Behind the curtain at Diane Ravitch in Sacramento


Set up

This post is more a personal behind the scenes reflection of Diane Ravitch’s recent speaking engagement in my town. For a more comprehensive look at that event, look here. I’ll be adding more posts at over the next few days.

Part of mi vida loca lately has been taking over social media duties for my union local. Complicating my union work further, we are having our contract “opened” on wages and benefits, and there were threats to bring TFA to our district (now quashed, thankfully). Just to make life exciting, I’m doing this while teaching  full-time, and I also suffered through stomach flu, and one of the worst sinus allergy attacks of my life since coming back from Winter Break.

The capstone to the last few weeks, heck to the last month or two, was a visit from education historian and commentator Diane Ravitch,  in an event to which SCTA (my union local) was the main sponsor and organizer. Needless to say, when you are having the Queen of Education Twitterers visiting , you want a robust social media presence. I was happy to supply that ;-). What did I do? I put up Facebook and Twitter notices of the event, and got others (Larry Ferlazzo, other locals, etc.) do share and re-Tweet. For the event, I tweeted, perhaps excessively at points (blame it on the coca-cola I was drinking to get through a long night) during the actual event. I made some videos, and took some pictures. I even had an “intern” (a high school volunteer) who helped with coverage. Did it turn out perfect? No, but I got some great stuff, and some good responses. Could I have done more–maybe a live stream? Sure, but we managed (thank you intern JivAn Feliciano) to get some great audio of Diane Ravitch. The pictures, because of the dim lighting, were less than optimal, but others with better cameras were there, and I’m going to try to collect shots from them over the next few days.

Lessons learned? In the immortal words of Wes Fryer, it’s better to bring your own bandwidth. I’m now packing a 4G (LTE) hotspot on my new Moto Droid Bionic. That kept me online, and helped David Cohen earlier in the day, and Larry Ferlazzo at the event. Oh, and the reporter from the Stockton Record would have been “dead in the water” filing his story without “borrowing” from me. Having electrical will also help make you friends. Because I was with the folks putting the event on, I had the set up crew rig me up a cord, and a table, and brought my trusty 8 foot power strip. This helped the Stockton Record reporter, and the video crew from PBS who filming the event. That’s how you make friends! My take away, I think during live events, I need to edit my tweeting a bit more, and not flood the stream with every comment the speaker makes, but you as readers will have the final word on that.

Classroom Reflections on Week 4


My classroom is still a work in work in progress, but many of my practices have started to “gel” and routines are taking shape. I also have some tech stuff to share, but much of the progress will not be visible as it happened offline. This week saw the addition of a lab to science, art in social science, and more structured writing.

Social Science is a trying subject, and the one most students list as their least favorite. First, I went old school and opted to read the lesson aloud myself. This had the advantage because I could convey my interest in the subject through tone and inflection, and I could add interesting tidbits and examples. The students were more engaged. I also had them do an art project, creating a buffalo hide painting (that I got at a Thinkfinity training with Gail Delser), which was a way Native Americans of the Plains kept their history and stories. As a result, their writing on the subject was better in terms of content, and quality.

Language Arts involved doing more explicit writing instruction, and having students write paragraphs with topic and concluding sentences. We’re using WriteTools which is influenced by Douglas Reeves work. The plus is that it provides explicit ways to teach students writing mechanics. The downside is that it can result in formulaic writing. I was fortunate that the story, a selection called “The Marble Champ” from Gary Soto’s Baseball in April, really connected with the kids. In addition, the writing topic was about family support which students enjoyed.

The science text seems to know that it is, desperately, competing for time in the curriculum. This means that it is much thinner than the other textbooks, and has lots of the lessons chunked into bite-sized pieces. They even have the text and workbook compressed together in what they call an interactive textbook. It’s a shorter version of the text, with lots of visuals. Also, they are providing a couple potential lab activities for each lesson. We were studying air currents/wind, and did a lab using lamps. I had a bunch of clamp lamps I bought for video lighting at one point. They were supposed to hold a paper spiral over the lamp, and see what happens. It is supposed to create an upward movement of air causing the spirals to spin but it didn’t. That was fine because it shows that just because it didn’t turn out doesn’t disprove, we just haven’t proved it. Many noted the effect of air conditioning coming on during the process.

On the technology front, I’m adding more content to the class blog, I’m putting up homework forms at the top right, and I let parents know about this. I’ve also added the digital content we are creating a little farther down. I’ve put the video on YouTube, and did get our class channel unblocked by the district, but kids were still have trouble accessing it all at once when we had the mobile Mac lab, so I’ve loaded the MP4 on the blog as well. We did our first class report about what we’re doing. It’s rough, and I edited it together, but I’ll have the kids take over, and we’ll have a more polished product with intro music, etc.
Photo Credit: Number 4 by Francesco ML, on Flickr

Join the Carnival!


A couple times a year, Larry Ferlazzo asks me to host his ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival, and I guess that I’m just a girl who can’t say no because I usually end up doing it.

What is a blog carnival? A chance to share a blog post or other online piece by you  (or the work of someone else that you feel is worth sharing) on the subject of teaching English as a foreign or second language.  You might want to look at the Twentieth edition of the ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival which  Sabrina De Vita from Buenos Aires, Argentina, graciously hosted. You can see all the previous nineteen editions of the ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival here.

“How to participate?” is probably your next question. My answer, use this easy submission form. If the form does not work for some reason, you can send the link to Larry via his  Contact Form. Make sure you get it in by January 28th, and I will be posting it…here, by February 1st. Hope to see you then!

Teacher, Improve Thyself…


In my prior post (The “Green Line”) I discussed the entrenched position of a lot of the arguments about education and education reform these days.  Here is one of my favorite arguments:

  1. Teacher: Your ideas have no basis in research, or the reality where I teach;
  2. Reform-y Type: You’re just for the status quo!

Really, how does the discussion recover from that point? The funny part is there are a lot of initiatives to change how we do education in this country now, that are an alternative to the vision that reform-y types have in their head. One of those places is Accomplished California Teachers. These issues get discussed regularly on their blog,  but their biggest initiative has been to try to revamp the teacher evaluation system in our state (maybe your state needs to do this too?) to include student outcomes, but not performance on a once a year standardized test.

But, I fear. I fear that we’ve lost trust. I fear that we’ve so lost trust that even efforts like these, generated by teachers themselves, will not be heard by either side in this debate. The climate for any change has been poisoned by programs used as a weapon, rather than a means to do better. This effort will require all participants to have trust in the program. Teachers need to hear from leaders that they are the part of the solution, not the just the problem. We need the media to be responsible in their reporting, instead of jumping on bandwagons that may lead us to where no one wants to go. Once that happens, we can sit down at the table, roll up our sleeves and “get ‘er done”.

Other ACT Links: – a Ning site – ACT main online interface w/ members – Facebook – Twitter – YouTube

19th ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival is up


Ms. Flecha has just posted the Nineteenth Edition Of The ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival, and my post is included and had a lovely write up. It was paired with another post from a TESOL educator in Brazil, Henrick Opera, who has a really interesting post on world Englishes standards. With more non-native English speakers world-wide,  you’d think we’d all understand each other better, but the big elephant in the room with TESOL teaching seems to be what version of English do you teach since there can be significant differences in pronunciation, and that bug-a-boo idiom between the different Englishes spoken around the world.

I’ve run across this myself the first time I watched The Commitments (based on the novel by Roddy Doyle, who I referred to in my post). It’s about working-class Dubliners. My husband and I felt like we needed subtitles, and we had to really listen carefully, and “translate” what they were saying because the accent and idiom/slang was so strong.  It helped when we figured out they were using a variant of the f-word rather liberally with the double “oo” rather than short “u” sound. Opera’s post is very though provoking and I highly recommend it.

Other useful tidbits:

  1. Ask Clarifying Questions is a great list of questions to use with ESL students to get them thinking about what they are reading.
  2. English with Jennifer shows how using poetry can help introduce learning, and culture. I’d add songs too to the list.
  3. Speaking of Music, Larry Ferlazzo has a post on a Boston Globe article on using subtitles in music videos.
  4. You wouldn’t think that teacher still need this, but if you or co-workers do, Mathew Needleman has a nice post on  The Right Way to Show Movies in Class.

There’s more up than these, so I high suggest stopping by and checking it out.

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