October 15, 2010

Provisions for the Journey

The Reading Lab Provided:

Our reading Specialist, Dorothy Kennedy had the advantage. Her program was funded by the Distrct via the Feds. She had all the equipment that she needed: listening posts, visual and auditory reading machines. computers, software, copy machine. video monitor and camera, Television/VHS player, Tape recorders/ players/ phonograph, books of worksheets, shared with the classroom teacher, and her no nonsense approach to learning, the latter, at no cost.
She was an organizer. A no nonsense person. She set up schedules for the thirty students that she would work with on a daily basis.She assigned them their time.
Everyday the students came to her in groups of six. They knew what to do, where to sit, what machine to work with. She spent time with the students personally in a groups of three. She meant business, they meant business.

The Classroom Provided:

This classroom teacher managed to free up some district funding for an electric pencil sharpener. Can you beleive that? A special one that could accommodate various size pencils. (The classroom had the old grind away type. Totally a waste of wood and time. It was removed.) Some of the children had poorly developed small muscle control which necessitated the large diameter pencil. Further funds were allowed for individual chalk boards (out of the federally funded Reading Specialist budget. More about this later. And chalk erasers, one for every student. A three hole paper punch. Three large posters of the printed alphabet posted on the walls above the chalkboards.

The Teacher Provided:

Books of work sheets scrounged from every teacher Kintergarden, first grade. Large alphabet cards. Every student had to began at the absolute beginning. The recognition of the letters in the alphabet, upper and lower case in and out of order;  Once a skill was mastered, then and only then would the next level begin. Oral repitition daily for all to mastery for all.

Thanks to the entire staff, primary reading books were provided from discards from years back. Back meant, to Dick and Jane. We cared not that they were politically correct, the words were the same. Content was irrevelant. Who cared. Content barely matched the life they were living. It was the words, the recognition that counted. This is a blasphemy for some but please not to worry.

Large flash cards with the Dolch sight words, beginning with the Pre-primer list of 39. The next level Primer with 52, First 40, Second 46. If we were on track 3rd grade of 41.

Large flash cards of the basic math combinations. One poor skill tumbled into another.

Students Provided:

Each student had to have a three ring notebook, dividers, a package of wide lined and no lined paper, six #2 pencils with eracers, one large pink eraser, box of 16 color crayons, one pair of primary scissors, a school library card.

Parents Provided:

Support! One hour an afternoon or evening reviewing all work that was sent home, signing papers to be returned daily.


October 10, 2010

The Joint Venture:

They couldn't read. The teachers knew. The parent (s) knew. The children knew. For whatever the reasons: readiness, lack of maturity, home distractions, conflicts, poor nutrition, sight or hearing deficiencies, and familial expectations. The reason was of no matter. What to do, how to do it? It was the ultimate dilemma for all.

The teachers, Kindergarten, first grade were following their training, the curriculum, doing all that was expected and more. Some of their students just couldn’t make the grade.

So many of the parent(s) sent their children to school without knowing, having no inkling of their possible contribution to the process. The school site was an alien setting for many parents.

These children came to school; found that school time was only passable through the fun and games that were interspersed during their learning day. For some the school experience was painful. Recess was no relief. Their attendance was poor.

The first grade teachers tested, they had to make it official, they already knew who couldn't read grade level.
A list was compiled, from the bottom up. 0.0 first. Can you believe that after two years of school? It's true. It's sad. Furthermore, we proposed that as soon as students reached grade level by year and month they would be transfered to a standard second grade classroom and the next student would be transfered into our program. The on-going testing was done by the Reading Specialist. Her expertise enabled her to evaluate continously, individually. No class testing which would interrupt the flow of the program.  Additionally, students who couldn't achieve two years of reading skills in a year of the program would be kept in the program but promoted to third grade.

 So, we selected our first 30 children, and before their inclusion in this program, we called every parent met personally with some, and followed up via a letter that explained the design and thrust of the program. Their approval and participation had to be mandatory. We were greeted to a 100 % positive response. They all wanted their children to recover the missing basic skills for future success in school.

October 4, 2010

First Things First.

Our school’s physical layout was standard for the time: Front office building, separate two room Kindergarten unit, cafeteria, primary playground, upper grade playground, storage areas in each complex, a quad in the center, two teaching complexes; eight classrooms each, one for the primary grades one –three, the other grades four to six. Between each four classrooms was a work, storage area. The rooms were connected by doors to and from each other.

It was Tim, our wonderful custodian who was the champion in our first efforts to establish what we knew as an environment more suitable for our special primary children. They needed their own space, their own table. Not to be invaded by friend or foe. He emptied out the classroom of single tablet type desks. He scrounged every supply room, every used storage area. He even called his cohorts at other schools. He found us thirty-two two space tables. Teachers in all the grade levels donated their unused tables. He scrubbed the tables, polished the floors in the empty classroom. He placed the tables in long rows of six tables each, one chair for each table, with two tables fitted in the back for use as the needs demanded. Then he installed chalkboards that began three feet from the floor to six feet high along one entire wall.

He even found chalk and eraser holders that spanned their entire lengths. Where he got the materials he didn’t say, we didn’t ask. He was having a grand time. We were thrilled. Then in came four spanking new trash baskets, contrary to the one per classroom allowed.

Next he got together with the reading specialist, Dorothy, and removed most of the furniture, materials from the area that would be her remedial reading center. She placed her reading machines, sight, sound, flash cards in their appropriate places, designed her own personal area for direct teaching.

We asked the primary teaching staff for any and all of the outdated primary books they could find. Tim came with carts of discarded outdated books, from the storage areas throughout the school. We worked as a team sorting them by reading levels and placing them on the shelves that were on the windowed side of the room.

Our physical layout was complete. Any alternations would come as we needed.

September 29, 2010

We Meant Business: Not As Usual

I must tell you: I never, not even in my wildest dreams thought that I would be teaching second grade; and remedial at that. I was trained to teach at the secondary level. I also had an Elementary credential. After all the years at the university I had amassed enough credits to apply for five credentials: secondary, elementary, supervisory, administrative, counselor/educational psychologist. My Master’s Degree was in administration. I was in top form when I began to teach at a very prestigious high school then a six year school. Grade levels 7 – 12. I loved every challenge; every subject that I taught was terrific. I enjoyed the diversity. I began my administrative career at this school as a part-time girl’s vice principal. Those were the years of gender differentiation. Then I was recruited by a school district to the north to be a full-time administrator. I took the job with the guarantee that I could return to my old position with a 39 month period. The school district did not appreciate my stand on racial equality. I was forced to resign. Then I found work as an OEO consultant. Offered a position at the Catholic school K-8 in the poverty area of this same district. The pay was also poverty but I was teaching.

Then finally I was offered a position at a school district in East Ventura County as a Child Welfare and Attendance Counselor. This is the time I write about in the David's story.

You’ve read David’s and the teacher’s story. No? Read it now. It’s my introduction to the founding of a unique remedial program: teaching non-achieving second graders. Remedial? Yes. At second grade? Yes. Get them as soon as possible. I wrote this story about David. It surprised me. It just came. Then I wrote the rest of the story. Originally, his voice comes before mine. My teacher advised, reverse the order. So there it is in brief, the program. David is one of over 150 that were in the remedial second grade program. Now, I want to share with you the particulars.

As portrayed in the teacher’s section of David, you read about this pirated program(there’s more to tell you later) reserved for children seriously below grade level in reading, which flowed over into writing (printing) arithmetic skills, behavior, either placidness or aggression.

A teaching technique I knew would work. I didn’t know of any other way to teach. How’d I know? From my own life as a student and from teaching all grade levels except Kindergarten. No flapping visual distraction like stuff hanging from the walls and ceilings, no auditory distractions, no holiday to holiday themes, strict adherence to rules, absolute quiet, no disruptions, daily routines, respect for one another. The teachers were the adults; the adults were in charge. It was stressed to the children their parent(s): learning is a business, just like at McDonalds; that working, tending to their business of learning; only this business is for profit, their profit.

In exchange: guaranteed success. These children had already experienced two years of failure, they knew it too. We offered them an opportunity to be “a somebody” who could listen, read, write, master basic math skills. Be a winner. We had 170 days to undo, redo and rebuild.

The program, the initial classroom environment: bare bones.

Let’s start with the classroom environment: