Tuesday, May 24, 2011

So Much Going On...Some Places to Keep Up With It All

The School District of Philadelphia is in crisis mode. I read about different meetings, proposals, school changes, and budget updates daily, yet I still feel like I have no idea what is going on. If you're looking to learn more about any story related to this process, check out http://www.thenotebook.org/ where you can find anything and everything district related.

Also a great resource is the Philly School Files section of Philly.com: http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/school_files/ where Kristen Graham is diligent in reporting daily updates.

As for the district, the vacancy list for 2011-2012 has been posted. Who knows how they are going to fill these positions (but I do see quite a few ESOL spots on there, so hopefully I'm in good shape?!?).

Additionally, for some color commentary on all of this...there are these amazing "heat" maps of the district and its surrounding areas. Anyone interested in education, or socio-economics in general will find them intriguing. http://www.localetrends.com/philadelphia-trends.php
They are available for every major city...pretty interesting stuff.

I'm trying to keep a positive outlook on all of this. I realize that with the current economic situation there will need to be some major cuts. This is understandable, and realistic. Public education is not immune to the tough times that have plagued the rest of the country. I just hope they make the right decisions, and truly cut any "fat" before making decisions that will place our students at greater risk. One item on the table right now is cutting full-day kindergarten, and that is something that I fear will cause irreparable harm. Many of the students in our district enter school very far behind as it is...this will guarantee that all of our battles are uphill for many years to come. If there is one issue that needs to be fought for, I believe this is it!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thumbs up, Thumbs down

This strategy is one of many used in classrooms as a "formative assessment" to check for student understanding. In some Philly schools, teachers are required to use "Thumbs up, thumbs down" as a part of their exit ticket for students to leave the room after a lesson.

From now until the end of the school year, check out my daily "Thumbs up, Thumbs down" on Twitter @yogabeth218

I am actually a bit sad that this year is over, as I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to work in 5 different high schools. I was unsure in August how this placement would work, but it has been an amazing learning experience. I have a much deeper grasp on what truly goes on...what works, what doesn't....in this troubled district. After the last two years in a very negative environment, I was really heading towards a "7 year itch" in my career. This year has saved me from that, and given me a fresh perspective that was so desperately needed. Thumbs up for that!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Does this count?

This week, students in Philadelphia are taking the quarterly "Benchmark" tests to monitor their progress and learning up to this point in the school year. These tests serve as indicators as to how well the students should score overall on the state tests, and they also provide data regarding what concepts and topics need to be reviewed and which have been understood. They take benchmarks in English, Math and Science.

The students whine and complain about these tests, and most don't give their best effort. Yesterday I heard the typical, "I'm just gonna put anything..." and "Give me my paper, I'll just fill in the bubbles". I also heard the more colorful, "Man, I hate this reading shit. All these damn words dawg." Most students finish way too quickly, indicating that they did not actually read the stories, but just rushed through the 20 questions. That's right, it is only 20 questions, about 4 separate 1 page stories (for the English test). But to most of the students in my English classes, reading through a full page of text that is written at their grade level is a monumental task.

Before starting the test, students argue about it's worth, and state that it doesn't matter how they do on them anyway. I repeatedly hear, "Does it count?" If the students don't see an immediate possibility for a reward/consequence for themselves, they just can't understand the value of giving their best effort.

Myself and another teacher in the class proceded to explain why they should actually try to do their best work. We explained that these scores are used in determining course placement for the students, and that the school overall will be judged on the scores. This particular school is one that has been failing for years, and is being taken over by a charter next year. We pointed out to the students that results on tests like this have helped the district make that decision. Still...this has no impact on the students. One says, "Well, I'll just go somewhere else next year anyway." They never want to take ownership of the conditions of their school. It's kind of like how people say, "Why should I vote? My one vote doesn't count." These students don't see how them making an effort on one day's test is going to help their school. They just can't see the bigger picture.

Now, I'm not the biggest proponent of the heavily testing based curriculum that is in place, but nonetheless, days like these are frustrating. Many of our children just don't see the point in proving their intelligence.  They seem to think they are being asked to perform in order to help the school, or to help the teacher. They can never seem to grasp that it's their own learning that is being measured.  Over and over my days are filled with times where I feel like I care more about my students' education than they do. I try to convince them that things are important. I try to challenge them, and ask, "What's the harm in doing your best?" and "Why not try to think through this? You're here in class anyway, just make an effort!". A few will try, but most are just trying to get through the next 42 minutes until the bell signals them to go get their 4 minutes of acting up in the hallways.

Sadly, it ends up being their own education that they think doesn't "count" for anything.