Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Which HP character are YOU?

Just for fun, folks! Here is the HP Character Compatibility Test (thanks to blogger Louisiana Swamp Rat), in case you like taking a 112 question personality survey (like I do).

My results (plus my own comments)

Harry Potter Character Combatibility Test

You scored as a Neville Longbottom (I wouldn't have guessed this in a million years. Seriously!)

You are Neville Longbottom. You come across as shy, quiet, and reserved. Underneath, you are deeply caring of your friends and/or family and would put yourself at risk to defend them, even though you would usually exclude yourself from arguments. You don't care much for competition or glory. Maintaining peace and justice are much more important to you.

Neville Longbottom 66%
Albus Dumbledore 63%
Hermione Granger 63%
Harry Potter 59%
Luna Lovegood 53%
Sirius Black 47% (I wish I could be daring like him!)
Percy Weasley 47%
Severus Snape 41%
Remus Lupin 38%
Lord Voldemort 34% (Would anyone publicly admit compatibility with THIS character?)
Oliver Wood 34%
Draco Malfoy 28%
Ron Weasley
Bellatrix Lestrange 25%

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Matter of Grades

From the two keys words in my title, questions:

Do grades matter?
How do grades matter?
Should grades matter?

I am blissfully far away from the endless cycle of grading papers and generating grade reports during the school year. From this distance, I can ponder the matter of grades. SERIOUSLY, it wasn't in my thoughts at all until my friend R. talked to me tonight about her super gifted and talented son J. working on a summer project for his super G and T school, which evolved into our rant about grades.

First, a high school story. I remember being puzzled as a junior about how I got 90's in honors physics, despite being clueless about the course material and feeling like I flunked each test (but got 90 on those same tests). I certainly did not know the "grading system" of any course. FYI - I attended a prestigious magnet high school in New York City that required a standardized admissions test.

Fast forward to now. Teachers (in my school, district, area) account for every blessed tenth of a point of a grade, no exaggeration. We use a spreadsheet to calculate each student grade and make that itemized grade report available to every student/parent.

In no particular order:

Problem A: Some students and some parents (and some teachers and lots of administrators) think grades are the most important indicators of student success in school. They (these people) are WRONG. Grades are inherently subjective and, in some unfortunate cases, arbitrary.

NOT a problem: my grading errors pointed out to me. Seriously. What do I care? When I was untenured, making mistakes made me very afraid of losing my job (another topic for another day). Now, I just check to see if I made a mistake and correct the mistake. The REAL question is, why are you challenging the grade??? Do you truly wish to understand your errors or my evaluation system or how to improve? Or do you think grades are the most important thing and therefore the teacher should get it right?

Problem B: Some very smart administrators and politicians realize how subjective all school grades are and therefore implement HIGH-STAKES, STANDARDIZED TESTING. (In New York State, we have Regents exams that must be passed to obtain high school diplomas. We also have high-stakes testing in math and English language arts, grades 3 through 8, plus science and social studies in grades 4 and 8.) They use very smart people who know things like statistics that most teachers (such as yours truly) did not study in college to make TESTS that must be very accurate and objective and scientific and yield useful data about student achievement and performance, and - TA DA - therefore, teacher and school performance!

NOT a problem: teaching students how to take the high-stakes standardized tests. Yeah, a few years of test experience in our pockets, we can teach students what to expect on each part of each test, strategies for multiple choice tests, graphic organizers to help write responses. So hurray for the students who are naturally gifted with test-taking skills and for those who acquire the skills, and bummer to those who are neither OR who had a bad morning, skipped breakfast, got into a fight with parent/sibling/significant other/best friend/bus driver/teacher/anyone, really DON'T CARE BECAUSE IN MOST CASES THE SCORES DON'T AFFECT SCHOOL GRADES AND STUDENTS UNDERSTAND - WHAT IS THE BIG DEAL? WHY SHOULD I SHOW YOU WHAT I KNOW ON A PIECE OF PAPER TODAY?

Problem C: the testing scores are used to evaluate teachers and schools. What's the single most predictive factor of student success? SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS. Go check the studies, the statistics, your own community. Is there wealth in your community? The higher the wealth, the higher the student performance on high-stakes testing, the higher the percentage of Ivy League college acceptances. Of course, politicians would rather control teachers and schools (i.e. threaten their jobs) than fix poverty. Much easier to give to teachers and schools the job of overcoming poverty. Many many schools choose to focus on the subjects that are tested, at the expense of subjects not tested.

Not a problem for ME: I find a teaching job in a suburban school district where most students have comfortable home lives, and some students have struggles in their family life or other personal circumstances to overcome. I spend a disproportionate amount of time helping students who struggle with disadvantages (including the disadvantage of wealthy parents who spoil their children and expect me to do the same). Year by year, I set my own goals for teaching and learning, then I do my best and have fun.

PROBLEM FOR OUR SOCIETY (which includes me) - kids who don't fit the institutional model of "good student" learn to hate school very early in their school career, as in first grade, because they can't sit still in a chair and read and write. And if they decide they hate school, I can turn cartwheels teaching reading workshop, writing workshop, graphic organizers, reading/writing strategies, differentiate instruction up the whazoo, use every educational philosophy known to humanity - and some days I really try - these kids still lose. (Kids who hate school turn into parents who hate school. Those parents have no problem trash talking teachers in front of their children, as I personally witnessed in Wal-mart.) And we, as a society, failed them.

This post about grades has evolved (naturally, since I wrote it) into a discussion of my most passionate beliefs and and most puzzling dilemma about the education of our youth. Does anyone else care?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Summer vacation is too long.

It's true. Students forget after 2 months, unless they attend summer programs that stimulate their brains, whether it's art camp or science camp or music lessons. The brain, just like muscles - use it or lose it.

It's too long for us teachers, too. It's fun and, as an adult, I know better than my students how to engage and stimulate my brain so it doesn't turn to mush. (That doesn't mean teachers actually do it, but the chances are higher, I think.) But seriously, who needs 2 straight months of vacation??? Most of us are not wealthy enough to vacation in exotic places for 2 months, and we wouldn't be able to take our working spouses with us anyway.

Alternative - shorter vacations spread out during the school year. We - students and teachers - definitely need breaks. 2 weeks is a good length of time. Now I'm just dreaming...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Brainstorm #1 - SLOG

Class log = slog! (As in weblog = blog)
Alternate: clog?

In the never ending teacher quest of authentic writing experiences, such as journaling, let's try to simulate blogging in the (7th and 8th grade English language arts) classroom - slogging.

Students keep their slogs (composition notebook) in the classroom at all times. During slog time, they have choices to write (usually individual choice of topic, sometimes teacher directed), to give their slogs to others to read, comment on classmate's slog (if permission given by slog writer to comment, no anonymous comments allowed). I am administrator and moderator - I may inspect slogs at any time. I also participate in slogs, including writing my own slog, allow comments, comment on other slogs, etc.

After reading through dictionary definitions of slog, I think the idea of "plodding through" is a good metaphor for how many people (of all ages) regard writing. I prefer the idea of my students breezing through instead of plodding, of course... but that's just the goal of slogging! I admit I had to read dictionary definitions of "slog" to be sure of the original/common meanings (yeah, they really pay me to teach English!), but that just means my students won't know what slog means until I tell them.

Being a shoe fanatic - I kinda like "clog" ; ) even if it's not as catchy as "slog".

RUBRIC! Need a grading rubric. I'll think about that later and update here. YOUR comments welcome here.

I don't know what to call this list of "experts" who inspire ideas such as slog - "Credits"? You get the idea, right?
Nancy Atwell (aka Writing Workshop guru, author of In the Middle)
Carol A. Tomlinson (Differentiated Instruction guru)
Howard Gardiner (Multiple Intelligence Theory).

(updated - 7/25)

Experiment #2

I am attempting to post by email. The only interesting thing I can
think of to say at this hour 1am - after how many hours of reading
blogs? - is ... there are some really interesting people out there,
some really strange people, and some disturbing people. (And some
people need to enlarge their text font sizes.) I know this teaching
connection is a stretch - please remember the hour and my over-
blogged mind - my students are only 12 , 13 and 14 years old - how in
the world do they navigate online relationships safely? I know,
"parents" is the stock answer, but Seriously.

Update - experiment worked, but not after checking "help" and learning I am only emailing a DRAFT to myself b/c I didn't check "publish" (meaning automatically).

While waiting for the email-to-blog to kick in, I pondered the beauties and uglies of blogs I've seen by hitting "Next Blog". I really like the function b/c the randomness is cool when it yields gems. But it yielded 2 porn blogs, and after the 2nd one, I'm done with random. Too bad. So now I take to cruising Blogs of Note Archives - there are plenty!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Blog mania

... or obsession, same difference. I've spent the past 2 days compulsively reading other people's blogs, starting with Blogs of Note, then checking links on those blogs, which usually yields good results. Hitting "next blog" button - unpredictable. (I found a few interesting ones in Chinese, my first language.) I've found good recipes, good Harry Potter discussions, creative people, stories that made me cry. I added links to this blog, even if the connection to teaching is tangential at best. Other blog compulsions - trying out different templates, trying to add photo to my profile (successful), trying to add photo to the header (not successful yet, have to re-size somehow).

How is this related to teaching? Hmm. How about this is what teachers do on summer vacation? Good enough.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Experiment #1 - picture

I'm following directions - sort of - for how to add a photo to my profile. I have to post this picture here first! Here goes. Hurray - it worked! It only took me an hour of meandering and trying a few times (while watching HGTV new design star show).

Puzzling Harry Potter Problems

*** SPOILERS ***

#1 - Harry growing up clueless and abused at Dursley home - I'm reminded of this by a comment on "blog of note" caffeinatedlibrarian

A) Why did he have to stay there for 10 years with no clue about his identity and family history? I may just need to re-read the first few books, as I recall vaguely some explanation of the protection that Dursley home provided, they being his only (?) blood relatives.
B) Why was he abused so badly for 10 years?! How could Dumbledore not know that was happening??? Again, pardon my ignorance and forgetfulness if this was already explained in earlier books.
C) Regardless of the justifications, it's a MIRACLE that Harry has a strong moral center - kind, generous, compassionate, loyal, etc. Granted, being orphaned and abused led to a host of problems - he doesn't trust adults or anyone in general, he's stubborn, rebellious, impatient, lack self-confidence, etc. In real life, I expect to see more psychological and behavioral issues.

That's all for now :) I'll update as I continue to read/think/discuss.

Favorite Harry Potter Themes

*** SPOILERS ***

#1 - TRUST - I used to tear my hair out whenever Harry could and should clearly tell somebody like Dumbledore about whatever crisis he's in, and he never does. He always tries his best on his own, usually with the help of his friends. I want to scream "Tell an Adult!" Of course, by the 2nd or 3rd book, I had figured out that Harry simply does not trust adults and has good reason for it. One natural outcome of the abusive treatment by his aunt, uncle, and cousin before age 11 is not trusting people, and specifically adults. It still drives me batty, even with that understanding. I even worried about young readers thinking they should rely on their own abilities instead of adults. I can only hope that children who have trustworthy adults will know when and how to open up to these adults. Perhaps they learn (through Harry's story?) who is worthy of their trust. SO, in Deathly Hallows, trust is an issue over and over again for Harry. MILD SPOILERS HERE: Harry worries about trusting adults in the Order and even his closest friends. Lupin reminds Harry about the dangers of trusting the wrong people.

#2 - IDENTITY & CHARACTER - Harry's character is fairly well established, as we have seen his choices and actions, and is reaffirmed in Book 7. The message of "you define your own character" is reaffirmed with Harry, Snape, Regulus & Sirius Black, Tonks and her mother, and others. Even mistakes are part of the process of defining character. Dumbledore is one example of someone whose early missteps and subsequent choices all define the person's identity. Harry passes this message to the next generation.

#3 - PARALLELS to our world - social class struggles, discrimination, prejudice. Wizards vs. goblins/elves/other creatures vs. muggles compared to racial, cultural, socioeconomic, gender, etc. conflicts in our world. Reminds me of Wicked by Gregory Macguire.

Harry Potter Mania!

I prepaid for Book 7 weeks ago at my local bookstore, Talking Leaves. That's when I heard about a party at the bookstore starting at 11:30pm, July 20. I think that means some people will come in the store and hang out till midnight, then leave with their new books. Cool. It's on my calendar and I've told friends and family I would attend, but come Friday 10pm I'm in pj's already. Should I go? Sure. I show up at 11:55 and cannot believe there is a LINE. I can say the line wrapped around the corner, but the store is near the corner, so it's really not that many people in line, but I'm flabbergasted. Then I'm annoyed that I didn't know better. I stand across the street for 2 minutes, gawking and thinking, should I stay? OKAY. Standing in line turns out to be fun as we all laugh about the line and being in it. For 20 minutes or so, we look at the few costumed children and adults, enjoy the mild summer night, a strange mingling of Harry Potter fans and college bar patrons at this busy intersection. The line moves along and by the time I am inside, I find the prepaid line to be much shorter and faster - hurray! By 12:30am, I am driving home and begin reading immediately. 5 hours and 454 pages later, I go to bed to sleep for 5 hours. I don't resume reading until the afternoon, and by around 9pm I am done! At that point, I feel somewhat confused by the story, but I'm unable to use the internet to find any online discussion or guidance until I'm back home Sunday evening. I try re-reading some parts, then I am back to the online community of HP fans, such as www.mugglenet.com. I also enjoyed J.K. Rowling's web site.

I never cease to be amazed and ponder the miracle that is Harry Potter. Fantasy genre is an acquired taste, so some people never take to it. But HP really brought fantasy readers out into the spotlight!

Sorry about my inability to place these photos in the right spots. The top pic is the front of the store as I am about to enter. The middle pic is the line behind me, and the bottom pic is the scene inside the store.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

End of the internet?

Check this out - yes, the end of the internet. Just try to imagine teaching with using the internet ... nope, can't do it. For better or worse, it's my window to the universe of teaching materials. I do use other windows, like books, personal experiences and relationships, imagination, pop culture media, etc.

I get the point, seriously. I just lived through 70 hours without my computer (got a tune-up at the Apple shop), which felt terrible even though the iPhone was plenty handy. Summer should be a good little break. So I read a little from Off the Beaten Path: Stories of Place. And sorted my shoes in preparation for moving to a much smaller living space in a few weeks. And listened to the rain.

Now I have to make up for lost time, my good little computer...

Summer dream

Last night's dream ... I am teaching unruly group of former students. It's good to wake up from those dreams! Of course, just yesterday I bought gorgeous special edition of Life magazine, "America the Beautiful - 100 place to see in your lifetime" and want to use for teaching. I always say that kids can't see the world beyond their neighborhoods, but they need to "see" more to read better. I've been to 8 of the 100 places - is that good or bad? 7 were in "the old country - Atlantic to Mississippi", 1 in "Westward, Ho - Pacific" (hurray San Juan Islands!)

Also received from PaperBackSwap.com swapper, Joyful Noise - Poems for Two Voices, by Paul Fleischman (Newberry medal winner).

Monday, 3 days ago, I went to school to pick up papers (labeled envelopes to mail, at my expense, student letters to themselves and student memoir writings that I didn't find till after school year ended, and contract for March 2008 field trip to see "Cinderella" ballet) and saw 2 coworkers deep in curriculum work. I should blame my dream on them.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Summer vacation ...

a) is when teachers wander through city/town/village/country and smile at people who have to work;

b) is made for teachers so they forget the painful parts and can continue to teach in September for 10 more months;

c) allows teachers to catch up on doctor appointments, hair appointments, lunch dates, dinner dates, movies, reading books, taking walks, any random activity that wasn't absolutely necessary between September and June;

d) gives teachers who are also parents time to spend with their own children, and then they realize they are really happy (or not) working during the school year;

d) lets teachers remember what they love about teaching.