Friday, March 27, 2015

Read and Write for Google

The staff at my school is currently undergoing SIOP training and today's session covered strategies. Part of the presentation revolved around scaffolding, or adding supports to allow students to unlock comprehension and meaning.  Staying within this theme, I showed my table mates one of my newer discoveries: Texthelp's Read and Write for Google.  This nifty add-on allows individuals to essentially use the Internet as one big textbook or handout.  A free subscription allows one to highlight text as well as activate the text to speech feature (with the choice of male and female computer voices). Upgrading to a premium subscription (gratis to teachers with a Google Apps for Education account for the first year) unlocks other neat features such as an online picture dictionary and a fact finder so that students can explore topics in detail.  Check out the video below.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Cyber Bullying

As a teacher, I believe in opening up the lines of communication with students.  Most of my students do not have home support in terms of completing homework or understanding how to access basic information about the school system, so I share my phone number and e-mail address.  This year my phone and e-mail have been extra active as I have fielded questions about homework, applying to high school, parent meetings and lunch forms.  Over the weekend, I received an e-mail from one of my students who claimed to be a victim of cyber bullying by two of his classmates.

The report of cyber bullying did not surprise me.  After all, it is 2015 and schools have been dealing with this issue for years.  What did surprise me was the fact that the three students involved in this incident are my highest performing and best behaved students. The alleged victim sent me screen shots of the text messages that he received from two of his classmates.  As an English teacher, I was pleased to see that the students used the correct forms of your, you're and too in their messages (as well as correct capitalization).  As a morally intact adult, I was appalled to see the other language that was used throughout the conversation.  I cannot recall teaching many of those words in class and even had to Google some of them.

The ideas conveyed in the text messages have the potential to impact the school climate, which means that I will have to refer this to the eighth grade administrator.  I will most likely be involved in the investigation.  I have dealt with many issues when the students were issued ample warnings to cease certain behaviors.  The standard follow-up conferences with the parents were predictable.  The students involved in this incident have no known disciplinary record, so I imagine that the conversations with their parents about this are going to be awkward and difficult.  As an added bonus, this will be how I start my final full week before spring break.  Here's to hoping that this has a happy ending.  If not, let the countdown to spring break begin.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

My Teach 100 Moment

One of the most exciting things about blogging and becoming involved with social media is the fact that I have a platform to share and gain new ideas.  A few months ago I signed up to become an online mentor on Teach 100 and shared one of my classroom management tips.  This idea was included in this month's blog feature, 6 Ways to Get (and Keep) Students' Attention.  Check it out here.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Google Cultural Institute

My eighth graders are getting ready to read The Diary of Anne Frank.  The topic of the Holocaust has always fascinated me and I have been blessed enough to meet dozens of survivors over the past thirty plus years.  While I teach in a major U.S. city, my district is not very diverse in terms of religion.  As a result, I am often the first Jewish person that my students encounter.  This makes the concept of religious discrimination, never mind genocide, difficult to teach.  I work hard to make this topic come to life every year and my students often enjoy learning about a new culture.  As the students begin to become engaged, they often forget about religion and begin to relate to Anne Frank on a personal level.

While searching for updated materials to include with this unit, I came across the Google Cultural Institute.  The geniuses over at Google have curated artifacts from the world's major historical events, the wonders of the world and other cultural and artistic pieces and made them available to the average person regardless of physical location.  Many of the pieces in the Stories of the Holocaust collection were provided by Jerusalem's Yad Vashem (Holocaust Memorial Museum), The Shoah Foundation and The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The Google Cultural Institute will be a valuable learning tool throughout this unit.  It may also become a part of other units as I begin to explore the entire site beyond the surface level.  Take a tour of the Google Cultural Institute by watching the video below.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

PARCC Evictions

My classroom has been taken over by PARCC testing for the next few days.  The original testing plan called for my classroom to be used for the entire PARCC testing window, which in my state runs from early March until early May (to allow for both the PBA and EOY assessments).  When I took a survey of my fellow ESOL ninjas at my recent department chair meeting, this seemed to be the norm as they all told me that they received their PARCC eviction notices and had to look for a new space to teach, plan and complete other work related tasks in.  My colleagues were in awe when I triumphantly explained how I put my foot down to this plan and came out on top.

As stated in a previous blog post, I am not territorial about my classroom space. However, expecting me to give it up for two months was a bit over the top.  I explained to the testing coordinator, vice-principal in charge of testing and the principal that I have no problem giving up my space, but that it must be equitable.  The primary justification in moving me was that my classroom was going to be dedicated to setting up a mobile lab. I pointed out that a mobile lab is just that and can be moved from classroom to classroom as needed.  In the end, it was decided that I would give up my space to allow a sixth grade class that usually meets in a temporary classroom outside to take the test as the Internet signal in my room is more reliable.  We will simply switch classrooms for the five days that his class takes the PARCC.

I'm curious to see how other ESOL ninjas are being impacted by PARCC, Smarter Balance or other state assessments.  Feel free to comment below.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Making a Difference

In the era of education reform, it can be a bit demoralizing some days to be a teacher, especially one who focuses on high-needs students.  Here is a feel good story written by a former ELL student turned Harvard graduate about an educator at his elementary school.  Appropriately, it it titled How one teacher changed the life of one child.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Today was a rather rough day in the trenches.  The students began taking the PARCC assessment.  My school, like others across the country experienced glitches.  This early morning chaos combined with the students' sheer exhaustion from taking the assessment was the perfect recipe for a less than perfect class period.

While getting over my day with the comfort of my ever faithful dog and a glass of moscato, I came across an article about one of this year's finalists for National Teacher of the Year.  Kathy Nimmer of Indiana not only inspires students towards greatness, she has overcome a disability (blindness) to do so.  Stories like this continue to remind me that while every day may not be a perfect day in the classroom, every day is an opportunity to improve my craft and make a difference.  Kathy Nimmer, good luck in this year's competition.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Free Materials

I occasionally peruse through Reddit's teacher board and recently came across a posting advertising free Common Core aligned materials.  Since I rarely object to anything that is free, I clicked on the link to the Print Worksheets Free site.  This site offers an extensive library of materials for math, reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary.  It also offers classroom management tips as well as links to educational articles.   I appreciate people who create sites such as this as a service to the profession and have already bookmarked it for future and frequent use.