My New Second Grade Class

July 10, 2007 at 8:04 pm | Posted in education, second grade, Special Education | Leave a comment

Real briefly:

I have two students who read 5 words a minute.

I have two students who read 10-15 words a minute.

I have four students who read 20-30 words a minute.

And the other 9 are evenly spread out, reading 30-90 words a minute, which is really nice!

They should be reading about 55 words per minute.

About half my students are English Language Learners.  I have only one African-American girl in my class.  She worries me because, from observation these last three days, she looks a little withdrawn and separated from the other students.  She’s also reading at about 10 words a minute.  I know her family and had two of her relatives in my classroom, they were all very low academically and had lots of family and neighborhood issues.  I will be paying particular attention to her and help her integrate into the classroom community.

The two students reading at 5 words per minute are both African American boys, sadly.  One student has a great, positive, hard-working attitude and is already finding successes in the classroom.  His mother contacted me on the very first day and we started working together to help him become a success.  We both agreed that he needs the Student Success Team and probably testing for Special Education.

The other boy is having a great deal of trouble adjusting the classroom rules and routines.  I spoke with his first grade teacher and his behavior last year was consistently disruptive.  His first grade teacher is a National Board Certified teacher with an excellent reputation at our school, so I’m pretty certain she did everything she could to help him learn.  However, I already see some anger management issues with him.  I also know his family, again, another family of low academic students and some pretty angry, beligerent parents.  I called his mother twice, made an appointment for a parent conference today, which she missed.  Didn’t surprise me, but it does mean that he’s likely not getting the support he needs at home.  I will be referring him to the Student Success Team as well, but I want to sit down with his first grade teacher first to gather evidence.

My highest academic student is another African American boy, just in case people are starting to make assumptions!  His mother also contacted me and we’re excited to be working with each other.  I’m already wondering if he’s gifted.  He comes out with the most brilliant observation!

I have only five other girls in my class, all English Language Learners and Spanish speakers.  So far, I have one girl who loves to touch her friends (cultural), one girl who’s consistently late and already absent one day (oh boy), and all lovely, sweet, hard-working girls.

I have one absent-minded artist, barely interested in academic but wakes up and focuses intently one the visual arts.  I will be making use of his talent throughout the year!

I have an itty, bitty little accident prone genius.  He acts, and feels, like a kindergartener, but he writes, reads, and comprehends like a third grader.  He’s also smashed his knees and had his right eye poked in the three short days I’ve known him.

I have one student, J____, who is such a joy, but really, really wants my attention all the time.  Is this a second grade thing?

I have a line leader who is always too busy to find his way to the front of the line.  Quite funny because then he goes, “Oops!” and runs to the front of the line.

I’ll be observing the kids more to learn more about their interests and quirks.  So far, a very different class from my last third grade class.

Special Ed Student Committed Arsony Again

June 20, 2007 at 5:47 pm | Posted in behavior, Special Education | Leave a comment

For the second time this year, one of my special ed student (the same boy) set fire to school property, namely the restroom trashcan. He finds it fascinating.

He’s suspended for two days, pending a parent conference. He will be counseled of course.

It’s one week and two days from the last day of third grade.

His behavior in the classroom is extremely good. He used to be reluctant to do any sort of work, but now, quite often, he would beg to do a class assignment as homework because he enjoyed it that much.

Unfortunately, as soon as I’m not there, he’s a holy terror. When the cat’s away…

It took me months to get him to be on his best behavior consistently, without any promptings. My question is, what can I do to help him and students like him behave and make wise choices when I’m not around? I want independent students.


This is his latest writing sample.

“I had a fluffy dog.  His name is fluffy.  My dad cut his hair.  When my dad cut his hair, he was skinny.  I feel sad because my dog ran away.  When he was still here he popped a water balloon at me.”

A Teacher’s Educational Background

June 6, 2007 at 5:04 pm | Posted in education, Special Education, teachers | 3 Comments

Attend enough professional development seminar and someone will ask you to think about your educational background. Then, think about your students’ educational backgrounds. Relate one to the other and consider how you will teach your students.

I’ve been thinking about my educational background and what a checkered background it is!

The Early Years

I started school at age two in Vietnam and learned French by age four at the end of a ruler stick wielded by terrifying Vietnamese Catholic nuns. They don’t mess around, those nuns. I learned how to write, read, and speak in two languages by the time I left Vietnam at age four. I also learned how to forge my mother’s signature “MOM” when given a bad note home. WHACK went the ruler stick. I didn’t do that again.

The Refugee Camp Year

At age four, I left Vietnam and entered a refugee camp on island somewhere in the Pacific and began my English education. Unfortunately, I learned how to play hooky and my guardian had to hunt me down every single day and drag me kicking and screaming to school. I also became a little arsonist and set fires to many small, inconspicuous items and areas.

The Elementary Years

I entered school in America at age five and was designated English as a Second Language (ESL) learner. I had a pull-out program where they pull you out of class to teach you. Being labeled like that insulted me no end, I remember. Within one year, I mastered English. Another year, I was top of my class academically and exited the ESL program.

Middle School

By Middle School, I was identified gifted and enrolled in a gifted magnet school in vibrant New Orleans. I was surrounded by gifted students. Exhilarating! There was also a question as to whether I had asperger’s syndrome or that I was just very, very gifted and what was the difference. I lack many crucial social and communication skills. My intelligences are shaped like mountains and valleys, extreme capability in one area balanced by great deficit in another. The final verdict was not to label me further, merely gifted, but put me in this special class a few times a week with only 9 other students.

High School

I moved out of the state and into the hell-pit of despair…Orange County, California, the most suburban, boring place I could ever imagine. I was also placed in remedial English, Health, remedial Math, and general Science merely because I checked that my home language was not English. Talk about making assumptions. I knocked on the counselor’s door every single day until I forced the school to give me a test to test my capabilities and put me in the correct classes. The counselors resisted at first because “they knew what was best.” Nonetheless, I lost one quarter of valuable education. Though I was placed in the Honors English class, I was always one quarter behind the Honors track students for all else and I actually feared that I wouldn’t be on the right track for the Advanced Placement classes in order to get to college. In fact, I lack many advanced placement classes that my fellow students received. I still graduated Valedictorian and hate Orange County to this day for its narrow-mindedness, lack of creativity, and very unmotivated citizens.


My calling was to become a teacher, but I needed a bachelor degree in order to get my teaching credential. So I majored in Physics. Physics is fun! Graduated UCLA with a B.S. in Physics with an average grade of B. I was one class short of graduating with an English minor because I got bored with English. It was too easy, I always “aced” the classes, and got tired of the English majors complaining about how hard the classes were. I do not have much respect for English majors now because of my college experience. I took up urban planning instead for fun.

I struggled with Physics because I had a BAD geometry teacher in high school and BAD math teachers. All these teachers taught me the algorythm, but never the underlying concept. I lack spatial sense. Doing well in many of my physics classes meant that I had to have good spatial sense and be able to pull out underlying concepts in mathematic equations. A good geometry background would have helped tremendously. Instead, I spent a quarter of Physics with my Teacher Assistant teaching me geometry instead of Physics.

As a Result

My very checkered past, as an ESL student, a gifted student, a misbehaving student, a poverty-stricken student, and (nearly) a special education student means I AM the diversity in the classroom that educational researchers write of. I keep all of this in mind every time a student walk into my classroom.

I have high expectation of my students because I don’t know where they are going or where they’ve been, and I could have the next Einstein sitting in my classroom.

I teach the concept and the process first and foremost and let the students develop their own algorythm. You already know why.

I am an excellent teacher because excellence has always been part of my life.

I still lack many social and communication skills and have to be taught by my friends and family how to do “normal” daily activities like dress myself properly, say thank you and please, shut my mouth when I have only negative things to say. These lessons continue to these days. I in turn teach the same lessons to my students.

If they fall out of their chairs, I teach them how to sit in a chair.

If they talk too loud, I teach them the proper volume.

If they crowd in line, I teach them how to line up one after the other.

I don’t make negative assumptions about students and their behaviors because I’ve already seen how assumptions about me could have set me down the wrong path.

I guess reviewing my educational background is a valuable reflective tool.

Day 4 of Big Test- All’s Well that Ends Well

May 25, 2007 at 7:08 pm | Posted in behavior, education, elementary, high stakes testing, Special Education | Leave a comment

I conferenced with the New Boy to see how his week went.  He enjoyed himself.  Didn’t get into much trouble.  Felt he did well on the Big Test.

The other kids were happy to have music class and then a health assembly after lunch.  Over all, not much academic learning took place, but the kids all had a great time.  They’re groaning at having to take more tests next week, but so long as I promised to bring Gummi Worms to snack on during the test, they’ll be happy.

They wonder, same as me, why they have to do this for EIGHT days.  Some other grade levels are excited to be done with their tests already.

My three special education students will stay with me for the entire test, though their IEPs (special education plans) specify that they should have  modifications such as extended time and a quiet place to work.  We, that is, all the adults involved, agree that the best place for them would be with me in the classroom as that is where they are most comfortable and would have a quiet, minimal stress environment in which to work.  They did very well so far.  One tries very hard to read and answer all the questions laboriously.  One does the best she can in as quick a time as she can.  The other one just quickly fills in the bubble and will go back to take a look at a few questions if I specifically asks him to go back and check.

For him, I wish the resource teacher was more accommodating.  I dream that perhaps she could keep him focused one question at a time whereas I could only keep him focused every five to ten minutes as I make my rounds throughout the classroom.

Writing with Thinking Maps

April 23, 2007 at 7:51 am | Posted in education, elementary, graphic organizers, Special Education, teachers, thinking maps, third grade, writing | 3 Comments

Write from the Beginning Series

Writing with Thinking Maps

I wrote a series of blogs on writing using Thinking Maps and this quickly became a favorite for many readers. So, I decided to organize the blogs onto one post to make it easier for people to find all the articles and to clarify the sequence of our process.

The writing process was taken directly from a supplementary program, Write from the Beginning, from Thinking Maps.

1. How we do it in our class – an explanation.

2. The pre-writing process part 1 – using Circle Maps

3. The pre-writing process part 2 – using Flow Maps

4. First Draft – some samples

5. Flow Map – explanation of the parts of the Flow Map and how we use it for writing.

6. An example from my Special Ed student showing success for all students – The Pre-Write

7. A first draft from my Special Ed student – The First Draft

8. A second grade, friendly thank you letter – The entire process

Please leave a comment to tell me what you think! Thank you!

Thinking Map – Prewriting

March 23, 2007 at 4:17 am | Posted in education, elementary, schools, Special Education, teachers, writing | 1 Comment

Thinking Map – Prewriting
Originally uploaded by cityteacher.

This was the pre-writing activity that helped my Special Ed. student get to his finished friendly letter.

There’s an opening sentence, two main ideas, and a closing sentence.

As you can see, he did this himself, as he was taught to use Thinking Maps to plan his writing. The structure of his writing, though lacking in details, is pretty much there because he used this Flow Map.

Simply amazing.

I honestly wish that I was trained to use these “Thinking Maps” sooner. I was trained in November of 2006 and have been using them in my classroom since. I’m such a better teacher and my students are such better writers because of these graphic organizers!

A Friendly Letter – by my Special Ed Student

March 23, 2007 at 4:13 am | Posted in education, elementary, schools, Special Education, teachers, writing | Leave a comment

First Draft of Friendly Letter

Originally uploaded by cityteacher.

This is the first draft of a letter by one of my Special Ed student who is mainstreamed into my classroom. He’s the arsonist from last week.

This is a tremendous improvement from him! You have no idea how proud I am of him and his progress. At the beginning of the teacher and for the next four months, I was lucky if I got two words out of him. Usually he could get his name on top of the paper and that was it!

This piece of writing was independently done as part of his writing assessment. He needed me to remind him to stay focused and to write about earning and saving money, but other than that, all these sentences came from his brain!

Dear Ms. XXX
You should save money and you should also save money to buy a car. It is important to earn money and save money because you need things.
Sincerely, XXXX

He corrected his spelling mistake. He spelled “should” correctly except for the backward “d”. No punctuation marks, but plenty of content. He got a complete piece of writing, from beginning to end, though it lacks details.

This piece of writing is in response to the prompt: Convince a friend to earn and save money. Describe in details how to earn and save money. Tell why it is wise to earn and save money.

How did I get him to this point? I can’t even describe the amount of work and the tremendous progress he’s made!

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