Tuesday, December 25, 2012


My home is quiet as my older children sleep or play with holiday gifts.  We adopted my husband's French-Canadian tradition of sharing our gifts on Christmas Eve after a joyful family dinner so now Christmas morning finds us relaxing before the whirlwind of Christmas activity starts.

My large Irish-Polish American family will join us to celebrate Christmas with a meal and gift exchange.  The house will be filled with noise and stories as young and old, ages three to eighty-two,  celebrate together.

I find myself filled with gratitude on this Christmas morning.  I am grateful for family, colleagues and yes, the Internet--a vehicle for expression and share, a way to exchange thoughts, ideas, beliefs and longings with others.

I can only imagine what the new year will bring, but I know that through the continued connectivity of my PLN online and off, I will bring the new year a renewed commitment to do my job well with a focus on student learning and care for each other. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Learning Design Journey

For schools like mine that have technology, a dedicated staff and a supportive community, the focal point for education today is learning design.

How do we leverage personnel, tools and information so that we support the development of flexible, facile, engaged and motivated learners?  How do we design learning endeavor that builds skill, develops knowledge and concept, and responds to students' passions, interests and needs? In what ways should we restructure and recreate learning environments and schedules to further strengthen our learners' success and agility?

These are the questions I will be asking and researching as I refine students' learning menu in the year ahead.  I will also work towards greater collaboration in this pursuit with the learning community (i.e. parents, students, colleagues and community members near and far) in the year to come.  I have started collecting a list of posts to support this journey.

The Learning Design Journey is an exciting, invigorating path for educators today--a path that can truly impact our students' confidence, success and impact now and in the future.  I look forward to your insights, ideas and camaraderie as I travel this professional path.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

School Wishes

The school I work in is optimal--students come to school from loving homes ready to learn.  The professionals in my building are dedicated, well educated and caring.  The administration puts students first, and the facilities offer both indoor and outdoor spaces for learning.

As an idealist, I'm always thinking of possibility and potential.  What else can we offer students and staff to make the learning community thrive?

Here are some of my wishes, wishes that may turn to initiatives, grant proposals, summer research and more.

Learning Environment:
I wish we'd think about the learning environment with greater creativity and intent.  I'd like to create indoor/outdoor spaces with greater potential for exploration, investigation, creativity, quiet reflection and thought, multimedia composition and presentation. One specific project I've been wanting to explore with greater depth is the addition of child-size math models that students play on, walk over and intersect with daily i.e. number path in the school corridor and on the playground, giant 3-d shapes to climb on and more.

I wish we had a STEM lab with the tools, materials and leadership for scientific exploration, invention and design.  My students are hungry for this. This post paints a great picture of what I imagine our STEM labs to look like.  I have a couple of colleagues who would be the perfect STEM lab teachers.  I am going to read more and think more about this topic, particularly when I attend a conference at Google soon since Googleplex is the ultimate STEM lab!

I wish our schedules were more realistic leaving a bit more time for worthy collaboration, student response and conferencing. We have so many bright, invested educators in our midst, but our time to problem solve, share ideas and talk about what's really important is limited, and our time on task with children and daily tasks are great leaving little time after school for this kind of endeavor too.  I'm thinking about how we could better streamline our efforts and change roles and responsibilities so there is more time for this essential conversation.

Supporting Students Who Do Not Have At-Home Academic Support
I wish we had more ways to provide "students without at-home academic support" a way to access that support by way of adult homework help, after school field trips and inclusion in after school sports and clubs. This would begin with an effort to identify who are the students that lack at-home academic support.  Fortunately in our school, the numbers are few.  Then once these students are identified, we would need to distinguish between those who would gain that help via parent coaching, and those that need a teacher to play the parent role when it comes to home study support.  After that we would have to access funds, transportation and programs that fit the children's needs.

Hungry Students
I wish we had a recess snack bar for students who forget their snacks. I've written to our health services about this need many times.  I think it could be as simple as having healthy food snack machines in the school.  When you have a child who is always hungry in your class and that never has a snack, you really feel this need dramatically as the child's hunger affects his/her performance constantly.  Often this is not a case of unsupportive families, but more a case of busy, busy families and stubborn children so the snack + child event doesn't happen every day.

School Maitre d's
I wish we had a school "maitre d" each day who greeted students at the door, consoled students who enter with a small problem and answered early morning questions  That would help everyone get off to a good start. I'd love to see our PTO arrange this.  It would take some coordination.  In late spring, the PTO would meet with the principal to identify this role's description.  Then the PTO would send an online sign-up out to all parents and tell families that each family is encouraged to sign up for one day.  The sign up would have enough slots for every family which would mean two families on some days in our school.  Then the family member would arrive at school a half-hour before the start of the day.  That person would stand at the door area ready to answer questions, greet students with a smile and handle small needs such as early morning tears or skinned knees.  He/she would bring the bigger early morning concerns to the the school nurse, principal, secretary or guidance counselor depending on the need.  The daily "maitre d" has the potential of making our school climate happier!

Advisory Groups ("School Families")
Instead of just the classroom teachers managing the students at the start and end of the day, I wish that every professional teacher had responsibility for an advisory group that they follow from the beginning of a child's experience at that school to the end.  That would create smaller groups of care, and one professional who was committed to the children in that group. This effort would require a lot of cross-grade, cross-discipline discussion as I have many questions about how this would work for children of different grades and teachers across different disciplines.  I still think that a daily, intimate, small-group student-centered role for every professional teacher in the system would develop investment and commitment.

Off Campus Learning
I wish we would employ field studies and off-campus research and exploration with greater funding and intent. Our local grant organization gave me a grant to try this out.  It's a lengthy process to access the funding granted and a lengthy process to organize this effort with colleagues and the zoo we will be working for.  I have this slated for my February school break since I'll need day time to make phone calls, play with the tech equipment, research background information and coordinate services.  After we try this first event, I'll have more to say about this.

Collaborative Learning Design
I wish that we had more time for collaborative learning design. With the ready access of information and the multiplicity of teaching resources, prioritization and learning design become the focal areas for schools today.  We want to choose the best learning paths, tools, processes and materials.  That process benefits from thoughtful collaboration, and thoughtful collaboration requires time.  Currently our PLCs are giving us one-hour a week for this collaboration.  That's a start, but for meaningful, profitable work, we will need more time than that.  It's possible that our time we have set aside for professional development and teacher  meetings could, in part, be focused on learning design.  It's also possible that some learning events could be led by assistant teachers with large groups, such as a grade-level content film or presentation, while teachers meet to collaborate.  I'll continue to think about ways that we can make this happen.

Research-Classroom Movement
I wish that our learning design would include greater discussion and employment of optimal cognitive strategies, state of the art tools, student passion and service learning.  Currently our learning design reflects this in many ways, but there's always room for greater growth.  This area deals with the often discussed lag time between research and practice--in years past it took years, maybe decades, for information from university research to reach the practice in classrooms.  The Internet is closing that loop, but we haven't really taken the time to think of efficient communication, conversation and implementation strategies for this endeavor.  Something more to think about.

Four Day In-School + One Day Off Campus Learning Week
The four day learning week and the one day research week.  I'm wondering if one way to begin the movement to modern day learning is to foster a four day classroom/school week and a one day off campus learning day.  The one day off campus learning day could possibly be a day for learning design collaboration and work, while students are learning at home, in independent settings, on field trips or more.  Just a thought that needs a lot more work.

Again, I work in an optimal school setting with so much to be thankful for, but these are some of the wishes I have for the years ahead. What wishes do you have for your school environment?  Did I miss any goals that you would add to my list?

School Safety: My Thoughts

In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, school safety discussions abound.

Communities can do a lot to keep schools safe. Sandy Hook had exemplary practices in place, and I believe those practices saved many lives.  No school can prepare for every potential disaster and act of violence, but we can prepare the environment to be one that fosters safety. I believe the following actions can foster safety.

Inclusive Environments: Schools need to be places where everyone counts and everyone's needs are considered.  Schools should be places that affirm individuals and respond to their particular interests and needs--a place where people belong and contribute  Rather than "one size fits all" institutions, schools should embrace a spirit of diversity and "everyone matters."  By creating inclusive, caring environments, schools will create greater potential for peaceful, happy learning and getting along.

Simple Security Systems: I do believe that schools should have simple security systems.  Locked doors help to keep the environment controlled which helps teachers and students to do their jobs without interruption.  Since our school locked its doors many years ago, we have been able to teach without as much interruption and that has been positive.  I also like the movement to room keys and the ability to lock rooms. Not only is that a safety measure, but it is also a measure that can protect all the wonderful equipment we use in schools today. If possible, I also believe that attractive fencing around the school grounds can help teachers monitor students' play and safety too.

Drills and Preparation: Drills are similarly important.  When people know what to do in a crisis, they are more likely to act with speed and intent rather than hysteria and chaos.  School drills and preparation have the potential of keeping students safe in circumstances outside of school when safety is challenged too.  When prepping students for fire drills, I always say that I believe school fire drills helped to save lives during 9-11 since so many people walked those stairwells to safety in an orderly way without pushing and shoving.

Worrisome Signs: Educators and the community at large need to be informed about the signs to look for with regard to impending acts of violence. What are the signs leading up to violent acts, and what does one do when he/she notices those signs in the learning community i.e. signs exhibited by students, family members, staff, community members or visitors.

Police/Firefighter/Educator Collaboration: School administrators should have a working relationship with the police and fire department. Together these departments should create and utilize safety protocols and actions which are responsive to the community needs.

No Arms: Guns do not belong in schools.  Just like the potential dangers guns pose in a home situation, guns would pose limitless dangers in a school setting.  Educators often remark that they wish they had "more hands," and that's because we're juggling so many tasks at once.  The addition of guns would create tremendous potential for error and injury. It would create a complication that hinders our mission of educating children well.

Sadly, from my distant position, it seems like the Newtown tragedy was born out of the mind of an isolated, highly challenged individual who had access to guns.  Similar to other situations like this, I always wish someone could have helped that individual before the act. What warning signs were missed, what needs were not met and how could his environment have been changed to prevent this violent act?

The NRA protects its generous gun policies with no regard to the fact that guns and dangerous bullets in the wrong hands turn to violence, violence against innocent individuals like those who lost their lives in Newtown. Let's lobby against easy gun access, and lobby for greater laws and policies to make sure that guns do not end up in the hands of those who will use them to kill innocent children, teens and adults.

As we move forward in this debate, I hope we can use the words of Martin Luther King as a source of inspiration and action, "Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Defining My Path's Direction (Again!)

I write a lot about direction.

That's because there are so many potential avenues to travel.

Also, there are many competing interests luring me down their paths.

My professional direction is pointed toward optimal learning design with students' interests and needs as the focal point.

Research, standards, observation, assessments, conversations and collaboration will inform my movement down this path.

Student confidence, happiness and investment will be the gauge I use to monitor my progress.

In the end, I will know that I've traveled well if my students smile, ask questions, demonstrate personal drive, vision and understanding, and achieve worthy skill, knowledge, concept and attitude.

I will repeat this direction again and again, and refine my travel plans and manner as I go.  This is a direction I want to invest in, and one I am proud to travel.

Ready for the New Year of Teaching

Today is our final day of school before the holiday break.  I want to spend the break with family and friends, hence I'm prepping the materials and plans for the new year so I return prepared.

By January in fourth grade, students are ready for a leap forward in stamina and expectation.  They've developed greater focus and understanding of their role in the learning day.  The January-March period presents gray days and plenty of time to settle in and learn.  I'll take advantage of the winter weather, and facilitate a vigorous, vibrant learning environment.

We'll focus on skill building and project base learning.  Our main areas of learning will include the following:

Writing, writing and more writing:  We'll write stories, opinion pieces and responses to text.  Each time, we'll identify the audience and intent.  Then, we'll use a myriad of tech tools including Google docs, KidPix, YouTube and others to share our thoughts, responses and stories.

Multiplication, Problem Solving and Facts:  We'll continue our in depth study of numbers as students learn to multiply, solidify facts and solve lots and lots of great math problems.  We'll also play games online and off to strengthen skills in this area.  Later we'll move to division, fractions, area/perimeter and geometry.

Geography, Culture and History: We'll embark on the United States immigration unit and learn about our country's history with regard to immigration.  Then we'll celebrate cultures--our own and the cultures of others by researching facts, writing paragraphs, utilizing informational text structure and presenting projects and special cultural foods at our culture celebration.

Science Rotations: Students will move from classroom to classroom as they explore topics related to adaptation, magnetism, land forms and weather utilizing multimodal learning venues.

Reading Comprehension and Fluency: Utilizing small book groups, independent reading and whole class interactive read aloud students will utilize many comprehension strategies including determining importance and inferencing to analyze, learn and engage with text.

Skill and Stamina Building: Students will utilize periods of independent focus and study to build skill and stamina with regard to phonics, spelling, reading comprehension, math facts and keyboarding.

The key to achieving this level of rigor and study is a steady, predictable schedule of learning and response.

But for now, it's time for family and friends, a reprieve from the busy academic schedule. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Do Something Different

Tonight I went to my first wrestling meet.  It was like walking into a foreign country.  I found the entire event intriguing from the wrestlers to the spectators to the refs and coaches--a sport I had not even considered before.

Long ago, in a creativity course, the professor said that one good way to inspire creativity is to partake in events outside of your usual routine and/or comfort zone.  Not only do these events inspire your creative side, but they also serve to widen your horizon and introduce you to new worlds, worlds that might exist right there in your backyard at a local school, church or community event.

Doing something different might be the perfect holiday gift that you can give to yourself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Challenge Tweets: Conversation and Depth

I want to write down these tweets before I forget them.  Tweets for later thought and discussion.

Kenny Rose tweets, "Depth takes time."

Matt Monge shares a link to a post that targets the topic, "Stop Presenting, Start Conversing."

Both of these posts open doors for me--they lead me to paths of growth that I'm ready for.

I like the sense of accomplishment, impact and a "job well done" that depth brings. Yet, I can grow when it comes to my habits related to achieving depth in my focus areas of life i.e. relationships (friends, family) and student coaching.

Then, as I embrace coaching with greater depth, I know that the movement from a presenting focus to a conversation focus will strengthen my work and approach.

Thanks Kenny and Matt--there's nothing better than the identifying areas of movement and growth, avenues to travel that will bring positive struggle and strength.

Nurturing Young Writers

A main emphasis this week is writing personal narratives--sharing stories we want to remember and tell the world about.

I try every strategy I know to motivate these young authors. Strategies such as the following:
  • Pretend you're telling the story to a good friend as you write.
  • Just get down the big ideas, then go back and fill in the details.
  • Draw the illustrations first as that helps you to remember all the details.
  • Close your eyes and go back to that place and time in your memory--relive the moment.
  • Don't tell about the whole vacation, trip or experience, instead choose a "small moment" to share.
  • Write so that you're "painting pictures" or "making a movie" in the reader's mind.
  • Choose words carefully--like a magician use words to recreate your story in the reader's mind--words like strong verbs which create the action and amazing adjectives that give the story size, color, texture, personality and flavor.
  • Tell your story through the senses--let your reader taste, touch, smell, hear and see your story.
  • Use the story mountain planner--introduce the problem, setting and characters to start, build the action to the most exciting moment, then share the story's heart and resolution leaving the reader with something to "take away" or remember.
I'm sure you can think of many, many more strategies when it comes to writing a good story--there are so many avenues to telling a tale.

Today, I'll create an environment which empowers writing--a peaceful, quiet, calm writing studio.  I'll share my story and focus on the self-edit process as the focus lesson showing them how I reread my story and improve it by thinking about the readers while I review the story word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase. Children will then use their laptops, Google docs and KidPix to write and illustrate memorable tales.  Tales they'll later self-edit and edit with teachers and friends. Tales we'll share with our chosen audience--the third graders. 

To nurture young writers, educators need to bring forth their writing energy, goals and commitment--they need to coach from the heart to lead these students forward with joy and strength. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Making Time for What's Important

Guilt prevailed.

So many tasks and endeavors that were part of my holiday traditions were left behind.  Why didn't I make the time, I wondered guiltily.  These are events and traditions that matter to me.

Guilt because I'd like to do it all.  I'm an idealist.  I can see so much more than I can physically do.

The reality remains, however, that none of us can do it all or be it all no matter how well meaning or dedicated we are.  We are human, and with that comes limitations of time, energy, ability and knowing.

When I didn't participate, I wasn't met with disappointment and disdain.  Instead, people were compassionate.  They know it's impossible to do it all, and that as we grow, life's demands and needs change.  The activities that easily fit the schedule ten years ago don't fit with the same ease today as I nurture my teens and other important endeavor.

The busier we are, the more important it is to prioritize--to take the time to determine what's most important to our vision, needs and those we love and care for.  Our lives will be well lived if we dedicate our energy and efforts to actions that make a positive difference, big or small, near or far. And, there is no need for guilt if that is our path.

Prayers for Newtown

I keep thinking about those little children.

Teachers know them well--wide eyed, full of life, ready to learn and eager to please.

I also think about the educators, counselors and administrators working tirelessly with families and the community to create a vibrant, child-friendly, responsive learning community.

I read the school's tweets: state-of-the-art messages about positive learning endeavor.

Then I think about the complexity that occurs in a school house, the stories good and bad that children bring with them everyday--life's triumphs and challenges played out through children's actions, words and care.

As a parent and a teacher, my heart breaks for the families of these little children, educators and administrators. As Ralph Fletcher describes in Fig Pudding, they have been served "a steaming bowl of sadness."

I also think of the families of those that perpetrate these crimes. These perpetrators are usually mentally ill, terribly troubled individuals whom family members have tried to lead, care for and nurture without much success. These children are most difficult people to take care of with little to no public assistance.

What can one do in the face of this tragedy?

First, be available for those you love, and make space for simple care and honest love. Even though this tragedy did not strike me personally, I am so sad when I think of the innocent children and caring educators who lost their lives.

Next, take the time in our classrooms to run our programs with care and happiness.  Find that just right pace and challenge for each child so that learning occurs with joy. If the conversation in the next few days turns to this tragedy, I will remind students that most people are good, and bad things don't happen that often, and that if a tragedy strikes, the school has a plan to keep people safe.  Then I'll share our plan in simple, straightforward terms.

After that, be mindful of those around you that are facing severe challenges.  Get the help you can, and do your best. Advocate for greater supports in society for those that face tremendous challenge with regard to mental illness, drug addiction, isolation and other similar challenges. Lobby public officials to make laws and support programs that make our country a country that supports and develops peaceful, naturally beautiful, healthy, caring communities that put children first.

Finally, when a policeman or firefighter loses their life, those in the profession show their support in the hundreds--how will teachers mark this dark day for Newtown educators and students?  How will our unions and schools reach forward to send a message of support and solidarity?  I will be thinking about that too because we have to stand together for what is right and good.

Friday, December 14, 2012

New Expectations: Culture Shift

There are many new expectations in schools today.  Expectations that I believe make the learning community stronger and students more successful.  The changes in my school include the following:
  • Response to Intervention (RTI) in math and English language arts.
  • Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) - one hour a week plus additional collaboration and communication.
  • Greater, targeted teaching, assessment and response.
  • Weekly newsletters and parent communication. 
  • Websites and email.
  • Technology integration and multimedia composition.
  • New standards.
  • New teacher evaluation system.
  • The norm that most educators are balancing family and teaching. (When I first started teaching few teachers were also raising young children at home.)
What I like best about all these changes is the fact that the focus is moving towards greater attention to student learning and success for all students.  

The challenge with all these changes is that we've made few to no changes with regard to traditions and past expectations.  Hence, we've added, but not taken away which leaves the schedule and routine a bit overweighted and unreasonable.

Does every transition have to be scripted?  Isn't it natural for some changes in culture to just diminish while other structures take center stage?  Yet, the challenge of balancing the old and new can be stressful?

With changes in place, the best solution is to spend some time discussing school culture.  What's important to your organization, and what traditions and actions support that vision and work?  What structures of old no longer represent the culture you desire or the time available?  The answers to these questions will differ for every school and individual.  This will always be a revolving door of addition and change, and there's no one right way to deal with it, but acknowledging the fact that these changes are here helps. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lesson Undone

The lesson was planned yet I pushed through the introduction even though some students weren't ready. I was watching the clock and anxious to move through the assignment.

I should have known better as the few who weren't attending from the start never really got going with the project. Instead they found disruptive things to do.  I redirected to no avail as I tried to keep my focus on the the class in general and the students sitting with me--the ones I had targeted to help during this learning event.

Redirect, and redirect again, and then the always unsuccessful threats i.e. "you'll miss recess," "do you want stay after school," and "how about working in the principal's office?" (I hate when I hear those words spoken.) By then it was clear, the bad start had resulted in a lesson undone and learning hindered, well at least the intended learning.

This is one of the challenges of teaching.  It doesn't always go as planned, and sometimes children's agendas are different than yours.  While you're hoping to strengthen math skill, they might be more interested in getting the attention of the class leader or cracking a joke.  Perhaps their minds are filled with holiday wonderings and thoughts of the after school club.  We've been there ourselves as students.

Whenever this happens, it sends me back to the drawing board and signals a change for the classroom in general.  The activity was less structured at a time of year when more structure works since children are tired from special events and excited about the upcoming holidays  The current desk arrangements are not a good match for this wonderful group of fourth graders who are all testing out their social skills and making new friends.  Finally, the lesson was a bit too ambitious leading some to frustration.

This was a turn in the road--a call for some renewed community building, structure and greater differentiation in expectation for this class of young learners.  I like to get it right, but sometimes that just doesn't happen. Moving forward.

Teaching: Quiet Work

The most important work a teacher does is quiet work.  Work that matters is much more than an elaborate celebration, a beautiful bulletin board, a news article or an award. The most important work is the quiet, daily coaching dedicated teachers do every day.

That work begins with observation.  The talented teacher takes time to observe.  She/he watches her students' posture, affect and activity, and responds accordingly.  If a child enters the room with shoulders drooping and teary eyes, a conversation will take the place of morning work.  The best teachers make time for student relationships and support.

Good teachers spend countless hours crafting responsive lessons to coach their students forward. That's quiet work which takes lots of time and care.  These teachers assess student work, provide feedback regularly and prioritize constantly between competing curriculum interests always choosing a child's needs first.

Since the teacher's work is mainly that of giving and not taking, it is essential that the support network surrounding teachers is strong. The teacher's job is that of everyman/everywoman--a limitless set of potential and possibility.  There is the risk for burnout and exhaustion if the support network is not there to cheer teachers on, counsel when necessary and provide the needed resources and reasonable routine.

A teacher's support network includes families, administration, colleagues and the community.  When the support community is positive, truthful and collaborative, the teacher's energy soars and the children benefit.  Sadly if members of the support network serve to undermine or challenge a teacher in unfair ways, then that teacher is less available for the children he/she serves.

As I think about the essence of a teacher's job, the quiet daily work, I wonder how I can best embrace this tempo and focus.  I also wonder about the ways in which I can better support the colleagues I work with.  I am further struck by how positive my year has been this year and the outpouring of family, administrative and collegial support I've received.

A teacher's work is quiet work, and it is in the best interests of children if society supports that work with adequate resources, a reasonable schedule and care.  Don't you agree?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

21st Century Writing: Digital Storybooks

Students are crafting their personal narratives in earnest this week now that our poetry celebration is behind us.

What inspires this lengthy journey of telling a tale from one's life with voice, craft and organization?

Audience and tech will inspire the process.

I played around with a number of venues and decided to use the Google docs-Kid Pix-iMovie-YouTube combo for this project.  Our audience will be Ms. Aker's third grade classroom. Later, I outline the process in the post, Why Story?,  with greater detail.

What does the creation path look like?  The path takes a number of steps, steps that are outlined on this Why Story? post and with the steps below:
  1. Exemplar: I'll create an exemplar. We've already studied the genre through the use of storybooks and Fletcher's Fig Pudding and Marshfield Dreams. I have been using the exemplar to guide the process, and the students have been helping me edit my exemplar to make it better. The movie below is the new, improved version that responds to the class edit and suggestions.               
  2. Storyboards: Students will complete  storyboards depicting the story step by step with sketches and notes.
  3. Story Mountain: They'll study the story mountain.  We'll talk about the typical path many stories take from beginning (introduction of problem, characters and setting) to rising action (plot) to climax (slow it down for effect) to resolution (how it ended) heart (the meaning) and finally the final statement leaving the reader with something to "take home," think about later and/or savor.
  4. Google Presentation Draft:  Students will draft their stories on Google Presentation following the story mountain planner. (Note that one positive aspect of this project is that image informs story, and story informs image so students moved back and forth between illustration and writing as they crafted their stories.)
  5. Editing:  Editing by self, with peers and by teachers until the text "makes a vivid movie" in the reader's mind.
  6. Illustration: Students will illustrate on Kid Pix, by hand, with photos and/or a combination or other venue.
  7. iMovie: Students will download their text and illustrations to to Power Point and save to the desk top as Power Point Pictures.  Then they'll import each picture to iMovie, extend the length of the clip to 60s to start, record themselves on iMovie reading the text for each picture, and then correct the clip length so that it is just a second or two longer than the recording.
  8. Extras: Students can add "page turner" or other transitions, sound effects and music if desired.
  9. Celebration: Students will print their Google Presentation copies and make a book for the third grade audience.  Students will practice reading the book aloud to peers in preparation for our final celebration--a story share celebration with Ms. Aker's class.  We'll bring the laptops or sign out the lab and share the stories with that class.  We'll be able to easily share the stories with friends near or far too since the stories will be on YouTube.  We will print hard copies too, and give the copies to our third grade friends.
The path is set for another exciting learning journey--a journey of writing, reading, speaking and multimedia composition.  That's the way most stories will be created and shared in the future.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

So Many Wonderful Avenues of Learning

Simply put, the education landscape today is amazing!

The possibilities and potential for learning are tremendous.

Where does one start?  Which path will you take?  What's important to you?

I start with the students, the standards, and learning research.

I will continue to learn as much as I can about learning.  How does it happen?  What criteria contributes to optimal learning?  What tools strengthen learning?

Next, I'll do all I can to know my students well.  To think deeply about their interests, passions, needs and challenges.

I'll embed the standards into responsive, engaging research-based learning design and teach children for life with the best of my ability.  I'll stay open to learning, evolving and revising with their best interests in mind, and I'll look to my vibrant, thoughtful PLN online and off for collaboration.

There are so many wonderful avenues of learning today.  Which avenues will you travel?

Finesse - Celebrate

Today is all about finesse.

We'll spend part of the day finessing our poetry books, both online and off, to make sure the graphics, organization and style match the projects' care, thought and time.  We'll talk about the role of title pages, covers and organization when it comes to making an entertaining, enticing presentation.

We'll also clean the desks and room as we turn the classroom into a Poetry Cafe. We'll carefully display students' homemade poetry books and some of our favorite poetry books by wonderful authors.

We'll put the finishing touches on posters, cover the cafe tables (desk groups) with colorful table cloths and paper lanterns, and end the day with play after all that hard work.

It takes a lot of vigorous coaching to inspire 25 fourth graders to go the extra mile with regard to finesse and the finishing touches before a celebration, but the learning is worth it as they'll have many presentations and celebrations to come in their personal, academic and professional lives. Tomorrow's the big day!

Celebration Introduction
The poet, Robert Penn Warren, questioned, “How do poems grow?,” and then answered his own question with, “They grow out of your life.”  The Self Portrait Poetry Anthology unit gave students an opportunity to write poems about their lives and find poems that “speak to them,” and remind them of the thoughts, experiences and people in their lives.

When looking at the final projects, one might think, “This is easy.  Where’s the learning?” But, like any wonderful piece of art or learning, the final project should look easy and fluid, and should not show the labor and effort that went into the work.

Many teachers and administrators helped us with this project.  The administrators, James Lee, Karyn Saxon, the ELA Curriculum Director, Leisha Simon, Tech Director, Brad Crozier and Paul Stein ensure that we have state-of-the-art tools, the support of teaching assistants and the creative freedom to embed new ideas and student voice in our curriculum.  The many specialists, assistants and teachers that work with the class including Elizabeth Bryant, Beth Crozier, Rita Partridge, Mary Davis, Mike Dunlea and Celeste Larson helped students and me with all the project details. No worthy educational project is ever done in isolation.  So let’s give a hand for all that support.

While students persevered throughout this unit, they developed strength in many, many standards set forth by the State of Massachusetts and the new Common Core Standards.  Those many standards included the following:

  • The study of the poetry genre.
  • Identifying and utilizing writer’s craft.
  • Responding to text in writing and using direct evidence from the text.
  • Making connections to text.
  • Reading, writing and speaking fluency, expression and precision.
  • Crafting multimedia compositions, movies, by synthesizing voice, image and music to convey a message.
  • Creating websites to host their project work.
  • Strengthening metacognitive awareness, a know-thyself as a learner mindset that sets the stage for success.
I am very, very proud of the students’ tenacity, ownership, investment, effort and care--their projects are wonderful!  These projects, online, in the movies and in the paper books, reflect hours of stick-to-itness, diligent work and creativity which you will soon see as we watch the Poetry Playlist Premiere.  Congratulations 4th graders!

Post Event Reflections
All students had one family member or more attend the event. There was a sense of joy and pride in the room. Many administrators and teachers showed up to cheer us on too. It was a wonderful event for all. I'm so thankful for my online and offline PLN support as well as the children's effort, care and creativity.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Student Work Review and Response Builds Understanding

A badge and a personal note summarized project
completion for each child. 
Yesterday I spent countless hours reading and responding to students' Google sites Writing Books (ePortfolios) and Self Portrait Poetry Anthologies.  It's was a painful, but profitable process on a Sunday.

Why painful?  Reviewing student project work is intense.  There are many considerations and intense thought about the child. You find yourself evaluating a child's work, your teaching, past efforts and future needs. You want to relay a positive and growth producing response to the work--a response that will affirm a child's effort, voice and creativity while also prompting future study and endeavor.  This effort is also painful because it's the weekend--the time when you'd like to be doing something fun or relaxing.

Yet, while the effort is painful, the result is profitable.  After an intense review of a collection of students' project work, you end up with a much richer understanding of the children, details about next steps in teaching and a project evaluation.  For example, as I reviewed students' personal poetry choices, reflections and writing portfolios, I was quickly aware of those that gave the project extra effort and enthusiasm, and those that gave the project the minimum.  I was also aware of those that struggled with following directions specifically, writing with accurate punctuation, spelling and organization and finding evidence in text to support their connections.  I noticed collective errors and need for instruction too--areas I'll focus on in the weeks to come.  Most of all, I got to know my students better as the design of this project allowed their voices to come through loud and clear--by knowing my students well, I'll be better able to craft the classroom schedule and learning challenges to their questions and interests.

As I move my focus from traditional teacher to student coach, I am aware of the potential feedback has for student learning. As we move our instruction from isolation to collaboration with the inclusion of RTI and PLCs, I'm wondering how our patterns of feedback and communication will change.  Also as we embed new standards and revise curriculum, what role will feedback play and who will provide that feedback?  And, is there any way that we can make feedback and response a greater part of the school day rather than weekend work as the fact that feedback falls on weekends might impact the quality and quantity of feedback students get, which may in turn affect a child's learning success and investment.

I don't have all the answers to these questions, and believe that feedback deserves consideration at our PLC discussions related to student learning.  With collaboration, it's possible that we'll move our practice and result forward with regard to feedback.  Ideas, thoughts and debate are welcome.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Poetry Playlist Premiere

Wednesday morning students will celebrate their poetry playlist premiere with a poetry celebration.  We'll turn the room into a festive cafe with lights, table cloths, centerpieces and breakfast treats supplied by our school's food service. Students will come dressed in clothes that they feel fit the importance and style of the event.

We've invited the teachers that work with our class, administrators, family members and friends.

As family members trickle in, students will share their online Google site Writing Books (ePortfolios) in the lab next door. Then we'll call everyone together to share the treats and find a seat for the formal program.

The celebration will begin with a short introduction to the unit and the many standards and skills we developed throughout the study. Often it is difficult for family members and others to discern the work and skill that goes into a finished project such as a movie because the final cut makes the process look so simple similar to the final skate in the Olympics or a musical piece after months of practice.  Hence I believe it is essential to explicitly share the learning points.

Next, with students and family members seated at the tables with coffee, juice and treats we'll show the playlist. After that, students will share their hard copy poetry books, the books that they can place by their bedsides for later reading with their family members.

The poetry unit like many meaningful units of study included substantial preparation, study and skill. After that much endeavor, a celebration is the right thing to do.  I hope to take photos during the event, and will post the photos here for all to enjoy and so that I can well remember the event, an event I'm likely to recreate in the years ahead.

Thursday, December 06, 2012


I wonder why some don't share their professional work and endeavor especially when their work impacts others.

It's surprising to hear about a colleague's work via Twitter or the Internet rather than through an in-house bulletin or discussion.

But, do the members of an organization need to know everything?  Is it important to understand an organization's movement, efforts and outreach, or is it more important to keep a lot of the information that doesn't impact the classroom educators and school staff immediately quiet?

If you read my posts, you know I'm a real fan of transparency.  I believe that information should be shared readily and available for the taking particularly in organizations like schools where our main objective is educating children, an objective that benefits from shared knowledge and effect.

Just thinking.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Wonderful City Teaching: Kudos Ms. Lucey-Meagher

I'm so proud of the wonderful teaching my cousin Christine Lucey Meagher is doing in Worcester, MA: Holy Cross-Worcester Partnership Her students profit from her skill and care.

Related Posts:
Ms. Lucey-Meagher's Elementary-High School Collaborative Project

21st Century Skills Workshop

How is skill acquisition changing in classrooms today?  Rather than the teacher directed one-size-fits-all learning environment of the past, tech tools and other resources are making skills workshops more vibrant, profitable and targeted.  Here's an example to consider.  Please let me know if you have any information or ideas to add.

After a number of assessments and observation, it was clear to me that students needed to shore up their skills in a number of areas, hence I planned a skills workshop.

My workshop "grabber" included a short discussion of Carol Dweck's research on  fixed mindset vs. growth mindset.  I used the white board and words to explain that in days of old, many people had a "fixed mindset" and thought that they were unable to learn more or change in some ways, and today we know that with a "growth mindset" tremendous learning and achievement of goals are possible.  I further explained that today it's not a matter of "I can't learn," but instead it's a situation where people are asking, "What do I need to learn to meet my goals?" since there are so many incredible learning tools available.  Students quickly grasped this notion.

Then I started by reviewing a specific rounding skill using the That Quiz online math tool.  Students had taken a rounding assessment using that tool last week and many did not do well.  I wasn't sure how much of their performance had to do with their skill level and how much had to do with the assessment activity so I explicitly taught the activity to students and had everyone re-take the skill. While teaching students the skill, I showed them how to enlarge the screen several times to make the numbers bigger--I noted that often when a task is difficult, enlarging the screen makes it easier for the brain to focus on the task rather than working hard to read the big numbers.

After teaching the activity, I created a skills menu on the board for all students including the following:
  • Complete 2 That Quiz Rounding tests (link)
  • Work on Lexia (reading skills software) for twenty minutes-time yourself with the online timer.
  • Work on Xtra Math for 15 minutes (again use online timer)
  • Play Math Games: Sum Dog or Greg Tang
As soon as the skills workshop started I called a few students that I wanted to target up to work next to me.  As I coached those students, I watched the other students' performance scores come in on the computer--many were flying through the rounding tests with accuracy and speed, and a few others were clearly struggling.  Several students approached me for specific questions, and as soon as the first students I targeted were on their way, I sent them back to their desks and called a few others up to target their work.

About midway into the activity, I was able to check the Lexia and Xtra Math reports.  Some of my speedy students did not spend the twenty-minutes on Lexia and moved to the games right away, so I redirected those students back to Lexia as I want them to complete the program this year and get the essential learning that the program offers which will strengthen their reading/writing foundation.  Since I was in view of all, I also changed a few seats and moved people around if I noticed they were having difficulty learning in their space.

Children were engaged, and the children I was coaching at the table were working really hard to complete the multi-step online rounding task--as I coached them I could feel their brains working to remember and apply each step when it comes to identifying the place value of numbers that reached to the billions and rounding to that specific place value.  

All in all it was a successful skills workshop, one that we'll repeat with a menu that fits the class's learning needs each time. Also, students are able to access most of these skill building programs on their own time in school and at home, and many are driven to building their skill and foundation so I know they'll make good use of the tools outside of the skill workshop.  And for those who are not apt to practice on their own time, I'll continue to coach them on developing a growth mindset as well as finding the tools and activities that engage and propel their learning quest.  

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Fun with Factors and Multiples

Fourth graders have a new multiples and factors standard:

Gain familiarity with factors and multiples.
Standard 4. Find all factor pairs for a whole number in the range 1–100. Recognize that a whole number is a multiple of each of its factors. Determine whether a given whole number in the range 1–100 is a multiple of a given one-digit number. Determine whether a given whole number in the range 1–100 is prime or composite.

To meet this standard my class is creating a bulletin board with multiple/factor cards.  Hopefully the exercise will create some great discussion, number exploration and vocabulary building.  Later we'll use our 100 Multiple/Factors bulletin board to inform our problem solving work.

Take a look if you're interested, and use this exercise with your students.  Let me know how it goes and if you added to it or made any revisions. Also, if you have some great multiple/factor problems or projects, please let me know.

Project Update
This project was terrific as it caused tremendous number talk and exploration.  All children completed cards for numbers 1-20, then we assigned specific numbers to individuals until we completed two bulletin boards with numbers 1-100.  We coded primes and composites, looked for patterns, identified squares and perfect numbers and will now use the board as a resource for problem solving and number talk.

How Do You Do It All?

How do you do it all? A local professor posed that question to me recently as his student teachers were asking him for advice on how to get it all done as a classroom teacher.

I told him I'd list some of the actions that help me, and please feel free to comment and add additional strategies that help you.

Stay Healthy
  • Make time from the start for physical exercise and health. (I'm still working on this one and know that good routines from the start make a big difference.)
  • Get enough rest and eat well.
  • Wash your hands often during the day.
  • Establish healthy routines in the classroom including recess, washing hands, and healthy food choices.
Be Prepared (Leave room for error and the unexpected)
  • Stay about a week ahead with respect to plans and preparation.
  • Keep the learning team informed of what you've done, are currently doing and will do in the future.
  • Spend the time upfront at the start of the year to prepare the classroom carefully.  Ruth Charney's Book, Teaching Children to Care will set the stage well for that preparation.
  • Have a basket of extra lessons and books that can fill a hole in the schedule when needed.
  • Always prepare for one or two extra students. That will take care of students who lose their work and new students who arrive during the year.
  • Respond to emails and requests right away rather than let that pile up.
  • Create files and save systems on your computer so that you can easily pull up important documents and lessons for revision and enrichment in the future. 
Positive Routine
  • Establish a positive weekly pattern that includes all the required elements and expectations of your work.  
  • Possibly include one day a week with extra time for "catch-up." One night a week I work late and my husband comes home early to facilitate family needs.  That gives me the time to catch up with the weekly work.
  • Put aside time in that weekly schedule for teacher or parent meetings, and when people ask for your time, you can offer the time you've put aside and still maintain the time you've scheduled for yourself, your family and your interests.
  • Simplify your expectations--you can't do or be all things so you'll have to prioritize what is most important to you, and make time for that. 
  • Include a weekly routine of professional development whether it is attending a course, reading an article or participating in a webinar.  That will keep you fresh, up-to-date and interested.
  • Join colleagues at school to collaborate on efforts related to student learning.
  • Establish a PLN (professional learning community) online and off. Your PLN will offer you ready advice and quick response.  I suggest one begin by joining Twitter and following #edchat. Then "friend" other like-minded teachers to start your online PLN journey. 
Interests, Friends and Families
  • Make time for interests outside of your school life.  Even if it is a couple of times a month, continue to build and enjoy an interest you enjoy.
  • Make time for friends and family--they're the support network you'll need as you embark on your career as an educator. 
Every educator creates a personalized pattern for their professional work and effort.  So while you take note of others' efforts, more importantly spend time creating the pattern and response that best supports your strength and skill as a teacher. 

Monday, December 03, 2012

When Collaboration Doesn't Work

Recently what I thought would be a quick, collaborative effort turned into a cancelled endeavor.  Sometimes that happens, but in this case the loss of the event is the loss of a positive potential for students.  So how can I avert this situation in the future.

At first the event was conveyed via email and there was little to no response.  At that point, I should have made time for thoughtful face-to-face communication.  Minimal support via email demonstrated that there were more questions and conversation necessary related to the topic.

Then, at the face-to-face meetings, we should have discussed the endeavor.  Instead, I just assumed we shared a similar point of view related to the event, but in hindsight as staffs and schools change, we can't assume that all will be on the same page with regard to traditional events and long held practices.  An open conversation would have created common understanding and possibly new ideas for a long-held practice.

Finally, time got in the way.  If we deem efforts important in a school environment, we have to make time for thoughtful, collaborative planning and execution.  We can't add significant new endeavor and keep all of the old.  Instead we have to carefully analyze the time available and implement those activities and events that best impact children's optimal education.

Collaboration won't always work. Yet, when it doesn't work, and if that collaboration is important to children's learning success, then we have to identify the factors that hindered the effort and move forward with greater thought and care.

Teaching the New Math Standards

The new math standards prompted me to study the standards in depth and create a guiding presentation.

The presentation will serve the learning community in the following ways:
  • Ready access to each standard and informative videos/links.
  • An easy document to share with colleagues, students and family members as we focus on each standard.
  • A work in progress--a document that I can revise and refine as I teach each standard and learn more about math instruction and learning.
Do you use a similar document structure to support your work with the new standards? Are there elements you would add to make this presentation and mathematics teaching more effective?  

Sunday, December 02, 2012


Yesterday I attended a big playoff game.  The players worked for a year or more to get to the game, and had every hope of winning.  As the game progressed, the win moved further and further away from the players.  Although a win was likely, their play didn't add up to a win, instead they lost the game while the other team's play led them to a wonderful victory.

Losing is tough particularly when you have worked hard and have your heart is set on a win.  Yet, for every win, there's a loss.  It's part of the landscape of competition.

The key is how you deal with wins and losses.

First, it's best to go into every competition ready to do your best.  If you do your best and lose, you'll never have regrets.

Also, it's important to diversify.  When you invest your energy in a number of interests and events, one loss won't be the end all.

Take time, and when you're ready reflect on the loss.  Just like winning, losing is a teacher too.  Similar to mistakes, there's always something to be learned. As the popular song states, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Lastly, having a warm home and loving family and friends also buffers the burden of losing and mistakes.  It gives you a place to relax, reflect and be comforted.  Establishing warm, loving bases of care at home and in classrooms and schools gives children a chance to make mistakes, lose and try again with support and a focus on what's most important: your relationships, and the network you create to support a positive, life enriching path as the strength lies in the journey, not the end destination.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Rich Text Inspires and Elicits Response

There are endless information sources and materials with which to teach today.

It's imperative that we choose the best resources so that we inspire our students to question, debate and research.

Rich text does this while dull text does not.  What makes text rich?  When text is rich, the words inspire the following actions:
  • Questions.
  • Deep Thought.
  • Debate.
  • Further investigative actions.
  • Rereading.
  • Sharing.
  • Laughter and tears.
  • Connections.
  • Writing.
I was reminded of this recently.

First, at the start of our animal adaptation unit, when I asked students to respond to the rich text quote below, I was amazed by their investment, care, vocabulary and thoughts.

Similarly, as we develop the unit further students are asked to utilize scientific adaptation descriptions to write text about their "wild thing" creations.  The rich text provided on the web site both engages and inspires students' response.

Also, this morning as I read Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences periodiCALS, I noted a rich text article, "Conservation Bridge Case Study: Human-Wildlife Conflicts in Bhutan."  While I would never assign this article as independent reading, the great vocabulary and conflict presented is sure to inspire student debate, investigation and discovery as we embark on our endangered species study later in the year. 

Rich text is not only relegated to informational text.  Currently the rich text of Fig Pudding by Ralph Fletcher is eliciting tremendous emotion and debate with my fourth graders as we learn about the Abernathy's family life and compare that to our own experiences in life through connections and questions. 

A multitude of information and text resources are on the market today, and it is imperative that collective teaching teams discuss and choose text that is rich--text that inspires thought and elicits debate, questions and investigation.

In what ways do you find and embed rich text in the lessons you teach?

Energy Streams

"A little for today and a little for tomorrow, " my father always said.

Now I think of that advice as energy streams--the energy that flows through us leading to current practice and later work.

Each time I share focus and ideas with my students and others, I include a short explanation of the past, depiction of the present and thoughts for the future.

I like to keep the thoughts for the future alive in those I work and live with because I know that their minds percolate like mine, and I know that if more people are thinking about a particular topic and making connections to that topic by the time we're ready to truly develop the work, people will be more ready and have a greater wealth of ideas, debate and questions to bring to the table.

We're all actively learning and engaging all the time, and planting the seeds of future ideas and work early has the potential to develop those ideas with greater investment and intent. Do you agree?

Moments of Inspiration

When do moments of inspiration strike in your life?

How do you react when inspiration strikes? Do you embrace the synthesis of thought by writing it down, drawing, creating or conversing?

In my later years, I've grown to trust these inspiration surges more.  Rather than dismiss a novel thought or idea for a better system, event or endeavor, I deal with it right away because I know that these moments of strong synthesis and inspiration are fleeting, and the moment these incredible revelations strike is the most fertile time to capture the essence of the idea.

The way I react varies.  Sometimes I tweet to gain reaction, debate or question.  At other times, I blog to also gain response, and to have a copy that I can refer back to when it's time to implement or develop the idea.  If the thought provides me with confusion, worry or complexity, I might journal privately or converse with friends, colleagues or family members about the idea.

Moments of inspiration, "light bulb events," are valuable moments that lead us forward in our work and relationships.  What do you do when these moments strike?

Related post by Bulldog Drummond

Transparency Builds Trust

When everyone understands what's going on in an organization, trust builds.

When trust builds so does community, and community develops individuals as well as the collective group.

Trusting, transparent organizations that communicate well and set vision steadily move towards more effective, responsive work and invite investment and camaraderie.

Caring, observant leaders build organizations like this, and when it comes to schools, children in these organizations thrive.

This is a change from old for many organizations, a positive and empowering change.