Middle School Students Accurately Predict Boston’s Next Mayor

Yesterday, students in Academy 2 at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School voted in a Mock Election. Prior to the election, students created campaign posters and completed Voter Registration forms. Students with completed registration forms cast their vote for Boston’s next mayor.

The Mock Election

56 students in grades 6, 7, and 8 participated in the election. Martin J. Walsh won the Mock Election, and he also won the City of Boston Election to become Boston’s next mayor. 42 of our Frederick students voted for Marty Walsh, 13 voted for John Connolly, and 1 students voted for both candidates. This vote was discarded.

Our wonderful Lilla G. Frederick Technology Coordinator Victor Woodroffe streamed the Mock Election Live on You Tube.

The Days Leading Up to the Election

Students used the candidates' website to research their personal histories and views on issues.

Students used the candidates’ website to research their personal histories and views on issues.

Students completed graphic organizers to record information from the websites.

Students completed graphic organizers to record information from the websites.

John Connolly Graphic Organizer

John Connolly Graphic Organizer

Students compared and contrasted the Mayoral Candidates.

Students compared and contrasted the Mayoral Candidates.

After researching and comparing the candidates, students formed their opinion about who they supported in the race.

After researching and comparing the candidates, students formed their opinion about who they supported in the race.

Many students supported Martin J. Walsh.

Many students supported Martin J. Walsh.

MW4

MW3

MW2

A few students supported John Connolly.

A few students supported John Connolly.

Today’s Classwork and Homework

I have created an adapted text and summary lesson for today, using the New York Times’ article on the Mayoral Race. You can download the lesson materials here: Post-Election Lesson Materials.

Malala Yousafzai News Broadcast

Below you will find three wonderful video clips from Japan’s NHK Television Broadcast about Malala Yousafzai’s speech at the United Nations in July. It was interesting to watch and re-watch these clips in Japanese. Although I do not speak any Japanese, the images alone served to tell Malala’s story and how it has affected children in Pakistan and around the world.

 I am so pleased that my student Quddus Rodrigues and his fabulous “super mama” Filomena are featured in this compelling program. Quddus is a model of how reading and writing can inspire us and empower us to advocate for others. I love that he is a young man that stands for education. As Malala says: “Let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge…Education is the only solution.”
Quddus’ Clip in the Broadcast
Malala Broadcast, Part I
Malala Broadcast, Part II

Rising Star: Quddus Rodrigues, Teen Civil Rights Advocate and Creative Writer

I am extremely proud of Quddus Rodrigues, who has been my student for the past three years at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School. I have always known Quddus to be a thoughtful and creative person who expresses a deep concern for those around him, and it has been to my absolute delight that his talents have been recognized both locally and internationally in recent months. I will now present you with a photo essay of  Quddus’ life as a rising star in both the civil rights and creative writing arenas.

Thursday, July 11, 2013: Preparation for Malala Yousafzai Documentary

Quddus prepares for his interview for a Malala Yousafzai documentary for NHK television.

Quddus prepares for his interview for a Malala Yousafzai documentary for NHK television.

In late June, I was contacted by Yoshiko Uno-Flukes, a UK-based researcher for NHK television, a respected Japanese station. NHK is producing a documentary film on Malala Yousafzai, to whom my students had written letters in October after she was attacked by the Taliban on her way to school. They were especially interested in Quddus’ letter. Last Thursday, Quddus and I prepared for the interview for several hours by reviewing the events and responses to Malala’s shooting and recovery, including the well-written piece “Girls Who Risk their Lives for Education“. The above photo shows Quddus writing his responses to interview questions provided by NHK while referencing an article.

Friday, July 12, 2013: Grub Street Orientation

Quddus and his mother, Filomena, attend his Young Adult Writing Program Orientation at Grub Street.

Quddus and his mother, Filomena, attend his Young Adult Writing Program Orientation at Grub Street.

Quddus poses with the famous Grub Street red typewriter.

Quddus poses with the famous Grub Street red typewriter.

Quddus and Filomena enjoy post-orientation sushi, shrimp-fried rice, and Boba tea in Chinatown after the orientation.

Quddus and Filomena enjoy post-orientation sushi, shrimp-fried rice, and Boba tea in Chinatown after the orientation.

In April, at the suggestion of my colleague and dear friend, author and educator Paula Leoni, Quddus completed his application for the prestigious Grub Street Young Adult Writing Program Summer Teen Fellowship. This program awards young adult writers with a stipend and provides them with a three week intensive writing experience that includes instruction from and meetings with published authors. Click here to read his application. The piece “Mystery Mansions of Madness” will have you in stitches!

Last Friday, Quddus, his mother, and Paula attended the orientation at Grub Street, located in the Steinway building at the edge of Boston’s theater district. Afterwards, they enjoyed a sushi dinner at which Quddus apparently tricked his mother into eating a mouthful of wasabi. Luckily, laughter quickly ensued! 

Special thanks to Paula Leoni for providing the photographs.

Saturday, July 13, 2013: The Making of a Malala Documentary

The NHK film crew captures Quddus and his mother strolling through their Dorchester Center neighborhood.

The NHK film crew captures Quddus and his mother strolling through their Dorchester Center neighborhood.

The NHK film crew captures the art of thinking, writing, and reflecting.

The NHK film crew captures the art of thinking, writing, and reflecting.

The NHK crew interview Quddus.

The NHK crew interview Quddus.

NHK records Quddus' reactions to Malala Yousafzai's recent speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday.

NHK records Quddus’ reactions to Malala Yousafzai’s recent speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday.

The NHK crew records Quddus' verbal reflections on Malala's speech.

The NHK crew records Quddus’ verbal reflections on Malala’s speech.

I was so impressed that NHK traveled all the way from New York City on a hot Saturday afternoon to interview Quddus. He is certainly a very interesting young man.  I cannot wait to see the documentary.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Quddus grabs a caramel Frappuccino at Starbucks before the Grub Street orientation. He complained, "It's so much work being famous! You always have to have your picture taken!" HA!

Quddus grabs a caramel Frappuccino at Starbucks before the Grub Street orientation. He complained, “It’s so much work being famous! You always have to have your picture taken!” HA!

Waking Up

Quddus poses with his fellow writers on the first day of the Young Adult Writing Program.

I was so excited to receive the following text from Quddus on Monday afternoon: “Had fun made friends had a great time”. I cannot wait to attend the final celebration. I’m sure we will all be hearing so much more about Quddus, a rising star on a bright path. We are all so proud!

The Banality of Ignorance of Quality Reading Instruction

Below is my letter to the editor of the New York Times, regarding their recent article: “In Raising Scores, 1 2 3 Is Easier Than A B C”. Interestingly, although the article was on the lower half of the front page, only two letters about the article were published. Mine was not one of them, but I agree with the letter from Terry Thomas, a veteran reading specialist from Houston, who states: “After learning advanced decoding skills and realizing that making an inference is not simply a wild guess, most students find that their reading scores improve dramatically.” Thank you, Terry!

To the Editor:

I am disgusted by the banality of ignorance with regards to effective reading instruction. Mathematicians approach their content methodically, yet many who claim to be teachers of English lack a scientific knowledge of language development. Administrators announce their bewilderment at students’ failures to develop reading skills rather than turning their attention to the myriad of studies focused on effective reading instruction.

If more teachers instructed their pupils in systematic word identification skills, they would see a rapid increase in their pupils’ vocabulary because students would be able to independently gain exposure to new words, rather than having to rely on a teacher to do it for them.

The ideological “reading wars” are a mere philosophical distraction; the science of language is the key to unlocking literacy for struggling readers. If educators don’t look at the research, they are simply playing games with children’s lives.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Dines, M.Ed.

Sunday Dialogue: A Talent for Teaching

I am positively giddy over my New York Times 7-Day Home Delivery and Unlimited Digital Access, which I purchased as a gift to myself for all of my hard work this year.

How poignant that today’s Sunday Dialogue discusses what makes a talented teacher! I enjoyed reading the readers’ comments (some of whom are students, some veteran teachers, and some Teach for America “folks”), as they caused me to reflect on my own teaching practice.

This year, my students have shown a great deal of growth in standardized reading test measures. In fact, predictive assessments show that my special education and ESL students have grown by an average of 11% on measures of grade-level reading assessment (moving them from the “Warning/Failing” NCLB category to “Needs Improvement”), with several students showing growth of 20% or more (almost “Proficient”). Additionally, my students have very high attendance (around 95% or so).

I am a sixth year public school teacher, yet I had several years of experience working with children and young adults as an after-school music (piano, voice) instructor as well as experience tutoring college students in ESL. Also, throughout graduate school, I worked as a substitute teacher in the Boston Public Schools, where I currently teach (and plan to teach for a long time).

So, what has shaped me as a teacher and what has made a difference for my students?

1) Mentorship

When I was a student teacher for four months in 2006, I had the great fortune of having Dr. Berta Berriz as my practicum supervisor. This incredible, strong woman possessed a doctoral degree and a NBPTS certification, and she had diligently served for 27 years in the Boston Public Schools as a classroom teacher. How inspiring to work with a veteran teacher who had continued her professional growth and developed her practice over three decades. I worked alongside Dr. Berriz in her classroom, and I found her methods for teaching reader’s and writer’s workshop and building students’ identities as scholars to be positively inspirational. To this day, I incorporate her style of writer’s workshop in my own classroom.

I made up my mind to follow in her footsteps. After becoming an ESL teacher, I pursued my special education degree (just like Dr. Berriz) and I am currently pursuing my National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification. Six years ago, I also made a promise to myself to stick with teaching for 30 years, by any means necessary. I want to be that teacher in the future who teaches her students’ children and maybe even their children’s children.

For the past three years, I have also had the incredible opportunity to work with Mrs. Deborah O’Shea, a middle school teacher and teacher leader who pursued her Reading Specialist license while serving at our urban public school. Mrs. O’Shea recruited me at a difficult time in my career, after I had been asked to reapply to my position at a highly dysfunctional “Turnaround School” and had refused. Mrs. O’Shea encouraged me to continue my professional development and strongly encouraged my enrollment in the MGH Communication Sciences and Disorders Reading Specialist CAS program. This program has not only developed my knowledge of reading expertise, but it has also provided me with a network of like-minded literacy teachers and speech and language pathologists who value knowledge of phonics, decoding, fluency, comprehension, and oral language development as essential elements of classroom instruction. Mrs. O’Shea has been a continual source of encouragement, and she shares my pride in my students for each and every academic and social achievement that they make.

2) Quality Professional Development

When I say quality, I mean research-based. There is a breadth of educational research literally at our fingertips (http://scholar.google.com – Most articles on this site from leading educational journals are accessible from the Boston Public Library website with a library card number and PIN number).

There is absolutely no reason for professional development of any kind that is not research-based. Be skeptical of what you spend your time on and look for the research to back it up. There are tons of “educational products” available for sale. Be wary of “white papers” and research by corporate entities themselves. Look for the citations of research from universities and esteemed professional organizations (i.e. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, The International Reading Association, etc.) when you attend a presentation or seminar.

The best professional development for me has been self-selected graduate courses and programs, as well as a fantastic training provided by our district and taught over several weekends by Connie Henry and Bruce Kamerer on examining the base-10 number system to develop number sense.

I consider the gold standard of professional development to be the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification in which teachers examine and reflect on their practice through the careful examination of student work and videos of their teaching in the classroom. Teachers completing this certification must submit a dense portfolio, which includes 4 extremely dense 14-page essays that include description, analysis, and reflection, and they also must pass a rigorous three hour examination that consists of six essays about the content and practice of their certificate area.

Basically, the more I know about teaching and research, the better I can teach my students.

3) Rigor

My students have a lot of challenging work, every day of every week.

They are required to read aloud in our classroom, and they are graded on their decoding and prosody. I assign passages from class novels or selection on articles, and they practice at home, using dictionary.com to perfect pronunciation of unknown words.

My students complete essays regularly using process writing. Every day in my class, they are writing at least a page or more, single spaced. Sometimes they are writing answers to comprehension questions. Other times they are reflecting on a class project. Other assignments include writing, revising, and editing drafts of longer assignments.

What is my classroom management strategy? I provide difficult assignments within the students’ zones of proximal development, and I supply a great deal of encouragement and support. (At this time of year, I can be frequently heard saying,”You know how to do this. I have given you the tools you need. So, reach in the toolbox of your brain and use them!”).

4) Celebration, Joy, and Arts Integration

This is my “warm/fuzzy” side. After we work hard, we party hard (but still maintain our academic focus).

I celebrate students’ achievements. This can be as simple as a high five or a small piece of candy. After students performed in a play, they received certificates, and I put a video of their play on YouTube. When students publish a collection of essays in a book, we celebrate with a publishing party at which students read their work aloud and then they have an opportunity to autograph one another’s books.

After the first and third quarter, students who receive passing grades are invited to special field trips to 826 Boston, a local writing center, and then, they are treated to ice cream at McDonald’s (not the healthiest, I know, but it’s a special treat).

Arts Integration brings excitement and joy to my lessons. Again, this can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. For example, when we studied the concepts of compression and tension, we “acted out” the diagrams of an arch bridge and a suspension bridge in our reading by pushing and pulling of hands. We have constructed a tetrahedron with brightly colored paper in order to explore geometric concepts.

I sing out “Hy! Potenuse” in a silly voice, so that my students can remember the word. I teach using evidence in writing through having students “act out” a weight lifter. Evidence bulks up your argument, just like a weight lifters weights make him strong. A visual image of a weight lifter with rippling muscles is posted on an anchor chart in my classroom that reminds students to “bulk up” their argument with evidence.

One student told me,”When we laugh, we laugh hard, but when it’s time to work, we know you’re serious.”

5) Parental Involvement

My students’ parents are urban immigrant families who work. They are also caring and dedicated parents who love their children and want the best for them. We keep in touch regularly through text messages and phone calls in English, Spanish, and my terrible version of Portuguese-Cape Verdean-Criollo mixed with a splash of Spanish and a dash of made-up words.

At the beginning of the year, students are given syllabi that have my picture and contact information on it and their parents must sign the syllabus, so they at least see who I am. After first quarter, students select their best work and write reflections. Parents are then invited to attend Student-Led Conferences to show their work to their families and to set academic goals for the remainder of the school year. I had 15 out of 18 families from my grade 7 and 8 ESL 3 class attend these conferences.

Conclusion

I will close with one of my favorite quotations: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” I learned this from working with Patricia Suriel of the Mariposa DR Foundation in the Dominican Republic. For my own practice, I interpret this quotation to mean that I do not need to wait around for an administrator or policy maker to tell me what to do.

I will continue to seek out best practices and apply them to my students and teaching. Teachers do not need to wait around for an official or administrator to approve their work or to tell them which program to use. If teachers collect data on students (notebooks and file folders with dated assignments – make your students write the date on everything!) to show their progress, teachers have evidence to show that students are learning and growing. I have found that if I get good results and act professionally, I will be respected and not micro-managed.

Teachers cannot wait for the government or an organization or even the New York Times to tell us what is best for our students. We all can have a critical eye and examine the research on our own. We can look at data (student work) every day, and see what is working for Angel, what is not working for Clayton, what is working for Natalie…no one else knows the children like we do.

We must become experts on the students we serve and learn practices that serve them well and inspire them to take on difficult assignments and challenge themselves academically. Our students are our future. Will we cloak our future in bureaucracy and petty debates? Or will we forge a path of values, hope, and success? We are the ones we have been waiting for, and we can do this.