Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Talking About Halloween

In the spirit of Halloween I let my kids play a game today. It was a speaking game similar to Taboo. Students partnered up; one pretended to be an alien who just arrived to Earth today, and the other had to explain to the alien what Halloween was without using the taboo words: Halloween, candy, costume, scary, pumpkin, witch, ghost, party, or trick-or-treat. If the student made a mistake and said one of the words, he/she had to give the alien one M&M (each student had a handful).

I did the activity with all of my groups from Kindergarten to Fifth grade. It was interesting to see how the different groups did with the activity. I first did it with my second/third grade group. They had a little trouble with it because they didn't really get that they needed to make someone *understand* what Halloween was about. I was prompting one of the second graders by asking, "What do you do on Halloween?" She said, "I play around." They were all so worried about saying the words that they didn't really explain the holiday and not much candy was exchanged in the process. My fourth/fifth grade group on the other hand couldn't stop saying the taboo words. The youngest groups actually did a pretty good job with the activity although it took a lot of modeling to get them to understand what they needed to do. In all of the groups the students that did the best with the speaking activity were the students who spoke the least English. It actually makes sense though; they are used to having to talk around words that they don't know. For example one student was describing trick-or-treating but couldn't say "candy" so he said, " . . . you get chocolates and other sugar things." That is exactly what someone learning English would say if they didn't know the word for candy. My more proficient speakers had more trouble realizing there was another way to get the meaning of "candy" across.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

And That's How You Know It's Been a Really Long Day

When it’s 3:00 and you’re passing out math manipulatives to Kindergartners and say: “J and S you get the green triangles. K and R you get the orange squares. N and V you get the yellow . . . the yellow . . . thingys.”

And N says: “You mean hexagons?”

“Yes. Hexagons.”

“Ms. M, did you forget?”

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Newcomer English

Saturday school was not bad at all today.

I got to school with a minute to spare (I forgot to account for weekend train delays). I had just three students. I was hoping for all five but two of the boys have Saturday school at their church--or their mother would have brought them "con mucho gusto," she told me as she dropped off their younger brother who is in Kindergarten. I told the AP that he didn't really need to come. I thought he was doing pretty well in his regular class and was progressing nicely but she said it couldn't hurt. He actually seemed really disoriented during the first part of the morning and probably didn't understand why he was at school on a Saturday without his brothers or classmates. He warmed up though, and so did the other two girls. We had a lot of fun and they were all speaking more than I've ever hear them. (That is repeating after me in English and trying to explain things to me in Spanish, and occasionally attempting to try out some new words or phrases on their own.)

We did my basic first ESL lessons today. A lot of "What is this?" "This is a (insert item you're pointing at)" to get them used to asking and answering about new vocab. We did a lot of TPR (total physical response) to practice things they will often hear their teachers asking them to do in class. We took a tour of the school learning the names of the different rooms (such as library, office, lunch room). You would think that after almost two months of school they would have picked up some of these words but most of the words they didn't know or couldn't produce on their own. Actually the Kindergarten boy knew more then two girls (in second and third grades) did in most cases. He has been in the country about nine months longer than they have and he went to Pre-K at the school for part of last year.

Over all it was a good day and it went by really fast. I was happy with what we were able to accomplish today. It's really unfortunate that my schedule is so full that I don't have a separate time in my schedule for these kids during the regular school day because it is so crucial. I'm glad that I was given the opportunity to teach this Saturday class though.

City Ballet

I really enjoyed the Jane Jacobs exhibition today. It was small but well put together. The first room laid out Jacobs' four principles of urban planning (mixed uses, short city blocks, concentrations of people, and a mix of new and old buildings). A lot of the print and photos on the walls were immediately recognizable from her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Along side that were current examples from New York City (the book was published in 1961). Cleverly, the exhibit made use of one of the windows in the room overlooking the busy street below (I'm not sure exactly which street it was, but in the vicinity of 51st and Madison). On plexi-glass placed in front of the window each of the four principles were printed with lines seemingly pointed at various parts of the street below. It invited the viewer to consider the street below and how well it fit with Jacobs' ideas. In fact, most of the exhibit was centered on inviting the museum goer to consider his or her own neighborhood in relation to the concepts presented.

The second room was all about activism, both by Jane Jacobs and current groups and individuals. One pamphlet available was called "Can One Person Change the City?" and it laid out the eight steps you can take to get involved with your neighborhood.

I especially liked a video that showed two high school students giving a tour of their neighborhoods. One a boy from Williamsburg and another a boy from a housing project in the Bronx. The contrast exemplified perfectly what Jacobs was all about.

I went to college in Arizona and studied Jane Jacobs in my architecture and urban planning classes. Reading her work made me want to live in New York so badly and highlighted everything I hated about Arizona. My parents thought I was quirky when I went on about "sprawling chaos" in Phoenix. Cities just make sense to me. The first real city I lived in was Florence, Italy. Thinking about how Jane Jacobs described the "city ballet" in her neighborhood in Greenwich Village, I wrote about the city ballet that I encountered every day on my walk to school from one side of Florence across the Arno to the other. I still think about it.

I can imagine living somewhere other than here and hearing about this exhibition wishing that I could go. But here I am in NYC. I've been really soaking in the pleasures of urban life lately. I really feel like this is where I am supposed to be.

Cool exhibits to visit on a Saturday . . . just another reason why I love living in New York.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Saturday . . . School

It's my third year teaching and I'm finally going to teach Saturday school. I was so hoping that I would get the position and now that I have it I'm sort of wondering what I've gotten myself into. It won't be so bad. Just 10am-1pm. And there are only two Saturdays in October (well, there were three but for some reason they didn't tell me I was teaching it until after the first day) and then none in November (one is canceled due to Thanksgiving, and another due to the AP and some teachers taking a day trip to Atlantic City, and the others I'm not sure about). In any case, it's really good that I am teaching Saturdays because I will finally get a chance to see all of my newcomers in a separate group, that is beginners in English rather than grade-level groups. I just don't have time for that in my regular school schedule.

Even with Saturday school I'm planning on having an awesome day tomorrow. I'm going to go see the Jane Jacobs exhibition at the Municipal Arts Society and then a yoga class at Yoga to the People. I've finally found a yoga class that I love and now I'm addicted. I've been going four or five times a week for the past few weeks. Another great thing about the studio is that it's donation based so you "pay what you want." Finally yoga is affordable!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Loving My Schedule

I know I sort of mentioned this already, but I just had to elaborate.

Being a pull-out ESL teacher I have the privilege of being able to write my own schedule. The first year my schedule was a mess. Trying to coordinate nine grade levels (that’s Kindergarten through eighth grade) around two lunches, preps, math lessons, etc. was a nightmare. I finally worked something out but I was always forgetting my schedule and picking up the wrong kids, not to mention eating lunch and taking preps at a different time every day. The second year was much better. I only had grades K-5 so just that helped a lot in the organization. Still, not every day was the same so occasionally I was off, and in hindsight, having a prep every day during first period wasn’t the most productive.

This year I have finally figured it out. It sort of happened accidentally because it wasn’t as if I set out to make myself the perfect schedule, it just sort of worked out that way. The main change this year was that I have too many kids that need eight periods a week to actually give it to them (that’s another story in itself) so, in order to make the schedule somewhat fair I decided to give each group five periods a day. This means that I can see each group for one period a day. Every day. The same schedule. And after planning around lunches and preps my schedule is:

First Period: Kindergarten

Second Period: Push-In 4th/5th

Third Period: 4th/5th

Fourth Period: 2nd/3rd

Fifth Period: Lunch

Sixth Period: Prep

Seventh Period: 1st

The obvious bonus is having lunch and prep together everyday. That’s one hour and forty glorious minutes to eat and get soooo much planning and work done. But it gets better. Kindergarten is my favorite (and probably easiest) class, so it’s great to have them first thing in the morning. I actually look forward to picking them up from the cafeteria. Next, my push in class is pretty easy as the teacher already has the students working, I just come in a take my groups aside to work with them. I then go back to my room and the 4th/5th graders meet me at my room (soo great to not have to go “pick them up”). After most of the morning has breezed by it’s the final push for 2nd/3rd grade until lunch. They are by far my most difficult group but I know that soon it will be time for a much needed break so I make it through. And then suddenly it’s 12:15 and the day feels practically over. I just have 50 minutes left of teaching (after my hour and forty minute break) and they are my first graders–my second favorite group. And the day is done! (Well, apart from the 37.5 minutes).

Seriously my days FLY by this year. And, when my prep finally comes, I feel like I have really earned it! I have stuff to take care of from the previous classes and planning for the rest of the week to get done. I am really in love with my schedule. And it only took three years to figure out! I’ll have to remember this for next year.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Finally Time to Teach

Well, it's the first week in October and I just finished teaching my first week with my kids. (Crazy, I know.) And let me tell you, I was exhausted ALL WEEK. After all my weeks of "searching" for students I ended up with 49. That's about thirteen more than last year. More students plus more of them at a lower English proficiency than last year equals I don't have enough time in my schedule to give them the required number of minutes per week. To achieve that I'd have to combine three or more grades and have twenty students in a group which just isn't feasible. So instead, I gave each group five periods a week so that it is even (some groups should get eight periods a week). Even with this compromise there are 12 students in my kindergarten group and 14 in my second/third grade group. I know that may not sound like a lot but when you are pulling kids out of their regular class it's nice to be able to give them more individualized attention.

The good thing about my schedule this year is that it is the same everyday so it is much easier for me, the classroom teachers, and the students to remember and stick to. Also, by sheer luck I was able to put my lunch and prep together in the afternoon so now I have a huge chunk of time to get some real work done during the day so that I don't have to take much home.

As usual, the Kindergarteners are my favorite. I just love the little ones, they are so much fun. My big 2/3 group is the biggest handful seeing as half the class is boys and all but two of them are quite a handful on their own let alone all together.

I'm happy to finally be teaching now. Even though I know I have a ton do do as far as ESL paperwork at the beginning of the year, I start to feel a little guilty like the other teachers in the building are wondering why I STILL am walking around without kids. I tried so hard to get everything done quickly this year but it really takes me a solid three weeks to finish everything. Now I'm free to teach until about November when I'll be taken away for more reports.