Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Moving Forward After Educon

Educon refined my lens and palette for teaching.  I find myself facilitating learning with greater awareness of the learners in front of me after attending the three-day conference in Philadelphia.

I also find myself missing the rich discussion, problem solving and passion that leads so many Educon educators.  The construct of school often doesn't lend itself to those conversations.  That's not all bad since I'm happy to have the time to apply the knowledge to best teach my students. There needs to be a balance of reflection, learning and practice for best effect.

What's next?

In a collaborative fashion, we've restructured our reading workshop groups and focus to better meet students' needs.  This is the first week of our new structure. Students and teachers are getting used to the new patterns as individuals, small student groups, and teacher led groups meet to read and discuss books.  As Ellin Oliver Keene suggested, we're giving students lots of time to practice reading and discuss books. From a teaching point of view, this area of the curriculum calls me to work towards finesse with regard to helping students choose just right books and engage in dynamic conversations that build understanding, discussion and a thirst for more.

Today, I met with a couple of boys to discuss George Washington Carver's biography--their interest and questions related to the time period and individuals in the story were wonderful and led us in a variety of directions.  Earlier in the day, my student teacher led the students in an inferencing lesson with a story about an Egyptian Muslim family who immigrated to the United States fostering further discussion and understanding related to our family history/immigration unit. Together students and teachers will work to build reading fluency, comprehension and enjoyment as the school year moves forward.

In math and science, we'll continue to tackle concept after concept in multiple ways including hands-on, paper/pencil, tech connection and content integration. We'll focus on teaching students how to grasp and learn skills using multiple tools available and habits of a good student i.e. asking questions, collaboration and content creation.

Project Based Learning includes the creation of our open ended Immigration/Family History Museum.  Our grade level team is working closely to coordinate this work by sharing information and tools.  We're also planning a coordinated Family History/Immigration Museum Open House as our culminating unit project.  The Museum will showcase students' individual exhibits including stories, facts, images and artifacts from their family history and country(s) of origin. I hope to develop this project further using a new learning design template based on brain-friendly, inquiry based learning principles.  I'll post about that soon.

Overall, I'll continue to think about a theme at Educon which was "More of them, less of us" meaning with every lesson and activity, students should be the most active.  They should be the ones doing most of the talking, creating, decision making, teaching and sharing as that's how real learning happens.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Educon: Day Three Reflections

Day Three at Educon was as thoughtful and powerful as the first two days.  The morning began with a panel discussion. After that I attended a session on classroom design, Dan Callahan's Conversation, What Do We Need to Know?, and a  Chromebooks discussion. 

Classroom Design
I added many images from the school design session to my classroom design ideas page. The VMDO architects demonstrated how they designed schools to effect greater learning by creating spaces for solitude, engagement, outdoor classrooms, multi-purpose cafeterias, sensory sensitivity, healthy eating, active learning, optimal light, supervision, differentiated instruction, speaking and listening. They noted that the book, Brain Rules, described the classrooms we know today as least conducive to learning and thinking, and pointed out designs from throughout the world that appeal to children's active, vibrant ways of learning. They also described the ways that signage can effect learning by naming spaces with words and phrases related to students' learning. That signage prompts students to use rich language when describing their learning environment. They displayed playground structures that serve both play and education, and furniture that inspires active learning and movement. They felt that people don't value design because they don't understand its impact.

A Chromebook is simply a chrome browser--anything you can do with a browser, you can do with Chromebooks. From a support point of view, the Chromebooks are amazing because they don't require support. They boot by themselves in about 8 seconds and have very few moving parts. I wouldn't want to purchase chromebooks as a primary tech tool, however with tight budgets, the Chromebooks could serve your school's tech needs in part.

What Do We Need to Know?
Callahan's conversation led educators in debate about what's most essential for students to know. The varied group of educators came up with a host of topics including compassion, empathy, collaboration, basic reading, writing, math, science skills, citizenry, financial literacy and passion based learning.  We didn't reach consensus, but we did have a healthy, invigorating debate about the topic.

Innovation Panel
The morning panel discussion provided educators with awesome points to ponder.  Below is a list of ideas and resources that I want to investigate further:
  • Innovation is the connection of diparate concepts.
  • The act of innovation weaves together disconnected ideas.
  • Watch the documentary, “Strangers No More.”
  • To teach students with many different languages, a school must create and utilize many different methods.
  • City Year focuses on attendance, behavior, and course performance in math and literacy to meet the needs of the students they serve.
  • Educators must foster an environment for ideas, an attitude that we will work through anything to meet a need.
  • Tech use must be meaningful.
  • Training and coaching must transform a school.
  • Innovation is ideas that make a difference to someone else.
  • We must focus on what all people bring to the table at schools, not one group.
  • Innovation is about evolution, revolution, transformation and change over time.
  • We are always changing, so process is key.
  • As ideas spread, ideas may take on many shapes and perspectives.
  • “Invention is a flower, innovation is a weed.”
  • It’s important to begin where students are, and then make connections from that place to new learning.
  • Some systems are moving from test scores to life-long learning evidence rather than a focus on standardized test scores.
  • It’s important that schools personalize approach for the community they serve.
  • The basic focus of schools should include:
    • Intent/focus: meeting the needs of students.
    • Co-teaching: students and teachers: let students teach, they know how to engage their peers.
    • Creating a culture where every person in the social space feels responsible for someone else.
    • Context: focus on context, the environment immediately outside of the school, and notice what students experience right outside the walls of the school. Find out where students exhibit the most energy and spirit, then replicate that context in school to generate passion and energy.
    • Content: Though content is often first, it should be the last focus.  No one knows everything, and teachers should feel comfortable with this and collaborate with students to learn.
  • Everyone in the school walls has a role to play with regard to what happens in the school building, everyone has to be part of the evolution.
  • School programs should inspire students to wonder, observe and apply knowledge
  • Focus on teaching places and learning spaces.
  • Embrace risk.
  • Notice the technologies that students use, then learn to use those technologies.
  • Educate parents about the importance of new teaching techniques such as the importance of imagery, visualization and imagination when it comes to learning concepts and innovating.
  • Think about ways to make innovation go “viral” in schools.
  • Ideas spread when 10% of people in the community are strongly invested in these ideas.
  • Innovation needs to be an expectation in schools.
  • Give children the permission and time to engage in their passions.
  • Humans are “makers,” they create, invent, engineer—this is what fuels us as people and educators.

Educon: An “Independence Hall” for Education

I woke early on day two of Educon. 2.4  I took a walk in the crisp air through historic Philadelphia. I stopped for a moment as I stood with the Liberty Bell on one side of me and Independence Hall on the other.  It was here that the Declaration of Independence was adopted, and the Constitution of the United States debated, drafted and signed. Like most Americans, I have always marveled at the inspiration, sacrifice and leadership that led our country to its birth.  And in this season of presidential primaries and an upcoming election, I wondered about the leadership and decisions that will emerge in the months ahead.

Then I wandered 17 streets to The Science Leadership Academy (SLA).  I stopped at Starbucks for breakfast and to read the latest Educon tweets and blogs as I prepped for the day.  Bill Ferriter’s post, “Three Innovation Questions Left Unanswered,” set the stage for my thinking as I continued to SLA.

Upon arrival, the room was full of educators representing many states and some countries outside of the United States.  Chris Lehmann, SLA’s principal, began the day with an enthusiastic welcome.  He noted that Educon had brought together educators from public, private, charter, magnet and other schools--a collaboration that many have thought impossible.

The day was filled with thought and debate as I attended conversations and met many people from my PLN--educators who have inspired my quest to become a 21st century educator and an advocate for optimal education for all of America’s children.  I was struck by the diversity of perspectives and roles represented by the many educators at the conference--that diversity presented challenge as we discussed topics such as discipline, resiliency, structure and content.  

At one point, I was sitting at a table with two administrators and two classroom teachers including a principal of a 4,000-student high school in Queens, a vice principal of a 2,000-student middle school in Baltimore, a teacher from a small independent school in Colorado and a social studies teacher from a 500-student middle school in New Hampshire.  As we discussed topics related to student-centered, inquiry-based schools, our points were both similar and dissimilar since the context of our teaching environments differed greatly with respect to age, class and culture, yet our goals were similar in that we all wanted to engage, empower and educate students in affirming, positive ways.  Chris Lehmann and Pia Martin led the discussion.  They discussed the common practices at SLA that minimize the “space” between teacher and student, creating a collaborative inquiry-based culture.  We noticed that each room had four similar posters including the grade-level theme with essential questions, core values, rules and a common rubric.

At another point in the conference, I found myself at a table of coaches and educators from education-related organizations.  As we discussed the implementation of new programs and structures, I found that I became a bit defensive as I heard educators from outside of schools discuss what needs to happen.  I know that my emotions were coming from the fact that so many decisions and discussions have and still occur that create curriculum, structure and systems for educators without educator input.  I firmly believe that educators have to be at the decision-making table, and what happens in schools should not be a product of outside agencies’ decisions.  

Similarly, when Mr. Green, the Philadelphia Councilman spoke about charter schools, I worried.  I’m not an economics expert, but I worry about the impact privatization will have on education. I can imagine that it’s easy to hire and fire companies that offer to educate for a fixed fee, but will those companies really care about what’s best for children and offer all of America’s students equitable opportunities to learn and grow. Yet, has public education offered that to all students?  In my opinion, equity in education, in addition to health care, are the civil rights issues of our day--do we provide adequate health care and education to all of America’s children?  I believe that every child deserves that, and by providing that for the Nation’s children, we will build a stronger citizenry who will be better equipped for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Gary Stager’s presentation on Constructing Modern Knowledge was the most applicable to my quest at Educon which is the subject of learning design.  I am seeking as much knowledge as possible to grow our current curriculum so that it includes the latest research related to cognition and life-long learning skills and habits. Stager challenged educators to use technology to amplify learning rather than focusing on “secretarial skills.” He prompted us to wake up each morning asking ourselves, “How can we make this the best seven hours in a child’s day?” and helped us to see how typical school schedules do not match one’s natural ability or inclination to learn.  He shared with us the eight steps of constructing knowledge which focus on responsive, hands-on, student-centered inquiry and activity.

In the halls, educators were discussing their dissertations, new school creations, online education, current work and many, many more topics.  In a sense, SLA had become a kind of Independence Hall for educators--a place where new ideas were being discussed to give birth to new and renewed schools as places where children thrive.  As I left SLA, I realized that Philadelphia, the birthplace of the United States, is an apt location for this conference.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Educon 2012 Panel Notes

Tonight Educon 2012 presented a panel discussion related to sustaining innovation at the Franklin Institute.  There were many takeaways that I don't want to forget. Unfortunately, I noted a number of reflections throughout the discussion, but did not write down specific quotes.  This will give you an idea of some of the issues discussed.
  • Innovation is when problem meets solution, purposeful innovation.
  • Innovation creates meaning; changes the world and makes us better people.
    • "Failure is useless if you don't build in reflection!" Alex Gilliam 
  • Now is a time when innovation is democratized due to the technological tools available.
  • Innovative process requires a nimble mind, and seeing what's just ahead, the adjacent possibility.
  • Innovation is sustained when it's visible, public and community based-making the city/community the classroom.
    • Innovation means being responsive and adapting in real time - AlexGilliam
  • It's important to build a culture of innovation.  Just begin where teachers, students and the environment are ready for innovation and build out.  Create a culture of excellence.
    • "People want to be with other motivated people solving things... Ask them to step up and they will." Alex Gilliam 
    • "There are many innovations, civil innovation, social innovation. Why can't we make city the classroom?" Alex Gilliam
  • Choose true innovation over trendy ideas.
  • Innovation means that you have to stop doing some things to make way for the innovation.
  • Innovation works when it's tethered to something important.
  • We need to cultivate a culture of skills, discipline and curiosity related to math and science learning.  
  • You can't be innovative in a vacuum; the best innovation is the result of collaboration of many varied minds and individuals.
    • "You can't be an innovator in a vacuum." Dan Barcay
  • People want to solve problems with other motivated people.  We need to build greater problem-driven innovation and process.
  • How do we measure and develop students' innovative skills?

Educon 2012 Prep: Educon Principles and Learning Design

I am on my way to Educon.  I decided to take the train so I'd have time to think, read and write as I travel.  It is not everyday that a teacher gets to travel to a conference, so I want to make the most out of the experience.

I'll begin by reflecting on the Educon principles and where those principles fit into learning design for effective education.

The guiding principles behind Educon:

1) Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members.

This principle leads me to wonder about the role inquiry plays in our fourth grade program, school and system?  

First, what is inquiry?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines inquiry in the following way:

Definition of INQUIRY

: examination into facts or principles : research
: a request for information
: a systematic investigation often of a matter of public interest
When, how and for what purpose do students inquire during the year?  Is this inquiry thoughtful and empowering?  

Currently, we teach a number of integrated units that include inquiry, yet inquiry is more explicit in some units than others. As I think about increasing inquiry, empowerment and thoughtfulness in our curriculum program, I believe the following steps will strengthen our approach:
  • Establish essential questions for each unit, and use those essential questions to guide the unit work.
  • Display and share the essential questions with students. Revisit and possibly revise the essential questions during the unit work.
  • Explicitly teach children about inquiry by explaining the process used to establish, review, revise and rewrite essential questions. Welcome student insights and ideas.
  • Foster student inquiry by giving students time to reflect, create, investigate and present their own questions.
  • Through varied learning paths, investigate questions.
  • At the end of each unit, reflect on the essential questions and the inquiry work.  Discuss the process including both success and struggle.  Make decisions about future inquiry-based processes. 

    2)  Our schools must be about co-creating - together with our students - the 21st Century Citizen

    When students are content creators, they work and learn with greater investment, interaction, effort, confidence and results.  How can children co-create the curriculum with their teachers?

    Unit choreography has to leave plenty of room for discussion and personalization so students have time to connect the essential questions of a core topic with their own experiences and questions. For example, our grade level recently launched the Immigration/Family History Museum project.  It's a project where students are introduced to the story of immigration in the United States and the many cultures that make up our landscape. During the unit, each child creates an exhibit representing a country of origin and their family history for our culminating event, The Immigration/Family History Museum.

    This year, several African American students in my class didn't know where to begin. They could trace their roots back to many states, but not countries.  They began to inquire which led teachers, students and parents on an investigation. At this point, we're co-creators of curriculum. Questions have been posed.  Teachers, parents and students are investigating, and there is excitement and investment in the air.

    Therefore, the process of co-creation is inspired by inquiry, and inquiry for children begins with  questions (created by teachers and students) then leads to co-creation of content that responds to those questions.

    3) Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.

    Technology inspires, and technology used in purposeful inquiry is a powerful tool that presents students with multiple paths of investigation.  Once essential questions have been determined, then it's time to plan an investigation path.  Choosing and using apt tools is an important part of that path.  Those choices are led by the question, What tools will help us to solve our problem or find the answers?  

    Students' ancestral questions led us to email first.  We emailed experts in our system for advice and help.  Then it led to YouTube to find first-hand accounts of others who had delved into those questions with success.  Now, students have a starting point for their inquiry.  We will continue to learn more, investigate and co-create curriculum as the inquiry continues using apt tech tools along the way.

    4) Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate

    Classroom pedagogy must be choreographed to give students time to research, create, communicate and collaborate.  Explicit, spontaneous and responsive discussions about the value and process related to each concept should be embedded into unit design.  School design, role definition, schedules and other structures should support this essential activity.

    5) Learning can - and must - be networked

    At fourth grade, we've dabbled in this with ePals and collaborative cross-state information exchanges, but we have yet to connect our networking to inquiry with depth and meaning.  That's a next step.  

    As I continue to explore the actions and information related to learning design, I realize that Educon's principles offer a wonderful template:

    Unit Design
    1. Topic: A broad, umbrella topic determined by school, system, State and national frameworks.
    2. Essential Questions: Guiding Principles created collaboratively and responsively by teacher teams.
    3. Students' Guiding Questions: What do students want to research and find out about related to the umbrella topic.
    4. Investigation Process or Path: The determined steps, tools and networking utilized to inquire and discover.
    5. Content Creation: Students and teachers creating content together as a result of inquiry and investigation.
    6. Presentation: Sharing knowledge with others near and far in purposeful ways.
    7. Reflection:
    • Thoughts and assessment upon completion.
    • Thoughts and decisions about future inquiry, processes, tools and networks.
    • Next steps.
    Learning Design Template to Guide Work

    I'm starting my Educon experience with this framework.  I look forward to any thoughts and ideas you may have related to this.  Also, if your Educon conversation relates to this post, please let me know and I'll try to attend your session.  Thank you.

      Wednesday, January 25, 2012

      Data Driven Decisions

      Today our PLC will meet to discuss mid-year data related to students' ELA performance.  I am really proud of our leadership in this regard because they have put into place a data system that allows us to teach in child-centered, 21st century ways while also paying close attention to who is achieving and who needs greater attention and different instructional methods for optimal growth.

      Last night, I carefully looked over the data.  I noticed which students in my class are solid with their ELA skills and knowledge, and which students need greater attention.  I thought about my students who need more from me and other teachers who work with me.  I analyzed the current program as well as the students' behaviors, attitudes and interests.  I noticed the following:
      • Students who are not doing as well need greater vocabulary development. I can think of many ways to develop this skill in meaningful, child-friendly, enjoyable ways.
      • Students who didn't do as well need more instructional time--we need to double-dose or triple-dose these students with apt instruction so that they can make gains and move through this reading/writing hurdle.
      • Some of these students need a detailed, coordinated plan since they bring to school more complex situations than other students, hence we have to think with greater depth and creativity to meet the needs of these students and ensure growth.
      Today as we meet, the entire team will share observations and inferences about the data.  Our team represents a total of over 125 years of teaching experience, that's a lot of experience.  We'll imagine, debate and plan new instructional arrangements, materials and methods to help all of our students continue to develop their skills.  I look forward to hearing my colleagues' suggestions and ideas.  This respectful, child-centered, formative data process provides an effective tool for successful teaching.  The data also gives us evidence to use as we advocate for responsive time, scheduling and assistance so that we can meet all children's needs with care and skill.

      The debate surrounding data looms throughout our country. We demonize data when we use it to punish and demoralize schools, students and teachers.  However, when used sensitively to develop learners, data is a wonderful tool.  

      It's Never Going To Be One Size Fits All!

      There isn't one solution, one way, one answer.  When it comes to education, multiple paths will always be the best answer.  Paths will differ depending on students' environment, community, interests and challenge. The process is key:
      • Understand the paths available. Imagine and create new paths.
      • Choose best paths in response to a child's needs and priorities.
      • Employ paths with strength, skill and care.
      • Assess and revise direction regularly for best effect.  
      Whether it's a digital text book, field study, literature, small group instruction, online practice or any other path utilized to educate, it matters most that the path is a responsive, child-centered, forward moving, engaging, compassionate path of learning.  Good teachers are ready and able to guide that journey.

      Tuesday, January 24, 2012

      Grant Denied: Try, Try Again--Zoo/School Partnership

      I just read the blog post, You Are Never Too Old to Wonder or Visit a Zoo, and was reminded of a grant proposal I wrote which was denied due to the inclusion of transportation costs.  Marie's blog post reminded me that our grant proposal outlined a project that is a vital next-step for tech integration at school: on-site research, writing and publication.

      The Zoo-School partnership grant proposal outlined a program in which fourth graders visit a zoo multiple times to learn about, and act as zoologists as they engage in an investigation of endangered species.  The grant proposed that students bring iPads (or similar tools) to the zoo to research facts, write about observations, photo and video in an effort to learn and educate others about endangered species.  Finally, the grant also proposed that students become part of the endangered species solution by engaging in a stewardship project at the zoo.

      To develop this proposal for approval, I'll have to complete the following steps:
      • Contact the tech department with regard to ordering the best tools for on-site investigation and reporting.
      • Continue to research the rationale and information regarding the project specifics.
      • Visit the zoo myself and try the project out on my own--I always find that it's advantageous for a teacher to complete project steps prior to engaging students with the process.
      • Rewrite and resubmit.
      In the meantime, if you have any thoughts for me, please let me know. Thanks!

      Note: The grant was funded the following year, and the year after that :)

      Sunday, January 22, 2012

      "To Teach is To Learn"

      Mike King's post, The Best Way To Learn Is To Teach, says it all when it comes to optimal learning design.  I experienced this today as I created a YouTube video to guide my students' math problem solving work.  First, I searched for a created video and could not find one, so I created one using a combination of QuickTime screen recording, iMovie and YouTube.  As I created the film, I was reminded of all the steps that go into a finished project including the visuals, language, tone, and pace.  I was also reminded of how much more I could add or revise to make the project even better.

      I hope to show my video to students.  Then, I'll have students create a similar video to teach a math concept.  Students' will follow these steps.

      1. Create a Google doc that includes the essential (images and words) information for your lesson.
      2. Write a script that you will read as you explain your lesson on the page.
      3. With lesson page on the screen, click "Finder," then "applications," and "quick time."
      4. On Quicktime menu, click "screen recording." Make sure that your mic is on, and then start recording.
      5. Stop and start again as many times as necessary until you are satisfied with your recording.
      6. Open iMovie, start new project and name it.
      7. Import screen recording. Crop if necessary.
      8. Create film and upload to YouTube using the class account (see me for password).
      9. Share the video with classmates and family members as you teach your lesson.

      If you have any additional ideas as to how to make this project a success, please let me know.  Thank you!

      So Many Ideas and Possibilities

      Every so often I simply become overwhelmed by the ideas and possibilities available.  A simple search on Google, Pinterest, YouTube and elsewhere provides multiple avenues to travel.  Those possibilities always lead me back to the question that started the search and my intent.

      The Question
      That's what you want to know, the information you're looking for.

      The Intent
      That's why you asked the question in the first place.  As I search for answers, I continually refine the question and consult intent which leads me to my values and vision.

      Values and Vision
      That's the creed you live by.  Journeys, both virtual and real time, often challenge your creed by introducing you to paths that take you in a different direction.  Sometimes those paths serve to better your creed, but other paths, if taken, would reverse and destroy your beliefs, vision, direction.  Hence at the core of all of this work is the need for a strong sense of values and vision that fuels your ability to discern, imagine and explore.

      Hence, I'll spend a little time today strengthening the core: the vision, values and intent that leads my questions, research and work while providing direction as I travel this 21st century path of seemingly limitless possibilities and ideas.

      Saturday, January 21, 2012

      Report Card Letter

      January 26, 2012

      Dear Family Members,

      Your fourth grader is bringing home a report card today.  In this letter, I hope to provide you with a perspective with which to review the report card.

      Massachusetts has a comprehensive framework of concepts, knowledge and skills which lays the foundation for our fourth grade curriculum.  These fourth grade standards serve to develop facile readers, writers, and mathematicians--the primary focus of the fourth grade curriculum.

      The pedagogy used to teach these skills is a 21st century method that prioritizes communication, critical thinking, creativity and communication.  Multiple tools are employed including technology and texts of many genre.

      Students engaged in a number of signature learning events and endeavors during the first term including:
      Students were also expected to follow a number of learning routines to develop their learning skill and mastery:
      • Daily participation with NING (class social network)
      • Daily independent reading and weekly reading letters.
      • That Quiz math skill review work/paper/pencil math practice packets 
      • Lexia Reading Skills (twice a week during class)
      • Regular book group, project work.
      During class time, students are expected to exhibit the following behaviors:
      • Ask questions when you need help or don't understand.
      • Email the teacher in the evening if you have a question or learning issue.
      • Focus on the assignment you're working on.
      • Listen to classmates and teachers during focus lesson and share times.
      • Participate in classroom discussions.
      • Use materials as they are meant to be used.
      • Collaborate with classmates and teachers with kindness and respect.
      Enrichment opportunities are always available for students who wish to "exceed expectations." Those opportunities include:
      • That Quiz bonus items.
      • Free Write writing, research and composition in student ePortfolios.
      • Added reading and research.
      • Service learning projects.
      The more I read and research about education, the more I realize that "Smart is what you do, not who you are."  As you review the report card with your child, I hope you will note that the report card is a snapshot of his/her learning at this time in life.  It's an opportunity to reflect and think about your learning now and what you want your learning to look like tomorrow, next month, next year and in the future.  Please discuss the following points:
      • When you consider your learning life at school and at home, is there any area where you can increase your effort so that you are more successful?
      • How can teachers and parents help you to learn more?  What can we do to help you?
      • What parts of school are challenging and frustrating for you?  Do you think that part of school life is necessary for your growth as a learner?  If so, how can you and teachers make those parts of school life more interesting and successful?  If not, why not?
      • What do you like to learn about most?  How can you weave that into your daily learning efforts?
      • What is your favorite way to learn?  How can you use that strategy to develop your learning?
      As your child's teacher, it is my objective to engage and empower students in a learning climate that develops basic skills, concept and knowledge  as well as the 21st century/life long learning skills of  creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills.  Please complete the attached survey after you and your child have had a chance to review the report card together.  I will use the survey results to better meet you and your child's needs and interests in the weeks ahead.  

      Thank you for your support and collaboration. Working together is what makes Team 15 such a strong learning community.  

      Maureen Devlin
      Fourth Grade Teacher 
      Wayland Public Schools

      Team Fifteen Report Card Survey - January 26, 2012

      I am sending this survey in an effort to best meet your child's learning needs during term two.  Please note that surveys like this usually elicit a large range of responses including many responses that contradict each other.  Hence, I'll read the responses with care, and do my best to reflect the needs of all children in the classroom program, a program that responds directly to your child's interests and needs as well as system, State and national standards.  

      Please return this survey by Monday, January 30.  Thank you for your time.  - Maureen Devlin

      Family Member(s) Name:  __________________________________________________

      Student Name:  _________________________________________

      What teaching/learning practices employed this year have helped your child to learn well?

      What teaching/learning practices employed have been challenging or frustrating for your child?  How do you think those practices can be changed to better meet your child's learning needs?

      What would you like to see more of in the fourth grade curriculum?

      What would you like to see less of in the fourth grade curriculum?

      What other suggestions do you have to better effect your child's learning during the second term of the school year.


      As I was blogging this morning, I realized the impact recent professional development activities have had on my thinking and practice.  I also lamented the fact that I have missed a number of professional development events recently simply because the resources and time don't exist for one to do all things.

      The best way for systems to remedy this is to require those that attend professional development activities and system-wide events to post a brief description of the endeavor and a short list of essential points.  By sharing the learning, the entire organization gains perspective and knowledge.  These synopses could be placed on a Professional Development Communicate page which would serve as a central depot for professional sharing and growth, as well as a way of spreading the good news related to educators' growth and development with the community at large.

      "Smart is What You Do, Not Who You Are"

      I have been using the phrase, "Smart is what you do, not who you are," in my classroom lately.  I was inspired to use this phrase by Dr. Theresa Perry's recent talk which described the actions that create "smart."  Perry emphasized the fact that students need to be aware of and discern the whisper voices they hear as they learn so that they can dispel the false voices that tell a child he/she is not capable of "smart," and gravitate towards the voices that encourage and direct a child to actions that create "smart."

      I shared this discussion with my students.  We made a list of actions that promote "smart."  This is what the students came up with:
      • Stay focused.
      • Ask questions.
      • Believe in yourself.
      • Study, Read, Learn, Create.
      • Help one another, collaborate.
      Now I ask students prior to most lessons, "What is smart behavior for this lesson?  How will you learn well?"  And if students are off-task, I'll ask them what they can do to learn?

      Recently, a young student in my class was off-task during our sustained, silent reading period.  That child is one of the students in my class that struggles and does not score as well as the others on reading assessments. Although the child's ability to read words is solid, vocabulary often hinders comprehension.  We have developed a solid reading program for that child's reading progress which includes sustained independent reading with just-right books.  

      When the child resisted reading, I made the decision to discuss the progress scores.  I mentioned that the scores were lower in part because when it's time to read, "you are not reading, therefore you're not getting the practice that the other students are getting.  I can help.  We have lots and lots of great books.  Let's sit down and read some."

      At first I was met with resistance as it's never easy to have a challenge presented in such a blunt way, but then a few minutes later the child joined me and we read a very interesting, just right book together.  Following that, the child took the book home to read, and I promised that the two of us would read it again next week as we know that rereading books is natural and prompts reading growth.  

      As I write report card comments this week, I will focus on "Smart is what you do," and add comments to each report card that notice the optimal learning practices a child engages in, and those he/she can employ more to develop their level of knowledge, concept and skill.  

      I work in a school that has a wealth of tools and structures to support responsive, student-centered learning.  The key is teaching students how to access those tools with confidence, discipline and regularity so that they experience "Smart is what you do, not who you are."  Do you agree? I look forward to your thoughts.

      Inspired Related Article from New York Times

      What's Most Important for Students to Learn

      Intrinsic Motivation

      The "Roller Coaster Ride" of Teaching

      Many years ago I was one of a group of new teachers who crafted a book of essays about the first year of teaching.  My essay was titled, Riding the Roller Coaster. As I ponder my work today, the roller coaster continues to be an apt metaphor as teaching is a journey of climbs, slides and plateaus.

      Following the holiday break, the classroom work was a climb as several new units were introduced including a new class book--Letters to Rifka, the immigration/family history project, reading response writing, division/data and statistics, science rotations and the addition of a student teacher.  Establishing new routines and learning units is often messy as students begin to understand the new patterns and expectations.

      Now, it's the plateau.  Students are settled into the new patterns and working steadily with a myriad of tools and formations to create, learn and question. The focus lessons are shorter than the initial unit introductions as we steadily work towards our main goal: the Immigration/Family History Museum.  The Museum will display graphs, analyses, immigration/family history exhibits, stories and more as a way of sharing and celebrating our learning with family members and the school community.

      The slide will begin as we scurry to set up the exhibits, share the Museum with others, and reflect on six-weeks of learning.  We'll probably add a pajama day, readathon or film fest as a final break prior to our winter vacation and the next climb: fractions, more personal narratives and reading, reading, reading with the goal being the March State assessments, MCAS.

      Thursday, January 19, 2012


      I'm being evaluated today.  And, yes I'm nervous.  All the work I wanted to do yesterday to prep was squashed by unexpected events and necessary meetings that ran too long.  Nevertheless, I'll be ready as a scheduled evaluation is a chance to shine.

      First, I'll scurry and clean.  Like hosting a dinner party, I want my evaluator to enter a room that's sparkling.  It's a good time to have students organize and clean desks too.

      Next, I'll review the handouts, website, YouTube videos and process during my planning period.

      After that, I'll create a little "cheat sheet" of optimal lesson order:
      • Lesson Frame: "This is what you'll learn, how you'll learn it and behavior expectations--the behaviors that will help you learn this lesson well." (2 minutes)
      • The Hook: Question, YouTube video, short discussion, charting. (8minutes)
      • Process: Action list. (2 minutes)
      • Engagement: Student creation, exploration, writing. (25 minutes)
      • Wrap-up: Clean-up, meet, share. (10 minutes)
      Students will leave with next steps, links and optional at-home activities to further their learning. 

      Keep your fingers crossed that there's no tech glitch, but if there is, I'll have a back-up activity ready!

      A scheduled evaluation is your chance to shine. Did I miss anything?

      Wednesday, January 18, 2012


      When teachers collaborate, students benefit. I'm fortunate to work on a team of diverse, dedicated thinkers which lifts the quality of discussions, decisions and instruction.  When we meet, we combine our perspectives and vision to tweak, plan, create, and problem solve.  Thanks to the commitment of the teachers on my team, I have grown substantially as an educator and continue to learn.

      When collaboration doesn't work, students suffer.  Teachers who won't go the extra mile to coordinate efforts or think ahead with regard to students' needs, interests and efforts hinder potential and possibility.

      Schools are complex organizations with multiple roles and staff members.  The structure of schools and defined roles often do not support collaboration.  Common vision, shared goals, common planning time and administrative support will lead schools towards greater collaboration which in turn will benefit all students. Despite the obstacles that exist, teachers who care will continue to develop their collaborative skills to optimize student learning.

      Tuesday, January 17, 2012

      Reading Instruction?

      Since I started teaching 26 years ago, reading instruction has evolved considerably.  Knowledge of how to teach reading well is becoming a mainstay in many schools. Reading coaches, intervention specialists and directors lead our work with knowledge and detail. As suggested by experts, teaching reading is sometimes like "rocket science," a complex instructional endeavor.

      As parents, encouraging and developing our children as readers can be equally complex.  With my oldest son, it was easy. He enjoyed books and our house was relatively quiet. But by the time my third son came along, our house had become much busier as had our work and family responsibilities and schedules.  Hence the very important time for reading waned.

      So how do parents and educators promote and develop reading in meaningful, productive ways.  I want to boost my work in this regard in the coming weeks. Hence, I'll focus on the following list:

      • Increase the time for reading instruction and practice in class.
      • Work harder to match students with just right texts for in-school and at-home reading.
      • Engage the class in a meaningful, content-related class book for rich discussion.
      • Rework our weekly reading letter approach to best reflect weekly independent reading.
      • Find ways to develop vocabulary throughout the day in meaningful, memorable ways.
      • Increase time for online reading related work that provides quick response and develops skill.

      Developing learners is an endless task, and when considering all the priorities, reading must take center stage.  Do you agree?

      Monday, January 16, 2012

      When Scores Don't Grow

      Now that we have RTI in place, we assess students regularly.  The assessments are pointed and take little time, yet yield helpful information with regard to skill development in numeracy and literacy. Each time we receive the scores, I quickly examine the results to see who has improved and who has not.  Then I analyze my approach related to both groups, and make instructional practice decisions in collaboration with colleagues.

      Rather than judging a teacher related to the scores, our school system is looking at the scores as a way of informing instruction--a means to provide each student with apt instruction that leads to growth.  Skill development in the early years is complex.  While some students gain skills in reading, writing and basic math with ease, others struggle.  Understanding the struggle and matching that with responsive instruction is both a science and art, and is best done with the consult of colleagues.

      Hence when the scores don't grow, it's time to look deeper and determine new approaches to instruction that help those children succeed.

      Sunday, January 15, 2012

      Social Media for Best Effect

      Heidi Swank woke me up this morning with her latest blog post, The Comment that Changed My World.  She and her colleagues plan to do " some interesting work around deliberately constructing social media messages."  Swank will document her work on her blog.  This is an important next step for all of us who have embedded social media into our classroom life.  

      At fourth grade, our social media is mainly our NING, a closed Facebook-like social media site where students, teachers and other family members share and discuss information with blog posts, comments, images and videos. Our most essential classroom links are posted there, and a Twitter-like stream logs the latest messages for quick review.  

      Students "create curriculum" by posting links, questions, comments, videos and images that intrigue them.  They invite others to comment.  I post questions and information related to classroom events, content, processes and goals.  Each week we have one or more "must answer" questions that usually relate to an important classroom learning strand such as a class book, math concept, upcoming project or end-of-unit reflection.  As with any learning venue, some students and families gravitate quickly to this medium and use it well, while others are reluctant to get involved unless it's a "must answer" question.

      As Heidi conducts her research, I'm wondering about the following questions:
      • What is the best way to introduce social media to parents, colleagues and students so that all are comfortable with the venue, and so that all understand the merits?
      • What are the merits of social media today?  I intuitively understand this, but what research backs up my intuition?
      • What is the best protocol for social media use?  
      • How do we use social media to promote "content creation" as Curran mentions in Swank's blog comment section?
      • What types of social media questions elicit greatest discussion and response?
      • How do we apply an apt developmental approach to this medium?  I start with "Guided Social Media," but wonder how to do this best in order to develop 21st century learners.
      • With the addition of social media in our classrooms, what are we taking away?  
      • What is the best way to develop writing/presentation (audio/visual) skill and response with social media?
      I look forward to Swank's investigation and plan to follow it on her blog?  This is the time for this important research and conversation.  What questions and information do you have to offer?

      Saturday, January 14, 2012

      Rethinking Schools: Role Focus

      Last year I wrote a lengthy post about restructuring elementary schools.  I continue to think about the ways in which elementary schools can best effect learning for all students.  Our school is making many gains in this regard.  The implementation of RTI, enhanced PLCs, greater differentiated/expert-driven professional development for all staff, targeted scheduling and increased collaborative decision making are moving us forward.

      These changes prompt me to think more deeply about school staffing and roles.  Though policy leaders seem to be focused on individual teachers, I believe the strength and potential of what educators do lies in the structure, focus and work of the school as a whole.  No one teacher can be all things, and when the teacher tries to meet too many goals at once, the work becomes diluted.  Hence, targeting our efforts with greater focus, integration and collaboration is the key.

      What are the targeted roles in a school, and how do you staff those roles effectively?  What kinds of learning environments support this change?

      Knowing Students Well
      Knowing students well continues to surface as a primary attribute of teaching children well.  Knowing children well will develop if every professional educator in the building is responsible for a small group of students from entry to exit with regard to social development, reading practice, emotional needs, coaching and program design/advocacy. These "teams" would act as "small families" in a school structure, and the teacher-leader would follow the group from start to finish advocating, supporting, collaborating with families and creating optimal paths for each child in the group throughout their tenure at the school.

      Targeted Instruction
      Each professional in the building would be responsible for targeted, instruction blocks--these could be essential skill blocks or project base learning endeavors.  Student groups would vary in size and make-up dependent on needs. The classroom walls would essentially come down making room for small and large group instruction throughout the building.  Rather than general classrooms, learning spaces would be revised to respond to the teaching targets with renewed spaces such as science labs, performance places, audio/visual composing studios, reading nooks, skills centers, discussion spots, art studios, music rooms, outdoor classrooms and more. As our knowledge of cognitive processes grows, teaching specific content areas and skills becomes more detailed and complex, hence this is another reason why roles need to be targeted with greater focus.

      Health and Recreation
      There would be a renewed emphasis on places where children eat, relax, exercise and play so that those environments foster healthy, happy activity.  Gardens, composting and other sustainable activity would also be integrated into this time of the day. Some professionals would be given the role of managing these spaces and times of the day for best result as we know happy, healthy children are more prepared to learn.

      Re-looking at spaces and roles in schools can lead to greater student confidence, care and success.  It seems to me that many of the roles of the past are becoming ineffective since some professionals have too many diverse subjects to teach and others are teaching in such isolation that the growth is not integrated well into a child's overall learning and success.  As you can tell, I continue to contemplate school and learning design to best effect learning for all students in a world that continues to evolve.  I look forward to your thoughts and ideas with respect to this discussion.

      Classroom Design: The Learning Environment

      I spent a lot of time last summer planning my classroom design.  I wandered through thrift shops, IKEA, and other destinations seeking welcoming classroom containers, furniture and supplies.  Now midyear, it's time to revise and redesign the learning environment to reflect new learning and focus.

      First, many of the inexpensive supplies I purchased broke, hence I'll be tossing some equipment. A lesson learned; it's better to purchase sturdy, quality items for classrooms that serve many, many children.  Next, due to our tech use, some of the paper related supplies are no longer needed.  We're still using paper for some learning, but not nearly as much paper as in the past.  I don't need mailboxes anymore as almost all student mail is sent electronically. I can also get rid of many files since I've started "filing" almost all lesson materials electronically.

      The classroom library remains a focal point, and I continue to organize and reorganize the books so that the displays are accessible and inviting.  I'll query the students about this on Wednesday prior to the library clean-up.  Spaces for small group learning and project work also remain desirable so I'll work to make sure that those areas have the necessary materials for optimal, collaborative work including tables, chairs, easels, bulletin boards and supply shelves.

      Children look for cozy, comfortable places to curl up and read.  I bought a few bean bag chairs from Walmart that they love ($15) but still need to gain approval from the fire department before buying more.  I've written to the fire department so that I can understand the codes well since I've had to remove many items from the classroom that don't meet the codes, and we do want to keep children as safe as possible. I'll continue to look for objects that support students' extended reading and writing.

      Many educators at my school are thinking about learning environment design too.  They are talking about supplies that support students' comfort and growth particularly related to sensory and activity needs. I will continue to collaborate with my colleagues in this endeavor.

      Since we're a 50% one-to-one classroom with numerous tech supplies, our tech integration specialist is working with us to find the best storage carts--carts that we can lock, store and access with ease.

      That leaves me with the mid-year classroom clean-up plan:

      • Throw out all outdated, overused or dilapidated materials and furniture.
      • Reorganize classroom library with student help and suggestion.
      • Toss files that are now stored electronically.
      • Scan files that can be stored electronically, then toss.
      • Buy new storage containers that are easily labeled and stacked.  Store unit materials in those containers.
      • Order new furniture that supports literacy and numeracy development in child-friendly ways.
      • Rethink classroom rituals and routines to support the revised set-up.

      As education continues to evolve, we will find ourselves holding on to treasured traditional pieces that serve children well while replacing outdated supplies and materials that no longer support effective instruction.  Similar to pedagogy and methodology, the learning environment should continue to adapt to  our best knowledge related to student success and happiness.

      Friday, January 13, 2012

      Experts Inform

      Professional development at my school system reached a new height this week as we welcomed Ellin Oliver Keene and Theresa Perry.  Both women lifted our knowledge and intent.  Keene spoke about and modeled effective reading instruction with large groups and small groups of teachers.  Perry discussed the achievement gap with parents and teachers at an evening meeting.  Their presentations were based on years of experience, study and research, and their perspectives centered on helping every child achieve at scholarly, intellectual levels--high expectations for all.

      While I continue to be a fan of differentiated professional development, I also advocate for professional development with noteworthy leaders in the field who serve to motivate, inform and lead an entire school community towards optimal focus, learning and results.

      Connecting experts and research to practice in dynamic, challenging, environment-changing ways should be a primary focus of professional development efforts.  Has this happened in your system?  If so, what leaders have you hosted and learned from?  What models have you employed to carry out this type of professional development?  I look forward to your responses.

      Thursday, January 12, 2012

      Ellin Oliver Keene: Words Applied

      Last summer, Ellin Oliver Keene was the keynote speaker at The Wayland Literacy Institute. Yesterday she returned to Wayland to present an important focus lesson to K-5 teachers.  She emphasized the fact that immediate application of a learned strategy enables a learner to remember and master that strategy with greater success.

      Hence, I’ll use her words from yesterday and immediately apply Keene's wisdom to my class’s reading workshop in the following ways:

      • With rituals, tone, scheduling and discussion, I will deepen my students’ sense that the Literacy Studio matters and will change the way they read “forever.”
      • I will plan focus lessons with greater care so that those lessons last about 15-20 minutes and teach the most important strategies to deepen and heighten students' ability to comprehend text and enjoy literature.
      • Following the focus lesson, students will immediately practice the strategy introduced. Literacy Studio will end with a shared online (social network) or in-person reflection of the theme, “How did I change as a reader today?”
      • I will build more time into my daily schedule for students to practice reading/writing skills and strategies in meaningful ways with wonderful articles, books and texts. To do this, I will integrate social studies and other content areas into the Literacy Studio whenever possible.
      • Small group instruction, “Invitational Groups,” will be flexible and targeted with a focus on skills as needed. I will work closely with my PLC group to carefully create these groups so that students are not left with a feeling that they belong to a “reading level” or group.
      • I will pay close attention to instructional time asking myself, Is this “dead” instructional time or engaging, empowering time that leads to student growth?
      • I will create more time in the Literacy Studio to monitor, confer and listen to individual readers rather than spending the entire time with small group instruction.
      • I will encourage students to read slowly so that they can fully experience the text by seeing a movie in their mind (visualization) and experiencing the sensory images by “smelling, tasting, hearing and feeling” the words and emotions. We will also practice creating this experience for our readers as we write.
      • I wil make more time for read aloud, the chance to model and share wonderful literature.
      • I will continue to think about how I can redesign my classroom so that the learning environment supports the focal points listed above.
      Today Keene will model a lesson for all fourth grade teachers. We will have the chance to meet prior to the lesson to discuss her intent. Then we’ll watch Ellen present the lesson to a heterogeneous fourth grade class.  After that we’ll meet again to reflect.  

      I’m certain that today’s lesson, in addtion to yesterday’s talk, will change the way I teach reading “forever” thanks to Ellen Oliver Keene and a wise district decision to make this meaningful professional development event occur.