Thoughts on Last Week’s Tragedy

I have had lots of time to think and reflect on the horrible news from last week of the shooting in Florida. Since we are on break, I have spent time alone in my car as I drove to see family several hours away. I can’t come close to knowing how it felt to be a teacher in that school. When I let myself go “there” in my thoughts, I shudder and when I look around that school in my mind, I see the faces of MY kids, the students who I have the immense pleasure of working with each day. I often can’t stay “there” long in my thoughts because it hurts too much to see MY kids’ eyes, which should be filled with life and laughter, full of fear. Or their mouths, which should be turned up at the ends in a smile, be downturned in sorrow. Or their brows, which should be furrowed with effort, be furrowed with anguish.

After one school shooting, sadly, I’m afraid I don’t know which one, I called my mother as I drove home. She asked me what I would do if I were ever in that situation and whether I would protect myself. I can’t remember exactly how I replied, but it was something like, “How can I promise you that? How could I protect myself when MY kids might need me?” Honestly, I don’t know how I would react, but I hope I would be someone that my kids could look to for guidance, reassurance, direction, and calmness. I couldn’t be this person if I was expected to also have a gun. If I was expected to make quick judgments on who was the bad guy and who wasn’t. If I was expected to be both a shooter and a teacher.

To those who think teachers should be armed. The type of people who go into teaching, for the most part, do not have the personalities that would make them comfortable carrying a weapon with the possibility of having to shoot someone; no amount of training can instill this in someone whose calling is to teach. Instead of spending money on arming teachers, why don’t we increase funding for mental health treatment, increase funding for securing buildings more effectively, and perhaps most importantly, make it difficult to get high powered weapons whose only purpose is mass destruction? Why don’t we raise the age for buying guns? You can’t legally drink a beer, but you can buy high-powered semi-automatic rifle that isn’t used for practical purposes like hunting. What is the logic there?

To MY kids, yes, you are more than just my students, my heart breaks that you have to see news reports like you saw last week. This isn’t what you should be seeing and hearing when you turn on the news or read social media. You should be worried about how you can get your homework done when you have a game or practice after school or how you can get the girl or guy you think is cute to notice you. What crazy times we live in. If we are ever in a situation where we are in danger, know that I will do everything in my power to protect you. Look in my eyes and know that you are loved and treasured because YOU are the future. You have whole world in front of you, and even though you might drive me a little nutty at times, I have great confidence in society’s future because YOU will be the ones leading it. YOU can make the world better Live your life by some fairly simple guidelines that I hope you have learned in our time together. Be confident. Be bold. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be fearless. Be trustworthy. Be tolerant. Be creative.

Advertisements

Questions about GA’s Every Student Succeeds Act and the Gifted

Several days ago, Georgia’s Department of Education released the draft of Every Student Succeeds Act. After reading the draft, I found myself saddened that Georgia will not continue to be a national leader in the services we provide our gifted children.

 

I am a second-generation teacher of the gifted as well as a second-generation teacher of the gifted endorsement program in Georgia. In elementary school, I taught fourth and fifth grade, and gifted resource classes; in middle school, I have taught regular education, co-taught, and advanced content classes. In addition, I have taught the gifted endorsement classes to teachers in multiple north Georgia districts. My experience has shown me the importance of having well-trained teachers who have learned about the specific intellectual and socio-emotional needs of gifted children and of having a well-planned system for meeting these needs.

 

Often, people believe that teaching gifted students is easy because they are smart, have high test scores, and learn content on their own. Few realize the unique challenges that accompany education of gifted students; these students often raise complex questions, are intense, desire more in-depth study, and hold themselves and others to extremely high expectations. It is difficult to help gifted students reach their fullest potential–especially in a time when the focus in education has been on raising the performance of lower achieving students. All students should have their needs met in our public schools.

 

Gifted students are not all the same. Some are overachievers; some are underachievers. Some excel in STEM subjects; some excel in the humanities; some excel in all areas. Some are extroverts; some are introverts. Some are creative; some are logical. Some prefer cooperative group work; some prefer working individually. Some do well on tests; some have test anxiety. There is no mold that all gifted students can fit in; in fact, they are just as complex and different from each other as any other group of students. These differences make it vital for teachers to have training in understanding characteristics as seen in the gifted, the social, affective, and academic needs, as well as to have strategies and skills for meeting these needs. Teachers who work with other specialized populations are required to be highly qualified. True, gifted students in Georgia do not have IEPs like other students with special needs do. Pre-service teachers must complete coursework in special education, however, and require additional certification to serve students with one. It isn’t unreasonable to expect teachers working with gifted students to have basic teacher certification plus the gifted endorsement for the subjects and grades they teach.

 

Georgia is a diverse state that requires multiple options for meeting the needs of its students. Currently, the Georgia Resource Manual for Gifted Education Services allows flexibility in the ways gifted programs are designed. A variety of nationally accepted models are available for districts to select from when designing the best possible program from the gifted and talented students they serve. Moving away from the requirement of districts selecting from approved model risks the quality of education our gifted and talented students receive. If the state removes the requirement of programs being designed from an approved list of models, will there be a way for the state to monitor and evaluate the successfulness of the program? How will the successfulness of the program be determined? Does the alternative make the best use of resources?

 

If this draft is approved, Georgia will not be the first state to make similar changes. Ohio changed its gifted requirements, leaving it up to districts to determine training and delivery models for services. The results were shocking. According to “Getting Out of the Way: How De-regulation Has Worked for Gifted Children in Ohio” (2015), identification of gifted students decreased by 8.5% since 2008. In addition, services for gifted have plummeted, licensed gifted staff has decreased, and over half of all districts in 2014 reported that they used some or all gifted formula funding for purposes other than to identify and serve gifted students. By “getting out of the way of districts,” the state of Ohio has essentially limited opportunities for their gifted students–especially those who are economically disadvantaged. This is not what Georgia’s gifted students deserve.

 

All of Georgia’s students deserve to have their needs met so they can grow and develop into the best possible versions of themselves. I question whether the proposed changes allow this to happen for Georgia’s gifted students.

 

Differentiating Graphic Organizers

does-it-count

Do you ever feel like this?

Differentiation has become one of the “dirty” words in many teachers’ minds.  At times, it feels like a hoop we are required to jump through or something we put in our lesson plans in case an administrator looks at them.  However, there are tweaks we can make to what we do to differentiate in meaningful ways.  Take graphic organizers for example.  Using them is second nature to us, and we use them without putting much thought into them, but they are easily differentiated to be more meaningful and effective.

Here are some straightforward and “easy” ways to differentiate graphic organizers.

 

  Gifted and High Achievers On-Level Learners Students Needing Support
Choice of Organizers Students generate their own organizers that match the purpose and content being studied. Students select from two or three teacher provided graphic organizers that match purpose and topic being studied. Student completes the teacher provided the organizer that best matches the purpose and topic being studied.
Differentiating One Organizer for Three Levels Teacher provides students a completed organizer that contains errors.   Students work to find and correct errors; error analysis. Students complete the provided blank organizer. Students are given a partially completed organizer and are required to fill in missing pieces of information, and/or students are given word banks to select from in order to complete the organizer.
Differentiating Resources Needed to Complete Organizers Students use a variety of resources to complete the organizer without specific guidance from the teacher. Students are given specific resources to use in order to complete the organizer. Students are provided specific resources to use as well as page numbers in order to complete the organizer.

 

Sentence Wars

On Fridays, we have started having Sentence Wars where students work together to create the most correctly written sentences using the focus skill of the week.  In order for a sentence to “count,” it must be written correctly including punctuation.  Winning students get to put their names on the door as recognition.

Once the students turn their sentences in, they continue using the focus skill in their writing journals.  First, they find examples of the focus skill in previous journal entries or they edit a previous entry to include the focus skill.  Then, they have time to write a new new entry or to continue the previous entry making sure to include examples of the focus skill.  While they are writing, I have time to check their sentences to find the winning group.  This last time, we had a group in one class that had 12 out of 15 correct sentences, but we had one group that had 11 sentences in total and all were correct.  To celebrate the care that the second group took, members of both groups were able to put their names on the door.

To increase the challenge, I am going to start giving my advanced classes subjects and verbs that are more random.  This will force them to write better sentences as they have to provide more context to their sentences.

 

 

sentence-wars

Directions given to the kids each Friday.

door

Picture of the door–can’t figure out why it gets rotated when uploaded to the blog. Sorry.