Saturday, January 31, 2009

Planning the Future

For those of you who don't know, I am already starting to think about and plan for school next year. Yes, now. Actually, I'm a little late getting my butt moving.

The season is now officially open, as the subject was actually broached by Joey's teacher, Mrs. Huff. She is starting to look at second grade teachers and settings so that Joey can continue being in the "regular" classrooms for his reading, math, science, and social studies, and possibly move into "regular" setting for writing, too. She was apologetic about wanting to keep him for a couple of hour for language and social skills... I wasn't sorry. I know she's going to have a boatload of new kids next year- as many as eight, plus the four she has now- but perhaps having some group social skills would be a good thing. The bad thing about this possible scenario is I may have to put together a case for him to keep Macy, since she would be needed back in the autism room if there is going to be eight new kids there. There's just no money to hire extra aides.

In broaching the subject about Joey, and how we looked forward to keeping him "mainstreamed" (he loves having so many friends!), we also mentioned Andy. To be frank, Andy isn't going to need "special education." We've worked hard to make it that way. However, his enunciation is still not right. He has sensory issues. He is going to need some eyes on him that know what they are seeing. Otherwise he's going to be labeled a discipline problem, just as he was at our first preschool.

It isn't easy thinking about 504 plans on top of IEPs, but I will definitely keep you posted about the process. I think I may poke around and make sure I'm talking to the right folks first. But this weekend, I'm looking to exactly what a 504 plan is and how is works, and what it would mean for us. It is my understanding that 504s are more difficult to enforce (there's no force of law as there us with IDEA), so do wish us luck.

Friday, January 30, 2009

F-o-t means "I'm tired!"

Ah, the spelling bee. Thirty-six kids. Each spell a word. Then we start again. How long does it take 36 kids to spell one word?

Through this lovely adventure, all the children not spelling a word are expected to sit in a chair and be silent. This is not Joey's strong suit. Come to think of it, it isn't Andy's, either.

All things considered, Joey did spectacularly well. When you think that this time last year, there was no way he could have sat in a chair for fifteen minutes, then gotten up, gone to a microphone, listened to someone ask him to spell a word, and then spell it, it was downright miraculous. Add on top the fact that they do a practice round before beginning the real bee, and you wonder how on earth he did what he did, even with divine providence on his side.

He lasted five rounds, plus the practice round, and threw in the towel on the sixth round (so he got six words right.) On that seventh word, it was pretty clear he was done. Fidgeting was way up, he was getting out of his seat to spin, he was being grumpy with people helping him, he was tired and ready to go. So when asked to spell "vote", he got up and spelled "F-O-T." He turned and waited for the bell (indicating a misspelled word), then turned to his aide (who was allowed to be with him on stage), and according to her, whispered, "Vote. V-O-T-E. Vote! I wasn't paying attention!" Now, this last has become a formula for "I am messing up on purpose!" She was upset that he threw the word on purpose, but you know what? We've been trying to teach the child to self-regulate all year. I'm not going to complain when he actually does it.

I learned some about spelling bees, and have some ideas for next year (such as, they let other contestants get up to use the bathroom, why can't Joey get up to have a walk-break?), and I think Joey did have fun with it. All in all, I am just busting proud of him. He did a great job!

Alex Barton Update 8

Alex Barton update: Wendy Portillo files an appeal.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Polar Bears

Joey had a project to do for his science class this week: he had to do a project about animals. The project had to mention what covered the animal (fur, feathers, hair, etc.), whether it lived on land or in the water, and what appendages it had (arms, legs, tails, claws, etc.)

Joey decided to do his project on polar bears. I suspect this may be related to the fact that the same class has been collecting change to adopt an arctic animal, and polar bears were one of the choices (I think I'm also sending in change for a walrus.) I tried to get him to google polar bears, but that met with limited success. So we went down to the library and got a real book. We took about four days to read the book, because the easy first-grade-level book was checked out, so we went for the third-grade book (and hey, since he can read that level, why not?) So he read, and we talked about it, and talked about it, and I worked on getting him to learn something new from his reading.

Next, he needed to decide what the project would be. At first he wanted to do a poster, so I had him look at a bunch of pictures of polar bears, pick some, and we went to Walmart and printed them out together. But on the way home, he got a bright idea- he wanted to write a story. So no problem, we made a book.

Each page I had him glue a photo, then write a sentence about polar bears. He was so proud of himself, he read it to me at bedtime. Then he read it to Andy. Then it read it to me again.

And now, for your reading pleasure, I present to you, Polar Bears, by Joey Guyton!

Polar Bears
By: Joey Guyton!

Polar bears live in the Arctic.

polar bears live on the land and in water.

Polar Bears eat seals of meat.

Polar Bears Have paws! (and claws.)

Polar bears' fur is clear.

Polar bears have black skin to keep them warm!

polar bears have cubs!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Snow Day

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

In the Snow

Yes! Snow at last! We got right up and out into the glorious white stuff. It has become a rare treat around here, so just a quick pre-breakfast, then out into the morning!

After a glorious fifteen minutes, they were both back inside. Apparently the snow is too cold to make snowballs. So then we had hot chocolate and eggs and bacon, and warmed up. Then we got ourselves back together, and I decided a walk might be more in order than freeplay. There were some folks sledding, but no one wanted to loan a sled, so we headed over to Aunt Christina's and warmed up with Max and Charlie and Jack. On the way, we looked at the snow falling, and tossed snow at the trees, and made sure we stayed away from any cars sliding by. On the way back, the snow was wet enough to pack into little snowballs. So we threw them at each other.

We played out front until Andy got cold. We actually got a little snowman together- a mini-snowman. Very cute. Then we came in for chocolate-chip pancakes for lunch.

All that fun, and its just lunch time. I'll keep you posted!

Added: We've popped the corn, baked the cookies, and even had yummy chicken pieces for dinner. Another round of snow play. I now have two tired little guys... but now it is sleeting. Yuck.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Syllabi Blues

I know I created a whole other blog for my professorial snarkiness to get it off this blog, which is supposed to be about my kids and parenting issues, but seriously, I am at wit's end, you are my lovely online family. Chin up, and skip it if you aren't interested in Teaching Blues.

When I was in college- and honestly, folks, it wasn't that long ago- a syllabus was one, maybe two pages long. It included the name of the class, an overview of the lectures and what reading you were expected to do, a list of contact info for the professor, and what actual assignments would be. It kind of looked like this:

Art History Class You Will Love
Meets twice a week at this location
Professor ReallyCool, phone number, office number
email address (a big new thing when I was in school)
Times Professor ReallyCool hangs out in her office

This is a class about Art History. In an overview, it covers from such-and-such date to such-and-such date, and we will be looking at these Deeper Issues and generally wishing we were allowed to drink hot beverages in the classroom because we'll be doing a lot of learning and stuff while having an awesome time.

Buy these books. You'll be reading them.

You will have a midterm and a final. The midterm is on this date. The final is on this date.
You also are expected to complete a 20-page research project by this date. Please come see Professor ReallyCool to confirm your topic before the midterm. It is due on this date.

Here is the list of lectures:
Week 1 Introduction
Week 2 Wonderful staging stuff for what we'll be learning. Read this book.
Week 3 A really cool look at stuff. Read this book.
Week 4 More really cool stuff and what Professor ReallyCool wants us to know. Read this awesome article.
Week 5 Wow, isn't this great stuff? Now think about this... Oh, and read this.
Week 6 Stunning new issues to think about stuff a whole new way. Read this to understand what is going on.
Week 7 (Usually the midterm)
Week 8 A Deeper Issue you hadn't thought about before. Read this totally cool book.
Week 9 More really awesome art you wanted to see. Read this article about it.
Week 10 Some Deeper Questions about art. Read another book.
Week 11 How this art might relate to other art. Read these articles, they're awesome.
Week 12 Other Art that probably was influenced by this art. Here's a book about it.
Week 13 More Deeper Issues to make us rethink our assumptions. Read this book.
Week 14 Art is so totally awesome that we want all our friends to take this class. Read this article and this article.
Week 15 Either presentations about our projects, or a kick-ass wrap-lecture. (And here's some more reading).
Final on this Date.

And that was it. Were my professors tearing their hair out about students making excuses about not coming to class or not having their textbooks? Did they have students reading newspapers, email, Facebook in their classes?

My syllabus is now six pages long, before the outline of lectures. It includes policies for attendance, policies for academic honesty, policies for cell phones, computers, reading, and other distractions. It lays out the assignments in excruciating detail, from the format of the tests to the exact requirements for notating and documenting a research assignment (including font and spacing). Now I am going to have to add in a statement saying, "You are required to have your textbook when you begin this class. If you are unable to purchase the textbook, please locate and use the copies available in the library."

When I was in college, it was assumed that the student handbook policies- such as "have your textbook" and "You are only permitted two unexcused absences per class" applied to all of your classes. A professor didn't put that stuff in each and every syllabus. the idea of using a cell phone during class time was of course ridiculous, they weren't that pervasive, but anything that made noise or distraction was just known to be verboten. You just didn't. If you did, the professor could flunk you. Just like that.

I did have a friend who got through college by asking for extensions from every single professor. She was famous for it. Even the professors knew about it, and I think they just planned accordingly when they saw her name on the roster. She was also known to be excruciatingly annoying, both to her classmates and her professors, for asking for extensions. But the point was, she was famous for it because it was so rare. Not anymore. Heck, my grad program didn't permit "Incompletes." If you had an incomplete on your record, you sacrificed your funding. Period.

Two weeks into the semester, I have students emailing me for extensions because they don't have their textbook. Big red flag: problem student here. Seriously, I have never had a student who, having "issues" at the beginning of the semester, did not continue to be a pain in my patookas for the rest of the semester. Not one. I've stopped allowing late adds, I don't care who died or what medical procedure you had. No extra credit here- more painfully poor work is not going to help your grade. And if you cannot be bothered to even think of going to the library to get your reading done, are you really ready to be in a college-level class?

And folks, it is really very depressing to see so many people unable to think for themselves, to have them insist on having things all spelled out as if we were all lawyers looking for loopholes. I think I prefer the days when a professor could just flunk you for being an arrogant jerk.

Just like that.