Sunday, October 19, 2008

Going beyond the classroom

Two weeks ago, our school started showing a documentary called "Darius Goes West" to the entire school. One of my co-workers coordinated the effort, sold snacks and drinks, and raised money for Muscular Dystrophy awareness. The movie focuses on one boy from Athens, Georgia, who has the diseases. It shows how his friends went on a cross-country road trip so that Darius would have the chance to see parts of the United States before the disease takes his life. It's a tear jerker.

After showing the film, we had our students write letters to Darius, who is still traveling around the country promoting awareness and raising money towards finding a cure for the disease. Several of my students wrote about how inspired they were by Darius' ability to focus on the positive aspects of his life and how he didn't let the disease hold him back from achieving his dreams.

On October 14, Darius and his team stopped by our school. The visit was a complete surprise for the students. Each grade got to spend about an hour talking with Darius and his friends about their trip and the struggles they have had during their cross-country journey.

You can read their blog about their visit to our school here: Darius Goes West Blog.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Writing class adventure

So in my last post, I talked about my first step towards differentiated instruction. I'll admit, I was a bit skeptical about just how effective it would actually be, but, after my first day as a differentiater, I am proud to say that it was a huge success.

To review, I made each of my 90 writing students a "top secret" folder with a collection of five various assignments inside based on their writing level. To top it off, I wore my aviator sunglasses to class (to pretend like I was some type of secret agent).

When I plopped the box of manila envelopes on the table, their jaws dropped to the floor. They thought I had a huge package of papers for them to do. When I put on the sunglasses and showed the cover of the folder, they were ecstatic! Then, I explained the directions and handed out their assorted folders.

Now, for the seven weeks we've been in school, I've struggled to get my writing classes to produce any meaningful work. Well, that has finally changed! Of the 30 or so students in the course, about 25 of them finished most of the assignment... in class. One student finished all five of her assignments before the end of the day -- thus becoming the first student to get a "free meal on Mr. V."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Differentiated Instruction

The headline is a link that will probably better explain the concept of differentiated instruction than I am about to, but after a heated debate with my school's literacy coach on Friday, I've decided to give it a shot.

The idea behind differentiated instruction is that students are able to complete activities that are on their own learning level and based on their own learning style, even within one class.

Let me provide some background to our discussion on Friday. We were talking about the once-weekly writing classes that I teach and their overall effectiveness. My point was that it is difficult to teach the concepts of grammar and writing with one class period per week and that the students need more direct instruction than what is available. Fortunately, or unfortunately, our literacy coach got the brunt of my frustration. I expressed my concerns that 45 minutes a week was not enough to see significant improvement in writing. She suggested that I try differentiating my instruction to try and move forward.

Well, after a few days to mull over her response, which I wasn't very happy about, I have decided to give it a try. Starting tomorrow, my writing students will receive "top secret" folders with a variety of activities in them according to the students writing levels based on an assessment I gave them at the beginning of the year. The assignments are aligned with state standards (I hope), and encourage students to complete as much as possible. There's even a reward for those who complete all of the assignments!

We'll see how this goes.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

My classroom.

Here are some updated photos of my classroom.

One month in

So I've finished my first full month of teacher, and to be honest the experience has been kind of surreal. Never in my wildest teacher dreams did I expect to have a student say, "Mr. V! I love your class, it's my favorite!" But, after my first month, I hear it way more than I should. To say the least, compared to my summer teaching experience, this year has been a complete 180. Not only are my students more engaged and invested in the work, but I find myself exuding more passion in the classroom. It's odd.

I think what has made all the difference has been my attitude. During the summer, I was a recent college T.A. and refused to adjust to varying learning styles. All I wanted to do was lecture and have my students listen attentively. Ironically (or not), that approach doesn't sit well with middle school students. So I've had to be more creative with my approach and with my classroom management (nine kids have had detention with me so far).

I don't want this post to be a huge rant about classroom changes and teaching expectations, but I do want to highlight some of the things my students have done so far this year:
1. My seventh graders have read The Diary of Anne Frank and compared it to the movie version. In a few weeks, we'll be visiting New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage.

2. My seventh and eighth graders are exploring meaningful events in their lives by writing memoirs highlighting key events in their lives.

3. All of my classes have created individual goals to determine where they want to be by the end of the year.

This is just a small list of accomplishments so far. Let's just hope that things keep progressing the way they have been.