Friday, August 31, 2012

Believe Me: I Wish I Didn't Have to Comment

Every time an issue crosses me, my desk or computer, I quiver. I really don't want to get involved and comment, but I also don't want to live with the consequences of an issue that could impact my work in a less than positive way.

I've taught for a long time, and I've dealt with a number of initiatives that haven't been well thought out--quick decisions without teacher consult or input that lead to countless hours of professional development and efforts that soon die out. So when I see an initiative coming my way, I think carefully about it.  I consult the research, evaluate the amount of effort involved and most importantly analyze the potential impact on students.

Similar to what Hattie proposes for teachers and students in Making Learning Visible for Teachers, it's essential that initiatives include the following:
  • Clear, communicated, accessible goals and rationale.
  • Carefully chosen strategies for implementation.
  • Analysis along the way, analysis of final results and next steps.
I'm a fan of streamlined, research-based systems that support optimal time-on-task work with students. I believe the larger share of a professional educator's time should be spent on direct service in addition to an adequate fraction of time spent on research and development.  I do believe there needs to be leaders, but not that many--enough to keep the engine of a system motivated and flowing with action that matches vision and needs.

So believe me, I don't want to have to comment on so many issues related to my work as a classroom teacher, but the reality is that many systems and roles affect the job that teachers do every day. In some circumstances, a teacher's work, particularly at the elementary level, is belittled since people think it's okay to layer last minute changes, decisions without rationale and demands without truly thinking about the planning and care a teacher devotes preparing five to six lessons a day for 20plus students, the on-time instruction, the after school feedback/response and professional development. Teachers expect to do that work, and in an optimal situation the many roles that support and inform that teacher's role will provide lead time for decisions, rationale for efforts and communication about change.

Many teachers don't speak up even when issues ill-affect the work they do. Many have advised me not to speak up, but when I see the potential positive systems hold for promoting excellence in classroom teaching and student learning, I just have to speak up, and I'm reminded of MLK's words, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

How do you speak up when issues are proposed that may not serve the work you do in a positive way? What obstacles stop you from speaking up?  How can teachers work to build streamlined, effective systems of support when it comes to the work they do each day and optimal changes that better effect student performance and learning?  I'm interested. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

First Day of School Inspiration 2012

Once again our superintendent, Dr. Paul Stein, greeted us with an inspiring first day of school talk which prompted us to make the analogy between education and swimming.  He noted his summer swimming challenge which included the still, safe waters of a pool and the wavy, life-filled waters of the ocean. Dr. Stein suggested that school, like a pool, offers a safe environment to take risks, learn, and practice the skills and knowledge for the "real world," while the "real world" presents itself like an ocean requiring us to adapt the skills we learned in school (pool) to the ever changing landscape of life (tides, sea life and waters of the ocean). The superintendent challenged us to use a "gradual release of responsibility" to move students from safe, directed activities to independent inquiry, analysis, evaluation and creativity.

He introduced two central office goals: refining financial systems and analyzing the current elementary school configuration, and offered us Heart: five system-wide goals to merge with our daily efforts including:
  • Health and Wellness Education and Practice
  • The Implementation of a New Teacher Evaluation System
  • Bridging the Achievement Gap
  • Systemwide RTI (Response to Intervention)
  • Technology Integration to Promote Optimal Student Learning
Similar to last year's inspirational start, Dr. Stein brought us together with common goals, and once again started the school year with a powerful metaphor to guide our work with children.  

Character in the Classroom

Last night I participated in the Tuesday #leadfromwithin chat led by Lolly Daskal.  This chat pushes me to be a better teacher and to understand the underpinnings of leadership and organizations. Last night's focus was leadership character which left me wondering how I can best model and promote character development as a teacher of young children.

I started by looking up the attributes of character.  I found a short list on the web, and then took each attribute/description and listed the ways that I can both model and promote these character traits in the classroom.

Respect: To show consideration for the worth of self, others, living things, the environment, property, and rules.
  • Engage students in a discussion about respect including what it is, and what it looks like in the classroom.
  • Take the time to speak and listen respectfully to students and colleagues.
  • Keep the classroom organized and targeted to student learning. 

Responsibility: Responsible people are reliable, accept the consequences of their words and/or actions, can be trusted, take care of themselves as well as others, and are responsible for all they say and do.
  • Follow through with promises.
  • Help students to complete assignments, stay on task and do as they say.

Perseverance: Sticking with a task and not giving up, even when it's hard.
  • Share and stick with the challenging tasks ahead of me this year, and show students that I can make progress with challenging tasks.
  • Help students to persevere through difficult tasks and learning. Teach and coach strategies to support this.

Thankfulness: Being grateful for the things we have, kindnesses shown, and the world around us.
  • Write thank you notes in a timely fashion.  
  • Make the time for students to recognize that many people who help our classroom by writing thank you notes. 

Kindness/Courtesy: Being polite and helpful with our words and actions, and being thoughtful of how others feel.
  • Make time each day to help someone in my midst.
  • Encourage and recognize students' efforts with regard to helping each other and those in our learning community. 

Self-Control: Being aware of the thoughts, feelings, and desires of others, then making a choice about how to behave.
  • Stay focused and work towards optimal collaboration.
  • Discuss self-control with the class, and look for ways to support students' development of this skill. 

Honesty: Being truthful and fair to myself and others.
  • Instill a value and practice of honesty by accepting the truth and building a climate that accepts failure and mistakes as part of the learning process.
  • Honesty with self and others. Thoughtful explanations and conversations related to truthful points and considerations.

Cooperation: Being willing to be helpful and work together to achieve a common goal.
  • Make the time to establish common goals with grade-level team during PLCs and other collaborative meetings.
  • Make cooperation and collaboration a daily focus of classroom work and learning.  Have meetings to discuss and reflect on our efforts in this regard.  Coach students in these efforts. 

Tolerance/Acceptance: Recognizing and respecting the opinions, practices, or behaviors of others, even if they are different from our own, and welcoming new experiences and people in our lives.
  • Starting the year with the "What's Your Culture?" and "Just Like Me" sets the stage for tolerance and acceptance.  Continue to develop students' and my own ability, understanding in this area through reading, writing, listening, conversation and experiences. 
  • "Seeking the story in the stranger" and working to understand collegial, student and personal differences. 

Friendship: A relationship between people who know, like, trust, and support each other.
  • This would be a great area to focus on through one of our interactive read alouds--we could talk about what makes a great friend and how to be a good friend.
  • Look for ways to model being a good friend at school. 
  • The courage to speak up, advocate, and share your thoughts when there's room for growth and change. 
Last night's chat clearly illustrated that a strong character makes a strong leader.  Establishing optimal character traits when children are young gives them a wonderful foundation for their future.  Modeling, explicit teaching, practice and conversation will develop character traits both in your classroom and your home.

I will think more about these attributes as I move forward in the school year.  Do you think there are any missing traits in the list?  How do you foster optimal character development in yourself and your students?  What resources support this work?  Thanks to the #leadfromwithin team for prompting this important thought thread and activity.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Summer's End: A Cheer for the School Year Ahead

Today is the final day of the summer vacation.  As always, the summer took many unexpected twists and turns.  Professionally, the highlights included the #mtasummer conference, the #educoach chat related to Making Learning Visible for Teachers, and summer reading and blogging. Professionally it was a summer of significant learning, and personally, it was a summer of family events--the kinds of events I treasure.

The classroom is ready and the first week's plans prepared.  Today I'll ready my home for the upcoming year.

What will the year bring?

Inevitably the year will bring typical routine, new relationships, unexpected surprises, learning and challenge.  Each year is a new journey, and I can't imagine the specific details, twists and turns this year's path will bring.

Last year the emphasis was on embracing and integrating new technology and tools of learning while this year the emphasis will be on the details, effort and activity related to optimal student coaching and care--growing my repertoire for serving and teaching each child well.

You will note a stream of repetition in my posts as my writing will serve to "cheer myself on" as I embark on this deeper, more targeted effort--the kind of effort that's similar to parenting, one that doesn't garner front page news or shine, but instead reaps the reward of quiet comments, a job well done and happy, successful children.

If you're taking a similar journey this year, let me know.  Tell me what works and even what doesn't work.  Share your accomplishments and questions.  The essence of teaching is the quiet, day-to-day work that involves routine care and intent--the kind of work that flourishes when we cheer each other on and support each other's efforts.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Goal: Coaching

I've been preparing for the new school year since the late days of the last school year.  I'm challenging myself to be the best possible academic coach that I can be this year.  What does that mean?

At present, that goal means the following actions:
  • Living life with optimal balance so I'm healthy, happy and energized.
  • Taking the time each day to listen, respond and care for the students in my charge.
  • Teaching my students effective "learning to learn" strategies, attitudes and behaviors.
  • Establishing positive classroom routines.
  • Putting students and their families first with respect to professional activity and focus.
  • Collaborating with my grade-level colleagues to troubleshoot, plan and implement a child-centered program.
  • Focusing my professional work on learning and activities that develop my knowledge, skills and outlook so I can coach my students with strength.
  • Organizing files and materials so that I'm able to provide the tools to support student learning and program choice.
  • Time for reflection, research and learning daily online and off.
  • Effective daily feedback.
At the end of the year, I'd like to be able to say that I was able to coach each child well, and that each child successfully learned with confidence, happiness and meaning. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Simple Systems Create Independence, Build Confidence

Good teachers know that simple systems and patterns are essential to classroom ease and success. Systems like this let students manage their environment even when the teacher is not there, and this builds independence and confidence.

I've been teaching a long time, and there are some systems that I've never attended to with care. I tend to jump right into the teaching, and then regret that I didn't spend the time up front each year teaching, practicing and refining our classroom systems. Hence, I've taken the time this morning to outline the systems I will introduce, teach and refine in the early weeks of school.

I have created a space in the back of the room for these systems.  In that space there will be a place where students pass in their homework folders, check lists and collect papers.  There will also be a place for class announcements and news as well as a place to move to magnet to your lunch choice.  Then at the front of the room, I've made a place for "morning work" assignments--the early day warm up exercises and preparation that will help students plan for the day.  A morning work assignment will look like this:

  1. See the teacher if you have any questions, comments or requests.
  2. Prepare your supplies: sharpen pencils and organize desk.
  3. Do your morning job if you have one. 
  4. Start working on ____________________________________ with ___________ voices.

Following Ruth Charney's advice in Teaching Children to Care, we'll spend a considerable amount of time at the start of the year learning the morning check-in system (and revising where necessary):

Morning Check-In System
  1. Remove homework folder and other daily materials from your back pack.
  2. Hang up your back pack and outerwear.  Organize your boots and lunch bags neatly.
  3. If you have a lunch bag, put it in the lunch bucket.
  4. Move your lunch magnet.
  5. Read the class news board.
  6. Read the homework folder board and follow those directions. Place homework folder in basket by number. 
  7. Organize your learning tools and desk area.
  8. Do your morning job if you have one. 
  9. Start your morning work. 

Students will have similar routines and systems to learn related to recess, transitions, lunch and end of the day dismissal.  These systems are essential for safety and organization.

Outdoor Recess
  1. Quietly walk into the hall to get your outdoor gear and snacks.
  2. Line up at outside door.
  3. When teacher announces, walk outside--play and have fun. 
  4. Follow the recess rules: no "body contact," kind words and actions, stay on the playground and use materials the way they are meant to be used.
  5. When teacher blows the whistle four times, walk inside, put away outdoor toys in hall bin, neatly and quietly place outdoor gear on rack, return to the classroom and get started on the assignment written on the board. 
Indoor Recess
  1. Quietly gather snacks.
  2. Return to room and make an indoor choice i.e. blocks, characters, games, legos/k'nex, arts and crafts, reading. . .
  3. Follow indoor recess rules: use materials the way they are meant to be used, no throwing any objects, walking (no running), kind words and actions.
  4. Play quietly since children in classes next door will be learning.
  5. When teacher flashes the lights, clean up your space, return to your desk and get started on the assignment written on the board.
  1. Gather lunch money (if any) from back pack.
  2. Put on your outdoor gear. (if it is outdoors)
  3. Play.
  4. Clean up when lights flash if indoor (5 minutes before line-up).
  5. Line up silently.
  6. Walk to lunch, enjoy eating with friends, clean-up and follow instructions for dismissal.
  7. Line up for dismissal and walk silently down hall or walkway to classroom.
  8. Enjoy 10 silent minutes at desk reading, writing, drawing, thinking or any other silent, restful activity after lunch. See teacher at this time with any questions or concerns.
End of Day Routine 
  1. Clean up desk area, put materials in back pack and bring back pack into room. 
  2. Gather in designated place for end day read aloud or mini lesson.
  3. Stop and Listen silently to principal's end-of-day message.
  4. Leave quietly as teacher announces your end-day group (bus#, transportation type or afterschool program).
Restroom Routine
  1. Raise a "thumb up" when you need to use the restroom.
  2. When the teacher gives you the okay signal, sign your name and time out in restroom book.
  3. Use the restroom as it is meant to be used, be neat and polite.  Report any restroom actions that are inappropriate as we want to keep that a safe, clean area of our school.
  4. When you return, write the time-in and return to the class activity.
  1. Silently wait and listen for your name, number or other way of being called to line up.
  2. No talking once you have lined up.
  3. Silently walk through the halls.  The silence is due to the fact that we have a busy school and we'll be passing many students who are in the midst of reading, listening, writing and doing other learning tasks.
  4. Quietly find your spot in the new class, wait for the teacher's directions or follow the routine for that class. 
Class Jobs
Students will have the same job all year.  Students will choose or be chosen for specific jobs at the beginning of the year and throughout the year as job needs arise.
  • Lunch Bucket - bring to lunch room at 8:50 each day, return to classroom after lunch.
  • Attendance: Review magnets, complete attendance roster, show teacher and bring to front office.
  • Lunch Count: Review magnets, complete lunch slip, show teacher and bring to lunch room
  • Class Manager (weekly job-each student gets a chance to do this): helps teacher with messages, paper passing and other necessary jobs. 
How do you create, manage and revise systems in your classroom?  In what ways do you give students' ownership for these systems?  What systems do you use that I do not have listed here?  An important part of elementary school is teaching students the habits and routines that foster independence, confidence and success.  As Charney notes in her books, we can't expect students to come knowing our expectations or systems, instead we have to teach and practice these systems in deliberate, thoughtful ways with students in order to build successful routines, patterns and habits. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Meet My Class: Movie

Recently I put together a short Animoto film for my son's football team.  As I watched the film, I realized that it was one good way to get to know all the boys on the team and start the season in a spirited way. That's when I realized it would be a good idea to apply the same principle to my fourth grade classroom.

This is the idea we'll try for Curriculum Night.

I'll divide the room up into 12 important topics/sections including the following:
  1. writing center
  2. informational library
  3. fiction library
  4. math center
  5. poetry corner
  6. picture book shelf
  7. tech center
  8. Lego/K'Nex/Blocks
  9. Games
  10. Arts and Crafts
  11. Check-In/Class News
  12. "We are Learners" Bulletin Board
I'll assign two students to each category, and give those students a short description of the area including the learning intent and objectives. The students' job will be to explore that section of the room, write a short, lively script describing how and when students can access that area for learning and play. Then students will film themselves using QuickTime or Photobooth.  I'll put the clips together in an iMovie. We'll edit the draft film together, then show the final at Curriculum Night.

It will be nice to introduce the classroom and class to family members using students' perspective and voice.  Also, this task will build investment and give me the chance to attend to students' voices and collaboration with care as I edit and put together the film.  I'll add important highlights from my perspective after I show the film to family members.  

Let's see what happens.  I hope to share the results so you can learn about our classroom too.

Script Template

Learning Center Cards
Student teams are given a card that describes the center at start of project.


Film Reflection:
The student film engaged students in many learning goals including the creation of class community, collaborative skill, and writing and speaking standards.  As a class we reflected on what worked with this film, and areas we can work on in our next film.  Overall it was a successful way to engage learners and introduce the classroom to family members.  The film was well received at parents' night. 

Questions Ignored

Just wondering.

Have you ever hit a professional pass in the road where you're faced with avoidance.

A time when you have a question that no one is willing to answer or explain.

That has happened to me on a number of occasions.

I pose a question, and I get no response.  It is as if I never sent the email or posed the question.

For some I believe that this is a strategy.  They think if I don't answer, it will go away because that person doesn't have the money, time or power to spend many hours or dollars pursuing that question.

On the other hand, there are those that never leave a question unanswered.  When you pose the question or situation, they always provide a response, and if an answer is not available they tell you why and give you further avenues for exploration.

When my students pose questions in class or via email, I always respond. I have their best interests in mind and want to help them move forward in their pursuits and interests.  I avail myself to them, and if I can't meet their need or answer their question, I explain why or we work together to create a possible avenue of response.

I wonder why some stand in your way by not responding to questions or providing paths for questions and response as I know I ask a lot of questions. If you have an idea about this, please let me know as I want to understand this area of professional life better.  Thank you.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Busy Days: Prepping for the School Year

The school year really never ends, instead it is a year of seasons devoted to student learning.
Classroom prep takes a lot of time for classroom teachers as there are many steps involved.  The prep begins late in the school year when we meet to order supplies for the following year.  The prep is also impacted by summer reading and study which then leads to changes in lessons, revising the learning environment plan and a need for new supplies.  Finally, the prep involves organizing the physical environment and preparing for optimal school year routines and lessons.

I started prepping the physical environment on a rainy Saturday. It was a good day because my children were cared for, and the school was quiet so I could work steadily without many interruptions. I made many changes to last year's school design:
  • Old shelving was replaced with new wire shelving that is easier for students to access and move from one place to another.
  • Additional small group study areas were added to the room to complement our RTI (Response for Intervention) efforts.
  • The math tool center was reorganized for better access and use. I am about to add the Math Word Wall and hang up useful guiding math posters too.
  • Many mini-libraries were placed around the room so children can access wonderful books throughout the classroom. Books will be organized by genre, author and topic in buckets on shelves in these mini-libraries.
  • Hard copies of all professional books and materials were tossed if that information can be easily accessed online.
  • My small tech table at the front of the room was replaced with a larger table so that I can  easily host small learning groups there when needed.
  • I set aside a small shelf for tech materials and will create an area there so that students can easily access iPads, iPods, computers and other tech equipment.
  • I will also create a small writing center with easy-to-access tools such as writing guide books, thesauri and dictionaries.
Since the onset of increased technology use in my classroom, I find that the room is becoming more and more child-centered.  Tech means that I need less space for teacher books and curriculum materials.  Hence I was able to get rid of my desk, outdated shelves and cabinets which left more room for small group learning centers, mini-libraries and exploration centers.

Sometimes I wish I could snap my fingers and the room would be complete, but that's not the case.  Prepping the learning environment is a very important part of the overall job--one that takes many days and lots of effort.  When done well, the work serves to teach children well. 

What changes do you find in your classroom design efforts?  How do you create cozy, welcoming centers and nooks for student learning?  Does your classroom environment mirror your teaching intentions?  How does the environment inspire student learning, independence, pride and confidence?  Thanks for sharing your ideas. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Making Learning Tool Kits

At the #mtasummer conference, I was inspired to lead my students through a learning tool kit creation activity at the start of the year. Throughout the year we'll use the tools we collect and create to solve math problems, create learning posters and learn vocabulary.

What is a Learning Tool Kit?
Our learning tool kits will be large, plastic zip-lock bags that contain rulers, templates and other supplies for writing, drawing and math problem solving.

How Will Students Create Their Tool Kits?
  1. Students and I will meet to discuss what a tool kit is, then we'll list the possible supplies.
  2. Students and I will collect a large number of recyclable templates such as jar lids, box sides and other objects that mirror the standard figures in plane geometry.
  3. Using small sticky labels, we'll label the template shapes in our tool kit with accurate mathematical names and measurements.  
  4. We'll add rulers, protractors and compasses to our kits.
  5. We'll use our tool kits to learn to draw simple 3-d figures and pictures.
  6. We'll make learning posters with our tool kits. 
Because the start of the school year will be devoted to "learning how to learn," creating tool boxes and tool kits to aid our learning endeavor throughout the year is a positive activity.  Then throughout the year as we use the tools and the vocabulary that goes with each tool, students' learning will grow. 

I Work For You

First Day of School

Dear Student,

Did you realize that you have a paid consultant to help you learn.  That's true, and that consultant is me.  Your parents and the community pay taxes, and then a fraction of those taxes support my salary so that I can teach you.

So, how can I help you best?

First, How can I set up the learning environment (classroom) so that you're comfortable, alert and able to learn happily and successfully?  What kinds of tables, chairs, desks, displays and supplies do you need to learn?

Next, what about the schedule?  What should be on the schedule and how much time should be devoted to recess, reading, technology projects, collaborative work, writing, math and more?

After that, what are the best ways to teach you the essential skills of reading, writing, math and scientific/social studies knowledge and practice.  I've read a lot about that, and will be sharing my research with you.  Bottom line, the more you practice with effective strategies, the more you'll learn.  I'll introduce you to many, many learning strategies and give you lots of time to practice with friends and by yourself? But, what about you, what strategies have helped you learn in the past, and what strategies have been unsuccessful.  The more I understand you as a learner, the better I'll be able to teach you.

And, are there obstacles in your learning path--boulders and rocks that have prevented learning in the past?  I want to know about those, so we can work together to streamline your path to learning.  What makes learning difficult for you?  Tell me about some of your toughest learning moments.  Learning is not always easy, and sometimes it involves difficult practice and hard work, but there are ways we can work together to make that work more meaningful and approachable.

Finally, what advice do you have for me as your teacher and coach.  I want to do a good job this year.  I want our Team 15 to be a successful team of happy, healthy, creative and thoughtful learners.  I want us all to bridge the gap between our learning goals and success, and I want us all to experience the action of life long learning, goal after goal, practice and practice, and working together to make meaning and learn.

Today, I'd like you to write me a letter that answers the questions above.  Tell me what I can do to help you learn this year.  Write your letter online or off.  Add images if you'd like (perhaps you would like to draw a picture of the ideal classroom), and write with whatever pen or pencil you prefer.  Take your time.  Thanks in advance for helping me teach you well.

With gratitude.
Your teacher,
Ms. Devlin

Note: I recently read about the value of prompts and templates, hence here is a template to guide students' letter writing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Multimedia Literacy Studio Structure

Now that we're nearing the first day of school, I'm thinking about the structure of our ninety-minute Multimedia Literacy Studio.  How will I activate students' learning and foster their independence during this 90-minute reading, writing learning block.

The basic structure of the Studio will include the following:
  • Literacy Studio Ticket Prep Writing (5 minutes)
  • Interactive Focus Lesson: 15-20 Minutes
  • Student/Teacher independent, guided and collaborative work:
    • Independent, shared, and/or guided reading. (approximately 20 minutes)
    • Independent, shared and/or guided writing. (approximately 20 minutes)
    • Skill and focus lesson work online and off. (approximately 20 minutes) 
  • Literacy Studio Ticket Reflections: The Exit Ticket
  • Studio follow-up via blog posts, homework assignments and the next day's focus lesson.
The classroom environment will be set up to support the Literacy Studio with mini libraries spread out throughout the classroom and a variety of small group, partner and independent work spaces. 

I will start the year by sharing and revising the structure with students to best meet this year's class needs.

I will employ the use of the Literacy Studio Ticket to gather prior knowledge, encourage questions and end the lesson with reflection, "I learn" statements and more questions. 

Front side of Multimedia Literacy Studio Ticket

Back Side of Multimedia Literacy Studio Ticket

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Politics and Education: My Vote

I tweet with educators all over the globe.  I honor their fine work and dedication to the world's children. The educators I tweet with differ with regard to political views, religion, culture, geography, lifestyle and more.  That doesn't matter to me. When I tweet with my colleagues all over the world, I want to share with them and learn from them so we can all do our work well to promote optimal learning and the best, possible educational experiences for children.

It is a political time in America.  We've got big elections coming up in the state of Massachusetts and the country.  I will vote for President Obama and Elizabeth Warren.  I will vote for those candidates because I believe they both have the vision, education and viewpoints that will bring the USA forward into the global society that we now live in.

Their opponents appear to be good people and fine family men, but at this time in our country's story, we need to move forward and our leaders have to have a strong understanding of the law as well as a strong vision for what's possible for the average American of every culture, religion, gender, age and community. The nostalgia for an America of old is a safe, welcoming idea for many of us, but a look around us or a quick search on the Internet clearly demonstrates that we're not heading back; we're moving ahead, and forward movement demands new ideas, vision, algorithms and innovation. Warren and Obama will move us in that direction.

I was shy to share my political views as I don't want it to fracture my collaboration with teachers, students, families and friends across the globe. I believe there is strength in debate and room for differences. I'm sharing my point of view because I dearly love our country and I know we hold great potential for a peaceful, prosperous future in harmony with the world. We have work to do so that we end war, diminish pollution, improve health and eliminate poverty. I believe that is possible. and it will take the energy, dedication and commitment of all to make this happen.

I invite respectful debate and differences. I encourage you to get involved in the upcoming election. Be informed and make a decision that will forward our country's intent: "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for all!

Note my political views and work will never infiltrate my classroom. There I promote an America based on our best ideals. I don't share my political views with my young students, but I teach and honor our democracy and values. The strength of our country lies in our freedom of speech, our ability to debate and differ, and the way we come together to do what's best for our children and all citizens in our neighborhoods, communities, states and country. We hold tremendous potential for a bright future.

How Do You Teach Optimal Digital Citizenship?

Our Social Media Protocols
In years past, I've given digital citizenship cursory attention. I've told students, "Consider whatever you write or post online to be front page news--news you're ready and willing to stand by, defend and explain." That's the rule I use when I post information online. I also set simple protocols to guide students' online work.

Yet, at the end of last year several students didn't follow the protocol and sent impolite messages and images via their Google docs. That reminded me of what I know as both a parent and teacher, you have to be explicit in the teaching and keep the message alive throughout the year--cursory attention to a topic is not enough.

Hence, this year my colleagues and I will invest greater time and effort into optimal digital citizenry education. How will we do that?

Wayland Public Schools Will Use LARK 

Initially, I'll begin with a conversation.  I'll ask, "What do you think it means to be a good digital citizen?" We'll brainstorm ideas and share stories.

Next, we'll go to the "dark side" and I'll say, "What are examples of poor digital citizenship?"  We'll list and discuss those.

After that I'll say, "How can we become optimal digital citizens and also help others in the school to be good digital citizens?"

Then, I'll lead students through an education process of what it means to be a good digital citizen in actions and words. We'll use some (or all) of the resources below.  Finally, the class will embark on a digital citizenship ad campaign--we'll make multimedia compositions (venue(s) to be determined) to advertise our learning. Then we'll take the ad campaign "on the road" and share it with students in our school and possibly beyond.

Throughout the year, we'll revisit digital citizenship and when students make bad choices, I'll use it as a learning opportunity and provide logical, educational consequences to strengthen the learning.

How do you teach digital citizenship? What's your favorite educational video, presentation, story book, poster or other venue?  Thanks for helping out as we embark on this new teaching/learning event.

Digital Citizenship Links
Guided Social Media
Digital Citizenship Introduction.
Social Media Etiquette
Cybraryman’s Digital Citizen Links
Protecting Reputations Online Film
Cyberbullying Prezi

Common Sense: K-12 Digital Citizenship and Literacy Curriculum
Greeley, Colorado School Links for Digital Citizenship
5 Ways to Incorporate Digital Citizenship

School Year 2012-2013: Nuts and Bolts

Similar to last year, it has been a summer of professional growth and thought, and now it's time for the nuts and bolts planning for the school year--the actual lessons I introduce each day.  Elementary educators teach a large myriad of lessons each day, and with differentiation those lessons span many levels of achievement and modalities of action.

Earlier this month, I outlined the emphasis for the first six weeks, and now I'm organizing the specific details and materials related to each learning endeavor, lesson and unit.   My lesson planning and organization is generally a fluid process. I keep a chart of the lessons to teach and as I have time, I prep and plan for those lessons.  Now that I am able to keep the chart online, I'll be better able to link each lesson to the best materials, films, links and activities.  I'll also be able to easily share and revise the list as I work with my colleagues in our PLC (professional learning community) to assess, plan and revise teaching points to best implement RTI (response to intervention) and help every child at our grade level achieve.

How do you plan specific learning events for your class?  In what ways do you organize and share the large amount of work you do to implement several lessons a day?  This is one of the many complex areas of teaching children well, and one where collaboration and shared ideas will boost our work and effort.

On Monday night from 8-9pmEST, #4thchat will discuss start of the year strategies and lessons. You may want to join us if you're an upper elementary school teacher as the chat will provide many great ideas by terrific educators.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

#Blendchat 3: Sunday, 8/12 8pmEST

#blendchat started at #edcampbos in April.  A group of Massachusetts educators sat at a big table in the middle of a beautiful room at Microsoft's NERD center in Boston.  Educators that spanned the age groups and school levels met and discussed blended learning definitions, practice, tools and efforts.  Later we decided to chat on Twitter the first Sunday of each month.

Due to scheduling, in August we're chatting on the second Sunday at 8pmEST.  This chat will be focused on the ways that we teach children how to learn about and use the many tools of blended learning.  Questions we'll discuss include the following:

Q1: What tools do use in your blended learning endeavors?

Q2: How do you organize the tools to foster independent access and use?

Q3: How do you foster optimal use of the tools? What spaces do you create to support audio/video taping, collaborative composition and independent work.

Q4: What tools foster 24-7 access to learning and what routines do you establish to streamline this for best effect, feedback and response.

Q5: How do you communicate your blended learning efforts to the entire learning community i.e. teachers, administrators, parents and students so they understand the rationale and actions.

Q6: How do you foster fluidity in the blended learning environment so learning is the visible and effective.

I hope you'll join us Sunday if you're interested in sharing your ideas as to how to establish an effective blended learning environment in September.  It will be great to converse about the tools, training, structure and routines that springboard the blended learning efforts into engaging and productive student learning events.

Chat Follow-Up: Unfortunately #blendchat was competing with many other wonderful chats tonight.  Thanks to Faige Meller for joining and sharing her great work with children.  I don't think there's a lot of room left on Sunday night for this chat, so this is probably the final night.  Thanks to all for sharing their thoughts and ideas related to the blended learning environment.  I'm sure related ideas will be incorporated into many other chats in the weeks to come.

Related Posts:
Crowd Source: Blended Learning Document - Share your ideas here.
Blended Learning Focus for 2012-2013
#blendchat 6/3/12
#blendchat First Chat Reflections
#blendchat Join Us
Facilitating Learning in the Blended Environment
#blended Learning Second Chat - July

A Better World: Kids Talking to Kids, Join Us

I hope you and your students will join us on November 15th at 10 a.m. EST to share your images and words related to a better world.

My students, Team 15, will host a global share online as part of the Global Education Conference.   I presented and volunteered last year and it was an exciting learning event.  I really enjoyed sharing ideas with educators and students around the globe from the comfort of my den in the early morning hours.

My students and I will work together to plan and prepare for this event.  They'll create a website to lead our efforts.  During the actual presentation, they will simply coordinate student sharing.  I expect that students around the world will tell us their ideas for a better world through pictures, writing and speaking.  Later on, with the use of the website, we'll foster discussion about those ideas.

I hope you and your students will join us.  It will be a great chance for children to learn about and participate in a global conversation from the comfort of their homes or classrooms. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Related Posts
Project Reflections, 2012
Project Details, 2012
Fostering Global Connections
2011 Global Classroom Presentation 
Becoming Global Citizens
Tech Integration or Learning Design
2011 Global Classroom YouTube Film Snapshot

Fourth Grade Social Media

A snapshot of our Team 15 NING

While Edmodo and Kidblog are two popular social media sites for elementary school, I still use NING. I like the graphic design and application of NING.  Essentially our class NING is our virtual classroom for the learning community including teachers, students and families.

Instead of having students sign on to NING, I ask families to sign on with one or more emails.  I ask parents to manage their child's NING and to alert me if there are issues.  I also ask colleagues who work with our class to join too as that creates professional checks-and-balance.

Our NING protocols are simple and straightforward:
  • Use polite language and images.
  • Notify a teacher or parent if you read words or see an image you think is inappropriate.
  • When possible, have an editor edit your writing before posting.
In years past, I've been too quick with our NING introduction and use.  I didn't spend enough time teaching digital citizenship and how the NING works.  Therefore, those who caught on quickly made good use of it, and those that didn't were not able to reap the benefits.  This year I'm going to slow down and teach all aspects of NING with care, and help every child and family access the tool by hosting parent-student tech mornings, introducing NING to parents at Curriculum Night and giving simple assignments that provide students with coaching and the chance to try out each aspect of our virtual classroom. 

There are many benefits to having a virtual classroom including the following:
  • Family members, teachers and students have 24-7 access to classroom links, activities and communication near and far. Hence if students travel during the year, they can easily follow the classroom program.
  • English Language Learners (ESL/ELL) have online access to classroom conversations and lessons which they can look at repeatedly to gain meaning or use translation tools to access if necessary.
  • Students have a ready place to share their thoughts and ideas.
  • Students are able to create a photo album of meaningful photos that they can later use in stories, movies and other multimedia compositions.
  • Students learn about each other and communicate with each other.
  • NING gives the teacher easy access to editing so I can delete something that is inappropriate and use it as a teaching point.
  • I send out newsletters to all quickly and efficiently.
  • Students are writing often for an audience which builds fluency and voice.
  • NING is a closed social network, a safe place to learn about social media without the commentary and disruption of the global audience. 
Guided social media with the use of platforms such as NING, Edmodo, Kidblog or ePals educates children about how to use social media in effective, productive ways.  Do you have a virtual classroom for your class?  If so, what is it and how do you introduce that platform at the start of the year?  If you don't, I recommend you try one as that's one way to prepare students for the world they will be living in as teenagers and young adults.

Note: I thought NING was an ideal platform for a virtual school at the elementary level, however, due to under 13 access rules, our school system was not comfortable with its use so we no longer use this platform. We know use a Google website and docs instead in a somewhat similar way. 

What Do You Think?

You know what I think?  My ideas, practice and questions are capsulated in my blog, tweets and published multimedia projects.

I know what you think too if you're active blogging, tweeting, speaking, emailing and attending workshops and conferences as I've read about your thoughts or we've had a conversation. Several of my students have shared their summer adventures and ideas too through our classroom NING.

But, if you haven't shared your thoughts in writing or film, and we haven't had the chance for a conversation, I don't know what you're thinking.  My job as an educator is impacted by many leaders and colleagues.  Some readily share their ideas and thoughts, and others are quieter (or silent) about their vision, goals and practice.

I'm wondering about protocols related to sharing.  If you impact the work of others, what are the most effective ways to communicate?  It seems to me that regular updates are the way to go.  Whether it be a blog, email, video or regular meeting, it appears that those that impact others should keep the conversation going with regard to vision, goals, actions and questions.  Positive structures for collegial sharing are important too.

What do you think?  Let those you impact know.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Learning: Caution Bumpy Road Ahead

Learning is a bumpy road.  You set out with great vision or even a small idea.  A positive remark, outcome or smile leads you forward, but then a rejection sets you back.  It's the "two steps ahead, one step backwards" motion many refer to.  Put on your seatbelt. Navigate. Have your roadmap handy.  There will be detours. And, most importantly keep your destination in mind--where are you going?  Also stop once in a while to simply enjoy the journey, the people you meet along the way and the beauty you encounter.  Most of all, don't despair, and if one road is closed (expect many closed roads) seek out another, there's always someone, particularly in this Internet age to suggest a path.  Learning is a bumpy road, but don't let that halt your journey.

Time for a Book?

The posts are a vignette collection of school life, thought and research-based action.  There are many now, all scattered throughout the blog like flower petals after a spring wind.  This blog, a splash of colorful ideas, can serve to ignite ideas and debate, but it's difficult to find all the posts that relate to one topic, effort or controversy.  That means it's time for a book--time to sew the ideas together in a logical format so those who want to ponder their practice and effort have chapters to refer to and knitted themes to embrace.

Tweets, posts and books all have a place in the digital age of communication.  Tweets are staccato idea sparks and the blog post is a lively sidewalk conversation. The book has the harmony and choreography of a well-planned event.  I read tweets to ignite my ideas. Posts prompt action and thought. And books, those carefully crafted texts, guide thoughtful change in perspective and action.

So now that I've accumulated a large array of posts, I'm going to start thinking about writing a book--a text that prompts learning communities to think about the work they do each day to teach children well.  A book that helps schools to streamline systems so that the lion's share of the time is spent in activity that directly impacts student learning.

There's no rush in this endeavor, but the idea will change the way I organize and file my posts.  As I do that I'll think about this book and the fact that this book will serve to guide my practice too, the work I do each day with children.

Tweets-posts-Ted/Ed/Ignite Talks-Presentations-Videos-Theater-Books: All communication tools that affect the work we do and share holding the potential for stronger schools and a better world.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

#mtasummer Finale

ePortfolio Workshop
On the final day of the MTA Summer Conference, George Snider, an MTA retiree educated me about the upcoming senatorial and presidential elections.  His comments dovetailed with the previous night's Ed Talks and discussion with filmmaker, Dr. Maynard Seider, which prompted me to act more to affect positive change. We are a "government of the people, by the people, for the people" and Snider reminded me of the importance of our contribution towards elections, voting and speaking up for the rights of all.  After all, if we live in a country where everyone feels like they have a place, a voice and the chance for "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," we will more likely be a peaceful, prosperous people.  When the lion's share of power and money go to a few, the chance for success for all diminishes.

After that I presented an ePortfolio workshop to a wonderful group of educators.  We are fortunate to live in a state that values education. We are also fortunate to belong to a union that takes the time to plan and implement a wonderful professional development opportunity like the MTA Summer Conference.  Massachusetts is moving in the right direction when it comes to education.  We still have room for growth so that we create conditions for excellence in every Massachusetts school and streamline systems so that most of the time and effort is spent on activity that directly impacts student learning.

Thanks for following my many tweets and posts in the past few days; I just could not resist sharing such a positive event with so many.  Hopefully, next year, more of my local and State friends and colleagues will join me at the MTA Summer Conference, and possibly my colleagues outside of Massachusetts will plan and/or attend similar events in their own states and countries. When teachers gather together to collaborate around the needs of students, there is much to be gained.

#mtasummer Create!

Early Morning at Williams College 
It was an amazing day three at the MTA Summer conference.  In addition to the many, many conversations I had with educators throughout Massachusetts, I also had the chance to attend MTA's amazing ED talks; participate in a couple of wonderful art workshops and dine with thoughtful educators.

  • Julie Jock, the art teacher at Sullivan School in North Adams shared her knowledge and skill in illustration with us.  I joined Nancy Roy and Todd Ostrowski from Palmer Public Schools and together we applied that knowledge to student tool kit creation and math problem solving.  The tool kits for my fourth graders will aid their math and writing work as we embrace the Common Core Math Standards throughout the year.
  • Next I attended a wonderful pop-up session presented by Carol Pineo. I learned many ways to make and use pop-up books for early ice breaker exercises, story element books and many other activities. 
  • Along with several MTA members, I was fortunate to have dinner with Maynard Seider who recently completed the documentary, Farewell to Factory Towns. Professor Seider told us about the process for making the film as well as some of his ideas related to the current sociopolitical climate in the United States.  
  • Finally, the evening ended with amazing ED talks by nine notable Massachusetts' educators.  As soon as the talks are published I will add the link--you'll be both challenged and inspired.
The MTA Summer Conference provides Massachusetts' educators with the chance to learn, share and debate in a beautiful, vibrant environment as we prepare for the teaching year ahead.  The organizers of the event did a wonderful job presenting a menu of options from professional workshops to presentations to film and entertainment. If you're a Massachusetts teacher, I recommend that you put this event on your calendar for next year--you can come for a day or several to attend and/or present, and I know you'll find the event to be a chance to reflect, prepare and share with colleagues from across the state as you get ready for the teaching year ahead.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Creating the Multimedia Literacy Studio

I am currently creating the Multimedia Literacy Studio design on paper.  Next week, I'll create the  basic environment. Once students arrive in the classroom, we'll refine the environment, create process and protocol, and establish routines.  After that we'll engage in many, many effective endeavors to develop our individual and collective interdisciplinary reading, writing and speaking skills.

The Multimedia Literacy Studio is based on Ellin Oliver Keene's concept of the literacy studio. The studio provides ready access to technology and text in multiple formats and classroom structures.  The primary focus of the studio is student learning and the main process is Hattie's student/teacher "closing the gap process" of identifying specific goals and the success criteria, choosing the best strategies to reach those goals, and assessing goal attainment. The teacher works as coach in the literacy studio continually guiding students' development and activating learning by fostering metacognition, promoting self-regulation, teaching specific skills, content, vocabulary and processes, and working with students to choose purposeful, meaningful, engaging and empowering learning experiences.

The Multimedia Literacy Studio will provide students with a learning environment that they will replicate in their own homes and lives throughout time as they integrate reading, writing and speaking into their daily endeavor for recreation, employment and life-long learning.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

#mtasummer 2

A Beautiful Day in Williamstown
Day two at the MTA Summer Conference led me to an unconference led by Dan Callahan (co-founder of the edcamp movement), Laura Beals D’Elia and Diana Marcus, a trio of energized, innovative Burlington educators who keep the focus on what’s best for students.

Similar to an edcamp experience, the unconference is a rich, collaborative learning experience that one can tailor to his/her needs and interests. The day began with a few unconference protocols: post “conversations” you’re interested in, join groups that are focusing on topics you want to discuss and learn about, and “vote with your feet” which means that you may leave or join a group at any time. We introduced ourselves and our interests, and then we began posting topics and joining colleagues in a number of concurrent conversations.

I began the day discussing awesome iPad aps with a few educators.  Dan Callahan introduced his iPad app book, student projects and examples of many wonderful apps including:

  • Book Creator: Great app for making books.
  • Doodle Cast: Screencasting app, great for young children.
  • Toontastic: Cartoon maker which is engaging and applicable to many curriculum areas.
  • Explain Everything: Another great screencasting app.
  • Skitch: screen pics and adaptations, useful to use with Google maps for regions study.
  • Drawing Pad: drawing tool for young children.
  • Artrage: more sophisticated drawing tool.

During the discussion, Patricia Piekara explained that she uses the iPad for speech work with children. Patricia lets students record their speaking, then she plays the recording back and points out ways that the student is successful.  She uses the story builder app as part of her engaging work with children. Callahan’s school will move to one-to-one with iPads this year.

At the next session math teachers from elementary school to college discussed math education and many strategies for obtaining grants, collaborating, completing project work and meeting current standards. In the afternoon, teachers from Plymouth and Holden shared wonderful “flipped classroom” science videos, websites and lessons. For the final session, teachers discussed school culture and events related to innovation, change and collegiality.  The concept of “reciprocity” and the need for professional collaboration, advocacy and mutual support were focal points of the discussion.

Throughout the day many more tech venues were introduced including the following:

  • evernote
  • symbaloo: saves and provides access to one’s links.
  • thinglink: linking app.
  • crafter: Easy app for QR code creation
  • twitter widget to post "favorites" on websites.
  • Google widgets

The day left me with many apps and venues to play with and explore in the coming weeks. The experience also left me with the desire to support our tech integration specialists’ idea of hosting a staff-wide unconference or edcamp as part of our overall professional development offerings at school. Unlike many traditional professional development events, the unconference and edcamp events encourage teachers to take the lead when it comes to collaboration, setting goals, sharing ideas and synthesizing those ideas in efficient, responsive ways that benefit our work with those we teach.

Thinking About the Learner

I took a close look at another collection of school year scores this morning and that analysis brought me back to my central focus as an educator: the learner.

It is the day-in, day-out action that matters when it comes to learners, the ability to streamline routines, schedules and curriculum so that most of the teaching day is spent on targeted, responsive efforts that activate optimal learning of essential skills and practices.

At fourth grade, what's essential includes reading/writing fluency, skill and interest, mathematical thinking and practice, and a broad base of meaningful, engaging events that build knowledge, concept and skill across all content areas. I'd really like to add scientific process, fluency and skill as a main target too but my time and effort is already maximized as I aim to meet the current goals.  I expect that it won't be long before classrooms are replaced by menus of classes, pods, studies and one-to-one tutors so that  educators can focus on reasonable planning/content responsibilities with regard to successful student response and teaching strategies.

Today as I partake in the MTA Summer Unconference event, the learner will be my focus. What can I do to deepen and broaden my effect on student learning?  How will I establish and manage a process to effect professional growth in that area?

Monday, August 06, 2012

2012 MTA Summer Conference: Day One

My View (Still working on my camera skills.)
Nestled in the the middle of hills and mountains the Massachusetts Teachers Union (MTA) Summer Conference is taking place at Williams College.  And yes, I have a room with a view!  I wonder why we can't make all our learning environments as beautiful as this one.

Unlike many tech conferences, there aren't a lot of tweeters or bloggers here, but there are many collegial groups of educators exchanging ideas, attending workshops and having fun.  My first day was jam packed with outstanding presentations.  

The day started with Mary Chamberlain's Writing About Math and Science Workshop. Mary led teachers through a series of exercises that both develop students’ writing facility and strengthen student learning across the curriculum. She emphasized that she always completes an activity herself before asking students to do the activity. The many quick-write strategies that Chamberlain introduced can be used in conjunction with Common Core standards as teachers work to balance information and literary texts to strengthen students’ ability to write evidence based answers, cite sources, utilize academic vocabulary and develop speaking and listening skills. Ms. Chamberlain emphasized that teachers need to foster a classroom climate where students have the time and opportunity to talk, listen, write and think. I have listed many of the strategies presented with a brief explanation at the bottom of the page.

After a wonderful picnic lunch, I attended Jennifer Hanson's workshop highlighting Primary Source. Hanson's Global Literature page is amazing and available to guide and support educators who are conducting research, gaining background information and choosing informational text and literature for student learning. Ms. Hanson also introduced us to the powerful and problematic concept of a "single story" as explained by novelist, Chimamanda Adichie in her TED Talk. Adichie's talk demonstrates the need to seek out and employ stories that allow students to "see themselves" in the text while also building honest understanding of the many cultures, environments and people in our communities and world.

I ended my first full day at the Summer MTA Conference listening to, and partaking in, a discussion led by Mitchell D. Chester, Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education and Paul Toner, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.  I was interested in learning about the current efforts taking place related to the Common Core, teacher evaluation and assessment.  Teachers posed many wonderful questions demonstrating their care and desire for learning communities that provide fair and equitable “conditions for excellence.” I left the discussion with the belief that all parties: educators, the State and the union, have a vested interest in student learning, and the potential is there for Massachusetts to continue a collaborative path towards successful student learning for all as evidenced in this joint document, "Transforming the Teacher Profession."

Writing Strategies that Build Writing Skill and Learning

Mathematical/Science Autobiographies: Students write short autobiographies of their learning experiences related to math and/or science.  I hope to create a series of prompts to lead students writing for this start of the year assignment.

10-2: A large part of the time (10) is spent on the writing activity, then, after processing the activity, the shorter amount of time (2) is spent on reflection related to the activity.

Math Journals: Decide before the year starts on the type of format(s), writing book or other platforms students will use to write and share their math thinking.

TILT Exit Slips: TILT stands for “Today I Learned That.”  Students complete a TILT page at the end of each lesson.  Teacher reads, analyzes and reflects on students’ TILTs at the start of the next lesson.

Turning Points: Incorporate strategies that create “turning points” for students such as the opportunity to peer tutor, acknowledging a students’ learning and breakthroughs.  Beware of the potent language and actions that can cause a negative turning point.

Dialogue Journals: Students write back and forth to each other about a specific prompt.

Write Around: Groups of 3-5 write about a prompt, then pass the writing on to the next person. The next person reads the prompt, then comments and passes the paper on again. This continues  until all people in the group have had a chance to comment on each paper.

Double Entry Journals, T-charts, Two-Column Notes: Notes that allow students to process two related (or opposite) knowledge streams at the same time such as problem/solution, opinion/proof, facts/feelings, words/images, pros/cons and more.

Apprenticeship: Students’ opportunity to practice and learn the language (vocabulary) associated with a discipline.

Anticipation Guides: What do you know, what can you expect and what do you predict.

Three Facts and a Fib: Students jot down four statements, and peers have to guess which one is the fib.

Imagery: Using visual images to symbolize a concept or content.

Time lines, venn diagrams, songs, raps. . . .: Utilizing graphic organizers and popular formats to organize and make meaning of information such as the

Metaphors: Creating metaphors for concepts, words.  Using prompts to guide students’ work.

Word Sorts: Guiding students’ efforts with regard to content vocabulary word sorts.

Rhymezone: Online Rhyming Dictionary
Educational Rap