The One with Process over Aesthetics

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New unit on exponents, about to be differentiated like whoa.

We started off with a group task (with varying levels of success) about a pyramid scheme. Lots of modeling. Sometimes I wish I’d done more, though frankly the class where I opted to not do modeling got the furthest.

Photo: We made posters. I told them I cared more about their process than their aesthetics. (One kiddo pays the first kiddo on a list $3, then makes 8 of their friends the next kiddo $3. Those 8 kiddos choose 8 friends to pay the next kiddo $3 and so on)2017-02-21-17-40-31-1

What do you notice? What do you wonder?

Why Deporting Parents of Unaccompanied Minors is a Horrible Idea

I’m grading unit tests, so today involves a lot of heavy sighing.

Then I read this article, about 2 draft memos signed by Secretary of Homeland Security on Friday that could prosecute parents of unaccompanied minors (youth who emigrate from their countries by themselves, without an adult) for smuggling.

Much more sighing.

Let’s talk about why deporting or prosecuting parents of unaccompanied minors is a horrible idea.

A bit of background: At least in our district, many parents emigrated long before their students, most likely hoping to establish themselves or find a way to send money while their children were younger. Then, for a number of reasons (violence in the home country, wanting to be closer to the family, etc), they send for their children to come later. These children are the unaccompanied minors.

First, these youth and their families are often fleeing horrible conditions (like ones in Honduras and El Salvador). I heard of one student who wasn’t able to get a transcript from his home country to get credits for his prior studies.

“It’s fine,” I said, “we’ll just Skype the school.”

“No, mister,” he said, shaking his head. “They shot the principal.”

Another student arrived at our school after the semester. Shortly after, she found out that one of her closest cousins had been murdered back in her country.

I can’t imagine a family who would choose to stay in those conditions and subject their children to them if they had another option.

Second, these families are already facing so many issues upon reunification. I have one student who hadn’t lived with their mother for 8 years. Now, they are here, trying to figure out how to live with someone who they, on the one hand, are so overjoyed to see (“All I want is for my mother to be happy and say good things about me,” this student has said repeatedly) and on the other hand, feel (rightfully) abandoned by. Side note: Very few of our family meetings end without tears on someone’s part. Other side note: This isn’t actually one student. It’s four students.

And this is to say nothing of dealing with issues that typical families go through (discipline, puberty, grades, etc) let alone immigrant families (discrimination, culture shock, etc).

For teachers and community members, these issues are further complicated because we don’t know who these issues apply to. After a few years, I’m beginning to notice patterns and find ways to see trends (I’m also gutsier about just asking my advisees, though I 100% recognize that this is due to an amazingly positive, trusting culture that our school has worked hard to create). But it’s not always easy to know who is undocumented or who may be an American citizen with undocumented parents. I say this, not to say that we should label people, but because, in order to support undocumented immigrants and connect them with the right services, we need to know who they are. I fully understand that undocumented immigrants are afraid of disclosing their status, but we have to figure out ways to help them.

Needless to say I’m upset by the possibility of these draft memos. I can only imagine what our kiddos and their families are thinking.

Post-script: People seem to be reflecting on a Day Without an Immigrant. This article about how some teachers responded (hint: not positively) fills me with rage. One of my classes was pretty much unaffected, one was 50% empty, and the rest were somewhere in between.

Week 4: We All Fall Down

This week’s Explore the MathematicsTwitterBlogoSphere prompt is awesome: You are going to write a blogpost about one mistake/error/failure you made, and proudly and publicly share that with the world. OR… and this is more ambitious but wow would reading this keep us glued to the screen… keep a log of teaching failures for a day, a few days, or even the entire week… and then publish it!

I love the vulernability of this prompt and am also terrified of answer it, partially because it’s embarrassing (but worthwhile) and partially because there are so many things I wish I could do over that it makes my head explore.

Anyway:

Monday: Solving Equations Group Test

We do a group test to prepare for the individual test on Wednesday. In general, the test runs short, which is actually OK, though I wish I’d added some more challenges to some of the problems. I also forget to give out the supplement – a half page on inequalities and equations with weird solutions (no solution, infinite solutions, x =0), which would have been a productive way for more groups to talk about interesting mathematics. During group tests, Curriculum Partner and I only allow groups to ask 2 group questions – if someone has a question, the whole group has to talk together and one person – the Resource Manager – has to call me over. I don’t do a great job setting this up or necessarily having kiddos follow through. I wish I’d made a bigger deal of it since it’s our first group test of the semester and so many of our kiddos are new. There’s at least one group where one team member is totally capable of doing the work, but seems to want to call me over. I don’t necessarily regret answering some of the questions in the name of relationship building and mathematical confidence, but I know this kiddo and I probably should have pushed them to talk to their group more.

Monday evening, I mean to look through the group tests. I skim through some from my first class and note that students aren’t always using the scripts we gave them to help with language and are sometimes not solving equations with negative numbers correctly (they subtract from both sides when they should add to both sides). I think about ways to address this on Tuesday…and then don’t.

I also make a mental note to write up the team meeting agenda for our Wednesday team meeting…and then don’t.

Tuesday: Test Review Day

Many of our kiddos either don’t really know how to study for a test or don’t have the time to do it, so we always spend a day reviewing in partners. Curriculum Partner and I explicitly explain that the groups are leveled – someone who knows more English and someone who is still learning. I don’t do a fantastic job framing this. One of our four school values is Act With Empathy. It’s a value that most of our kiddos recognize, though I’d argue that understanding empathy is harder. I wish I’d explicitly made more calls to that.

We also give kiddos a copy of the rubric to help grade their tests. It seems like kiddos understand that they should read through the rubric, which is a step up from earlier in the year. I wish I’d made the rubric more explicit. A part of me wants it to be general enough to guide the kiddos, but not give anything away. Another part of me needs to remember that, if we’ve gotten through the group test and are still confused about something, we need to step up the intervention and be more explicit.

I also find Racing Dots on Desmos as an extension. It looks awesome. Some kiddos try it. I don’t look at the results or really talk to or support the kiddos working on it. It’s an extension and there are kiddos who are still trying to make sense of the test (let alone all the study materials). I stand by this decision, but I regret it a bit, too.

Wednesday: Individual Test

The curriculum part of today actually goes as planned, largely because it’s a test day, so we spend most of the day taking the test. I do have one kiddo from last semester, who now has a different teacher, come in and say “I miss your class because you would always help me on the test.” I wonder if I’m giving too much help on the test.

Team meeting goes well despite me only having sent out the agenda and checked with facilitators the night before. The team meeting part of meeting (there’s also a student support meeting) is actually being facilitated by a different team member. Had it been strictly team meeting, I would have liked to have thought about the agenda more and sent it out earlier.

I think about grading when I get home, but end up not having time, partially because I have to buy flyswatters.

Thursday: Shapes Review

In preparation for our next unit on similarity, we do a bunch of different review activities. We draw shapes, we put names to the shapes, we find area and perimeter, we play the flyswatter game where I call 2 students to the front, name a shape and then have them swat the named shape with the flyswatter. This activity also actually goes relatively smoothly. Except for the one class where the Instructional Coach lovingly has to ask us not to be so loud when celebrating. #IRegretNothing

I take a phone from a student who is taking a selfie with their entire table when they should be doing the opening. This is followed by about 20 minutes of bickering with another student who says it’s not fair and they should have gotten a warning (it’s the first time anyone has taken this student’s phone; they will have many more warnings).

I have an interaction with a student while explaining our work for today. “But this is middle school work,” says the student. I continue reminding students that we have a range of abilities in our class and are doing review to help everyone learn. I make call to act with empathy and then start class. Do I wish we had talked more about why we’re reviewing for a range of abilities? Do I wish I had specifically drawn attention to the fact that this student attended solid schools in their country while some students struggled to even attend elementary school? Answer unclear…

I do have a cranky interaction with a coworker in the staff room in the morning, which is what happens when everyone is trying to do everything in the morning. I wish I had just backed away and asked to talk about it later, but couldn’t quite get my brain to process that fast. We talk about it at lunch and things are better.

I drop the ball a bit again after school. I have 2 meetings and am relatively unable to help Curriculum Partner print out materials for Mondays, though we are able to finish most of our planning during prep.

Beautiful Disaster or The One with the Mess

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I am very off-and-on about how well I document my lessons. About once a month, I’ll frantically leave Google doc comments on everything and then forget about it for another month.

I don’t remember this lesson (lifted almost directly from a lesson 2 years ago) going this well 2 years ago, but it felt like students were having solid conversations while acknowledging that some students had already learned formulas for area (and often couldn’t remember why they were derived the way they were) and some students were just making sense of things.

Photo: “Mister, we left a mess on your board.”

Some days (when I remember, lately), you can’t even pose pictures as amazing as the ones the kiddos accidentally leave. There’s some thinking around the area of a circle and connections to half squares and formulas. Feat. the flyswatter from the flyswatter game (Show pictures of shapes on board. Say the name of a shape and watch the kiddos try to swat it. Get lovingly scolded by the Instructional Coach because the class next door can’t focus while your squirreliest class is celebrating victories over correctly identifying a pentagon versus a hexagon).

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Confianza and Documentation in a Time of Trump

Concession: I am not an immigrant. I am not a lawyer.

I teach at a school where all the students are recent immigrants. My best guess is that at least a quarter of them are undocumented. As this is only a guess about extremely sensitive information, I’m assuming the actual number is higher. At one point, one of our counselors said that almost all of our recent arrivals from Latin America (Honduras, Guatemala, Salvador) were probably undocumented.

Most conversations about work, with non-coworkers, begin the same: “How are your students taking the election?”

I usually shrug. The answer is complicated. Our older students have been here longer. They are worried. Our 9th and 10th grade students are still adjusting to life in the United States. Most of them have arrived within the year. But they are also worried.

Conversations with teacher friends are different. We usually talk about mathematics and students who are struggling.

We rarely talk about the election or immigration status. If anything, I’ll bring it up with other teacher friends who teach at schools with lots of emerging multilinguals that likely have undocumented students.

Many teachers don’t know which students are documented or undocumented. “We don’t ask,” they say.

So here’s my push: You have to ask. Or at least know your students well enough to ask. Because, for newly arrived students (and I’m guessing with students who have been here longer, too), the legal system that they must navigate is massive. And it’s in Legalese English.

Which brings me to the second part: when you ask, you need to have options ready. You may not be a legal expert (I am certainly not), but you should absolutely know where to turn if a student discloses information about their documentation status. Our school counselor and our Wellness Center are a wealth of information on this front.

Some of the (amazing) teachers at our school had lawyers from a local clinic come to our school to talk about immigration status. We won’t know what to do until January 20, the lawyers said. He’s a loose cannon and unpredictible. [Edit: Sounds like things are happening. And they sound not great for immigrants.]

I’ve often been told that the structures and strategies that support emerging multilinguals support all students. So it’s fair to say that teachers should know all of their students well enough to support them through (and therefore inquire about) sensitive issues. But especially with so many unpredictible potential changes and consequences on the horizon, educators need to be able to ask and while they may not have the answers, they need to at least be able to point students in a solid direction.

(written over the course of several months, initially right after the election. I finally gave in and hit publish. Drafty and subject to revision, as is this entire blog)

The Solving Equations Review Day

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We’re still fiddling with the review day between the group test and the individual test to figure out how to make it worth the while of all of our kiddos.

I did find at least one group test where kiddos read the rubric and then made revisions. Now how to make this change happen for all kiddos…2017-01-29-09-09-21What do you observe? What do you wonder?