Friday, August 20, 2010

Stealing other peoples' links

In what I suspect is going to become a tradition, I'm going to post a link to a "Technology for Teachers" blog post, so that I'll be able to find it again later.

7 sources of free sounds for multimedia projects

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lots to read

Right.  I've started re-reading I read it, but I don't get it by Tovani.  My summary of the first couple of chapters will be up...erm, as soon as I finish reading the first  couple of chapters.  Chapter 1 is in deceptively simple storytelling form, so I'm not sure I caught the lessons from it.

Also, my textbooks came in.  I'll be taking a course in elementary Spanish methodology from a private college, starting in a few weeks.  As it happens, the two textbooks for the class are books I've written about here before--Languages and children, 4th ed., by Curtain and Dahlberg, and Teacher's handbook, 4th ed., by Shrum and Glisan.  So hopefully I'll have a chance to at least start reading those before the school year starts.

I'm writing syllabi for my new classes, although I'm still not certain which levels of English (or, for that matter, Spanish) I'll be teaching.  The grading policy should be about the same for each class, unless the district has a grading policy I don't know about.  And I'm VERY excited--I think I finally have a workable portfolio outline, something that my students can start working on from Day One.

And every teachers' website on the Internet is firing up with "Good first day of school" posts, and I've been trying to catch as many of them as possible.  Below are a few, so I can close the blessed tabs, along with a few words of take-away for each.

Using literature the first weeks of school.  From Elena Aguilar at Edutopia, a few books that a middle school teacher can use to set the tone for reading and community-building from Day 1.  She suggests Seedfolks, by Fleischman, The house on Mango Street by Cisneros, and The library card by Spinelli.  I can definitely use Mango Street; Aguilar even suggests a few ways to do it.

Start of the year routine and handouts.  Some typically excellent suggestions from the always-excellent Heather Wolpert-Gawron.  Random seating chart; beginning-of-the-year handouts; Find-a-Fib activities (X true things, 1 false things, you guess the false things); creating Works in Progress and Portfolio folders; a sample of content; and introductions to class-specific elements, like websites and positions.  I do a lot of these things already, so it's good to see them confirmed by somebody I have a great deal of respect for.

The best kind of teacher evaluation--Larry Ferlazzo writes about how to evaluate teachers the right way.  Regular observations by people who know the teachers, the students, the school, and what good teaching looks like; multiple sources of data; regular feedback from students and parents; and self-reflection.  This enforces the idea of collaborating to improve student achievement, and helps teacher leaders to know what areas need improving.  It sure beats blaming teachers for rotten test scores.  Ferlazzo also has his own blog:

Monday, August 16, 2010

On food in school

Mark Bittman is a chef and activist for healthier eating.  He wrote "How to cook everything," which my best friend in college had.  I didn't cook ANYTHING more complex than spaghetti and jarred sauce the entire time we lived together, but I flipped through it once, and it seemed good.  He also wrote "How to cook everything vegetarian," which looks good.

Bittman, like so many others, has been advocating for healthier school lunches and a more sensible approach to free and reduced lunches.  In this blog post, he does a good job of explaining the school lunch reform bill that just passed the Senate, and explains its shortcomings. 

Everything in education is controversial.  We can't keep things the way they are now, but nothing can change in any direction.  This is true for even the most self-evident piece of our school systems--our students don't eat well, including at school, when a lot of them are eating on Uncle Sam's dime.  We're feeding our students blocks of salt, sprinkled with sugar, fried in oil, and sometimes breaded.  Such vegetables as we do manage to sneak into the cafeteria are canned, processed, salted, boiled, and, in the best cases, flavorless.  My wife still tells stories about hiding peas in her milk container so she didn't have to eat them.  That's what school-lunch vegetables are--they serve more as an exercise in stealth than a nutritional supplement.

This bill is an okay answer to a long-overdue question.  Using Marzano's grading rubric, I would give this a 2.5.  Maybe that's the best we can hope for.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Technology and how teachers are using it

Earlier this summer, I bought a Mac laptop computer.  I did this because I know how to use a lot of the tools it comes pre-packaged with.  iPhoto, while not the world's best photo editor, makes moving photos to other applications very simple.  (I like '09 less than I like '06--they did something to the organization options that I find simultaneously more invasive and less intuitive.)  Garage Band is an AMAZING piece of software, and I have endless fun with it.  It also lets me (or a student) record a podcast and export it to iTunes.  From iTunes I can convert it into an MP3 file and distribute it in one of myriad ways.  Mac's Work suite is pretty well designed, too, although, again, I like the '09 version less than the '06 version.  The software designers seem to have de-prioritized simplicity for the sake of lots of cool mouse-clickable buttons.  The big advantage is the ease with which bits of some applications move into other applications.

But for as much as I love my Mac, and am excited to use it in my classroom, it turns out that my tech fu is no longer at the black belt-level I thought it was.  (Well, maybe it is, but like a 1st-degree black belt, not a 3rd-degree, like I thought.)  So, here are some of the apps and sources I'm finding online that can make my job better and easier:

Free Technology for Teachers.  This is a blog about, well, I'll let you guess.  I'm going to start following it a lot more closely.  In the meantime, it led me to the some of the following websites.

Screencasts.  Just the other day, I wanted to create a video out of Google Earth.  I could do it in Google Earth, for the entirely reasonable price of $400.  I decided against it.  Today, I found out about a whole host of screencast tools, which will permit me to do just that.  They will also let me make how-to videos for the whole lot of new technologies I hope to introduce.  I'm just going to link to this post, which describes a variety of tools for doing this:  Four free tools for creating screencasts.  I'm going to download Jing and play around with it, and maybe I'll try some other things.

Online whiteboards.  Colleen Young highly encourages the use of these for teaching math.  She recommends Sketchcast with some reservation.  We'll play around with those, too.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Snappy answers to interview questions

Q. Have you ever been offered tenure at another school district?

A.  Yes.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Good songs for elementary Spanish classes


Señor Cosby: Los Grandes Éxitos

A few years ago, at the MiWLA Annual Conference, I watched a presentation by a very wise elementary Spanish teacher.  Among the things she said was that she started every class with a song.  Ever since then, I've taken that advice to heart--I began every class with a song.  Because nobody likes to sing the same things over and over, I tried to rotate songs every month or six weeks.  That worked out to singing a song about 12 times, plus various re-runs throughout the year.  I teach it to students using call-and-response,  with the goal of having them sing it on their own by the end of the run.

I primarily used one of three recordings to get ideas for songs: Teach me more Spanish, Teach me even more Spanish, and De colores by José Luís Orozco.  (See how long it takes you to spot the outlier.)

And so, without further ado, my favorite songs to sing to students:

"De colores."  I like this one more than the students do.  It's kind of hard to sing in call-and-response, but it's a fun little song with a long history.  For a variety of reasons, it's a personal favorite.

"Guantanamera."  This song went over surprisingly well with all of my classes.  It just goes to show you that José Martí speaks to people of all ages.  Or maybe it's Pete Seeger.

"Day-O (Banana boat song)."  I remember Harry Belafonte's version of this fun song from  The Muppet Show and Beetlejuice.  On one of the Teach me Spanish CD's (I forget which one) they have a really good translation.  In many of my songs I try to add movements that illustrate the meaning of the words, and it works GREAT with this song.  The students' favorite part is that I teach them a little dance step for the "viene la mañana y me quiero ir" line.  I'm a bad dancer at the best of times, and I ham it up, so they all get to laugh at me and then have a little fun with no pressure.

"En la pulga de San José."  This one's a lot of fun, and it's a childrens' song in the traditional sense.  It has a lot of repeated language, so they can pick up on it quickly.  The version I learned (and then taught) had the narrator buying instruments at the fair--una trompeta, un clarinete, una marimba, and one other I'm not remembering.  The students had lots of fun with playing the air instruments, and after they got the gist, we would extemporize other verses with other instruments.  If musical instruments aren't high on your list of vocabulary sets (and, really, why would they be?) you can switch out any sets of nouns--food would would work ("yo compré un jitomate, una banana," etc.), clothes, toys maybe.  It's a pretty forgiving rhythm, if your objective isn't necessarily good music.

"A la nanita nana."  I sometimes pull this up into my higher-level (middle- and high- school) classes.  It's a lullaby, and I honestly have no idea if it's traditional in any kind of way.  The Cheetah Girls did a version of this song in their second movie, when they were doing it up in Barcelona.  (Don't look at me like that.  One of my students told me all about it.)

"El barco chiquito."  Great fun, and they get to practice moving their mouths really fast with words they already know: "Pasaron una, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis siete semanas."

"Bate, bate chocolate."  Everybody loves this one!  Especially when we get to the "chocolate as fast as you can" contest.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Status update

I have accepted a new position.  Now, instead of teaching K-12 Spanish, I'll be teaching 7-12 Spanish and 9-12 English Language Arts.

You read that right.  I'm an English teacher.

The most helpful comment so far has been from a friend of mine who said, "If you need help learning English, feel free to let me know.  It's my first language!"

I've been re-writing syllabi in my head to reflect this change.  It's a little tough since I don't know exactly what the district curriculum looks like, but building community in the classroom and general expectations remain about the same. 

My profile picture and the basic color scheme of the blog were chosen to match my previous employer's logo and colors.  Contrary to popular opinion, I do not look like a blackline drawing of a bobcat.  (The color scheme is one of Blogger's defaults, of course.)  I'll  update my picture later, but I'm going to keep the color scheme.  It works, y'know?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What if I were an English teacher? Pt. 2

As part of my preparation for some theoretical Spanish / English split post, I've been looking over Michigan state documents on teaching ELA and the standards and benchmarks.  Mostly I'm looking at the state standards: I haven't yet processed the Common Core standards, although from what I remember by flipping through them way back in March, the Common Core and the existing Michigan ELA S&B's are pretty similar.   Since they're the law of the state, though, I should download and study them.

(I have at least one non-teacher regular reader here.  So a few definitions might help: This post refers heavily to the state Standards and Benchmarks, both in ELA and in World Languages.  This is a list of skills in the respective languages that students need to have by the time they finish a class.  Because of the recursive nature of language learning, they're skills and knowledge that learners need to show progress on from year to year.  The Common Core standards come from a movement to set nationwide, consistently high standards.)

And I keep saying this, but the standards are shockingly similar to the standards for World Languages.  The first strand focuses on expressing yourself through speaking, writing, and visual presentations.  The second, unsurprisingly, is on interpretive skills--reading, listening, and viewing.  Those two correspond nearly identically to the Communication thread in the World Language standards.

The third thread is called "Literature and Culture," clearly an exact match for the Culture thread in WL.  The fourth is called "Language."  The title doesn't say much, but as I started reading the actual standards, this strand has elements very similar to the Comparisons and Communities strands. 

The standard sets have much more in common that differences.  The biggest differences here are that, in ELA, the learner is not assumed to have formal study in another language, the way a high school Spanish learner is.  This seems obvious--as I re-read what I just wrote, I think, "Why would I write something that obvious?"  But it's a striking and important difference.  Part of the goal of studying Spanish is to compare it to English, to improve the learner's skills in both languages.  If I were to walk in to teach an English classroom, I think that would be the biggest change to bear in mind from Day 1 forward.  (That and, of course, not to speak in Spanish.) 

On the 14th amendment

Passed along without further comment.

1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.