Things I Said I’d Do: 3 Takeaways from Summer School, 2017

Made it through 4 and 2 half weeks of summer school, which now feels like forever ago.

Some context: 2 of the teachers who used to work at my school and have since gone to work for The District were in charge of running the summer school program for emerging multilinguals (English Language Learners) in our district. Many of those kiddos are kiddos I teach during the school year. So I said I’d teach for the summer. I’d always thought about it and it seemed as good a year as any (and if I didn’t like it, I could cross it off the list of Things I Said I’d Do and Now Don’t Ever Have to Do Again. Spoiler alert: I’d do it again.)

3 takeaways:

  • Try New Things: It was much easier to try new things in summer school. Perhaps it was because all of the kiddos had some United States schooling under their belt (as opposed to some of our kiddos from the school year whose sojourn in my classroom is their first educational experience in the United States). In all likelihood, it was because the program is shorter and things didn’t really have time to fall apart and I was less nervous about implementing systems that might potentially not work. At the suggestion of Summer Planning Partner, I did some random seating rather than assigned seats. Kiddos seemed largely ok with being placed with random other kiddos (until Week 3, when I think they swapped the popsicle sticks I was using to randomly assign seats). I started using ClassDojo to select kiddos at random to read classroom objectives and share answers (though I usually stuck with Mr. Pinsky’s participation quiz app for general classroom management stuff). We tried integrating project pages throughout our unit rather than just all at the end.
  • Get Observed (and be OK with it): I got observed a lot during the summer. Our program brought in some teachers who wanted to learn more about teaching emerging multilinguals. Various District people came by. I swallowed my pride and told all of my teacher friends (who I can’t usually observe during the year because we work the same days) that they could come observe me. And it wasn’t horrible. I still get super nervous when there are other adults in my classroom, even after 4 years, but I think I just got over it this summer. I’ve always known that I mentally overreact when there are other adults in the room. So I’m mostly learning to ignore that. In every debrief I had this summer, people either had questions, positive noticings, or they didn’t say anything. I’ll take it.
  • Be OK with What You Can’t Control: There are a lot of logistics that go into summer school. During the year, we have systems in place to deal with them. Plus I loop with many of my kiddos, so I know them from the year before – family situations, educational history, the works. This is all a bit more complicated with summer school. Enrollment is tricky and subject to change. We work with kiddos from high schools from all over the city and District information is often…patchy. Whereas we probably would have shuffled our students a bit more evenly during the school year, we didn’t get quite as much of a chance to do that this summer. We didn’t find out as much about our students’ school experiences over the course of 5 weeks. And it was all OK. Again, this might have been because the program was shorter. It might be because our kiddos are pretty darn resilient. It might be because things just work themselves out.
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The One with the Last Day

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The last day of summer school comes and goes. I try to find a way to fill time with expected absences (One kiddo told me, “Why did you tell me I had to come today?” to which I had to bite my tongue and not say, “I didn’t think you’d actually listen to me!”) and no new content. I end up having kiddos draw mathematics class for their opening and then fill it by having them reflect on the year and write cards to themselves and each other.

Photo: Someone’s drawing from the opening. Quite a few have the content and language objectives.Last Day of Summer School.jpg

What do you observe? What do you wonder?

Good Enough for Now: The Field Trip

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You might say that it’s bananas to execute a field trip during a 5-week summer school program and you might be right.

We do it anyway.

Field trip chaperoning means not really having enough time to take photos, so here’s a picture of the handout that we had kiddos do on the walk over to the park. Shout out to this kiddo who painstakingly circled all the storm drains on the way over (the field trip had an environmental focus. Kind of.)2017-07-09 20.16.16Other fun quotes and memories:

“MISTER, asì nacì, asì voy a morir.“-one of my advisees, when I caught him swearing (again). Translated: “MISTER, I was born this way, I will die this way.”

I also spent about 10 minutes trying to teach one of our students that it’s impolite to ask teachers (especially female teachers) how old they are. Didn’t get far with that one. Also, guesses of my age, by students: 25, 45, 30, 37, 32, 35. Number sense is getting better, but not really.

Kiddo, umprompted: “Mister, you speak French?”

Me (What?): “Um. No.”

Same kiddo: “That’s what math is like for me! No like math.”

Me: “Oh. Um. Je parle Francais.” (Kiddo doesn’t buy it)

As happens with our kiddos, there is soccer. There are several kiddos sporting honest-to-God soccer jerseys and fancy sweats that are probably out of my price range (and in all fairness, these kiddos probably play on several, super intense teams that are deserving of jerseys and more). When one team slaughters the other, we jokingly suggest that we shuffle players so that they have the same number of “official jerseys” on each side (the kiddos say no). The one female player eventually stalks off, amidst a string of curses. Comments about caballeros (translation: gentlemen) fall on deaf ears.

I play soccer with a few of the kiddos afterwards. I barely made the 8th grade team in middle school. I have not progressed much beyond there (but that’s good enough for now).

What do you observe? What do you wonder?

Really Slow Boomerangs: 2016-2017 Wrap Up

It feels slightly weird to write a wrap up for the school year when my mind’s actually on wrapping up summer school (7 more days and everyone’s counting).

Big takeaways, largely parroted from other people:

  • If a kiddo can be saying it, why are you? Stolen from one of the teachers who I’ve taught with for a bit. One of the things I struggle with in my context is that, especially at the beginning of the year, many of our students (all of whom are emerging multilinguals) don’t understand that much English. So me saying instructions to them doesn’t always make much sense. However, one student read to everyone at least focuses their attention (and so much better if it’s a phrase or norm that’s repeated frequently or that they’re familiar with). (And they’re generally more respectful to each other than they are to me. Ha.) I maintain that this still works even if they don’t entirely understand what they’re saying (when reading classroom objectives, etc). And having them read and explain to each other is even better.
  • Randomness can lead to equity, if you’re thoughtful about it. I’ve always been antsy about calling kiddos at random. First year teacher used to do it to kiddos who weren’t paying attention, which probably wasn’t the wisest idea. I finally glommed on to a structure at our school where a student opens class by randomly selecting students to read objectives, agendas, and announcements. It’s fascinating seeing how this structure plays out. Students speak more and (largely owing to a collaborative culture at our school) will try and help each other read or answer questions. This works when the questions are pretty low stakes (either reading something off the board or choosing between 2 options). The goal is to get kiddos to speak and feel comfortable participating. Another helpful thing is the culture that our school has created where students know they’re supposed to help and support each other. At the beginning of summer school, I saw that students were really reluctant or scared to speak in class and it definitely took some supporting and needling to get them to speak and feel comfortable speaking.
  • When in doubt, lean hard into your structures. I’m pretty sure I stole this from Carl Oliver and it goes for both kiddos and adults. Since so much of school can be new and strange for our kiddos, having established structures calms a lot of nerves. It’s said at our school that kiddos are confused by the blue opening papers (a schoolwide structure where kiddos fill out the date, day, content and language objective, and do an opening) at the beginning of the day, but are pros at it by sixth period on the same day. I’ve also noticed, in my afternoon classes (which are almost always squirrely) that, as crazy as the actual class may go, things calm down noticeably when I ask them to take the last 10 minutes to write a journal (again, repeated structure). This plays out interestingly when thinking about direct instruction (“Copy this down in your notes”) versus groupwork where students have to step out of their comfort zones, but that’s a thought process for year 5. I’m also finding that structures work well for adults (or maybe just me). By a stroke of luck (good? bad? Undecided…), I ended up making meeting agendas for our grade level team this year. Figuring out what to actually covering in meetings was tricky, but certain structures popped up that made the process easier – there’s always a check-in question, someone suggested that we make time to celebrate our students, and having time for feedback, and to reflect on our process gave us a way to get ideas for the next meeting and to give people a chance to reflect on how the meeting went for them and to say things that might still need to be said.
  • It takes time. This is my fourth year as a teacher, which firmly puts me in “not new teacher” territory (where I think I’ve actually been for about 2 years, though it was easier to shirk duties in prior years. Ha.). This became clearer to me with some newer teachers on our team. Some of our school is just like any other school. But there are some very quirky school-specific structures at our school, specifically our intersession electives and our semester portfolio process. Whereas both of these structures have become “Oh, that’s just a thing we do” to me (after 4 and 7 cycles, respectively), I have to remind myself what it was like the first time I went through either of those cycles. (For intersession electives, I was lucky enough to get paired with 2 amazing teachers from my team and for my first round of Portfolios, I just stumbled through because I didn’t know any better). I somewhat try to think of how to share strategies, structures and work samples to make the process easier for new teachers, but mostly I just try to stay afloat amidst my stuff (a large part of my Portfolio process this year is storming out of the classroom to drag back 2 of my advisees who eventually saunter in on their own time. “They’re like really slow boomerangs,” the vice principal tells me.). I know there are probably better ways to structure weird processes, but for now, I can’t think of a way better than to just experience it.

And since I’m not entirely sure I want to end things on that note, here’s what I’m doing this summer:

  • One week of staycation (sleep, clean out classroom, watch friend teach, go to Julieta Venegas concert, sleep, host dinner party)
  • 4 and 2 half weeks of summer school.
  • One week at the Inquiry Schools Summer Institute (and then a week in DC).
  • One long weekend at the Knowles Teaching Initiative Summer Conference (and then a week in New York).
  • One week at a Geometry of Redistricting conference.
  • And then we’re back for PD week. And if that feels short to you, it doesn’t include a few optional work days that I’m missing (they coincide with the last conference) and does include an extra week of summer because our District is starting a week later (to accomodate December holidays).

The One with Realish Data

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We are trying to align our curriculum to the biology curriculum, which has to do with waste management. For our Friday Project Page, we find a few interesting graphs from an actual report. One kiddo asks what MSW is and I have to google it during first period (Municipal Solid Waste, in case you were wondering). I wonder whether the tables and language might have been just a bit too academic, but #IRegretNothing (well, I don’t regret much)2017-06-23-14-50-28.jpgPhoto: Data and graph. Gotta revise those axes.

What do you observe? What do you wonder?