Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Weekly Text, January 29, 2016

Yesterday was the final day of New York State’s biannual exercise in standardized testing, the Regents Examinations.  I’ve had time to revise a structured research paper unit on the Holocaust I developed a few years ago to introduce struggling students to methods for undertaking such a project. I found two learning supports for using transition words in expository prose amid this unit (I hadn’t looked at it in a couple of years), which are distinct only in their layout.

The second one, in outline form, might well be useful in a lesson or short unit on outlining. I’m pondering how I might work with it that way. If you see something effective in it for work on outlining, perhaps this structured outlining blank will be of some value to you.

If you find this material useful or helpful, I’d be much obliged to hear about how.

Until next week….

Vaya con Dios, Tom Porton

When I began my career as a New York City special education teacher in 2003, I worked on Jackson Avenue, which runs down the east side of St. Mary’s Park in the South Bronx. If your training or your own interests have brought Jonathan Kozol’s book Amazing Grace to your attention, then you already know something about that part of The Bronx.

A bit to the north and east of that school is James Monroe High School. For 46 years, Tom Porton served as an English teacher at Monroe. The South Bronx is not exactly the garden spot of the Five Boroughs, but 46 years ago, in 1970, it was almost literally a war zone–and as the decades passed, it only got worse. Year after year, Tom Porton worked to improve the lives of children in this blighted and often dangerous neighborhood. By all accounts (like this one in The New York Daily News, or this one from NY1, our local cable news provider), he was successful and much beloved by his students. Indeed, in 1995, Mr. Porton was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame.

If you clicked through on the link under Tom Porton’s name above, you know now that this story has an unfortunately shameful ending. As I’ve said elsewhere, this is not a political blog and I am not a political writer. That said, every so often something happens in the New York City School system, something like this episode, that is such an egregious affront to educators that I am compelled, if not exactly to comment on it, then at least to report it.

The story speaks for itself, I think. In any case, let’s hear from Tom Porton himself, in this post from Mark Naison’s blog, With A Brooklyn Accent.

Farewell, Tom Porton. You will be missed.

A Few Words During Testing Season

Monday, January 25, 2016: We’re giving Regents Tests all week. I wish every student in New York State the best of luck on their tests, and remind them that one’s test results are never an indication of their merits or potential as people–or their intelligence..

“We must accept infinite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

The Weekly Text, January 22, 2016

Here, as I mentioned last week, are two context clues worksheets on the words empirical and empiricism. These sat on my work table for months before I finally summoned the will to use them a couple of weeks ago in two of my classes. I avoided them because I’d erroneously assumed that these words, or the concepts they represent, were simply too abstract for the struggling and often disengaged learners I serve.

Once I started leading the students through them, however,  I realized we were in one of those  serendipitous “teachable moments.” To our surprise. a series of Socratic exchanges quickly yielded–on both worksheets, which we completed, interestingly, on two non-successive days–definitions that were within two or three words of those in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (which, incidentally, is the dictionary I use to guide me when I write sentences for these kinds of context clues worksheets). We all, I think, found this gratifying.

Immediately after these classes, when I’d realized what had happened, I grabbed my notebook and wrote down the sequence of questions I asked to guide students through these two exercises. I shaped them into typescript; I’ve included them at the bottom of the two worksheets linked to above.

As always, if you use these and find them helpful, I’d be much obliged if you would tell me how or why they worked for you. If you used a different questioning strategy, or further adapted the worksheets themselves, I’d especially like to hear about that.

Until next week….

What Better, Indeed?

“What better or greater gift can we offer the republic than to teach and instruct our youth?”

Marcus T. Cicero (106-43 B.C.)

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.

The Weekly Text, January 15, 2016

It has been a hectic week, characteristic of January in this school, which is always a concatenation of testing and extracurricular activities. For this week’s text, I offer up a couple of learning supports. The first is a basic glossary of the parts of the speech. This version of this support contains simple descriptions of each of the parts of speech with a few spare examples of their use. The second is a supported glossary of the parts of speech which includes a fuller description of each part of speech, along with some sentences that demonstrate their use.

If you use these, as always, I’d very much like to hear how; moreover, I’d like to hear from you if you have any suggestions about how I might further develop or improve these learning supports–or how you have done so.

Earlier this week, I had a very interesting experience teaching the words empirical and empiricism, by way of context clues worksheets, to some of the struggling readers and learners whom I serve. In both of the classes in which I used these worksheets, students, secondary to my Socratic questioning, were able to infer the meanings of both of these highly abstract words. Next week or the week after, as time permits, I plan to post these worksheets with a blog post on the line of questioning I used to elicit the meanings of these words.

Teaching the Whole Child

“Anxiety checks learning. An overall feeling of inferiority, a temporary humiliation, a fit of depression, defiance or anger, a sense of being rejected, and many other emotional disturbances affect the learning process. The reverse is true; a feeling of well-being and of being respected by others stimulates the alert mind, willingness to participate, and an attitude conducive to learning.”

Eda LeShan The Conspiracy against Childhood (1967)

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.

The Weekly Text, January 8, 2016

Over the years, I have seen students suffer persistent confusion over the difference between the cardinal (counting numbers) and ordinal (numbers that place things in rank or order) numbers historians, and therefore social studies teachers, use to name and number centuries. It goes without saying, I assume, that a lack of understanding of this basic means of understanding historical time leads to confusion about the scope, sequence and, indeed, sweep of history. Understanding this discourse is by any standard, I should think, necessary for any basic understanding of what is going on in a social studies classroom.

Yet, I have not seen this way of understanding historical time taught explicitly in my thirteen years as a social studies/English/special education teacher.

So, fresh from Mark’s Text Terminal for the New Year, here is a complete lesson plan on teaching the ordinal centuries. Under this link you’ll find a lesson plan, two context clues for the noun phrase cardinal number and the adjective ordinal (and you may want to take a look at the Focus on One Word Worksheets Users’ Manual to work with those), and a scaffolded worksheet.

As always, if you find this material useful, and especially if you’ve adapted it further, I’d like to hear about it–likewise if you have any suggestions for improving it.

Happy New Year, 2016!

“I believe that education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.”

John Dewey from a Pamphlet Published by E.L. Kellogg and Co. (1897)