My First Year Not Testing

Amanda Ferrari:

Hey All! Remember to come check me out over at Forever Within the Numbered Pages! I hope to see you there! I will be shutting down Road to Genius on Friday of this week.

Originally posted on Forever Within the Numbered Pages:

Good morning!

It feels amazing to have the mental restraint  to organize and get my thoughts, somewhat, into a readable blog entry.  It’s been a while, but I’m so excited to be back!

Today before classes begin, the teaching staff has a meeting to discuss the procedures and logistics for implementing the FCAT, Florida’s standardized test that assess students’ reading, writing, and mathematical aptitudes.  I’m going to avoid getting into the politics of standardized testing, but here are my general thoughts summed up:

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Ok, so enough of that side of the issue.  Oh wait, one more!

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Ok.  I’m done now.

In each of the 8 years that I have been teaching, I have always had at least one group of students that were tested via the state’s standardized testing, but not this year.  I have 11th graders who have been preparing for the periodical SAT test, but I am not going to…

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Changing Blogs

Hello All!

If you’re reading this post then that means one of two things.  Either A.) I’ve decided that sleeping is overrated and I much prefer blogging what the voices in my head are telling me, or B.) I have completed all my major assignments/projects for my last two masters classes.  Because I don’t want to give off the wrong impression after working for the past three years to build up your trust in me, I’m announcing that I have exactly seven days left in my post graduate program!  No offense, Cincinnati; it’s been real, but I can’t wait to say GOODBYE!

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I’ve estimated that I’ve spent an additional 5-10 hours a week, per class, maintaining a solid 4.0 average on my assignments and projects for the past 3.34 years, including moving from Alaska to Michigan, Michigan to Jacksonville House #1, House #1 to House #2, teaching English I to English III, Creative Writing, and AP Lang.  I’d say I’m due for a strong…vacation.

Amanda Carnival Dream

Oh yes!  Let’s do THAT again!!!

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Oh.  Right.  A girl can dream, can’t she?!?!

In Blogging News…

I started this second blog for the Project Genius Hour that I completed during the 1st semester of the school year.  I am going to be continuing with Genius Hour, but I do not want to split my posting time between two different blogs.  Therefore, I am going to be shutting down “Road to Genius” and asking all of you followers to transition to Forever Within the Numbered Pages.  There you will find all of my Road to Genius postings, but also blog entries about books that I’ve read or plan on reading, my classroom experiences for the past three years, and other insightful teaching/life/uncategorizable topics.

Nickel and Dimed: A Simulation Unit

The mind of a teacher: it’s always going one million miles a minute and we have to be twenty-five steps ahead at all times.

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(Image Source)

So here it is, two days before I leave for Istanbul, and my mind immediately takes me to the 24th, the mere 7 hours after my returning flight lands.  My English III class will be reading our first nonfiction novel, Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich.

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(order on Amazon.com)

(via Amazon)

Millions of Americans work full time, year round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job — any job — can be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich left her home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she was offered. Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, she worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. She lived in trailer parks and crumbling residential motels. Very quickly, she discovered that no job is truly “unskilled,” that even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort. She also learned that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you int to live indoors.

Nickel and Dimed reveals low-rent America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity — a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate stratagems for survival. Read it for the smoldering clarity of Ehrenreich’s perspective and for a rare view of how “prosperity” looks from the bottom. You will never see anything — from a motel bathroom to a restaurant meal — in quite the same way again.

So here is my thought about this unit:

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I want the students to have a parallel experience to Barbara’s.  Of course I cannot expect them to A.) get a job, or B.) immerse themselves completely into this novel, but I do want them to try and put themselves in someone else’s shoes and possibly prepare them for their future responsibilities.  With that in mind, I want to create a simulation for the students.  There are several factors that will be included:

Jobs based upon a high school diploma:

  • Wal-Mart employee
  • Publix cashier
  • Retail Clerk
  • Office Assistant
  • Day Laborer

Weekly Income vs. Physical Toll:

This is where I want to help students realize that there is a physical as well as a mental drain that comes from working.

Creating a budget 

When I first moved out on my own and had to balance rent, insurance, a car payment, groceries, a cell phone bill, etc. I didn’t know how to handle my paycheck in relation to my responsibilities.  I was very lucky to have been able to live rent-free for the first two years of my post-college life, but that didn’t prepare me for managing my money.  I was able to go out and buy a new outfit whenever I wanted.  Once I had a significant percentage of my paycheck going to adult things, I wasn’t mature enough to handle it.  I ended up opening many credit cards and it took almost eight years to pay them off.  I want my students to have some insight into the importance of this and with Ehrenreich’s help, I believe that we can double-team them into seeing money in a more responsible way than I did.

Planning for a rainy day:

One thing that I didn’t realize until it was too late, AKA I was in credit card debt up to my eyeballs, that I had never put away any money for an emergency.  I got a flat tire and I had no money to replace it, and suddenly those new pair of shoes didn’t seem so glamorous.

Blogging

I am going to be having my students return to the world of blogging.  I went there with them last semester for their Project Nerdfighter Genius Hour venture.  The blogging would have them take on the persona of the worker/budgeter created during the simulation.

Adding Joy to Assessments

I shared with you last week that I had to give an alternative assessment to my English III students because of pervasive low scores.  I knew that it was important to get an accurate representation of student understanding and clearly there were issues with the original assessment because the average score went from 65% to 85%.  I still sought out the same skill set: understanding theme, character development, the impact of author’s choices, and application of vocabulary; I simply changed the formatting.  Now that we have completed the novel, I wanted to ensure that my culminating assessment also captured their true understanding, and yet had something else that is often forgotten after six months of day-in and day-out of classroom gridlock: Joy.

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I have been reading Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov for my Instructional Effectiveness Clinic, and after reading about Technique 46 – the Joy Factor, a technique that examines the joy that is found within a classroom because it is the driving force, the determinant of the classroom’s culture, and it also promotes participation and engagement in classroom activities.  There are five categories of the J-Factor: fun and games, Us (and them), Drama/song/dance, humor, and suspense and surprise.  Of the five categories, I have consistently implemented the humor and suspense & drama.  I believe that the J-Factor is not only important, but it is essential.  When students begin to view the classroom as simply a workroom where no joy or enjoyment can be found, they are going to grow resistant, apathetic, and be less likely to become lifelong learners because they will see school as work.  And all work and no play makes Billy and Susie dull children.

So how did I implement the J-Factor in our final assessment?  Instead of a paper-and-pencil test, my students participating in a game of, “Oh Bouy!” a title given by the student because of the Spongebob Squarepants ball that we used to identify who would be answering the questions.

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In preparation for my class today, I created three series of questions:

  • Closed: questions used to check retention or to focus thinking on a particular point;
  • Open: questions used to promote discussion or student interaction;
  • Higher-Order: questions that require students to figure out answers rather than remember them. Requires generalizations related to facts in meaningful patterns

I ensured that I had one of each style of question for each student in the class period; each question format accounted for one round of the game.  Students would be randomly asked questions from each series for each of the three rounds.  Students would know that they were to be asked to respond because I would under-hand toss them the Spongebob ball.

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The questions asked in round one, the closed questions, were worth ten points; round two, or open questions were worth twenty points, and the higher-order questions were worth 30 points.  Students also were given one lifeline, or the opportunity to ask another student to answer for them, and students could only be a lifeline two times to avoid the same kids answering for everyone.  I thought the lifeline idea was good because you never know when you might find yourself in a scary situation.

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After getting over the initial hesitation due to uncertainty, my students really got into their new oral exam format.  Some students commented later that it was more stressful, not because they didn’t like answering in front of other people, but because they knew the answers but couldn’t respond.  They felt empathy for those who weren’t quite as confident in their answers.  The majority of students said they prefer this format of assessment, and while it may not completely replace my more traditional tests and quizzes, I see that I have definitely added joy where there once was only stress and avoidance.

Day One of Reduced Negativity

“So, how did your first day of going negativity-free go?”

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Ok, so I knew that it was going to a challenge to remove negativity in my life because there’s only one thing that I can control in this world and that’s my reaction to those negative impulses.  So here’s a few areas that tried to trip me up today:

  • A student asked for the directions that I just gave, literally 10 seconds before his hand went up.

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  • I was stirring up the fruit from the bottom of my yogurt and some splashed on my black skirt.

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  • I entered over 45 test scores in my online grade book and forgot to hit “Save”

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Now, in each of those scenarios, and granted some were more “important” than others, I would have let a piece of my Joy crumble off and lay trembling on the ground, waiting to be stomped on and unceremoniously discarded in the trash by the night custodians.  But, tis Lent time, so I say, “Nay, nay! Pull up those big girl panties and move forward, Love!”

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Three things that I reminded myself of when I felt like flipping over a desk:

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1.  Is this situation/problem/person worth giving away my power – AKA my Joy?

2.  Will this be a problem in 5 minutes?  5 hours?  5 days?  5 weeks?

3.  What will be the results of my down-turned mood/negative reaction?

Granted, by the time I answered these three questions in my mind, the problem didn’t seem nearly that grand and my yogurt stain set in reasonable mind took over.

So I would say that Day One of Project Let It Go was a success!

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Letting It All Go

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Of course I have to capitalize on the Frozen hype, but that doesn’t make the sentiment any less true for the purpose of my blog post.  I’m Catholic and as many of you know, today is the first day of Lent, the time period we prepare, through prayer, sacrifice, and reflection, for Jesus’ gift of sacrificing His own life and resurrecting three days later.  One of the ways in which we prepare for Easter is by giving up something in our lives that equates to a true sacrifice.  In the past I have given up eating sweets, drinking soda, watching certain television programs, etc. This year, I want to focus on removing something from my life that truly does hamper me from being the best version of myself that I can be: negativity.

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The reason why I chose to focus on removing negativity is because there are so many ways in which pessimistic mentalities enter my life.  Because this is a reading/educational blog, I want to focus on those elements in my professional life.  When I was considering what to give up for Lent and the topic of readdressing my attitude came up, I stopped and made a brief list of all the moments that made me grumble during the day:

Before School:

  • Upset because some students left dictionaries under their desks instead of putting them back on the shelf.
  • The temperature in the room was too cold

During School:

  • Very few students were prepared to give their presentations on Slaughterhouse Five
  • Two students decided to exaggerate their laughter at a few comical comments I made during a lecture today
  • Students talking while other students were trying to give their answers
  • A meeting was called when I thought I would have free time after school
  • Realizing that my students, as a whole, bombed their previous test
  • I was going to have to reteach the content that was covered in the aforementioned test
  • Negative comments from coworkers about SO many things

After School:

  • Trying to get a few assignments graded when a student came to talk to me about her boyfriend troubles for the third time that day
  • The copy machine printed a document that was too dark to be able to read the text
  • Thinking about the stack of work that I would have to take home with me to grade

Phew!  That’s a lot of dings against my shield of patience, love, and understanding.  No wonder I felt like I was trudging along at half-speed.

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I know that I cannot complete do away with all the Gloomy Gusses, but the way in which I respond to them is what I can control.  It’s all about being content and finding the good in each circumstance; have the right attitude.

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I am hoping that through this forty-day experiment, I will be able to come out at the end, not perfect, but improved.

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Self Efficacy Survey

For my final semester at the University of Cincinnati, I am taking a course called Improving Attitudes in Education.  No, this isn’t about getting the grumpy Geometry teacher to stop gossiping in the teachers lounge.  It’s a call all about addressing the negative attitudes that our students can have about different aspects of their education experience.  I chose to focus my studies on why students may be hesitant or completely resistant to engaging in classroom discussions.  One thing that we talked about in this class is self efficacy, the strength of the belief in one’s ability.  Thinking about the many factors that contribute to students lack of engagement or willingness to participate, I created a 10-question survey on SurveyMonkey.com for my students to complete about their views on classroom participation.

Here is the link for the survey: Classroom Participation Self Efficacy Survey

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