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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Project Base Learning: An Evolving Process in Education

Students look forward to the endangered species unit each year.  They can't wait to "get their animal," then embark on research, writing and presentation.  It's a signature project in our school system--a memorable event that students look forward to every year.

This project has been a part of our school system for over 25 years. The project started long before the infusion of technology and prior to this information age. Long ago in the early stages of this project, it was eye opening to learn the facts and figures related to a specific animal, but now students regularly view that information on television, in books and online.  Hence, to report the facts is not as important as it was many years ago. However, to learn how to access information in efficient, focused ways, and then to use that information in ways that are relevant and meaningful to the learner and others is more important today.

Educon 2.4 led me to rethinking our signature project template and design.  I wondered about what really worked for this unit, and how I wanted to continue to develop this learning event for greater effect.

To start, I want to develop the introductory piece to this unit with greater intent.  I want children to have a working knowledge of the vocabulary and important information related to the study of endangered species.  I also want to give students a strong foundation of research skills.  And, I want to weave in activities and practice that will strengthen students' ability to read and comprehend informational text. Yes, I will be weaving common core principles into the unit.

Hence the project preview will focus on these essential questions:
  • What information do biologists collect and study when learning about animals?
  • How do biologists research and report animal facts and information?
  • Why are animals endangered?
  • Why is it important to save endangered animals?
Then, throughout the next four weeks of school, students will work in small teams, at home and with the entire class to read, study, respond to and discuss background information related to animal research and endangered species study.  I will tell students how and why I chose the initial information pieces, and then we'll discuss how to read and understand the text, videos, images and data. I will create a Google content website ("kit") to lead our work.

At the end of this period of research and exploration, students and I will begin to determine our research focus, essential questions, project design and process. Then students will embark on their independent (or collaborative) research, writing and presentation--the part of the project they are all looking forward to.

It is my hope that our research reports will result in a variety of presentations that not only report factual information related to an animal, but instead serve as an advocacy piece or action students will use to teach, inform, persuade and/or involve others in meaningful understanding and action related to the fact that many species in our world face endangerment.

This is the first of many posts to follow that will document the continued evolution of this unit to best respond to 21st century skills, tech integration and relevant, informed project based learning.  I know that students are ready to jump right in, but I want to take our time with this so that students begin to gain the discipline, focus, process and voice that are integral to project success and impact.

After the introductory period, I will allow for student voice when it comes to choosing their independent project focus.  I recognize the strength in letting children choose a subject they really want to study, but I also understand the power that comes from collaborative, community-focused project work.  Therefore I'll try to provide room for a balance between the two.

The students and I will continue to design and work on this unit.  In the meantime, if you have ideas for me, please don't hesitate to share.  Thank you.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Slowing Down the Day

Yesterday was a flurry of activity as we worked tirelessly to complete the film we're sending to China.  Today, I'm slowing down the pace and giving students a chance to take their time, transition peacefully, think and wonder.

In the same respect, I'm giving myself the time to notice the little things that happen in the classroom-- interactions, conversations, choices and events that are small in space and time yet impact students' school experiences with strength.

Lesson choreography like wonderful music will take on different speeds and beats dependent on the classroom focus at hand, and also like good music, sometimes it is important to slow it down for best effect.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Seasons of the School Year: Spring Vision

This is the time for vision in schools.

Why?

It is that time of year when students are testing and teachers are completing year end units. It is also the time of year when grade changes, new teachers, shifting administrators and school assignments are in the works.  Ordering is right around the corner, and summer vacation is not far off.

By creating vision now and communicating that vision soon, schools will impact the learning for next year significantly.  This is true because determining vision now will impact assignments, ordering, scheduling and teachers' summer reading and study.

As you consider vision, consider the following:
  • How do you start the year with students and families?  What should the first day be like?  I always remember my first day at college--I felt so welcomed and cared for.  How can we make the first day of school a welcoming day for families and students, a day when teachers get to personally connect with each child?
  • Will your school employ advisory groups and give each professional in the building a small group of students to nurture, support and meet with regularly throughout the year?
  • What will be the expected pedagogy in your school?  Will you require teachers to devote part of their day or year to collaborative, 21st century, project base learning?
  • What are the tech expectations for students and teachers?  What tools should all employ and access regularly to lead their learning forward?
  • What do teachers and students want from administration with respect to professional development, tools and support?  Perhaps it's a good time to send out a survey so administrators can ponder the results over the summer months.
  • What materials should educators be ordering, and what materials are now seen as possibly obsolete?
  • Is there a need for structural changes in the school to match new pedagogy and learning design?
When considering the seasons of a school year, early spring is the season for vision--a vision that is shared and discussed with all educators within a system. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Biome Murals

The students transferred their biome research knowledge today into creating paper-cut biome murals.  In part, we're making the murals to inform our upcoming endangered species study.

The project was much more challenging for the students than I anticipated.  Many students found the 21st century aspects of the project difficult.  The fact that students had to work together, decide on a design and create it as a group was challenging for their developing collaborative skill.

Also, application of the knowledge to design prompted critical thinking skills.  The creativity was challenging too as children tried to make trees, grass, flower, animals, vines and other natural objects with paper.  Of all the skills, communication was the the easiest as the continual use of language related to each biome was flowing.

This was a project where students were actively engaged and I was busy coaching each team.  I had to walk the "just right" expectations tight-rope as I coached as I wanted their murals to be accurate, but I had to be careful that I left room for their wonderful fourth grade creativity and voice.

We've got more work to do, and after that the murals will serve as homes for our paper sculpted endangered animals.  In the meantime, the project reminded me once again that it's important that we add rich, active, 21st century challenges to all the learning we do to broaden students' skill set, understanding, creativity and confidence.

Making a Class Movie

Today our class will make a movie. The movie will depict a day in the life of a fourth grader at our school. We are sending the movie to a Chinese elementary school so they can understand what our school is like.

We have a short window of time for our film creation, so this project will require focus.

A kind parent spent a day taking wonderful photos of the children's day at school. So today, we'll work together to combine maps, photos, music, title slides and short videos to tell a story about our school life.

We'll start by thinking about audience.  What will these Chinese students want to know about our school, and how will we deal with the need for translation.  Luckily we have a number of Chinese language speakers in our class.

After that, we'll divide into roles.  Some will make the transition videos, others will design title slides and still more will create music using Garageband.

As students complete their tasks, I'll ask them to upload their creations to Google docs and share them with me.  Then I'll work with a few classroom producers to place students' creations into our iMovie doc.   We'll save the final project on both Google and YouTube for easy access.

Making a classroom movie is a great collaborative project with many avenues for student choice, creativity and expression.  Have you made a class movie?  If so, what topic did you tell a story about?  How did your class collaborate? And what did you think was most important with regard to your audience?

Once the project is complete, I'll share it for your entertainment and critique.


Movie Note
In about four hours of collaborative, creative time the students and I pulled together this film.  Students wrote short scripts, videotaped introduction, created music, made transition slides and edited the film with my guidance.  We learned a lot about making a film and we'll apply our learning for our next project, films about endangered species -- stay tuned.


Take a Look at Our Film
School Day in USA

Saturday, March 24, 2012

2012 Summer Reading List and Study

It looks like it's going to be the kind of summer when I actually have time to read.  Hence, I'm starting my reading list today.  We'll see where the list and months to come take me. I'll add titles in the weeks to come.

Cognition/Relationships (Summer Theme)
Changing School Culture
Articles/Posts
  • Read all favorites--add new tools to class website for student access. 

End of Summer Reflection:  I am still working on my reading list.  Making Learning Visible for Teachers* was my highlight book of the summer. I also spent a lot of time on curriculum revision and preparation.

*There are many July and August posts related to this wonderful teaching guide. 

Focus Time: To Do List

Time to bury myself in curriculum design and creation.  Here's my to do list.
  1. Many 30-minute, enjoyable math vocabulary building exercises such as crossword puzzles, comic strips, playwriting and others to strengthen students' collective vocabulary related to math.
  2. Blended informational packets (online and off) to support our upcoming endangered species unit as well as to continue to build reading/writing fluency, comprehension and skill.
  3. Multi-modal differentiated math activities to build skill and knowledge in fractions, decimals, measurement, probability, elapsed time as well as review in other areas. 
  4. Out of the Deep book study blog creation to support our next interactive read aloud and comprehension study focus.
  5. Craft collection and organization to support our biome mural creations.
  6. An online, quick feedback, regular assessment, phonics based spelling program to develop spelling skill for awesome readers and writers who already demonstrate fluency, comprehension and interest.
Those are the main ingredients for the next six weeks of the curriculum year.  If you've got helpful links or ideas, please let me know.  It's time to focus on the microsphere once again.  

Humility?

Recently, I posted a host of disgruntled pieces on my blog.  I've since added them to my "save" file and took them off the web.  I'm pondering the work event that led to those posts.  People like positivity and humility, and few care for rant or rave.

One post led to a comment that basically told me to increase my humility, share less and stay close to my classroom rather than debating the bigger issues that affect my work.  That comment, though well intentioned, led me back to the many, many, many times I heard people tell me to be a "quiet, good girl" throughout my life.

I'm all for being good as I believe that makes a better world, and I'm a fan of humility too as I truly believe that none of us know it all or have it all, but I also believe in sharing the good news particularly when it's news of practice, thought and work that positively affect others, especially the children we teach.

Hence, humility plays an important role in the work we do, and so does the way we communicate what we do.  However, if educators are so humble that they don't share the "good news" of their work and care then systems won't grow and flourish.  Yes, actions speak, but so do thoughtful words and stories.

Voice in Education

"Just be quiet and do the best you can."

Have you heard that before?

or

"You won't win, give up the fight and focus on your work, be the good soldier."

Those are mantras I grew up with, but I never believed them.  From my earliest days, I noticed how lack of voice contributed to quiet sustained systems of inequity, hatred and despair.  I wondered, "Why didn't anyone speak up?"

So now as a professional in a relatively optimal situation, I continue to speak up. I speak up because I care, and I know the harm that quiet and secrecy can do to organizations.

I long for communication systems and protocols that give voice to all who work in an organization in timely, respectful, fruitful ways as I know that voice can lead to positive change, and positive change can move organizations forward to best benefit those they serve.

Do you agree?

What's Your Place at the Education Table?

When I was a young child growing up in a big family, everyone had their place at the table.  Knowing your place eased the transition from play, television, or homework when mom called, "Dinner's ready," soon after my dad returned from a day of work.  Once we heard those words, we'd scurry from all directions to find our seat then commence the evening meal ritual.

Knowing your place eases transitions, supports focus, and strengthens an organization's success.  Yet, the onset of technology into every aspect of work and life has disrupted the general sense of "place" thus calling for review and revision.  We now need to reconsider the teacher's "place" and role by establishing role definitions, communication systems, and a revision process that responds to the quick evolution of ideas, tools and needs.

I desire a renewed and better defined role definition with regard to communication systems, expectations, and a revision process.  I want my work to be inline with the work of my colleagues and system as I know that creates strength, yet I also believe that I need a place for my voice too as I'm working in the front line of education and I'm reminded daily of ways we can better teach and serve the children in our community.

Without a focus on role, our efforts become diluted.  If my family so long ago spent the first 20 minutes of our evening meal squabbling about who sat in which seat, we would never have had the time for the rich debate, discussion, laughter, and talk that challenged, entertained, and educated us as we shared my mom's wonderful cooking and care.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Why Teach: Children

Schools can be complex organizations, but if we keep students center stage we will do a good job.

What does keeping students center stage mean?

It means that you focus your research, planning, implementation, reflection and revision on actions and events that serve children well.

For an elementary school teacher, serving children well means that you do the following.
  • Create a weekly routine that best responds to student needs and interests.
  • Collaborate with colleagues to best respond to students.
  • Create an environment that is welcoming, peaceful and responsive.
  • Make the time to build and nurture community.
  • Foster two way, regular communication with students and family members.
  • Plan engaging lessons and units.
Keeping students center stage helps professionals to prioritize and speak up when important. This is the light that guides good teaching.

Every Lesson Matters

Teaching is not an exact science, but every lesson matters.  Today as my students and I review standards for next week's reading tests, I am reminded of that.  Probably similar to athletic endeavors, it's the daily training that makes a difference.

Setting apt goals, choreographing lessons, and prepping for the big day are all important aspects of learning particularly in this test-age we're a part of.

If you read my posts, you know I'm a fan of streamlined testing used to inform optimal instruction.  I believe that tests play one role in schools.

Hence, today as I notice students' knowledge with regard to the many, many standards we've reviewed, I'm reminded that I want to make sure that my lessons reflect these standards throughout the year in thoughtful, child-friendly, relevant and meaningful ways to build understanding and skill.

Every lesson matters.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Data Impact

How is data impacting your role as an educator?

Data is having an amazing impact on my role as an educator because this information is serving to prompt me to analyze, revise and implement learning in more targeted ways with respect to the acquisition of essential literacy and numeracy skills, concepts and knowledge.

Data is also enhancing the parent conferences.  When I lay the data sheet down, parents and I are able to discuss, analyze and strategize around specific challenges to support a child.

Good data can be used in conjunction with other assessments such as observation to develop a child's learning program for best effect.  Data can also serve to robotize education or prompt finger pointing and blame.  Instead data should be embraced with teamwork and collaboration as a formative tool focused on student success.

Data does not assess all learning that is integral to success and happiness, and serves specific targets, but not all targets.  Hence data driven instruction should consume part of a day's activity, but not the entire day as developing students' social, creative, emotional and process skills and strength is essential for happiness and success.

Data is here, and how we use it depends on us.  We need to be careful about the ways we discuss and implement data driven instruction and evaluation so that we continue to teach with dignity, respect and honor for every child and the colleagues we work with too.

How has data impacted the way you do your work?  In what ways does your organization promote respectful, positive use of data to develop optimal programs?  As I write this post, I realize that targeted data has been a positive addition to our school program, but a challenging change too.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Circuitous Route

It's been a circuitous route lately, and I'm learning a lot.  As I learn, my focus and direction continue to take on new shape.  Listening has enabled me to hear. Observing has sharpened my vision.  Step by step I'll wander this path as a new season takes hold.  Spring.

Teaching to Yourself as a Student

Do you think many teachers go into education fueled by their own experiences as a student?  I believe teachers often "teach to themselves as students."  It's a natural reaction we have to be wary of because not one of is "all students."  Instead, as teachers know, students come to us, each with a unique set of strengths, challenges, interests and experiences.  Hence, as teachers, we need to learn about and teach many students not just "ourselves as students."

The fact that teachers themselves represent a large array of student styles brings strength to our collaboration.  It would be interesting to listen to a group of teachers discuss themselves as learners, the approaches that worked for them, and how that affects the teaching they do each day.  I often query colleagues regarding their student styles to gain insight into the students I teach.

Further, we have to make time for parents and other family members to tell us about their children's learning style, interests, skills and challenges.  Perhaps a pre-school year survey or meeting would help with this.  Knowing our students well helps us to teach all students, not just the students we were as young children and teenagers.

Who Owns Knowledge?

Throughout my life I've enjoyed learning about many subjects and interests.  I like to broaden my thinking and understanding.  There's been many a time when I've ventured into a discussion to be told, "This is not your domain." As expected, that's led me to think.

Who owns knowledge?

There's been a lot of discussion about this on the Internet with the idea of the democratization of information, yet knowledge used without good understanding could be harmful or carry us down futile paths.

Who owns knowledge in your home, classroom, organization, government, world?  In thinking about knowledge as a commodity to own or share, what systems have you put in place to ensure that knowledge is treated with the care, transparency and thought it deserves?

In my microsphere of classroom, home and community, I value knowledge shared in truthful, respectful ways.  I desire protocols for knowledge sharing in organizations, classrooms and families--protocols that invite people to learn, share, debate, reason, discuss and decide in peaceful, purposeful ways.

Who owns knowledge, and what protocols are effective ways to share the knowledge we have?

Tech Integration or Learning Design?

Are you noticing a shift from a tech integration focus to learning design?

Alan November's speech at the Global Education Conference last fall shifted my focus.

Since that time, I've been working steadily to revise the way I plan and facilitate student learning.  I continue to integrate technology regularly, but I am more concerned with the choreography of the learning event, and the attributes, processes, knowledge and skill I hope to nurture and coach.

In part, this is probably true because students generally grasp technology quickly.  With a few pointed instructions, most children learn how to use a tech tool with skill.  On the other hand, learning how to navigate a multimodal, project base, collaborative learning event is much more complex and requires many steps, lots of coaching, and thoughtful planning to take an initial quest to a finished project.

Are you moving from a focus on tech integration to learning design--design that is infused with technology and many other tools and processes?  I'd like to know what you and your educational organizations are doing in this regard as I continue to build and develop my classroom program for best effect? Are you integrating your instruction, teaching in discrete sets or balancing the two? I welcome related links, posts, titles and other information that might help me think about this direction with greater depth. Thank you.

Who is the "Student" You Nurture and Teach?

Who is the "student" you and your colleagues seek to nurture and coach as you teach? What attributes and actions do you prioritize in your daily efforts?  What leads your work each day?

I've created a short list that describes the student actions and attributes I seek to strengthen, encourage and develop as I teach each day.  Would your list be the same?  What would you add, delete or revise for best effect?

Student Actions and Attributes

Reader: Reading is an essential skill and it is imperative that students develop reading comprehension and fluency. There are many apt tools to assist students with "print disabilities" in their efforts to learn to read and/or attain information.

Effective Communicator: Coach children to understand and utilize effective modes of communication including writing, speech, multimedia composition and project work that is clear, informative, entertaining and demonstrates awareness of audience and intent.

Mathematician: There is a lot of discussion about the best ways to teach math. Currently our programs are led by a discrete set of knowledge points as determined by system, state and national standards.  The habits of mind related to mathematical understanding build students' strength in areas of organization, problem solving and logic--essential skills for understanding and managing the world around you.

Problem Solver: It's imperative that students have the chance to solve meaningful, relevant problems regularly in order to gain problem solving skill, confidence, flexibility and strategy.

Citizen: Students will play active roles in many organizations as they grow up. Developing a strong sense of understanding with regard to citizen rights, responsibility, service, and action will help students to later become integral members of the many organizations they might join or be a part of in the future.

Advocate: Students better advocate for themselves when they understand that they are capable, and that their learning depends on effective tools, strategies, coaching and effort. It's essential that students learn about themselves as learners, and also learn about the cognitive strategies, tools and coaching that will best support acquisition of skill, concept, knowledge and process.

Collaborator: Students must learn the skills that boost their abilities to collaborate with others in many settings.

Confidence: It's essential that every child have a sense of belonging and value in a school environment.  If a child is left out or feels bad, it's important to dissect that situation to figure out the root cause.  Then through a process of education and possibly environmental change, it is necessary to create an inclusive experience for that student. Belonging builds confidence and contribution.

Researcher: Students learn to ask questions, and navigate many tools and bountiful information to find what they are looking for in efficient, effective ways.

Strength: Through thoughtful, responsive scheduling and programming, students are given the chance to develop strong, healthy minds and bodies.

Goals and Vision: Through regular use of reflection, discussion and inspiration, students continually work to develop goals and vision for their present and future work and endeavor.

Recreation: Time is regularly set aside for celebration and recreation as a way of developing students' sense of joy and accomplishment.

Empathy, Compassion and Community:  Service learning, sharing and community building activities develop student empathy, compassion and community.

Hands-On Learning: This is an area I would like to grow more in my present work environment.  Students hunger for the chance to build, experiment, observe and manipulate environments in order to create and learn.  How can we better design and structure schools to inspire this activity?

Like all of us, students will bring varying levels of passion, strength and ability to the actions and attributes listed above. However, if educators consider these goals as they facilitate learning in both integrated and discrete learning endeavors, they will not only teach the content, but they will educate the whole child.  That's a direction I value.



Note: Heidi Hass Gable (@HHG) prompted me to combine writing, speaking, multimedia composition and project work under the heading effective communication.  Thanks Heidi!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

21st Century Teacher Attributes

I'm wondering what your vision is for a 21st century teacher.  Here's the vision that leads me.

Life Long Learner: Employs a regular schedule of learning and embeds that learning in the work he/she does.

Knowledge Expert: The teacher takes the time to research and learn about the knowledge units within his/her charge.  He/she is an expert of the knowledge related to the units in his/her charge.

Nurturer: The school is a "home away from home" and the teacher nurtures and cares for the children in his/her charge.

Tech Savvy: Learns about and utilizes tech tools regularly to inform, deliver, and assess instruction.

Project Base Learning Facilitator: Integrates standards, skill, concept, and knowledge regularly in projects that engage, motivate and respond to student needs, passions and interests.

RTI/Differentiation: Looks at every learner as an individual and responds to that individual with apt programs, lessons, materials, and tools.

Process Oriented: Recognizes that education is an evolving practice, and regularly takes time to reflect, review and revise the work he/she does for best effect.

Environmental Designer: Is aware that the environment affects the learner, and takes the time to design an environment conducive to optimal education.

Coach, Mentor and Guide: Recognizes that in this age of information excess, the priority should be on learning how to learn rather than the acquisition of discrete sets of knowledge, hence the teacher serves as a coach, mentor, and guide in this endeavor.  With that in mind, however, the teacher also recognizes that some discrete sets of knowledge are necessary and coaches students using the best, research-based materials to attain that knowledge, skill, and concept.

A Student of Cognition: The teacher is a brain coach who embeds the latest research in cognition to develop learning modules that mirror what we understand to be the best ways to build learning flexibility, content, and strength.

Collaborator: The teacher understands that he/she will never know it all or be the best teacher for all students. With this knowledge, the teacher develops his/her repertoire related to collaboration, teamwork, and shared decision making, instruction.

Communicator: The teacher regularly communicates the important information related to his/her practice, vision, goals, and work in order to enlist the support of the learning team and community. The communication includes conferences, written correspondence via the Internet or paper/pencil, and multimedia composition with portfolios and other communication vehicles.

Manager: The teacher manages his/her environment and learning team with skill.  He/she is attuned to the community's needs as a group and as individuals, and responds as such.

Resource: Again, recognizing that one instructor cannot provide all services and instruction, the teacher acts as a resource agent too.  One who is familiar with outside resources to help students grow with academic, social, physical, emotional and passion strength and interest.

Leader: To be a successful educator today (and for all time) you need to have a broad array of leadership skill so that you are able to lead students forward and work with colleagues and family members as you lead each other in apt service to children.

Are these too many roles for one teacher?  Should these roles be distributed, or is it possible for one teacher to play all of these roles?  Does this differ greatly from the way you carry out your role or evaluate teachers in your system?  What am I missing?  Are there any areas you would delete?  How would you evaluate these roles?  Which is most important and which is least important?  Does the prioritization differ from level to level, age to age, community to community?

As I think about the collaborative meetings I've been a part of during the past year, I realize that greater role definition would increase our ability to collaborate, focus, and achieve our goals.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts related to this post.

All Work No Play Makes a Dull Teacher

Sonia Coughlan (@_witty_n_wise_) from Scotland prompted me to think about the critical balance between family and work--a balance that I suspect most working people face in their lives.

Too much work narrows your vision, exhausts your body and dulls your practice.  Everyone needs time for work, family, self, community and play, yes play!  Pleasure is integral to the human spirit.

Sometimes when play eludes you, it's simply because you've worked too hard and you are much too tired to entertain the notion of participating in the pastimes you enjoy most.

Hence, I'll seize the day today before I head back to work tomorrow.  I'll also strive for a more balanced schedule so I'm the positive, energetic, focused teacher I want to be.

Thanks Sonia!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

What is My Role as a Classroom Teacher?

The Internet offers us a "forest of ideas" and possibilities.  A morning search through Twitter, blogs, websites and more introduces one to many, many ideas, but it is humanly impossible to grasp and follow all the ideas available.  Hence there's a greater need than ever to focus energy and attention in a few areas.

This is particularly challenging for elementary school classroom teachers as the possibilities for what we can do are endless--there are so many learning paths available to both teachers and students today--many tools, processes and knowledge units.

In part, this prioritization process is led by standards at local, state and national levels.  The prioritization is also led by the needs, interests, attitudes and abilities of the children we teach and the families we serve.  Further, the prioritization gains strength from the vision one has for a child's future and his/her ability to learn independently and successfully.

Also at play is the fact that processes like RTI and PBL target students' needs and interests in new ways prompting a challenge to current school structure and culture.  At the elementary school, I have found both RTI and PBL to be approaches that engage, motivate and develop students with autonomy, mastery and purpose.  These approaches have served to lessen behavioral concerns and heighten sensitivity and response to individual student's academic, social and emotional needs and interests.

These changes also lead to the need for greater goal definition and vision at the elementary school level.  I'm wondering about the following questions:
  • Is project base learning an expectation or desired approach in a school or school system?
  • What is the classroom teacher's role with respect to project base learning?  Is his/her efforts to plan these units in response to current research and students' needs and interests supported, and if so, how?
  • What is the protocol for collaboration with respect to project base learning?  Are specialist teachers and classroom teachers expected to work together in this effort?  If so, where is the time for planning, and what information, protocols and research will support this collaboration?
  • Who owns the standards?  Is it solely the job of the classroom teacher to understand, target and teach lessons embedded with standards?  Does every teacher have a discrete set of standards to teach and evaluate?  Are the standards integrated into project base learning endeavors and discrete skill lessons in collaborative ways? 
  • With respect to feedback and response, is this expected in all student work or only some?  How do our efforts in this area serve to motivate and inform students and parents?  Who is responsible for providing feedback and response, and what kind of feedback and response do we deem most valuable with respect to student success? When is feedback and response created and provided?
  • What is the vision for a classroom teacher's role as we move from a factory model of education to a more individualized, targeted and project base process? 
  • What is the classroom teacher's responsibility with regard to the many, many other professionals that enter and exit the classroom each day to provide specific support, therapy or direction in integrated ways? This layer of professional service to children impacts a child's success greatly, but due to the extensive array of services integrated with classroom life each week, it also creates a complex web of service delivery and collaboration.
I find that I am at a fork in the road as a classroom teacher.  I want to embrace the promising practices that RTI and PBL offer students.  I want to make the time to weave standards, optimal tools (including technology) and knowledge into these practices in responsive, engaging, student-centered ways.  I want to do this in collaboration with my colleagues in peaceful, focused ways that put a child's success center stage.

But I'm wondering, is my vision shared or even desired by others?  Are we headed towards a more integrated approach to education or will the practice of discrete topics reign?  Will it be balanced--some integrated approaches and some discrete dependent on focus, goal and vision?  

And, specifically, what is my role as a classroom teacher at this time as education evolves with strength and promise?  I really want to know.  What do you think?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Inspiration: March

Chomsky and Education
Highlights:

  • Purpose of education: better human beings, teaching children how to learn on their own
  • Teaching students to question, challenge, create, explore, evaluate and know what it is they are looking for. 
  • Technology is a tool and its worth depends on how we use it. 

ELA Testing Turning Point: Thinking about What Works

It's that testing time of year.  All year educators weave state, system and federal standards into the curriculum so that when that testing time of year comes around, students are ready to do their best work with skill, concept and knowledge.

The tricky part to this endeavor is that the standards outweigh students' energy and time on task during the year.  Also, the standards have a developmental curve so a lot of the preparation depends on where students are when they enter a grade level which impacts the quantity and depth of the standards a student is expected to achieve. Hence meeting all the standards takes on a puzzle-like action where teachers try to fit in all the necessary teaching in just right ways to meet the standards.

Every year I take a different approach to fitting in all the standards.  The approach differs because my class and supports vary every year. I try to match the approach to the students in front of me as we move from one unit to the next.  Then as I assess students' final preparation, formative tests/assignments and attitudes, I think about what I might do differently and the same next year.

That's where I am today as I consider student work in relation to the standards.  These are my conclusions:
  • The use of ePortfolios, blogs and other online writing tools seemed to impact writing fluency well. None of my students are reluctant to write and most of their stories are told with ease.  I will continue these approaches.
  • The chance to read wonderful books of choice often both in school and at home develops wonderful writers.
  • The use of a picture-book personal narrative unit for craft is an important unit when it comes to developing students' writing skill.  By reading and analyzing the craft that wonderful writers use in picture book stories, students gain the tools they need to write their own stories well. Picture books provide particular emphasis on titles, leads, "heart," endings, voice, dialogue and description. We are fortunate that our librarian has created a top-notch, culturally relevant, dynamic picture book collection in our school.
  • Introducing writer's craft through entertaining exercises is important too.  It is equally important to practice that craft in many different ways to build ease, understanding and fluency with the many ways a writer can use words to entertain, inform and tell a story.
  • As research suggests, my students' primary use of keyboarding to tell stories did not impact their need to handwrite a final story.  I will continue to primarily use keyboarding for story writing, but will provide time to practice handwriting skills as long as tests require lengthy handwriting (hopefully that will change soon). We started this year with a heavy homework emphasis on attaining keyboarding skill, and that has proven successful for many.
  • Continued focus on wonderful words and vocabulary will also develop students' skills--I tell students that wonderful words are like precious gems, and a good story is like a beautiful necklace.  Perhaps we'll even create those beautiful word necklaces throughout the year as a way of focusing on wonderful words.
  • A focus on "small moment" stories and the "story mountain" help students write wonderful stories, and the time it takes to focus on these aspects of writing is an important ingredient to the overall writing workshop curriculum.
I will continue to think about how I will foster wonderful personal narrative writing as well as reading response writing next year from September to March.  Then, I expect that we'll end the year as we do now with an endangered species research unit, a fiction reading/writing unit and portfolio completion.

At this time, I imagine that the writing workshop units will flow like this:
  • Self Portrait Poetry Portfolio Unit with an Emphasis on Voice and Writer's Craft
  • Picture Book Personal Narratives, Small Moment Stories, and Digital Stories.
  • Immigration/Family History Stories
  • Photo Essays/Writing to a Prompt
  • Informational Text/Endangered Species
  • Fiction Stories
The reading response writing units will flow in this way:
  • Responding to Text (Test Prep): twice a week lesson all year (text mainly matching current unit)
  • Self Portrait Poetry Portfolio (this is a writing/reading unit)
  • Book Groups/Story Elements and Genre-Responding to Text
  • Non Fiction Text Strategies and Response: Responding to Informational text related to Immigration/Family History unit and Animal Adaptation unit.
  • Endangered Species Unit: Writing information text.
As you might realize, I enjoy writing and I enjoy teaching writing.  The challenge is to fit in this instruction in meaningful, relevant, student-friendly ways throughout the year.  By gathering my thoughts at this curriculum, testing turning point, I will be ready to embrace next year's class with focus.  

Have I missed anything?  What do you do to build this area of skill, concept and knowledge?  And finally, it's no surprise that those that read, write, draw and compose a variety of genre often, alone and with family members, become the best writers. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Teaching Journey: Turning a Corner

I started playing school in the cellar when I was six.  I loved creating a make-shift school, organizing my supplies and instructing my little brothers and sister.

Later as a sixth grader, I was chosen to be a kindergarten helper.  That was the best part of the day.  I enjoyed helping the kindergarten teacher.

After that I babysat, worked in the church nursery and usually lead a game or event for the children at every family event.

In college, I volunteered as a Big Sister and worked with two young inner city girls.  I also taught CCD. I continued volunteering and working with children at Children's Hospital and preschools while I studied to be a teacher in graduate school.

I have always been drawn to working with children and excited by the potential education holds for an individual's life.  Teachers had a big impact on my life in a positive way.  For some of my siblings, it was quite the opposite affect.  From an early age, I knew that schools had the power to transform and deform, and I wanted to be part of the positive transformative process schools can be. Hence, a desire to restructure and remake schools for best effect was born.

That vision has fueled me from my earliest days as a teacher.  Probably to the dismay of my first principal, I entered the profession with a desire to remake our school.  I have always tried innovative practices, and I've made many mistakes along the way.  I've also been a vital part of many initiatives that play an important role in our school routine and program.

With the onset of technology, my dreams for better schools have taken on a new life.  Information I craved is now readily available through blogs, Twitter, videos, webinars, websites and more.  Colleagues I longed for are only a tweet, click or discussion away.  The chance to understand, debate and discuss  ideas is also there for the taking.  What I have always dreamed about suddenly seems more possible.

Hence, I've been sharing, questioning, debating and innovating with joy online and off.  I've been reading so many wonderful ideas and visions, that I began to believe that everyone was on board welcoming this new, transparant, equitable school culture as they search for the next, best collaborative, integrated learning approach to meet all students' needs.

Then a challenge was posed that reminded me that, in many ways, I'm somewhat alone on this journey.  That's what sent me to Twitter in the first place to consult and converse--a need to find like-minded educators with vision for better schools. I realized that while I have one foot in the new world of education, I have another foot firmly planted in the old world and that presents a challenge.

So where does this learning curve lead me to at this time?

In the traditional school, I will integrate research, innovation and creativity into the standards and procedures I've been assigned to complete.  I will keep the best interests of children in mind as I do my work, and try to support them in every, positive way I can.

As far as my vision for better schools, I will only share those thoughts, links, articles and information via my blog.  I will no longer email ideas to others, or speak up about change in my work environment at this time. (I'm sure some will cheer when they read this :))

I know I will not be able to let go of the dream to continually improve schools to best meet students' needs in a constantly changing world.  It's a problem I'm passionate about, and it may seem grandiose to some, but I do believe that optimal "schools" create a stronger, more peaceful and satisfying world for all and that matters to me.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Habits of Mind: Midyear Reboot

This weekend's reading and research led me to a short, habits of mind discussion with my students today.  The premise was that the potential for what they can learn and achieve is limitless, and achievement requires that they employ optimal learning strategies.

I encouraged my students to follow these strategies:

  • Before starting a project/job, ask yourself, "What is the job at hand?"
  • Think: What tools, people and information will help me complete the job?  Access those people, tools and information to get the job done.
  • Ask questions.  Lots of questions.
  • Embrace failure as that's the stepping stone to success. (I shared Blakely's story about how her dad would give the children high-fives when they failed.)
  • Do your best.
  • Work with positivity and kindness.
  • Effective effort.
  • Don't give up.

What I liked best about this meeting was the fact that students really understand that success is within their reach, and that success doesn't just belong to a few.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Making a Decision? Consult Students and Teachers

Don't forget to include students and teachers when making school- or system-wide decisions.  They are the people on the front lines.

Since educators and students are usually busy when many decisions are made, their voices are sometimes forgotten.

When given voice, investment grows.  Also, when rationale for decisions is shared, understanding fuels optimal performance.

Educators and students are an important part of the decision process.

Friday, March 09, 2012

A Successful Team

I've noticed that the team aspect of my school and school system has grown stronger.  I am most happy about this because it allows me to understand and carry out my role with greater focus and strength.

What actions have strengthened the team?
  • Timely, regular, focused communication. 
  • Skilled coaching.
  • Student-friendly, formative assessments.
  • Weekly PLC meetings that build collaboration and shared knowledge.
  • Expert speakers for professional development.
  • The opportunity for staff to lead and attend optimal pd conferences and workshops.
  • A better schedule for targeted, thoughtful instruction.
  • Optimal access to technology and other researched tools and books that enrich learning.
Developing collaborative schools and school systems is an evolving process--a process worthy of the  time and attention my school system has demonstrated.


Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Correcting Papers?

You'll often hear teachers lament that correcting papers is a tiresome, but informative process.  Why tiresome?

Correcting papers with thought, care and feedback takes lots of time, time that is primarily found outside of a teacher's work hours--time that's part of a teacher's personal life.  Hence correcting papers always means putting something else aside to make time for that important task.  Since some educators' roles include correcting papers that take numerous hours, the "put aside" activity could be an activity related to personal health or family life, thus the "tiresome (and perhaps stressful)" label that often is added to correcting papers.

Correcting papers also costs an emotional toll because as a teacher carefully analyzes a student's work, he or she may notice numerous areas for additional instruction or help.  Understanding the areas for which a child could use additional support leads to the challenge of finding the time and accessing the instructional tools to make that happen in an already busy schedule.

Yet, correcting papers is both informative and motivating.  When students receive a paper that's been carefully reviewed and commented on, they know that someone is taking the time to think about their progress and development.  Also the corrected papers inform parents about a child's progress and needs. The corrected papers further provide the instructor with next steps for the development of the individual and the entire class, and alert the educator to the strategies that resulted in successful learning and those strategies which were less successful.

So, what's the answer.  I believe correcting papers and providing student feedback and response are essential components to good teaching.  I also recognize that the minimal amount of time teachers are given to plan responsive lessons, correct papers and provide targeted feedback gets in the way of optimal coaching, mentoring and instruction.  The answer lies in re-looking at professional educators' roles in an attempt to create reasonable schedules with enough time to plan, correct, respond to, and instruct in state-of-the-art, student-friendly ways while still providing educators with the time they need to have a healthy personal life.

Do you agree? If so, what strategies can make this vision a reality and what efforts do you currently employ in this domain that work?  Thank you for your thoughts.

Monday, March 05, 2012

More About MCAS Success

If you're a new Massachusetts teacher or want to learn about additional MCAS strategies.  Here are a couple more strategies I use to prep students and families for the test.

Home-School Communication
I share this prep document with families so they are aware of optimal strategy and preparation.

Exemplars
I created this document so that students could read past MCAS compositions, discuss the writing with peers and score the work.  I caution students about poking fun or putting down compositions that are minimal or low scoring.  I tell them that those stories could be written by students just learning to write or new to the United States, and just like walking we all develop reading and writing skills at different speeds.

I start this lesson by having students write a personal narrative in response to the prompt listed on the document.  Then we discuss what makes good writing.  After that partners work together to read and score the stories in the packet.  At the end we share our scores and discuss why some stores received high scores and others lower scores.  The students enjoy this task and it prepares them well for the test.

We will do the same to prep for the reading response test, and I'll post that document once I create it.  Massachusetts has done a good job posting exemplars and making MCAS prep materials readily available to teachers, and if you haven't accessed their MCAS sites, you may want to reference that page to learn more about MCAS.

Student Writing Expectations (MCAS Ready)

In Massachusetts, every fourth grader spends one day a year taking the MCAS composition test, and then they spend two more half-days reading and responding to text ranging in genre.

The composition test requires fourth graders to plan, draft and write a final copy of a lengthy, organized personal narrative that demonstrates craft, voice and accurate grammar.  The reading response test requires students to read text, answer multiple choice questions and respond to an open response question with a well written paragraph.

As you can imagine, teachers in Massachusetts spend a lot of time focused on this task throughout the year.  As the test approaches, we give students greater independence with practicing the task.  Hence, I have twenty-two personal narratives and twenty-two reading response packets to read and evaluate today. What am I looking for?

Story Mountain Planner


The Personal Narrative
I will assess each child's essay to notice exemplary work as well as one or two areas for growth. Specifically, I will look for the following writing elements:
  1. Beginning, Middle and End: Did students follow the story mountain planner in some way to tell a complete story?
  2. Organization: Do the ideas flow from one to the next, and is the text written in a way that's easy to read and understand? 
  3. Length: Is the length of the students story equal to three or more pages?
  4. Dialogue: Is dialogue used to make the characters come alive in the reader's mind as well as to advance the plot?
  5. Craft: Has the student employed the craft we've studied and practiced: simile, metaphor, alliteration, "the power of three" and repetition.
  6. Grammar: Do students use capitalization, punctuation and other grammatical rules we've reviewed?
  7. Voice: Does the child's voice come through in the story?  Is it a topic that the author "wants to tell the world about," remembers well and appears to enjoy writing?
  8. Catchy Title/Opening Sentence: Does the story start with a title and opening line that draws the reader into the story?
  9. Heart of the Story: Has the author included words, phrases or images that lets the reader understand why this story is important to the author?
  10. Story Ending: Did the author leave the reader with something to think about at the end of the story?
  11. Handwriting: Is the handwriting or print neat enough to read?
Reading Response
In a similar fashion, I will review students' reading response work.  While reviewing that work, I will look for the following criteria:
  1. Topic Sentence: Did the writer start the response by restating the question as a sentence?
  2. Direct Quotes from the Text: Did the writer use three or more direct quotes from the text to support the answer? 
  3. Explanations: Did the writer explain why each quote answers the question asked?
  4. Conclusion: Did the author conclude the answer by restating the topic sentence in a different way and summarizing the main point(s) of the answer.
While many in Massachusetts do not agree with the strategy of pulling direct quotes from the text to support answers, I favor this approach as it's worthy practice for what's to come. We all know that optimal written responses at later grades and in our professional lives profit from the use of direct quotes as well as students' own explanations. Further, for reluctant readers, finding a direct quote prompts one to go directly to the text looking for specific words and phrases to answer the question asked which is an action reluctant readers will sometimes avoid. This is an example of both the process and graphic organizer I use to prepare students for this type of writing.

I will use a response sheet as I evaluate each child's writing. How do you evaluate fourth grade writing? If you live in Massachusetts, what do you do to prepare for the MCAS in the final weeks leading up to the test? Is there any important criteria for either piece that I've missed?

While there are many opinions related to standardized tests, the reality is that the tests currently exist and play a big part in school culture. We make every effort to integrate the standards into meaningful, relevant student projects and daily lessons. We also make every effort to give students the skills, strategies, concepts and knowledge to do their bests on these tests.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Classroom Teacher: Roles and Responsibilities?

As education evolves so does the role of the classroom teacher.  What is the current role of the classroom teacher?  What are his/her responsibilities?  How does this educator prioritize and what is most important?  I consider the many aspects of the classroom teacher below.  I also propose reflection related to possible changes in that role for best effect.  I look forward to your response regarding this topic.

Classroom Teacher as Manager
In many ways, the role of a classroom teacher is that of manager.  He/she passes out and collects numerous forms, takes attendance and lunch count, responds to illness, supervises recess, manages transitions, responds to parent emails, notes and phone calls, organizes the coat rack, finds lost mittens (and other articles), prepares/cleans a classroom environment, orders materials and creates an atmosphere for learning. These are all time consuming tasks, but not tasks, in general, that require extensive subject knowledge or instructional understanding.  Should all of the tasks above be the responsibility of a classroom teacher?  Would it be better to broaden the responsibilities above to all faculty members so that every professional educator has responsibility for the management of a relatively equal group of students, or would it be better to start a new role in schools, one in which people are hired to manage the procedural aspects of running a school including attendance, lunch count, recess duty, transitions, coat rack organization and more?

Classroom Teacher as Social Skills/Behavior Counselor
A large part of teaching involves coaching and mentoring related to social skills and behavior.  Students come to school with all kinds of attitudes and readiness with regard to learning and working together, and teachers work day in and day out with students to develop their abilities related to optimal social skills, behavior and emotional intelligence.  This is an area of school life where I believe advisory groups would be better than homerooms as advisory groups could include all professional educators in a building which would mean smaller social groups to guide and mentor related to optimal social skills, behavior and emotional intelligence

Classroom Teacher as Academic Coach, Mentor, Guide and Instructor
With the move towards greater interdisciplinary project based learning, and the need for expert teaching related to specific skill development in reading, writing and math, I am wondering about this area too.
  • Have we reached a point where we need to re-look at professional responsibilities in the academic realm?
  • Do we know so much more now about the art and science of teaching that one-size-fits-all classrooms have become outdated and inefficient with respect to optimal learning?
  • Is it time to embrace a model of school that includes a greater use of targeted teaching responsibilities and content areas?  For example, as a fourth grade teacher, there is a lot to know about current math, science, reading, writing and social studies content, pedagogy and methodology.  With the current tools available, the sky's the limit for what we are able to do with students, yet when we try to do it all, our efforts are sometimes diluted and less effective.  
  • What are the developmental implications related to school structure and environment? What types of environments and instruction are best suited for students at particular ages?  
For best effect, optimal engagement and student confidence, I believe it's time to restructure the roles, schedules and responsibilities related to academic instruction.  With this in mind, I proposed a model last year.

A good way to start this restructure is to consider the efforts that currently work related to student learning, engagement and confidence, and those efforts that are less effective. Then begin replacing less effective strategies and efforts with activities that make students want to come to school, engage and learn as much as possible.

Further, the time to respond to students and families through editing, correcting papers, writing report cards, assembling portfolios/files and analyzing data has traditionally just been considered a classroom teacher's responsibility.  For some roles, this after hours work adds up to multiple hours, and for other roles there is little to no additional responsibility related to this.  This "on your own time" work has created a wide variety of responses and actions.  I think the time has come when this work needs to be considered as part of the teacher's overall on-time tasks in the school house which means that response time becomes a consideration when creating schedules, prep time and collaborative meetings.  In one school I read about recently, writing teachers were given smaller classes and greater prep time due to the great amount of time it takes to coach writing skill and proficiency with care.

Teacher as Collaborator
As schools respond to research which supports greater collaboration, how does that affect a teacher's work and skills.  Generally veteran teachers were used to working in relatively isolated situations, hence there's a learning curve related to collaborative skill, attitude and effort.  Also, school schedules often don't leave time for professional collaboration.  Fortunately I work in a system that has put aside three weekly times for collaboration including PLCs, common grade-level planning time and Wednesday inservice hours.  This is a step in the right direction.  Collaborative cultures in schools will develop if time and learning is devoted to building that culture.

Education evolution requires the evolution of roles and responsibilities.  I believe it is a time when we must begin to reconsider the classroom teacher role with regard to current cognitive research and a focus on best effect.  How can we create a school structure with roles and responsibilities that lead to optimal engagement, learning and confidence for all students? I am very interested in this discussion as I believe it holds potential for better schools.  Please don't hesitate to comment with links, arguments and other ideas.

Related Post:
We Can't Be All Things

Note:
I wrote this post several years ago. It has been my most popular blog post. Today, April 3, 2015, I updated my thoughts on the role of the teacher. Please take a look.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Instruction: Modeling the Learning Process

In April, I'll embark on a concerted focus related to instructional finesse and growth.  I will do this in tandem with my math instruction for fourth graders.  I will enlist my fourth graders as my instructional coaches and guides throughout the process.  I will do this for several reasons.  First, I want to model the learning process for students.  Next, I want students to understand the learning process.  Finally, I want students to utilize what we learn together as they teach the class at the end of the month and the start of the next month.

How will this work?

At the start of April, I will tell students that I've set a learning goal for myself and that goal is to teach children as best I can.  Then I will ask them to tell me what they think makes good teaching.  We'll brainstorm a list of actions.  Then I will tell them that the focus and goal of that day's math lesson, and ask them to try their best to learn the math I present, and also to watch for ways that my instruction helps them to learn well and ways that I can improve my instruction so that they learn.  At the end of the lesson, I'll ask them to write a few sentences about what they learned, and how I could have helped them learn even more.

I'll continue a similar process targeting the aspects of good teaching they've identified throughout the month.  We'll review and revise the teaching action list as we move along with the math standards, projects and activities. Finally, at the end of the month, each child will choose a math topic to teach.  Students will teach individually or in small groups.  Together we'll create the teaching parameters and rubric.  I'll model a lesson and let them score me, then they'll each teach a piece of the math curriculum for review, and we'll score their teaching if they are comfortable with that.

I'm looking forward to this process for many reasons:
  1. I love to learn and I especially love to learn with others.  This process will bolster our Team 15 learning community.
  2. The discussions and process will broaden students' understanding of teaching and learning.  They will better understand their role as learner and the role of a teacher.
  3. I will improve my instructional repertoire to the benefit of students.
  4. Children will learn the math skills, concepts and knowledge in meaningful, student-centered ways.
  5. Students will take ownership for review and reteaching of the concepts, skills and knowledge presented.
  6. I will have the chance to share cognitive strategies and other information related to optimal teaching and learning with students.
In the meantime, I'll continue to create my own list of what creates optimal instruction.  I'll keep you posted on this learning adventure as it unfolds. Let me know if you have any ideas to add. 

Friday, March 02, 2012

Student Research Turning Point

The Students are in the midst of their biome research project.  They have neat folders, a collection of books, well balanced research teams, macbooks, research places, display boards, a research topic, paper and pencils.  They've engaged in the research for a couple of days so far.  They've had informative question driven research meetings on the rug with the student teacher.  This is the turning point in the project.

Today is the day when their investment will matter the most, the day when it's imperative that they visualize the final project and understand the rationale, urgency and importance of this project.  They need to know that their learning matters.  Now, some will argue, that should have been the first step, and that students should have chosen the topic as that fuels the most authentic, engaging research.  I agree with that, yet this community topic will set the stage for our engaging endangered species project, one that meets current standards, and this is an acceptable second choice as education evolves.

So where do we go from here.

Today's research meeting on the rug will be very important as this will the time to fire up the research teams and respond to their questions.  The research meeting needs to include the following components:
  1. Research Goals: a visible list on the research center bulletin board for students to refer to.
  2. Collaboration Benefits and Actions: a list also located in the research center.
  3. A Model or Sketch of the Final Project: paper cut biome bulletin boards of each biome with informational lists and captions--the future home for their endangered species paper cut sculptures.
  4. Plenty of time for student questions and comments.
  5. Templates and an informational writing rubric to guide students' project writing.
Once research teams begin working in their research centers, it will be essential that teachers coach and guide with positivity looking for opportunities to point out and remark on optimal research and collaborative work.

Finally, since it is a Friday, it will be important for teams to decide on the next steps for their research work next week and write those next steps down so they can refer to the list when they pick up on this research work on Monday.

I'm excited about today's research afternoon.  If we follow the steps above, we'll be able to foster a wonderful climate of scholarship, collaboration, enthusiasm and learning.  Let us know if you have any thoughts related to this process.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Professional Goals Update

Teaching is a process of research, delivery, reflection and revision led by goals and vision.

Like most educators, I'm a goal setter.  It's a natural process for teachers who have a job that can be limitless. As a parent and teacher there's no end to what you can give or do to support students and children.  Hence the need for priorities and goals.

Last August I created a list of goals.  Those goals actually provided a terrific road map for the year. I reviewed those goals last night and reflected on the success. Now that we're beginning the the final four months of the school year, I want to refocus my goals for best effect.

PLC Goals: Collaborative Skill
If you've been following my posts, you know that I am delighted with our enhanced PLC model as it is a terrific vehicle for moving us from isolated teaching and activity to greater collaboration and shared work.  I've read and written about collaboration and the many benefits it brings to schools and students.  I want to continue my efforts to learn about teamwork, collaboration and shared endeavor.  These are practices we've employed in the past, but the PLC and other system-wide efforts have given us greater resources to develop this approach.  I will continue to research and reflect on this topic.  I also plan to take part in the weekly #leadfromwithin chat (Tuesdays, 8-9 EST) on Twitter that serves to develop one's lens and action related to collaboration, leadership and effective effort.

Feedback and Response Routines: Weekly Targeted Response for Families/Students
In light of new professional standards and recent family surveys, I'll make an effort to employ more systematic practices to provide feedback and response to families and students.  I'll make this topic part of my discussion at upcoming parent conferences by asking families to let me know the types of response and feedback that best support their child's growth and success in school.  I'll also consult my colleagues about their feedback and response routines at an upcoming grade level meeting or PLC.  Finally, I'm meeting with our building administrator to discuss the subject as he has the unique perspective of talking to families about the variety of experiences they encounter throughout our school. (Godin's blog "a habit of attention" provides a good lens for this topic.)

Instruction: Optimizing Instruction for Student Development
I will continue to build my instructional repertoire by focusing on the details related to effective instruction, the little things that help to engage, motivate and respond to students in ways that inspire their best effort and learning.  I will look for ways to build this repertoire by watching coaches teach, viewing videos and perhaps visiting and viewing colleagues and gaining perspective from their delivery.  I'll also consult students with regard to this goal and let them help me.  It will be a good way to model the learning process for students as I develop my skill.

Common Core Standards: Integrating Standards into Relevant, Meaningful PBL/Lessons
The common core standards mean a bit of finesse and change to our current curriculum.  I am going to begin employing these standards by revising the endangered species unit so that it reflects some of the goals we currently don't focus on, mainly specific goals related to informational text and opinion writing.  I hope to work with our English Language Arts director on this endeavor.  I believe that integrating the standards as much as possible into meaningful project work is the way to go.

Preparing for Next Year: Organization, Culling of Ideas/Materials/Processes
The coming months will also mean time for ordering supplies and preparing letters and materials for the start of next year.  I'll start a supply list now, and add items as they occur to me.  Also, when physical energy outweighs intellectual energy, I'll take the time to organize, file and pack up materials we're no longer using as a summer camp will utilize our classroom spaces this summer.  Picking away at that activity now and then will give me the chance to assess which material I want to use again next year and those materials which are now considered outdated and no longer useful due to the infusion of our 50% one-to-one Macbook endeavor.

With goals in place and parent conferences on the horizon, I'm ready to move forward.  I welcome your thoughts, ideas, links and articles related to any or all of the goals above.  By sharing my blog posts with my PLN and others, I've been able to garner terrific support, debate and understanding which in turn has strengthened my work with students.  I look forward to your response.

Personal Health and Happiness
Healthy, happy teachers do the job best.  It's essential that educators make time for this too.


Challenge!

I'm challenging myself.

I always challenge students. I encourage, support, mentor and guide.

I often take on small challenges that fall within my competency range, challenges I'm fairly sure I can accomplish without too much sacrifice or failure.  I guess we can call those "safe challenges."

Right now I'm going to take on a challenge outside of my competency range, instead it's a challenge in my struggle sphere.  I'm going to blog about this challenge from a learner's point of view and look for parallels to the challenges my students face when they try to conquer a skill set outside of their competency range.

I'll start with thinking about challenge in general?  What's the best way to approach a challenge?  How does one face and conquer a challenge?  What does this activity look like and feel like?

If you'd like to join me on this journey, please do.  No need to share the specifics as I'm not planning to do that--it's too sensitive and scary, and the potential for failure is HUGE!  This is what many of our students face as they embark on frightening, daunting challenges, and we need to be sensitive to this.