Thursday, June 5, 2014

My Quest for National Board Certification: The most rewarding year of my teaching career

Welcome back:

Summer break has started for most of New Orleans' schools, but that doesn't mean teachers aren't reflecting on the year that was. As the title of this post states, I am confident in saying that this past school year was the most rewarding stretch of teaching thus far in my career.
Why? I could go on and on about how my heavy investment in arts integration as a KidSmart Teacher-Leader, the successes of the debate team and chess club, the laughs I shared with the 1st and 6th graders during Mandarin Chinese lessons, or how my specific ELA students scored one of the highest "Basic or above" percentages on the iLEAP out of all open-enrollment schools in New Orleans (Also, this link), but in actuality, the most rewarding part of the year was the high(er) standards that motivated me to create, document, process, and reflect on the lessons I planned and executed with my students. These standards are those created by the National Board Professional Teaching Standards.  I learned about National Board Certification from a teacher friend who attended SUNY Fredonia with me during my undergraduate/graduate work in education, and I felt up for the challenge.  And oh, what a challenge it was!

In an article from The Advocate from January, 2013, Charles Lussier reports:
"Just 54 teachers in Louisiana achieved certification in 2012 from a well-regarded national teaching organization, a fifth as many teachers as when the program was at its peak in this state.
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards announced the results Monday. The totals are down from 102 in 2011 and 148 in 2010."
Why is there a pattern of decline of NBC teachers in Louisiana?  I would argue we need more NBC teachers than ever in a state that is consistently placed towards the bottom of the US's state education rankings. In a recent blog post from Geneviève DeBose on the NBPTS website, she writes about her desire to: "1) increase the number of NBCTs in high-need schools, and 2) train NBCTs to become instructional leaders in high-need schools." This post gave me extra motivation to complete my teaching portfolio - consisting of 4 entries assessing my work with students' reading/writing, whole-group discussion, small-group instruction, and documenting my accomplishments with parents and the community - and study hard for the rapid-fire computer-based assessment of my content knowledge and understanding of advanced teaching pedagogy. In hope of fulfilling Ms. DeBose's second goal, I will serve as a Teacher Coach during the next school year as to help my colleagues learn new strategies on how to bridge arts integration and the Common Core Standards. 

When I walked out of the testing center on May 29th, I felt so fulfilled. I worked incredibly hard with my students this year and was lucky to have the support of my colleagues and administration as I slowly but surely chipped away at this rigorous task.  Thank you!

After my students completed their iLEAP test in April, I sent this tweet to @NBPTS in appreciation for everything their standards did for me:

I won't find out my scores for another few months, but I hope my portfolio accurately reflects how much I learned with my students this past school year. Teachers always want to get better at their craft, and NBPTS gave me one of the best professional development opportunities imaginable. Sharing the same goal as Ms. DeBose, I hope my process inspires other teachers in Louisiana, especially in New Orleans, to gear up, have a good stretch, and begin the climb to the top of the teaching mountain.

My best,

Friday, May 23, 2014

Short scenes from Hatchet using Dramatic ARTS INTEGRATION!

Welcome back!

Summer is here!  But before we depart for 2 months of Louisiana humidity, here are some short Hatchet scenes we filmed using dramatic arts integration! (Excuse the shoddy "Blogger" uploads; the YouTube page was having some technical difficulties.) How do we promote engagement, deepen comprehension, and utilize all intelligences? ARTS INTEGRATION!

The Skunk Attack Scene! (Using random props found around the classroom!)

The next three scenes we worked on the idea that Brian evolved from a submissive presence to a dominant force in the wild as he learned his role in a greater natural system.  The first clip is of Brian's interaction with a bear and her cub, in which he immediately backs up submissively. 

Next, he encounters a pack of wolves, showing less fear by nodding to them in acknowledgment. 

Finally, he finds himself "in the wild," and by establishing himself (aka "surviving") he emits his dominance. The "clap!" significances the mental shift Brian feels as he becomes one with his surroundings!

More soon!

My best,

Mr. Razem

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Arts Integration with Visual Arts for Gary Paulsen's Hatchet and more!

Welcome back!


As the school year concludes, we have have been utilizing more and more arts integration lessons to make our lessons burst at the seams with student creativity! We are reading another great novel - Gary Paulsen's Hatchet - and channeled our inner Navy Seal and Michelangelo for some neat, relevant activities:

First, I blew the students minds with this video clip and asked them to define "camouflage":

In Hatchet,

Brian experiences many trials in the Candaian wilderness. He must adapt, or blend in, to this new, sometimes hostile world, and that means he must become one with the wild.  Then, I showed the students these four pictures and we analyzed each environment's colors and textures. 

Then we talked about pixels in photographs (I zooooooomed in on a picture and we analyzed the individual squares), and how the our own military uses a form of camouflage that's composed of tiny pixels to build a much greater, more strategic pattern of colors that helps soldiers disappear into their surroundings.  So I asked the students to select one of these four settings and create a pixel camouflage for it.  Here are some great examples:


 This lesson demonstrated my students' ability to bridge literary and art concepts, assisting them in visualizing the descriptive passages from Hatchet, bringing Brian's situation to life.

Also, we looked at pictures of the Sistine Chapel in Rome and brainstormed the challenge Michelangelo had to deal with when he painted the immortal "God Adam Touch" painting:

I asked, "Do you think you could create art like him....while laying on your back?!"

So we we tried:
Their assignment was to write their favorite scene from Chapters 1-6 from Hatchet.  Check it out!

 The students LOVED this.  One student even asked, "Can we do our homework like this?" Changing students' perspectives continues to promote engagement and creative thinking.  

Always thinking outside the box in 6th grade ELA! 

More soon,

Mr. Razem

Monday, April 28, 2014

Final Debate of the Year!

Welcome back!
Our fourth and final debate took place this past Saturday at Tulane University.  We fielded an all 6th grade team this round: --Jeremiah B, Kiya W, Aalyah B, and Aria D--and they did a phenomenal job!  Because we only had four, they formed themselves into two teams of two and were asked by debate organizers to "take in" debaters from two other schools in order to form two teams of three.  Joining Aria and Jeremiah was a talented young 7th grader from Lusher Charter School, and joining Kiya and Aalyah was 6th grader Michael, son of Mrs. Cherie G. of Behrman Charter!  The results were great--our individual teams each earned a record of 3 wins and 1 loss, and came in 5th and 7th place, and Behrman as a school came in 3rd place out of all 12 schools in attendance!  Aalyah B came in 14th place out of all debaters, as calculated by individual speaker points throughout the day. 
The four topics the students debated were 1) Social media does more harm than good; 2) College education should be free; 3) Advertising does more harm than good; and 4) Cigarettes should be illegal. 
Special thanks to the teachers, administration, and parents who supported the debate team this year!  The students all learned a lot and continue to improve with each competition. 
Thanks again,
Mr. Razem 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Debate UPDATE!!! SUCCESS! #CommunityBuilding!

Welcome back!


On Saturday, March 29th, Behrman Charter hosted our very first city-wide Middle School Debate Tournament.  We had teams from 11 different schools around the parish, as well as many parents, Tulane students, and even a representative from the Times-Picayune.  The day was a huge success!  Dr. Ryan McBride from Tulane, who coordinates the Crescent City Debate League and organizes all of these events, even wrote to us afterwards and said that, thanks to the support from our administration, faculty, and staff, this was one of the most successful debate tournaments to date.  We are so proud!  And Behrman, as a school, came in fifth place out of all 11 schools.  (Check out the article written about the event, posted to  It was in print in the paper on 4/9/14. Here is the LINK: CLICK!)

Our debaters had a very successful day, debating each of the following topics:

1) Immigration reform should include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. 2) The noise ordinance in the French Quarter should remain unchanged.
3) High school attendance should be voluntary. (Improvisational debate)
4) Schools should not have competitive sports. (Improvisational debate)

As you can see, these are some tricky topics, but our 6th and 8th graders worked tirelessly to research and practice.  We had five debaters place in the top 20 of all speakers, including Felicity B., who placed 1st overall!  Here are the other 12 debaters and their top 20 places (if applicable):
Aria D. (9th)
Jeremiah B. (10th)
Brittany T. (15th)
Aalyah B. (20th)
Akiem M.
Rebecca L.
Makayla M.
Chavone T.
Henry N. (who joined up with two debaters from John Dibert to compete all day!)
Kiya W.
Khalia W.
Constance D.

And last, but certainly not least, a big THANK YOU to all of the wonderful members of the Behrman team who sacrificed either some or all of their (beautiful) Saturday to support our team:  Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Goins, Mr. Young, Nurse Brown, Ms. Gillard, Ms. Hicks, Mrs. Tassin, Mrs. Stevenson, Mrs. Blunt-Jupiter, Officer Lee, Officer Vaughn, Ms. V. Drake, Mr. Hodges, and Coach Cardoza, as well as several awesome parents of our debaters.  Without all of your help--serving lunch, cleaning tables, helping our debaters brainstorm and practice, and going and watching their debates--it never would have gone as smoothly as it did.  You are APPRECIATED

Lastly, I want to thank the diligent staff from Tulane University for honoring Behrman's Razems by naming the debate award after us. We feel very blessed!

 Check out the #hashtag we had running all day, too!  Nothing like bringing our digital supporters as well!

Many thanks!

Mr. Razem

Monday, April 21, 2014

Let's Advertise!

Welcome back!

Teaching students to think persuasively is the first step for them to write persuasively.  Fortunately, many of my students already have a firm grasp on how to "sell" someone an idea, but just like our study of color psychology, advertising something takes a lot of thinking, analyzing, interpreting, and dissection.  Let's see how we did it:

Socratic Questioning: What questions do you have about advertising?
Gallery Walk: Bring in an ad, what do you like about it? How does it sell us its product or idea?

Our advertising techniques!

Our assignment: SELL ME THIS PENCIL!  A familiar product for ALL students...sold in the school store!

And here are some great final products using a variety of advertising techniques!

And finally, we took our favorite techniques and DRAMATIZED them with a couple of commercials! 



This was an especially interesting mini-unit for the students (and the teacher!); we really loved learning about the ad techniques advertisers use to lure people to buy or grab hold of something and feel as if they need it or need to support it.   Many laughs, high engagement, and leading into a transference of our advertising skills to writing and public speaking.  Step-by-step, with student-centered, art-focused lessons, my students continue to produce meaningful products by highlighting the critically important process

My best,

Mr. Razem

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

and the iLEAP concludes....

Welcome back!

Well, the iLEAP is over and the students CRUSHED it with all their energy.  In fact, 56 out of the 78 6th graders met on the Saturday before the exam for one final review with their (smiling) ELA teacher:

ELA iLEAP Tutoring at the Algiers Regional Library

More soon!

My best,

Mr. Razem