Culturally Relevant Teaching Part 2 – High Expectations

November 13, 2007 at 9:08 pm | Posted in best practices, culturally relevant teaching, education, elementary, graphic organizers, strategies, teachers, thinking maps, writing | 3 Comments

My previous post explores some of the philosophy behind Culturally Relevant Teaching (CRT), or the whys.  This post, I want to explore some of the hows.  That really is what we need.

If you are reading Part 2 of my posts, then I assume that I am preaching to the choir.  You already intuitively know why CRT is a good thing and you want to do it.  So how do we go about integrating CRT into our daily instruction to maximize student learning?

High Expectation – from Can’t to the Absolutely Can

Do you have high expectation of your diverse students?  Do you really believe that everyone can learn and succeed?  OR Do you answer, “Yes, but ______.”  If you qualify your answer with “but” then you do NOT have high expectations for your diverse students.  You can stop reading this post right now and go pick up some books with researches that prove again and again that ALL students can learn, regardless of color, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic background, parental involvement, whatever.  Until you believe absolutely that all of your students can learn, can be the A student, then nothing that you read or try will help your students any.  I don’t know how else to put it.  The anonymity of the internet blog allows me to write this, “If you don’t have high expectations for all your students, then you SUCK as a teacher compared to what you can truly do.”  (I just know I’m about to get another slew of e-mails attacking me. *ducks*)

What does high expectation look like in the classroom setting?  Here is another real life example from my school.

All teachers are trained to use Thinking Maps, targeted graphic organizers.  In particular, all teachers are trained to use these graphic organizers along with sentence frames to help students communicate orally and in writing.  All teachers.  I took a walk with many other teachers, just to see examples of writing in the classrooms, as part of our professional development.  With one exception, all first grade teachers had their students copy teacher created writing samples from the board.  By this I mean in all subject areas, in all topics, just all writing samples were teacher created, student copied.  These teachers expected that their students can not write and so do not even give them the opportunity to try.  The one exception is a first year teacher who doesn’t have that low expectation.  In fact, she has high expectation.  She expects her students to write coherently and she gave them the support they need to do so.  She gave them the sentence frames, without filling it in for them.  She gave them Thinking Maps from which they can pull words and ideas.  She lets them go at it.  Some students made mistakes and she helped correct the mistakes without taking over the students’ writings.  High expectation.

Having high expectation is probably the most difficult part of being culturally responsive, because it’s just so easy to blame the students for failure, and so hard to say, maybe I’m not teaching very well.

If you answer with an unqualified yes, then let’s move on to other, easier strategies for integrating culturally relevant teaching.

Part 3 – We Communicate Differently – Coming soon to a blog near you!

Our dominant, white culture communicates very differently from the cultures of our diverse students.  Visit my post on how we organize our communication differently.  Next post will go more in depth into this and how to utilize this difference in the classroom.

We’re still teaching like this?!

October 29, 2007 at 5:52 pm | Posted in best practices, education, history, strategies, teachers | 3 Comments

About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a high school American History class and what I saw shocked me.

On the board was listed 10 weeks worth of homework assignments by due dates:

  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3
  • Q&A, pg blah blah
  • Chapter 4
  • Chapter 5
  • The Constitution
  • etc.

Well, at least there was clear expectations…for the materials that the students need to cover.  What exactly are the students supposed to learn of American History?  I don’t know, but I do know they need to read a chapter a week, who cares what the chapter’s about. 

Perhaps I’m alone in looking at the list and feeling outraged.

Somehow, I thought History class should be more interesting, more involved, more though provocative given the state of our country today.

Now, keeping in mind that I’m a second grade teacher and that MY American History teacher taught in the EXACT same manner as above and I don’t remember a THING about American History, here’s a proposed list of assignments that I would have liked to have seen on the board.

  • Who lived in pre-colonial America?  Choose one people to read up on, create an artifact relevant to these people and be prepared for show-and-tell.
  • What happened to indigenous population once European settlement of the Americas began?  Choose a side, pro or con, and be prepared for a debate on the benefits of European settlement.
  • Could colonial America be built without the use of slavery?  Be prepared for a debate on the pros and cons of slavery.  You will be assigned a side at the time of the debate.
  • Was it ethical for colonial America to declare independence from Great Britain?  Write a Declaration of Independence to secede California from the U.S.  You may work with partners or alone.

And so on.

It’s not as if as a teacher you would need to create new materials.  The mandated textbook could be used to find all this information.  Of course, some students might decide it’s worth their time to look up the information on the Internet, maybe even a library search, or a discussion with their parents…

I don’t know.  I’m not a History teacher.  Maybe you History teachers can weigh in on this.  What do you think?

Physical and Psychical Space in the Classroom

October 27, 2007 at 11:47 am | Posted in best practices, collaborative groups, education, learning modality, strategies, teachers | Leave a comment

Lately, this topic has been on my mind.  I would like to examine a “case study” to illustrate how physical space and what I jokingly call psychical space must align in order to produce real learning.

Physical Structure

In this real classroom at my school, a teacher arranges the tables and chairs into groups of six students.  The students face each other.  The table groups are arranged throughout the overall classroom.  The teacher explains that this fosters collaborative group learning.

On the surface, this sounds like a good idea.

Psychical Space

The table groups are arranged in such a way that there is no “carpet space”, a place for the students to come together on the carpet throughout the day to interact as a whole class.  The students are expected to remain at their tables and not interact with students at the neighboring tables.  The teacher has a desk at the front of the class and stays there.  He does not rotate or walk among the students.  Students in the “collaborative” groups are expected to work quietly at their individual work, with very little small group work assigned.  In reality, the students are isolated from each other and from the teacher.  There is no real collaborative learning going on.  (Also, because I’m nitpicky, a third of the students face the back of the class, a third face the sides, and only a third face the front where the teacher is and where instruction takes place.)


Almost any physical arrangements in the classroom can work to enhance learning, so long as teacher thinks through what the goals are in the classroom.

This teacher wanted a physical space that fosters collaborative group learning.  To make it work, he needs to arrange his teaching to foster collaborative group learning as well.  He needs to teach students how to work in groups in a focused manner and then have students actually work in groups in a focused manner, not just do quiet individual work sitting in a group.  He needs to collaborate with the students as well by interacting with them, moving among them, having conversations with each group and each student.  To further enhance collaborative group learning, he can change the groups for different activities, have students present to each other, have different groups converse with each other.  While not necessary, I prefer a carpet space where all students can come together and discuss as a whole group in close proximity to each other and with the class.  If the arrangement of the tables don’t have all students facing the “front” of the class, then have instruction take place all over the classroom. 

So, what’s your physical space and psychical space like?

Please leave comments with your reflection or link back from your blog.

Collaborative Unit Openers

October 14, 2007 at 6:47 pm | Posted in best practices, education, elementary, learning modality, Open Court, teachers, unit opener | 1 Comment

For this coming week, I will be participating in Unit Opener Planning Week (and hope you will be too!).  This is primarily geared toward Open Court units, but always take ideas that you like and tweak them to suit your needs!

Okay, here’s my first idea which I heard through a colleague and hope to implement at my school.

Have collaborative unit openers among your grade level. 

Among your grade level, have each teacher create one truly exciting 30 minutes unit opener lesson, rather than plan for an entire day of unit openers. On the day of the unit opener, each teacher will teach the one lesson to each class, rotating from one classroom to the next.  The benefits are many.  Teachers collaborate.  Teachers are only responsible for planning one 30 minutes lesson, but students benefit from 3 or 4 or 5 excellent lessons.  Students get to meet and experience being taught by different teachers, different modalities, different styles.  On a more selfish level, because teachers are teaching someone else’s students and know that other teachers will be teaching your students, you tend to feel competitive and want to create the “best” lesson, pushing your unit openers to a higher level of rigor and fun.

I can’t wait to try this at my school!

Better at teaching writing than reading

September 15, 2007 at 3:25 pm | Posted in reading, teachers | 4 Comments

If you have browsed my blog enough, you will come to notice that I primarily blog about math and writing. Yup. I’m a better math and writing teacher than I am a reading teacher. So, here’s my challenge to myself for this next few weeks. I will reflect upon my practice as a teacher of reading, celebrate the successes, and work to improve myself. I am not looking forward to this exercise, reason being, I’m not good at teaching reading because I don’t have a enough understanding about how students learn to read.

I’ve read all the literature. I’ve taken the training workshops. I’ve done the prescribed curriculum. But I don’t “understand” it to the level that I can take ownership of it, differentiate instruction for my students, adapt curriculum to my teaching style, and so on.

Where is my gap?

Coaches eventually come around to saying, consider your own education because that is the paradigm through which you view your students’ education. Well, we have a problem there because I don’t know how I learned to read. By the age of four, I can read and write in two languages. Then, I immigrated to America at the age of five and within one year, I was top of my class academically, orally fluent in English, reading voraciously, and writing copious fantasy stories for my class assignments. This is not typical for my inner city students. Literacy comes very easy for me. Reading easiest of all. No wonder for the first year of my career as a teacher, I implicitly expect my students to come to me already knowing how to read and write. And I still consider myself a failure as a teacher of reading.

What about you?

What is your educational background? How does it affect your teaching? Do you have any resources that can help ME gain a deeper understanding of reading instruction.

The Debate: Have Students Copy a Behavior Letter to Parents or Send Generic One Home?

July 7, 2007 at 10:38 am | Posted in behavior, best practices, second grade, teachers | 4 Comments

The Situation

Every conscientious teacher should notify parents about the behavior expectations in the classroom.  I am planning my letter right now.

The Debate

Should I have my second grade students copy a letter to their parents or should I just send home a typewritten letter?

If the Students Copy

If the students copy the letter, it’s in their own handwriting.  They take more ownership of the behavior expectations.  The parents will feel thrilled at reading a letter from their child, even it it’s merely a copy, thus I’m building a sense of connection to the classroom for the parents.  However, some students won’t be able to copy this letter (I have two in particular I’ll post about later).  It will take time and I’m learning that second graders have VERY short attention span.  It will have to be a two session project or a very short letter, which is fine.

If the Teacher Sends a Copy

If I send a copy, then the students don’t take ownership, the parents may or may not read the letter, and while there is a home to school connection, it isn’t nearly as strong (I feel).  It’s quicker and easier though.

The Decision

I will have the students copy the letter, just because the benefits outweigh the hassle to my mind.  I will however have two typewritten copy prepared for my two students who won’t be able to copy.

Why did I bother to blog about this?  It helps me work through my tangled thoughts in my mind 🙂  I also like to blather.

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.

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.

How to Really Publish Your Students’ Writings and Drawings

June 23, 2007 at 7:16 am | Posted in elementary, free resources, investigation, Open Court, teachers, third grade, writing | 3 Comments

I discovered about a year ago. is a print on demand company.  You upload a pdf file to their server and can buy your beautiful, professional looking, retail ready book.  You can buy one or a class set or however many you want.  You can set your privacy option so that only you have the right to purchase your book.  You can also set it so that other people (like parents) can purchase the book.  (I would set that function to zero profit, or make it a fund-raiser for the school because keeping profit from your students’ work is kinda sticky business.)

When I first discovered it, I uploaded some gorgeous paintings my students made for the story “Picasso” in the “Imagination” unit of the third grade Open Court Reading program.  We purchased one book to be placed in my class library.  The kids went wild.  They love seeing their work in a real book.

I’m doing it again today.  I’m uploading some seriously amazing pieces that my students wrote as part of their investigation into storytelling.  They collected family oral histories and wrote the stories down, with beautiful illustration.  Unfortunately, we’re behind on the project, so the book probably won’t get here by our last day of school.  I will order two copies, one for their fourth grade class and one for my third grade class.

The students were very motivated to do their best writing and drawing for this book because, well, it’s a real book!  You can’t get more authentic and motivating than that!

I really recommend that teachers look into as one of the ways that students can publish their final drafts for writing, but also a way to publish Science projects, History projects, and anything else really.

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.

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