THWACK! Keep those kids in line!

June 7, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Posted in behavior, best practices, culturally relevant teaching, inner city, learning modality, strategies | Leave a comment

It’s the end of the school year.  The students are tired.  You are tired.  The kids act more like caged monkeys than students.  And by golly, three weeks can last an eternity.Students act more like caged monkeys.

At this point, I don’t know who’s behavior is worse, the students or the teachers!

Now is not the time to slack off.  For the last few weeks, I noticed a definite pattern.  When I feel tired and plan for “fun” activities so that kids are “enthusiastic” about school is when I have the most behavior problems.  When I plan and execute rigorous lesson plans, my kids revert back to their pleasant, well-behaved student mode.

Here’s a link to a Responsive Classroom strategy, Interactive Modeling, that I’ve been using to remind my students of proper behavior.  I’ve noticed a significant difference in my students behavior after I’ve started using this strategy.  At the very least, my students don’t act as if I’ve never taught them rules and routines before.

Interactive Modeling uses several forms of modeling to teach rules and routines.  The teacher models, the students model, and then the students practice.  The interactive and physical modeling is far more successful at teaching rules and routines than simply telling students what to do.  This is particularly true of inner city kids, many of whom are English Language Learners and Standard English Learners and need the scaffolding that Interactive Modeling provides.

I’ve only discovered this strategy in April when this article came out, but I have added it to my repertoire of teaching skills.  I definitely intend on using this strategy repeatedly at the beginning, middle, and end of the next school year.

Culturally Relevant Teaching Part 1

November 5, 2007 at 5:40 pm | Posted in behavior, best practices, culturally relevant teaching, education, elementary, inner city | 4 Comments

As a teacher, we’ve all heard the terms. We’ve all been told to use it. We’ve all been trained. I know I have. We’ve even piecemeal integrated one or two strategies into our teaching. Many of us are still VERY confused as to what it is and how it’s any different from what we’ve been doing. I know I was!

Here is an exploration of Culturally Relevant Teaching from the perspective of one teacher who is beginning to take ownership and really see direct impact in his classroom.

Primary Resources: Culturally Responsive Teaching by Geneva Gay and How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You by Bonnie M. Davis. Geneva Gay’s book really explores the theory and the whys of CRT(Culturally Relevant Teaching). Bonnie Davis’s book explores YOUR experiences and gives practical strategies.

What is Culturally Relevant Teaching?

It goes by a few name. Culturally Responsive Teaching. Culturally Relevant Pedagogy. Variations thereof. In a nutshell, CRT is respecting the student’s complex culture and individual strengths to teach in a rigorous manner that will lead to academic success. That’s a mouthful.

We want all of our students to be academically successful. Every year, the faces that look back at us in the classroom is more and more diverse. The numbers from standardized tests tell us that there is a persistent “achievement gap”, meaning students of color are not doing as well as white American students. The students are becoming more and more disconnected from education, with worsening behavior problems, and less and less motivation to succeed in school, or so it seems. Many teachers feel frustrated, some even hopeless.

CRT proposes a very convincing argument as to why that achievement gap persists and how we can change our teaching so that our students of color has the best chance of academic success.

Culture Counts

Culture counts. That is a premise of CRT and two powerful words that truly affected me. Culture counts. The culture of the diverse students, absolutely, but also the culture of our educational institution and the teachers teaching.

The American educational institution was built by and for the dominant culture, white, middle class, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants. That culture has been entrenched into education to such a degree that we, as fish, don’t see the water through which we swim, nor do we see the cultural norms that exist and force upon our students who DON’T in fact, come from a white, middle class background.

Two examples

We expect students to sit and listen attentively. That sounds perfectly logical to those of us raised in a middle class educational environment. It is, in fact, logical in all culture. It just looks different. When we say “sit and listen attentively”, we mean sit straight up in the chair, eyes on the speaker, hands still, mouths quiet. In many other culture, African American culture for one, “sit and listen attentively” means moving, nodding and clapping in agreement, yelling out encouragement, nudging the person sitting next to you, and quite often, being really attentive means standing up, not sitting at all. So, when our little black students start moving in class when we speak, we yell at them to sit still. We’ve also just told them to stop listening.

We expect, and teach our students from a young age, to raise their hands and take turn to speak so that it is fair to everyone. Conversation in the classroom is between the teacher and one other student only. Everyone else is expected to listen until it’s their turn. In our individualistic society, that makes sense. In other, more communal society, it doesn’t make sense at all. Everyone is expected to contribute to the conversation. In the classroom, what this looks like is that our students of color call out to the teacher and to each other during discussions. Once again, we tell our students to raise their hands before speaking…and we’ve also told them to stop contributing to the conversation.

Two of our most basic assumptions about teaching clearly clashes with the cultures of our diverse students and tell our students to stop learning! And our students obey. They stop learning. A little at a time until, by fourth and fifth grade, teachers throw their hands up in despair, wondering what they could do.

How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You by Bonnie M. Davis does a great job of helping us to examine our cultural lenses and then readjust our teaching so that we can actually teach our students. Do take a look at it and see what other assumptions about teaching that we hold as logical norms, when in fact it is detrimental to our students of color.

Why should we be mindful of CRT and actively seek to integrate it into our daily classroom instruction? I won’t go deep into this discussion. I figure, if you’ve read this far, then you already want to do it, you just want to know how. Culturally Responsive Teaching by Geneva Gay does a fantastic, and thorough job of discussing why we should use CRT. I highly recommend that every teacher should read Geneva Gay’s book.

Organizing Ideas in Discourse and Writing

October 28, 2007 at 12:18 pm | Posted in best practices, culturally relevant teaching, elementary, graphic organizers, inner city, learning modality, second grade, strategies, thinking maps, writing | Leave a comment

One of the tenets of Culturally Responsive Teaching is that students from different cultural background would have different communication styles which may clash with the communication style of the teacher.  So, how do we teach students who communicate differently from us?


In America, the dominant way to organize communication is “topic-centered”.  We focus on one topic at a time and logically follow through to a conclusion in an orderly manner.  It’s very linear.  If we are part of the dominant culture, we automatically think this is the correct way of organizing our thinking, our speech, and our writing.


Research have shown that Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans and Hawaiians are inclined toward topic-associative style of organizing communication.  This style is thematic, associative, and integrative.  A topic-centered communicator would view this form of communication as rambling, straying off topic, and not organized, when in fact, the topic-associative communicator is giving you ALL the information, ALL the associations, EVERYTHING relevant to the topic.

In the Classroom

Be honest, in the classroom, particularly in a culturally diverse classroom, how many of you teachers think that your ethnic students are ramblers and don’t communicate well and that their writing is awful and disorganized?  I can point to each child and give an illustration of how the child is a topic-associative communicator in my classroom, and if I didn’t know about the difference in communication style, I would have immediately said my students are disorganized thinkers.  In actuality, they are organized in an associative manner, not topic-centered. 

Here’s an anecdote.  My grandmother would try to tell these stories about her past.  However, for us young grandkids, she never quite got to the “point” of the stories.  She never gave us a plot with a problem and a solution or a punchline.  We never got to hear the ending of the stories because we got impatient and walked away.  Why?  She would spend all her time talking about the people and places related to the stories.  “Once, your grandfather took me to visit Uncle so and so.  Remember Uncle so and so?  He had that daughter who married so and so.  What was her name?  I think her name was so and so.  He gave her a pig for her wedding day.  That was a great day.  Your aunt so and so was there…”  We missed the entire point of why grandmother was talking with us..she was talking about people, not plotlines.  Grandmother was very much a topic-associative communicator.

How to Bridge the Styles in Writing – An Example

As a culturally responsive teacher who wants to use the students’ strengths to build a bridge to academic success in a dominant culture that IS topic-centered, what do you do?

Well, I’ve been thinking about why the way I’ve been teaching writing has been such a success with my inner city students.  I build in all sorts of scaffold.  I give them all sorts of graphic organizers.  I expect and receive successful writings.  All this and more.

But, looking at it through the lens of communication styles, I can clearly see now that I have created a bridge from one style to the other for my students, using the strength of one and carefully teaching my students how to do the other.  Or, to be more precise, “Write from the Beginning”, the writing program, has built this bridge.  I merely strengthen it.

Looking carefully at how I teach writing using Thinking Maps, we can see that we start with my students’ strength, topic-association, by using a Circle Map.  First in conversation, then in the graphic organizers, my students are encouraged to think about and write down everything that is associated with and related to the writing topic.  Because we are using a circle to organize our thinking, everything is related and nothing is more important than the other.  We honor all associations.

Next, we start making decisions about what we need to focus on, beginning the bridge to a topic-centered piece of writing.  We do this through a Tree Map, picking out three main ideas.  We then move to a Flow Map and piece, by piece, organizing our ideas in a topic-centered sequence, moving from one completed idea to the next and coming to a conclusion.

Our final writing is very much topic-centered and would please any topic-centered communicator.

When I remove this bridge, my second graders immediately produce writing that is topic-associative because that is their communication style.  That bridge is clearly not solid yet and my students still need scaffolding, but as we continue working together throughout the year, my students will become more adept at crossing that bridge independently. 

My goal of course is for my students to be able to use two styles of communication and be able to make decisions about when is appropriate to use one or the other.  Already, I see two students who are able to do this by themselves, with minimal guidance.

Teaching Presentation to Second Graders Using Keynote

September 2, 2007 at 7:24 pm | Posted in elementary, inner city, Open Court, publishing, second grade, technology in education | 2 Comments

This past week, my students and I started an exciting new project.  We are learning how to create a presentation using Apple’s Keynote!  Keynote is rather like Powerpoint.  It is a part of the iWork bundle. 

So far, so good!  The kids are excited.  They love adding animations and effects to their images and words.

I started the lesson by using a Powerpoint presentation on “Kindness” from  “Kindness” is our literacy unit for the next 6 weeks. I prefaced the lesson by explicitly telling them that this is a presentation, that adults use this to share information, that we will learn how create our own presentation as an option for publishing our writing and sharing our ideas, yadiyadiya.  Then, we started creating our own “Kindness” presentation as a whole group, which is to say, every student is creating an identical presentation at their own workstation by following the teacher step by step.  My rationale for doing it this way?  Most of my students only ever touch a computer at school, usually to play a “learning” game, and have never seen a presentation before.  Whole group is the only way to go. 

During this lesson, I found that I had to teach them EVERYTHING, down to what double-click means.  That’s expected since they are a) second graders and b) mostly computer illiterate because c) inner city students have very little access to technology.

I am so thankful that (though our classrooms have ten years old computers that is no longer serviced by LAUSD), our computer lab has (slow, but functional) computers and a projector.  Also an excellent computer technician who looks out for these programs for our students.  Her only wish is that teachers would make use of these programs, rather than stick the kids on “learning” games for 40 minutes, once a week. 

btw, I’m looking into having my students blog, but it won’t work on the computer in my classroom.  I’ll have to first get everyone’s parents consent for the students to get on the Internet, and then maybe settle for blogging as a twice a month thing done only in the computer lab.  We shall see.    

Moved Classroom Today

June 29, 2007 at 8:03 pm | Posted in education, inner city, teachers | 5 Comments

It’s the last day of school today!

I finished hauling all my crap from my old room to my new assigned room today, with lots of help from my students (a waste of their time by the way).  Now, I begin to set up my new classroom for the new academic year, which begins next Thursday after the fourth of July holiday.  Just pause for a minute and consider the ramifications of the situation.

Holy heck but I have walls, tables, and floor space covered with boxes and random bits!

All the chairs are mismatched and too large for second graders.  (Ordered new chairs two weeks ago, cross fingers and hope they arrive in time.)

The tables are all at different height. (Must remember to ask plant manager to even out the tables.)

I don’t KNOW what’s that stuff under the sink!

Who left all this crap in my new classroom?  Mr. ____?  He left the school five years ago!  Why didn’t someone throw this out years ago?!

Somewhere in there, I must plan for the first two weeks of school so that my students can begin learning from Day 1.  I must set up my classroom to be an inviting environment for my students.  I must also not strangle people who left their stuff in the classroom and said they’ll be back sometime in August to get it out of MY classroom.  THAT’S RIGHT!  A teacher told me she “needed the vacation time” and will be back two months after my academic year started so that she can haul hundreds of pounds of HER STUFF out of my classroom, let’s not STOP to consider the needs of other teachers, never mind STUDENTS!

I was generous enough to pack most of her crap into boxes and had them dragged down to her new classroom rather than throw them away.  She still has one of MY closets full of her stuff and unfortunately for me, it’s the closet that has those useful, vertical drawers perfect for posters.   Have to purchase some kind of storage box for the posters now.

The school will be open on Saturday for four hours, Monday and Tuesday for six hours.  I shall make use of the available time to set up my classroom.

Insane Absences and Tardies

June 28, 2007 at 9:09 pm | Posted in behavior, education, elementary, inner city | 3 Comments

I’m doing my report card and, as I already knew, found insane absences and tardies.  Out of 66 days of schools, three of my students missed more than 10 days of school, one of whom had 15 tardies.  This girl is one of the lowest scorer, academically speaking.  Her mother pretty much shut me out because I pushed her and her older daughter hard last year.  She, my current student, made a lot of progress this year, but is still lagging behind her peers.  One of my friend said, “Third graders don’t make decisions about going to school.  They do as they’re told.”  Yup.

A half of my students had five to nine absences with some tardies hitting the twenties.

I consider this a “symptom” of how difficult my class was this year.  I could be wrong, but in my five years of teaching, I noticed that, generally speaking, attendance is a good clue to class’s achievement and behavior.  Last year, half of my students earned perfect attendance for the year.  This year, two of my students earned good attendance certificates.  Last year was the mellowest class anyone can wish for.  This year, my class ran off a substitute (just two weeks ago in fact).  The substitute pushed them out the classroom door 15 minutes before the bell rang and headed for the parking lot.  Some of my fellow teachers were laughing about it.   I cringed.

Back to the report cards.

How to Start the Mornings – Getting Students On Task

June 25, 2007 at 4:51 pm | Posted in behavior, best practices, elementary, inner city, strategies, teachers | 3 Comments

A teacher visited my classroom this morning at 8:10 and was very surprised that most of my students were quietly working at their seats, with two students hanging up their backpacks.  She wondered how I achieved this because she was used to her classroom.  Her students wandered around in the morning, chatting, sharpening pencils, putting away homework, while waiting for the lesson to start.  Then, it takes her just forever to get the students’ attention.

Very simply, the lesson started the minute the students walk into the classroom.  That’s how I get my students to start working immediately, with no time to wander around and chat.

Before Coming into the Classroom

I remind students how to line up quietly and walk quietly.  I may even make some small announcements to prepare the students for the day’s activities.

Coming into the Classroom

We walk in and stand ready to say the Pledge of Allegiance.  A monitor leads us.

Morning Activities

A list of morning routine activities is posted on the wall.  After the Pledge, the students immediately get started on their routines, usually without my verbal reminders.  Their first lesson is posted on the morning routines chart and is waiting for them at their desk.  This activity is usually an independent activity that everyone can do.  A homework monitor collects the homework from students’ desk.  I have a box of pencils already sharpened and waiting for the students.  I walk around and give a few students the “look” while I silently take roll.  By 8:10 we’re all working quietly and can begin our writing lesson for the day.

Students On Task

Beginning the day in an orderly fashion, focused on work, sets the pattern for the rest of the day.  My students are reminded by this pattern every morning that they are at school to work, and that time is precious.  I have very little trouble keeping my students on task and I believe it is because I don’t waste a minute of their day, starting with 8:00.

What Some Other Teachers Do

I find that teachers who are most aggravated by their chatty students not being on task are usually not prepared in the mornings.  Students wander around because the teacher is wandering around looking for materials.  Students don’t do work in the morning because teachers don’t have work for them in the morning, therefore they talk, which is a natural reaction.  This too sets the tone for the rest of the day.  Students will not be in the mental state to work.  It’s also about respect.  Students know you don’t respect their time if they’re sitting around waiting for the teacher for ten minutes.  Why should they then respect the teacher’s demand to be on-task and respect learning time?

The Remedy

Be prepared to teach and your students will be prepared to learn.

Inner-City Schools

Yes, I teach in an extremely low performing inner-city school.  If this is true about my classroom, then it’s certainly easier to implement in other classrooms.

Stealing to Make Up for Own Loss

June 21, 2007 at 3:36 pm | Posted in education, elementary, inner city, poverty | 2 Comments

At the end of the school day as students lined up to go out, I noticed one of my students (not one I spoke of before) looking furtive.  Another student came up to me to mention that A____ took J_____’s shoes.

Background Information

Our school has extremely high rate of poverty.  Every once in awhile, our school gets a large donation of shoes (thanks to the hard work of our attendance counselor) and every student receives shoes.  We picked up our shoes yesterday, but J_____ was absent yesterday and today.

The Conversation

So I gently asked A_____ to give back the shoes.  He did, though he seemed upset.  He’s never taken anything like this before.  I asked him why he took the shoes.  “I don’t know,” came the sad answer, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”  I asked him where his shoes were and didn’t he receive a pair yesterday.  “My uncle took them.”  Whoa!

The Uncle

Turns out, the uncle was near A____’s age and size.  The uncle went to another school so didn’t get a new pair of shoes.  He needed a pair, so the family gave A____’s shoes to his uncle.

Sigh.  Like I said, this is unusual behavior for him.  He just wanted a new pair of shoes like everyone else.  In fact, he wanted his pair.  He didn’t really want J___’s pair.

Luckily, I had an extra pair of shoes because one of my boys left the school.  I gave them to A_____ and told him that his family couldn’t give these to someone else.  The shoes were too big, but he could trade them for an appropriately sized pair at Payless Shoe Source.

What are we doing the last week and a half of school?

June 19, 2007 at 8:46 pm | Posted in education, elementary, inner city, teachers, third grade, Workshop, writing | 2 Comments

Aimlessmiss asked a very funny question. How do you plan to pass the time? – Meaning the last couple of weeks of school given that all major testing is done.

I laughed as I read her post.

Here’s my harried response:

7:30 Getting to school 30 minutes later than planned because I’m tired. First bell is 7:55. Sharpen pencils, lay out morning activities, review plans for the day, meet with teacher to plan for teacher End of Year party, etc.

7:55 Pick up students

8:05 Students working on morning activities, take roll, give tardy students firm look.

8:10 Writing Time – Students finish final draft of family/community story for oral storytelling anthology. Deadline is Wednesday to be sent to Lulu print on demand company in time to receive published copy following week before students graduate third grade.

8:40 Begin Unit 5, Lesson 7 of language arts lesson in preparation of Unit Assessment next Monday. Lessons move at break-neck speed until Workshop time, at which time, students scramble to finish final draft (with illustration), a thank you card for donorschoose donors, and the back cover of their Third Grade Memory Book while teacher meets with small groups of students, some of whom has just a few days to improve their fluency before they get a second chance at their End of Year Fluency Assessment. (Not really the End of Year Fluency Assessment. The EOY Fluency was two weeks ago, but they can replace that score with a higher score if they take the Unit 5 Fluency which is not required of everyone.)

11:00 RECESS – Prepare for math lessons. Give a good “talking to” to students who misbehaved and got more than a verbal warning.

11:20 Math – Small group review problems from recent Math assessment in preparation for retaking the assessment on Friday because students are appalled by their ridiculous low scores (15 out of 31 is highest score) and would like another shot at it. My students can be too motivated sometime. They like teaching their fellow students on the overhead projector though, so it’s fun for them.

12:30 LUNCH – whew! Eat lunch and watch as some students return to work on their writing, some to visit the listening center.

1:10 Workshop Time again! Gotta finish those thank you cards, back covers, and final drafts.

1:30 Enter six students who are dispersed from another class. Begin Science/Art project (Create cut out art on construction paper, leave in sun to fade, remove cut out to see the non-faded shapes and then decorate the faded/non-faded artwork). FUN! Rare chance to do this as this time is usually taken up with English Language Development lessons, but it is the end of the school year, so I think we can relax a little bit here.

2:15 Prepare to go home.

2:20 Teacher prepares class for next school day. Continue packing and cleaning classroom in preparation for moving to a new classroom on June 29. Oh yea, also mentally plan for next school year which starts in 2 and a half weeks.

This was my day today. I look forward to next week because it’s going to be party time on Thursday and Friday! I plan movies and independent art projects so I can clean up, pack up, and move stuff.

“Inner City School Teacher Blues”

June 9, 2007 at 9:16 am | Posted in education, inner city, teachers | 3 Comments

Please read this article written by a once idealistic middle school teacher who wanted to make a difference, and then left because he felt that it was hopeless. I would like to know your opinion before I post mine.

Many paragraphs strike me:

Every now and again I encounter some enthusiastic college student with a gleam in his/her eye telling me who they want to become a public defender, social worker, or school teacher in the inner-city, and I have to laugh to myself softly as something inside me melts a little painfully, strongly suspecting what life has in store for them. (I still respect such people and wish them all the luck in the world – one has to start out idealistic, I think. Too many people who start out corrupted become nearly worthless with the passage of time.) I survived my time at Berendo without losing my initial idealism without which a teacher is impotent and nearly useless (or a vehicle for causing more harm than good).

However, I realized that idealism need be tempered by a strong dose of reality. Unfortunately, reality was not something the Los Angeles Unified School District – or, I dare say, the community of Los Angeles – was ready to face: the schools there are full of “students” who are not students! One might read an article about the “troubled L.A. school system,” but that does not even begin to capture the colossal magnitude or bitter reaches of the disaster. The reality would break your heart! And the children should not ultimately be to blame – that role should go to the “responsible” adults who should know better (LAUSD Superintendent, administrators, city officials, community leaders, parents, etc.) and make the necessary decisions. I hate to say it because it is unpleasant, but I left the LAUSD utterly disgusted with my school and my role in it (even knowing most of the school and certainly myself were doing our best). That is the honest and painful truth.

As well as:

When you read about good teachers looking for ways out of low-income, poverty schools, hearken back to the voice you heard in this story about one man’s experience with the LAUSD and then try to understand.

A fellow teacher at my school is leaving the school, not because of the students, but because of the school system, ineffective teachers, and inefficient administration. She feels angry and I cannot blame her because our school system sets up our students to fail. It is a sad situation for me because she has the ideals and the potential to be an excellent teacher, a powerful force for change at our school. I can only respect her decision to leave our school and move to a better run school in a similar neighborhood elsewhere.

Now contrast that with Salome Thomas-El who Chose to Stay.

Well, what are your opinions and thoughts about this other inner city school teacher?

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