Authentic Audience is Essential

There is something powerful about students create something for somebody other than their teacher.  I read this quote on Twitter the other day and was reminded of how important it is for students to be able to share their thinking and creativity with PEOPLE, not just their teachers.C_awGq_U0AA3yNv.jpg

Out of this idea, I worked with Mr. Osorio on a Narrative Essay Unit.  In past years, students in 8th grade at Currie have written 1-2 narrative essays following a very structured and purposeful layout.  This year we decided to try something different.

We began by anchoring our thoughts and discussions in standards, essential learnings, and what we want students to be able to know and do.  This is what we came up with:

After developing our unit, we decided to have our 8th graders create a picture book that they could share and present to 1st and 3rd grades using the skills taught throughout the unit!  It was wonderful!  Not every book was great but there were a few that were amazing.  Who knows…maybe it inspired someone to become an author in the future.

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Physical Education Fellow Finding Inspiration

I LOVE how excited my Physical Education fellow is this year!  She expressed to me that she loves meeting with me because it rejuvenates her and sparks joy in her teaching.  I also love how willing she is to try anything and everything.

So she just recently fell in love with Google Forms.  So we created a Google Form to test students knowledge of their muscles in a wide range of different ways.

Of course after creating the form, assigning the form and analyzing the results of the form we clearly realized that the teaching that was done to prepare the students did NOT actually prepare them.  They did NOT have a true understanding of the muscles except for period 5!

After much discussion of what to do moving forward, we concluded:  Let’s have period 5 TEACH the other classes.  This would give period 5 an authentic audience, a chance to share what they know, and challenge them to go above and beyond.  So we created a project where they are going to do some research about their muscle group and build a video to teach the other classes about the muscle group, what activities use that muscle group, and how to best stretch and strengthen that muscle group.  Students will also be required to create their OWN Google Form quiz.

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I was super excited that she was willing to differentiate her instruction and challenge herself and her students.  She was hesitant that her students would be able to perform and produce something quality, but I KNEW they could!  Here is an example!

She is now no longer afraid to step into the realm of allowing her students to create and teach.  She has moved from a teacher centered classroom to a more student-centered classroom.

 

To Grade or not to grade…that is the question!

I have had so many conversations with teachers about grades and it has challenged me to think about the purpose, effectiveness, and the challenge of grades and HAVING to assign grades to students.

Some of the deficits that I see in using a grading system:

  • How is it possible that 1 letter grade can truly capture what a student has/hasn’t learned?
  • How much of a student’s grade is based on work that was completed at home?  Are grades supposed to represent what they learned/did at home or what they learn at school?
  • All students are different, how is it possible to build a “grade book” that shows student growth even if the “growth” is different?
  • Too many teachers use grades to “teach” students the importance of responsibility, but is that really what grades should be about?
  • Weighting…oh the problem of weighting…

Ex. I am a teacher and I weight my gradebook so that 50% is assessments, 40% classwork/projects/HW, 10% independent reading.  Let’s just say, I only have 1 assignment in independent reading and it is worth 5 points.  They either did the assignment or not.  So let’s say a kid didn’t do the assignment and can’t make it up.  That means this student automatically goes from an A to a B in my class.  No matter what this student does, his/her grade cannot go above a B because he/she received a 0 in independent reading and that is 10% of the grade.

  • I know that this might not happen often but it does happen.  Teachers sometimes don’t think through the concept that weighting plays a HUGE role in final grades.

It is sad to me that we are stuck in a system (in middle school) where we, as teachers, are forced to assign a letter grade to a student.  My daughter is in 1st grade and her report card is 100% standards based and I LOVE it as a teacher and a mom.  I do see ways that it can improve but it is at least moving in the correct direction.

I do not claim to have the answer, but I know that if I have to work within the system of “Letter Grades” there are a few things that I would make sure and think through before “assigning” a kid a grade.

  1. I would NOT weight.
  2. I would allow students to re-write, re-take, re-do.
  3. I would ask myself every week:  “What did my students learn this week?  Is their learning represented in the grade book?”  If not, how can I make sure that it is represented and I would re-assess what I am including in my grade book.
  4. I would be flexible in how I grade, always noting changes, added points in order to meet the needs of all of my students.

I love this Tweet from Alice Keeler and agree that reflecting on grading and what it represents is so valuable and necessary!

I am not sure what the answer is and to be honest this topic has been the hardest part of being a teacher for me.  I have tried so many ways, so many methods and still don’t feel that the single letter grade I give a student truly represents their growth in our class, but I will keep trying until I find a way within the broken system to create a grade book that truly represents what students are learning and how they are growing!

So while I cannot yet abandon grades, I do like the shift of language (in tweet below) that I can use and teach my students to use to re-frame our thinking.

 

Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Communication with Actively Learn

I LOVED being in a class where I saw students take control of their learning and work together to read and understand text.  Students in Mr. Osorio’s class brought in their own articles, shared them with their peers, and read and annotated together.  From that, they worked together to answer some Text Dependent Questions and some Under the Surface Questions.

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Two Engaging Strategies

The past two weeks I have supported a fellow in implementing two engaging strategies to get his students talking, discussing and sharing ideas.  The first one is called:

Speed Dating

Essentially this is a strategy used to get students to talk to multiple people, multiple times, in a short time frame.

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Image from: https://goo.gl/images/t3GFQQ

CORE — I love this strategy and have seen it been used in a variety of different ways.  He wanted the students to practice their presentations and presentation skills.  So they were literally saying the same thing to each partner but each time they would receive feedback on their content in their presentation and their presentation skills.  After three rounds, they were ready to present!

MATH —I have also seen this used in a math class.

  • Each student receives a problem.
  • They become an expert on their problem.
  • They think through all the different ways to solve the problem and make sure they have the correct answer.
  • Then the start with a partner.
  • They exchange the problem with their partner.
  • They have time to work through and solve their problems.
  • Partner A explains to Partner B the work they did and their answer.
  • Partner B listens and corrects them if they made a mistake.
  • Partner B explains to Partner A the work they did and their answer.
  • Partner A listens and corrects them if they made a mistake.
  • SWITCH

Professional Development —I have actually ran this in a PD.  I called it Speed Geeking (Crystal Kirch is the originator of this idea).  Here is the Slides Presentation to explain

 

The second strategy that I have seen is called:

Gallery Walk

This is a strategy to engage students in collaborative, conversations while they walk through the classroom.  Stations or posters are set up around the classroom, on the walls or on tables. Small groups of students travel from station to station together, performing some kind of task or responding to a prompt, either of which will result in a conversation.  In our lesson we placed QR codes up that linked to images.  Students had to discuss:

  • What do you see? (literal)
  • What does it mean/represent? (figurative)
  • What one word or short phrase summarizes the image? — this they write with a marker in the circle map.

As they progress through the stations, they are not allowed to repeat a word so it becomes more difficult as they go.  Here is a Youtube Video that walks through the ins and outs of a Gallery Walk.

Jennifer Gonzalez also discusses this strategy on her blog.

 

Scaffolding in just the right way…

Let’s get real…teaching English Language Learners can be a challenge.  I have been teaching students who are learning English for 11 years and every year it is a challenge, but I love it!

Today in a discussion with a colleague we discussed the difference between scaffolding and simply dumbing down the curriculum.  It is so important that we learn that scaffolding isn’t just giving less work, writing less, doing less problems, providing sentence frames…Scaffolding is giving the students the tools/support needed to access the content.

I think that the seesaw has always been the image that I have used to help me understand how best to scaffold to reach my students.

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I start by teaching my students the skill, the process using content that is familiar and little easier for them to access.  Then after students have mastered the skill, then I begin to raise the rigor of the content.  I may use sentence frames to support students in the beginning but what I hope is that those frames support them in learning the skill that they can then apply to more rigorous content.

Mission, Vision, Goals

 

Today I met with administration and discussed the mission and vision for our school.  I am always so challenged by these conversations because it reminds me that we are here for so much more then to get kids to pass a test.  There is so much more to learning and growing and finding your place in this world.

I was challenged to think through what really is the hope for our students.  Where do we really want them to go and I think more about this now that I have kids.  What do I really, really WANT for my own child.  Here are some of my thoughts (not in any particular order — except the first one).  I want my children…

  1. To fall in love with Jesus.
  • To love people as they are
  • To be bold in kindness
  • To be confident to be different and take risks
  • To be creative
  • To love what they do
  • To grow from mistakes
  • To not worry

I know that we are teachers, but I feel like there is so much more to being teachers.  Reflecting on my years as teaching, I was the best when I:

* Built relationships with the children and the parents and

* Challenged my students 

* Created a classroom environment where they could take risks and not be afraid of failure but be full of hope of what could be…how it could be better…what we could learn…

* Gave my students choices and opportunities to be different and create

I love my job as a coach and now I hope to inspire my teachers to be confident and take risks, to be creative, and to grow from mistakes.

You know what, Mrs. Dinger, our school counselor for 13 years who just died of cancer, did exactly this.  She changed children’s lives because she loved the whole person.  She is an inspiration and a reminder to all of us to stop and focus on what matters.

 

 

 

Something old, something new, something borrowed, some tech too!

As I begin the 2014/2015 school year, I am reflecting on the last 10 years that I have been teaching. Every single day I have taught the last 10 years, I have used something old that has worked successfully, something new, something I “borrowed” from someone else, and some sort of technology.

This year I am excited to see what old tried and true practices, new strategies, borrowed ideas, and innovative technology I can implement into my 21st Century Classroom. I am determined to daily challenge my students to collaborate, communicate, critically think, and creatively produce.