Monthly Archives: October 2012

Staring at Spoons

At the beginning of the year, when I first read my students’ self-evaluations, I made note of common goals (better speaking skills, spelling, etc.)  and listed student names under every goal that seemed applicable.

I should also mention that on the very first day I handed out permanent markers, and plastic spoons upon which they wrote their names.  This past Thursday, I dumped their cutlery on the floor and stared at them. Consulted my lists. Shuffled.

When the class arrived, I called out groups of 3 to 6 students and asked them to figure out why. What did they have in common? Why would I group them this way?

They came up with some zingers.

They also eventually started coming around to their language goals. Some of them found common ground on their own. Some of them needed help. But they all seemed a bit startled to realize that common ground really was there–with these people. Huh.

I told them to come up with their own learning goals. You pick the objective. You set your own goals. Replace something in your final portfolio with your own assignment. You’ll have every Thursday to work on this. Let’s see how it goes.



As I visited with each group, I saw brilliant things happening:

We want to prepare for college entrance exams. 

We wanna  know how to get inside the readers’ heads.  

We don’t want to lose our voices when we write on assigned topics.

We just want to read. Lots. 

Their words, not mine.  No school district or curriculum board or teacher in the world could have come up with these goals for them. But they did.  They did.


Now let’s just hope I don’t get myself fired.


Our Magic Librarian

(This is for my friend FD: Yes. The Big Whatever does favor your species. Case in point:)

I was having one of those “what have I gotten myself into?” moments yesterday after a particularly challenging series of encounters with the same set of students. Day after day, I could feel them slipping away and checking out from any kind of authentic learning.

I was wandering down the hall, puzzling over what I could possibly do different, when I had the distinct impression that maybe I ought to make a detour into the library–which I did.

There, I was greeted by one of our lovely librarians, who is well-advanced in both years and patience. She asked me how my first month was going.

I admitted that there are a lot of things I need to do differently, and that I am struggling with how exactly to do that.

“Well,” she said. “That’s the difference between a good teacher and a bad one–the bad ones aren’t asking themselves what they can do better.”

It was like speaking to an oracle. Right there–with one flick of her magic librarian wrist, she transformed me from a failure, into a “good teacher.”

And I thought maybe I was just looking for a good book…

Best. Pretest. Ever.

For the vocab pretest today, I put the kids in groups of five or six and had them sit in circle with their group. They each got a blank piece of paper, and the new vocabulary list.  I told them that their paper represented their facebook wall, and that they were to write a status at the top of their paper, using at least one of the vocabulary words.

They were then to pass the papers around and back and forth within their group, commenting on one another’s status posts and comments, using other vocabulary words.

I had them staple all the papers from their group together into one packet, so that I could get a good overview of how they were using the words. I was surprised at how much some of them struggled, even with the vocabulary sheet, definitions, and sample sentences right there in front of them, so it was a great pre-assessment.

My favorite page (they were all “b” words, by the way):

B.F.: I’m going to be boisterous and bring cookies on Wednesday!

(Someone drew a thumbs up under this)

J.H.: I hope they aren’t chocolate; I will get blemishes.

(Another like icon)

Y.L.: Hopefully our teacher doesn’t berate us cuz we can’t have food in class.

A.Z.: Make sure you burnish your cooking pan afterwards.

M. R.: That would be a great boon to us.

B.F.: Yeah Buddy! I will make sure the cookies aren’t  blemish causing.

J.H.: Yum. #yolo #beseech

Y.L.: @B.H. you are so bombastic.