Sunday, September 27, 2009

My Nemesis

This week, as I am still in assessment mode at work, I thought I'd focus on the homefront.  Laundry has always been a struggle for me, as I have never enjoyed doing it.  The main reason it confounds me is because it is never finished.  I have struggled all of my life to finish tasks. 

In college, during one of my psychology courses, I finally found out why I need to focus to complete a job.  I am right-brained, and I have an abstract/random personality.  Right brained people are not sequential, going from point A to point B in a straight line.  They tend to be more creative, free-thinking, and can see the "big picture."  However, they (i.e. I) have a difficult time with following a logical sequence of steps.  Hence, they (i.e. I) don't always finish what they start.

I have combated this right-brained tendency by using strategies like writing lists, planning on a calendar, and making schedules.  For the most part, this has helped me.  For example, I decided to fill in a meal-planning calendar, so that I can plan my grocery shopping trips and cook healthy meals for my family during the week.  It has worked out very well so far, and it is a relief to know the answer to the question, "What's for dinner?" after a long workday.  I enjoy cooking (and eating), though, so this intervention has been motivating and rewarding for my right-brained tendencies.  After all, I am creating delicious, artistic cuisine and sharing it with the ones I love, right?

However, to me, this philosophy does not apply to doing laundry.  I do not enjoy it.  It does not give me joy.  It never ends, and I have no satisfaction upon its completion, because it is never complete.  This may seem like a contridiction to my right-brained tendency to not finish tasks, but I contend that laundry is a job for left-brained people.  First, it is sequential, because you have to wash and dry it in a logical order.  Next, it is practical, because you have to wear clothes, and if they are muddy and smelly, nobody will want to be around you.  It is also based in present day.  Laundry doesn't care about tomorrow or the grand scheme of life.  It just exists.  It exists to torment me.

So, in the spirit of trying to make laundry more right-brained, I decided to personify it.  I mulled it over, and made it into a poem.  I still loathe it, but now I can identify with its character.  I even care about it a teeny tiny bit.  Here's my tribute to my nemesis, the laundry:

My Nemesis

It lurks in dark places, watching, waiting
And while I'm not looking
It grows like the swelling tide
Laughing its muffled laugh, draining away all of my cheer,
As its downy arms reach out and send
Its foul-smelling spawn throughout the house.
It creeps under beds,
Behind couch cushions,
To the back of closets,
And is so bold to wander out in plain sight
While its button eyes watch and zipper teeth grin at me, taunting, shouting...
Try to gain control of me... just try.

In the spirit of conquering the beast, I am off to the land of grass stains and mud.  I must separate the dark from the light.  Good Tide-ings to all.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

DIBELS Delirium

Last Sunday night (actually, early Monday morning), at about 12:27am, I awoke to the sound of "clink, clink..... giggle, giggle.....clink.... giggle, giggle."   With a groan, my husband got up and walked my daughter back to her own room.  Apparently, it had been the third time that night that she had snuck over to her brothers' room with the purpose of throwing LEGOs at them while they slept.  Late night hilarity.

This is how I began my week, the first week of our school-wide assessments for reading, aka DIBELS week.  DIBELS is a standardized assessment that my district uses to screen all students.  It stands for "Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills."  The test consists of a variety of assessments, but its purpose is to determine whether students are reading at benchmark (grade level).  We do this 3 times a year, in the Fall, Winter, and Spring.  In the Fall, the "Blitz team," (as our Literacy Coaches have lovingly named us), test all of the students in our building, grades K-6.  There are 4 of us, give or take one depending on the day, who "DIBEL" our 540+ students, and we are given a window of seven days to do it.

On Monday, the first day of testing, the task seemed daunting.  At our faculty meeting that morning,  our principal announced that we would be having a fire drill at 1:15 that afternoon.  So, before we even started, we were behind schedule.  We did the best we could, but had to re-schedule 4th grade for other times during the week.

Here is my typical "DIBELS" day.  I sit at my u-shaped table, with my most reassuring smile, repeating directions that sound something like this:
"Hi! (Smile) What is your name?  (Even though it is written on their test booklet, it helps to ask.)   How do you like ____________ grade so far?  Wonderful!  (Smile)  My name is Mrs. Bispels, and I am a reading teacher here at our school.  We are going to be doing some work today in reading (or with letters and sounds for the Kindergarteners), and I'm sure you're going to do your best job! (Smile)  Ok, let's get started..."

On average, I can usually test about 22 or so students a day, depending on the grade level.  By the end of the day, my face usually hurts from smiling, and I can recite, word by word, the grade level passages that students have read to me repeatedly all day.  Ironically, though, I only know the first parts of the passages, because the test is designed to measure fluency for one minute, so students never finish them. On a few occasions, I've been geeky enough to read the whole passage myself, just to see how things turn out.  For example, there is one passage for grade 2 about a kitten that gets sick, and I just had to know if it would be OK in the end.  (It turns out that the kitten gets better after its family takes it to the vet.)

On Monday, after DIBELing all day, I had a 3 hour graduate course.  We spent the evening reviewing how to assess students in reading.  When I finally arrived home at 7:30pm, I had a colossal headache.

That is how my week began, and on Tuesday morning, after hearing "clink, clink.... giggle, giggle..." once again the night before, I had an epiphany.  I was going to have a horrible week, unless something changed.  Me.

The first thing I decided to do was find a new home for the LEGOs.  Then, I decided to switch my focus.  Instead of concentrating on DIBELS, I would concentrate on students.   I varied my intro "break the ice" routine, asking about favorite football teams and summer vacations instead of the same boring question about school.  I think that my new, varied approach also helped students feel more comfortable with the testing situation.  In fact, one of my former students was so comfortable, that she even gave me a hug when we were finished with the test. After she left the room, I scored her assessment and did a little cheer.  She made benchmark, and will not need to see me for reading support this year. 

My paradigm shift made a huge difference in the rest of my week.  Did it still get monotonous at times?   Yes, but by focusing on individuals instead of the assessment, I could find moments of humor and joy.  I shared my change in focus with our reading specialist, and she told me about a Kindergartener who sang to her during the test, because he said he knew his letters, "only when I sing the song." :)

Yesterday, my daughter discovered where I stashed the LEGOs.  I let her have a little fun. 
Clink, clink...giggle giggle...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Poor Puppies

My dogs are barking.  By dogs, I mean my feet.  My husband always uses this phrase, and it makes me laugh.  But today, I'm not laughing.  My dogs are howling.  They are so tired, sore, and swollen, the thought of putting on a pair of shoes makes me want to cry.

This was our first week of school.  Students started on Tuesday, so gone are the flip-flop, barefoot days of summer.  It is serious shoe time.  Full-coverage with buckles serious.  I was a little hasty this week and actually attempted to wear a small heel on Thursday.  Big mistake.  Today, my poor puppies are letting me know that I made a very bad choice.

The school district where I work is in the process of rolling out RtI, which stands for Response to Intervention.  If you're curious about RtI and want more info, you can check out this website: and get all of the official definitions.  In brief, RtI is the process by which schools identify students who are struggling, provide interventions (specialized instruction based on need), and monitor their progress along the way.  It's a good way to find kids who might have otherwise "flown under the radar" and support them earlier, rather than trying to play "catch up" later in the upper grades when the achievement gap has grown wider.

So on Thursday, the day I made the unfortunate mistake of wearing heels, the other math support teachers, math coach, and I were on day two of our universal screening assessments in math.  (We screen all students in the district in grades K-6 in both reading and math as a part of the RtI process.)  The math assessment that we are using is new to the district, so we were all at one of our elementary schools, working out the "glitches" together.  After some technical difficulties the day before, we were on a roll, getting the kids logged on to the computers and then onto the test.  That is, until the second graders came.  Apparently, I should have worn roller skates, because it seemed like every hand was up and waving in the air, and I was running non-stop up and down the aisles of computers for the two hours that it took all 4 of the second grade classes to finish.  When the 6th graders arrived later in the day, I breathed a sigh of relief, because they are much more independent.  However, at that point, just standing still hurt.

Some teachers have commented to me that they  would love to have my job, because it seems so easy. In some ways, it is.  I can focus on two subject areas, reading and math, and I don't have to do recess duty.  But I think all jobs have their highlights and challenges, and this week, my feet tell me that I worked very hard.  Woof.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Starting Over

This blog began as an assignment for an Educational Technology course two years ago. I posted academic pontifications related to the integration of technology in the classroom. The irony was that at the time I took the course, I was not in the classroom. Consequently, I deleted those long and purely theoretical posts.

I named this blog "Starting Point" because at the time, I had never blogged, and I was starting to get my educational career back on course. Since that time, I have returned to the world of teaching, with real live students. My first year back into the workforce in 11 years, last year was a blur of DIBELS, Rti, Title I Math, graduate courses, and induction meetings, with all of the usual chaos of living in a household with 3 children, a husband, a dog, and a cat (well, for part of the year, as she passed away during the winter, but I digress...). Needless to say, I didn't have too much time to devote to blogging, so I am now on year two back to work.

My purpose for this blog is to reflect on my career, home life, and the balance between the two. I've been reading The Energy To Teach by Donald Graves, and he suggests journaling as a way to document what activities give energy and which drain it away. I thought that instead of a traditional journal, this blog may provide the medium I need to keep track of it all.

My goal is to write at least one entry per week. This week, I had in-service training. Enough said.

Students begin on Tuesday. I can't wait for their energy!!