BlogWalker

Muddling through the blogosphere

April 17, 2011
by blogwalker
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Some Tips for Getting Students through State Testing

April can be a tension-filled month at many schools sites, especially those sites that are in PI (Program Improvement). Thank goodness for Rudy Alfonso and his 5th grade filmmakers, who  have some suggestions for helping students get through the mandated week(s) of high stakes testing. If you’ve already seen Rudy’s 2010 The Secret to the CST, than you’ll be happy to know that he and his students have just released the CST 2011 Movie:

I love Rudy’s make-students-part-of-the-solution approach to standardized testing.

If you have testing tips for teachers to share with students, please jump in and add a comment….because apparently, budget crisis or not, standardized testing is still alive and well.

April 17, 2010
by blogwalker
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A Tale of Two Title 1 Schools – What a difference a freeway exit makes!

I’m trying to imagine the climate at Oakridge Elementary School last week, based on my friend Alice’s description:

I arrived at my school Monday to a site abuzz. Coworkers had heard from teachers at other school sites in the district sharing that on Friday, they had received an email that was going out to “a select group of teachers” in our district, offering them the chance to work in high needs schools. Recipients were directed to a site for the Talent Transfer Initiative, a project from the Department of Education ARRA (stimulus) funding. More information about the background of the program can be found on the site for Mathematica, who will be evaluating this project. Although “priority schools” are not mentioned in the email, it’s pretty clear that in the district, my school in particular (being identified by the state as bottom performing) and the other five priority schools are the “target” school or schools for the program.”

It was only last month that the greater Sacramento area was treated to the SacBee’s front page feature story on the possible closing of Oakridge (which I blogged about here.)  I work in the next district heading south down Hwy 99.  Oakridge is situated in south Sacramento. The northern part of my district is also in south Sac. Not surprisingly, there is a good bit of flow through traffic in our transient Title 1 populations, with students starting the year in Sac City USD and then transferring into Elk Grove USD and visa versa. Therefore, ‘those students’ can potentially become our students.

If you continue down Hwy 99, past the off ramp for Oakridge, and take the Florin exit, as I did last Tuesday, and head over to David Reese Elementary School, you will find a more promising environment for teaching and learning – despite that fact that Reese is also in Program Improvement.  The school has had a series of administrative changes, but I’ve heard more than a few teachers refer to their current principal as “a gift.” And how many school websites feature their administrators and office staff dancing in chicken suits?!

My first stop at Reese was Mr. Alfonso’s 5th grade classroom.  I joined SECC cameraman Doug Niva as he interviewed a number of Mr. Alfonso’s filmmakers about their SEVA film entries. Hearing students share what they were learning from movie making (e.g., storyboarding, script writing, camera shots and angles, teamwork) made me wish all Title 1 students had access to project-based learning as part the school day  – even during  the month of April, which is often referred to as “the cruelest month of all” in terms of drill ‘n kill at Title 1 schools.

Mr. Alfonso was not in the classroom during the interviews. An off-track 5th grade teacher was covering his classroom (working with students on a vocabulary building exercise)  while Mr. Alfonso and a film team were somewhere else on campus working on a film production – with a Friday deadline. When the crew returned to the room, I was treated to a preview of The Secret to the CST, a production that would be shown during a Friday assembly to remind students about testing strategies. Hmmm…students consuming AND producing tips on test taking…

Thursday I was back at Reese, this time to join Teresa Cheung’s 4th grade students for an  interview with earthquake relief worker Leisa Faulkner who had just returned from  her latest visit to Haiti. Thanks to two of Mr. Alfonso’s filmmakers, the interview was recorded.

Next week, I’ll be back at Reese to help Ms. Cheung’s students decide which medium (podcasting, movie making, blogging) would be the best tool for taking Miss Leisa’s interview beyond the walls of the classroom and for honoring her request “to not forget Haiti.”

Will the Reese students achieve higher CST scores than the Oakridge students? I don’t know. No matter how demoralized the Oakridge staff is, I know Alice and many of her colleagues will continue to work well past contract hours in their race to level the playing field of  grinding poverty from the surrounding community – as will the Reese staff.  Come September, CST scores will be published. But if I were to place a bet…

Two Title 1 schools, both in PI, only a few off-ramps apart, but while one site is being taken apart from without, the other is rebuilding from within….

Sorry, Alice, but based on the apparent total lack of support coming your way from the “higher ups,” I’m betting on Reese.

January 4, 2010
by blogwalker
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Mr. Alfonso – Part 2: Modeling for students

One of the best things about heading into 2010 is the opportunity to follow Rudy Alfonso and his 5th graders as they continue their journey into the art and process of filmmaking.

If you haven’t visited his EETT & Making Movies blog, I recommend starting with the First Entry (from October) and working your way forward to December.  What an amazing window into the all stages of the guiding students through the filmmaking process!

Not surprisingly,  before Mr. Alfonso and his students headed off for winter break, he shared one of his own recent productions: Sleigh Ride

“Since this is a blog about students learning how to make videos from a teacher, a teacher has to model making videos right? Here’s one I made that I showed my students about using music and being creative.”

Lucky me! As the coordinator of the EETT grant, I’ll get to visit with Rudy and his students throughout the remainder of the school year.  Lucky you! I’ll continue to share gems from Mr. Alfonso’s classroom, including some soon-to-be-posted interview clips.

December 21, 2009
by blogwalker
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Movie Making with Skype?…Meet Mr. Alfonso – Part 1

Skype is great tool…but movie making with Skype? Meet Mr. Alfonso, one of my EETT teachers, who I’m guessing can take any technology tool to a new level. His Meet the David Reese Bunch video is but one of a growing bank of samples of how movie making can promote shared learning communities.

A visit to Rudy Alfonso’s classroom blog will provide you with a window into what the act/art of digital composing looks like in his 5th grade classroom.  Forget any stereotypes of Title I teaching (sometimes limited to multiple-choice, lower-level thinking activities); they don’t apply to this classroom.  Based on a recent visit to Mr. Alfonso’s classroom, one of my resolutions for the New Year is to document his students’ year-long learning journeys, including video interviews. I’m pretty sure the end product will be an invaluable resource for other educators who want to provide a 21st century curriculum to their elementary students, but just need some tips and models.

Wouldn’t you love to hear first-hand why Serena, for instance, who has completed her storyboard for her second movie and is now ready to move into production, has decided her first scene will open with the particular ‘Establishing shot” shown in her storyboard?!

At the very minimum, I’m planning to add a monthly update on my digital travels with Mr. Alfonso and his class.  I hope you’ll join me – and contribute to the conversation with links to what new technologies look like when they get legs and walk beyond workshops and into your classrooms.

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