September 19, 2010

Don't worry, I've got this all under control...

Something very unusual happened this week. I realized that a project I am required to do for a graduate class is actually going to be something I would like to do in my classroom. I know-- I was surprised too. The assignment is to design a project with my class that will help them affect the world in some way. We brainstormed and shared ideas. I discovered using the "Get One, Give One" graphic organizer. This really helped the students get their ideas organized, and it provided me with artifacts to include with the project.

I was blown away with the response from my students. Sometimes I forget how idealistic kids this age are. We had responses such as "save the endangered animals in Alabama" and "get a new President" and "internet safety for kids" to "not let boys have that thing done to change into girls and the other way around."

Just making sure you're listening. And yes, one kid did actually say that.

We voted, and the majority want to do something about childhood obesity. I was pretty impressed with my little friends, because this is a big problem, and it is potentially a problem that we can help do something about. Our next step is to research and figure out how we can best present our findings to our audience. We have brainstormed ideas and we're going to vote tomorrow. Our options include a workout video for kids, a commercial, a rap song, a brochure, a before and after situation (a' la Nutri System or Weight Watchers), and a monument in the shape of a banana. Hopefully one of the former choices will win out. I have also been doing some research on my own about Project-Based Learning (Edutopia has a great article about it here).

My issue now is how to fit this type of project into the curriculum. Yes, students will need to use research skills. Yes, they will also be doing some expository writing. Yes, we will also hit some health/science standards along the way. Earlier, I was about to pull my hair out thinking about how I was going to make time to fit this project in.

Then it dawned on me. I control what happens in my classroom. Yes, I have to teach the curriculum and I have to prepare students for testing in the spring. Yes, I have to roughly stay on track with what my colleagues are doing. BUT, I control what happens. It's kind of empowering to say that.

There is one drawback to admitting this, however. I can't go around blaming other people anymore for the stress and pressure I feel. I decide how things are going to go, good or bad. And I think I'm okay with that.

September 11, 2010

The Issue of Being Fair

As I go along in my happy little world of teaching, the same issue comes up day after day, year after year. How do I treat all my students fairly? Like most teachers, I have a very diverse class. Also, like most teachers, I feel that it is my job and my duty to see that each student is valued and successful while they are in my room. Sometimes I feel like I do a good job with this. Other times I lie awake at night because I fear that I have been "unfair" to a particular student or group of students.

Growing up we are taught that fairness means treating everyone the same way and giving everyone the same thing. I have vivid memories of friends coming over to spend the night and literally counting out pieces of popcorn with them to make sure that we both received the same amount in the name of being "fair". As a teenager I remember getting into heated arguments with my parents about how "unfair" it was that all my friends could stay out until after midnight while I had to be home by 11:30. Were my parents being horribly unfair? At the time I thought so. Do I still think so? Of course not. I realize they had my best interests in mind and that they realized I was not ready for such responsibility. This brings me to what I consider to be a better definition for fairness.

Rick Lavoie says that fairness means giving each person what he/she needs. If you have never heard Rick Lavoie or read any of his articles or books, I highly encourage you to. I remember sitting in a special education class in grad school where we watched a video of his. He claims that students will understand this definition of fairness as long as it is explained well in terms that they can grasp. Once you read his ideas, and you think about this new definition of fairness, it sounds easy. Just give everyone what they need, right?

In the classroom, I frequently struggle with how to make accommodations for both my struggling students and my gifted students. By "teaching to the middle" I am leaving out both groups. This is not to say that I don't make modifications to assignments for those that need it. I'm saying that I'm constantly worrying that I'm not making enough accommodations, while also worrying that the "middle of the road" students will see these accommodations as unfair.

I have tried to bring all of my students together this year through the use of technology. I think if used strategically, technology can help bring students together on different tasks and activities. However, when making all these grand plans this summer, I did not take into account that certain families would not want their children involved in these activities. I have tried to push along with student blogging and posting student pictures to our website, but I am deeply worried that I am being unfair to those students who can't participate.

Is anyone else struggling with being fair in the classroom?
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