Why Can’t Inner City Kids Learn?

April 18, 2007 at 12:00 pm | Posted in education, elementary, gangs, inner city, poverty, schools, teachers | 19 Comments

I just about fell out of my chair when I saw that in my e-mail box this morning. I guess my blog is starting to reach some people.

The purpose of my blog of course is to have a space for ME to communicate to ME all the good things and all the bad things that happen to me as an inner city teacher. Amazingly, I’ve made contact with some awesome, positive teachers out in the world, which is very encouraging. But the reason why I started this blog is because at my inner city school, I am surrounded by some very negative, pessimistic, and awful teachers.

And the big question with these teachers is, “Why can’t these kids learn?” Their attitude is clear. They delivered the curriculum. Why can’t these kids learn? They’re just not motivated, or they’re born with crack in their systems, or it’s their parents’ fault, gang bangers the lot of them.

At a “professional development” meeting three weeks ago, the conversation once again turns to “Why can’t these kids learn?” even though we were supposed to be discussing methods of positively motivating our students.

I finally just said bluntly, “Actually, I don’t see these problems with my students. They’re not perfect, but they’re fairly well behaved and we work hard, but we learn.”

Moment of awkwardness. Then, the conversation turns to how to keep these unruly kids from getting out of their seats constantly or tattle-telling on each other.

Why Can’t These Kids Learn?

There are many reasons why these kids can’t learn. I shall just list the reasons I personally have witnessed at my school among my colleagues.

    • The teacher sits at her desk and yells at the students. Nothing is written on the board as the teacher never leaves her seat or points generally in the direction of the chart she’s referring to, thus confusing the students.
      • The teacher humiliates students. The teacher yells at students things such as, “Why can’t you learn?” or “Didn’t I just show this to you?” Student immediately shuts down and refuses to learn.
        • Teacher shows up late to pick up the students in the morning, late to pick up students at recess, and late to pick up students at lunch. Teacher yells at students for being tardy. Teacher demonstrates lack of commitment, so why should students be committed?
          • Teacher spends much of class time looking for materials that she hasn’t prepared for the lesson. She leaves class to work on a quiet activity while she goes to the copy room or to another teacher to borrow materials. She yells at students for not being quiet while she’s trying to get her act together for the lesson.
            • Five minutes into a lesson, the teacher is reading the teacher guide to see what she has to teach. Students have to wait quietly while she figures out what they’re supposed to learn.
              • Teacher doesn’t know the purpose of a lesson, so teaches an entirely different lesson (probably due to her unpreparedness). I love this one as its very prevalent at my school. Here’s an example. The lesson is a 20 minute lesson in our reading program that’s supposed to teach students comprehension attack strategy. The teacher spends an hour forcing the students to read the entire passage one table at a time in order and shooting rapid-fire on-the-surface recall questions at five kids (ignoring the fact that everyone else isn’t paying attention) in an attempt to make sure that everyone understands the content of the story. Then, there’s the teacher who, when it was time to teach the content of the story, instead of focusing on the theme of the unit, money, spends a week on segregation and wonders why her kids didn’t focus on the writing prompt in the assessment. Funny!
                • Students do one worksheet after another that the teacher finds valuable in one of those books you find at the teacher store and gets upset when advised by the administration to focus on the standards and the curriculum. The reason why she’s upset is because education these days don’t allow teachers creativity. The students get more worksheets nonetheless while she sits at her desk or beautifies her classroom. These are all true stories! Honest!
                  • Teacher puts on a video in the last hour of the day because, you know, the kids are getting unruly and needs a break. The videos are not even tangential to the students learning. Fridays are the worst.
                    • Everyday is drawing, art, and music day. This is particularly cruel and prevalent in the younger classes and the Special Ed classes. You can always tell which students come from these teachers…It’s very sad because they are far behind all the other students academically and in second grade have to learn skills that they should have learned in Kindergarten.

                      I can go on and on!

                      I mentioned that I substituted five days in another third grade teacher’s class about a week and a half ago. At the end of the five days, the grandmother of one of the students asked me if he can transfer into my classroom instead because “I’m not saying Mr. XXX is a bad teacher, but XXX did so much work when he’s with you and he didn’t get into trouble at all, but Mr. XXX is always telling me how XXX is bad and he ain’t with you.”

                      I had a frozen smile on my face and can only assure her that her grandson is actually quite capable and just needs motivation to stay focus on his work. Her grandson definitely has a focusing problem, but that’s my job, right? To motivate him to learn.

                      Protected: Military Recruitment in Elementary School – Train ’em young!

                      April 17, 2007 at 12:20 pm | Posted in education, elementary, inner city, poverty, schools | Enter your password to view comments.

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                      No Clean Clothes to Wear

                      April 16, 2007 at 11:31 am | Posted in education, elementary, inner city, life, poverty, schools, teachers | Leave a comment

                      Keep an eye out for the students who periodically are absent from school with a “personal reason” excuse. Ask them and you may find that their answer is, “My mom says I have no clean laundry so I can’t go to school.”

                      I always have at least one student, sometimes two or three students, every year who can’t come to school because they have no clean clothes. They may be homeless, their parents may work many hours and can’t go to the laundromat regularly, they may not have the $10 or so to do the laundry this week, whatever.

                      There isn’t any point in lecturing the students, so don’t.

                      What you may be able to do is ask the school counselor to take the student to School Bell or a similar program. School Bell gives clothes, shoes, and backpacks to the neediest of the students.

                      This will give the student additional clothes that may just be enough to last them till the next laundry day, thus lowering their incidence of absences.

                      Protected: Walking Field Trip Not Possible?

                      April 14, 2007 at 9:52 am | Posted in education, elementary, inner city, physical education, poverty, schools, third grade | Enter your password to view comments.

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                      Write from the Beginning – First Draft

                      April 14, 2007 at 3:29 am | Posted in education, elementary, graphic organizers, inner city, learning modality, schools, teachers, third grade, writing | 1 Comment

                      After we finish our Flow Map, we usually do what I call “Pull Out and Talk”. This is a strategy that I picked up from our Into English! program, which is our English Language Development program for our English Language Learners.

                      I model first using our class Flow Map. Then, I give all students a few minutes to pull out and talk. What they are doing is orally rehearsing their writing using the Flow Map as the guide. So many of my students are oral learners that this strategy really helps them produce excellent writing. Going from a pre-write to a first draft directly is extremely difficult for my inner city kids. This Pull Out and Talk strategy bridges that gap.

                      After the students Pull Out and Talk to themselves, they pull out and talk with a partner, with a small group, to the class, or with me, depending on their needs. During all this talking, the students get to hear other writings and will revise their writing as they hear good examples.

                      Remember that nothing is written down yet at this point, but the students are already revising their writing as they orally rehearse.

                      After being given amble time to pull out and talk, I finally model the first draft. I emphasize the fact that I’m not making up anything new, I’m just writing down exactly what I said during my pull out and talk. Somehow, this is a difficult concept for students to accept at first…that what comes out of their mouth is acceptable in writing.

                      When the students are finally given a chance to do their first draft, the first draft is done very quickly. After all, the students don’t have to spend any time thinking about what to write. All they have to do is just put it down in writing. First draft is the easiest part of our writing process now.

                      Here is A’s first draft.

                      A sample page 1
                      A sample page 2

                      It is a solid piece of writing. As a teacher, I already see several skills I need to continue working with A on, complete sentences for one, but I’m not worried about her ability to write a coherent, focused piece of writing that answers a prompt.

                      Here is J’s first draft.

                      J sample page 1
                      J sample page 2
                      J sample page 3
                      J sample page 4

                      Four paragraphs of focused writing that answers the prompt. Basic sentence structure, but not bad. Experimenting with the use of transition words, good. Needs work, but an excellent start. I can see that J is ready to take his writing to the next level, giving it voice and style.

                      All in all, excellent writing from my students given the excrutiating ramblings they produced at the beginning of the school year. Lots of instruction went into them being able to do this in three days independently in an assessment situation. Lots of hard work on their part!

                      I am very proud of them and am already planning my next series of instruction to meet their needs as learners.

                      Thinking Maps – Sophisticated, Targeted Graphic Organizers for your Students

                      April 10, 2007 at 5:54 pm | Posted in education, elementary, graphic organizers, learning modality, schools, teachers | 1 Comment

                      There are very few programs mandated by our district that I find extremely useful and actually increases my effectiveness as a teacher. The Thinking Maps program and the Write from the Beginning program does. If you are a teacher, let your district know so that you can get training in these programs.

                      The Thinking Map program is a set of 8 “thinking maps” or graphic organizers targeted at specific comprehension skills. A student, with proper teacher modeling, can easily learn these thinking maps and begin to apply them in all subject matter.

                      For example, after a few weeks of modeling the Tree Map, which is used to categorize, and the Circle Map, which is used to put knowledge in context, I placed my students into groups of four and simply asked them to find spelling patterns in their spelling words for the week. I gave them chart paper and markers. Immediately, three of my groups made Tree Maps and started sorting the spelling patterns. One group used the Circle Map, realized that the Circle Map wasn’t doing what they want it to do, revised and used the Tree Map instead.

                      Now, I use these Thinking Maps in all subject areas and for all sorts of activities. Thinking Maps enhances comprehension, and funny enough, teaches comprehension! My inner city kids can SEE the thinking that goes into a lesson now because of these highly sophisticated graphic organizers.

                      I’ll be sure to take pictures of some Thinking Maps and post them in the near future!

                      Technology in MY Classroom

                      April 10, 2007 at 6:50 am | Posted in donorschoose, dreams, education, elementary, hope, inner city, poverty, schools, teachers, technology in education, third grade | 1 Comment

                      A blog truly pissed me off today. You can read my ranting comment in reply.

                      The blogger might have meant to say something entirely different, but what I gathered from the post was that this blogger believes that technology is extremely important for the future of education, so teachers need to get out of their comfort level and start using technology in the classroom.

                      *SCREAM OF RAGE*

                      You can gather from my reply what my technology situation is in my inner city classroom.

                      While I love to whine and rage on so, eventually, I also take action. I am now beginning my campaign to get an LCD projector or Smartboard and twenty laptops into my classroom.

                      Please donate to my donorschoose.org proposal and help us get technology in the classroom. Even $5 will help! I mean it! Every little bit counts toward something…a sense of hope for the future, a glimpse of what may be.

                      Give to DonorsChoose

                      A Bed to Sleep On? Not If You’re an Inner City Kid!

                      April 8, 2007 at 6:26 pm | Posted in education, elementary, life, physical education, poverty, schools, teachers, third grade | 2 Comments

                      Here’s an interesting story.  My new next-door teacher loves yoga.  So, three months ago, she decided to teach her students yoga as part of Physical Education (coming along very well!).  She purchased yoga mats and brought them to school.  The kids were so excited!  One of them said, “It would be so cool to sleep on this!” You just gotta pause for a moment at a comment like that coming from a third grader.

                      Turned out a third of her students don’t have a bed to sleep on at home.  They sleep on the floor in the living room. The couch is probably reserved for the adults.

                      The teacher sent home the mats of course and purchased new ones for the classroom.


                      April 8, 2007 at 6:15 pm | Posted in education, elementary, homework, schools, teachers, third grade | Leave a comment

                      It has always been my contention that homework for the younger students is a silly invention created by teachers to make parents feel better.    I’m a little bit wrong, but since the research is not conclusive yet, I can maintain my contention with ease!

                      Check out the Review of Studies on Homework by Caroline Sharp.  The research on the benefit of homework at the primary level is inconsistent!  And “Time spent on homework explains only a small amount of the variance in pupils’ achievement scores, even at secondary level.”

                      My favorite quote is this: “The limited research into pupils’ preferences indicates that pupils dislike being set routine homework tasks (such as finishing off classwork) which do not contribute to their learning. They prefer interesting, challenging and varied tasks that are clearly defined and have adequate deadlines.”

                      Homework Policy 

                      What does this mean for my homework policy?  Well, I send home the daily reading/writing homework (see previous post) to make the parents feel better.  I know my hard-working students read for 20 minutes or more and then write and my non-hard-working students just write something down.  But, the parents feel better.  I don’t stress about whether or not they do their homework because my kids have enough to deal with without having their teacher go on a tear about some questionable benefit of homework.  I’m also aware that some of my kids don’t even have a bed to sleep on, never mind a set, comfortable environment to do homework (laughable!) as per the research so I really don’t care if they finish their homework!

                      What I do have to be mindful of now is setting interesting projects as homework.  Perhaps a weekly project that the students can do with the resources they have and that correlates with our learning in the classroom.   That would certainly take more work on my part, but I imagine that it would be more engaging, interesting, and educational than say, the daily homework practice.

                      Math – Using Different Modalities and Technology

                      April 7, 2007 at 4:52 pm | Posted in education, elementary, graphic organizers, homework, learning modality, math, schools, teachers, technology in education, third grade | 4 Comments

                      This year, I came up with a pretty interesting way of teaching the classification of triangles.


                      This is an example of how I prefer to teach math in my classroom, not that I do it all the time. Though I should. Guilty!
                      1. First I give the students input on the classification of the triangles using a charted graphic organizer.

                      2. Then, I break the students into groups of threes according to sizes and have have them make triangles using their bodies and identify the triangles. This activity goes on for about 7-10 minutes. The kids have lots of fun!

                      3. While they are doing that, I’m taking pictures.

                      4. We conclude the lesson by reviewing the types of triangles we learned, what are their features, etc.

                      5. We have guided practice and independent practice in the math workbook.

                      6. I go home and make this worksheet using the pictures I took. (Well, a similar worksheet as I lost a few things during the transfer to my new computer). A digital camera, a printer, and a computer equipped with Publisher is just wonderful!

                      7. The next day, they get this for homework as reinforcement along with their regular homework worksheet from the book.

                      A lesson like this touches on many modalities. The visual learners have the graphic organizers, the kinesthetic learners use their bodies, the social learners are working with their friends, and so on. The lesson is fun and engaging, yet purposeful. The lesson also builds relationships and connections. Children who take home my teacher created worksheet with pictures of themselves and their classmates remember the lesson better than the children who only take home the impersonal commercial worksheet.

                      Apology: The worksheet you see above is a redux of the original. I lost the original during my move from old to new computer. I also lost the really great pictures that I used in the original, so these pictures don’t clearly show which triangle is isosceles, which triangle is equilateral, etc. But, it gives you an idea of what we did.

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