Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Novel Unit, Testing Unlimited

We are now officially underway with our new novel, A Single Shard. Essentially, what we are doing is examining the Historical Fiction genre, using this particular book as a vehicle for this examination. In terms of garnering student interest, this book has proven to be difficult at times. Why? Because it is a story that takes place hundreds of years ago, in foreign country, and there are few, if any, tangible aspects of this book that the students are able to connect with. The challenge is to highlight the abstract, transcendant plot elements that any 11-12 year-old can identify with: growing up, responsibility, decision-making, loss, pride, etc. To help class gain a mental picture of the artwork featured in the book, I went on a little mission at the Art Institute of Chicago. It will be interesting to see where our class discussions take us.

Switching topics, this week at school gives us the latest round of MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) tests. The students take two tests, via computer, that are about 50-55 questions each: math and reading. On one hand, some decent insight gained into how well our kids are learning, and where I, as their teacher, can focus my learning. On the other hand, I lose two days of instruction, and beyond that, there are plenty of questions that arise about how relevant and accurate the scores are. For example, there have already been a few students this week whose math scores have been higher, even though they took less time as compared to the fall test, and who have put little to inconsistent effort innto their math course work all year. In the end, the positives outweigh the negatives, and the scores do offer another insight into my students' abilities; as well as give us educators the possibility to put students into the right classes for success and learning.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Playing Catch-Up

Today has been a workshop day. At one of our sessions this morning, our principal talked a lot about poverty and the brain, citing works from Eric Jensen and others. There were many staggering facts brought up during this presentation, many of which I had heard before. Students who come into school having lived with chronic or severe stress - termed distress - have brains that are literally smaller than those of their peers, and in many cases have weakened, atrophied brain cells. Other writers, including Malcom Gladwell, have written about IQ and races, and what studies have shown are some of the effects of growing up in stressful, cognitively-poor environments.

As educators, we are left with two options of looking at this situation: a. this is a crisis, and b. this is an opening for opportunity. In truth, it is both. I don't think it can or should be underscored just how much this is a crisis facing our children, schools, and country. On the flip side, this definitely presents us with a chance to make some wrongs right, and help our students catch-up as best they can, so they may experience success.

No doubt this will take a ton of work, not to mention flexibility, encouragement, and tough love on our part. While this all can seem daunting, what are the alternatives?

Cultural Discovery - Art of Celedon

This coming week, we will be starting a new novel, "A Single Shard." This is the story of a young, homeless man who is trying to become the apprentice of a Master Celedon Artist.

The genre we are focusing on is Historical Fiction, with the setting as Korea, a hundreds of years ago. For some background on the art of Celedon pottery, click here.

Looking forward to more thoughts, both mine and the students', about this story as the next few weeks unfold.