks me. “Think of all the things you haven’t taught yet.” 

This week, I want to  dive deeper into the nonfiction work we have started. We have just started to scrape the surface of the idea of not believing everything we read. We are using Jennifer Serravallo’s strategy from The Reading Strategy Book, page 245:  Perspective, Position, Power. I don’t think we’ll have time for this important work though. We need to practice Text Dependent Analysis, and closely reading multiple choice questions.

I’m supposed to understand that standardized testing is part of academic life. But, my students are 11 and 12.

I’m supposed to understand how lucky we have it. And, we have it lucky. My district still has art, and music. We are encouraged to work towards big understandings, and test prep isn’t really this huge, mandated thing. It’s just me, wanting to give my students a little bit of a reminder and practice so they feel less stressed about the tests. But I’m not proud of myself when I do it. There are schools, I know, where test prep is all year. Where the time spent on preparing for the tests takes so much away from real learning. But just because I have it better, does that mean I have to be okay with it?

I’m supposed to concede that we need standardized tests. That it’s how we do things. Problem is, I don’t think we need these tests. I think there are better, more authentic, less costly (in money, time, and social justice) ways to assess learning.

I’m supposed to agree that we get good data, that we need the data. That it’s how we do things. Problem isI think there are better, more authentic, less costly kinds of data.

I’m supposed to keep my mouth shut. That’s how we do things. Problem is, I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut. I have a hard time with doing things just because that’s how we do things. 

Lucy Calkins asked us last Saturday, “What would you teach with just one (year/month/day) left?”

With just one year left, I’ll tell you what I wouldn’t teach. I wouldn’t spend even one minute on standardized tests.

 

 

 

#sol17 March 22 A slice of A Kate Roberts TCRWP session

Slice of LIfe

 

 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!

 

Kate Roberts. If you’ve been to Teacher’s College, and you’ve seen her sessions, you know what I’m talking about. You don’t even need to read my slice, because you just know.

She’s our “must see.” On Friday night we start planning our sessions. We circle our first and second choices, and my friend Kris and I can be heard saying things like, “Well, as long as we see Kate Roberts.”

Today, facebook reminded me of the first time I met Kate. I wrote about my first TCRWP session here.

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How can you not go to a session called “Differentiating when you have a million students?” How can you not want to listen to a presenter who starts by reflecting, “How am I going to get my arms wrapped around these kids?” 

“How am I going to get my arms wrapped around these kids?” 

In teaching literacy, there are things I’ve wondered, and  things I know but don’t think about, or know but don’t know I know, or know and ignore… I can count on Kate to present about all of these and more. I leave her presentations shaking my head and saying, “of course!” to myself, and my friends. My friends, the ones who have to listen to me say “Well, Kate Roberts said…” over and over. (After the Summer Reading Institute, I trained myself to say, “At the Teacher’s College they had this idea…” just to stop myself from constantly saying “Well, Kate Roberts said…”) (Good friends usually give me a look and I admit, “Fine, it was Kate Roberts.)

Writing about  a Kate Roberts session feels a little weird. I can give you the soundbites:

“How can I set kids on a trajectory of learning that is matched to them and still meet the needs of the whole class?”  

“Accept that it is going to be a struggle. It will always be messy. Accept the mess.”

“Believe in differentiating? Keep your mini lessons short.”  AKA,  Just Shut Up!

But I don’t think that captures it quite like being there, watching her honesty.

When she suggested giving kids main missions (whole class work) and side missions (individual responsibilities) I just looked at Kris and raised my shoulders. “Duh!” Why have I been calling them “class goals” and “independent goals.” That’s not inspiring!

When she suggested having students color code their missions by using different color post-its or pens, I just couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of that. We use post its all the time. We color code so many things! Duh!

When she talked about giving the kids high fives, I reminded myself to be more encouraging. When she talked about her over the shoulder observation assessments, I made a note to myself to start doing those again. She showed a quick way to collect data: Draw a quadrant on a piece of paper, write the skills in each section, and record student names where they are ready to work. I have these notes from the summer. I’ve done this a handful of times, but it isn’t a habit. Yet.

When she told us to just do small groups — that doing a bad small group is better than doing no small group, I nodded my head: She’s right.

You leave Kate’s session ready to bring new life to your worksop.

Yesterday, I collected my students literary essay introductions. As I read them and commented on them, I wrote names on a little grid with headings like structure, missing theme, elaborate, and  too much information.  Last night, I created a micro-progression for introductory paragraphs. And then, I went to bed. Nothing I had worked on was perfect. But, it was past my bedtime.

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Kate said,”Embrace your mediocrity! The alternative is no differentiating.”

So, this morning during writing, I timed myself. I did my mini lesson with my micro-progression in less than 10 minutes. Then, I started calling groups over. I’m not saying these groups would have been full of great teaching to observe. I have no idea how much I helped my writers. But I did meet with them. I had a focus. I shared some strategies, I coached a little. I basically said “Here’s what you are ready for – here are some things to try.”

Is it hope I feel when I try just one or two things that Kate talks about?

I think it is. It’s a reminder that I can embrace the imperfection. It’s a reminder that I will keep growing, that there are always more things to learn. It feels like hope: Next lesson, next day, next week, next year… I’ll be a better teacher. 

Thanks, Kate!

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#sol17 March 20 A Slice of Mail Contrasts

Slice of LIfe

 

 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!

You haven’t been to school for a week, so you know you have to go to your mailbox. You tear yourself away from grading late work and walk down to the main office.

Some days your mailbox is empty, but not today! The book order catalogs are spilling out! There are two packs of papers from the print shop, and an interoffice envelope. You carefully balance the heap in your arms and walk back to your classroom on the other side of the building.

Once in your room, you put the book order magazines away for April, and open one of the envelopes. What you find makes you smile.

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What a gift to get this right after your inspirational weekend at Teacher’s College. You can’t wait to dig into this resource. Of course,  your first job will be to put your post-it note tabs in. You wonder what strategies in this book might help your students with their current literary essay work. Excited, you put the book in your schoolbag to take home.

Turning your sights on the packages from the print shop, you wonder what you might have ordered. As soon as you start to tear the plastic open you know. What a let down. Going from Teachers College inspiration to Jennifer Serravallo is natural and exciting. The voyage to PSSA test prep leaves more to be desired.

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Piling the practice Text Dependent Analysis  on the corner of your desk, you sigh. You know you want your students to be successful and not stressed out during the upcoming PSSAs. You know that testing is a genre you need to review.

But, blah blah blah to that!  You definitely know you wish you didn’t need to do this. It’s just not very inspirational!

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#sol17 March 19 A Slice of Celebrating Drew Dudley

Slice of LIfe

 

 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!

celebrate-image

I’m also Celebrating today with Ruth Ayres!

Dear Drew Dudley,

I didn’t raise my hand when you asked us who was comfortable calling themselves a leader. I guess this means that tomorrow is my “day one” of being more impactful. You told us yesterday that we should “treat every day  like it’s day one.” Impact.

You spoke with confidence and told us that you can have moments of leadership by impacting one person at a time. Tomorrow at least 50 people will walk into my classroom. I plan on recognizing their individual leadership, I plan on looking for lollipop moments in my classroom and my school. I think I will find these in small moments of love and kindness.

I will keep wondering about your question,  “Are you living a life that makes people who know you smile at the mention of your name?” I will keep hoping that there are people in this world who do smile when they hear my name. More importantly, I will celebrate the people who make me smile at the mention of their name.

Thank you for your important, inspiring, illuminating key note. Today, I am celebrating you! I am smiling at the mention of your name.

Warmly,

Ona

P.S. Here are my notes from your keynote:

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#sol17 March 18 Six Word Slices of the Saturday Reunion

Slice of LIfe

 

 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!

#tcrwp series of 6 word memoirs!

(Even my title is six words!)

(Six word subtitle-on a roll!)

  • Feeling uninspired? Head to Teacher’s College.
  • Dudley’s lollipop stories broaden leadership definition.
  • Kate’s metaphors inspire, baby’s cute too.
  • DIY Maggie’s tools make teaching easier.
  • Absorb Mary’s knowledge! Ask what’s fascinating.
  • Cornelius! Aha! “Change doesn’t happen accidentally.”
  • Kate, Maggie, Mary, Cornelius! Rockstar day.
  • Inspired now. Teach. See potential. Love.

#sol17 March 4 A slice of Data

Slice of LIfe  I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for all of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing! 

 

I’m sitting in a faculty meeting trying to fall in love with data. I am. I get it: Triangulate data to help students grow. I am making friends with assessment this year as an instructional tool. I am, I promise. I’m a little stuck because I can’t love test data that helps us streamline instruction in order to help students do better at that test. That seems like a vicious circle to me… and an odd priority. But, I’m trying to make friends with Data, and find time to really use it.

I’m in! I use formative assessment data to help guide me… trying to make it quick. I’ll hand out index cards, ask students to read a short article and write the central idea and key details on their index card. I’ll collect reader’s notebooks and read their “best” stop and jot about a signpost. I’ll look at my students’ work and make strategy groups, conferring goals, and whole class lessons. When I have time. My instructional coach has this great way of looking at data. She has an eye for it, and she is always looking for ways that real-life classroom teachers can manipulate and then use data, “What can you do in 10 minutes that will help your students?” She has kids at the center and data as a way to help them grow. She is data-gifted.

I’m listening in a faculty meeting as we are given an example of a teacher meeting via video. “This is where we’d like to be with our PLC’s!” We are told. The video comes on and the teacher  on the video says disparagingly, “We used to talk about students in our meetings. Now we talk about data.”

Hmmm…
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I’m trying to fall in love with data. I’m already in love with students. I will not aim to have meetings where we aren’t talking about students. I will not make that my goal. Let’s add data to the discussion. Let’s triangulate and guide instruction. Let’s grow. And, let’s not forget about the kids themselves. Please.

#sol17 March 2 A Slice of Alone

Slice of LIfe  I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for all of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing! 

There are these two minutes sometimes
After the dog has been taken out and fed
And lunches packed
Before the first kid comes downstairs
When I make my coffee
And I sit in the family room

Alone

And sometimes the dog is occupied (trying to chase a cat he hears upstairs but can’t get to)
And sometimes I can hear the children upstairs but they haven’t walked down yet
And I sit in the family room

Alone

And then I hear the first kid stomp down the stairs, talking to the dog
And then I am

Not alone