* More on culturally relevant teaching and literacy

black studentMy Survival Tip #11 referred to the BED label which encompassed a wide range of behavioral issues.  The most obvious characteristic of my kids was their race and gender.  Black boys.  Had their behavior in a “regular” classroom been outrageous?  Yes.  Had they bitten and kicked and punched their way to placement in my room?  Some of them.  Had many of them been physically and sexually abused?  Yes.  Were they the worst behaved kids in their class?  Often, but during my pre-placement observations, I saw white kids with some of the same behaviors.  Did they have parents who were strong advocates for them?   No.  Did they “see” themselves or their culture reflected in school?  Yes, by custodians, cooks, and some assistants.  One of my kids was the son of our custodian.   Did they have significant reading and writing problems?  Yes.  All of them.  

OK, that was “back in the day,” but you can see the same issues now.  As I have mentioned before, my local district has made it more difficult for black boys to be placed in self-contained settings, but these kids are still struggling.  A black student I’ve mentored for 10 years told me that he would rather act up than appear “retarded.”  He is not mentally handicapped, but he has not been well educated, either.  In sixth grade, he was reading at a third grade level.  In Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Students, Gloria Ladson-Billings quotes one of her culturally proficient teachers: “There is a curious phenomena occurring in schools today.  Teachers expect students to come to school reading, and they resent those children who don’t.  If that’s the case, what do they need a teacher for?”

I don’t think all teachers resent non-readers, but the scope, sequence, and pace of reading instruction, especially if it lacks systematic phonics instruction, may ensure that kids who can’t master letter-sound associations in the first reporting period are already on the road to non-proficiency.  This puts black kids (as well as many special needs and non-English speaking kids) at a real disadvantage.  Teachers may chalk up another failure to the “culture” of black families, who obviously haven’t prepared their children for school.

Here’s another anecdote from Ladson-Billings’ book, which researched teachers who effectively taught literacy to black kids.  She describes a 40 year old Italian American teacher, Ann Lewis, who was so effective that she got students no one else wanted. (She was also considered a troublemaker; sadly, giving her these students was a form of “payback.”)  In her class of mostly black kids, Ms. Lewis created an environment where her male students were outstanding leaders.  One of them was already well-known by teachers in the school as “an accident waiting to happen.”  He was 13 years old, in a class of 11 year olds, having been retained a couple of times.  He had undergone severe trauma in a drive-by shooting.  After a year with Ms. Lewis, this kid was president of the sixth grade class and earned all A’s and B’s.  He is one of MANY kids who was on the road to failure until a teacher intervened by drawing upon his strengths, using culturally relevant material, making connections with him and his family, and teaching effectively by linking skills to broader objectives.  Ms. Lewis believed that he could outperform his peers, despite his desperate circumstances.

Ladson-Billings describes the following 6 tenets that characterize effective literacy programs for black kids (pages 126-128):

  1. Students whose educational, economic, social, political, and cultural futures are most tenuous are helped to become intellectual leaders in the classroom.
  2. Students are apprenticed in a learning community rather than taught in an isolated and unrelated way.
  3. Students’ real-life experiences are legitimized as they become part of the “official” curriculum.
  4. Teachers and students participate in a broad conception of literacy that incorporates both literature and oratory.
  5. Teachers and students engage in a collective struggle against the status quo.
  6. Teachers are cognizant of themselves as political beings.

Judging by our nation’s current achievement gap in reading, teachers still have much work to do.  But we are more than up for the challenge.  Educate yourself on culturally proficient teaching.  Examine your belief systems and expectations.  Translate your passion for teaching into instruction that meets the needs of ALL students.

* Survival Tip #11: Don’t look now, but….

It was a typical cafeteria scene.  My assistant and I sat in the midst of that crowded and noisy room with our students, a self-contained class of kids who’d been identified as behaviorally and emotionally disabled (called BED, back in the day).  My daughter-to-be was in that class.  We were racing our way through lunch, always ready to leave after exactly seven minutes. That was the time it took for my kids to finish picking at their food and start getting antsy.  Most of them were on medication for hyperactivity, which wiped out their appetites.

Those were also the days when real food was prepared and served by talented cooks throughout our district.  Even teachers enjoyed those lunches.  But I did not select my favorite foods.  I always chose something that could be scarfed down one minute before the kids were on their “count-down to lift off.”  On that beautiful autumn day, where walls of windows opened to views of brilliant orange and red trees, I  took a huge bite of hot dog.  OK, I always take huge bites.  This class was really my finishing school for a lifetime of dreadful table manners.  But that chunk of hot dog did not slide down my throat.  Instead, it lodged neatly in my throat like a cork in a wine bottle.hot-dog-149935__180

It took less than a second for me to realize I was in deep trouble.  I could not breathe.  I could not cough.  And I was terribly invisible.  My first thought was, “Don’t upset the kids.”  They’d had enough school trauma in their short 6 or 7 years.  But I didn’t need to worry about upsetting them because even the kids sitting next to me never once looked my way.  How odd was that?  My next thought was, “Get help.  Without upsetting the kids.”  I turned to my assistant, who now had her back to me, chatting with another adult.  NO ONE saw me. The physical world seemed to change.  Time slowed down to a crawl, noise disappeared.  I looked around the cafeteria and observed how pleasant it was.  Laughing faces, busy conversations.  I was still amazed that no one could see I was dying.

Then another thought: “Relax.”  My body was clenched like a fist.  My throat hurt badly, like a jagged stone was lodged in it.  I was desperate to breath.  I was choking to death without a sound.  “Relax.  If I relax, my throat will loosen.  Then the hot dog can slide away.”  I relaxed.  How did I relax?  Why did I relax?  I believe it was divine intervention.  The hot dog slowly and painfully edged downward.  I forced myself to sit still.  The sounds of the cafeteria started to return.  As the pain worsened, I bent over, clutching my raw chest.  That hot dog felt like a brick as it moved, but I could breathe again!  I tried to stay relaxed but I wanted to scream, “Look at me!  I almost died!”  My assistant was now facing me.  I said softly, “I almost choked to death on that hot dog.”  She looked at me skeptically.  After the worst of the pain had subsided, before the kids lifted off, I lined them up and we headed for our class.

Did you know there’s a universal choking sign?  Did you know that if no one is looking, that sign means nil, zero, nada, nought?

* Helping a student use adjectives

I’ve been asked to elaborate on previous posts regarding a student who struggles to generate ideas for writing.  Specifically, he cannot think of descriptive words to add to his his map (or writing plan).  This problem creates tremendous anxiety since he feels time pressure to complete an assignment that he can’t even start.  The more anxious he becomes, the less he can think of anything useful.  I did note that he doesn’t use adjectives in conversation, despite his strong verbal reasoning skills.  Here’s a sample worksheet which requires drawing connecting lines, not writing words.  (I made it on Super Teacher Worksheets, a fabulous site; check out this post for details).  I can count on this student’s excellent memory to store some of these adjectives, especially when I ask him which sense he might use to think of that adjective.  I am hoping to link his word retrieval to a specific mental “folder.”  I also chose adjectives which could possibly describe more than one noun; my goal is to generate a bit more focus as he matches the words.  I can also increase his focus by timing him on this task, then have him a complete a comparable sheet and see if he can beat his previous time.  This student enjoys time challenges when they’re not in the context of actual writing.   matching adjectives

* Check out Mihran the pianist

MihranIn this blogging adventure, I have most enjoyed getting to know other bloggers and seeing the world through their eyes.  I’m continually amazed at the diversity of skills and accomplishments.  A faithful follower of my blog, Mihran Kalaydjian, is someone who continually reblogs posts from other bloggers, introducing me (and the blogging world) to people I might otherwise have missed.  If you read Mihran’s About page, you may be surprised, as I was, to see that he works in the hotel industry.  He’s also a talented pianist with a FaceBook page, Mihran KalaydjianPiano Melodies.  I have already enjoyed listening to his music and hope you do, too!

* This Is Not Cupcake Camp

This will clear your sinuses and help your kiddos learn place value at the same time! Great fun!

I'm Not Miss Beadle

Teacher Tipster (Place Value Song): http://youtu.be/ATgnG0M3S3Q

In first grade, we’re all about tens and ones these days. Understand, when you’re six or seven it’s a very complex concept. I mean, you’re still getting used to the idea that we always read from left to right. So next you find out that the placement of numbers matters, too? Oh, man, it’s a whole thing.

Enter Teacher Tipster. I defy you to watch this video and not wish for a moment to be a six-year-old in this guy’s class.

I gotta get me to the dollar store.

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* 10 Reasons I Appreciate Teachers or…

This is hilarious and true! My #10 is getting up at 5:30 each day and working 60-80 hours a week. You know what? It’s still the best job in the world. (Check out Clothed With Joy’s blog for many more delightful posts!)

Clothed with Joy

Why You Couldn’t Pay Me Enough to Teach in School

10 teacherz

1. Stinky Children. Have you smelled a child’s breath in the morning? Do you know where those hands have been? I do. I know these smells All. Too. Well, my friends. I live with children. I know what they smell like. It’s not good. If I get 50% of my children to brush their teeth on a given morning – it’s a GOOD day. Poor, poor teachers. I deeply apologize.

2. Interruptions. I’ve taught enough small children over the years to realize that it is nearly impossible to get through anything without being interrupted. In fact, I have my own children to prove this theory. This morning as we were getting ready to leave for school I said, “Ok, everyone be quiet, we’re going to pray.” Just like we do every morning. As I take a deep breath and my lips…

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* The Dream-Keepers

Can black students successfully navigate the current academic maze?  In a previous post, I referenced the dismal achievement gap between black and white students.  But fortunately, that’s not the final word on educating all students successfully.  As long ago as 1994, Gloria Ladson-Billings was countering the despair of this academic failure by researching teachers who were able to “keep the dream alive.”  She presented her findings in The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children, inspiring and detailed findings of eight classroom teachers who made a huge difference in the achievement of their students.  In her second edition of Dreamkeepers, Ladson-Billings identifies three central features of their success and also highlights 15 other “dreamkeepers” she has met since the first edition of the book.dreamkeepers

What characterized successful education of black kids?  It’s what characterizes successful education of all kids, actually.  First, their teachers had a strong focus on student learning.  They communicated high expectations.  They recognized that their students were already learners.  Rather than teaching skills in isolation, they embedded instruction in broader contexts.  They recognized that tests alone do not provide sufficient opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery and encouraged students to use writing, speaking, and exhibitions/ performances as well.  They looked at teaching as “drawing out” knowledge as well as providing opportunities to explore information.  They TRULY believed that all kids can learn.  Second, students were a part of a learning community which was culturally relevant.  Ladson-Billings described this as “We are family,” where teachers and students developed close relationships, where teachers and students alike were well-grounded in their own culture (and the mainstream culture, if those were different).  These exemplary teachers were connected to their kids both in and out of school.  Third, teachers required students to understand the “sociopolitical underpinnings” of their education.  They challenged students to question assumptions and focus on ways to improve their world.  In fact, Ladson-Billings met another exemplary teacher who had actually been taught by two women in her research study and who was inspired to become a teacher herself.

I can’t possibly summarize the vibrancy, the joy, and the refreshing taste of success that the author captures in her study of these teachers.  They had different teaching styles but each accomplished the same goal: success for all students.  Ladson-Billings’ research is well-organized, thorough, and uplifting.  To answer my initial question: Yes, black kids can excel!  If teachers are looking for a perfect read for their “book club” or professional development, this is a winner.

* A question on social narratives

angry kidI’ve been asked to provide another example of a social narrative for dealing with bullying.  I write stories about bullying from two perspectives, of course: the one who bullies and the one who is bullied.  They are often the same kid: students who’ve been bullied are at risk for becoming someone who bullies others.  The following clip is from a series on how it feels to be called a bully, especially when you don’t realize how your remarks have affected others.  It’s painful to help a kid who has been targeted by others, feeling their shame and despair.  It’s equally hard to redirect a kid who was once that target and has now focused their anger on others.  In the series below, there’s no “perfect” ending.  Learning to deal with bullying, whether from the hands of others or from your own, is too often a part of special needs kids’ life experiences.  My hope is to take something ugly and work it for good.

Mike chapter 1

Any feedback on this?  

* Should phonics be taught to ASD kids?

boy readingI’ve been asked if kids with autism should be taught phonics skills.  Yes, yes, yes!  I know there’s a stereotype out there that autistic kids simply memorize everything they read, but I have known many who didn’t.  No matter what the reader’s strengths or weaknesses, phonics is a vital tool for decoding unfamiliar words.

(I think this is the shortest post I’ve ever written!)

* Discovery Education for dealing with bullying and more

discovery educationWant a video that depicts common classroom bullying?  What about strategies to reduce bullying?  Check out Discovery Education, a for-profit organization that provides access to more than 170,000 digital resources on bullying and about every other topic you can imagine.  When I first started using online videos for social skills instruction, my school subscribed to United Streaming.  United Streaming and Discovery Education are now combined, with an impressive array of resources categorized by topic and curriculum standards.  This online resource can be purchased by school districts and also includes: teacher training; an emphasis on STEM curricula and careers; options for teacher-created materials (such as quizzes and writing prompts); and teacher-directed, individualized support for students who are unable to attend school.

One of my primary uses of this website has been for social skills instruction.  Although I have typically used my own students for developing videos, these online resources normalize a variety of social experiences for kids, as well as allowing me to work with students individually while others are productively engaged.  A quick search for ‘bullying’ produces 188 resources, many of which can be downloaded and edited for and by students.  Some of these materials were produced about 10 years ago, but depict scenarios which are still relevant today.

Discovery Education also provides free teacher, parent, and student resources, most of which are average or so-so in quality. Parent resources include articles on motivation, summer activities, free clip art, and homework help.  The best student resource is a math homework helper, but it would require good reading skills and like the parent resources, the page is cluttered with advertisements.  (Perhaps not if you use Firefox with Adblock Plus….)  On the other hand, here’s an example of their free animated clip art, one of hundreds available, and my first animated clip art on this blog!  ani-dance1