* cola and TB

My dearest teaching widower had to develop patience and an extraordinary listening ear when I took my first teaching job. Mostly unprepared but wildly enthusiastic at age 18, I taught a summer Head Start class. I was a bit concerned about crowd control but my biggest challenge turned out to be the teaching assistant assigned to my room.

My assistant’s surname created an unfortunate rhyme, but I could live with that. I’ll call her Mrs. Horse for this post. She was probably 100 years older than me (yes, I was afflicted with ageism) and spent the day huddled in a corner, hacking her lungs out. Oddly, Mrs. Horse was also tethered to an empty cola bottle.

I started to get suspicious of Mrs. Horse’s hacking when she repeatedly schlepped off attempts to deliver her TB test results. I began to appreciate her distance from the class, although she still gave me the evil eye on those infrequent occasions when I caught her attention. But the killer was how her cola bottle slowly filled up throughout the day, instead of being drained. It wasn’t too long before I caught Mrs. Horse in the act of filling that bottle. Yuck.

Mrs. Horse was gone after a loooong three weeks. My dearest teaching widower had to reassure me that TB is not that contagious and she was far away from me most of the time. I survived and my widower gained much-needed practice for the future.

* Improving student conversations

The January 2019 issue of Mathematics Teacher has a fascinating article on the use of action research in a middle school math class, with applications to all levels of math instruction. A brave teacher/researcher collaboration analyzed student interactions and explored ways to improve engagement.

portrait of young female student at school classroom

What do I love about this article? It illustrates some important principles for all teachers, but especially special educators:

  • Teacher and researcher collaboration. If you don’t have an available researcher, do it yourself! Videotape yourself! Work with a colleague.
  • Use a seating chart to quickly visualize and compare student interactions.
  • Prepare higher level questions ahead of time and place them in your lesson plans. Without your “cheat sheet,” you’ll likely default to more rote level questioning once the lesson starts rolling.
  • Allow time after student responses to encourage student follow-up instead of teacher-student-teacher-student patterns.
  • Select authentic and meaningful tasks when possible.
  • Provide access to technology.

A subscription to Mathematics Teacher is a great investment!

* To prep or not to prep

I just greedily devoured the five Alex Fletcher books by Steven Konkoly. Ooh-rah! I am ready to stockpile food and water and toilet paper. In the first book, The Jakarta Pandemic, Alex struggles through PTSD to save his family from the collapse of American society. His innate paranoia kicks into insane levels, but Konkoly makes the plot eerily realistic. Just how do you survive a contagious virus that triggers mass hysteria and a loss of infrastructure? I’m thinking a chocolate stash…..

Konkoly draws upon his military experience for amazing realism in The Perseid Collapse, an “event” that forms the basis for the final four books of the Alex Fletcher series. This event crumbles the United States, which had barely recovered from the pandemic of a few years before. Alex is better prepared this time but the stakes are higher. The event, which many speculate is an EMP, or asteroid, leads to a collapse of all the major cities, electronics failure, and a flood of refugees. Alex is on a mission to rescue his son from Boston, getting trapped between hastily assembled marines and militias.

The final three books remind me of Tom Clancy’s or Robert Ludlum’s style in their complexity and global focus, with heroic characters giving their all as the world changes mightily after the collapse of the US. And Alex continues his single-minded focus on saving his family and friends. Konkoly creates a well-developed character in Alex Fletcher, along with a wide cast of supporting folks. An interesting theme in these books is the conflict between “government conspiracy” folks and the military. I don’t know how such an apocalypse might fall out (pun intended), but our house is not prepared for any of it. I’m off to buy some chocolate.

* Bilinguilism and the brain

Great news for all of us, regardless of our age! Being bilingual, which historically has not been the norm in America, is great for your brain. For older folks, a second language can lessen the rate of decline in working memory, processing speed, and overall efficiency.

Of course there is a caveat: Not all developing brains will benefit from learning a second language. I personally know of kiddos who required speech and language therapy because their language development stalled when a second language was introduced. (And I have seen far more students quickly pick up a second or third language with ease.)

What about the issue of whether it’s easier to learn a language when you’re young? You know, the brain plasticity phenomena? Well, that argument can be countered by considering the conditions under which many adults try to learn a second language. For myself, trying to squeeze in the time and opportunities to practice a second language have doomed my efforts so far. I reached a point with Spanish where I could follow a sermon with minimal support. Right now? I shudder to think.

The conditions under which children learn a second language at home are typically supportive, allow for errors, and provide lots of practice. Learning a second language at school really requires expertise and educational leadership. Those once-a-week-30-minute “immersion” classes with songs about colors and numbers have not produced a generation of bilingual students. Teaching a second language requires competent leadership and community involvement, with a systematic plan for advancing student skills as they move from elementary to middle school and beyond.

As for special needs students, pulling them out to provide specialized instruction often occurs during “foreign” language classes. For students who are not communicating well in one language, that makes sense. And if those second language classes were truly effective, we wouldn’t want anyone to miss them.

* Once again with music

Argh. We used the wrong paint so I am repainting the family room AGAIN. I was hoping to keep my blogging streak intact, but duty calls. And my dearest teaching widower. I know it’s going to be gorgeous and I get to listen to my worship music unimpeded! Win-win.

* Easy come, easy go

Seeing is believing. When we saw what happened to this heat pump, we knew the installers were right: It needed to be replaced. Goodbye, $8000.

We also needed a different size print from Great Big Canvas and this is the way returns are handled. Slice and dice. I sure felt like a criminal!