Thursday, January 14, 2010

Don't antagonize me!

I admit it. I like to post the success stories, the strategies that work, the hey-try-this ideas. That doesn't mean I don't have many ugly days. I do. I just ... prefer not to remember them.

I had one such day yesterday. That I need to remember.

I will not go into all the drama - if I did, I'd need to write about fresh, fragrant vomit. Who wants to read about that?

Let's fast-forward to the bitter end. There is a lesson. There is also one bright shining shimmering moment.

My drummers and dreamers class. Last period of the day. I'd abandoned all hope of the lesson I'd planned. Instead, the bell-work assignment stretched endlessly. I watched the clock more closely than the most desperate student (maybe because, unlike the kids, I know how to tell time). The caucophany was deafening. I was miserable, in every sense.

I don't often give up like this. This is where the lesson comes in.

We'd had visitors in the building all day observing how we manage behavior at our school. I'd contributed at a presentation in the morning, and the entourage had paraded through my class of resource level students after lunch. Thinking (a) they might still be in the building, and (b) they would not be back to *my* room, I opted to keep the crazies locked in with me.


Chaos snowballs. Don't, under any circumstances, let it. There's the lesson.

Here is the one delicious little story.

Of all things, the boys began arguing about the definition of the word "antagonize." Paraphrasing ...

"Don't antagonize me!"

"Oh, Dale is using big words now! You don't even know what that means!"

"You got that from Jersey Shore!"

"It means don't make me mad! So stop antagonizing me!"

"Antagonize? It means make things worse. Doesn't it, Miss?"

This spun around between a number of my roughest boys. That alone was a delight for an ELA teacher. On the other hand, only one thought to consult me as a credible authority on the issue, and even he did not stop talking long enough to hear my response.

And then ...

... a moment of heart-stopping, breath-taking, toe-tingling joy.

Al jumped into the fray and said with conviction, "Antagonize? It's like antagonist, the one who makes problems for the main character. So it means to try to make problems for someone."

Come on, now, ELA nation. That's nice. Admit it. Sweeeeeeeeeeeet.

The moment passed.

Today, order was restored. After his open response was completed flawlessly, I approached Al. Told him about how that one little line made my day yesterday. Told him that if we didn't have a touch-free zone rule, he'd be in trouble. That he'd made my toes tingle. Got a big goofy grin in return.

I love teaching.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

If you can't beat 'em ...

My friskiest class. Many drummers, dreamers, gigglers. I work hard staring them down into silent reading in the beginning of class each day. There are few I cannot reach.

Al is one of them.

Al was diagnosed borderline ADD/ADHD. Borderline my foot. He is a bright, genial, popular kid who rarely finishes an assignment in one shot. I adore him, but he is a lot of work.

Al is not a reader. He once tore through the improbable Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Nothing since. He kindly flips through the first pages of any book I hand him, but nothing has caught his attention.

Until today.

Today, about twenty minutes after reading time had ended, I see he has a book open, and is holding it for Bob to see. Bob is a quiet, well-behaved kid. A follower. The two read together.

I want to present material, but stop and wait for the two to give me their attention. They do not. The class tells them, "Teacher is waiting for you!" - to no avail. Someone nudges Bob ... and he gives me the "wait-one-minute" finger! I do not usually laugh -- but this was too much! The kids go wild. "Oh, no you di-int! You did NOT tell Miss to wait!" And still ... the boys do not break concentration.

I'd planned to have the class read a little passage and practice Costa's Level One and Level Two questions. Instead ...

I sat down beside the boys. Invited them to take over. Al looked at me -- "You serious? Want me to read this to everyone?" Without further adieu, Al and Bob took turns reading the first three or four paragraphs.

  • The kids were enthralled - you could hear a pin drop.

  • All cheerfully wrote their questions about the passage the boys had read.

  • We had a nice class discussion on the issues raised.

  • I have a little follow-up research for my homework.
And Al can't wait to get his hands on that book again tomorrow.

By the way -- the book that so engrossed Al is pictured here. It is a collection of motivational stories from Townsend Press. The cover is uninspiring, and it has been languishing in my book basket most of the year. I am glad Al discovered that you cannot judge a book by its cover!

By the way, if you teach middle school ELA, you should know Townsend Press. The publish the addicting and affordable Bluford series. Have reluctant readers? Try Bluford.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's resolutions

Well, I disappeared for a while. I resolve to REMIND myself of my summer good intentions, my best success stories, and RECOMMIT to breaking bad habits and reinforcing new habits of mind.

* ABI - committed as ever.

* WBT - I am not there. Yet recently I shared how much more successful an activity is when students are first directed to teach one another the directions. I know it, I know it ... but old habits are hard to break!

* RR - Like with WBT, I fall back on old habits. I send disruptive students out instead of having them send themselves out, if that makes sense. What does work miracles is the focus on building relationships. Yes, I do tire at times and "fall off the wagon." Not good. As soon as I snap out of it and resume follow-up talks after problem behavior, I do find improvement.

* Something new? I recently read about Team Based Learning in the January/February 2010 edition of neatoday. I cannot afford the fancy paper -- we've just been told we are out of both copy and lined paper, for goodness sake -- but I am going to try to incorporate more team-effort on high-stakes practice tests. Grading will not be an incentive, but bragging rights and/or little prizes might work. I'll let you know. I plan on giving this a try when we resume next week.