Friday, February 20, 2009

The five-paragraph essay.

Silly me. I thought many of my students would know how to write a five-paragraph essay, but boy was I wrong. Since our school received the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant to improve the quality of education, we are required to test the students 4 times throughout the year. Well, the second assessment was given and after reading the written parts, I realized the majority of my students didn't know how to write a 5-paragraph essay.

The topic they were given was about standardized test. Are they good or bad? So, I started with the basics. I told them before they can write, they need to plan. I told them this will help them with their writing. The first thing we did was created 2 columns. One for the pros (good) and the other for the cons (bad). I told them whenever they are required to write a paper, this is what they should do first. Depending upon the number of paragraphs required, they should have that same number of items listed. For example, if you need a 10-paragraph paper, you will need at least 8 pros and 8 cons (the first paragraph is the introductory paragraph and the last is the concluding paragraph). If they can't think of that many for both, it is a good idea to argue/present based on the side they have the most evidence for, even if they don't agree with it.

Once we did that, I had them to use a graphic organizer similar to the picture.

The circle is where they should list their subtopic. Everything they listed under the pros or cons. On the web extenders, they should write down what they want to say about the topic. For example, if the subtopic is: Test are a waste of time. I would put that in the circle. In the extenders, I would list all of the reasons for stating that. Many of them understood this concept. After they have listed their reasons in the extensions, those serve as the basis for their sentences. One student I'll call "Jack" said to me "It's that simple?" I replied "Yep, just like that. Depending on how many parapgraphs you need to write, that determines how many of the little webs you need." That comment made my heart leap. I was so elated that someone finally got it.

After we went through that, I showed them how to state their position without restating the prompt. I want them to become skilled writers and I explained to them restating the prompt is not bad, nonetheless, they are high school sophomores and we are going to prove to people that we know how to write like we are going to go to college. I also told them that all of their essays should have an attention grabber to get the readers attention. If everyone starts out with "In my opinion" or "I believe that" and my all time favorite "Yes, or No and then restate the prompt", they have not captured my attention.

I worked with a few of them on an individual basis and they seemed to be progressing well. I am excited about reading their revised essays on Monday.

Friday, February 6, 2009

How do I reach the lost children?

I teach in an inner city/urban school. Many of the students receive free or reduced lunch. A lot of them come from less than stellar homes and in addition to poor home lives, they are way behind in school. I don't think many people realize the correlation between poverty and performance. I could name a number of books and studies that outline this, but you can research this on your own time. There is a correlation that children who come from poor environments tend to perform less in school and in life. Now, I know there are exceptions to the rule, but those are few and far in between.

A friend of mine often gets upset when I mention this because she grew up poor and on public assistance. I grew up poor, wore hand-me-downs (from a neighbor on the same block) and ate commodities (government handouts). I know and understand what it's like to not have. I think the difference for me (I don't know about my friend) was i was exposed to people who didn't live like me. I was able to interact with people from all socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicity's. I was able to know and understand that it is possible to make it out. Many of my students do not have these opportunities and I think this hurts them. Whenever I try to tell them there is a way out, they think I am making it up or acting white.

How do I reach a group of children who's expectations have been lowered or non-existent? How do I compete with parents, friends, and a community that has accepted mediocrity? What can I do or say to encourage these kids? I am not sure if there is a solution. I believe there has to be some type of push from within at this point. The children have to want to have more for themselves. I often pose this scenario to them: Imagine it's twenty years from now,, you are 35/36 yrs old. The only knowledge you have is what you have learned thus far. The only money you have is what is in your pocket today? You have nothing more and nothing less. Is this how you want to live? Many of them say no, but they don't try to change their actions. I don't think many of them have gotten angry enough with their current situation to try and change it.

I often tell my students to listen and pay attention to what I am trying to teach because it will help them in life. A lot of my students feel like college is not an option and they are wasting their time. I try to tell them that it may not make them famous, but an education is something no one can take from them. Once you have the knowledge, it's yours forever.

I often feel like I am wasting my time with these children and feel like quitting. I am tired of being their only cheerleader. Then I often wonder, if I quit, who will cheer for them? But what about me, who's cheering for me? Why do I keep feeling empty, unfulfilled and miserable? I think I like teaching, but I don't like the apathy that I have to deal with.