Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Answer

So in the last post, I mentioned my distaste for testing and part of the reason for that is questions like this...
This type of question is used to assess students' decoding skills which is their understanding of phonics and the sounds letters make.  Decoding is used when reading new words.  This type of question is challenging in itself because while students are reading actual text there are so many skills that are going on at the same time when they read.  Think about when you read yourself.  If you happen upon a word that is new to you, you draw from a variety of skills, almost instantly, in order to figure it out.  All at the same time you will decode/sound it out, think about how it's used in context as well as if there are any context clues to give you hints, and pull from your personal dictionary you carry in your brain of words you know.  That's what good readers do.  So to isolate that decoding skill is very hard.  We do A LOT of teaching to the test practice with this type of question because it is an unnatural way of decoding.  So while the type of question is tricky, the first two parts are manageable and do not bother me (beyond my issue above).
It's the third part that gets me.  The word "perform" uses a fairly basic phonics skill of what we call the R-controlled vowel.  The R that comes after the O keeps the O from being long (phone) or short (hop).  Instead the sound the two make together says "or" like the word.  So let's look at the answer choices...
- far - has an R-controlled A so that sound obviously doesn't match
- sharp - same as above
- tour - the vowel team "ou" can have four sounds.  So, technically tour could be said like TORE and be the correct answer.
BUT, if you look the word tour up in the dictionary, there are only two pronunciations given.
- motor - ends in or and should technically say "or" but it doesn't.  Instead it says "er".  When you look that up, there are no variations in the sound.  HOWEVER, in Spanish it is pronounced mow-TOR, emphasizing the OR sound.  This is a test in English of course, BUT 90% of the students in my class come from Spanish speaking homes, so that is an issue.

So what is the answer?!?!  It is TOUR.
After all of this research (for one freaking question) trying to figure out why the heck the answer is tour, I brought it to a colleague of mine.  She said that in Idaho and Utah (where she is from) they do pronounce it closer to TORE.  In California, we pronounce it as to-er.  So even, if there's a possibility it could follow the phonics rule of #2, the dictionary doesn't show it AND it's not something we hear regionally.  And then to add in that many of my kids do hear motor as mow-TOR at are they supposed to answer this!?!?!
I know the test makers like to make the kids "think" by putting words that have the same sound but different spelling, but maybe they could have used oar, boar, or warn which are much more clear about their sound.
It's questions like this that make me question whether the tests can indicate anything like student achievement or teacher effectiveness.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Now that I'm in a grade level again that participates in end-of-year-state testing (sobs), it's about that time of year where the utter absurdity of it all comes into play, and I have to blog about it.  For most of my career I have taught in 2nd grade, and for the first 15 years of it we had end-of-year state testing called STAR which was a standardized test in California.  We spent A LOT of time preparing, or as I like to call it "teaching to the test".  I found it was ridiculous how much time we spent preparing rather than just teaching and how much pressure was put on us to do well.  However, it was mostly a developmentally appropriate test.  When things shifted to Common Core, second grade no longer tested.  That's not to say we didn't test a million other times throughout the year, but we didn't have to do the the high-stakes testing at the end of the year.  Hooray! It was such a relief to be able to teach what the kids needed to know, not what was on the test.
That Hooray, went wah, wah, wah at the very end of last year when my terribly unqualified principal (who was just recently FIRED by the way) decided I needed to be in a grade that tested, so moved me to 3rd grade.  Philosophically, it wasn't the right thing to do for numerous reasons, but it was done and now I'm back in a grade that tests, and I HATE THAT.
I hate that everything we do is about the test.  We have to write this way because of the test.  We have to read these passages because of the test.  We have to teach these test taking skills.  And I will tell you, the new "Common Core" tests are SO HARD that most 8 year olds don't have the wherewithal and the stamina to get through it and do well.  They are not developmentally appropriate.  And it's maddening.  To make matters worse, the fact that the questions can't just be straight forward drives me mad.  I get testing critical thinking when a student is in high school, but my kids are 8 and 9.  If a question is so tricky that a group of 3rd grade teachers who teach the tested subject matter can't figure out the answer then it's not appropriate.
There was a question on our trimester 2 testing last week.  The test was quite difficult, but if a student is able to read at grade level AND has the wherewithal to care enough to answer each question with care, he or she would do ok.  But this question, or more specifically the answer choices, wasn't a good question.  Take a look...
This is a three part question where students had to identify sound/spelling patterns.  Based on the underlined part of the word in each sentence (mostly a complex vowel sound), students are asked to choose the word that has the same SOUND.  That means that just because the part of the word has the same spelling doesn't mean it has the same sound.  It's English after all!  It's a common question in 2nd and 3rd grade to assess decoding skills, which in itself is lame because decoding skills are used for READING not answering test questions.  But I digress.  The issue with this question is the 3rd part.  Try to answer that question using your phonics knowledge and see what you come up.  After, feel free to consult a dictionary - it didn't help us any.  I'll be back in a day or to with the answer.  

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Just Appalling

I have spent this past year or more figuratively biting my tongue regarding the state of our nation and our politicians.  When my bleeding heart self reads the news anymore I feel the need to curl up in the fetal position and cry.  But I've kept it off my blog.  Today, I just can't.
Both Florida state's House and Senate voted to advance a bill that would allow teachers to carry guns in school.  This comes about after the Valentine's Day shooting at a high school.  The state has looked under the couch cushions and somehow scrounged up $67 million to pay for training teachers to be "marshals" who carry guns in the school.  This is the same state who received an "F"  in school funding by the Educational Law Center last year.  This is the kind of hypocritical bureaucratic thing that happens all the time in education.  If you were to ask a teacher how to solve an education/school problem the answer would be very different than those who actually hold the purse strings.  If you were to ask a teacher how to solve the school shooting problem, they would probably ask for more funding, but not for freaking guns.  We ask for more funding all the time.  Yes, sometimes it's even for more pay.  But most of the time the funding we ask for is to benefit our students, to reach more students, to help students in need.  That funding is NEVER enough and is usually the first to cut.  Interestingly enough, Florida state feels like they have a little extra money just sitting around.  I bet the gun lobby is thrilled about that!
As a teacher, I didn't sign up to be armed in the classroom.  And while this program Florida is proposing is based on teachers volunteering to have a weapon in the classroom, I don't even want to be in a school that has weapons in the classroom FOR SO MANY REASONS.  Putting the onus on teachers, yet again, because "our" love of guns keeps us from dealing with our gun problem and our lack of funding keeps us from helping disturbed individuals isn't surprising, but it's appalling.  My job is harder now than it was last year, 5 years ago, 10 years, even 19 years ago when I first started.  And I continue to go in and do the VERY best I can, to the detriment of pretty much every thing else, every single day.  If the burden of having guns in schools falls on my shoulders, I'm out.    I won't do it anymore.  

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Last Bit of Scotland

After two days on the Isle of Skye it was time to head back to Edinburgh.  Before driving off the island, our tour guide told me that there was a head teacher position in one of the little villages on the island.  It was actually a teacher/principal position that paid about $55,000, and there was only ONE student.  I wanted him to leave me there!
Anyhow, it was a long trip back, but we did stop here and there to stretch our legs and even look for a monster...
Lobster creels
The town of Dornie 
The "old" bridge of Invermoriston
We did send a couple of hours in Fort Augustus which sits along the shore of Loch Ness.  
We took the obligatory cruise to search for "Nessie"
 Well, would you look at that!  We spotted her!
Fort Augustus is a small (pop. +/- 600) village with an interesting series of locks right through the middle of town.  The locks are part of the Caledonian Canal which was designed in the 1800s as a way to connect the east coast of Scotland to the west coast.  

Our last stop before returning to Edinburgh was a darling little town called Pitlochry.  We had time to stretch our legs with a quick wander around town, and I had the best latte and millionaire bar  (shortbread, caramel, and chocolate) of the entire trip here.  
Once we arrived back in Edinburgh, we packed it in for the night as we had to say goodbye to Scotland the next morning.  

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Movie Reviews

The Oscar Nominations were release last week and I had been waiting to see one more movie that was in contention before posting this past year's movie reviews.  It seems weird that the Academy Awards aren't until March this year.  That seems late to me.  But at least that gave me some time for this post.  Anyhow, here we go...
Hidden Figures - What an outstanding film!  Based on the true story about the African America women who worked for NASA.  They were highly contributive to the space work and the first moon landing.  I found it fascinating, and sad that, even though I'd consider myself well educated for the most part, it was the first time I was hearing about it.
Logan - Not really a fan of super hero/comic book films, the X-Men are kind of my guilty pleasure.  I've seen them all, and of course Hugh Jackman's Wolverine/Logan is my favorite character.  Wolverine is charged with helping the new generation of mutants find a safe place.  While he was successful in that regard, I'm not quite sure Wolverine will be starring in anymore X-Men films.  His fate looked like it was sealed by the end of the movie.
The Big Sick - Based on the true story of how comedian Kumail Nanjiani met his life.  As a Pakistani-American, Kumail's family had their sights on his arranged marriage, but when he met and fell for a white girl at one of his comedy gigs those plans were put on hold.  Shortly after meeting, the girl gets very sick and falls into a coma in the hospital.  The film is mostly about how he and the girl's parents form a bond while she is sick.  A cute, quirky movie.  Despite the illness, it is light and funny.
Atomic Blonde - If there was ever a film about my alter ego as a super spy, this would be it.  MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is tasked to travel to 1989 Berlin to track down a double agent.  While there, her plans have to change after the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.  The action was thrilling, the 80s music was fun, and the clothes were fantastic.  One of my favorites of the year!
The Hitman's Bodyguard - Samuel L Jackson and Ryan Reynolds star in this action/comedy about a security professional (Reynolds) who has been tasked to get a former hitman (Jackson) to The Hague in order to testify against an Eastern European dictator.  Another action packed fun film.  Both actors are quite funny with a dry sense of humor - lots of laughter.
Logan Lucky - Billed as a Hillbilly Heist film, Logan Lucky tells the story of some down and out characters from the Carolinas who come up with a get rich heist by robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway during a NASCAR race.  This was directed by Steven Soderbergh who also did the Ocean 11 movies.  Funnily enough, the "breaking news" about the heist in the film called it a "Southern Fried Oceans 11".  It was quirky and fun.  This is one of those films that would be good to watch again to see all the slight of hands that happened, plus the cast is packed with all starts.
Home Again - Hmmmm, I like Reese Witherspoon, but this film with her as a newly single mom in Hollywood who takes in three young film makers/friends who become part of the family was just meh.  It's a cute/nice film, but it left me wanting more even for a chick flick.  Until I looked at my list I had actually forgotten I had seen it.  However, Candice Bergen plays Witherspoon's mom, and she is always great.
American Assassin - The film was based on the Vince Flynn book series about Mitch Rapp who is a skilled counter-terrorism operative.  I read/listen to this series when I walk the dog and LOVE them.  They are super exciting and very interesting, so I anticipated this film (the first in the series) greatly.  It was a disappointment to say the least.  I'm not sure if I would have felt that way if my expectations weren't so high, but they were so I was.  It's hard to reduce 500 or so pages down to 2 hours of film and I feel this one was done poorly.  Plus, the actors who were cast didn't do the book characters justice.  Another meh.
Suburbicon - I had not realized this was a Coen Brothers film (No Country For Old Men, The Big Labowski, Fargo) until after it was over and the credits ran.  No wonder it was crazy!  Matt Damon and Juliann Moore star as a 60's suburban family who are not at all what they seem.  Lots of surprises and antics.  I don't really know if I liked it or not because I'm still recovering from it.
Lady Bird - A cute film about a teenager (self-proclaimed Lady Bird) during her senior year of high school.  She tries to navigate school, boys, applying to college while constantly arguing with her mom.  It has gotten fantastic reviews and recognized with nominations and awards.  While I found it a sweet film, I don't know if it is award worthy.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - A grieving mother grows frustrated with the lack of progress police are making on solving her daughter's murder.  She decides to call them out by renting 3 billboards along a local road.  The billboards create mayhem in the town.  Quirky and FANTASTIC.  Nominations and awards are well deserved.  Both Francis McDermott and Sam Rockwell deserve awards as well.
The Darkest Hour - a long film about Winston Churchill's take over as PM during World War II.  It takes place while England has to decide whether to keep fighting agains the Nazi forces or to enter into a peace treaty with the Germans.  It is not an action packed/fast paced film at all.  It is a thinking film.  Gary Oldman's portrayal/transformation is wonderful and any awards well deserved.
Father Figures - Ed Helms and Owen Wilson are twin brothers who find out their father isn't who they thought he was.  So they go on a road trip adventure to find their biological father.  It was a good comedy with a couple of twists and turns.  Not an award winner, but fun nonetheless.
Molly's Game - Based on the true story of Olympic skier turned high roller poker madam, Molly Bloom.  The story is told in flashbacks after she is arrested by the FBI.  It is based on Bloom's book.  It was a fun "tell all" type film.
All the Money in the World - Even though the Getty family name is quite well known in Los Angeles due to their philanthropic contribution to the arts, I really didn't have much knowledge of the family beyond that.  While this movie was for entertainment purposes, it also gave me some insight (and reasons to look) into how wacky the family actually was.  This film tells the story about JP Getty III's kidnapping in Italy and how the Getty family (grandfather, father, and mother) responded to it.  Michelle Williams, who played Gail (Harris) Getty, his mother, was relentless and instrumental in his return.  According to the movie, after Getty's death he left his art in a trust to Gail Harris, which she then was influential in setting up the museum(s) here in LA.  I haven't read anything to confirm or dispute that claim.  From what I have found is that while JP Getty was incredibly stingy with his wealth, his family was much more philanthropic with it.  The role of the patriarch is the infamous role that Christopher Plummer stepped into after the sexual harassment allegations against Kevin Spacey.
The Greatest Showman - While I am a Hugh Jackman fan, the previews of this film were lost on me as it didn't look like my cup of tea.  After  SEVERAL friends saw the film multiple times I was told to I "just had to go see it".  So I did and, while I don't need to see it 5 more times, I did really enjoy it.  It tells the story of the creation of the Barnum (and Bailey) Circus.  It was told in musical form and the music and dancing were really wonderful.  I don't usually care for musicals in the movies, but this one was catchy and well done.  I'd highly recommend it.
The Post - The trailer for this movie had been playing for months before it actually came out nationwide.  It opened in late December (to be considered for awards season) in just one or two theaters in LA, but didn't come out everywhere until the middle of January.  I had been waiting to post this year end review until then because I knew I wanted to see it AND I knew it would be nominated for awards.  Anyhow, I don't know if it was the hype, but it wasn't as good as I was expecting it.  I feel like it was billed as a newspaper's investigation into a scandal involving the Vietnam War and the fight it had to publish it.  However, it turned out to be more about the newspaper (Washington Post) fighting to publish the information that another paper had been forbidden to publish by a court of law.  The owner of the Post at the time was Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) who had inherited it after her husband died.  She was the first female newspaper publisher and, of course, that made the hurdles she had to jump much larger than her male counterparts at the time.  The film was mostly about how she and her editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) got the story published despite the challenges and threats. I don't know if it were my high expectations but I was slightly disappointed.  I was expecting it to be another "Spotlight", but it wasn't.  Because of that I found that it fell on the duller side.
Awards season has just about come to an end with the Oscars still remaining.  I would predict "Three Billboards..." to do well as so far it's been a pretty steady winner.  The others are kind of a toss up.  What do you think?

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Netflix and Chill

Television show watching has changed quite a bit with the "invention" of DVRs and OnDemand and even more so with online "television" like Netflix and Amazon Prime.  Back in the day, we waited all week (or even weeks) to find out who shot J.R. or if Ross and Rachel would get together/break up/get together again or who was voted off Survivor.   At work the next day, there was the obligatory water-cooler talk about last night's show.  It was kind of fun to gasp, laugh, or shake your head over what went down the night before.
Nowadays, there are so many ways to watch television and most of us don't actually watch it on the day/time that it first airs.  Watching TV during my work week is a challenge as I always have work I have to do after school.  I might have the TV on while I'm working, but it's more for noise. Intellectual shows that need attention are saved on the DVR until at least the weekend, but usually not watched until a school break.  By break, there are multiple shows saved so it could turn into binge watching.  Regardless, I no longer contribute to the water-cooler talk.  Water-cooler talk seems to be about other things these days as most aren't watching shows they day they air.
Even more sporadically watched seems to be the shows created by and aired on the online streaming media companies like Netflix and Amazon Prime.  They create their own shows and release an entire season at a time.  Someone coming in on a show late can catch up with an episode a day or binge watch several seasons over a weekend.  But being able to talk about these shows with others is kind of over.  Between the binge watching and the NUMBER of shows they offer, it is rare that anyone you know is watching the same thing you are.
I do have both Netflix (streaming) and Amazon Prime, which is kind of silly, as I have plenty of things to watch on the DVR and don't even have time for that.  The streaming shows aren't shows you can have in the background and just listen to.  You've got to pay attention, and I have so little time to do that.  But I've found about 20 minutes a day in the morning when I'm getting ready for work that I can set the iPad on the bathroom sink and watch something on one of these sites.  I started this in late summer because a friend of mine did the graphic work on a new Netflix series called "Mindhunter".  I wanted to watch it so carved out this little bit of time, and got through the season in about a month.  It was a FANTASTIC show, but no one else I know watched it while I was.  Since then, several people have recommended "The Crown" to me.  I was a bit hesitant to start it since it's already in Season 2, but I did start and now I'm OBSESSED with it.  There have been so many, "Oh my gosh!" moments!  Yet again, those who recommended have already watched it, so my discussion over it has been limited.
Watching TV has gotten so easy and the options are endless anymore, but the social aspect has all but disappeared.  While I like being able to watch TV when I have the time, I do miss the discussion about it the next day.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Tense Saturday

I don't believe there's been a tenser 30+ minutes.  

Even after it was announced as a false alarm, adrenaline still pumped, hearts still raced.  It was a surreal day.