Last week, my son's third grade teacher sent home what at first glance looked like a long homework assignment -- three sets of survey questions with many lines for his responses. After reading the directions, we learned that I was to ask him the questions and transcribe his responses. Each night we settled down for what turned into a thoughtful, reflective conversation about my child: his reading preferences, learning style, interests, likes and dislikes, fears and hopes.
It's the first day of the sophomore World History class. The teacher is standing in the front of the class and has just gotten their attention. A short squat man with a nylon stocking over his face, a dark fedora on his head and wearing a dark trench coat, rushes through the door, screams "Sic semper tyrannis," and "stabs" the teacher twice. The teacher crumples to the ground while some students shriek, and the "assassin" rushes back out the door.
I knew I wanted to get to know my students. I wanted to hear about their lives, look through their eyes, experience the sounds of their world, and survey their emotional landscapes. I also knew I needed to do this in order to be a more effective teacher: I could tailor instruction to draw on what they already knew and bridge curriculum.
This week, I watched a science teacher use sticky notes in a very creative way. To check for understanding, the teacher gave each student a sticky note and asked each of her science students to give concrete examples of the vocabulary that they had learned in class. As the students exited the classroom, they placed the sticky note on the door. After the students all left the classroom, the teacher collected the sticky notes and was able to tell right away which students understood the concepts and which ones needed some targeted assistance.
A few days ago, I visited a math teacher who was busily preparing his classroom for the start of the school year. This classroom, however, was a bit unusual. Casey Shea, who teaches at Analy High School in Sebastopol, California, was transforming an old wood shop into a "makerspace." With his students’ help, much of the furniture was built from scratch, and the space will soon be filled with students working on projects that might range from solar-powered battery chargers to geodesic domes and a pedal-powered blender.
Students should have a significant voice in school-based decision-making in every high school. They rarely do. With the teaching of democracy a stated goal of every high school, I still find this hard to believe.
I'm a teacher, a mother, a wife, and a blogger. I also just happen to be Jewish. I work in a Title I school in a Los Angeles community that is not home to many Jewish people. It's primarily a Latino and Asian community, with the students in my middle school knowing far more about Moshi than Gefilte.
In Texas we have a new state test called the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) and some schools like mine, were surprised by the student poor performance in writing. As I was reviewing the low scores, I began thinking, "What else can I do to help my students write better?"
My 8th-graders do their best writing when it is part of a project that is meaningful to them and will be published in some way when they are finished. So over the years, my students have written and illustrated children's books for schools in Uganda, published magazines on topics of their choice, blogged poems from their autobiographies, and showcased their best work in online portfolios.