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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Inspirational Start to the School Year

Today, with humility, humor, reflection and metaphor, our school superintendent inspired us.  He launched the year with the question, "Is it about weather or climate?" prompting faculty to "change climate, not weather."

He sited the story of Dr. Virginia Apgar who was frustrated with unchanging infant mortality rates. After numerous attempts to alert others of this problem, she finally created a 10-point scale to rate babies, the Apgar Scale.  That scale led obstetricians to careful observation, note taking, improved approaches and targeted interventions which resulted in less infant mortality.  He drew the parallel to education and the RTI (response to intervention) approach where teachers work to help every child learn by measuring what's most important and serving children with the collective power of the professional community.

He noted that "climate is what we expect."  Essentially it's the community we create with our language, actions, goals and vision.  He assured us though that we will get weather--events that occur (good and challenging) that call us to respond with our best professional knowledge, experience, ethics and attitude.  Using the experience of airplane directions to first care for your own oxygen and safety needs in a crisis, he prompted us to care for our own needs as educators so we best serve our students.

With a quote from Michael Cunningham's book, By Nightfall, our superintendent advocated for the arts and acknowledged the "queazy balance between what we produce and what we imagine" in the classroom, and encouraged us to lead "joyful learning."

I hope our new superintendent will publish his speech--it was inspirational, thought-provoking and connected to life both in and out of the classroom.  That's the way I like to start a school year!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Simple to Replicate Math Lessons that Inspire Discussion


Great Start of the School Year Activity to Get Students Talking About and Sharing Number Knowledge.  Also Nice Activity for Informal Assessment.            c Devlin 2011 


Great Activity for Intermediate Elementary Students to Complete with Primary Grade Buddies.   c Devlin 2011



Math Exploration

Developing my repertoire for teaching math is one of my goals for the year ahead.  I really enjoying learning and teaching math.  I especially love turning math concepts into real world situations and/or models as well as the reverse, taking real world situations and looking at the math involved.

I learned math mainly by memorization--I could remember well so I did well in math from k-12. It wasn't until I started teaching Investigations to elementary school students that my interest in math grew and I began to see math as much more than memorization.  Also, the terrific opportunity to be involved in a discrete math program for teachers further developed my interest in mathematics.  The college-level instructors and the manner in which the course was taught over a period of several months was both challenging and motivating.

Hence, now as I begin to read and explore math education and math in general with greater depth, I've decided to create a Math Exploration blog post to list links and comments related to this investigation. If you have links to add or thoughts to share, please comment.




Monday, August 22, 2011

Daily 5 Planning: Links and Resources

Currently I'm setting up my classroom for the inclusion of the daily 5.  I'm drawn to this approach because it is a reading workshop model that engages and empowers children while also facilitating growth and success in reading and writing.

Daily Five:
Teachers confer with individuals and small groups while others engage in the following activities:

  1. Vocabulary
  2. Read to Self
  3. Read to Someone
  4. Work on Writing
  5. Work on Skills and/or Listen to Stories.


I just participated in the Monday night 4thchat.  It's always a great resource for sharing and learning ideas.  As I embark on the daily 5 strategies, I was happy to receive several helpful links to aid this endeavor.  I've listed the links below.  Please feel free to send me additional resources that you've found helpful.

Related Post: Employing Daily Five Strategies

Open Circle/Classroom Community Links

I want to foster a collaborative, kind, happy classroom community.  So many teachers are posting terrific classroom community ideas and resources that I decided to start a list of links that I'll refer to as I plan our classroom meetings and circles.

Guiding Quotes Mini Posters

As described in an earlier post, my classroom is divided into learning focus areas.  In each area, there's a bulletin board and materials table which serve as a unit resource center.  I plan to add these guiding quotes mini posters to each area as well. Our fourth grade curriculum begins with the following units: reading workshop, writing workshop, biodiversity/animal adaptation exploration, culture study, math workshop, "know thyself as learner" and "responsibility" discussions/focus.  If your curriculum is similar to mine, please feel free to use the mini posters I created to guide student knowledge, concept and skill exploration.

Guiding Mini Posters to Foster Deep Understanding in Literature

I plan to implement the vocabulary and concepts Ellin Oliver Keene presented to teachers at the Wayland Literacy Institute to foster deep understanding of literature.  Keene described a number of "cognitive markers" we can look for, name and develop with students in our efforts to develop deep, broad reading comprehension.  I've created a number of mini posters to guide this work.  I will frame each poster with colored paper and hang it in our classroom conference/gathering place to guide our discussions and reading response work.

Please feel free to print and utilize these posters to guide the work you do with students.  If you see areas for revision or enrichment, please let me know.  Also, if you choose to use the mini posters, please share with me how they worked to guide your reading workshop efforts.

From Vision to Reality

I'm creating today; I'm creating posters, short videos and lists to support student learning.  In my imagination, I can see the finished product and I want to be there now--but good ideas take time to create.  What's the best process for bringing an idea to fruition?  Here's a starting process.
  1. Take time to create and visualize the final product, performance or event idea.
  2. Dissect the idea into parts.
  3. Create a step-by-step plan.
  4. Start creating and/or implementing.  Stop now and then to assess, review, consult and revise.
  5. Complete.
  6. Evaluate.
  7. Move on.
So that's what I'm doing today as I create all the items that will encourage optimal student learning throughout the year.

Is your idea process similar?  I look forward to sharing your strategies.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Targeting Efforts for the School Year Ahead

Elementary school educators teach a broad array of subjects and skills, hence it's important to target efforts otherwise focus will splinter into too many directions to facilitate mastery, student success and a sense of accomplishment.  As I prep for the school year and receive updates from colleagues, administrators, parents and others, I am reminded of all the focus areas, efforts and initiatives in place--each one seeking my attention and time.  Therefore, I've created a short-list, a menu of focus areas, that I'll commit to this year in an effort to develop my craft and classroom program.
  • RTI (Response to Intervention):  This is a system-wide initiative. As a staff, we studied the approach last year and tried it out.  This summer we met for a couple of days to learn more about RTI.  Then smaller groups of teachers and administrators met to pave the way for this initiative by creating optimal schedules and processes.  I want to be a collaborative participant in this initiative as I believe it will develop our ability to better meet student needs in ELA (English language arts) and other academic areas.  I will employ the daily 5 in conjunction with this effort.
  • Mid-Year Update: Our RTI efforts have been terrific.  There's been a lot of learning and collaboration.  I continue to learn more and more about the effect of optimal collaboration and the positive impact it can have on students.  This has been a terrific initiative in our school system. I also started the year with The Daily Five which continues to play a role in our reading workshop efforts.  Keene's Literacy Studio and other approaches related to our PLC work and research also continue to play a role as my colleagues and I create responsive reading/writing workshop times throughout the week.
  • Project Based Learning and Multimedia Composition.  I did a lot of work in this area last year. I'd like to continue the work this year by employing last year's successful projects: self-portrait poetry anthologiesendangered species reports, the immigration museum, the class social network, and the Fraction Project.  I'd also like to add Google Writing Book Sites, a Writing Craft blog, Regular Video Newsletters (similar to the Department of Education updates), and a Zoo-School partnership project to strengthen the experiential side of our grade-level signature project, Endangered Species Reports.  In addition, I will integrate our school's new community identity initiative into existing fourth grade projects.
  • Mid-Year Update: We worked together to build our grade-level collaboration with the Immigration/Family History Museum project.  Similarly some of us employed the Self Portrait Poetry unit.  My class added the ePortfolio dimension to this project.  Google sites informed our work with ePortfolio creation, book group/interactive read aloud work, math and rotations.  The class employed a writer's craft blog.  We plan to develop the endangered species unit to include common core standards and continued tech integration and school identity initiative work. Unfortunately, the zoo-school partnership was not funded, and support for this project has been challenging.  I'd like to pursue it next year, but I'm not sure that the financial, tech and other necessary support to pursue this project will be there.  I will research this over the summer.
  • Student-Centered Classroom:  Through the use of guided social media , classroom meetings, an organized inviting environment, the Google Action tabletweet sheets, project based learning, formative assessments and lots of listening and feedback, I hope to create a vibrant, student centered learning environment which fosters self-knowledge, confidence, pride and social, emotional, physical and academic comfort and growth.
  • Mid Year Update: Guided social media, an inviting, organized environment and the Google action table have been employed and modified to meet students' interests and needs.  We have had several lessons and discussions about brain-friendly, student centered learning and efforts which have been beneficial.  We did not use the tweet sheets much as we haven't had a lot of listening lessons.  Our main learning venue has been active learning.  I hope to continue these efforts as the year progresses.
  • Professional Development in Tech-Ed Skills, Knowledge and Processes:  I am invested in the potential technology holds for student success and positive world change.  Hence, I'll make this area the focus of my professional development.  I will attend and present at MassCUE's fall conference.  I also plan to attend Edscape in October and Educon in January.  Committing to those events now will ensure that I make the time to continue this professional quest.
  • Mid Year Update: This area continues to be a passion.  I learned a lot and blogged about the essential elements related to the conferences above  I also participated and presented in a fall online global conference and plan to attend edcampMaine and edcampbos. The class has utilized many new technology tools in the year, and the addition of 50% one-to-one with Macbooks has been an awesome advantage to our collective learning. I also continue to blog regularly and participate in Twitter chats related to education.  I share the links and learning I gain with others regularly. Further, I plan to present at (ePortfolios) and attend The Wayland Literacy Institute and the MTA Teacher Conference this summer.
  • Math Talk: I revised my math teaching goal since I was unable to find a consultant to lead us through an action-based research project, and I don't have the extra time to do that research.  Hence, I decided to place my math focus on researching, implementing and developing the Math Talk or discussion part of my math teaching.  That's a realistic, beneficial goal.
  • More than Math Talk, the inclusion of a Math website has been a good addition to the math program.  The program has taken on a true blended learning approach with fluid in-school, at-home work. The biggest challenge is time--we simply run out of time to teach all the standards.
  • Additional 2011-2012 Work and Goals:  The addition of the a student teacher during the first part of 2012 has been a positive learning experience for the students and me.  As the year progresses, students will tackle MCAS tests, the endangered species project, a fiction unit, portfolio work and continued math and reading workshop.
These are my main objectives this year.  I'm sure there will be revision and addition as the year moves forward. I'll add those changes to the comment section.  I'll consult this list next spring when I assess my work and efforts, and create goals for the following year.

Thanks for sharing in my thought process related to creating focus for one year of fourth grade teaching. What are your focal points for the year ahead? I look forward to your comments and ideas.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Classroom Prep and Planning: Details

One reason that I blog is to show what life in the classroom is really like--to share the nuts and bolts of the daily life of a teacher.  Often teachers are portrayed in ways that belittle the profession and cast a shadow on our work rather than accurate portraits of what really happens and all the effort that goes into our work.  Hence, I wrote this very specific post.

Classroom days are approaching.  I find my focus moving inward toward classroom life and fourth graders.  Fourth graders are eager, energetic, full of ideas, and optimistic.  They want your guidance and attention all the time, and thrive in a fair, caring, structured community.

Thanks to my PLN, the conferences I've attended and the books I've read, I'm returning to school with a broader lens towards teaching.  I've had many days to ponder the greater thoughts, theories and ideas related to teaching I learned over the summer months.  Now, with a few days left to plan and prep, it's time for the specifics--the details that make a big difference.

I'm sharing my to-do list with you, as you may see a missing piece or one I could do without.  You may not be interested at all in the little details that make a classroom tick, and if that's the case, this is not the blog post for you, but all teachers know teaching is a mix of big ideas, knowledge and many, many details.

Set-Up

  • Create and display anchor posters based on Ellin Oliver Keene's Comprehension Research.
  • Name tags for important objects/areas in the classroom.
  • Library set-up with name tags for each book collection box.
  • Display guiding posters for math, ELA, social studies, science and community work and study.
  • Organize and label supply bins.
  • Put-together new classroom comfy Adirondack chairs and place chairs in optimal reading spaces.
  • Lug all additional materials from home to school and organize.*
  • Shop for cleaning supplies, missing pieces.
  • Prep initial bulletin boards: What's Your Culture?  What's Important about Biodiversity? What Poems Speak to You?  Climbing the Story Mountain: Focus on Story Elements,  What do Good Readers Do?,  Why Math?,  Class News and Responsibilities, and Birthday Graph.
  • Prep vocabulary sentence strips that go with bulletin boards to define essential terms in each area for start of school year study.
  • Create quote pages (one or two quotes) that support each bulletin board/unit study with a guiding focus and inspiration.*
  • Move all links from last year's social network to class website for easy reference.
Lesson/Organization Prep
  • Create fall parent conference schedule for first-week-of-school curriculum night.
  • Plan a morning for parent-student-teacher tech workshop to introduce the tech side of our classroom.
  • Create a weekly plan to use as a planning sheet each week and to make sure that all subjects are taught.  Leave some room for flexibility and change.*
  • Update class social network for the start of school with important messages.*
  • Write first day of school letter including notes about weekly routine, Internet use/connections, social network protocol/membership, homework routines, curriculum night, and contact information.*
  • Prep first week of school lessons, materials.
  • Have one or two extra desks ready for potential new students (which generally happens the first week of school).
  • Write name tags and assign seats and numbers for start of school (that will shift as the year goes on)
  • Number all cubbies, coat hooks and other materials students will use daily.
  • Meet with colleagues to organize schedules, recess/lunch routines, field trips, PLN efforts, grade-level meeting time and other collective efforts.
  • Complete request sheets for fall tech conferences, personal days (highly important events), and reimbursements for summer study events.
  • Plan and prep for initial reading, writing and math assessments.
  • Plan efforts and dates for initiatives introduced on teacher prep days (there's always a few new events to consider and plan for).
  • Complete field trip preparation and forms.
  • Complete WPSF grant proposals.
  • Prep first-week-of-school Curriculum Night for family members.*
  • Create Google calendar planner.
Home Prep
  • Prep essentials for daily ease: lunch routines, comfortable clothes (that do well on rainy playgrounds or working on rugs), work space at home.*
  • Organize my family's schedule--a weekly pattern to rely on.  Include Tuesday's #edchat and Monday's #4thchat (#elemchat and #mathchat too when I can).*
  • Set aside best mornings and late afternoons for meetings.
  • Make time for healthy activity and fun.
  • Update family calendar with important dates and events.*
I'll return to this list in the days to come.  Most schools provide a day or two for teacher set-up.  Usually those days are filled with important meetings related to vision, initiatives and collaboration.  Hence, most teachers complete the prep and planning for classroom life during the late days of summer.

*Complete

If you have thoughts related to this post, please share.  Best of luck as you prep for the year ahead, or revise initial planning if you're now fully engaged with the daily work of teaching as I know many schools are already in session throughout the country (and world).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Boxes: A Reading Workshop Ingredient

Now that I'm prepping for employing strategies from the daily 5 in my classroom, I went looking for book boxes.  In the past I used jean book bags which worked well, but this year I wanted to purchase a product that could be a bit more mobile, hence I went looking for book boxes.

At IKEA, I found a book box product I'm going to try.  The price was right and I like the fact that students can personalize their book box and take it home at the end of the year.  I bought extras as my one concern is that the structure won't be strong enough for an entire fourth grade year--we'll see.

So, in the early days of school, students will have the chance to decorate their boxes with their name, illustrations and a couple of reading quotes. We'll discuss a list of reading quotes prior to the event so they can choose quotes that inspire optimal reading choice, stamina and interest.  I created a Book Box Creation Document to lead their work.

Also inspired by the room photos in the daily 5 I picked up some bright pillows, funky book crates, a rug  as well as a few, comfy discounted chairs at The Christmas Tree shop.  Our PTO gives us a little money for supplies and the rest is my investment towards a welcoming classroom.

I also hope to use Barbara Day's recent blog post, Organizing my Classroom Library to further inspire my classroom library makeover in the days to come.

Many teachers have started posting images on Twitter and blogs of their classrooms which has been very helpful. I've also been inspired by colleagues' thoughtful room organization and design. I welcome your comments and images related to your classroom design, materials and any products that make a difference for students.  Thanks for sharing.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Employing the daily 5 Strategies

Teachers I respect and admire prompted me to read the daily 5 by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser ("the sisters").  Finally, I picked up the book today and started reading.  It's filled with amazing ideas and classroom structures for teaching literacy.  It's a book that speaks to me because it's evident that the authors have extensive classroom experience, respect for educators and a desire to see every child learn to read and write with interest, enthusiasm and skill.  the daily 5 also speaks to me because it focuses on the details related to instruction--the specifics that can make or break a lesson, day or year.

Like Ruth Charney's book, Teaching Children to Care, the sisters provide a 5-week structure at the back of the book for employing the daily 5, and similar to so many teachers I've listened to or read about, I'll personalize their approach to meet my students' needs, interests and curriculum standards.  I plan to use the book to guide the launch of my reading and writing workshop blocks beginning on the first day of school.  I will blog as I move along with this approach sharing the way I employ their strategies.

For now, I'm focused on the preparation for the launch.
  1. Establishing a Gathering Place
  2. Finding Optimal Book Bags or Boxes.
  3. Classroom Library Organization.
  4. Creating Spaces for Anchor Charts.
  5. Establishing Signals and Check-Ins.
  6. Creating a Welcoming Classroom Environment with Inviting Places to Read and Write.
And then, I'll focus on initial lessons.
  1. Teaching the structure and function of all that's listed above.
  2. Teaching expectations by utilizing the "Ten Steps to Improve Muscle Memory" p. 37
  3. Launching the daily 5 using the suggested "gradual release." p. 119
I know that many, many teachers are utilizing the daily 5 structure and strategies in their classrooms.  Don't hesitate to send tips, thoughts, and encouraging comments as I embark on this new educational journey.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Quotes to Ponder

My building principal shared this list of quotes with our faculty, quotes I want to ponder so I decided to include them here in my blog of educational thought, vision and questions.

A teacher affects eternity:
she/he can never tell where her/his influence stops.
Henry Adams

What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state, than that of the man/woman who instructs the rising generation.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Those who educate children well are more to be honored than parents, for these only gave life,
those the art of living well.
Aristotle

What office is there which involves more responsibility, which requires more qualifications, and which ought, therefore, to be more honorable than teaching?
Harriet Martineau

By learning you will teach;
by teaching you will understand.
Latin Proverb

Education is the mother of leadership.
Wendell L. Willkie

Seldom was any knowledge given to keep, but to impart; the grace of this rich jewel is lost in concealment.
Bishop Hall

If you would thoroughly know anything, teach it to others.
Tryon Edwards

We cannot hold a torch to light another's path without brightening our own.
Ben Sweetland

Grammar speaks; dialectics teach us truth; rhetoric gives colouring to our speech; music sings; arithmetic numbers; geometry weighs and measures;
astronomy teaches us to know the stars.
Latin Maxim

We learn by teaching.
James Howell

Natural ability is by far the best, but many men and women have succeeded in winning high renown by skill that is the fruit of teaching.
Pindar

Education is the guardian genius of democracy.
It is the only dictator that free women/men recognize,
and the only ruler that free women/men require.
Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar

To me, education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil's soul.
Muriel Spark

He/She that teaches us anything which we knew not
before is undoubtedly to be reverenced as a master.
Samuel Johnson

I am indebted to my mother/father for living, but to my teacher for living well.
Alexander of Macedon

Education is the transmission of civilization.
Will Durant

To teach is to learn twice over.
Joseph Joubert

A master can tell you what he/she expects of you.
A teacher, though, awakens your own expectations.

Patricia Neal

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken
joy in creative expression and knowledge.
Albert Einstein

Outliers, The Story of Success: Implications for Education

Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, The Story of Success, prompts one to consider the subject of success.  What is success?  How does one obtain it?  Where does it come from?  As I read through the book, I assessed Gladwell’s ideas with respect to education.

Personally, Gladwell’s research and theory struck me as informative, eye opening and challenging.  I was happy to learn that successful collaboration could lead to success. I was similarly pleased to read that success is possible for all, and that the adage, “hard work pays off,” does have some merit. 

Professionally, Gladwell provides educators with many points to ponder and work with as we build optimal school environments.  When Gladwell tells the story of the Rosetans, he writes, “The Rosetans were successful because of the world they were from, because of the world they had created for themselves in their tiny little town in the hills.”  As educators, we cannot be successful by ourselves; we are dependent on one another in a school building or system as the Rosetans were dependent on one another in their Pennsylvanian home.  What kind of schools will we “create for ourselves” so that we can facilitate success for our students?

Gladwell asserts, “We make rules that frustrate achievement.”  He points out that arbitrary cut-off dates impede success for many.  As educators, we need to relook at our schools' structures.  We need to consider who is successful in our schools and who is not successful.  Then we have to find out which structures are impeding success, and as he suggests, we must be “less passive” as we rethink and remake schools so that all students have an opportunity for success.

In the past few years, visiting consultants have commented that our school halls need to be covered with motivational statements such as “Effort Matters!”  Gladwell supports this.  He writes, “The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise.  In fact researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”  Educators can’t give up on this message–every child must understand that effort and practice matter.  Educators can promote this message by rewarding effort, commenting on effort, making connections between effort and daily success, and engaging students in open circles and other discussions that focus on what effort is, what it looks like in the classroom and at home, and how one builds stamina for regular, effective effort in academic and other endeavors. (Pink provides more information on this in his book, Drive.)

Opportunity also matters. Gladwell describes how one can be of genius intelligence as scored on an IQ test, but not overly successful in life.  He explains that intelligence has a “threshold” and “smart enough” is all you need to be successful.  He further states, “intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated.”  In other words, there’s more to success than your IQ quotient.

Caring communities matter too.  Gladwell tells the story of Chris Lanagan’s life to exemplify this.  Lanagan is a man of incredible intelligence, but he was also a man with little opportunity.  Lanagan’s college years took place in a school where “They simply didn’t care.  They didn’t give a --- about their students.  There was no counseling, no mentoring, nothing.”  Similarly Chris’s home life didn’t foster “practical intelligence.” Practical intelligence is defined by psychologist, Robert Sternberg, as “knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect."

Gladwell also tells the story of Oppenheimer, who was similarly intelligent as Lanagan.  Unlike Lanagan though, Oppenheimer was raised in a family whose style could be defined as “concerted cultivation. . .an attempt to foster and assess a child’s talents, opinions and skills.”  Concerted cultivation promotes confidence, assertiveness and a sense of entitlement–“an attitude perfectly suited to succeeding in the modern world.”  A lack of concerted cultivation on the other hand, promotes a quiet, submissive nature.

As educators, we want to promote concerted cultivation in our students by helping them to “know themselves as learners,” and to speak up for themselves.  We also want to provide an environment that recognizes, values and promotes students’ talents, opinions and skills.  Similar to the Ethical Culture School in New York where students were “infused with the notion that they were being groomed to reform the world,” our schools need to run with a foundation of success-driven, child-centered, concerted cultivation values–values that are relooked at and revised regularly to meet the changing needs of our students and society.

“He had to make his way alone, and no one–not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, not even geniuses–ever make it alone,” states Gladwell.  Students need to hear and understand that message.  Similarly schools and educators need to take that message to heart as they build collaborative educational systems where teachers work with teachers; students work with students, and teachers work with students side-by-side to facilitate success.

It’s important that educators understand the cultural legacies of students.  It’s also important that students themselves understand their cultural legacies.  Gladwell writes, “. . .you have to go back into the past – and not just one or two generations.  You have to go back two or three or four hundred years, to a country on the other side of the ocean, and look closely at what exactly the people in a very specific geographic area of that region did for a living.”  Our students, in part, are their past.  We will understand them better if we understand their culture.  It would be in our best interests as educators to understand our students’ cultures well in order to provide them with the best education and communication for success.

Work has to be satisfying for one to be successful.  Gladwell describes, “His work was complex: it engaged his mind and imagination.  And in his work, there was a relationship between effort and reward.”  He further explains, “Those three things – autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward – are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.”  As educators, we need to keep these three categories in mind as we plan and deliver lessons.  It’s also important to impart this knowledge to our students.  Finally, school administrators have to consider these categories as they structure schools and lead personnel–at times, the teaching professions’ rewards can be difficult to access as teachers often work tirelessly while the rewards are invisible and difficult to access thus creating despair and a cycle of defeat.  “Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning,” Gladwell writes.  Making learning meaningful is important for student success.

Gladwell’s book points educators in the direction of school reform with the student, not MCAS or other assessments, as center stage.  It matches the movement towards 21st century skills of collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking skills.  Gladwell’s book also supports greater professional development for educators in the areas of cultural competency and history so educators understand the historical and cultural context of their students’ lives.  Outliers challenges educators to restructure the school day to create caring educational communities that promote effective effort and meaningful, creative learning endeavors.

A skilled colleague led an educators' book group in my school with Outliers. We profited from sharing our thoughts and ideas as we discussed the book.  Let me know if you have further implications for education related to this valuable text.






A Letter to President Obama

This morning, Mary Ann Reilly prompted me to write a letter to President Obama regarding our current education policy.  As you will note from my letter, I want to see education policy take a new direction that creates what Diane Ravitch refers to as "conditions for excellence" in every American school.  This is the letter I wrote.  I welcome your thoughts and comments.


Dear President Obama,

Thank you for your service to our country.  Thank you for supporting "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for every American.

I write to you today regarding our country's education policy.  I call you to support "conditions for excellence" in every American school.  Education is the foundation our country stands on, and currently there are many who want to weaken that foundation for their own gain and fame without evidenced-based knowledge and research. 

Similar to the mortgage crisis, when profiteers sought to use the American people, particularly those without great voice or choice, for personal gain, education demise and quick fixes (like too-good-to-be-true mortgages) will cost our country excess dollars and weaken the American spirit of innovation and change.

Now it's time to build "conditions for excellence" in every American school by streamlining standardized tests (saving misspent dollars), and supporting a broad criteria for excellence as noted in this blog post I wrote:  http://teachwellnow.blogspot.com/2011/08/standardized-tests.html

I see the promise our country holds for a bright future.  I know that an optimal, well-rounded, child-centered education for every child, the kind you and I afford our own children, will pave the way for that future.  I believe that government has the role to regulate private industry so that its gain is not the people's loss.  

It's time to turn the tide in education from NCLB to "Excellence in Education for All."  I implore you to seek the consult of outstanding, experienced educators and researchers to learn the truth of what matters in education and lead the way to a bright future for all of America's children.

Thank you for listening.

With respect,
Maureen Devlin
Fourth Grade Teacher
Wayland, MA

Cc: Secretary Arne Duncan, Governor Deval Patrick

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Homework Plan?

A valued colleague once described homework as a Goldilocks and the Three Little Bears situation--too much, too little, or just right.  It's hard to strike the right balance when it comes to homework because teachers work with diverse groups of students, families and schedules.

What's the best homework policy?  I guess that depends on the students you serve and the goals you want to reach.  As I read teachers' blogs about homework, I am considering my own classroom policies and actions.  I want homework to be useful, positive and growth producing.  I also want to allow some room for growth and lots of opportunity for feedback and sharing.  It's the give-and-take of Twitter and blogs that help me to learn a lot as an educator, and I want to provide the same type of give-and-take opportunity for my students.

My homework policy to begin with will include the following:
  1. Nightly Independent Reading:  Independent reading of books/texts of choice will be a number one priority for homework.  I will ask students to write me a letter about their reading once a week on their student-created Google writing site.  I will organize student letter due dates so that I read a few each night.  (This is an idea currently successfully used by other teachers in my school).
  2. Keyboarding Practice:  Students need to be fluent keyboarders.  I want to encourage students to practice this skill at home several nights a week.  This is the kind of task that Pink describes in Drive as "algorithmic" and one that can benefit from "if-then" or "carrot-stick" rewards as well as students' understanding of the rationale for the task and the fact that the task is boring.  Pink also encourages us to provide students the opportunity to complete tasks like these in their own way.  Hence, I'll work with students to create rewards, systems and choice for this at-home skill acquisition.  I'll probably create some opportunity outside of the school day for students to practice this skill at school instead if they don't have tech access or prefer a more social setting for the skill acquisition.  
  3. Daily Writing:  I'm going to begin a writing craft blog to start. I'll post the craft and an example and ask students to comment with another example and thoughts/questions.  This will give me a quick place to check in on students' writing exercises as well as the social opportunity for students to share and learn from each others' work.  As the year progresses we'll use Google docs and students' writing websites to share lengthier writing pieces.
  4. Math:  I will foster math writing, discussion and problem solving regularly on our class social network (NING) blogs.  I will also set up mutually agreed upon fact practice system similar to the keyboarding system noted above.  The fact practice system will utilize That Quiz, other online sites including video and Khan Academy, paper/pencil, games and other choices.  
  5. Email: I will encourage students to email me and classmates (via NING) with clarifying questions, comments and suggestions with respect to homework on a regular basis.  I did this last year and it was very successful helping all of us to find successful paths for at-home learning and practice.
That's where the homework menu will begin. As you can see, I'm just beginning to create a homework policy for my class this year.  It's important that I have a chance to know my class and families prior to setting initial policies. It's also imperative that policies stay flexible and evolve so that homework efforts continue to meet students' needs in happy, profitable ways.  

As always, your thoughts, reflection, ideas and challenges are welcome as I navigate this complex piece of classroom life.  

Action Based Research Related to Math Teaching

Each year, I undertake a number of targeted professional development endeavors to boost my repertoire, enthusiasm and knowledge related to teaching young children.  Fortunately, our school system has a privately funded foundation that supports innovative practices, programs and exploration.

Teachers are invited to write grant proposals in the early fall, then funding is awarded to those proposals that best meet the spirit and mission of the WPSF.

As a veteran teacher, I'm looking for professional development that is deeper and more targeted.  I have always been fascinated with the concept of action-based research and also have a desire to develop my teaching of mathematics.  Hence, this year I'm going to write a grant proposal to fund a consultant to lead a group of elementary school teachers through the process of developing, implementing and evaluating an action based research math project related to the common core standards.

Currently, I'm looking for a consultant who has the experience and desire to lead such a project.  I'm also going to look carefully at the Massachusetts' standards transition (from MCAS to Common Core) chart so we can choose a timely topic.  Furthermore, I've alerted colleagues about this interest and hope to attract two or three like-minded teachers to join in this effort with me.

Mathematics is an essential skill and providing students with a deep understanding and intrinsic motivation for the subject is integral to their academic success.  Hence, this project will help us to develop our repertoire in this area.  Have you undertaken a similar project?  If so, have you written about it or would you be willing to share your experience? Also, do you know of a consultant who would be willing to lead this effort if funded?  Do you have other thoughts?

I'm posting this grant idea in my blog as I'm looking for feedback and ideas.  Thanks for your consideration.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Data Analysis - One Teacher's Process

Each year, I get a host of data reports related to the Massachusetts Comprehensive Standards Assessment (MCAS).  The tests are based on a lengthy list of State standards related to reading, writing and math instruction for my fourth graders. Currently, the MCAS is in a process of adapting to the new Common Core Standards.

I have a process for looking at the data each year, a process that informs my instruction.  Here's what I do:
  1. Data Overview:  First, I give the data a quick overview to see if any student scores much differently than I expect given daily observation, classwork, formative assessments and other information.  If a child scores very differently than I expect, I will look at his/her data closely to find out what happened.  I will also refer to notes I keep related to children's demeanor, attitude and events at the test taking time.  For example, if I know a child is exceptionally nervous during test taking, sick or encountering a personal issue, I note that as I know it could affect the test outcome.
  2. State, System, School Comparisons:  Next, I look at the data related to State, system and school scores.  I notice if my class's scores are much different than those of my peer teachers, teachers in my system and teachers in the State.  If the scores are different, I look deeper.  I think about how my instructional practices and class composition might differ from theirs.  I often make instructional changes after this investigation.
  3. Question Type Analysis: After that, I look at the specific question types.  Overall are there question types that my students do very well on or questions that are challenging?  A couple of years ago, we noticed that our students were not doing very well on open response writing in response to text.  Our school system analyzed the issue and learned a lot about what the test expected and what makes a powerful open response answer.  We also learned a lot about the process, and led children through many meaningful exercises in practicing that skill, a skill that they'll use again and again throughout life--writing a response with evidence from the text to prove or explain a point.  
  4. Content Area Analysis:  Then I look at content areas--are there particular content areas that my students do exceptionally well on or areas that challenge them?  If I notice that my class in general is challenged by one content strand, I revisit my teaching strategies for that strand, talk to colleagues and research ways I can better teach that content.
  5. Individual Student Assessments:  I also look at my individual students.  Which ones perform well, and which students face challenges?  If a child doesn't perform well, I think about his/her overall profile and the supports in place.  For example, I had one student in the past that did not score well, but she scored better than in the past and many supports had been put into place for her steady progress.  On the other hand, I had another student who struggled.  He came to our system late, and had very few outside supports.  Right away I alerted administrators and teachers about this and advocated for greater support and analysis of the child's learning.  Also, if I see a group of similar students struggle in one of more areas, I'll think carefully about those students and their access to teaching.   For example, I recognized that some of my less verbal students one year did not make the same progress as my verbal students--I decided to slow down some of my teaching events to make more time for my quiet students' responses and discussion.
My school system also does extensive analyses of the data and makes curriculum and professional development decisions based on the overall profile  As I've written before in the post, Standardized Tests?, I'm in favor of streamlined, standardized tests as one of many criteria used to inform and lead our instruction as we develop successful schools.  

I'd like to see the tests leveled so that students take the test they're ready for rather than a test based on grade or age, and I'd like to see the tests given on Saturdays with outside proctors rather than their classroom teachers--the people they rely on to help them, guide them and answer their questions when needed.  I also hope that the Common Core will include a more manageable number of standards, since we simply run out of time sometimes to include it all.

How do you utilize the scores from standardized tests?  Do your analyses differ from mine?  I welcome your comments.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Teaching Mistakes--Do Not Repeat!

After 25 years of teaching, I've made my fair share of mistakes.  The trouble with teaching mistakes is that they affect children, the very people we are there to serve. Most of my mistakes as an educator have been related to unrealistic expectations for myself and others.  High expectations are good, while unrealistic ones only lead to frustration and error. Some mistakes stand out, and I hope by sharing my experiences with you, particularly those of you who are new teachers, I'll prevent you from making similar errors.  Here goes:
  1. When a situation becomes challenging, ask a question or take time out to reflect.  If a parent, colleague, or administrator confronts you and you feel pressure, don't be afraid to ask a clarifying question or simply state, "I need to think about that, can we meet again to discuss it."  No one has all the answers, and with respectful dialogue most situations end with a comfortable compromise.
  2. Never raise your voice.  Most of us have done that, and it's useless except in the rare occasion when a true emergency is at hand and a strong voice is needed to alert others.  Again, if you feel emotions rising, take a break.
  3. Don't do it alone.  During challenging discussions and events, enlist the support of an administrator, union representative, colleague or other support person.  Often, two minds are better than one when it comes to complex situations.  Plus, your colleague can help you to understand the situation with greater clarity.
  4. Don't blame or accuse students.  Children will make mistakes and act inappropriately.  The best teachers always make the time to have a private talk with a child when he/she errs. It's best to start with the question, "Why did that happen?"  Then follow up with a discussion, steps for the future and possibly a logical consequence.  Again, seek the help of an administrator, colleague, guidance counselor or other support personnel when needed.
  5. You're not superman or superwoman.  As much as you'd like to do it all for every child in every situation, at times that will be impossible.  Don't pressure yourself to be all things, instead prioritize and choose the most essential items and do a good job with those starting with building a caring, cooperative classroom.  Don't work more, work smarter.
  6. Take your time.  Current standards can send teachers into a flurry as they try to complete it all.  Studies show that it's actually impossible to meet all the standards set in some situations.  A too hurried pace makes the entire class uncomfortable, and heightens the potential for error.
  7. Respect.  Sometimes with the hurried pace and multiple demands of school life, it can be difficult to understand the roles, needs and challenges students and colleagues face.  Use respect at all times.  Also, if you're faced with disrespect from colleagues, parents or students, enlist the support of trusted colleagues and/or administrators.
  8. Make all decisions with the lens of what's best for children.  Educators make many decisions each day.  Taking the time to make your decisions with the lens of what's best for children will foster professional strength, ethics and effort.
Will I continue to make mistakes?  Definitely.  Education always presents new challenges and complexities.  No two years are alike and there's always more to learn.  Keeping the focus of kindness and respect for all first will prevent the big mistakes, the kind that hurt others.  

No one likes to admit they've erred, but hopefully these tips will help you to have a successful year.  If you have a mistake you'd like to share in an effort to prevent others from repeating it, please do.  We all learn from our mistakes.

Standardized Tests?

The current education debates often result in a discussion of to test or not to test. Having just received a host of scores related to last year's students' progress, I'm inspired to write about my thoughts related to testing.

I consider myself an advocate of streamlined, standardized tests that are used to improve academic programs and conditions for excellence.  I am not in favor of utilizing standardized tests to punish or reward teachers and schools, instead I believe that tests should lead school leaders and teachers alike to reflection and action that continue to develop and build their school's service delivery for all students.

As a teacher in Massachusetts, I've worked with standardized tests for many years. There are both advantages and disadvantages to these tests.  The advantages include the following:
  • The tests define essential knowledge standards thus providing common language and academic goals for educators, leaders, students, and parents across the State when it comes to developing optimal programs.
  • All students are tested and their scores are noted so whether you're a child with tremendous socio-economic support or one with very little, your scores are reported and your school is held accountable for your progress.  Prior to these tests, a child who couldn't read could slip through without note.
  • Utilizing the scores as a means of analysis and reflection can help schools to build better academic programs to meet all students' needs.
The disadvantages to the tests include:
  • Rather than seen as a means to improvement, the tests have been utilized to foster competition, and the competition, in turn, has turned many schools into "testing factories" rather than educational centers that service the whole child.
  • The standards are great in breadth, thus making coverage and acquisition often impossible leaving little room for meaningful, community-based/related education, and responsive student-centered learning. (Note that the PARCC tests remedy this to a degree.)
  • Socio-economic factors have been dismissed and ignored when year after year the schools with the best scores are the wealthiest, and schools with the lowest scores generally face dramatic socio-economic issues.
  • The tests only assess a narrow dimension of student learning and learning styles when in reality, many of our most successful adults demonstrate skill and mastery in areas not included on standardized tests such as social skills, drive/passion, athletic endeavor, artistic skills, and more. The narrow scope of tests also deters schools from embracing in-depth, project-based learning that motivates students and develops noted 21st century/lifelong learning skills: creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, citizenship, and character as well as my addition, community--skills which greatly impact our future.
  • Conditions for excellence such as student confidence, basic needs (sufficient nutrition, health care (including dental care), shelter, clothing), optimal learning facilities/playgrounds, and social-emotional factors are not assessed yet we all know those factors impact academic success greatly.
So, the issue is not to test or not to test, instead the issue is what makes a successful school and/or academic program. We can move closer to this goal with the following actions:
  1. Establish a broad criteria for school/student excellence for all schools. Then utilize the criteria to better serve schools rather than punishing them. Criteria could include the following:
    • Acquisition of essential knowledge skills for all students as determined by common core guiding principles and streamlined standardized tests.
    • Optimal learning environments that are safe, clean, tech-savvy, inspiring, and big enough to accommodate all students with care and respect.
    • Acquisition of 21st century/lifelong learning skills through meaningful, project based exploration.
    • Motivated, confident, inspired students whose social, physical, academic, and emotional needs are noted, understood, and nurtured.
    • Dedicated, professional skilled staff and administration.
  2. Utilize test scores and criteria evaluations to determine where the needs and questions are.  Work closely with universities and other research centers to refine and communicate criteria for excellence, common core standards, and instructional practices. Create opportunities for shared development and knowledge throughout the country, and note successes regularly.
  3. Continue to analyze the role of schools and education with respect to our country's and world's future.  What's important to Americans as they consider the role of education for all children and citizens?
  4. Develop the education profession by establishing high standards, optimal preservice academic programs, adequate pay, and professional working conditions.
To test or not to test is not the issue.  Formative testing and streamlined, standardized testing, when used appropriately, help us to develop and improve school programs, but it's only one piece of the complex, ever-changing landscape of schools and academic performance.  I'm interested in your thoughts on this topic.  Please don't hestitate to comment.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Classroom Set-Up

While my son's at camp today, I'm going to go into school and start the classroom set-up process.  "Everything in its place and a place for everything" will guide my work.  Classroom teachers deal with lots and lots of materials so it's essential that those materials are well organized in the confines of the classroom space.  Starting with a plan helps.

Classroom Library
Over the years, my classroom library has expanded to hundreds of beloved books.  Many of the books came from my own children's collections, and others have been bought or donated.  I will organize the books into the following sections:
  • Nonfiction: Arranged by topic.
  • Picture Books: Some will be added to unit boxes, others to author study bins and still more will be available for everyday reading.
  • Poetry: We start the year with our poetry unit so those will be on display.
  • Chapter Books: Arranged in bins by author and/or topic.
  • Reference Books: Sorted by topic and available in topic centers around the room.
  • Reference Charts: Related to comprehension strategies, literary genres, story elements.
  • Comfy Chairs: Some nice chairs that welcome students to this quiet area to read and think.




Topic Centers
I'll arrange materials related to specific topics in centers around the room.
  • Math Center
    • Vocabulary Board
    • Reference Charts
    • Computation Games/Flash Cards/Paper-Pencil Practice (in plastic file drawers)
    • Manipulatives
    • Reference Books/Related Picture Books

  • Writing Center
    • Dictionaries, Thesauri, Writing Reference Books
    • Paper (Located in wire paper baskets)
    • Reference Charts/Craft Vocabulary Board
    • Classroom computer storage area.


  • Theme Center: This area will be the focus area for current curriculum theme.
    • Book shelf to display books related to theme.
    • Table to show case theme-related items.
    • Bulletin board(s) to display student work, vocabulary and reference charts

  • Teacher Center
    • Plastic file drawers for personal items/professional papers.
    • Table for student edits.
    • Wooden shelves for reference books.
    • Supply corner: Unit containers, curriculum related books/materials stored in back corner.

  • Presentation Place
    • Document camera
    • Display boards for posters, images, charts, schedule.
    • Interactive White Board


  • Student Organization (specific spaces marked w/#s, each student is assigned a #)
    • Student mailboxes
    • Class News Board
    • Project Cubbies
    • Student desks - arranged in amphitheater arrangement (rows of three or four) facing display space.
    • Student project work display board(s).
    • Hooks for backpacks, coats and boots.
  • Meeting Place
    • An area of the room will be set aside for open circle and read aloud meetings--a space separate from the desk area.  
Welcome/Start-of-Year Displays
  • What's Your Culture? Bulletin Board:  Display space for culture flags, culture concept sentence strips.
  • Student-Created/Purchased Anchor Charts: Related to Patterns of Thought/Action for Lifelong Learning.
  • Birthday Graph: Students create their own "birthday cake" symbol and place it on the birthday pictograph.
  • Biodiversity/Animal Adaptation Center



Every teacher knows that the classroom set-up is a time-consuming task, and there's not one way to do it.  We've got a couple of prep days before the school year begins, but those are usually consumed by scheduling, planning and prep meetings.  

Once I finish the process, I'll take a few pictures and add them to this post. In the meantime, please comment about what's important to you about your classroom set up and organization.  Creating an optimal space for student learning is essential to doing the job well, and every teacher utilizes a number of effective strategies to personalize and optimize this effort.


Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Teaching Well is About Balance

Teaching well is about balance.  Easier said than done, but a good teacher, like a good parent, has a sense of balance when it comes to what matters. As I begin to think about the school year ahead, I'm beginning to focus on what matters and what the balance needs to be to best teach my students.

Health
Good teachers need to be healthy.  It's important to be there each morning energized and ready to meet the needs of many students, colleagues, parents, administrators and others.  The contact time is intense and the pace amazing.  Hence, making the time to be healthy is critical.  Healthy habits will vary from teacher to teacher, but those that come to school each day with zest generally exercise, eat well and get plenty of sleep.

Leisure
You've heard the phrase, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," well the same is true for teachers, "All work and no play makes teachers (and the classroom) dull."  Hence, make time to recreate, and plan some fun getaways during the school year to refresh and renew.  The teaching job is limitless, and it's up to you to plan some time for fun and life outside of school.

Life Long Learning
Similar to leisure, if a teacher isn't taking part in developing his or her own learning, then he/she has little to bring to the classroom.  The world is constantly evolving and it's up to teachers to make time to grow intellectually throughout the year.  Twitter and educational blogs open multiple doors for educators with regard to professional growth.  It's a great medium because it fits well into our busy schedules and the balance of home and family.  Other optimal learning opportunities include system-wide book clubs, professional courses, and conferences. Taking the time to research upcoming conferences in your field or area of interest during the summer gives you the lead time to make the professional request and plans so that you can attend the event.

Routines and Patterns
Creating optimal routines and patterns prior to the school year supports balance.  Our family creates a weekly schedule and we try to stick to it as much as possible.  My husband and I choose nights that are "ours" so if we want to schedule a late meeting, meet a friend or take a course, we generally try to schedule it for our "night."  The same is true for the classroom; an optimal routine helps with planning so you meet all the curriculum standards, provide each child with the time they deserve, coordinate with other professionals in the building and employ the teaching practices you've deemed essential.  It's worth securing steady child care, after school activities and other routine events for your own children as it enables you to do your job well with the security of knowing that your children are in good hands.

Relationships
Teaching, particularly when you have a family, can be challenging with regard to your relationships.  As stated earlier, it's an endless, demanding job that includes tremendous contact with a wide group of people each day.  Hence, making time for relationships can be difficult.  Making a plan as to when and how you'll meet up with friends and relatives throughout the year helps.  Also planning events outside of your house such as a shared hike, day at the beach, or bike ride can give you time to stay healthy and enjoy friends too.  Scheduling realistic dates, such as the third Wednesday of every month, can help you to plan your energy and efforts, so you're ready for a enjoyable times with those you care about.

Collegiality
Sometimes, since the classroom can be demanding, you feel like you just don't have the time for the collegial aspects of your job.  That's a mistake. Research shows that when we work collaboratively, we do a better job.  Also, getting involved in new initiatives and endeavors with colleagues is energizing and in the end, makes you more targeted and efficient in the classroom.

A Positive Attitude
The saying goes, "If you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem."  It's easy to get drawn in to the negativity at school, and it's okay to disagree or see how something can work better, but it's not okay to continually complain without seeking systematic ways to make change.  Yes, sometimes complaining can be cathartic, but mainly it pulls others done when it's excessive and not connected to positive action.

Demeanor
School life can fire one up as well as repress.  Every day one can expect the unexpected. A positive, pleasing, professional demeanor is integral to doing the job well.  Again, that doesn't mean you won't disagree or get upset--that's going to happen and when it does give yourself a "time out" to center and list the concerns you'll deal with later.  Also, make it a rule not to deal with issues on the fly and without all the facts.  Simply stating, Let's make a time to discuss that or Once I understand all the facts, let's talk will make a challenging situation one that's manageable.  There will be emergencies, and it's always best to act on the side of caution by alerting authorities utilizing school protocols sooner than later with the best interests of students' and staff members' emotional and physical safety first.

Organization
Classroom life, particularly at the elementary level, involves a multitude of materials.  Making the time for optimal classroom (and home) organization makes more time for the essential elements listed above.  Keeping only the best of materials at home and school can simplify that process.  "A place for everything and everything in its place," is a great guiding rule for classroom organization.  It's important to make the time at the start of the year to teach the students about your classroom organization and routines, so that they can help you to keep the room organized to best serve learning endeavors.

It's that time of year when I'm planning for the ideal year, one where I'll employ all the elements listed above.  It won't be perfect, but if I start now and try to include what's listed, I'll have a better chance of achieving balance which will positively affect my students and work.

Do you have tried and true practices that help you achieve balance during the school year?  Did I leave out any critical elements one should consider?  I look forward to your responses.  Thanks for listening.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Google Learning Action Table

(Formerly Known as Homework)

Our classroom operates with the premise that we're all learners with the goal of strengthening and broadening our individual and collective repertoire of skill, concept and knowledge.  We understand that all people learn differently, and it's important that learners "know thyself" with regard to strengths, challenges and learning style.  It's our job as a learning community to help one another learn as much as we can during the school year.

One important aspect of our learning culture is our Google Learning Action Table.  Once or twice a week, we meet and discuss the chart which includes current learning actions, dates and notes.  The learning actions include classroom projects, activities and goals.  Notes are specific actions either students or teachers will investigate, arrange or manage in order to make the learning successful for all.

During our "action meetings" students and teachers review the chart.  We discuss best practices, peer coaching, teacher tasks, and questions--lots of questions to inform our work as successful learners.

We use a Google doc for this chart as it can be easily published and updated.  The document link is published on our classroom's closed social network (NING) to facilitate easy 24-7 access so students, teachers and parents can reference it when needed.  As the classroom teacher, I manage updates to the document.

Why is the Action Table a good idea?
  1. The table sends the message that our class is a team working together to help each other learn successfully.
  2. Our action meetings give every child a voice with respect to classroom goals and activities--children are encouraged to discuss their learning needs as well as to volunteer to help others learn.
  3. The document is a wonderful communication piece that all members of the learning community (parents, teachers, volunteers and students) can access readily.
  4. Utilizing the table models an optimal project completion process; one that children can eventually replicate.

Do you use a specific tool such as the action chart to organize, manage and share classroom endeavors?  If so, what do you use?  I began using the Google Learning Action Table on day one of the new school year.  We continue to revise and finesse the table and system to best meet our needs.  It's a great way to develop a dynamic learning team.