Thursday, April 30, 2015

'Tis the Season: Evaluations

As the end of the year approaches, teachers across the country will receive their evaluation ratings. Unlike previous years, the majority of us will have value-added scores calculated into an algorithim. This jibberish will be presented to us in the form of a computerized print-out with a number at the bottom.  Since many of us have no idea what this score means (and even our administrators are unable to coherently break it down for us), I channeled Jeff Foxworthy and have created a list of characteristics of highly effective educators:
  • If your students have written you a letter, poem or card thanking you for loving them this year, you might be a highly effective educator.
  • If your colleagues have recognized you for contributing to their professional development, you might be a highly effective educator.
  • If your students who barely spoke a word of English in September are now able to have a conversation with you, you might be a highly effective educator.
  • If your students who come from impoverished backgrounds now envision themselves as becoming the first in their family to attend college, you might be a highly effective educator.
  • If your students go home and explore topics that you taught in class, you might be a highly effective educator.
  • If you have reached into your own wallet to make your classroom an extra special place, you might be a highly effective educator.
  • If your students display compassion and kindness towards one another, character traits that you taught even though they are not Common Core aligned, you might be a highly effective educator.
  • If you have declined social invitations to work on lesson plans, you might be a highly effective educator.
  • If you regularly refer to your students as "my kids", you might be a highly effective educator
  • If you are reading this blog before 7AM or after 3PM because you seek out best practices outside of your contract hours, you might be a highly effective educator.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Holocaust's Final Voices

As I stated in an earlier blog post, my students recently read The Diary of Anne Frank. This activity is one that all eighth grade students at my school participated in and students explored the topic of the Holocaust in depth through print and multimedia.  While the Internet is powerful, nothing beats an eyewitness account of events.  Since I have time in my schedule this year to coordinate events, I arranged to have a Holocaust survivor visit my school and speak with a group of approximately seventy students.

In preparation for this event, the students arrived dressed to impress.  They came prepared to listen and even more important, prepared to ask insightful questions.  The students were able to use their background information to make connections to the speaker's experiences and most were able to relate when she touched on her experience of arriving in this country without being able to speak a word of English. Towards the end of the event, we held a reception and the students enjoyed using this time to view the family photos that the speaker brought.  They also took "selfies" with the speaker and told her about their own families.

Many of the students took the time to personally thank me for arranging this event.  It was not lost on them that they are most likely the last generation that has the privilege of learning about the Holocaust from an eyewitness.  As privileged as we were to listen to her, I admit that I am still grinning from ear-to-ear as she called me a little while ago to reiterate how much she enjoyed meeting the students.  We took several group photos and I plan on sending her a framed copy of the best one as a thank you gift.  I arranged this event through the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's Survivors Speakers Bureau.  With any luck, this event will become an annual tradition at my school.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


I have recently ramped up my Spanish studies to include Skype lessons through iTalki and self-study through the Living Language program.  I also use the Duolingo program to practice my new skills. For those of you not familiar with Duolingo, the site allows individuals to practice language skills through gamification techniques.  Individuals progress through levels, can keep up a daily log-in streak, compete for points against others and earn lingots, currency that can be used in the virtual store.  In short, it is an easy site for competitive individuals such as myself to become addicted to.

While working through my addiction, I discovered that the site offers a dashboard area for teachers to set up classes and track student progress.  My advanced students would probably work their way through the twenty-five English levels fairly quickly, but I could easily see newcomer, beginner and even lower intermediate students being challenged by the site's tasks.  Best of all, the site is free so there is little risk in trying it out.  I may even suggest that the newcomer and beginner teachers at my school consider setting up their students with accounts prior to summer break.  Check out the video below for more information.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Opt Out Movement

As Common Core aligned tests have been implemented in states around the country this year, the Opt Out Movement has gained traction.  I first became aware of the New York Opt Out Movement through college friends on Facebook.  According to the latest figures, approximately 175,000 students across New York State have opted out of this year's testing.  Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education and Merryl Tisch, New York State Education Chancellor recently met to debate the ramifications of the Opt Out Movement.  Check it out below.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Helping ELLs Write a Science Report

The wicked smart kids at MIT and Harvard have designed tools to help you reach your students through technology.  The CAST Science Writer is free and looks especially promising.  It takes students through the process of writing a science report step-by-step with animated help and examples along the way. Years ago I taught science to newcomers and this type of tool would have been instrumental when we conducted our various experiments.   I will be sure to pass this site along to my department as well as my science colleagues.  Registration for the CAST site is free as are most of the tools. Happy clicking!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Embracing Our Multicultural Classroom

My much needed spring break is finally here.  Since the school media center has been closed due to PARCC testing, I was not able to have the students check out books and complete the usual reading related assignment.  In reality, this turned out to be a blessing as after all of the testing my students have endured and will continue to endure after break, I wanted to give them a more engaging, yet relevant assignment.

The cyber bullying case that I wrote about a few weeks ago was amicably resolved and chalked up as a simple cultural misunderstanding.  However, it made me realize that while my class is quite diverse, my students still know little about one another's culture.  This is my fault.  Since my class as a whole seems to get along, it never dawned on me that the topics they discuss inside and outside of the classroom rarely involve their cultural heritage.  Therefore, my students have been assigned to research a country that another classmate hails from.  The rules are simple: this assignment must be at least one page long and students are not allowed to research a country that is on the same continent as the one that they call home.

I prepared the class for this assignment by asking each student to name the country or countries where they claim heritage.  As eleven countries across three continents were called out, the room began to buzz as students became excited about the possibilities.  Several students even asked if they could research two countries for extra credit.

I am excited to review the assignments that the students turn in and even hope to learn a few things myself.  In the meantime, I will be spending my break swapping time with middle schoolers for my two year old nephew.  I'm sure that after a few days with a toddler, teaching eighth grade will seem like a breeze.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Word Crimes

Weird Al Yankovic is back at it again.  One of his latest parodies, Word Crimes serves as a rally cry for English speakers to remember to pay attention to grammar, especially in a world of electronic communication.  This video is catchy, hilarious and educational. Check it out below.