Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Kinley Blows the Whistle

Last night at the dinner table, I had one of those moments that would make the Golden Apple Award selection committee want to change their minds about me.  Kinley was reading as she ate, frantically trying to finish her assigned book so that she could earn the right to use one of the 15 NookColors I have for my class, when she informed me that the book I had assigned to her was "not appropriate for kids her age."

Oh brother.

Last school year I wrote a Public Schools Foundation of Tippecanoe County grant for $3615 to buy 15 NookColor ereaders for my classroom.  These ereaders would allow my students to read books on their own levels, and I hoped that the new technology would renew their excitement about reading. 

Last Tuesday, I announced to the class that it was time to begin using the Nooks.  The students would first need to finish the books they were currently reading and take the Accelerated Reader tests on their books.  Then they would be assigned paperback books to read that fit their specific Guided Reading levels. 

The Guided Reading system levels books from A to Z so that children can read books that are a "good fit" for their abilities in comprehension and vocabulary.  I spent several weeks at the beginning of the year testing each child individually for independent reading level, and I used this information to help the children find "good fit" books from my shelves.  My students fall in the Q-Z range, with the class average being about a V.  (V is roughly equivalent to 6th grade level.)

We would track how long it took for the children to read their assigned books and calculate the number of pages read per day.  Once finished with the paperbacks, the children were required to take the AR tests.  After they had completed all of these things, they would be rewarded with NookColors to use. 

Kinley is reading at a level Y, as are several other students in the class.  She and two other kids were ready to be assigned leveled books, so I went to my shelves to help them choose.  They all chose a Newbery-winning book titled A Corner of the Universe.  I hadn't read this book, but I knew that the winners of the Newbery medal are dependably high-quality literature.  I checked the books out to them and sent them off to begin reading.

So imagine my horror at the dinner table when Kinley begins to detail the "inapprpriate parts" of the book.  "First," she said, "there is a suicide.  One of the characters hangs himself."

"Well, that's not pleasant, but it could be worse," I thought.

"And also, Mom, there's the word B-O-S-O-M-S!"

Oh brother.  Here we go.  "Let me see the book," I said, reaching across the table.  She quickly flipped to the most offending section and triumphantly handed over the book.  Sure enough, it got worse.  One character walks into his love interest's room while she is, um, occupied with someone else.  Shirts are unbuttoned.  Bedclothes are disheveled.

An awkward silence followed, both in the book and at our dinner table.

"See?" Kinley says accusingly.  "I see," I admit. 

While Kinley is gloating over the fact that her teacher, her mother, has assigned such filth for her to read, all I can think about is the two other boys (one a 4th grader!) who were also assigned this book.  What would their parents think?  What would they think?  Oh brother.

So today at school, I lie in wait for the 4th grade boy to get to school.  As soon as he arrives, I accost him and practically rip the book from his innocent little fingers.  "Um, this book isn't really appropriate for you, so I'm going to help you find a new one today," I say with a look that negates the casual tone of my speech.

"Oh, good," he said.  "I hadn't gotten very far, and I didn't really like it anyway."  Whew!  One crisis averted!

When boy #2 arrives, the response is different.  He had finished the book the night before, in record time.  Oh brother.  I would have to go and talk to his mom, a paraprofessional at our school, during lunch.

She ended up taking it really well, and even gave me a hard time about assigning her son a NookColor with a floral cover.  Whew!  A second crisis averted.

Now I just have to make sure Kinley keeps this to herself so the Golden Apple Committee never gets wind of it.  And maybe I'll hide my award, just in case.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Year Two Begins!

Another year has begun, and the kids who were fourth graders in my class last year are this year’s fifth graders.  Since my class consists of half 5th graders who’ve already had me for a year and half 4th graders coming in for the first time, I depend on my 5th graders to help the new students learn my expectations.  But there are many summers that I worry about whether or not they’ll be able to rise to the occasion.  Usually an amazing transformation takes place over summer vacation, and last year’s silly, unsure followers become this year’s serious, confident leaders.
And, of course, this year my daughter is one of those leaders.  Our first day of school in August this year marked the beginning of our second year together as mother/teacher and daughter/student in a public school classroom.  To add to the fun, my son Knox has started kindergarten, so I get to have a single school year with both my children at school with me each day.

As I said in one summer post, I had been looking forward to paying my students for their summer work.  Kinley had accomplished very little in spite of her myriad of cultural experiences, and I couldn’t wait to make a point to her by passing out piles of Boyd Bucks to the kids who’d worked diligently all summer writing book summaries and journal entries, solving math problems and working on cursive handwriting.  I had daydreamed about passing out the money for weeks, slowly and deliberately calling student names and totals.  In my mind, it would go something like this.
“Justin – nine hundred Boyd Bucks!  How wonderful!  Way to go!  Kaycee – three thousand Boyd Bucks!  My goodness!  Weren’t you a busy beaver?  And you’re only a fourth grader!  And your mom isn’t even the teacher!  Abbey – eight hundred dollars!  Nice job, especially for someone moving in from the regular classroom!  Xander – twelve hundred Boyd Bucks!  My, my, my!  And I heard that your mom didn’t even have to yell at you once all summer to get your work done!  Geoffrey – two thousand Boyd Bucks!  And look at your thorough math work here!  No skipping steps for you!  All of your work is neatly shown! 
And now, who’s next?  Oh, yes.  It’s time for my daughter, Kinley Boyd.  Let’s see Kinley, how much have you earned?  You visited all the best museums of London, the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert, the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of Natural History…TWICE.  So surely you must have written up summaries of each of those to earn a hundred Boyd Bucks each.   And then, of course, surely you finished your math workbook since your mom hauled the dadgum thing across the Atlantic for you!  Let’s see.  What did you get?  Two hundred Boyd Bucks. Really?  Is that all?  You must be terribly embarrassed that all these kids who DIDN’T have their teacher with them all summer long still managed to complete so many activities!  I TOLD YOU SO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Insert evil laughter here.)”
It didn’t go quite as I had imagined, though.  As it turned out, Kinley wasn’t alone in her underachievement.  One incoming 4th grader took it all very seriously and earned a whopping $1,200, but most kids who brought in work had completed enough activities to earn only $400-$600.  Kinley really did earn only $200, but several of my 27 students had nothing to show for the summer.   And so (to my chagrin) Kinley actually seemed relatively conscientious.
Shoot.  There went my, “I told you so.”