These are my notes from Lola West’s session, “What is it about me you can’t teach? Five Simple Things to Reach Struggling Learners” at the i3 Conference and Expo in Amarillo, Texas, on August 15, 2012, hosted by Education Service Center Region 16. MY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS ARE IN ALL CAPS. I’m audio recording this session and will post it later on Fuel for Educational Change Agents. There are a few Tweeters today at the event using the hashtag #i32012.

The official session description was:

Ever struggled to reach that one learner? Ever have a student reflect – “What is it about me you can’t teach?” Well, there is not one solution for all kids but in this session we will explore Five Simple Things that can be implemented immediately at no cost that are proven to reach struggling learners. These Five Simple Things were generated through the work of Dr. Eleanor Rodriguez, and along with good instructional practices can make a difference.

Lola West teaching at the i3 Conference in Amarillo

You’ve chosen a highly engaging and passionate presenter. I already have a red ball in my hands and I’m not afraid to use it!

Today I’m going to share something I’ve been passionate about for over 20 years
– it’s not new
– maybe we need to renew our commitment to it today

It’s cheap, doable, and good for kids

What is it about me you can’t teach?
– this is a bit of a negative title, isn’t it?

When I first started teaching, 20 ought years ago, I was in a state named Georgia
– there are the haves and have nots, I was deep in the have nots
– I was very different from the population of students I taught
– some of you are finding yourself in instructional climates that have changed recently, have become more diverse
– state put a cap on your special education population

You can’t have more than 40% of your school population qualify for special education in Texas
– English Learning Proficiency Standards (ELPS)
– we have to teach language and our subjects

This statement “What is it about me you can’t teach?” is from MY past
– this is something I was confronted with my 3rd year of teaching
– what I had been doing for 2 years was connecting with SOME of my students, but not all
– maybe students haven’t said this to you, but you can read it in their faces

I’m going to share with you want I started doing
– my red ball is my tool of engagement
– you’ve just had a BBQ lunch and you’re full
– I want us to talk about positive attributes of students
– there are a plethora of these
– I want these positive attributes to inhabit my classroom
– I want to focus on the positive, because if I focus on the negative I may not want to show up at school

26 letters in the alphabet, you’ll have 26 opportunities to be engaged
– name an attribute of a successful learner that starts with the next letter in the alphabet

Why the ball?
– active
Why the tossing?
– random

Security in that activity: you didn’t have to know everything
– friends could help
– everyone could participate regardless

We do want successful students
– we don’t get all those attributes every day
– what we want may not be what we get
– what we want from them, they want from us

Do you think your students have the ABCs of successful teachers in mind?
– we can flip that activity around

Dr Eleanor Rodriguez, “What Is IT About Me You Can’t Teach? An instructional guide for the urban educator”

diversity, apathy, critical thinking in short supply
– these are not just urban issues, these are also issues in rural settings

apathy: we get tired, students get tired

Things I’ve heard in our region (I’ve heard these statements in the last 7 dates, I’ve been a lot like Johnny Cash)
– I’ve done a lot of STAR data disaggregation
– “Their parents are not involved”

We are getting more single moms as well as dads, single grandmothers, and single great-grandmothers
– lots of non-traditional families

“Their parents (genetics)”

From a Physics teacher ” We need to weed them out sooner (referencing math)”

4×4 says they are coming, we’re not weeding them out anymore
– we need to give them better nutrition so they don’t become weeds

“Kids don’t have a strong work ethic anymore”
– when the going gets tough, they sit down
– when kids get frustrated they start shutting down

“Most belong to special pops (population groups)”
– they are still teachable

“They can’t think”

“The don’t care”
– these parents just don’t care
– these parents just don’t care
– the principal just doesn’t care, he just wants to make sure I’m here

I hear lots of frustration
– we are in a high stakes testing timej
– no one wonders if people are going to look at our scores
– some of our communities thrive because we (in the school) thrive (these communities would die without the school)

Steven Covey points out things in my realm of influence
– what can I affect or change

What we can do
– how can we increase parent involvement?

In one case I had to stalk a student and follow them home, I finally found them and got to talk with them

We can teach kids to think
– were you born as smart as you are today?
– are you getting smarter now
– you have to believe that kids can get smarter (there ARE certain limitations, but I have to believe ‘you can get it'(
– kids may not know how to think, they may need to be taught

Kids aren’t going to care until we care first
– no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care

No Silver Bullets
– but no excuses
– once size doesn’t fit all, everything has to be customized
– if you are not a small size, you don’t want to have to wear one

Let’s get some BBs in our arsenal: can hit more people, easier to use

How can we affect the lives of children?
– care first: safe and secure environment is key
– must meet physical needs: if kids are concerned about things larger than your classroom, you’re activities in school won’t be able to impact them

Middle school students cry often because they have heightened awareness, they get off center

Must support students where they are

Need to open ou students to possibilities beyond where they are today

School and our classrooms are sometimes the only safe and secure thing our kids have

HOPE is key

5 Little BIG things

1. Ritual
– how many of you have rituals
– rituals are extremely important
– they are done individually, but they connect us all together
– signals and constant structure are keys for success in the classroom
– kids need structure, they need to come to class each day and know who is there: you need to be consistent (not Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde)
– whenever the structure changes we lose some of our effectiveness (day before Halloween, pep rally day, etc)
– if you are a new teacher, hear me: you need structure to your classroom
– if you don’t tell your students how to move to the lab, they will make it up
– structure in the classroom helps kids feel safe
– kids cling to rituals, even as simple as “Tally Ho – Let’s Go”

Need signals to move, to be quiet, etc
– without signals, you lose time that you can’t get back

You are in control, be the Alpha
– say it, believe it, and act on it… and do it consistenly

first R is RITUAL!

2nd R: Rhymes

Example: Math is easy, Easy breezy, You can do it, put your mind to it!
– rhymes
– this was from my Geometry teacher who made it seem easy

Chants: readiness standard in middle school we don’t do well on
– we can chat it, we can dance it

“Protons, Protons, Protons are positive…”

Do you have Rhythm
– everyone can rap!
– 1x, 2x, 3x, something else (script for wrap)
– content AND emotional connections

You can make something that has rhythm to it
– think about the band: drums in the middle, they keep the beat and keep us consistent

How many times would we record

Getting the message out that you CAN Do it is every bit as important as the content sometimes (like “you can do math”)

Example: The ENERGY Song: Mr Edwards Rock with That’s the Way

The ENERGY Song – Mr. Edmonds – Rock with “That’s the Way – I Like It” music theme !

He is a real teacher of 6th grade science
– he has more videos

Inundate and saturate with inspiration

The Ron Clark Academy
– he is the king of rhythm

Video of Ron Clark Academy

“I have a feeling one of our students is going to become President of the United States, but I don’t know which one, so we need to prepare all of them for that role”

what stood out in this video
– kids wanted to be there (geographically and demographically like the rest of the state)
– had structure, high expectations
– lots of fun and energy
– he was dressed very professionally

3- Repetition
– choral response
– repetition makes a difference

4- Recitation
– recite, recite, recite

My one room schoolhouse grandmoma told me there is a lot you can learn from the ‘stand and deliver’ teacher
– you must have someone speaking and listening
– there is a lot of power in speaking and listening

Video: And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

When you recite, you recite with POWER

MY COMMENT: I LOVE THIS

5- Relationship
– everything you do is based on the professional, appropriate relationship you have with your students
– also with your colleagues, parents, and administration

We have to have the right mojo all around us, especially in our classroom
– no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care

The mediocre teacher tells
The good teacher explains
The superior teacher demonstrates
The great teacher inspires

Raise your hand
– raise it higher
– This is what we want our kids to do: to raise it higher

Think about the focus of the summer Olympic athletes before they performed
– we need to have that kind of focus
– we want our students to get in the right zone

From Good to Great!
– modeling for each other (Spearman schools have been doing this with observations of each other)
– coaching
– professional development

What are WE going to do that is right for our kids and our teachers right now

Budget
– how much do the 5 R’s cost?
– how much of this did you already know?
– go back to your place and embrace what you already know, but reach out for the resources available to you

You can do all of this without technology!


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