Saturday, September 29, 2012

Catch-Up Students: What to do?

Note that the journey is not as linear as this.
Hattie's research clearly defines the attributes that take children on a successful learning journey, leading them from unknowing to knowing through a clear process:
  • identifying realistic goals/success criteria.
  • coaching with optimal strategies.
  • assessing along the way and at the end of that goal.
  • making next step decisions. 

Playing Catch-Up
The trouble with today's learning standards and school structure is that there are a number of children who are always playing catch-up.  Rather than realistic goals, these students' grade-level goals are way beyond their current foundation level of knowledge.  Hence to teach to the grade level standards for these students means that you're setting them up with goals that are unrealistic and unattainable. What's a teacher to do?

Realistic Goals
This year I hope to help these "catch-up" students by applying Hattie's research and developmental check lists in the area of number sense.  Instead of jumping into multiplication and large number operations with these students, we are going to step back to where these students are, and begin building their number sense foundation there. I use the "baby walking" analogy with students.  I tell them that we don't chastise babies who walk later than other babies, and we don't make babies who can't walk yet, learn to run and jump--it's a step-by-step process that happens at a different time for every student.

Hence, this is how I plan to address the "catch-up" dilemma in math this year:
  • I will teach two threads: a number sense thread and a concept/knowledge thread in math.
  • The number sense thread will be based on students' growing ability to understand number values, combinations and operations.  The concept/knowledge thread will include all students, with a 1-2-3 approach to all lessons which means a review, grade-level and challenge level to each lesson--all levels are open to all since some students who struggle with one math concept will excel at another.
  • I will assess all students' number sense and lead them through the following number sense progression utilizing a combination of modalities and lots of models, especially the number line.
    • counting/add facts (combinations of 5, combinations of 10, doubles, all combinations from 0-10)
    • addition facts 0-12
    • subtraction facts 0-10
    • subtraction facts 0-12
    • large number addition/subtraction
    • multiplication facts 
    • division facts
    • large number multiplication/division
    • algebraic equations 
  • The concept/knowledge thread will move in this order: measurement, place value, counting, estimating/large number +/-, multiples/factors, estimation/large number X and division. Geometry and data/stats will be sprinkled through out as separate, interdisciplinary units.
  • Students will be assessed on Fridays, and on Mondays students and teachers will set the weekly goal; identify strategies, and promote practice and learning. 
On Friday I assessed students. Then I created this packet for some in the new, Open Dyslexic font (which doesn't appear on all online copies) to review and strengthen the number sense foundation with a goal of learning the facts for combinations of five in one week's time.  

I am hoping that this approach will do the following:
  • Teach children the process of learning and give each child ownership and pride over his/her learning.
  • Create realistic, attainable goals and confidence.
  • Develop number sense in all students.
As a classroom teacher, I have a lot to learn in this realm.  But as a teacher who wants all students to embrace the attitude and knowledge that everyone is capable of learning with confidence, joy and success, I want to learn more and understand how I can help all of my learners in this regard. Over the weekend, I'll create a starting number sense packet and online menu for my students who  are in other places with regard to their number sense foundation.  I hope to share that work too.

Please guide me in any way that you think will build my knowledge in this area.  Thanks for your consideration.

Note: I began this work years ago with the creation of the computation ladder

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Summary: Making Learning Visible by Hattie

As the school year begins to take shape, I find myself quoting John Hattie's book. Making Learning Visible for Teachers: Maximizing Impact, almost on a daily basis to students, colleagues and family members.  Knowing the truth about learning has helped me to create a more invigorating, child-friendly, successful learning environment.  I highly recommend this book to educators at all levels in all schools.

I wrote many posts while reading Hattie's book and decided to place the links in one place so that my notes are easier to access.

If you've been implementing Hattie's work, please share your stories with me.  Also if you read my notes and have thoughts to add, please do.  Thanks for your consideration.

Also, Watch Hattie in action:

Chapter Summaries
Chapters 1-3
Chapter 1-3 Further Reflection
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 4 & 5 Reflections
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8 & 9

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Teach Math Well: Learning Update

I continue to find my Tuesday night math class to be both informative and inspiring.  The pace of the course is a perfect match for my busy school schedule, and the content continues to serve as both affirmation and challenge for my current teaching program.

After a thoughtful YouTube film related to the benefits and practice of formative assessment, our professor, Mary Corkery, presented highlights from a webinar that was presented by Dr. Paul Riccomini, President of The Division for Learning Disabilities (DLD), one of 17 special interest groups of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving educational outcomes for individuals with exceptionalities, including both students with disabilities and the gifted.

The webinar discussion served to both affirm and challenge the math program I currently teach to my fourth grade students. As I expected, Riccomini emphasized the need for positive, math-friendly teaching environments where all professionals exhibit confidence, knowledge and positive language related to math teaching and students’ ability to learn. He supported the notion that more time should be spent on strengthening teachers’ understanding of math concepts and knowledge since many elementary school teachers lack a strong foundation in math.

As he listed the attributes of a successful math program, the one area he mentioned that I would like to increase is students’ time to think and talk aloud with regard to math problem solving.  Due to class sizes, students often don’t have time to talk out a problem or question aloud, especially students who may take more time to process or verbalize their thoughts. Since I have many volunteers, teaching assistants and specialist teachers working in my class, I hope to use our collective resources to give students more time, in small groups, to thoughtfully discuss and solve meaningful math problems related to the Massachusetts State Frameworks which include the Common Core Standards.

I was pleased that recent updates in our system-wide math program reflect the six pieces of a successful math system including the following:

  • A Strong Belief System.
  • Assessment and Data.
  • Instructional Support.
  • Refinement of Instructional Supports.
  • High Quality Professional Development.

Our system has created greater opportunity for teachers to attend worthy math courses and conferences to boost their professional repertoire in this regard. This movement towards greater differentiation with regard to professional development in math is serving to boost teachers’ knowledge and strength in that area.

Riccomini emphasized a tiered program with a strong emphasis on the core program which aligns well with our school system’s current movement towards increased RTI (response to intervention).  I was pleased and affirmed by his call for standards-based classrooms that actively engage in purposeful learning experiences that stimulate curiosity, enjoyment and deep understanding of the mathematical concepts. Too often, math activities are mundane, and I would like to move towards greater engagement and purpose in this regard.

He offered his ideal for the math lesson breakdown which included this list:
  • Fluency practice and homework review.
  • Standards focus.
  • Vocabulary (literacy is very important in mathematics).
  • Mini lesson-whole class instruction.
  • Work sessions - flexible grouping and small group intervention.
  • Closure and sharing.

The current program at my school includes the features above.  Fluency practice is often completed during transition times and morning work. Homework is often given via quick-feedback Internet sites such as
That Quiz, TutPup, SumDog or Xtra Math, all free, engaging math websites for young students. The standards are communicated via the classroom math website, social network and the unit/lesson introduction.  Vocabulary is practiced in a number of ways including the use of charts, crossword puzzles, the Frayer model and multimedia projects such as film.  I find that crossword puzzles elicit a lot of discussion when it comes to vocabulary thus enriching students use of mathematical language in a natural way.

The webinar supported my colleague Mike O’Connor’s notion that learning facts is “mental push-ups.”  He suggested that schools employ explicit, direct teaching to help all students attain fact mastery. Rather than “Mad Minutes,” he recommended that teachers carefully assess students' number sense and begin to build their fact fluency from early skills to later skills with targeted intervention. While listening to the webinar I created this assessment based on Riccomini’s research and other research I’ve done to begin a targeted program with my student who demonstrate little fact knowledge.  I’ll build a similar assessment and intervention for children who have mastered addition facts.

Not surprisingly, Ricomini relayed that fractions is the "biggest weakest area" in terms of math in the United States, and if students don't learn fractions well, they will have great difficulty grasping algebra. He stated that students don't realize that fractions are numbers, instead they think of a fraction as only "part of the whole." Rather than saying 1/3 is larger than 1/6, they should say that 1/3 is a greater amount of the whole than 1/6. He emphasized the use of a number line (with both negative and positive numbers) to build number sense in all areas including fractions because the number line explicitly shows quantities. He offered the article, "Developing Fractions Instruction for Kindergarten Through 8th Grade," as an excellent resource.  

Currently I am teaching measurement standards and the correct use of a ruler. I have noted to students that a ruler is a number line," but now, after the webinar, I'll explicitly use the ruler to guide students' efforts related to counting and marking specific fractions on the number line with this exercise. I also plan to take a recent measurement open response problem and revise it with a variety of rational numbers (not just integers) to give students the experience of using the ruler or number line to solve complex problems that involve fractions.

The Tuesday math class continues to invigorate my math instruction and knowledge, and I'll continue to share the highlights with those that read my blog. Please let me know if you have any links or thoughts related to the information above.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


When one is in leadership, leadership in any way, there is the temptation to become elite.  One way to combat that temptation is to make it a habit to work with and for those you lead. Make the time to do the jobs that are the least paid or respected in the organization. Take the time to talk to those you lead and really listen to what they have to say.  For classroom teachers like me, that means listening closely to my students and their families; completing the tasks that I ask the students to do and making change when my students' thoughts and ideas prompt that action.

Collaborative Harmony

Yesterday it seemed like the many teachers and assistants in the class were in the way of each other.  It was the first day that the collaborative work was fully integrated.  I wasn't happy with our collaboration as I didn't feel we had targeted our work enough so that children were profiting from our time, effort.

With that in mind, I went home and restructured the weekly routine, targeting our overall efforts with regard to coaching students well.  Now that a draft has been created, I hope that we can sit down and discuss our focus for each lesson and our daily efforts with regard to student learning.

I'm fortunate to have many volunteers, assistants and specialists working with the class this year.  Now the key is making sure that our work is responsive to students' most important interests and needs. As schools move from a one teacher-one class model to a model with greater RTI (response to intervention) and small group/individual learning approaches, we need to think carefully about our efforts related to collaboration and prioritization. This focus holds wonderful potential for student learning.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Teaching Children Well: Feedback Loop

Feedback Post
As you may know, I'm focusing on feedback this year.

I'm trying to provide feedback related to student work via comments and coaching in class, and by reviewing student work and projects regularly at home, daily if possible.

Reviewing student work with side-by-side coaching is best as that leads to a fruitful conversation and guidance, however with large numbers of students, the coaching also has to happen via student work review.

Reviewing students' papers and projects provides a teacher with valuable information with regards to teaching children well.  Teachers wrestle with the time crunch when it comes to meaningful response and work review since most of that happens on a teacher's own time, not time in school.

Ideally, it would be terrific if parents could give student work a once over, but as a parent, I know that's not always possible due to our busy home-work schedules, and students desire to complete work independently.

I like the feedback loop I've instituted so far this year which includes the following:
  • daily check of simple homework assignments, folder notes, classroom papers and literacy tickets
  • Tuesday/Thursday check of students' online practice. Working lunch for those who do not complete that practice.
  • a Friday assessment that checks students' understanding and grasp of the week's learning goals.
  • Review of the Friday assessment. Feedback provided to the learning team and individual students. 
  • Revision of next week's targets and teaching in response to the daily work, weekly assessment and students' learning needs and interests. 
What does your weekly feedback loop look like?  How do you use regular feedback and review to impact your teaching?  How do you share the weekly feedback information with the learning team: students, colleagues, family members and others?  In what ways do you create a realistic schedule for feedback since it has the potential of taking a toll on one's personal schedule outside of school? 

Feedback is critical when it comes to teaching and coaching learners well.  Feedback builds the learning-teaching relationship, and helps learners climb the learning ladders with confidence and focus.  I look forward to your thoughts and insights.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I Love These Words by Pam Moran

Wise Words:
Pam Moran6:17 AM

"I think that the tension you describe in authority and initiative permeates professional organizations - how do we create a culture of exploration, ideation, invention AND keep the flow of work moving in a steady stream? How do people come to value gathering to think and learn together vs seeing that time as an interference to their own work? How do we accomplish "good of the order" biz w/o having it become the main thing we serve? Why should we think about these questions?

We humans are conditioned to sustain status quo in our lives. Schools have been the transmitters of order and compliance over the last century - the builders and suppliers of the factory workforce. I was in an elementary charrette yesterday where kids in multiage groups described what they wanted in their built environment - bluebird robots to welcome kids to school, tree houses on the playground for reading, a kids lounge, round tables in the cafeteria, fresh food, choices of where to play at recess, new colors in learning spaces, more time to run, picnic tables they can use, doors to the outdoors from their rooms, tables shaped like animals, sculpture in the halls, a castle with a dragon.

Kids dream together naturally when given the opportunity in school just as tribes have done forever. It's key to being human but we seem to have eradicated the flow of creating, designing, building, making from schools so that we can get everything punched in on a time clock. Yet, civilization advances from dream work - and I think schools would too if we reduced the authority work commitment and increased the initiative opportunity work commitment. Sometimes, it helps to see and hear kids work with no strings attached to their dreaming - it reminds me of what we adults have lost as we've learned to dance to the tune of the factory whistle." - Pam Moran 
Collapse this comment

Teaching Children Well: Pattern and Process

My week was much like the little picture to the right, a bumpy road of learning. The bumps forced me to relook at my process and pattern for teaching and learning during the school year.

The quiet days of summer study are gone, and now we're in the busy, minute-to-minute days of the school year.  I have found that it is best to put a good structure in place so that most of my time and effort can be spent focused on the preparation, action and feedback related to student learning.

What does that pattern and process look like?

First, it is important to set up communication schedules, protocols and focus for the many professionals you work with.  Answering questions such as what is the focus of our collaboration, when will we meet and how will we best work together for students' gain at the start of the collaborative process sets the stage for optimal work.

Next, it is important to set up a system of planning, implementation and feedback.  I'll utilize the following process.
  • Create the weekly plan one week ahead of the teaching leaving time for revision and change. Share the plan with the teaching team so they're able to modify, make revisions or integrate their goals with the overall learning plan.  (I started this practice when I had babies because one never knew what each day would bring.)
  • Share the teaching goals, events, home study chart and focus with students and parents online on Fridays and via hard copy on Mondays.  
  • When planning and revising each unit, reread the new standards and attach the learning standards to the lesson plans.  
  • Unit by unit move all lesson plans and activities to Google sites so that the information is easy to share with the entire team: students, family members, educators and the community.
  • Have a weekly plan of professional development, and for me that includes Twitter chats, a grad course, reading and reflection.
In order to make time for family and fun, I have even charted the pattern on a weekly calendar so the important work that goes into the weekly teaching activity is streamlined, leaving classroom time for meaningful student interaction, and home time for family and friends. 

How does your weekly pattern and process differ from mine?  What tips do you have for streamlining efforts and growing your practice?  Thanks for your thoughts. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Taking a Big Picture Break

I'm taking a big picture break with regards to school life. I'm sure many of my admin are sighing with relief.  One reason I've been entrenched in big picture thought and ideals is that the big picture affects almost every action I make in a school.  As I've mentioned in earlier posts, the classroom teacher works with many, many professionals including OTs, PTs, Speech Therapists, Special Educators, Reading Specialists, Math Coaches, Curriculum Directors, Building and System Administrators, Parents, Nurses, Specialists and Teaching Assistants--that's a lot of input to take in when you're planning a week, and a lot of scheduling to account for.

I do believe the system can be streamlined, but for now I'm taking a break from the big picture.

I have a delightful class.  They love to learn.  Today when they were creating culture flags, the questions and conversation were amazing as they shared the attributes of their unique cultures  Also, as they struggled with a too-difficult math test (my fault), they persevered and I was able to congratulate them on their stick-to-it-ness and stamina.  At the end of the day, we read People which tells the story of the great diversity of cultures on our planet and we finished our interactive read aloud, The Gold Threaded Dress.  The conversation that followed was wonderful, so good that a little boy remarked, "I love when we talk like this."

So it's back to the place where I feel most at home, and the people who are excited to learn and grow--the students.  I'm taking a big picture break.  How long will it last?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Seat at the Table: The Intersection

An evening conversation at a local restaurant turned into an invitation to take part in The Intersection.

I am delighted that a classroom teacher has been given a seat at the table when it comes to the conversations related to education practice, programs and innovation.

When I meet with the thoughtful participants from all walks of life, I will bring forth the stories and experiences of colleagues and students near and far, past and present.

I'll contemplate education as we know it now, and the potential that education holds for meaningful change as we embrace technology and the latest cognitive research.

I hope to take away a broader view of where the world of learning and innovation is moving, and share that view with colleagues through words and practice.

I believe education holds the potential for making our world stronger, more caring and innovative.  I want to learn of others' vision and viewpoint in this regard, and The Intersection will provide me with that wonderful opportunity.

Inspire Me!

A few years ago I sat at a circle discussion about education quality.

Many parents commented that they wanted teachers to inspire their children.

Inspire--an awesome word and a mighty challenge.

Do you inspire? Do you teach?  Where do the two actions intersect and what is the just right ratio of one to the other.

Research shows us that learners who are engaged learn with strength.  How does inspiration lead to engagement?

Who inspires you as a learner?  How does that lead to engagement and learning?

Professionally I'm inspired when I see the results of really great teaching such as a stellar performance, caring conflict resolution, a lively math discussion or a literary exchange.  When I see that fine work, I am inspired to ask questions, learn more and replicate.

I am also inspired when I see a deficit, an area that needs shoring up to teach children better.  I love to work closely with other committed professionals to problem solve and grow our work.

I am inspired when children are engaged in creative endeavor.  I enjoy responding to their excitement and wonder while helping them achieve the learning goals.

Those who have wonderful skills and abilities that I don't have inspire me and teach me too.

As educators since we have so little time with each class, it seems to me that our aim should be to engage, inspire and educate.  A little inspiration now and then directs my energy toward a job well done too.

Readying the Mind for Learning: "Text Book" Consultation

Similar to readying the body for exercise, we learn better when we ready the mind for learning.

I'm including the "warm up" in most student learning these days so they can ready their minds before a task.  A combination of a meaningful rationale, narrative, focus questions and a short task help to set the stage for greater learning.

Today and tomorrow, a text book consultant will provide professional development to my collegial group.  Past experiences with text book consultants have not been that positive, but colleagues who have already viewed this presentation tell me there is some worthwhile content. They've given me a preview of what's to come which really helps me to prepare.

The consultant will introduce a number of online tools and online/offline processes that facilitate students math learning.

How will I make the most of this presentation?

First, I'll set the focus of my listening and learning.  The focus I've set is finding out all I can about the mathematical tools and processes available to help students bridge the gap between not knowing and knowing related to the new mathematical standards.

Next, similar to my colleague next-door, I'll make a laminated folder with all of the new standards--a ready reference to guide my teaching.

Next, I'll create a learning chart on Google docs to facilitate note taking and later use.

As the presenter presents, I'll add worthy links and tools to the Google chart for later use and consultation.  I'll note whether tools are available only during school time or if those tools are available 24-7 to student learning, and I'll work on revising each unit on our classroom math website.

Time for curriculum prep is limited so I want to make the most of the presentations.  Framing the learning experience with a preview, focus, chart and open mind helps one to learn as much as possible. By utilizing this process myself I am better prepared to coach students with a similar process as they gain, share and present knowledge.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Measuring Teaching and Learning

A colleague and I were discussing curriculum efforts and practice this morning.

I shared my formula for judging curriculum.  It is learning/curriculum.  If the resulting percent is 100% or more, then the I deem the curriculum prep, implementation and response worthwhile, but if the resulting percentage is much less than one, then I deem the curriculum unworthy.  I must say I use the same formula for judging tech too.  Again, if the learning is equal to or outweighs the tech time and effort, then I judge it to be worthy, but if the fraction results in a percentage far less than one than it is not worthy.  The only time I don't use this formula is if I can envision far reaching growth and movement for the curriculum piece or tech with regard to my use, the curriculum/tech growth and/or students' interest, use and familiarity. For example Minecraft has not been adopted by many schools, and it will take me time to learn and use, but students' engagement, the research and the implications games like this have for the learning/working world are tremendous. Hence, it's probably a good curriculum investment.

Then my colleague asked me how I measure learning.  He also mentioned Heckman's research on non cognitive skills.  That got me thinking, and my retort was that measurability is an issue of our times.  I also thought about the Eric McAfee interview I read yesterday related to businesses and social media.  McAfee, Principal Research Scientist, MIT Center for Digital Business, states, "I don’t have bulletproof academic research yet that will demonstrate that this stuff leads to superior outcomes at the level of the firm." Even though he doesn't have "bulletproof" evidence, his observations, experience and instinct leads him to notice the positivity of social media in today's world. It is similar with educators who have been in the job for many years--if we're alert and staying in touch with the latest research and developments in the field, we too can observe what works and analyze our observations well. 

I do have a way of measuring learning in my practice and it involves the following criteria:
  • Are children engaged and motivated?
  • Do informal and formal assessments demonstrate growth from the initial assessments?
  • Are children talking about and utilizing the information in new ways, and integrating the learning in their play, problem solving, project work and outside-of-school endeavors. 
I assess curriculum in the following ways:
  • How much time does it take? Is the time worth the result?
  • Will it engage the child's brain in many different ways thus promoting cognitive flexibility and facility?
  • Does the curriculum have meaning and relevance?
  • Is the curriculum interdisciplinary?
  • Does the curriculum deal with the essential challenge of that learning goal with the use of multi-modal, mixed-platform learning paths?
  • Is the curriculum easily transferable to children's home talk, activity and life interactions?
How do you assess curriculum and your efforts?  Do you use an informal learning/curriculum formula to make decisions regarding curriculum implementation?  How are you responding to today's movement towards learning measurement?

Student Coaching Update: Realistic Responsibilities?

I've been faithful to reviewing student work and folders each day since the beginning of the school year.  The information I gather is important, however the time challenge remains as this adds a couple of extra hours of work each day on top of the typical planning, response to memos, teacher meetings, professional development and the actual teaching which takes up the largest part of the day.

I do believe that schools have to move to a different schedule and system of teaching students.  It seems like the larger share of feedback, time-on-task and organizational duties related to the large numbers of students falls on the classroom teachers' responsibilities' lists.

For example, next month we'll spend five weeks fitting in parent conferences.  It takes about one hour per conference when you add the time to schedule, prep, and the meeting itself.  That's 25 hours of work on top of the typical routine.  We have about ten hours put aside for those conferences. For the most part, only classroom teachers and special educators have parent conference responsibility--many others have that time to plan, meet as teams and do the prep work that classroom teachers will have to squeeze in during the early mornings, late evenings and weekends throughout this five-week period.

I always say, "When you play the compare game, no one wins," and try to stay away from comparing roles and responsibilities. However, I do continue to believe though that we will serve children better if we carefully look at the roles and responsibilities in schools.  In some cases, classroom teachers have too many leaders and too little help when it comes to the most important tasks related to student learning.

One way to start this change would be to assign most professionals in the building to a "home room" or advisory group giving those professionals the organizational, response and conference responsibilities for a group of students.  This would break down classrooms as we known them and create smaller groups w/"parent like" leaders.  Not only would a change to this model provide greater response to students, but it would also create a stronger professional team in a school since everyone would have similar time-on-task with direct service and responsibility for student conferences, feedback and care.

I like to work hard and do a good job, but it's also important that the expectations are doable and realistic. As Hattie's book, Making Learning Visible for Teachers, emphasizes, the teacher's role is very important and when we give all educators in a building equitable, realistic responsibilities, we will see student achievement blossom. However when roles are unrealistic and responsibilities not targeted well, student learning suffers.

As educators we will always continue to evolve towards better practice and schedules for student response, and it is essential that we look carefully at the energy and skill available, and employ that energy and skill with care and focus so that student learning takes center stage.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Blended Learning: Unit Process

I'm building a blended learning math curriculum that includes paper/pencil practice, videos, projects, problems, games, and other online venues.

I'm hosting the curriculum on a Google site.  It is and will continue to be a work in progress; hence the process is critical.

The process I am currently using to utilize this curriculum to best meet students' needs is the following:
  1. With an eye on the standards and students' knowledge, interests, and needs, I will revisit the curriculum unit by unit.
  2. At the start of each unit, I will review and revise the unit plans to best meet students' interests, needs, and knowledge as well as current teaching goals, standards, and available tools.
  3. I will add/delete unit materials as I teach the unit with the focus on keeping a coherent, multi-modal guide for learning in mind.
  4. I will publish and share the unit with colleagues near and far, family members and students. 
So, unit-by-unit I'll transfer almost all of my curriculum materials and information to Google sites which will serve as the host platform for my teaching program.  I will utilize the texts, guidelines, and other materials set forth by the school system and State, and I will add timely tech venues and other learning activities to the units.

Basically the process is one that teachers have enacted year after year.  However, now with the wonderful tech venues we have available that process becomes much more transparent and multi-modal with 24-7 access for the entire learning team: colleagues near and far, family members and most of all, students. 

Is this the process you use to reflect, revise, and renew curriculum with a focus on student learning?  Am I missing any steps?  

Establishing a pattern of reflection, revision and renewal helps to keep curriculum timely, responsive and engaging, don't you agree? 

I AM: Poetry Share

Do you remember classroom share time?  I remember it as a painful time when I sat at my desk and listened to a classmate go on and on about a special object, place or person.  The dilemma lies in the fact that it's difficult to get up in front of a class and speak clearly no matter how old you are. When presentations are prepared with care, there's a much better chance that the presenter will hold the audience's attention and make an impact.

My students have added many, many images of their lives to our closed classroom social network, NING.  They enjoy looking at the photos and talking about the images to their friends, and they are eager to share the photos with the whole class.  "When are we going to share our photos, Ms. Devlin," they ask almost daily.

I've been thinking of the best way to share these wonderful images, a way that would incorporate classroom goals and learning too.  Hence, I've decided that every child will write an "I AM" poem, then upload their poems, images and music to Animoto and create a short film.  These  mini films have many advantages including the following:
  • quick to share with friends near and far
  • entertaining to watch
  • easy to upload to our social network for reviewing.
  • metacognition practice
  • a great start to our Self Portrait Poetry Anthology Unit.
  • a wonderful introduction to choosing and synthesizing just right-images, words and music to create a message.  
There's no need for lengthy, dull shares anymore since we have so many wonderful tech vehicles for presentation and sharing of information.

Here's an example of the film I made to try out the project: My Animoto Video and a copy of the directions and template.

Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Note:  I have a wonderful book in the classroom titled, I AM.  I'll use that book as a model for the writing. When I find the link and author, I'll add it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

New Math Standards: Initial Review

Massachusetts has published the new math standards and implementation process.  To learn about these standards in depth, and develop my repertoire when it comes to teaching math, I am currently taking a Math education course at Framingham State University.

The first assignment of the course was to analyze our grade-level standards in comparison to the former standards and practice. Since I know that many who read my blog are fourth grade teachers and elementary administrators, I've decided to share my assignment with you.  Please let me know if you have anything to add to my questions and thoughts regarding this curriculum change.  I will continue to share my assignments if I think they have merit for colleagues near and far.

Analysis of Grade Four Massachusetts Math Framework
September 16, 2012
Maureen Devlin, Fourth Grade Teacher, Wayland, MA

Massachusetts has updated their grade-level standards to reflect the common core in addition to other standards deemed important.  In this post, I analyze the changes this new document will bring to my overall math program.

To begin with I will emphasize the language and practice related to the Standards for Mathematical Practice outlined in the standards as noted in this blog post.

Next, my process of teaching the old and new standards will include the following:
  • Overview of standards related to each unit.
  • Inclusion of standards written in student friendly ways on our classroom math website.
  • Implementation of a wide-range of activities including projects, paper/pencil practice, games, online venues and video to activate student learning.
  • Formative assessment, reflection and revision along the way.
  • Summative assessment at the end of the unit. Reteaching if necessary.

Overall, The new standards reflect many changes including the following.
  1. The goals are less, but the depth is greater.  Hence we’ll have a greater chance to reach mastery given that we have fewer goals, so the emphasis will be focused on utilizing optimal teaching strategies to bring all students to mastery.
  2. The emphasis on the Standards for Mathematical Practice will lead us to include more problem solving activities, student discussion, model making and precise mathematical language.
  3. Math will be taught in a parallel way as we’ll be teaching students how to learn as well as the specific content.

Specifically, there are changes in the curriculum related to each main category, which I’ve noted below.

Operations and Algabraic Thinking
This area remains largely the same with regard to content standards. The main goal for our system in this area will be identifying the best problems and projects to fosters students’ attainment of these standards. We will look for meaningful, relevant, challenging projects and problems that provide review, grade-level learning and enrichment.  

Also in our system, there has been controversy about the best process to teach the four operations at grade four, and there will need to be decisions made about this. Finally, with every concept/content introduction I will need to utilize models, for example with regard to patterns, the standards requires one to “generate a number or shape pattern.”

Number and Operations in Base Ten
There seems to be a greater emphasis on model making and understanding.  It seems to me that the language leads us to teaching multiplication using the partial product method as that lends itself to “using strategies based on place value and the properties of operations.” I’m not sure if it is important to teach the standard multiplication and division algorithms at all at fourth grade, and will want to discuss this with colleagues.  I  want to understand and utilize “area models” with greater accuracy.  I found these two links which I’ll use to begin this exploration before including the approach in my teaching.
Illuminations Area Model Activity
YouTube Area Model Explanation

I have utilized a division project in the past which will easily meet the standards of understanding “the relationship between multiplication and division.”  In the past the standards required 2X3 digit multiplication and now it is 4X1 digit and 2X2 digit multiplication, and for division it is dividing a 4-digit number by a one-digit number with remainders.

Number and Operations--Fractions
For some reason, fractions have always been taught at the end of the year in most grade levels, this usually means that time runs out and fractions get little attention.  I really don’t want that to happen, and given that the fraction area of the standards has changed quite a bit, I’d like to include this unit in the December--February time frame if possible. The biggest change here is the inclusion of multiplication of fractions, and greater emphasis on the decimal notation for fractions.

Measurement and Data
There is less data/statistics measurement in fourth grade than before with the only main emphasis in that area to be the line plot.  There is a nice connection between patterns and measurement conversions--I’ll be teaching that this week with this assignment.  There is also greater emphasis on angle measurement and the use of protractors so I will learn more about that and change my unit with that in mind.

The geometry standards are less than what we had in the past, but there is a greater emphasis on “identifying the presence or absence of parallel or perpendicular lines, or the presence or absence of angles of a specified size.”

I’m very excited about the changes in the curriculum as less content means we’ll be able to dig in with relevant and meaningful, tactile investigations to lead student learning and understanding.  I will use a number of different tools, problems, projects, videos, paper/pencil exercises and online venues to develop a student-friendly, 21st century mathematics curriculum.  I am using a Google site to organize and share this work with colleagues, students, family members and the community. I look forward to our continued collaborative discussion and learning with regard to the standards throughout this course.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

New Teacher Evaluations Systems: Goal Process

I continue to update this information which is hosted on the TeachFocus website. As the process continues, there have been many updates since 2012 so I suggest readers of this post visit TeachFocus for a more comprehensive evaluation system review.
Starting Process for Goal Setting: 2012 Post

My goal meeting is set for Wednesday. Massachusetts is employing a new process for teacher evaluation. I have decided to embrace the process with student learning and professional growth as the focus.

I've set my initial goals, and analyzed and reflected on the goals utilizing Massachusetts' categories and our system process of establishing SMART goals. Now I want to short list the list so that my goals are easy to remember and employ as I create curriculum, collaborate with students and colleagues and develop my professional repertoire.

I'm sure that the there will be some revision after Wednesday's meeting, but here is the initial short list of goals for 2012-2013.

Curriculum, Planning and Assessment
My goal is to continue to develop the process of curriculum preparation and implementation with a focus on integration of best practices, State standards and wellness.
  • Implementation of Massachusetts State Standards (including Common Core).
    • Unit by unit, adding goals to unit websites, incorporating goals into the learning activities and making goals explicit to students and families.
  • Increased attention to physical and emotional wellness with regard to curriculum planning and implementation.
    • food-free celebrations (w/exception of International Pot-luck for culture celebration)
    • incorporating active, healthy activities into the curriculum such as geometry exercises and Broadmoor landforms hike.
    • implementation of programs that foster healthy attitudes and conflict resolution such as Open Circle, Responsive Classroom and Just Like Me.
Teaching All Students
My goal is to move every student forward in engaging, positive ways with regard to knowledge, skill and concept development.
  • Integration of tech tools to motivate, engage and optimize student learning. 
    • Utilizing online games and practice sites that develop student skill across the curriculum.
    • Incorporating multimedia composition such as film making into curriculum units.
    • Engaging students in learning via our classroom social network, NING, Google aps and the class website.
  • Continued implementation of RTI (Response to Intervention) as a way of teaching all students well and bridging the achievement gap
Professional Culture
My goal is to continue to develop my knowledge and delivery related to student learning.
  • Continued exploration and learning related to technology integration to optimize student learning.
    • MassCue, edcamps, NBPTS renewal and The Intersection preparation, engagement and presentation.
    • Continued Twitter chats and professional reading via blogs and websites.
    • Increase my knowledge and skill related to students’ acquisition of math concepts, knowledge and application.
  • Continue to develop my skills, knowledge and ability related to collaborative effort, goal setting, project work and analysis.
    • Reading professional books and implementing new strategies. Focus books: Making Learning Visible for Teachers and Mindset.
    • Development of optimal communication protocols and practice.
    • Reflective blogging and collegial collaboration.
    • FSU Math Education Course Completion
    • System-Wide Professional Development Activities.

    Family and Community Engagement
    My goal is to foster a team approach to education that makes the information, results and practice of learning transparent, engaging and successful to the learning community: teachers, family members, students and community members.
    • Increased attention and response to the needs of family members with respect to student learning.
      • Regular feedback via student folders.
      • Weekly newsletters, class social media NING, email response to family members and students.
      • Two family/student surveys: December and March, and action response to survey results.
      • twice a year scheduled conferences and as needed conferences.
    Massachusetts requires that teachers provide evidence of goal achievement and that requires us to collect evidence throughout the year. As I work towards the goals above, I will share examples of the work and reflection via this blog. This post demonstrates "evidence" related to the goal of incorporating multimedia composition into classroom projects and learning.

    Some will think this is too public a forum to share, however I choose to share in this way for the following reasons:
    • As a veteran teacher, I am comfortable with sharing both the high points and challenges in my career path. In a sense, I want others to profit from my vantage point and experience.
    • I can lay one possible path for teachers to use when embarking on new evaluation processes and standards.
    • I believe that reflective, action-oriented, growth processes like these lead to optimal development, and this development will impact student learning with strength.
    How are you embarking on new evaluation processes? What are your goals for 2012-2013? If you'd like to share, I'm interested.

    Friday, September 14, 2012

    Communication Protocols

    Busy, populated school.
    Tight schedules.
    Limited time for communication.

    It's essential that we follow positive protocols for
    Respectful communication
    and Collaboration with a 
    Focus on student learning.

    A Wake-Up Call
    Back to the drawing board.
    Writing protocols.
    Honing skill and purpose.

    Students thrive when we 
    Work Together with Care.

    For students and teachers, schools provide space for making mistakes and learning.  The key is to embrace the error, make amends and move towards solutions that match our focus: student learning.  Writing a bit of poetry can help too.  Happy Day!

    Thursday, September 13, 2012

    Mastering Measurement

    I'm embracing curriculum with a new lens.

    This is my approach.
    1. Identify the standards within a particular unit or unit section.
    2. Create a framework that includes the following:
      1. the standards and explicit learning goals
      2. review, grade-level and enrichment paths available to all.
      3. a mix of learning strategies including paper/pencil, multimedia composition, games, projects, videos, problem solving, songs and online venues like That Quiz.
      4. lots of opportunities for students to collaborate, choose strategies, create and make decisions about how they'll bridge the gap between what they know and what they aspire to know.  
      5. room for revision and adaptation.
      6. learning venues and conversation available to students 24-7 via websites and class social network.
    3. Start the learning path.
    4. Formative assessments, reflection and revision along the way.
    5. When success criteria is met (or exceeded), move to the next unit learning goal. 
    To meet State requirements, I will keep good records and "evidence" of the learning decisions and work. 

    Right now, students are working on mastering measurement vocabulary. equivalencies and conversions.  All important skills and part of the State framework too.

    We're learning the information via videos, worksheets, problem solving, games and online practice. Once students have been introduced to the information in a variety of ways, they'll have the chance to choose a way to study for the unit test using a wide variety of strategies. I'm also offering feedback along the way. The main lessons are hosted on our classroom math website

    This is the nitty gritty of teaching--the foundation building that we do in school.  It is a parallel effort of learning how to learn while also learning specific content.  As the teacher it's up to me to engage, empower and activate this learning in meaningful, relevant ways.

    This is the work teachers do, and when the goal is effective learning for all students, it's a mighty challenge and an amazing experience.

    Note: The math website I've developed is a combination of the best of what I've found and use for fourth grade learning.  I welcome feedback, correction and ideas.  

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012

    Teaching Dilemma: Students Who Need More and/or Different Help

    Every teacher knows the situation. You teach the mainstream curriculum with additional activities for review and enrichment. Right from the start of the year you notice that there's a few that just can't keep up. You see the confusion and worry they present, and you understand why they're experiencing issues and how to help. The tricky part is finding the time in a busy classroom to pull those students aside to give them the targeted, focused teaching, review and help. Typically students like this require small group or one-to-one help that takes time, concentration and quiet.

    I'm not a fan of year-long grouping of these students as often their challenge might exist in one content strand rather than all content strands. Plus, these students also profit from working with a diversity of student skill and ability during the year. Instead, I'm a fan of utilizing the resources in a building well to target responsive instruction. So when a few fall from the mainstream for a content strand, there is the trained staffing and time to pull those students aside for the quiet, targeted teaching and review they need until they master the goal.

    Tonight I start a developmental math class, and I'll make the questions I pose above a focus of my learning during the course.

    Also I'll continue to look for ways to use student tutors to help these students. I'll also make the time to pull these students aside for extra help, and utilize our upcoming RTI in math to help service their needs.

    Let me know if you have some strategies that can help me with this perennial teaching dilemma.  I know the students that struggle can learn, and I also want to make sure that they experience the curriculum with confidence and positivity.  I look forward to your response.

    Monday, September 10, 2012

    A Roles and Responsibilities Audit: What do you think?

    One reason schools fail is that the roles and responsibilities of the collective staff often don't equal the completion of the most important tasks.

    For example, as a classroom teacher, starting day one I spend most of my day with 25 students.  I know what to do to support their learning, but I simply run out of time.

    Teaching well requires the following:

    1. Activating learning for approximately 4-5 hours a day with responsive lessons and optimal student-centered response. (Teacher attending to students 4-5 hours a day)

    2. Planning 4-5 responsive lessons a day that respond to students' results on ongoing formative assessments. To plan these lessons well requires research, creation, xeroxing or linking on the computer and sometimes sharing with colleagues.  (approximately 3-4 hours a day)

    3. Providing targeted feedback that motivates, encourages and responds specifically to individual learners both in class, and on student work.  (Approximately 1-3 hours a day.)

    4. Ongoing professional development, paper work and response to administration and learning community calls and questions. (Approximately 1 hour a day).

    Now I could be wrong, but I bet if you audited the roles and responsibilities of a school system, you'd find that some professionals are doing the planning, paper work and response during school hours because their direct contact with students is minimal, while others are spending almost all of the paperwork, planning and response time before school hours and after school hours.

    There is a great frustration in knowing what will work for students and knowing how to do it, but simply running out of time to serve children well.

    I think roles' and responsibilities' audits in schools throughout the country would end up saving schools dollars and providing students with greater response and targeted teaching.  Do you agree?

    p.s. Like many classroom teachers, I am spending countless morning, evening and weekend hours prepping lessons, providing response and engaging in professional development.  I'd actually like to have more time for family and health, but I don't want to run a program that's less than I know is possible.  It's a dilemma, and I'm curious how other educators meet this challenge.  Thanks for listening.

    Since writing this post, there has been change in my teaching/learning organization. The RTI efforts have meant that more educators are planning, teaching, and assessing learning experiences. Also time has been added for teacher collaboration and planning. Further, my role has changed so that I'm teaching two main subjects rather than four and this has created more time for good teaching. These are steps in a positive direction, steps that have meant more time for meaningful, well-planned, responsive instruction.