Sunday, February 26, 2012

Supporting Student Teachers Online

How did I support a student teacher prior to the tremendous technology tools we have available today?  The use of tech tools allows me to coach my student teacher with much greater accuracy and care.  It's incredible.

For example, my student teacher is working carefully on his multidisciplinary teaching unit.  The unit is focused on biomes and includes standards in reading, writing, math and science.  He will lead the students through 8-12 lessons as they research, write and depict the main biomes of the earth.  I'm so happy that he has agreed to teach this unit as it is a wonderful extension of our animal adaptation unit and a terrific precursor to our endangered species work.  By the end of the unit, I imagine that our room will have beautiful paper-cut murals including informational paragraphs, captions and lists on the bulletin boards that border the classroom. Then as students research and learn about their endangered species, they'll add paper sculpture animals to each mural.  This kind of integrated, ongoing research and learning creates a vibrant classroom community of learners.

As my student teacher works, the once lengthy student-teacher meetings, have been replaced by back-and-forth communication online using Google docs and our closed social network, NING.  The list below demonstrates the many ways technology is enriching and enhancing the student-teacher dialogue, collaboration and learning.
  • The weekly teaching schedule is clearly created with a color coded chart on Google docs.
  • Collaboration with regard to lesson planning and unit design is done on Google docs which lends itself to real-time collaboration and exchange at convenient times for both the student teacher and classroom teacher.
  • The student teacher created a Google site for all unit information allowing ready access for students, parents, professors and teachers. (Example of a Unit Website)
  • The student teacher introduced the unit on our closed classroom social network as a way to invite parents and students into the unit study, unit website and conversation related to the unit.
  • Student teacher and classroom teacher communication is aided by the use of emails for procedural, quick-response communication.
  • In a similar way, the student teacher's advisor uses email and Google docs to communicate with us.  He has also joined the NING to stay abreast of classroom conversations and events.
Though the student teacher and I continue to meet regularly during the week to plan and learn, the use of technology has made the experience far richer promoting growth and learning for all.  I can't imagine hosting a student teacher without utilizing the wonderful technology that's available today.

How do you use technology to enhance the student teaching experience?  In what ways does the use of technology aid your work as a student teacher or advisor?  Thanks for joining the conversation. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Online Scrabble: An Engaging Ed Tool

I recently took the plunge into online Scrabble and I finally realized the feeling my passionate video gaming students have when time flies and they don't want to stop when playing a video game.  It's amazing!

What's also amazing is the rate of learning with online Scrabble.  My Scrabble abilities have grown ten-fold in only two short days, and this is incredible when you consider I've been playing the game for decades.

What increased my playing power?  There are many design factors that contributed to my quick learning including the following:
  • The chance to play multiple players at many levels.
  • The speed of the game as I was introduced to new words at a very fast rate.
  • The ready access of the online dictionary that I used to check words.
  • The fact that I was seeing so many words I hadn't heard of which prompted me to look up the meaning of those words oline by opening another window.
  • The competition: Yes, I want to beat my brother-in-law (a Scrabble expert) before I die!
  • The play at your own rate aspect of the game.
I'm sure that online game designers employ many design factors to create passion for their games.  What are those specific factors?  Can educators profit from understanding video game design and the factors that underly these games?

I'm been at the periphery of this discussion, taking note now and then, but I definitely am seeing the link between quick learning of what can sometimes be painstaking, dull, rote learning of essential facts and processes becoming a passionate engagement in game-like play.

Are you employing online games in your classroom?  Do you design online games? What factors are essential to promote efficient learning in a motivating, student-paced, multi-modal way?  Please send me your links, thoughts and ideas related to this discussion. I want to learn more as I believe my students will profit from this information.  Thanks!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Blogging: One Small Voice

You won't be surprised to hear me say that I really enjoy blogging.  I love writing about ideas and gaining proximity to truth.  I like to debate the ideas, revise, and renew.  Writing and thinking for me is sport, passion, and pleasure.

I can't forget though that words are powerful.  What you say has the potential to effect, yet the words can also lay dormant without any response.  I accept both.  I speak and write because I believe it's important to voice your opinions, thoughts, experience, and knowledge if you think it can make a difference. I also like the venue of blogging because of its give-or-take nature. You don't have to read it, but it's there for the taking if you desire.

I've written about this before, and will write about it again.  It is important to consider the focus of your work particularly after a powerful, passionate burst of activity to ensure that the purpose is aimed well, and the intent is honest.

I'm only one small voice in a sea of action, thoughts, and ideas, but I know that it's the connectivity of small voices alining together that create positive change and movement, and that's a potential I don't want to pass up.

Learning Without Evidence

I was struck today by the great moments of learning in my life that aren't supported by evidence.

Fortran: I struggled through that programming course and didn't receive a high grade, yet it underlies the way I run my classroom for success and differentiation each and every day.

Pilgrims, Prophets and Lovers: My Jesuit instructor was very upset that I didn't do all the reading and put little time into my work, yet that course taught me about "journey" and gave me confidence to journey throughout my life--very powerful.

Professor Cording: He ignited my passion to learn, question and wonder.  He gave me tremendous insight to words and phrases, poetry and literature, yet when he asked me to meet with him and discuss my work, I was too shy to do it.  Yet, I bring his inspirational teaching into my grade school classroom each and every day.

Ms. McLaughlin: I wasn't the strongest reader, in fact it was only in third grade that I began to read books on my own, and that's because Ms. McLaughlin made time every day for us to pick up books and read them without constraint or heavy oversight. Instead, she created wonderful displays that enticed us to read.  That's the first year I actually saw myself in a book that I read myself.

Ms. Ball: I've written about her before as she was the cause of my first, memorable revelation.  As I've mentioned, before kindergarten and my teacher, Ms. Ball, I thought the world only consisted of my neighborhood and city, then when she showed us the slides of her trip to Holland--a fire burst inside of me, the powerful heat and excitement of a revelation exploded: There's a world bigger than the one I imagined, I thought.  Ms. Ball was also the person who first read a book to me that I could identify with. It was Make Way for Ducklings, and that revealed to me that a book can be about a place you've been to and enjoyed.

Gym: I was the worst runner in grade school.  In fact, many decades later, I run faster now than I did when I was ten.  Yet, that powerful experience of being the last in the 300-yard run taught me what it's like to struggle, be at the bottom and not achieve.

I could go on and on, but the point I want to make is that some of our most powerful learning doesn't show up in the evidence; cannot be captured on a test or piece of paper, and can only be described as amorphous.  That's something we can't forget as we create systems, instruction and environments for our students' optimal learning, growth, and development.

Replacing Either/Or with a 3-D Continuum

It's not either/or, it's a 3-D Continuum: forward/backward, right/left, up/down, diagonal, in/out and more. I'm wondering what model in physics or math demonstrates this.  In life we usually think this way or that: Republican/Democrat, girl/boy, good/bad, up/down, but that's not the way it really is--we're all part of some and part of the other, we can find ourselves on the 3-D Continuum (for lack of a better phrase) at all times.  The either/or dialogue does us harm as humans, innovators, visionaries, educators, friends, parents and citizens. I'm looking for greater depth, insight, vision with regard to this discussion.  Please send me your thoughts, ideas, links and images.  I want to know.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Rolling File: Yes, There's Still a Need for Paper

I'm buying a rolling file today.  A file that I can pull around the classroom with me as I teach and work. A file that I can drag to RTI and PLC meetings when we discuss and share lots of data.

We enhanced our PLC efforts this year, and began RTI in earnest.  I'm a fan as these approaches help us target our collaborative instruction better.  We are meeting student needs and students are happy that they are getting just right instruction.

We collect a lot of data.  We use this data as we discuss students' instructional plans for best effect.  We'll also use the data at upcoming parent conferences.

The rolling file is a good solution.  It will be a useful, accessible way to store and access the data. I can take the file with me to in-house meetings and easily pull a child's file, then spread the data sheets and work examples out on a table for all to see and discuss.  I can also organize the papers in many different ways to share a story of a child's academic profile.

In the past, students created hard-copy portfolios, and that served as a wonderful data point, but this year students have placed their portfolios online, and I find that parents don't access those portfolios often, and they are difficult to share at parent conferences.

I have a lot of data on the computer as well, and have used that in the past, but I find it's not as "friendly" a format yet for parent and/or parent/student conferences. In the future, I can imagine that we'll meet at tables like the one below and use the computers readily to share information, but for now I think the rolling file will serve my purpose well as I move from table to table, and room to room to work with students and confer with the team: family members, students, educators and administrators.

Do you use the rolling file or do you have a better data collection device for student scores, work samples and other paper work?  How do you arrange the data you collect, and how do you share that work with others?  I look forward to your responses as I devise a simple, easy-to-access file system that compliments our PLC, RTI and other collaborative work.

Media Table

Monday, February 20, 2012

Prepping for Parent Conferences

From Connecticut's Newly Published Education Transformation Document

It's that time of year again when I'm prepping for a month of parent conferences. Most conferences happen on Wednesday afternoons, but some are scheduled during early morning times or late afternoons in response to parent schedules.

If you've been following my posts, you know that I sent out a parent survey with my latest report cards.  The survey results demonstrated a variety of parent requests and needs related to their children's success, engagement and performance. As I prepare for each conference, I want to respond to families' individual needs.

I also want to share examples of each child's work, assessments and performance relative to our grade level goals and objectives.  Hence, I'll prepare a folder of student work and scores. I'll also have a computer on hand to share students' ePortfolios and other online work.

Since there are only 20 minutes set aside for each conference, I want to make sure that the time is well organized and responsive to family concerns.  Hence, I'll run the conferences with the following format:
  • A chance for family members to express their questions and comments.
  • An opportunity to share student work relative to family questions and concerns, and our primary grade-level goals.
  • Goal setting for the final months of the school year.
I created a form to organize and track conference information. I realize that many teachers invite students to the conference.  I have done this before and I believe it is a positive practice, however since I employed many new teaching methods this year related to technology and project based learning, I want the chance to talk to family members alone in order to understand better the ways that feedback and communication related to those new methodologies are working with respect to their children's academic growth. In class, students are on-task, engaged and responsive throughout the day.  Hence, I am confident that students' have a strong understanding of their current performance, interests and achievement goals.

As we employ new structures in response to ready information access, technology and individualized education plans, it's imperative that we educate and respond to families with respect to these changing structures.

I believe that our project based, tech-infused classroom structure responds well to the skills, knowledge and concepts students will need as they move forward in our global, networked, info-laden world, however it's a big change from the classrooms of old where subjects were mostly delineated, worksheets dominated homework assignments and student success was assessed primarily by grades and test scores.  

How do you prep for parent conferences?  What strategies do you use to promote a student-teacher-family team approach?  How do you respond to questions related to changing school structure, feedback and activities?  Thanks for any responses you'd like to share as this is an integral part of school life, one that can serve to increase student engagement and success.

More information from Connecticut's Document

Sunday, February 19, 2012


As we embed technology and project based learning more into classrooms, what effect has that had on your feedback to parents and students?

I provide feedback regularly, but the kind of feedback I provide now is mostly not the age-old score-and-star-on-a-paper feedback. In general, I use the following plan when it comes to feedback and family communication.
  1. Newsletters:  Weekly newsletters provide families with information related to current projects, focus, events and enrichment.  
  2. Learning Action Table: The weekly learning action table includes home-school assignments and enrichment.
  3. Assessments, Comments: Feedback via regular math assessment scores, comments on ePortfolios, conferences and coaching.
  4. Report Cards and Family Conferences: Twice-a-year report cards and two regular parent conferences. We also schedule conferences upon request.
  5. NING Discussions: Discussions that elicit feedback from students and families regularly on our classroom social network, NING.
  6. Email: Students and families email me with questions or concerns. I respond to those emails regularly.
During our upcoming parent conferences, I want to listen carefully to parents' thoughts about feedback.  I want to think about the kinds of feedback that will help families support their children's acquisition of knowledge, concept and skill as they become life long learners in this ever changing education landscape.

How do you provide student feedback?  Has your feedback process changed dramatically since you began employing greater technology in your classroom?  What feedback supports student learning and family participation best?  I look forward to your response as I further investigate this topic.

Cyberworld Balance?

The cyberworld has allowed me to debate, discuss and deliver ideas and instruction I've always dreamed of.  I refer to it as "my questions answered."

I adore what's possible and I am grateful that my students and I have ready access.  They understand the tools, and they're comfortable with the inquiry process.  Once vacation is over, we'll embark again on a number of investigations embedded with standards, and increasingly informed by cognitive research and optimal process, so that the classroom is fertile ground for producing engaged, life long learners who embrace challenge with confidence and skill.

The past few years have been a vigorous journey in this direction, and now I find myself ready to renew my relationship with the physical world of mountains, woodsy paths and seashores.  It's time to redesign my physical surroundings so that they better match my new awareness and direction.  It's also time to shore up strength and energy for my next cyberworld adventure.

Learning is a series of ebbs and flows, this path and that path, reflection and action.  You're never there.  You never catch up.  The landscape keeps changing.  The recognition and complimentary balance of inner self and outer self is an imperative aspect of the journey.  So for now, cyberspace will take a back seat, while the physical landscape around me takes on a renewed role.

How do you balance the two?  Is it almost all of one, and a little of the other?  Is it a daily balance?  Am I forgetting integral factors?  All for later reflection as I embrace the sunshine outside.

Friday, February 17, 2012

What is Your Learning Process?

Now that I'm fully integrated into the tech age of learning, I realize that I've developed a new learning style.

Underlying all of my learning is the desire to grow and develop so that I can do my work well, be a good person, and live a long, happy life.

The Warm-Up
Generally, my learning in any area begins with a focus which arises from my work, relationships, problems, and interests.  I always start the learning process with thought, reflection, and survey.  I lay out my question.  I ponder my ideas.  I draw.  I watch videos.  I converse and I study.  I write, share my thoughts and collect responses.  It's the warm up.

Establish Goals and Process, Learn
Next, I establish a specific goal and create a targeted process for specific learning.  Once I have a general idea of my learning quest and needs, I organize a list of specific tasks to reach the learning goal. I review and revise as I move along that path of inquiry.

Reflect and Share
Finally, once I reach the goal or make a decision that it's a stopping point in the process, I reflect.  I write about what worked, and what could have been better.  I make plans for future learning so that when it's time I have an organized reflection piece to return to so I don't have to start at the very beginning again.  I share my reflection with others personally and online so that I can garner their thoughts, opinion and ideas as well.  Then it's time for the next quest.

I find that this learning process serves my work and development well.  Do you use a similar process?  How do you navigate a learning path from start to finish?  When do you make time for review and revision?  Who do you "listen to" as you learn?  How do you foster similar paths for your students?

It's essential in this age of unlimited knowledge and resources to create and employ successful learning processes for best effect, and it's also essential that we share and develop these processes with the children we teach.

Developing the Family History/Immigration Museum Project

Yesterday afternoon we celebrated the culmination of our grade-level signature project, The Immigration/Family History Museum Project, with an open house. Our fourth grade wing was turned into a Museum with exhibits depicting stories, facts, artifacts, images and other information representing the history of each and every fourth grader. Similar to last year, the single most important aspect of this project is that children present their projects with pride as the project serves to develop self knowledge, confidence, and understanding of individual and collective cultural heritage.

As I analyze this year's project, I noticed these integral factors:

Our entire team, classroom teachers, student teachers and several specialists, collaborated in the planning and implementation of this project.  During our weekly grade-level lunch meetings we debated, researched, created and planned the unit for best effect.  Our joint efforts fostered a sense of team and camaraderie for all fourth grade students and teachers thus making the project a shared celebration for fourth grade students and their families.

Next year, we may want to make a point to invite specialist teachers to our regular planning meetings so that we profit from their view point as well.

Project Format and Sharing
We spent a lot of time this year discussing the project format.  Last year, student projects represented a large range of formats, and while this was interesting, it made it difficult for students to share their projects with each other.  This year we decided to use a similar project format which gave students a common construct (trifold poster) and language for project design and sharing. A wonderful student teacher created an exemplar and shared it with each class.  The exemplar served as a common model that students in all classes referred to as they worked on their projects.  When it came time to share, students were assigned three-four student projects in each class to survey, study and discuss.  Better than last year, the use of a sharing sheet, compliment sticky notes, assignment of projects to review, and an organized student share the day before the family open house led to greater learning, voice and project pride.

Essential Questions
We also added essential questions to the project this year.  The essential questions served to guide our work.  Next year, I want to tweak our essential questions to make sure they match our New Framework for Evaluation and Supervision well.  I also want to spend a couple of weeks before we embark on the individual project research to discuss, study and learn about the essential question topics in a targeted way. This year I did provide background study, but we created the essential questions after the study was complete.

Although I sent home numerous updates about the project, there were a number of parents who were not sufficiently informed or aware of the project parameters.  Next year I want to make a point of discussing this project during the school year's initial curriculum meeting and parent newsletter as that's the time of year when parents really think deeply about and plan with respect to the curriculum program.  I also think our team should plan a date for next year's event prior to the start of the next school year as our parent population is very busy, and lead time for important family events is essential. Further, a colleague thought to invite administrators and other educators in the building.  Their attendance at the event was wonderful as they each made time to celebrate and discuss individual student's work. Finally, several grandparents and other relatives attended the event.  An early announcement of the date and format gives families the chance to include relatives outside of the child's immediate circle if desired.  It was particularly great to have grandparents there as they had a lot to offer with regard to family stories and American history.

Classroom Presentation
Last year the presentation was simply an open house. This time we added a brief student "headline" presentation.  Next year, I'd like to grow that presentation a bit more so that students have more time to practice their presentation and their presentations are a bit longer.  I want to do this because I noticed that students' presentations were a good way to introduce the parents to each child and to the aspects of the child's culture and presentation that they most wanted people to notice.

At first this project was an add-on to our regular curriculum program, but now I believe it has transitioned to a signature project status. Signature projects are the projects that grade levels are remembered for, and the projects that students look forward to year after year.  These projects build excitement and community.  Now that the project is taking on this importance, it's essential that we think deeply about the timing with regard to the overall curriculum program and integration of essential skills.  It may also be the point where we ask for a curriculum planning day to develop the unit further with the leadership of our ELA/social studies director and learning design specialists.

This morning I'll give students a chance to reflect and comment on the project.  I will take their reflections into account as well as I plan next year's project.

Keepers and Future Thoughts
The following aspects of the project are keepers:
  • Tri-fold posters: we ordered those last spring.
  • Lots of colored paper, glue and other creative materials.
  • Library immigration/family history book collection, our librarian has created a wonderful multicultural collection that she readily organizes and sends to our classrooms on carts to support our study.
  • The project outline and links. We used a Google doc to share the project outline and links.  This was a wonderful resource for students, and a resource I think we should continue to develop. We might want to create a Google website to support this unit.
  • A complimentary interactive read aloud: Some students read Letters to Rifka as a shared book during the unit which developed collective knowledge, understanding and discussion related to immigration.  It might be good to develop our collection of interactive read alouds related to immigration.
  • Classroom libraries: We have the You Choose immigration books and many others related to immigration and cultural history.  We may want to continue to develop this collection.
  • Discovery Education films and other culture videos.  We may also want to look closely at the videos we use to support this unit, and update our collection.
  • Classroom displays: I noticed that one teacher had many visuals on display that supported the unit, we may all want to order a number of visuals that respond to the unit's essential questions.
  • Foods: Families brought foods that represented their cultures to share.  They also shared the ingredients and recipes.  This is always a favorite aspect of the project.  One that introduces students to many new foods.
  • Grade-wide "doll" bulletin board: Students decorated little paper dolls with an image of their face then a hand-crafted costume, flag and passport.  This makes a beautiful Museum centerpiece display.
This project is a wonderful aspect of our grade level program. It is a teaching focus that builds self esteem, promotes project base learning, integrates technology, employs cultural relevancy, develops cultural awareness and understanding, and develops essential skills, concepts and knowledge.  

At our next grade level meeting and in the week's to come, we'll continue to reflect upon and discuss the project's merits and plans for next year.  In the meantime, I hope we'll create a website and continue to collect links and other materials to support the unit.  If you have any ideas, please let us know, and if you plan to embark on this unit, I'm open to your questions and ready to support your work.

Related Post:
Culture Celebration 2013

Thursday, February 16, 2012

You're Never There!

    When I was a young teacher, I announced, "I'm there.  I know what to do?" and the veteran teachers laughed.
    "You're never there," they retorted.  Now that I'm a veteran teacher, I know what they were talking about. The vitality of teaching is that there's always a new challenge, and the frustration of teaching is that there's always a new challenge. It's a job of endless learning and opportunities for growth. You're never there.
     Families, administrators, colleagues and community members can look at a teacher's work and find areas for improvement, but only good teachers themselves really know the many, many ways they can continue to grow--it's an endless menu of possibilities, and that can be an overwhelming situation.
     Instead of being overwhelmed, it's best to see it as the process it is.  Move forward with your best intent and practice, and recognize that every year there are going to be challenges.  Avail yourself to those challenges, and open yourself up to growth.  It's the challenges that will move you forward in the profession. Collaborate with the team: parents, colleagues, administrators and community members.  Listen to their comments, questions and concerns.  Keep the focus forefront: children, and continue to respond, learn and serve as best you can.
     Know that teaching is a job where you'll never be there, but embrace the fact that with respect, care, hard work and thoughtful response, you'll continue to develop your repertoire to teach children well.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The New Evaluation Framework: One Teacher's Initial Reaction

Today we had a system-wide introduction to Massachusetts' New Supervision and Evaluation Framework.  I had heard bits and pieces about the topic, but this was my first chance to review the standards with any depth.

John D'Auria, President of Teacher 21, presented the introduction. My initial reaction is that I plan to embrace the new Framework because the document focuses on optimal student learning and exemplifies what good teachers do. We all want to work in school environments that ensure optimal learning and experiences for students, and it seems to me that these standards support that. I am fortunate to work in a school system that provides an optimal environment for instructional success, and I realize that is one reason why I find the new standards to be a positive challenge.

As I listened to the presentation, I thought carefully about what we do now to meet those standards and how I (and the teams I work with) might better meet the standards in the future.  I created the chart at the bottom of the page related to my current work with fourth graders as one way of moving from our current evaluation system to the new Framework.

My one concern with the new Framework lies in the area of collaboration.  In schools, students are served by many teachers, teaching assistants and others. No one teacher can be all things to all students, and it takes a team to serve children well.

How is collaboration fostered with this new system? In response to that concern, I learned of the possibility of team or school goals rather than individual goals.  That notion intrigues me. I'm wondering how a whole school or team identifies, collaborates, works towards and is evaluated with regard to team goals.

As I've mentioned in the past, I think that the many new structures in education such as this new Framework, the integration of technology and other changes call for a review of roles and responsibilities in schools.  How can a "roles' and responsibilities' review" serve to better support student success and ensure that every educator in a building has a reasonable schedule and responsibility with regard to student success and the many standards regularly assessed?  It shouldn't be that some educators in a building are accountable to testing while others are not since everyone plays an important role related to student achievement.

With regard to my own personal work, the chart at the bottom of the page depicts an initial short list of how I'll start to incorporate the New Framework into my work with students.

How is your system reacting to the New Framework?  How will this evaluation revision change your practice and your school environment?  What concerns do you have?  I will continue to think about this subject in the weeks and months to come.  I am grateful to my school administration that they took the time to bring this discussion to us in a timely, respectful fashion so that we can begin to reflect, research, understand and implement integral action that affects our professional work and student success.

Current Work
Ideas for Further Action
1. Curriculum, Planning and Assessment
  Identify unit goals.
  Standards-Based Units.
  Clearly define standards, criteria for quality work.
  Use motivating instructional practices.
  Tiered, multi-modal instruction.
   Plan for students with disabilities and ELL learners.
   Regular assessments, and revision to instruction in response to assessments.

   Continue to finesse units of instruction and identification of standards, goals.
   Focus on optimal collaboration to best meet standards.
   Continue to focus on optimal lesson delivery and design.
   Continue focus on students' developmental stages and how that affects curriculum delivery and design.
2. Teaching All Students
   Institute rituals, routines that establish safe physical and intellectual environments.
   Introduce students to latest cognitive research related to optimal learning.
   Coach students to utilize effective behavior, effort, inquiry and risk to foster optimal learning.
   Create opportunities for student collaboration with diverse groups, and coach students with respect to interpersonal communication skills
   Create portfolios and implement reflection opportunities to help students identify strengths, interests and needs. 
   Utilize motivating, responsive learning activities and events.
   Culture Units of Study: What is your Culture?, Native American Cultures, Regions of the United States, and the Family History/Immigration Museum Project.
   Ongoing discussion, read aloud and response related to misunderstandings arising from differences in backgrounds, languages and identities.
   Greater awareness, study and practice of current cognitive research related to learning.
   Greater study, awareness and practice of efforts related to coaching students with learning to learn efforts and behaviors.
   More visual reminders of classroom rituals, routines and optimal behaviors related to student success.
   Continued effort to represent all cultures and backgrounds with teaching materials and books.
   Finessing current units with best possible literature, research, essential questions, and activities.

3. Family and Community Engagement
   Regular Newsletters
   Parent Conferences
   Class Websites and Social Media.
   Family surveys
   Open Houses and Project Performances.
   Curriculum Night
   Report Cards
   Email, Notes and Letters

   Think about making the first two days of school family days when students and family members have get-to-know you meetings with the teacher.
   Regular student surveys.
   Think more about how to meet the needs of families-at-risk or isolated families in a systematic, responsive way.
Research and develop shared practices related to student/family feedback.
4. Professional Culture
   Sharing via PLCs, grade-level meetings, staff meetings, blogs, emails and professional development.
   Attendance at conferences.
   Independent Study.
   University Study.
   Goal setting as individuals and teams.
Student Teacher Programs

    Learning more about team goal setting, communication, efforts and reflection.
   Continued development of RTI and PLCs to foster optimal collaboration.
   Review of roles and responsibilities to best meet student needs.

Continued work with student teaching programs and University partnerships.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Classroom Charette

In design fields the term charette means an intense work time by one person or a group of people prior to a deadline. It's a creative period where completion is the goal.  That's what happened in our class today--the project charette.

I started the morning explaining to students that the best Valentine's Day gift I could hope for was students completing their projects with care.  They gave me that gift.  From early in the day until just before the dismissal bell rang, students put final touches on their research, images, text, and trifold cardboard presentation board for this week's Family History/Immigration Museum Open House. 

The room was a mass of colored paper, print-outs, glue, tape and images.  Students carefully positioned their research on the board and waited for approval before pasting, well, at least most of the students. Some jumped ahead pasting away while others snuck out to print an extra image or title. 

Teachers edited, solved design problems, coached and guided.  Students helped each other too. A lunch meeting with grade level colleagues who were also participating in the project served to foster camaraderie and support as well. It was the epitomy of collaborative learning and endeavor.  

When the day ended, the room was bordered by colorful posters with titles such as China, India, Sri Lanka, Korea, Russia, France, England, Ghana, Denmark, Armenia, Brazil, Jamaica and Canada.  Everyone was proud of the work they had done.

In a couple of days we'll share the projects with family members who will also bring in festive foods representing their homelands and ancestral origins.  It will be a great time for families to share a bit of their history and culture with each other in a educational event focused on the children.

A classroom charette is a busy, active, creative time.  It's a worthwhile endeavor at a project's end stage. 

I'd like to hear about your charettes and the ways you manage this creative event for best effect. It's always a bit daunting as the charette approaches, but once you reach completion there's a sigh of relief for a job well done.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pause and Ponder: Your Education Career

The speed of change and innovation related to educational tools and potential can be daunting which creates a frequent need to pause and ponder the following questions:
  • What is working in my current practice, and what do I want to change?
  • What trending topics do I want to embrace, explore and implement?
  • Where am I headed with regard to my educational career, and the work I do?
Current Practice
During the February vacation, I hope to step back and rethink our classroom routines and schedules.  I won't make any big changes as students are responding well to the many small changes that occurred throughout the year as we integrated many new tech tools and processes into the daily routine.  I will, however, finesse with regard to the following areas: cognitive overload and feedback.

While it's true that I guide, mentor and coach my students with lots of feedback throughout the day and regularly add responsive comments to our classroom NING, I believe I need to create a realistic meaningful, weekly feedback loop of sorts where individual children are receiving targeted comments and response to their work in a timely fashion.  Feedback is an important aspect of teaching and when done well serves to motivate and encourage students, hence I'll explore and implement that concept with greater depth.

cognitive overload
Secondly, I need to think about cognitive overload.  While I'm anxious to share new ideas, projects and learning with students and families, I don't want to overload them as that causes shut down. I believe the answer to this lies in the weekly schedule and communication venues.  While I want lots of enrichment there for the taking (NING, project work, content websites), I don't want to present it in a way that overwhelms young learners leaving little room for their own voice, creativity and ideas.  

As systems change, cognitive overload and feedback need to be reviewed and revised.  Hence, I'll focus on those areas.

Trending Topics to Embrace, Explore and Implement: Active Learning
I want to read more about active learning endeavors.  I have many students who resist the passive learning action of sitting for long hours and working with paper/pencil, laptops or other sedentary venues.  I believe that interactive Kinect-like virtual experiences and gaming, outdoor/outside-of-school adventure and hands-on building and exploration should be increased as a way of responding to these learners and young children in general.  This kind of learning seems to be a good match with regard to the latest research in cognition too.  The challenge here is that current standards do not embrace the way knowledge is developed and expressed in these endeavors.  I believe that knowledge process related to this type of learning results in greater time for basic literacy and numeracy development, yet less time for the attainment of concepts related to scientific and mathematical knowledge and relationships.  I don't have research to support this, and I am just beginning to think deeply about this type of learning as I read about the latest research, tools and programs.

Where Am I Headed?
I'll start by rearranging the learning environment yet again.  I find that I am constantly changing the way my classroom looks to respond to the learning changes we embrace. That takes time and energy, but it is a necessary action.

Then, I'll take a close look at all the work students have created and completed this year as well as student/family feedback.  I'll provide feedback related to each child as I prepare for upcoming conferences, and adjust the schedule to better meet individual student's needs while still focusing on the standards at hand.

I'll continue to engage in weekly discussions and reading related to the quickly changing education landscape with specific focus on learning design and active learning.

Finally, I'm planning a summer with time to read and catch up on other areas of life so that I can be prepared for another year of inquiry, implementation and response as I teach fourth grade. After all, "all school and no play," makes teachers dull.

I do not see an end to my education career, but I do see an eventual transition from the heavy time-on-task days as a responsive school teacher to greater focused effort related to the ideas and innovation that serve children and our world well.

Pause and ponder, then list and act.  Is this how you move forward?  If so, where are you headed in your education career? What pattern of action will lead you there?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Education and Marketing: Connections?

My first real job that I liked after college was in the field of service marketing.  I worked in a vibrant multi-service design firm, Sasaki Associates, Inc. in Watertown, Massachusetts.  The building was alive with creativity and energy.  My job was to assist the marketing department with the preparation of proposals and presentations.  Since it was well before the great technology applications we have today, we spent many a late afternoon cutting, pasting, photocopying, spray mounting and more to create just-right presentations to best represent the company's work.

When thinking seriously about a career, I wanted to be as invested as the designers I worked with, but I knew my real passion related to the potential education held for better lives and a better world.  Hence, I left Sasaki and went to graduate school to study education.  Now, after more than a quarter of a century in teaching, I am finding the worlds of marketing and education intersecting in ways that I never dreamed of.  I am wondering about that intersection?  What is positive about it, and what is not?

I believe it is important for educators to spread the good news and questions related to education.  Best practices should not be limited to one classroom, school or system.  Instead, by freely sharing our best practices, we are educating each other, and making a difference for children globally. This is a positive intersection of marketing and education.

Also, the collaboration of educators with regard to sharing information in blogs, professional magazines, institutes and the writing of books is similarly positive.  Bringing educators together to combine their thinking and publish their craft helps to move us all forward.

Then there is the action of educators accepting advertisements and the related fees on their blog posts.  That action makes me wonder.  On one hand, educators who are willing to spend countless hours each day writing, analyzing and synthesizing ideas for the betterment of the profession should gain some compensation for their work.  After all they have families to feed, mortgages to pay and aspirations to meet.  On the other hand, it's essential that educators think deeply about who is willing to pay for those advertisements, and the companies, institutions or firms the educator is willing to promote.  Further, is the small fee the educator reaps equal to the monetary reward the advertiser makes?  I'm not sure what those equations look like, but I know they are important equations to consider.

There is an overlap in marketing and education.  After all, both fields are about the "message."  Every day I read Godin's blog. He's an entrepreneur who writes about business and marketing. His message provides wonderful, deep, meaningful direction for work in all fields including education.

I guess what separates marketing and education is the purpose.  Education is about the learner--the learner's needs, desires and success.  When educators take a path that puts marketing (and profit) before the learner, there's a problem.  We know that problem exists in some private education endeavors.  However, if marketing and education can work in tandem and still put the learner's success and progress center stage, well, maybe it can work.  I'm not convinced of that.

As some ask to advertise on my website, and I see others accepting ads, I wonder about this topic.  I'm curious about your thoughts and perspective.  Where do marketing and education intersect well, and where does the intersection serve to undermine education?  Let me know what you think.

Student Teachers?

I remember my student teaching experience vividly.  I was placed in an Boston school with a wonderful veteran  teacher, Mr. Murray.  I had a spirited, multicultural class who was eager to learn.  It was that busy 20-something stage of life when I was juggling part time jobs, university study, my social life, family responsibilities and student teaching.  I was so thankful for Mr. Murray's support during that three-month period, and I learned a lot.

Many years later, I find myself hosting student teachers.  It is an invaluable experience for so many reasons. First, student teachers create a bridge between schools and a college or university.  This is an essential partnership as the two-way flow of information from classroom to university, and university to classroom creates dynamic discussion, planning and instruction to benefit students.

Next, student teachers infuse a school with optimism, idealism, spirit and energy.  They provide us with a new lens with which to see our school and learning environment.  The student teachers bring new ideas, youthful perspectives and what I call, the "cool" factor that often only young teachers can bring to a school.

Also, the student teacher is an extra pair of hands, and when working with young children that is vital.  The student teacher allows more student-centered, small group, responsive instruction to occur which results in meeting more student needs and happy, fulfilled children.

The student-teacher, practicing teacher collaboration is a win-win since both practicing teacher and student teacher have to think deeply about their goals, vision and work as they plan units, communicate and work together for best effect.  The student teacher's assignments force the practicing teacher to revisit and revise curriculum goals, standards, processes and projects to meet the latest research in teaching, while the student teacher applies tried-and-true, classroom ready approaches and procedures to his/her plans.

The visiting professor or student teacher liaison also plays an important role in this collaboration.  When the professor visits, it is a time for targeted conversation about classroom events and practices.  Often we will refine and renew classroom procedures, plans and standards as we discuss best practices and student growth.

Developing dynamic school-university/college partnerships throughout the country is one way to develop optimal instruction and service to children.  Our school is fortunate to partake in student teaching programs as we recognize it is not only the student teachers who learn, but we learn and gain too.

How does your school partner with local universities and colleges?  Is there any State or federal money that supports your work?  Are you and your university partners developing these programs for best effect?

Sharing our collective knowledge can serve to enhance these programs to benefit students throughout the country. I look forward to learning about your partnerships and programs.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Project Based Classroom

Our class engages in projects regularly.  What does that look like?

Projects start with initial planning.  Educators weave standards into a project outline.  For example, students are now working on the Immigration/Family History Museum Project.  The general standards woven into the project include the following:
  • reading and writing informational text.
  • tech research skills.
  • presentation skills.
  • standards related to US regions, culture, and immigration.
The project also includes a passion-based, choice component in that students are choosing the country(s) they are focused on, the stories they want to tell and the specific topics they will feature.  We have guided them with a project packet, essential questions, links and resources.

Project time generally starts with a meeting.  We discuss the outline and students' needs.  We create edit lists and needs' lists.  Then students spread out around the classroom with laptops, books, paper/pencil and other materials to research and write.  Teachers mentor and guide as they conduct meetings with individual students, and monitor the whole group.

Throughout the project, we stop to revise, navigate and respond.  We also stop when it's time for new learning.  For example, this morning I'll introduce many "bonus" options for the project including Wordle, pamphlet creation, Inspiration family trees, and puzzle options as many students have completed the basic project criteria.  We'll stop again next week to discuss exhibit design as students embark on creating their trifold exhibit poster.  Finally, we'll stop again to discuss project presentation the day before the Museum Open House giving students a chance to practice their "headline" introductions.

Project Based Learning is invigorating, challenging, personal and collaborative as the classroom community of learners investigate, discover, create and present information to one another and the chosen presentation audience.  Projects model the kind of autonomy, mastery and purposeful work students will do in the years to come as high school/college students and professionals.  Project based learning is a problem-based, step-by-step activity that leads the learner forward in motivating, engaging ways.  

Is this what project based learning looks like in your classroom?  What components do you find essential to successful implementation?  How do you grow students' skills as you move from one project to the next?  Your thoughts and ideas will serve to develop our work as we move forward with project based learning and our next endeavor: World Biomes.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Parent Survey: Results

Responses are trickling in from the parent survey/report card letter I sent home with recent report cards.  Parents are responding as thoughtful team members--they're providing honest feedback.

I'm often hesitant to send home a survey as the teaching job sometimes seems overwhelming--you know what students need, and you know how to meet those needs, yet you run out of time or don't have the necessary materials to fulfill the needs.  I'm not going to let that stop me though as I'm committed to the action of parents, teachers and students working together as a team for best effect.

I know that when we're willing to hear critique, reflect and make change, our work improves and all children benefit.

Hence, once we finish our current big project, I'll settle in with a cup of coffee and read all the surveys.

I'll think about each comment and child as I rework the schedule and curriculum program to best meet the needs of all students.  I'll also respond to the needs with a short letter noting future responsive plans, go-to resources and rationale for the February-April leg of the school year. Teachers usually know their challenges well, so I'm anticipating the need to strengthen a few areas of my instructional repertoire too.

How do you survey families?  How do you react to the feedback?  What efforts do you employ to build a collaborative teacher-student-family culture into the school program?

Thanks for letting me know? Your feedback will certainly impact my response process.

Related Posts
Establish Positive Family Connections

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Professional Development?

Why is every single second so precious to teachers?  Why is it so frustrating to lose a minute's time in the day?  I can think of many answers.

First, most teachers have a running list of about 100 tasks to do--all tasks that take energy, concentration and yes, time.  One hundred tasks that will improve the work they do for the students they teach--tasks that include correcting papers, editing stories, organizing classroom libraries, developing curriculum, reading children's books, researching the best tools and more.

Second, most teachers are on task with students most of the day leaving little time to reflect on the day's work or plan for the next day.  Hence, most of that work gets done in the evenings and/or early morning hours.

Third, most teachers are caring people who make time for family members regularly.  We care for our children, spouses, parents, relatives, friends and neighbors.  We like helping people. That's why we became teachers and we usually have a long to-do list related to that.

Fourth, we see potential. We know that if we tweak that unit this way; rearrange the desks that way;  find a better reading book or use a different video and more, we'll better effect our students' learning and experience of school.

Fifth, we're human and our energy runs out.  If you've been teaching a long time, you know how you learn best.  You understand how to quickly review, analyze and implement material, and you recognize learning events that are profitable and efficient for you versus those that are time consuming resulting in little gain.

And this brings me to the question of professional development?  What are the best ways to learn and grow as a professional educator?  What time is well spent, and what time leads to frustration?  I'm sure there's not one answer to this, but I believe it's an important question to ask because when teachers use their time effectively, students gain and that matters.


Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Kahn's 2060 Prediction: Education Direction?

I just listened to Kahn's 2060 Education Prediction.  How will his vision affect our work as educators in the coming years? What actions will lead our work, study and thought?  I've created this short list for your consideration.
  • Continue to study, embrace and utilize technology as an awesome life tool.
  • Collaborate with colleagues near and far to increase our collective ability to coach, guide and mentor students well. (PLNs & PLCs)
  • Redesign learning environments to best meet students' needs for active, comfortable, invigorating, responsive learning.
  • Coach students using project base learning and learning design that inspires passionate, student-centered, achievement-based learning opportunities and endeavors.
  • Create more opportunities for the learning team (parents, students, community members and educators) to meet, discuss, learn about and collaborate with new technologies and processes for learning.
  • Guide students in global engagement and work.
  • Discover, study and implement effective ways to develop students' essential skill base for communication, collaboration, critical thinking skills, and creativity.
  • Support museums, libraries, sanctuaries, national parks and other resources that inspire learning and broaden the "school" environment to foster hands-on, relevant, community-based education.
  • Continue to move towards achievement based learning with regard to facilitation, schedules, choice of tools and materials, the learning environment, project selection and assessment.
  • Deepen students' metacognition and learning-to-learn skills/understanding.
  • Engage in university-school partnerships to strengthen ongoing education evolution and idea/practice exchanges.
What am I missing?

If educators want to move towards positive, equitable visions like Kahn's, what are the next steps?  Who are the current leaders in this movement?  What countries are embracing the realities that Kahn discusses, and which countries are working with outdated paradigms?  

This democratization of education is an exciting world direction, one which I want to embrace with students as the central focus.  I'm looking forward to your response to this post.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Politics and Education: Your Journey

Recently an educator told me that he doesn't like it when educators weave political statements into their presentations.  I'm wondering about that.

If you are forging new paths in education, you will encounter political decisions and issues, and it is almost impossible to move forward without mention or notice of the political world that surrounds and embeds itself in education.

Yet, if we want to share our ideas for better effect, what discourse and actions will lead those ideas forward?

I watched a presenter share outstanding research and ideas recently, yet her presentation was not well received by the educators in the audience.  For many, her side talk and political jabs overtook the good ideas and thoughtful intent.

Those comments didn't bother me as I know it sometimes takes humor, strong opinion and sarcasm to move from a place of despair to a place of hope, from bondage to freedom, from noticing a problem to solving it.

Yet, once one has arrived at that new place, it's time to look around--to think about how one's vision and ideas can make a difference for many, and to determine the role of language in that evolution.

I am watching and listening to many innovators move outward from the despair of isolated classrooms to wonderful new practices to sharing their work and knowledge with others.  As I observe this evolution, I have many questions about that process:
  • What is inherent in the movement from a personal role in education to a broader, societal role?
  • How does language change as one embarks on this journey?
  • What values and truths does one return to when making decisions related to change?
  • How does one reconcile message and action with the political climate?
In the weeks to come, I will ponder these questions with greater depth.  I welcome your insights.  

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Classroom Design: Children Speak

I quickly rearranged desks for better listening.  Students arrived and immediately proposed a plan for change.  I listened, and through a process of negotiation we changed the arrangement.  I told them that the key to the change was that they didn't just complain, instead they came to me with a plan for change.  Then I went on to share the research I've been doing related to classroom design both on my own and at Educon.

They became very excited and wanted to voice their opinion and ideas.  Therefore, I decided that we'd spend some time working as individuals or teams creating and proposing changes related to current learning and classroom design so that all students can learn well.  I framed the discussion with the "needs, wants, and desires" framework.

For about an hour, students worked with laptops at tables, on the rug and at desks discussing, researching and writing about optimal design.  They posted their thoughts on our closed classroom social network, NING, in forum discussions.  Take a look at what 10-year olds proposed below.  I welcome your response and comments, and will share that information with students as we continue to explore design for optimal educational effect.

Team AAY

  • More new books because I love reading.
  • More reading time because I have a lot of books and little time.
  • More story writing time (fiction) because I have a lot of fantasy ideas.
  • More erasers because people don't have any.
  • More time to do projects, that way we finish more work, and more edit until it's finished. 
  • Free time when we can eat for ten to twenty minutes because we like playing with our friends at recess.
  • Choice of indoor or outdoor recess because we like to stay inside when we have the computers.
  • No-sound reading chair because I think it might be cool.
  • More Goddess Girl books because I love that series.
  • More free computer time because sometimes we need a break on computers.
  • Bigger desks because we could keep more stuff in it like books, folders and supplies. 

Team ET

Tamira and Elissa desire this classroom/ because we think it will be a comfortable learning place.
We think this will be a great way for people to learn.
Fun way for reading and it is good for people that like to read to block out the noise.
  • Vending machine for people that don't have any thing to drink or eat for snack
  • Outside 40'X60'X18' / 2 3/8" Domed Truss


  1. A clean classroom.
  2. More reading time.
  3. More computer time.
  4. More beanbags because people wouldn't have to wait.
  5. Better chairs and desk because are desk are boiring.
  1. More recess.
  2. More gym.
  3. Fun projects.
  4. Fun activities.
  5. Paint the room with bright colors because the room is dull.
  6. More games.
Can we take away the wall in the back of the room because it doesn't look good, and I wan't to have more beanbags and the things Ms.Devlin showed us because I want a comfy place to read and we don't have to wait so long to get the beanbags. Take away the blower because the blower makes a lot of noise. Eating outside because the lunch room can be hot and noisy. 

Team SJN
I THINK WE NEED: MORE CALM DOWN COOL DOWNS because then if everyday we got calm-down-cool-downs then maybe we won't be as not-listening.
I WANT: MORE RECESS because I dont think we get enough recess.
I DESIRE: BETTER CHAIRS so we can be more comfortable.

I think that we should have more recess.  We should have more recess because some kids come in with more energy than teachers expect and start fooling. Then they end up in the office.
I think we should have healthy vending machines.  We should have vending machines because some kids forget their snack or some kids might get hungry.
I think we should have bigger, better lunch meals.
I think we should have sales to raise money for the items.

  • One of my desires is that everyone should have a bigger desk because some of the taller kidslike me get a bit uncomfortable on the small desks because our legs get bent or crossed.
  • I also desire that we should get the chairs that block the sound because you can be annoyed and get into an argument and you could get less reading time and I know how much this class likes to read. 
  • I think we need to have more recess because we get more riled up when we don't have a lot. 
  • I want a time of day where we get to play tutpup (online math game) for a while so we can get better at math and typing and so on and have fun with it.
  • We need more reading time because then we get a time of peace and quite and to get better at reading.
  • I want a calm down cool down time every day because we get to just relax and settle in after the long fun recess and get to digest all the food that we just ate so we can be ready for the learning.

Kayla and I think we should have the following things in the classroom, a chair that hangs from the ceiling, for cozy reading time and relaxing in calm down cool down or indoor recess. Kayla and I think we should have a people pad for the rug so everyone can be comfy and do their work without fighting over bean bags, look at this awesome couch called so not your grandma's couch, and this awesome lounger you can plug your electronic devices. Also for the kids who like to read on the playground look at these awesome sun loungers! (it wont let us put ether of the lounger pictures in ) and a taylor swift poster which will be on our wall that has our inspirations for the class. Thank You Ms.Devlin!!!