Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Reminder to Self

That whole "allergy-induced asthma" thing?

You experienced it first in Thousand Oaks.  In September.

It is now September.

You were in Thousand Oaks.

Next time you go to Thousand Oaks in September, take a freaking Zyrtec or bring some Primatene, okay, dummy?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Data, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

I love my iMac.  I really do.  99% of the time, it behaves flawlessly.

Tonight, however, it has refused to print and connect to the Internet at the same time (which, I presume, has something to do with a tweak to my network printer that I made last night to try to get Lore to use it to print).

It has somehow permanently hidden Final Cut, where I lost...oh, about five hours' worth of work for a video I was making.  FIVE HOURS.  I don't usually work THAT long on videos I make for the kids (this was for our Olympics paper), but I like the Olympics, and was having fun.  FIVE HOURS.

And now, it's not printing with the laser printer at all, no matter how many times I re-set the router, and I still have social studies stuff to make.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Knock on Wood

"Hey, SpooWriter," said Fourth Grade Teacher K at recess on the first day of school, "How's your class this year?"

"Knock on wood for me," I said.

"How's it going?" asked Principal SDF before our emergency staff meeting.

"Please knock on wood for me," I said.

"How's your class this year?" asked Former OT E.

"Knock on wood repeatedly for me," I said.

Sense a pattern here?

Everyone kept insisting that my four new kids -- six, really, if you count the upcoming fourth graders from Teacher M's class -- were lovely.  Teacher M's girl has some truly difficult family stuff going on, but during the 90% of the time that she's able to get past that, she does very well.

When I found out about the twins, and read their IEPs, I realized that they sounded a lot like Fourth Grade Girl A and Bart (Fourth Grade Boy P, based on his backpack).  Very good listening comprehension but poor reading skills.

But, that meant I'd have five kids -- because of PH -- that are in the same boat: I must balance teaching them basic reading and writing with providing them with the rich grade-level content they can access by listening.

Angel's brother is a total charmer.  I haven't quite worked out yet what he knows and what he doesn't -- partly because despite not being listed as having autism, he sure looks more like he has autism than a cognitive delay of some sort.

New Boy Fifth Grade A -- Angel's brother's friend -- reminds me a lot of Scissor Girl.  (Except not with the scissors.)  Even down to the ginormous puddle of glue that erupted when he had to glue something into his agenda book.  Seriously, though, he reads beautifully -- he will be getting the text-only version of News-2-You -- but his comprehension lags a fair bit behind that.  He will fit in well with Boy J next year.

Anyway, New Boy A has trouble coming up with answers to questions -- which we will have to work on, considering how much of a part of CAPA it was -- so I gave him a question with three verbal options.  He still floundered.  When I scribbled them out on a scrap of paper -- bingo -- right answer every time.

Now, as to the knocking on wood.

Let me paint a picture.

It is eight o'clock in the morning on Friday.  The third day of school.  Of 11 students, 6 are new.

I have led my line -- my LINE...not my clump or my carefully-spaced-out-to-prevent-drama straggle -- into the classroom.  They sit at their desks and take out their journals, and start working.

I get the lunch count stuff and pass it around.  The kids keep working.

I have to ask them to stop working when we take our practice spelling test -- which everybody but Angel's Brother V aced, incidentally (I gave everybody the most difficult level just to see what would happen).  So, with aides either standing away or sitting silently next to the kids, everyone takes their spelling test.

Then they work on their journals.


...get ready for it... hour and a half.

Now, as I had so many new kids, I made the journals deliberately long so as to have some work left over for the new kids when we worked in small groups.

But they were all working so well, I just couldn't stop them.

The ones that finished went over to the quiet/library corner, selected books and...

...get ready for it...

talked to each other about the books.

Then we take out our books (The Chocolate Touch).  One of the things we have been talking about is that it's a re-telling of an ancient myth -- namely, "King Midas and the Golden Touch," so that was actually what we were reading on Friday.

When I hand out the pages, Bart raises his hand.  "I thought we were reading about the chocolate kid?" he says, pointing to the picture of John (the main character in TCT) on the wall.

I am staggered.


Someone actually noticed -- not only that we were reading a story with different characters, but remembers what the story was about before we've even read it.

So, I go through the story, reading it once -- which one of the Twins goes to use the restroom.  I figure, hey, that's not fair....

So when she gets back, I tell the kids that we're going to practice the listening activity we do once per chapter -- namely, listen for a key word and mark on a paper when you hear it.  Only in this case, it was, "Raise your hand when you hear 'King Midas.'"

Last year, if I had attempted the same thing, it would have gone like this....

Me:  "Okay, is everybody ready?"

Angel and The Boss say yes.

Me:  Once, long ago, . . . . (long pause) KING MIDAS . . . . (long pause) was walking in the garden.

Three kids put an X on their paper.

This time, it went like this:

Me:  "Ready?"

Kids:  (loud chorus of "yes!")

Me:  (hmmm)  "Once, long ago, King Midas -- "

Ten sets of hands raise.  Elastigirl, noticing this, raises her hands.  I exchange stunned glances with Aide T.  I did not pause nor emphasize the word at all.

This is way too good to be true, I think.  So I keep reading.  Up they go.  All of them.  Every single time.  I even read faster and faster to see what happens.  11 sets of hands go up each and every time.

I am...floored.

When we finish the chapter, I and my group of five kids who are doing the more difficult (that is, open-ended versus multiple choice) questions go back to the back table.  As is typical, the kids doing the multiple choice versions finish first.  So what do they do?

Well, Bulldozer puts his Spongebob piece on his token board and starts to draw.  The others get books from the library, sit at their desks, and read them.


I am...flummoxed, and running out of synonyms.

They go out to recess.  The new ones have already figured out the system and know whose day it is to ride the bike.

They come back in from recess, and we take a few minutes to hand out paper work -- since there's no wall space for lockers (aka wire mesh thingies), so the kids have been hanging their backpacks on the backs of their chairs.

Then we take out News-2-You.

Let me paint another picture.

Me:  Okay, take out this paper and put your name on it.  (I hold up a sample.)

11 papers are taken out and 11 names written.

Me:  Now, Twin G1, can you find the flag on the top of the paper?

Twin G1 points to the flag.  I decide to reinforce a concept I had taught yesterday.  Just for giggles.

Me:  Is that the flag of the United States?

9 or 10 voices chorus confidently, "No!"

Me:  (wow)  Okay, so, is our story happening in America?

Kids:  No!

Me:  (oh my frelling God they remembered)  (I decide to reinforce something I mentioned in passing Thursday.)  Now, what are America's neighbors?

Kid 1:  M...Mexico?

Me:  (oh...good Lord)  Absolutely right.  And the other one?

Kid 2:  C-C-C....

Me:  (*#*$*#*#**$*)  Caaaan.....

Kid 2:  Canada!

Me:  (What alternate universe have I stumbled into?)  Does this paper say Mexico or Canada?

Kids:  No!

Me:  So is this story close to us?

Kids:  Far away!

Me:  .....  (At this point, I figure...why not...)  Can anyone read where the story happened?

There is a moment of silence.  Then, Twin G1 raises her hand tentatively.

Twin G1:  Ch-ch...China!

Me:  (there are no words)

So, this procedure repeats through the rest of our News-2-You articles, and before I know it, it's lunch time.

As in, this group of children just sat through an hour-long group lesson.

Did I mention that two different aides took lunches in this time, and at one point, it was basically me, and an aide for Elastigirl?

Okay, so, they all go to lunch.  Before they go, I gird my philosophical loins and tell them (expecting the dismayed reaction that the announcement got last  year) that after we do a little work with the nifty new writing programs Program Specialist SBS sent (two pages from each), we will spend our Friday afternoon playing games.

(Note:  Limited googling has failed to find them, but when I do, I'll post links, in case any of y'all would like to work on writing with your kids.)

I get a chorus of cheers.

So, lunch comes and goes, and my line -- MY LINE!!! -- walks back to class.  Bulldozer makes it all the way inside without any drama whatsoever.

I hand out their writing folders.

The first program -- which I swear has apple in the name, but of course googling that comes up with writing software for Macs -- starts with some direction-following exercises.

The first page is fairly simple -- it's simply "circle the.....".  I tell the kids I will only tell them once -- so when someone misses it, their neighbors tell them.

The second page is a little more complicated.  It starts with, "Color the hat black."

As soon as I say that, there is a flurry of grabbing for the crayon buckets.  I eye the table to my left in particular, where PH and Bart are facing off over the crayon bucket.

"Ladies and gentlemen," I say, "Let me remind you that you can only earn gold tickets by being nice to your friends.  Grabbing things from each other isn't nice."

A moment later, I hear a swarm of comments along the lines of, "Here, do you need a black crayon?" and "You can have this."

So, we go through the rest of the exercises -- the last of which is "color the ball purple, pink, and orange."  The kids keep reminding each other of what they are supposed to be doing.

So, we start the first page of the other program, which focuses more on sentence structure.

I have M read the first sentence -- "The boy is walking."  After that, it says, "The boy ___ walking."  I have M read that too.

"What's missing?" I ask.

Kids:  Is!

Me:  (Oh, good Lord....)

We proceed thusly until it's time to clean up for games.  I hand out different Memory games to each table, where the kids proceed to play together, interact with each other, encourage each other, and have fun together.

I am in the Twilight Zone, I kid you not.

Now...please keep knocking on wood for me, okay?