Monday, November 26, 2012

EDSS 521 - What will your literacy-rich classroom look like?

This semester, I have been surprised by the literacy levels of my students. They are able to collaborate with peers and generally stay on-task, explain concepts to other students clearly and patiently, and make effective use of technology by interacting with multiple apps on their iPads. Unfortunately, they are not able to use academic language to articulate themselves in the math concepts we’ve covered or use effective study skills to practice and retain the information they’ve learned.

Journal Sept 30, 2013

My literacy rich classroom looks like a warm, welcoming environment where students are free to express themselves and ask questions without fear of embarrassment. My students are engaged in introductory activities that refresh their learning from the prior year’s subject matter. They are reading the textbook and supplementary materials that cover the concepts we are learning in class.

Diary Dec 15, 2013

My literacy rich classroom still looks like one which is inviting for students. They are comfortable with the classroom atmosphere, they have worked together with their peers on assignments and they gladly help explain concepts to each other. My students are engaged in activities that harbor their creativity and encourage their self-driven learning in my content area. They are reading articles that pertain to mathematics that they can use to practice and reinforce the current content we are covering. They are writing reports on historical mathematical figures they’ve chosen and are teaching a key concept linked to that figure in oral presentations to the class. They are discussing different applications for the math content we are learning and coming up with their own approaches to problem-solving using algebraic thinking.

Diary May 30, 2013

My literacy rich classroom looks like one in which the majority of the students are able to express themselves mathematically using academic language. My students are engaged in group activities that allow them to solve larger, more complex problems than they would be able to do on their own in the same amount of time. My students are capable of independent learning in the following areas: doing research and checking reliability of resources, and finding key concepts, formulas and vocabulary in their books or online when they need to reference them.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Speak Up Survey Report

I chose to read and respond to the SpeakUp report “Mapping a Personalized Learning Journey – K-12 Students and Parents Connect the Dots with Digital Learning” because I was interested in the ways I could help the parents of my students become better informed about their children’s education. 

The report focused on students’ personalization of their own learning, the ways parents are supporting them, and the resources available to them at school.  On a positive note, the report stated that 64% of parents would support their child’s learning by purchasing a mobile device for academic use and that parents’ general goal was that their children learn the right skills to be successful in life.  However, the majority of schools polled did not offer the courses that students were interested in learning.   

I was surprised that such a large percentage of parents would be willing to purchase a mobile device to help their children academically and I’m quite skeptical that 64% of parents would actually make the purchase and pay the required monthly service fees.  It’s one thing to idealistic in a survey, it’s another thing to spend $500 + monthly fee for an electronic device for each of your children.  It seems the risk with such surveys is that they lead to parents wanting schools to use iPads or tablets in the classroom and then demanding that the school districts be the ones who pay the cost.  With the cuts and budget deficits in education as they currently are, I don’t see how public schools could possibly afford to provide students with devices that may or may not end up being used appropriately in the classroom.  In my own classroom I would love to implement the use of electronic devices, but not at the expense of other school resources.  If students have access to the internet at home or at a public library, I would love to start a class website that they can access for all their assignments and additional resources that would be helpful; for this they wouldn’t need an expensive mobile device.

"Mapping a Personalized Learning Journey K-12 Students and Parents Connect the Dots with Digital Learning." Speak Up Reports. Project Tomorrow, 1 Apr. 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. <>.

Monday, November 5, 2012

21st Century Literacies

                       Tapping creativity may be a little more difficult in a mathematics class than it is, say, in a Spanish language or English class.  However, it is far from an impossible task and there are many ways to foster creativity with just a little bit of effort on the teacher’s part.  For example, geometry students can be given assignments that use core concepts to create geometric artwork or algebra students can be given real-life problems to solve (compound interest, maximization of profit, etc.) using their algebraic skills.  
                      Critical thinking and problem solving occur every day for everyone.  Life is full of problems, some big and some small, that need to be addressed on a daily basis.  The goal of education should be to teach students how to think, not what to think, so that they are prepared to tackle the issues that come up in life and in their careers.
               Communication, discussion and collaboration are techniques that foster learning among children and adults.  Students should be given a safe environment in school that allows them to discuss issues freely and collaborate on group projects.  By having the freedom to express their ideas without fear of condemnation, rejection or retaliation, and by collaborating with peers from a variety of backgrounds, students can share creative thoughts and exercise their ability to think critically.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Schooling ELs

As a former student who moved to a new country, had to learn a new language and then learn in that language, I can easily identify with the struggles English learners face in my classroom.  Not only do they face language barriers, but they deal with the stress of navigating in a new place, finding new friends, and trying to understand new structures and expectations in school.  These aspects of mixing into their new home can create a social injustice by creating barriers for them to achieve success in their education.  There are several ways I can address the needs of ELs.  In order to engage them in the class, it's important to incorporate their contributions, both linguistic and cultural, into classroom discussions so they feel they have something to offer the class.  Encouraging them to continue to pursue literacy in their own language also exposes them to complex ideas, concepts and vocabulary that will allow them to comprehend those ideas in English.  Finally, having high expectations of ELs while scaffolding their learning motivates them to strive for to do their best in coursework and in developing fluency.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Planning Lessons for Adolescents

The teenage brain functions quite differently than a fully developed adult brain.  Teachers have the perfect opportunity, and also a huge responsibility, to shape the adolescent brain because it is very malleable.  In planning lessons for the teenage brain and its unique characteristics, I need to use specific strategies to pique their interest, target their reward system, and make strong and lasting impressions, lest the information and connections get removed out during the synaptic pruning process.

In my lessons, I would like to incorporate the content into an area or subject that affects them so there is a personal connection and application.  I would also like to find exciting and active activities (after all, what is an activity if it is not active?) that get them physically moving, and encourage them to compete and take risks.  This point is a little more difficult given that I teach math and math is typically a quiet, stationary, reflective and repetitive study.  The excitement doesn’t need to occur every day, but targeting one day a week with a fun activity they can look forward to would probably be sufficient to maintain their interest and reinforce the content.  One easy adolescent brain strategy to use in math is repetition.  Pairing repetition with mnemonical devices (PEMDAS, Soh-Cah-Toa, etc.), music or poetry could also help them to recall the information.

Friday, October 5, 2012

SDAIE Rubric

As we've learned in our EDSS 555 course at CSUSM, English language learners need extra support in the classroom (thus the SDAIE strategies), however, they also need differentiated grading rubric designed to take into account their current level of English comprehension.

I designed this ELD grading rubric for a brief presentation on a multi-step word problem the students were to solve in pairs.  With two students at the Early Advanced level in one of the Geometry classes I teach, the rubric is geared toward students at the Advanced level (i + 1).

Saturday, September 22, 2012

SDAIE Strategy

In teaching, seemingly more so than in other professions, there is a high turnover for key words, phrases, and strategies.  It could be due to negative associations or ever-changing ideals in educational philosophy.  I was unfamiliar with SDAIE, or Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English, until starting the credential program at CSUSM.  It is another name for sheltered instruction, which was something I had heard of, but in all honestly didn't know anything about.  At the heart of sheltered instruction and SDAIE is the focus on fostering English language learners' academic growth.

From our texts and lectures, I gather that most SDAIE strategies are considered not only beneficial for the English learners, but can also be successful techniques for students who speak English as their native language.  Think-pair-share, chunking, gallery walks, tea parties and group work are all examples that are considered to benefit all students.

I've tried very hard to come up with a few instances where I've observed a SDAIE strategy in use, but besides the activities we've participated in at CSUSM, I must be honest in saying that I haven't observed many of them used in a classroom so far.  For our math methods course, Professor Lawler had us observe a math class at High Tech High in San Marcos.  During the class, I suppose there was a form of Think-pair-share used.  The students thought to themselves about a specific math problem, then work together in a group of four, and finally shared their conclusions on a white board.  Other than that instance, I'd have to say most of my observations have been in more traditional classrooms where all the students faced forward and sat quietly as the teacher lectured.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Picturing Social Injustice

I wanted to take a photo of one of the many benchmark exams our district requires its students to take, but decided it was probably better not to post such a thing online for general access.  Instead, I posted an online resource referencing the academic benchmarks.  

I teach math.  Not English.  Math.  One of the beautiful things about math is that it has its own language.  English learners struggling to keep up in other subjects have the ability to excel in mathematics, that is, until we turn math into an English test.  The benchmark exams I've seen can be so wordy that large paragraphs dominate the first pages.  I am all for supporting word problems and real-life application of math, but these benchmarks seem to have gone overboard.  They have become reading comprehension tests, excluding English learners and low-level readers from excelling in a subject they otherwise might shine in.  

Math Student Survey

Sunday, September 2, 2012

My Name

My last name is Julian. Well, actually it is my husband's name that I took when we were married. There had been some debate in his family about the name's origin -- where was it from and who brought it over?

Recently we found out the story. My husband's great-grandfather had immigrated from Sweden with the last name Larsson. When he arrived at Ellis Island, they told him something like "Oh no, we already have too many Larssons. From now on, why don't you go by...Mmmm...Julian."

That was the beginning of the Julian family. I'd heard stories of people having their names misspelled at Ellis Island, but a complete name change seemed a little strange. Why would the immigration clerk care? Well, now we all have a last name that many people comment on by asking "why do you have a first name for your last name?" Maybe it's time for another change?