Partially immersed


If the characters above got rendered properly in your browser you should see Japanese writing.  The proper response for me would be, say what?  Of course, if I knew what that said the real response should be:

Sorry, I guess you probably don’t know Japanese either.  The first question was, “Do you speak Japanese?”  The response was, “No, I do not speak Japanese.”  When encountering a Spanish-speaking classroom, I always start with, “No hablo español, solamente inglés.” (I don’t speak Spanish, only English).  It’s fun to see the kids’ reaction, especially if I add a little bit more from my severely limited Spanish vocabulary.  With Japanese, I can’t even begin.  Three times in the space of two weeks I found myself in dual language classrooms- twice for Japanese, once for Spanish.  What kind of class is this you may ask?  I will answer.  Once upon a time the way to teach kids a foreign language was to offer it as an elective in high school.  Then, someone learned that the best time to learn new languages was as a young child, so they added the classes to the junior high curriculum (in some cases making kids take five different ones in sixth grade!).  This trickled down to intermediate grades with one language twice a week like gym.  Still not happy, the powers-that-be started dual-language classes allowing children as young as six to start learning a different language, and that is where we are today.  In such a class, the younger grades slowly learn the language, and then they start instructing in that language as they get older for a sort of immersion experience.  In the Japanese class, this means that for the entire afternoon teachers and students use only Japanese.  The teaching assistant took over this duty of course since I would be unable to converse in or even understand Japanese.  It was an experience not unlike working in a deaf classroom as I have done before, but knowing that I could converse with the students in English when necessary.  This was sixth grade, so they were on their sixth year of this.  They seemed pretty proficient to me- having read Japanese books for starters and giving a book report in Japanese.  When it came time for me to instruct, however, we all went back to English.
The Spanish class was 4th grade, so they weren’t as proficient in their second language as 6th grade was in theirs.  There were no book reports or the like in Spanish, though of course it could have just been the day.  When trying to read the Spanish social studies book, it became clear many did not understand very well.  Unfortunately I did not have a Spanish-speaking assistant at this time as I did for Japanese.  When math time rolled around, the Spanish-speaking assistant finally arrived and I expected she might take over for a bit, but she didn’t so we did the subject in English as I could do little more than the numbers and operations in Spanish.  As it turned out it was probably a good thing we did it in English as they had a difficult enough time with the topic in their primary language.
So what’s next, dual language French? Italian? I guess I may find out.  It’s odd that this is the first year I have been in this sort of classroom in all my years of subbing.  Bilingual and regular foreign language classes yes, but not dual-language.  This may mean then that the chances of doing it again are somewhat remote, so we’ll see.


Well, that Thursday entry was less than exciting I think.  Hopefully this will be an improvement- 8th grade.  In near-city district.  At the end of the year.  When another job popped up in a different district I was tempted to dump this one for it, but in the end I didn’t have any issues thanks to required worksheets to be filled out while watching a movie.  It was a social studies class, but she also taught one literacy class- I think all teachers teach one class outside their specialty to save on paying for another teacher since the numbers allowed for this.  Obviously, if this would cause the class sizes to be 35+ they would probably pay for an additional teacher.

So I arrived in the morning to handwritten plans, a videotape, a few stacks of papers, and two machines I could play the tape in- one a TV on a cart, the other a projector with a combo DVD player/VCR.  Being the tech person I am, I chose the projector, but first I had to hook everything up.  I plugged the projector and DVD player in and connected them with the supplied A/V cable.  Well, finished connecting- for some reason some connections were already there while others were not- interesting.  I had time to test it out, so I did.  Eww, was that it for volume?  I turned the projector volume to max but then it just sounded bad.  Hmm.  Wait, there is an additional speaker on the bottom of the cart, but how to plug the video into the projector and the audio into the speaker?  The cable was such that it couldn’t be split.  What was this?  A second audio cable!  Only- no.  It had a mini-end to plug the computer (also on the cart) into the speaker, but neither the speaker nor the player had a place to plug in the mini end, but all was not lost- the projector had an audio output and it was a mini- problem solved.  The player went to the projector, the projector to the speaker.  Done.  The only issue I had all day with this setup was the speaker A/C plug kept coming loose, but fortunately not during the video.

So in the end four classes saw the video ( a very unexciting one about Congress), the one literacy class had a quiz and a reading assignment from their books, and the tutorial (study hall) was… very small.  Only a handful of students apparently had tutorial with this teacher.  I caught up on some book-reading during this time.  Then I was done with an off period.  Or not.  The office called me and had me watch over a group of kids in the gym where they had some free-time (it was an LD class, but I saw a few friends from the BD/ED class there as well with another teacher).

So that was my week in review, in five posts.  How was yours? 🙂


Back to the school I subbed in for art last week, about four doors past in fact in 4th and 5th grade row.  It was another day with no break for specials, not even computer lab like Tuesday.  The morning consisted of a large language arts block with a reading from their Treasures reading book and some guided reading.  I made an error in the guided reading- I was supposed to have the second group read their books while the first group read and discussed their book with me.  I read this note as I was passing out the books after the first group finished- whoops.  So we read the book together.  Well, in the end neither group got to the next part so I left them on even footing.  That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. 🙂

Following language arts we had time for social studies before lunch.  They are using a book called History Alive! and we learned about the Bill of Rights.  In reading earlier the students read out of the book, but this time I was told to read to them so I did.  They ended the morning with working on review sheets for the chapter which they would finish for homework.  Lunchtime.

The afternoon began with math.  My job here was to go over the work they did for homework and turn it over to the teacher from across the hall who would come in and teach an enrichment lesson.  Kids as always enjoy coming up to the board so we did that when we could.  Unfortunately I went over by about ten minutes- why am I always so slow when it comes to teaching math?

The rest of the day was recess and speeches.  I got to listen to the kids introduce famous people, living or dead.  The teacher brought in a podium, but a few students were a bit on the short side so I had to scrounge around for a makeshift step for them using a couple of books and an overturned storage bin.  The books were underneath to prevent them from breaking the bin when they stood on it.  They seemed to have some well-written speeches which I presume were graded already, so today was more about the presentations.  What is probably the number one area needing improvement in giving speeches?  I didn’t look this up but I would guess eye contact as that is what most of them struggled with.  They tended to read right from their papers.  The first student who actually seemed to have decent eye contact ruined it by having his arms in front of his face because he had decided to rest them on the podium.  There were a few though who did a good job on eye contact though.  They also did quite well on volume.  I could easily hear and understand most of them.

That was pretty much it.  I was hoping to see a student of mine from church there as he was only two doors down but our paths never crossed.  I did mention it to him today when I saw him.  So, that brings us to…

Cultures & ELL

I bookended my three days in elementary (Tuesday was in a mentally impaired classroom) with middle-school jobs at the same school.  Monday I subbed for a specialty teacher who teaches a course about cultures.  I am not sure what it entails, but is a separate course from the normal history/social studies courses.  Being a specialty course there are two classes each of grades 6-8.  Actually, 8th grade is a completely different course from the other two grades, so I guess the cultural studies is only for the two grades.  8th grade was a course on business- they were making products and campaigns.  It wasn’t too exciting a day.  The 8th grade classes were working independently in their groups so I just walked around and watched mostly, occasionally giving some input.  6th grade had videos, and 7th grade had a test.  The highlight was 6th grade, before the videos.  I got to read them stories with problems they had to find solutions for, like for example a couple of kids who wanted to build the largest snowman their town had seen.  They did eventually build it, and without special equipment (you know how heavy even a normal snowman can be- just think back to the last time you made one and had to push those large balls to become bigger ones, then lift two sections into place on a traditional snowman).  They had to figure out that the kids built a ramp out of snow to push the giant balls up to form the head and body, then tore it down after the snowman was done.  It was really interesting to hear some of their solutions like making the sections by throwing snowballs at a smaller one until it was big enough, or the snowman was laying down.

So that was Monday.  Friday I was down the hall in a different multi-age room.  It wasn’t one grade at a time- each class was mixed.  It was ELL, so the classes were according to their ability in English.  My largest class was six students.  What made this ELL class different was the large variety of cultures represented.  Rather than 95% Hispanic, the students were from Poland, Albania, Taiwan, Korea, and several other places in addition to Mexico.  They ranged in ability from new to English to lived in the US all their lives (what were they doing in ELL??) with immigrant parents.  The students were all very good, willing to learn.  There were only a couple of chatterboxes, but even they worked.  The classes consisted of three writing classes abtly called Writing I, Writing II, and Writing III.  These classes all had a writing prompt and spent the period making an organizer, writing a paragraph or more, then editing and finally sharing their pieces.  Two of the classes were literacy courses and we read stories together, went over vocabulary, then they made sentences from the vocabulary words and worked on packets about the story for the rest of the time.  The last class was a class of just one.  This was the student who knew very little English.  We worked on a noun packet together.

Either of those two classes I would sub for again in an instant.  That ELL class was completely unlike the one at the other school in behavior.  In actuality I had another ELL class at the other middle school in the district last year that was similar, but a little crazy due to an assembly.  Like this one, I had a period where I worked with just one student.  In that case it was an Italian student instead of the Korean student at Friday’s school.  Both kids were really great to work with.  Overall Friday was more pleasant even than that day.

Well, Monday will be an off day due to Presidents Day.  I remember when I was in school we actually got two days off in February for Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays, but in the 80s they combined the two into a general day to celebrate all Presidents.  I felt cheated when this happened.  A year or two later they added a day off for Casimir Pulaki (I think that’s how it’s spelled) but that didn’t last more than a couple of years.  I’m still not sure who Pulaski was.  In any event, I’m not sure what my next post will be about.  I’ll figure it out I suppose.

EDIT: Oops- forgot a title!

The Young and the Restless

Continuing in the soap opera theme of a couple of posts ago, I have one to share from my own experience on Thursday.  I didn’t even have to adjust the title to fit as it works well just as it is- they are of course young, and they were quite restless.  If anyone knows about autism, one of the things even the higher-functioning kids need is a structured environment and schedule- everything should remain the same from day to day.  It appears that the same holds true for kids with behavioral issues.  I was in a middle school BD/LD classroom on Thursday.  I should start by saying I was in this class before several times and have never really had a problem before Thursday.  The fact that there are usually two teachers and two assistants in the room has always helped a great deal.  However,  this time both teachers had subs.  Also, the day before both teachers and both assistants were out sick- believe it or not, this was not engineered!  Between these two events, the kids just fell apart.  It didn’t really help that the plans included having the kids do something they apparently never do even when the teachers are there.  This was mentioned, loudly I should add, by 6th grade and 8th grade students alike- “We never do vocabulary!”  In addition, they absolutely would not listen to any instruction from me.  I tried to follow the plans as given, but they were already trying to go ahead, and were actually getting upset at me for trying to do what the teacher had written.  Sigh.  In the end I just had to give up and let them work on their own.  The 8th graders I think actual did the work.  The 6th graders, on the other hand, for the most part chose to do their own thing.  One even brought in a video game book and would read only this.  The assistants tried too, but in the end they were just back after being sick for a few days so it really wasn’t worth getting on them until the teachers returned.

However, trying to get them to work was only part of this story.  All day many of the students had anger issues, threw thing st one another, and had to be pulled from their regular classes.  There were a couple of teachers or social workers who were in on and off trying to keep the kids in line.  Parents were called.  What a drama.  Even the class where I had only one student was a bust.  She came to school late the period before, ate her lunch for that period (she was supposed to be doing math), and continued eating it during her social studies period.  She refused to read until she was done, never mind that girls are generally good at multitasking.  Clearly she was just stalling.  Of course, when she did start reading she couldn’t concentrate thanks to other kids in the room creating problems.  If you’re confused at this, you’re not alone- it can be confusing.  Most of the day there are two classes going on at once- one by each teacher.  Additionally, there can be kids in there who cannot be in their regular classes for some reason or other (remember above where I mentioned pulling kids out of other classes).  At this time, I had social studies with 7th grade (the one student), but the other sub had math with 6th grade.  One of the 6th graders had big issues all day.

Well, tune in next time for hopefully a post with less drama.  Well at least a better day for me- drama is great for the reader 😛 .  Otherwise, I will have to work in another soap opera title. 😉

A taste of India

Sa- a deer, a female deer
Re- a drop of golden sun
Ga- a name I call myself
Ma- a long, long way to run
Pa- a needle pulling thread
Dha- a note to follow pa
Ni- a drink with jam and bread

Hmm.  Something doesn’t seem quite right there.  On Friday, I, along with the 6th grade body of the school I was at, got a little lesson in playing the sitar.  A college student who used to attend that middle school came in to give a demonstration.  The teacher I subbed for had “concert” written on the schedule, but it really wasn’t a concert though he did play a couple of short tunes.  I hestitate to use the word “song” here, because apparently classical Indian songs are over 15 minutes long, but what he played for us were tunes about half a minute in length.  The reason?  He is just a sitar student himself, but that was good enough to bring him in for a demonstration for students who are in the middle of learning different world cultures in social studies.  As far as being a student, in fact, he told us that it takes about 20 years before one can be considered a good enough sitar player to play professionally in India, and another ten before one can teach.  Wow.

He started off with a little lesson on musical notation.  Remember the song above?  Well, the form of musical notation he has learned for Indian music involves a musical scale similar to that referenced to in the Solfège technique, from which we get the syllables do, re, mi, fa, so, la, and ti.  For Indian music, the syllables used are sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, and ni.  The music also doesn’t use the staff Western musicians are familiar with.  Instead, they use |, ^, and -.  These symbols tell them how to pluck the playing string (the one of 17 strings used most of the time) and a letter above the symbol tells them which note- the first letter of the aforementioned syllables.  A dot above or below the letter. if present, tells the octave.   The sitar is capable of playing three octaves.

Along with the lesson, he played a little bit of a CD which included a type of percussion instrument that typically accompanies the sitar and is capable of 30 different sounds on two drums.  I forget what he said the name of this instrument is.  Again, he also played a little bit himself.  During one of the class periods, a teacher, my former junior high band teacher in fact, came in halfway through with his “Beatles” class (seems the one school with its African drumming course- see post archives from about a couple months ago- isn’t the only one to have such specialized music classes 😮 ) and asked Bob (the sitar player- what do you mean you thought he was Indian? 😛 ) to play some bits from the few Beatles songs featuring George Harrison on the sitar (Youtube link).  He wasn’t very proficient on this though as his studies were primarily Indian music.

All in all it was a very interesting lesson I thought, even though I learned it five times. 😛  This turned out to be a far better day than the day before.  I was definitely pleased that I did not get that second day in that ELL class.

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Still my favorite grade

Monday: 5th grade.  Location: my hometown, same school as last week’s PE assignment.  This wasn’t my favorite fifth grade assignment, but it was still a good day.  The day started with specials.  As I subbed for PE last week, I knew a little bit of the schedule so I expected this.  It’s always nice to have extra time to go over the lesson plans, particularly in elementary school when there are so many different things going on.  Spelling pretest went well, but I thought there were some challenging words on that list.  It didn’t stop three students from making the challenge list though with three or less incorrect, to the disappointment of one of them.  They tell me the challenge list is much harder so they don’t like to do it.  One student mentioned purposely spelling some wrong to avoid this list.  I hope he wasn’t serious.  Note to self: make challenge list more fun too so students actually want to succeed.  Math was next, and being the advanced group I started out with my usual routine of putting up some high school or college problems on the board and asking them to solve them, saying, “This is the advanced class, right?”  Yes, ha ha.  So the real lesson was kind of a review for them I’m told, so the teaching part was kind of short.  Toward the end a student came back it asking for his homework for the rest of the day.  I asked him to wait a minute while I addressed a problem with the math group, but he just left.  I found out later he had a migrane so I can excuse his impatience.  I ended up sending his work home with another student.

The afternoon was reading and writing, followed by social studies.  There was a whole group and small group lesson.  Then we went over the reading test they took last week, the one the teacher still had with him.  Oops.  He asked me to make fresh copies for the kids, but since they were only going to look at them and nothing else, the teaching assistant gave me an alternative by making transparencies instead and saving a tree.  The social studies was finishing up a packet, and studying for their quiz on Tuesday.  I wish I had seen the packet ahead of time.  There were so many questions on the first page it would have been easier to go over a whole class example before they started.

So that was Monday in a nutshell.  Today I was at another school for the first time, another one close to home.  I picked up on it right away though.  It was a low-level reading program.  In fact, I subbed in a class like this just last week.  It was another district, but it seems they use the same program, just as many districts use the same U of I math program.  It was mostly small group work with 7th and 8th grade classes.  There was some whole group instruction, but it was just introducing the small group lesson.  It wasn’t a bad day, though I’ve had far worse.  Some of the students were ELL, and regular readers know about some of my experiences with ELL students.  Speaking of ELL, I had an opportunity to sub for 1st grade ELL today but I decided to take a pass.  One thing worse than those bad experiences in middle school ELL was in the primary ELL department, where there are many students who know very little English and are therefore that much more difficult to teach.

So, tomorrow I will be in yet another school I’ve never been in.  3rd grade.  Until then.