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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Today's Focus: October 18, 2017

Today's main focus is family-student-teacher(s) conferences. There are many conferences scheduled, and I want to focus on those.

The next main focus is student learning. Today students will take a mid-unit math test. They will practice test taking skills as they show what they know. I'll use the assessments to inform upcoming lessons and student coaching.

After that, students will engage in a workshop where they will have the opportunity to update their portfolios, complete overdue math pages, and catch-up with reading, writing, and online math assignments. Every so often, we need these catch-up and extra-help workshops to solidify the learning efforts introduced.

At the end of the day, we'll have a short team meeting and then students will continue their study of the play, In the Heights with our talented and knowledgeable librarian. A good day to come.

Continuing the Place Value Path

As noted before, I wish I had a couple more weeks to dig into this unit, but with time constraints imposed, I have to rush through it a bit. So today, students will take a mid-unit quiz which will give them practice with test taking and allow me to see how they do on initial unit concepts. It seems like many are ready for this, and for a few that don't seem ready, teaching assistants and special educators will work with small groups to use the mid-unit test as an opportunity for guided teaching and learning.

Tonight I'll review the tests, and tomorrow students will be introduced to the "behavior" of the base-ten place value system with video, models, and guided practice. We'll continue that guided practice on Friday, and then on Monday and Tuesday, students will have a chance to review and practice rounding. Next Wednesday students will have a chance to practice with an online TenMarks assessment and throughout the start of the week next week students' homework will include completing an online/offline practice test that will be due on Wednesday. Then on Thursday students will take the test in their one-hour core math blocks. Next Friday educators will use students' scores to create our first intervention groups (RTI) for deeper, more targeted study with regard to place value. Onward.

Family-Student-Teacher Conferences: Promises and Perspective

This week our grade-level teaching team has been hosting families and students to fall conferences. We invited students to come to these conferences, and students prepared showcase portfolios as vehicles for sharing, discussion, and goal setting for the conferences. When students attend the conferences, they take the lead by sharing their learning highlights. Throughout the twenty-minute (or so) conferences, questions and conversation continue, goals are set, and promises and perspectives are shared.

I typically share my parenting perspective which is "50% academics and 50% passion." I believe that positive investment in finding and developing children's passion is what opens doors, builds friendships, and develops confidence over time. At fifth grade, passion-finding/building includes trying out extracurricular activities, talking/reflecting about passions, and giving students time to imagine, play, and investigate their interests. In real-time, passion building might include playing an instrument, time to draw or write, attending acting classes, traveling, sports, or gardening. Good attention to passions, both individual interests and collective pursuits, leads to care and attention with regard to academic development.

Of course we focus on academic development too. Students share a few examples of their best work in reading, math, writing, science, social studies, and/or reading. I share their academic "stats sheets" which, at this time, included a reading words-per-minute score, reading accuracy score, reading comprehension score, math facts level, and math skills/concept/knowledge levels. The overall review led family members, students, and I to set goals including SEL, Math, and Literacy goals. With those goals came instructional promises and suggestions.

For example, in some cases where students' accuracy and comprehension are strong, but the fluency lagging a bit, I suggested the use of One Minute Reader, and promised to introduce students to that reading app that includes lots of interesting articles and exercises that build fluency as well as vocabulary, comprehension, and accuracy. I also recommended reading engaging child-friendly poetry repetitively aloud to family members as a way to build fluency. Many students made goals with regard to writing skill and fluency. For those students I recommended journaling online or off, and I recommended back-and-forth parent/family member-child journals where the adult writes a paragraph daily and the child responds back-and -forth over time with all kinds of light and deeper topics and think. Mostly to write better, one has to write regularly. Of course reading and instruction help, and that's recommended and practiced regularly at school and as part of daily home study.

Executive functioning is always a big part of teaching and learning conferences. For some students, it's still a challenge to follow a positive routine in school and at home. When family members and teachers offer opportunities to take responsibility and follow fairly simple and supported routines, we can support goals in this area.

The portfolios include happiness surveys, student's reflections, and photos too. The photos, in many ways, display the joy in learning that students experience with our most playful and investigative learning such as working with kindergarten buddies, building STEAM structures, and making solar ovens.

I continue to enjoy having conferences during a one-week period rather than spread over many weeks as I find that the whole team is talking about the same topics with all family members. This gives the team a chance to really listen and think deeply about the collaborative program we foster with and for students. Family-teacher-student conferences are essential components of of a positive teaching/learning program, a component that helps us to teach well and support students' current and long term success, contribution, and happiness. What other ideas and thoughts would you add to this reflection as I continue to think of this integral element of the teaching/learning year?