Saturday, March 21, 2009

Weekend Update:

One advantage of having a less-than-packed schedule is the freedom to take on new projects. I've got three new ones.

One of my new projects was not by choice. The teacher's curse is the unreasonable parent. Luckily, "my" parent's contention is not really with me, but with the school administration and district policy.

This means that I have a bit more paperwork and a few more meetings, but the brunt of this "new project" is being borne by my administrative superiors. Administrators/managers generally get paid more. This is why.

Another new project I've begun is creating online vocabulary flashcards for students who are behind, but want to catch up.

I noticed a willingness lately of some students to practice map puzzles at home for no academic credit. It was just fun.

I've also had a few students who have been asking me for blank flashcards lately as they are trying to master material using the strategies of stronger students.

Because of their interest in improving recall memory via flashcards, I searched out some good online systems, such as

Earlier in the year I got the school to purchase a vocabulary improvement program that consists in part of grade leveled vocabulary. If students can master this key vocabulary, they will be better positioned to comprehend grade level textbooks, literature, and other academic materials.

I've finished creating flashcards for all of the first grade vocabulary, and the first quarter of second grade. Rather than a traditional set of flashcards with a word on the front and a definition on the back, I'm creating short sentence flashcards that use the vocabulary.

At least at the lower elementary levels, most of the words are in the student's spoken vocabulary, they just need to learn to recognize them in text.

There are about 800 words per grade level. That's 200 words per quarter, or 100 sentences if I succeed in getting two words per sentence. (Sometimes I get three!)

So if I'm blogging less, it's because I'm "sentencing" elsewhere. (If you have a struggling reader, or just want a fun site for kiddos, you'll find my cards by searching the site for "VIP" -- Vocabulary Improvement Program. I've created a naming convention that will group my flashcards, ie "VIP Grade 2 Q1.")

I've spent today fine-tuning a third project: "Project Wellness." This self-chosen project involves creating goals, plans, and measurements for losing more fat and gaining more strength. Over the last two years I've lost 10% of my weight, now it's time for the second 10%.

Happy Saturday!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Writers' Workshop: Kaboom!

Nancy Atwell, an author who popularized an approach to teaching called Writers' Workshop, expected Language Arts teachers to model their own growth as writers by writing along with their students. Teaching at the junior high level for 10 years I did just that. A few days ago I found an old folder with some of my write-alongs.

One day, the students chose a prompt that required us to write a piece with an explosion. I give you my own effort called...


The Crime Scene Investigators had never seen anything like this: there was blood, bone, and brains sprayed on all the walls, the ceiling, even the students' desks. The teacher, Mr. Sanve, was slumped over his desk: headless.

"What do you think, Marion?" asked Detective Ernandes.

"I don't know Brett. It's baffling," replied the detective as he scanned the bloody scene.

"Let's look at the teacher's desk. Maybe there will be some clues there."

They looked for signs of a bullet or a bomb but found none. They did deduce by the spatterings of blood on the clock that the crime had happened at 3:30.

"Hey look," said Detective Brett. "It looks like he was grading papers."

"Yeah. Someone just got an A+. And Snave wrote a comment... It says, 'Great job. This is the best quick write I've ever seen. It's so good it's making my head hurt.'"

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Legacy: Smell ya later!

Peter, a fellow blogger did a nice post today called, "Of Legacy and Forests." It's worth a read.

Me, I want to write about smells. In this case, the smell of spring and of legacy; hence, "Smell ya later!"

Nelson, a Simpson's character, often says goodbye by saying, "Smell ya later!" That's just good Simpson humor. Today I want to consider a different kind of lingering smell: the smell of oranges.

I grew up and still live in Orange County, California. And guess what, we used to have lots of orange groves! There a still a few around, but they used to be everywhere.

Growing up in Anaheim, we had a grove behind our house until they tore it down to build a junior high. We had a tree in our backyard, until we tore it out when we put in a swimming pool. But even with all those trees, one thing I never remember is the smell of orange blossoms. How did I miss that?

Lately I've been riding a bike around the neighborhood. I ride with enough intensity that soon I'm breathing hard.

As I've been sucking in all that air, I've occasionally noticed a wonderful fragrance. It took a couple of rides before I isolated the smell's origin: orange blossoms!

Spring in Orange County brings orange blossoms! The tract of homes in which I ride used to be an orange grove. How do I know? The legacy of orange trees gives it away.

As the developers sub-divided the groves and built houses, they tried to leave an orange tree in each yard. Some of these trees have survived to this day, and now they are a fragrant legacy to days by-gone.

Orange trees used to outnumber people in Orange County, but not anymore. The smell of orange blossoms in the spring used to fill the air, but not anymore.

But if you're out for a walk or a ride in March, you just might catch a fragrance on the breeze that is magical. It is a smell echoing the legacy of Southern California: orange blossoms.

The survivors of those historic groves beckon to the modern nose: "Smell ya later!" And I do.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Stress, a prayer, and a promise

Life can be stressful. Today was one of those days.

We had a meeting planned at school with some parents and their lawyer: not a promising prospect. As I prepared for work I paused and checked for “internal” messages. I basically threw up a prayer that sounded like, “God, got anything to help me today?”

I paused and a fragment of a verse came to mind: “No weapon forged against you…” That’s all I got, but it was all I needed. I went to, plugged in the snippet and found what I was looking for: Isaiah 54:17.

(During my 20s, 30s, and 40s I read the entire Bible on average of once a year. That’s why snippets of verses “live” in me. It’s not magical: it’s purposefully ingrained.)

Here’s the whole verse: “No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me declares the LORD.”

Well, I immediately felt better. I felt more confident and assured as I went into a day that would hold… God knew what.

The anticipated stress did not actually materialize. The parents were no-shows and the meeting was postponed.

But anticipated stress is still stressful. One stress relieving strategy is to pause, check for messages, listen and see if God doesn’t have some message especially suited for you.

“Give us this day, our daily bread…” Sometimes it is bread for the soul that we need: He’s got that too.

A final thought. My favorite prayer in the Bible is the one “prayed” by Peter, who after walking on water began to sink. He said simply, “Help, Lord!” And Jesus put out his hand and helped him back into the boat.

So the next time you need help, take a page from Peter: “Help, Lord!” Someone may just give you a hand. (That was what I needed today: a little help. And I got it via some words of promise and comfort. Ahhhh…)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Sunday morning rant!

A Sunday morning rant? (Yes.)

Are parents getting stupider, or is it just me? (No, it's not just me!)

As a school teacher I am amazed each year when I encounter parents who readily believe their child without even thinking to ask for the other side of the story.

Obviously they've never read Proverbs 18:17 -- "The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him."

Haven't these parents even heard the popular version of the proverb: "There are two sides to every story."?

This week I took an informal poll of 12 sixth graders. 10 of the 12 readily admit that they are "misleading" when dealing with their parents.

This "misleading" usually involves only telling part of the story. The other half of the story is missing! (Hello!)

My sixth graders seem to have more sense about themselves than some parents, especially than the parents who believe whatever their child tells them. That's not just naive, it's ridiculous!

Parents need to get all the facts. Then they may deny the facts, ignore the facts, or disbelieve the facts, but they're still the facts.

I like kids. I choose to work with them as an educator, but I have no delusions about their honesty and forth-rightness. Many of them will lie to save their skin. Many will readily throw truth under the bus if they think it will save their skin. Many will withhold incriminating information. Few are consistently and completely honest. (They mirror our society, unfortunately.)

So before you believe a kid, get the facts. Get both sides of the story. Do some cross-examination! (Don't be stupid!)

With each new school year I start off believing my students until certain ones teach me not to believe them. Some students are honest. Some are not. (Learn to tell the difference -- and check your facts. Get both sides of the story! Do your homework.)

As adults we need to be realistic about kids and help them learn honesty, responsibility, and character.
It begins by modeling those behaviors for them. It continues as we take the time to get the whole story, especially the part that is not being told.

Kids want what is fair -- unless they are hiding something! They deserve fairness and justice, even if it means holding them accountable for their misdeeds and mis-truths.

If we consistently let kids lie to us, we teach them to become liars, and that's a bad idea.

C'mon people!

End of rant.