I’m still alive!

It’s been awhile! But don’t worry…I’m still here.

I can already see that it’s going to be difficult to keep up with my blog this year.

What with driving an hour to school, running around from class to class all day, driving an hour home, then settling in to do my grad school classes online–plus doing laundry, cooking dinner, and whatever else needs to be done around the house–I’ve been keeping myself pretty busy. But it’s a good kind of busy.

I spent the first few of weeks of school helping out with testing. Every single elementary school student has to be tested (in a one-on-one situation) to determine their reading ability. This could mean anything from having a student read a passage and then tell me about what they’ve just read, to having the younger students read words in isolation (or sound them out if they can’t read them the fast way), and name the letters of the alphabet. We determine who seems to be below the expectations for their grade level, and we test them further to determine which skills exactly they are struggling with (for example, some kids are great with “long a” as in the word “airplane,” but they struggle with “short a” as in the word “apple.” Vowels can make so MANY different sounds–it gets tricky). Then we put the students into small skills groups. For the last two weeks, I’ve been teaching different skill groups all day long.

During certain times of the day, each grade splits into several different groups. For example, 10:30 in the morning is when first grade splits into what we call “tier 2” groups. Some kids stay in a relatively big group with their primary teacher–these are the kids who are on grade level, and not really struggling with reading skills. The other kids go off with different reading specialists–like me!–and either stay in a separate corner of the classroom or travel to a different room entirely. We spend 20-25 minutes going over the skill that they just can’t get the hang of (but their classmates already have it down). So I’ve spent the last two weeks with first grade teaching “a as in apple, a as in alligator, a as in astronaut.” The second week I moved into short a being in the middle of the word (which is a harder skill), such as “a as in hat, cat, and bat.” Students who REALLY struggle are also pulled out of their general classrooms a second time during the day, during what we call tier 3 groups, to delve even deeper into that particular skill.

Then every two weeks we do progress monitoring, which basically means that we test the students in tiers to see if they’ve mastered that skill yet. If they have, we might move them into another group to work on a different skill, or we might remove them from tiers entirely and place them back with their grade level group.

It’s been different getting used to the fact that everything I do now as a reading specialist is based on data. When I was a normal classroom teacher, I made a lot of decisions based on intuition. I feel like my students need help in this area, or I think they might benefit from this lesson. But now, I’m also looking at test results to determine my next course of action. I don’t really hand out grades in my little tier groups, but I’m spending a good bit of time entering data into the computer and making charts and graphs based on where a student currently is compared to their benchmark goal.

It’s also been quite a change to feel like a homeless person! I have a little room (that I share with another reading specialist) with a desk and everything. But during the day I carry around a plastic bin full of materials and I travel from room to room, sometimes pushing into a general classroom and sometimes pulling students out and finding a quiet corner somewhere to work. Some teachers welcome the kind of support I provide…and some teachers see my presence as an intrusion. It’s weird to be on the flip side of that relationship, because I remember being in my first year of teaching, feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing, and being resentful that there was a support person in my room watching me (from my perspective, there to judge me). Now that I’m on the other side, I try to be as positive and helpful as possible, so that my presence doesn’t become a burden. I also try to take into account what is going on in the general classroom before I pull students out. If a teacher cringes when she sees me standing in her doorway, I just say, “Oh! Are you guys in the middle of something really intense right now? I can come back and pull my students out later.” I remember how difficult it can be, trying to get through my lesson for the day when there are so many interruptions–assemblies, fire drills, and people endlessly showing up at my doorway saying, “I need to see so-and-so for a few minutes.” I try to keep that in mind now that I’m that interrupting person. 🙂

I really love that I get to work with so many different grades. I feel like working with first graders on short a all day would be mind-numbing. But I work my way up through the grades as the day progresses, and by the end of the day, I’m working with an advanced group of fifth graders on literary skills. Last week, I incorporated Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Jabberwocky” to teach them about context clues. It’s a nineteenth century poem that is basically full of jibberish words that Carroll created himself.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”

This is just one stanza of the very tough poem, but I was able to ask questions like, “Using context clues, what can we guess that ‘frumious’ means?” and get answers like:

“It describes the Bandersnatch!”

“It’s an adjective.”

“It might mean something bad, or dangerous!”

And I could ask, “How do you know it’s bad or dangerous?”

And they would say, “Because he says ‘beware’ and ‘shun’!”

Those fifth graders are so smart.

At night I come home and work on my grad school classes online. I’ve been learning a lot about English orthography–the history of the English language and why we pronounce certain words the way we do. I’ve been learning all about patterns of spelling, and the reasons behind why certain words are spelled in ways that don’t seem to be phonetic (but often times they are!). It’s been fascinating to me, but maybe not so much to you, my reader. 🙂 I hope my fellow blogging friends will forgive me for being so behind in reading their blogs, but I will try to use the weekend to catch up and see what I’ve missed. I won’t be posting as regularly as I used to, but rest assured…I’m still here!

Categories: Teaching | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “I’m still alive!

  1. Wow! I think it’s so cool what you do! And I really do find it interesting learning about why we pronounce words the way we do. English (pronunciation and reading) always came easily to me when I was a kid so it wasn’t until we moved to China and people there would ask us questions about English that I even realized just how difficult it can be to learn. And I think it’s really cool that you have been on both sides of teaching (both as the normal classroom teacher and now as a specialist) so you can be really understanding of how the teachers feel about your presence. It sounds like you are really considerate and supportive. 🙂

    • Thanks! I’ve really been enjoying my new job! And you’re right…English is really tricky when you start examining it up close like a foreigner would!

  2. What interesting work! It’s amazing how I take long a’s and short a’s and all those other grammar related things for granted. I couldn’t explain why or how it works – it just works and I talk and read.

    That is really considerate of you to read the situation before taking kids out of the classroom and to try to work with the teachers so much. I’m sure they appreciate it.

    Good luck with your busy year!

    • Thanks, Amy! That’s been the tough thing for me and my grad school classmates. So many of these spelling/grammar rules are things that we know, but we don’t know how we know them or how to explain them. I guess that’s why there’s a lot to learn to go from being a reader to being a “reading specialist.” Just last week, I was helping my fourth graders with spelling by explaining that “oi” almost always comes in the middle of words and “oy” comes at the ends of words (except for some foreign words like “koi” and “bok choi.”) It was a huge help because some of them were spelling fairly simple words like “boil” as “boyl.” I already instinctively knew the rule, but I just learned how to explain to some students who don’t have that instinctive knowledge yet–but they’ll get there!

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