Friday, December 26, 2008

Accomplishing my goals

I was up at 5 am on Christmas morning. I don't celebrate Christmas, so it wasn't because I was excited for the holiday; I just couldn't sleep any longer. So I figured, as long as I was up, that I would get to work on those dratted goals. (I would like anyone who says that teachers are whiners who get so much vacation to keep this in mind: At 5 am on Christmas morning, I was working on school.)

...and it wasn't so bad. My first class had taken me two hours, and I ended up with wildly disparate goals for all my students and began to freak out. I figured that at that rate, it would take me ten hours to do all my classes and I would end up with 150 goals, and that was just for the month of January. But once I got rolling, it took about three and a half hours to do all my classes (plus that first class, which I re-did), and although there are a lot of different goals, at least some of them do overlap.

Some of the commenters on my last post had advised me to give all of my students the same goal. This is impossible, as administration had specifically told us not to do this. But there is overlap among my students -- those who don't speak English, for instance, have the similar goals of learning English vocabulary. I even went out on a limb for a few of my troublesome friends and gave them the goal of "voluntarily reading just-right books" -- if a kid sits with his hands over his ears every time you try to get him to read, shouldn't voluntarily reading be priority #1? In that sense I think this new "goals" push will be a good thing; it's almost like it's giving me permission to work with my students on what they actually need, not what the second grade standards checklist says they should need.

One commenter suggested that I align next month's goals with what I'm teaching for the month. Ahhh, this is a problem I didn't even mention last time. See, these standards that we're working with to set our goals -- they're first-grade standards. We're teaching second grade material in our mini lessons, and then using our strategy lessons to catch our students up on first grade standards. So what we teach in our mini lessons doesn't align with the goals we're setting for our students, which is a whole other sticking point on this new "goals" issue. We're basically saying to our kids in the mini lesson, "We're teaching you this, now go off and practice, but by the way you've got these three goals to work on that have nothing to do with what you just taught, and we'll probably never meet to review what we just taught anyway." So we're all wondering why our unit checklists don't align with the new standards, but rather with the Teachers College units of study.

And the other issue is that I've been saying for months that the TC units don't align with the lower-level books my students are reading -- you can't really practice "noticing when your characters go on an internal journey" when you're reading D or E or F books and there's one character who's obviously not going on any kind of journey -- and I'm always shot down with, "We're not going to dumb anything down for our kids." In my mind, it's not "dumbing down," it's simply making sure that the strategies and skills I'm teaching them are things they can use at their own level. When I taught them skills for tackling tricky words, that helped them. When I taught them how to retell stories using sequence words, that helped them. When I taught them how to infer by paying attention to the characters' actions and decisions? That did not so much help them. Not because I don't think they're capable of practicing that skill, but because it doesn't apply to the books that they're reading. So I finally got permission to use the first grade checklist with my ELLs, but only with my ELLs, which didn't make that much sense to me because I have some ELL students who are higher level readers than some of my non-ELL students; to me the major issue is with the level of their books, not with their ELL status. But "We're not dumbing anything down for general ed kids!"

Except that meanwhile, our entire revamping of the literacy block is based off the first grade standards. New York City public school teachers, am I right that you cannot make this stuff up?


Ms. M said...

You can not make this stuff up, and unfortunately this happens all over the city. You are not alone. I guess (somewhat) fortunately for me, when my school tries to pull this kind of stuff, they don't really follow up on it so you can pretty much do what you want anyway.

Cassy said...

I'm an inner city NJ teacher of ELLs here, I can so understand your frustration. After 18 years, I feel the urge to leave - can't of course. But it's too much, and it doesn't make sense. I have to do things that are not helping my kids. Testing, lists, data, more benchmark tests, pre-, mid-year, and post-tests, simulation tests (you know, to get them "used to" state testing) - it never ends, and then they don't even check results, atleast not for my kids, as they're "only ELLs". So, like Ms. M's comment above, sometimes you can do what you know you need to do, and sort of do the other stuff which is a waste of time anyway.