Welcome to Ms. Waugh's Class Blog

Welcome students, parents, and colleagues. Thank you for visiting my blog. This blog I have designed to introduce myself and inform you about what is going on in my classes. Currently, I teach ELD inclusion for grades 6.

Let's get ready to learn!

Monday, March 28, 2011

We would all like to raise student achievement and address the needs of each student as a "whole child." But when it comes down to it, we often have to make hard choices. If you had to choose, would you rather raise student achievement or increase self-esteem and self-worth?


“Achievement gap” has become the catch phrase between the students who are succeeding and those who are not, the students who are affluent and those who are not, and those who have, and those who have not. But the phrase “achievement gap” gives the allusion that the gap exists because of a lack of student achievement. But that is not true. Disparity in education across the United States is not solely the fault of students unable to achieve. This disparity derives from lack of financial and social resources, lack of skilled teachers and lack of confidence within our students.

It is not our children’s fault that their schools are failing, because if a student comes hungry to a school that doesn’t have money for supplies, and whose parents cannot understand the language in which the student is studying, how can they compete with their counterparts whose social capital greatly outweighs their own?

As we work to close this “disparity gap,” it is important that we raise student achievement, increase self-esteem and self-worth. But If I had to choose, I would work to increase self-esteem and self-worth, because if a student feels worthless, how is he or she going to achieve? A student who has self-esteem and self-worth is more likely to achieve because self-confidence can affect academic outcomes. We can raise students’ self-worth by setting them up for success and by having high expectations. If we expect all first graders to be able to read and all eight graders to be able to do algebra, and we support student learning with praise along the way, our students can meet our expectations. The “system” seems to perpetuate the fallacy that students who are low-income or from urban areas are doomed to failure, but that does not have to be the case. If we believe in our students and instill within them the values of determination, cooperation, teamwork and pride, they can meet high expectations. If students know that they can succeed and that there is someone who believes in them, they will have self-esteem and self-worth, they will achieve, and this "disparity gap" as we know it could cease to exist.

Is it better to be strict or caring? Which are you?

The question of strict or caring need not be an “either/or” question. The most successful teachers are a combination of both.

The best teachers are strict yet caring. I strive to be both. Students need routines, boundaries and rules in order to feel safe, and it is important that teachers build and maintain classroom environments that are structured and streamlined. Rules need to be adhered to adamantly and classroom management needs to be consistent. Strict teachers are able to enforce rules, but the students need to know these rules serve a purpose and that the teacher is strict because he or she cares.

Students need to know their teachers are invested in their success and that they care about their students.
Teachers play a balancing role between instructor, mentor, friend and disciplinarian. If students do not innately feel their teacher has their best interests in mind, they will have little motivation to perform. However, a student who yearns to make his or her teacher proud can be an exceptional student.

When a student can relate to the teacher, a bond forms. This bond builds a classroom community fostered in trust and respect. It is in classrooms such as these that the most genuine learning takes place and it is the teachers who are caring yet strict who are able to create such an environment and relationship.

How do you feel about standardized tests?

Standardized tests were created to assess a standard curriculum, but our lessons are not standard and neither are our students. Our students are not one-size-fits-all. They have multiple intelligences and different learning styles. Our students are not all the same, and it is unrealistic to assess them all in the same way. Standardized tests definitely do not address the “whole child” because they are one-dimensional: They require students to bubble in answers in answer documents that are checked by computers that tabulate their scores. Standardized tests reduce students to a number.

Standardized testing is counter-intuitive to differentiated instruction. If we support differentiated instruction as a means to make curriculum and education accessible to all students, why do we test all students in just one way? The tests are biased and questions are written in specific ways to trick the test taker, which is unfair, especially for second-language learners. Summative assessment should be straightforward.

Unfortunately, standardized tests are undeniable. Because tests are mandated by the state and determine school funding and teacher success, some teachers succumb to “teaching to the test” in order to keep their jobs and keep their schools from becoming a “turn-around” school. This means exemplary instruction is further compromised and diminished. When necessary, teachers should teach how to test, not teach to the test. A standardized test is like a marathon; students need to be trained for the strenuous activity of extensive testing. They need a toolkit of tricks and a means of understanding confusing questions and language.

This means of testing is universal because it is easy to administer and tally results. But standardized testing is just one form of assessment. It can be a means of collecting data about student performance and student achievement, but it is not and should not be the only way of determining success.

What do you think are the key factors to ensuring success working with a predominantly low income, urban population of students?

Low income and urban schools face many challenges including high teacher turnover rates, high student transfer rates and budget cuts. With diverse populations, it can be difficult to meet the needs of every student. In urban populations there are English language learners, students with disabilities, students who are disadvantaged and students who are gifted. If these students’ abilities are not nurtured and their needs are not met, they have a lesser chance of attaining success. So the most important factor to ensuring success working with a predominantly low income, urban population is to provide for students the services they need: be it free lunch, English language courses, special education, counseling or academic enrichment.

It is important to have high expectations of student achievements and to teach students how to set and attain goals. Going to college needs to be a realistic aspiration in their lives. Students need to know success is attainable and they need to be taught the skills necessary for attaining success. They need to be taught skills, like study skills, how to read a nonfiction text and how to solve word problems, in addition to learning the content outlined in state and national standards. Differentiated instruction can help teachers ensure success within a classroom of diverse learners.

A school that is welcoming to all cultures helps students feel accepted. Schools and teachers should make an effort to develop a sound school-home connection so that the lessons and character building that takes place in school can also be supported at home. If possible, letters home and correspondence should be translated to the language spoken at home, and phone calls and parent-teacher conferencing should happen often for students who are not excelling and for those who are.

Developing a classroom community that focuses on support and praises, with clear consequences can also
ensure success. Students want to be valued. Too often the students that attend low-income and urban school feel marginalized or worthless, due to situations outside their control. Teachers and schools need to make a commitment to supporting the individual needs of each student, so that each of them feels adequate and able to attain success.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Teaching Philosophy

Teaching transforms something old into something new, and makes something new become something familiar. Teaching is about building relationships. In the classroom, I set high expectations for student behavior and performance, and balance that with one-on-one assistance to help struggling students meet those expectations. I want my students to be proficient, inquisitive and genuine. I want them to be respectful, resourceful and reliable. I will do anything to help my students succeed, because I know each and every one of them can. If a student does not understand a problem, I will explain it in as many ways necessary as it takes for him or her to understand. As a teacher it is my job to modify my techniques to meet the varying needs of students in the Boston Public Schools.

My trademark phrase is “There you go!” I use this phrase often when teaching math problems, because it demystifies the math problem. Too many students become frustrated because they think math is hard, but in my lessons I try to make the problems clear and fun so they appear manageable. In this way I impart my excitement to my students. If students are engaged and interested, their ability to retain information drastically increases. I use manipulatives, group work and exploration as much as possible to spark students interests and make lessons meaningful.

I cultivate a classroom that is respectful of and responsive to all students' needs. In my student teaching placement, one of our students on an IEP could not read; I chose to read every question out loud to the whole class. This allowed him to know the question without feeling singled out because of his inability to read independently. I give students the scaffolding and resources to be able to succeed on their own. I am willing and excited to give students individualized attention. My students say “Miss Waugh!” perhaps 100 times per day, because they know I will give attention to each and every one of them and answer all questions.

I do not stifle student behavior. I want to teach them the right choices and then encourage them to make the right choices. I understand students at school are learning more than just what is 3624 divided by 12. They are learning how to learn and how to behave. There are certain ways in which students need to conduct themselves, and I make sure they know and act in these ways. Students need to raise their hand. They need to treat their teachers and each other with respect. They need to come to class prepared. When a student misbehaves, I use the best method of discipline for that student in hopes of giving him or her reason to change the inappropriate behavior. I believe every student has the chance to succeed and can choose to succeed. I provide students with many chances yet clear consequences.

I engage fellow students in their peer's accountability. For example, while waiting for the line to be quiet on the way to lunch, I told the students to look quietly at the person next to him or her and tell that person with their eyes that they are hungry and waiting for the class to be quiet so we could go to lunch. Students in a classroom community need to be accountable to each other, in addition to the teacher.

In lesson planning, I challenge more advanced students with more difficult problems and break down problems for less advanced students. I challenge all students to higher-level thinking. I set performance guidelines in the classroom and give time constraints, so that students stay focused and are able to complete their work. When students accomplish their goals, I celebrate success. I hope through positive reinforcement my students will be motivated intrinsically to study hard, pay attention and reach the full potential I believe rests just below the surface in all of them.

Classroom Management Plan and Philosophy

A classroom and classroom management plan that is conducive to learning fosters discovery, ownership and functionality. I work to foster personal responsibility and group responsibility within my classroom. My students demonstrate personal in relation to behavior management, participation and effort. Group responsibility to their table clusters and their classroom as a whole. I teach them that their behavior is a reflection on our classroom, our school, their home and their individual cultures. I celebrate students as individuals and teach them how to perform in groups. Group work within the classroom functions based on accountability so that each member has a contributing role in the group and it will teach students to be accountable to each other.

I stress good manners and living the golden rule. I forbid use of sarcasm, cruelty and name-calling. I recognize kindness and consideration. I have high expectations for student behavior and I will give second chances to students who genuinely want to improve. I respond to misbehavior with behavior modification and redirection. I recognize that students often act out when they reach frustration levels in learning. When this happens, misbehavior can indicate lack of understanding. Instead of punishing the misbehavior, I guide the student toward understanding and success, which most often eliminates the misbehavior. I monitor student progress and behavior closely. I believe all students want to do well and a teacher must nurture this inner motivation. I don't believe in “bad kids”, just “bad behavior” and bad behavior is a choice that can be redirected.

My classroom management strategy is built on intrinsic motivation. I celebrate students' success and challenge students who are not performing to my expectations and to their own ability. I set students up for success, giving them note-taking and test-taking and strategies and model good study habits. For the students who are misguided, under-motivated or think failing is the easy way out, I want to make failing hard and succeeding look easy. I will encourage the discouraged until they reach success. I believe students should be told “good job,” often yet genuinely.

My classroom's physical environment changes as the year progresses. At the beginning of the year, the walls are not overloaded with visuals. Instead, as we create posters such as a multiplication chart or a KWL chart on Jazz music, the posters decorate our walls. I believe the most meaningful visual additions to the classroom are ones we create together during lessons. These student-made posters give students ownership of the room and the content displayed on them will remind them of lessons learned and become references for future questions. When a student struggles to figure out what the decimal for 5/6 may be, I can tell her to check her work by referring to the Fractions-to-Decimals table we made that now hangs on the math wall. Visuals and student work will be organized by subject.

My desk is situated within the classroom where I am able to see the whole room, but my desk will not overpower the learning environment. I want my desk to be a backdrop of who I am in the classroom and also for who I am outside of school.

An organized classroom empowers learning by making resources accessible. The classroom is organized with mailboxes, folders and labeled boxes. Everything has a place, so that students will know where to find whatever they may need, be it scissors or yesterday's work.

As a finishing touch, on the walls I hang inspirational quotes. My favorite is, “If you don't know what to do, do what you know.” I think that quote is the basis of learning: it activates prior knowledge while scaffolding success, and even though every student may not know everything, all students know something and that knowledge deserves recognition and praise.