Thursday, November 18, 2010

Parent classroom communication

One of the goals I set for myself this year was to be a better communicator with the parents of my all boys’ class. I picked this class since they are my biggest strugglers and tend to need the most support from me and from home.

With my own kids, as they progress through school, I hear less and less out of their mouths about what happened during the school day. The primary focus of our conversations is usually what they did during recess not what learning took place in the classrooms. Their teachers however provide me a connection to the learning in the classroom through parent letters. I really enjoy hearing about activities in the classroom, upcoming work that we need to support at home, and interesting ways I too can help in the classroom.

Thinking that my boys in my 9th grade classroom are similar to my own children with the lack of revealing truths about what is occurring each day in C-11, I decided to employ my own version of the parent letter home to my 9th grade parents. At the beginning of the year, it was more of an introduction to me, and to our class expectations especially the No D policy. As the year has progressed, it has proven valuable to communicate about writing:

Also, we are still working through vocabulary with each week focusing on a new word. The list is available on our class webpage. We review the word on Monday and Wednesday completing our note cards. On Friday, the young men are expected to turn in their vocab card, and apply the word to a piece of writing. ( )

Big projects:
As for the final project for our class, the young men will be writing, publishing and delivering a speech based on National Public Radio’s “This I Believe” ( ) segment. If that is not scary enough, I have also told all the young men, that I am going to be broadcasting out their final to you via U-Stream ( so that you can watch them present their final-LIVE! I will have more details on this as the time gets closer; for now, I would make sure they are writing, revising, revising some more, and then practicing.

Next week marks the end of the second six weeks, and that means all work from the second six weeks is due by next Friday. There are a few major projects we have completed during this time. The young gentlemen in my class have been reminded that they can redo their short story essay ( )and Into the Wild essay ( by either coming in to see me, or going into writing lab on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Once they have met those expectations, they can rewrite their essay submitting their original, edited and finalized drafts.

And methods of support:
With the end of the six weeks behind us, we are starting fresh in class with a new six weeks to be successful. Some of the young men are already falling behind, and so I wanted to keep you up-to-date on what we are doing. Right now, we are reading Into the Wild. Accompanying our novel, we have read a short story from Jack London called "To Build a Fire"( and a short excerpt from Thoreau's Walden ( - paragraph one only). I am attaching both of those so that you can read them as well. While we are reading, we are working on annotating our texts- actually writing down our thoughts, connections from this text to ourselves, to other texts, to the world, and asking good questions (i.e. "What is Krakauer's purpose intelling us about the death of Chris so early in the story?, why does Chris choose to abandon his family? What matters to Chris?).

Annotations are incredibly important for the young men in order to develop their critical thinking and cognitive abilities. I would encourage the young men to work on their annotations at home. We stop and annotate frequently in class so it would be important for them to continue this skill at home. We want them to be active readers, not passive readers.

With Google Earth (, your child should have four posts by Monday. The posts are about what we are reading and thinking. We are still working on writing good, effective paragraphs so three of their entries are in paragraph format (complete topic sentencesincluding title, author, restate question, answer question and why, background on story, clear examples with explanations, and concluding sentences).

I have received such positive praise from my 9th grade parents about this additional source of information and insight into our classroom. Now, I would love to do this with all my classes, but I don’t have anymore than the little time that I allow for myself to write these bi-monthly letters. As much as I relish the insight into my children’s classrooms, I know that the parents of my own students feel the same way. Through an easy letter, explanations, and links, I have opened up the door for further conversation and participation in my classroom.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Why do I have to study [Fill in the Blank]?

A few weeks ago, as my all boys class was presenting their PLN entries, one student presented an interesting reaction regarding what classes are necessary for students to take in high school. This student felt that classes such as history, math, etc… were not relevant to high school students, but rather that in high school, students should be able to take classes that address their future careers. We talked about this for some time since many others have written about this in the educational blog-o-sphere as well as this student’s classmates had some insights of their own to offer. I was really surprised and amazed how many students are quite adamant about what classes students should and should not have to take in school. There are a number of my boys who feel that math is a ridiculous subject to take (trigonometry seems to be their focal point), history is outdated and is just a bunch of facts( why do we learn about stuff from the past), and I even had one student in particular who thought that learning how to write well was meaningless (my heart broke right there).

With this conversation, I asked the kids what jobs they are interested in the future. Therapists, counselors, police officers, culinary arts, meteorologists, biologists, bio technology, chemical engineer, astronauts, graphic designers, special operations forces were among the group. What puzzled me was not only that the one boy in particular found no relevance in writing being part of his journey towards his career as a counselor and therapist, but that many of the kids don’t see a point to their learning in high school. Which begs the question I hear from my own kids one of whom is 9 and the other is 8: “Why do I have to study [Fill in the Blank]?”

I wonder as a teacher, parent, woman, valued member of society, etc… what kind of job are we doing in education, if kids don’t see the relevance to what we are spending 59 minutes per day, 5 days per week, 36 weeks per year over 13 years? What am I doing if this boy thinks he doesn’t need to know how to write well? Is it he doesn’t see writing as a valuable form of communication? Is it because he has no frame of reference in regards to his future job? Do I need to hook up each of these kids with someone in their dream profession to see why they need History, Math, Language Arts, PE, etc…? What do I need to do in my own classroom so that my boys see the relevance and purpose behind being able to write, read, listen and communicate effectively? I want them to be able to fill in their own blanks.