Monday, June 28, 2010

A better yardstick

An Op-ed column in the Washington Post by a second career, first-year teacher named Michelle Kerr has been making the rounds in the edublogosphere.  In it, Ms. Kerr states that she is fairly anti-union, not for cushy jobs, and believes that some pay should be based on good teaching.  How do you measure good teaching?  Simple.   Student performance.  With a couple of stipulations mind you. 

- Teachers be assessed based on only those students with 90 percent or higher attendance.

-Teachers be allowed to remove disruptive students from their classroom on a day-to-day basis.

-Students who don't achieve "basic" proficiency in a state test be prohibited from moving forward to the next class in the progression.

-That teachers be assessed on student improvement, not an absolute standard -- the so-called value-added assessment.

Now, what’s amusing is that this sort of thing should be happening anyway without some opinion editorial having to making its way around the Internet.  Those things aren’t teacher evaluation issues, they are basic education issues.  Attendance, classroom management, academic achievement, student improvement…..sounds like the foundation for good education.  Then why is this a teacher evaluation issue? 

Because it is currently the trend to tear apart public education and not look at the problem of education in America as a broader issue.  Those four stipulations shouldn’t be in the Washington Post, they should be in every teacher lounge, every Admin building, and every classroom in the country.  Teachers will be evaluated based on a population that comes to school expecting to learn.  Teachers will be supported in creating a positive learning environment.  Students will not be able to move on to the next level until mastery of the prior level is proven.  And teachers will do everything in their power to motivate students to improve. 

Is there a problem with that?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Explicit Direct Instruction

So after three days of being told that Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI) is not scripted, what have I learned?

Well, while the lessons don’t have a script per se to be read, the structure of the lesson is very rigid and the ability to deviate from that format is strongly discouraged.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a classroom full of elementary students, or secondary students with low levels of academic performance.  However, I don’t see this format in my Senior dominated college prep or Advanced Placement classes.  EDI seems great for drilling in factual or basic conceptual information, but does little to facilitate open discussion and higher levels of critical thinking.  Yes, I can drill the concept of Opportunity Cost into the head of my students and they would probably answer it correct on a state test.  But what about real relevance (the reason they remain engaged)?  What about the “hook”?  The presenter keeps saying that the hook is the student being successful.  Sure, the lower level student that might not be used to success.  But many students want a reason to come back to the classroom and learn, and that is often relevancy in the material.  So with the concept of Opportunity Cost, I can look at personal decision making, community decision making, and the decisions made by government.  Hey look, what we learned actually matters!

I’ve asked a variety of questions regarding the rigidity of the the lessons (the focus of the workshop) and most answers include “look at the brain research”, “teachers need to accept what’s better and drop the ego”, or the question is simply glossed over and you know what, that’s just the way it is. 

That’s not to say that the concepts and strategies aren’t good teaching.  I need to do more “checking for understanding” during the class period.  That much is absolutely clear.  I also like the class use of white boards for every student.  This way everyone has some minor engagement that maintains focus on me and the lesson.  And I’m really interested in getting the students more involved in Content Standards.  Hell, why shouldn’t they know what they are supposed to learn from the state?

But the rigid process of the lesson plan is pretty damn off putting for me.  I learned in my credential program how to create super detailed lessons and I was held very accountable for those details.  But the format was never so automated that you could almost plug in the robot to do the lesson.  No, the exact words aren’t there, but the scripted structure is evident.  Call it ego, call it passive resistance, but I’m not interested in seeing the energy sucked out of my classroom.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


In mid-June in Ukiah the temperature usually runs around the 100+ mark.  It makes the yearly tradition called Basketball Camp quite the experience as one hundred kids pack a gym and run around for nearly six hours.    Two years ago we mixed in a little fire for effect and the gym became a large smoker. 

This year the weather has cooperated, the kids are out in force, and the gym still manages to be stuffy and sweaty.  I don’t know what is happening with the temperatures around Northern California, but I like it.  It hasn’t hit 100 degrees yet in the Ukiah Valley, and that makes for a period of nice heat from 2-4, then a very nice cool down and a crisp morning the next day.  Walking into the Ukiah High School gym hasn’t been sauna-ish yet.  Out of the 103 participants in this year’s Redwood Empire Basketball Camp, about 80 of them are kids under the age of 14.  It’s nice for the coaches that like the little rugrats that the run up and down the court hoping just to touch the ball, and that are ecstatic when it actually goes in.  Me?  I like working with the high school kids.  Only two potential varsity kids showed up, but a bunch of incoming freshmen and a few of my potential players at the JV level made an appearance and that allowed for some early looks at the hand I might be dealt next year.  In one word; tall. 

Now the basketball camp is over, it’s on to an E.D.I. workshop.  E.D.I. stands for Explicit Direct Instruction.  From what I gather the idea is to teach teachers how to get curriculum across to low achieving students and Second Language Learners, again.  From 8-2 every day for two weeks I’m going to sit in a room and be told, again, how to teach student populations how to understand concepts without knowing the actual language.  As positive as I’m supposed to be, I’m not going into it with the most open of minds.  After a half-dozen near useless professional development opportunities, do you really blame me?  So why do it?  Simple.  I don’t see Program Improvement going away anytime soon so I might as well do this now.  Plus, I get paid.  And money during times of financial upheaval is always good.

Wow, on an end note, I’m looking out my window right now at two basketball players.  They are working on basketball camp shooting drills on a hoop on the street.


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

I voted

There is something that makes me very happy to be an American when I walk out of my house and walk to the polls to cast my vote to share my voice in the democratic process.  I chatted with some of the poll workers (parents of formers students), and basked in the glory of engaging in my government.

Me and 4.2 million others.  That means that out of 33 million Californians, about 17 million of which are registered to vote, a mere 13% made the decisions that impact the state.  Talk about voter apathy (fatigue).  Governing by initiative won’t get any better in November, when there will be as many as 12 different propositions on the ballot.  I won’t tell you who I voted for, only that I pretty disgusted by all the candidates.  My party is falling further and further into murkiness of political irrelevancy with the continuing tactic of attacking issues without any basis in fact.  I’ve had recent comments labeling Sarah Palin as a role model for young women on this blog.  A role model for what?  She can’t carry on an intellectual conversation for crying out loud.  The fact that John McCain lowered himself by allowing Palin to come back and campaign for him disgusts me. 

On a happier note, I received a message from a former student working on a major political campaign that she’s having the time of her life.  She didn’t get much time for celebrating her graduation from high school, and instead headed to work on getting someone elected in November.  It’s always fun watching students succeed.  Watching a student dive right in after high school is priceless.      

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Mr. Silva-Brown's Report Card, Part Three "What were things that Mr. Silva-Brown did well?" 2010 edition

And finally, we end on a good note. These are all the things, word for word, that the students thought that I did well.

-piss me off
-subtile assertions of opinion (This is a first.  I love it  when they constantly think I'm giving an opinion, only to watch me play the other side of the coin.  They all think they have me pegged )
-Slides were a great help, great visual memory.
-current events
-notes and videos
-the attention to pop culture was fun!
-lecture on power points, music, jeopardy
-making important events memorable and keeping the class engaged
-power points and spoke well
-entertaining talking and power points
-getting details out and being able to answer questions
-know the criteria and taught it well
-very organized
-taught in-class stuff well
-online calendar, blog, power points, videos
-explaining notes and being there when we needed extra help
-power points, jeopardy
-making us learn by giving reading and going over it throughout the year
-I like your teaching style.  Post 1980's was riviting.
-lectures and explanations
-presented information that wasn't all boring, amusing projects
-videos and news
-power points are really good
-power points and videos
-good reviews for tests
-always made the class fun and was fair
-teach and humor
-spoke loudly
-a lot of things went well, but I loved Jeopardy
-hands on projects, news, and power points
-the news is excellent
-Enjoyed the humor most of the time, lectures are well organized, tests were helpful
-Definately a master in the subject as he always knew what he was talking about
-Control of the classroom and keeping students in line
-well organized notes
-power points
-answered questions and explained information
-had the facts and taught well
-waking up people, telling them what's happening and what's to be expected.
-lots of activities, news, organization
-daily routines
-keeps the class interested in the subject, kept people's attention, loud and clear, treated us like college students
-good power points
-jeopardy is really good, activities were fun and easy to understand
-well organized and explained from different perspectives
-I really like the movie clips for everything.  College style fun lectures.
-Explained the info well
-power points were pretty good and the environment was fun
-you taught everything well and I learned so much
-Power points are excellent.  They make very good notes to study.
-cell phone voting, jeopardy, taught well, power points explained and well managed, taught us until the end of the year (didn't just show movies or presentations)
-honesty, slide shows, jeopardy
-explained hard concepts
-presentation of the material in class, combo of power points/news/video/lecture kept it from getting boring
-organize, talk loud, videos, power point
-thoroughly explained confusing matters
-you explain things in a way that makes sense for me, even complicated subjects
-gave us information needed for ap test
-examples, news, able to answer questions
-power points were great, everything seemed to stick, jeopardy
-be loud
-power points, visuals that help you understand, teach, review for tests
-slide shows were really good
-as much as I hate the quizzes they do help with learning, information was presented helpfully and could be easily retained.
-interesting videos, challenged the class, always understood what was being taught
-power points, incorporating clips of movies/music
-teaching in general, notes were well thought-out and explainitory
-presenting information
-make history not super boring, no useless busy work, wasn't lifeless
-kept our attention the whole class period
-tried to cover important points in class, jeopardy, references past people/events, quizzes
-lecture, but you need new jokes
-the way he outlined things and showed us what was important to learn
-organization and the different ways he got everyone to learn the work: seminars, briefing papers, videos, read, notes. 
-power points were awesome, so were the briefing papers
-kept attention and didn't allow boredom
-well organized slide shows
-slide shows were great condensed info for homework
-slide shows and jeopardy
-kept everyone's attention and always showed relevant material, good variety: news, lecture, videos.
-kept things moving, never seemed to drag on
-power points, especially for Econ, and the engaging lectures
-very organized, always time for questions, news
-knowing current news, stock info, would always answer questions
-videos and power points, using real life examples
-explaining economics
-excellent methods of teaching, easy to learn difficult things
-making Economics fun and learnable, power points
-things just stuck in my head and we don't just read a text book
-kept class interesting
-taught and spoke well
-well organized, entertaining, good ethic that helped me understand
-projects, hands on learning, actually cared about teaching, explained things
-teach material for tests
-makes me understand the material, hold people accountable, not patronize us
-constant and well organized schedule, I don't feel like he wasted my time
-well organized and concise power points with media, jeopardy, study guides, end of year music
-impressed good class culture, excellent book collection, got across to us a massive amount of information, jeopardy
-made us organize, especially during Stock Market Project
-repetition of important facts (quizzes)
-well organized, funny, joker, taught well
-good knowledge and good at presenting
-homework online and teaching
-teaching and power points
-getting us the information we needed
-slide shows, news, keeping us awake, scaring ta's, teaching me not to be so intimidated, preparing me for college
-liked lectures and most projects, jeopardy
-projects and activities
-power points, organization, college style class
-no busy work, encouraged preparation
-power points
-explained the assignments well and the consequences of not doing it, when topics strayed it actually came back to the notes and made it more interesting
-info and slide shows helped us on tests and quizzes
-lectured, would go over questions to make students understand
-made sure that you understood key points while still keeping things lite
-made sure everyone understood the teaching
-power points, no busy work
-country systems and Econ
-excellent teaching, included all students with discussions, engaged students in the material
-great job presenting information and making class enjoyable, jeopardy, felt prepared for AP
-maintaining an unbiased stance
-looking fine, using the test to prepare for the AP, jeopardy
-notes were well organized and relevant, jeopardy was excellent, info was straight forward
-slide shows and video clips
-power points, lecture, jeopardy
-keeping the class interesting while being strict, explaining what we don't need to know, and taking lunch time to help me out.
-slide shows, jeopardy, quizzes
-taught and explained things well
-teaching in general, ability to engage the class
-power points and being there when I asked for help
-made class fun by teaching with examples we understand
-presentations were awesome, teaching was great
-presentations and kept student attention
-jeopardy, explaining everything, joking around once in a while
-teach, help, explain things

And there you go.

Mr. Silva-Brown's Report Card, Part Two "What recommendations would you give Mr. Silva-Brown" 2010 edition

Here are all my recommendations, live and uncut, from my students. I'm leaving none out, however some students did not fill out every category, which is why the numbers will not be the same. My comments are in italics.

-Don't prove your power over students, instead provide a better opportunity to learn.
-Connect with students, don't penalize them.
-Loose the totalitarianism.
-Realize that you are a teacher, not an enforcer.
-Don't take yourself so seriously.
-Be more fair.
-Help students review for the AP.  It's your job.
-you're kinda bi-polar.
-take jokes as readily as you dish them out.
-not as many power points and do more every day
-less power points and more presidential policies
-less power points and more interactive things (If you noticed, the last few comments have been about excessive power points.  I'm trying to figure out how to get the massive amount of  info to the students in APUSH while still maintaining a decent timeline.  It is not easy.)
-more ways of relaying information in class
-teach both classes the same thing
-find more outside sources other than lecture and book.
-review for AP test sooner
-give more homework and don't base entire grade on tests and quizzes (I'm finding that more and more students have a love/hate relationship with "busy work".  I'm also finding more and more teachers are using it as a method to grade inflate.  Sure, students can get the useless work complete, but does it actually show good knowledge?)
-more group assignments
-Explain things slower
-Shorter lectures and more Jeopardy (Jeopardy is used to review for tests.  It is very popular)
-have a little more fun in class
-more essays and projects
-cover material faster for AP review
-speed up the pace and review
-Better timing and more busy work
-be friendly without the sarcasm (I actually asked the question "Is Mr. Silva-Brown's sarcasm detrimental to learning" on the sheet this year.  99% said it made the class more fun and made students keep focused.  Remember, I teach Seniors.)
-more normal assignments and more discussion
-be nicer to athletes
-don't yell at 7:30 in the morning
-Don't cram so much in before  the AP
-better note vs. activity time management
-more homework
-more projects
-don't take points off for not reading during Silent Reading Time
-less lecture and more homework
-be more understanding to people's issues
-less sarcasm
-more even time with each country
-less info we already know and more info we don't.
-switch quizzes for classes
-don't yell at 7:30 in the morning
-more real homework.  I'm not good at quizzes and tests.
-more outside sources and a fuller review, more homework
-more discussion
-more homework and more idea what to study for (it's Advanced Placement.  Guessing exactly what to prepare for is tough)
-chill out
-keep up the good work on the court and the classroom
-more homework
-more understanding to students and give them the  benefit of the doubt
-have a kid
-eat less
-learn to say "bears", not "berrs"
-move to different subjects faster
-workout more
-don't give notes to students five days in a row without a break
-be more lenient on tardies
-have quizzes after we answer questions on the reading
-improve jeopardy
-clearer on jeopardy
-the whole class is not a joke
-get things done sooner
-did a good job overall
-make killer vocab mandatory before AP
-don't leave Mexico to the last minute
-involve everyone
-go over countries more evenly and have more discussions
-more time on Mexico, keep jeopardy and killer vocab
-more  compassion
-lecture, then read
-more homework
-spread out the information more evenly, don't cram
-can't think of any
-keep up the good work
-have more hands on assignments
-pass back work, post grades, and don't be so loud in the morning
-less power points
-not so much straight lecture
-review more
-less lecture
-give information evenly and don't cram at the end
-get through the book sooner and don't cram
-more interactive in class
-expand study guides
-focus more on picture interpretation
-don't say just kidding after jokes
-more depth in lectures
-more homework
-stay in touch with me
-use technology more and liven up power points
-review more and have a day to discuss
-don't be so harsh on people that come in late regularly
-have more homework
-spend more time on third world countries
-stress the killer vocab
-give more articles to read instead of the book
-don't hit my desk when I fall asleep
-allow food and parties
-get new glass frames
-let journalism students take your students during class
-i dunno
-stop making underclassmen cry
-erase your board better
-be nice to the T.A.'s
-not sure
-more approachable
-none...all good
-give more homework
-teach more towards the AP test
-more organized time allotment
-give a little slack. the reading load was ridiculous
-keep it lighthearted and recruit more students
-continue the music presentations, don't spend so long on pre-revolutionary America, and keep the power points with the chapter we are reading.
-more homework
-make notes more uniform
-less quizzes
-ease up, except that's what makes Brown, Brown.
-go a little slower
-I know you joke, but you never know  who you might hurt
-don't do group projects
-post power points online
-treat everyone equally
-I don't find you boring, but let me sleep in class when I'm tired.
-go over things a little more
-I like what you are doing, don't change anything.
-I liked the class as is
-tad more homework
-if you know someone is in danger of failing, you should reach out to them
-I love it, but some would prefer less verbal swordplay.  Then again, I have no problem with it.
-don't offend people
-discuss more third world nations in Comp Gov
-more current news and more videos from other countries
-lighten up on your rules
-little less sarastic
-killer vocab before the ap test
-screen your students better, some should not be in AP
-take more time for the third world
-nothing, he is fine
-treat everyone the same
-don't talk so loud
-more extra credit and easier tests
-you're great, but more extra credit would be better
-don't pick on the little kids
-model u.n.!

And there you have it.


Mr. Silva-Brown's Report Card, Part One "Ratings Game", 2010 edition

I present to you, part one of a three part series that looks at the "graded" Mr. Silva-Brown. At the end of each year I give out a report card with about 15 questions about my performance during the year.
The questions are:
-One a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being excellent), rate Mr. Silva-Brown's teaching this semester.
-Was I well organized?
-Did you understand what was going on?
-Do you think I have improved since September?
-Did you feel safe?
-Were students treated equally with respect?
-Describe your overall experience in the class
-What did I do well?
-What recommendations can you give?
-Give one piece of advice for next years students.

Today, I'll give you the numbers rating. The rating is first, followed by how many students rated me at that level.

Here it is:

Ten- 27
Nine- 39
Eight- 36
Seven- 26
Six- 9
Five- 2

My average is an 8.2, a low B. Down from an 8.7 a year ago, and not my highest from two years ago (8.9).

Interesting note about the comments from the two "4's" and one "3".  The complaints on all of those papers was regarding the enforcement of rules.  Terms "power trip", "totalitarian", and "dictatorship" were used regarding my class policies.  It was funny that those terms were mentioned, because the attendance for my Advanced Placement students was horrendous and by the end of the year I was putting the hammer down.  Two students were late for the Comp Gov final and four students were late for the APUSH final.  I had to get a little nasty with them and by the end of the year, it didn't go over well.  Next year, I'm putting it in writing that students that aren't on time for the Final will have to retake it during Grad Practice, or on Friday when school is out.  I'll say it again to my future AP students.  Want to be treated like adults?  Act like one.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Das End

The school year ended for me like every other school year.  Under a tree.

The tree is right next to where the students enter in the football stadium at Ukiah High School.  It's shady, away from the insane masses that fill the football bleachers, and provides me an easy in and out when I'm ready to depart.  As usual I greet old students, chat with other people, but pretty much remain  to my self.  The day isn't for me and I'm usually a bundle of mixed emotions.  I'm going to miss the Class of 2010.  There were students in that class that I had a real connection with and I feel like that connection will be missing with upcoming classes.  Who really knows.  Every class is different.  What I didn't feel this year was that anger at watching students graduate who didn't belong there.  Nothing makes me more angry that someone being bailed out of graduating something so important.  That didn't happen this year, at least for my students.  Those that walked, should have. 

The students enter and I clap for them, cheer them on, and then listen to the songs and speeches of the first half hour.  When the names start, I slip out and head back to my classroom.  Saturday isn't only for graduation, it's for last minute filing, book counts, and one last glance at the room for a few months.  I'm usually in my classroom for about 2-3 hours.  Once the ceremony is  done it will take at least an hour for  the line of cars to get off of Low Gap Road, and today I had plenty of time to peter around the classroom finishing up.

One thing I definitely feel is exhaustion.  While my classroom situation was pretty good (more on that for a later post), everything outside of my four walls was pretty poor.  More than one person said that it was the roughest year Ukiah High had ever had.  We lost students to tragedy, buildings to floods, and good young teachers to budget cuts.  We lost a teacher that was beloved by the school and community.  We watched crime rise again the drugs take a toll on the school.  Expulsions went way up.  Focus seemed way down.  And all the while, it rained.

The District and Ukiah Teachers are still at impasse.  Our union is so in denial, and so fearful that everything is being plotted by Men in Black, that it is frightening.  I sent a mass e-mail two days ago to every teacher pointing out that for two years nothing had been done and we were going into the summer not knowing our schedule, pay, or any financial situation.  The response was stunning.  Almost dead even were the replies.  I had teachers stop me at the school and insist that the conversation had to happen.  I also had e-mails calling me names and demanding that I remain silent.  In the end, the topic is out there and it should be addressed.  I'm done for now, but a note to my union.  I was elected as a site rep for next year.  40 aye, 4 no.  I'll see you in August.

Next year is looking daunting.  The best guess is that our department could be shaken up as people from around the district with Social Studies credentials might be filling in.  If our union stays as is, we could be looking at a Declaration of Fiscal Emergency.  If that happens, our contract is tossed and we play be whatever rules the District wants.  In the meantime, the lack of solutions has killed our school.  We are preparing for four counselors for over 1,600 students.  Earlier this year, it was three.  My Advanced Placement classes must stay above 30 to maintain, or they go college prep.  Comparative Government is fine, overbooked in fact.  But AP U.S. History is only at 33 students, and some of those students that signed up have less than stellar, way less than stellar, grades in History and English from the previous year.  Freshmen sports are gone.  That means that Frosh Boys' Basketball will have to become self-sufficient.  Coaches stipends will be cut drastically or eliminated.  And transportation for athletics is history.  Now parents are going to have to become a vital part of the program.  That has the potential for intensity.

Still, one has to remember that the greatest part of teaching occurs in the classroom.  My summer will be full of rest, but also will include the quest to make APUSH better.  The amount of information necessary makes 90% of the class lecture based with PowerPoints.  That can't be that way next year.  Everything else is tuning.

So 2010 is done, and while 2011 looks to be a challenging year, a lot of that could be my own doing.  We'll see.