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Monday, April 30, 2012

There's a Place for Tests

When it comes to education, I'm not for one approach or another.  I support a balanced mix of many approaches including tests.

This morning my students will take a fraction test.  I'll explain that I'm giving the test for three reasons:
  1. A chance for students to show me what they've learned.
  2. A time to sit quietly, concentrate and demonstrate knowledge.
  3. An opportunity to learn what still needs to be taught to individuals or the group.
As students take the test, I'll observe their efforts.  I'll note who quickly and readily completes the task, and who finds the task challenging.  I'll also encourage questions throughout the test and make decisions about which questions I'll use right away as teaching opportunities, and which questions I'll let students grapple with to foster perseverance and thought.

Testing my students is also an act of testing my own work:
  • Did I facilitate the kinds of learning opportunities that bring depth of understanding and knowledge?
  • Who did I reach, and who do I have to think more deeply about when it comes to this content/topic?
  • How can I reteach necessary parts of the unit, and how will I apply this new knowledge to the next unit.
There's room in the curriculum for tests, and tests can provide solid information for both the teacher and student.  Yet it's important to make sure that tests are used in a reasonable, informative ways that do not take up too much time in the schedule.

Friday, April 27, 2012

"Khan" Project: Day Three

The "Khan" Project continues....

Snapshot
Students spread out in the school.  Some teams are working in the classroom filming.  Others are creating models and text in the computer lab, and still more are filming in quiet corners around the school. I'm in the lab coaching teams and helping out with the process.

Revision
After watching a few of the students' video drafts last night, I decided to create a script template to help some students with language. One student reacted strongly to the template as he didn't want all the movies to sound the same. I agreed and added that the template was meant to be used as a guide for groups that were interested in using it.

Tip
Students video taped themselves or their screen with Quick time screen recording or Quick time movie.  Both venues work right on the lap top and don't require a third party to videotape. Also, these venues can be used in any nook or cranny in the school which is helpful when it comes to noise control.

Struggles
Similar to any collaborative group project, there were differences of opinion and a few negative comments which called for conflict resolution.

Finding quiet places to videotape is always a challenge.

The project takes time.  Try it yourself and you'll see how much time it takes an adult to create a "Khan" video. Yet, I believe it's time well spent.

Triumphs
The films, the learning and the sense of pride.  See your for yourself:




video

Next
We finished the movies yesterday, about 4-5 lesson hours after we started the project. I want to do a similar project again soon to help students remember the steps and apply what we learned from this project.

As I think about the next project, here are some steps I want to employ.
  • Intent: Why are we making these movies, and what do we want to prove?
  • Audience: Who are we teaching with these movies? How will we craft the movie with the audience in mind.
  • Script: What language do we want to use in the movie?  What words are essential?
  • Images: What images will help us to convey our message, and teach the content?
  • Voice/Tone: What kind of voice do we want to you with this movie?  Can we add humor, expression and other strategies to create interest and attention to our movies?
  • Tool: What is the best movie making tool for our movie?
  • Process: How will we work together?  What steps will we follow to complete the film?  Where are quiet places that we can film?


Soon, we'll present our videos to the third grade students.  I will have students observe student response and have the third graders fill out a short survey and assessment to see what they thought about the films and what they learned.








Thursday, April 26, 2012

Facilitating Learning in the Blended Classroom

Blended Classroom?

A learning environment that employs multiple tools to facilitate responsive, engaging learning.

What does it look like?

That depends on the learning focus, but here's one example.  Today students were working on creating short, math teaching videos. They were working in pairs utilizing computers, paper/pencil and math models.  Positioned in make-shift studios throughout the classroom, the outside lab and the unscheduled library, students worked together to craft scripts, draw the models, write equations and film via Quicktime screen recording or Photobooth video.

I moved from group to group to edit, solve problems, encourage and respond.

Students created film after film as they reached for an acceptable, accurate final copy.

How do you manage and facilitate this learning environment?

Typically I use what I call the "fortran" method--if, then, or else.

I start with a short story and the rationale for the learning topic.  I might add a short video or another high-interest activity to excite students about the topic.  Then I offer a menu of activities.  The menu items are listed in order including "must do's," check-in points, and choices.  This is an example of a blended learning workshop menu:

Making Math Movies Menu
See me with questions if you're stuck or don't understand.
1. Complete film template with partner online or off.
2. Film your teaching movie using Quicktime screen recording or Photobooth.
3. Upload to your Google docs and share with the teacher.
4. Sign up for a teacher edit.
5. While waiting for your edit, choose one of the following:
  • This week's That Quiz tests and/or MCAS prep tests.
  • Greg Tang, TutPup, Xtra Math.
  • Let me know if you have another choice.
The blended classroom is an active learning environment where students' independent, collaborative learning skills are utilized and strengthened. It's a great alternative to the "everyone sit and listen lessons of old."


The "Khan" Project Continues

Earlier this week students began their "Khan" Project.

Now we're into the messy part of the project. Students are working throughout the classroom in make-shift studios writing scripts, creating models and explaining their thinking as they compare two fractions.

Some of the strengths of this project so far are the following:
  • Students are engaged and working for long periods of time to figure out just right ways to explain their thinking.
  • Students are thinking deeply about mathematical concepts and processes.
  • Students are developing collaborative practice and skill. 
As the project evolves, I find myself adding and modifying pieces to best meet students' needs.  Here are some of the initial changes:
  • Adding the "audience" factor:  I forgot to do that initially and as soon as I took the time to designate and discuss our audience, students' investment and care grew.  Our audience is the third grade classes. Students are eager to share their learning with the grade below them and the teachers they had last year. Further, their short films will be helpful to third graders as they learn about fractions, prep for State tests and look forward to fourth grade.
  • Showing Examples:  I created and showed my examples one day and Khan examples the next. Students enjoyed Khan's humor and the fact that his videos were short. I told them the story about Khan and they liked that too. Then I explained how they can use Khan's videos as a tool to help their learning.  Some students added that they regularly use the videos for homework help.
  • Editing on the Big Screen: As groups completed initial drafts, I played their films on the "big screen" (white board).  We sat together and watched the videos, discussed the highlights and decided if it was ready to go or needed a retake.  It was fun to sit with the group and discuss the film together with a focus on third graders ability to learn from the video.
  • Good Enough: This is the first draft and my students are ten-year-olds, not adults.  So as long as the math is correct and the voices clear, I accept the film. Having created a film myself, I know that it's a project with many possibilities, but we don't have the time (or the will) to explore them all.
This is a lengthy project.  We're on day two and students are wrapping up their first film drafts.  I expect that all students will be done by day three.  Next week we'll make appointments to share the work with third grade classes.

Stay tuned as I'll write a final project post that includes examples of the students' films.  Let me know if you have any suggestions.  

Blogging: Have You Paid a Professional Price?

I'm paying a professional price for blogging.

Is it worth it?

Blogging has helped me to solidify my thoughts. Writing about my experiences and reflections has also helped me to ask tough questions, and share information with colleagues near and far.  Foremost, blogging has strengthened my classroom repertoire, skill and delivery.

Yet, there's an aversion to airing your thoughts, sharing your practice and asking questions.  "Not everyone wants to know," was one comment I received when I suggested that a colleague blog about a significant, positive professional event he engaged in. Yet, I thought, if "everyone knows" your experience has the potential to move us forward with regard to serving children well.

There are quiet lines of communication where some are privy to the news, questions and ideas, and others are not.  Those lines can serve to use knowledge as power, an edge and an advantage  When news, ideas, knowledge and questions are used that way, it creates pockets of people "in the know," but does it serve the collective organization well?

I like the movement towards greater transparency and sharing.  I believe it makes our conversations richer and our work stronger.  Facing the tough questions and a willingness to debate moves us ahead when it comes to serving children well in schools.

Do you agree?  What has been your experience of blogging?  Have you paid a professional price for this endeavor? Is it worth it?


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Trust

Last night on #leadfromwithin there was a chat about organizations and trust.

Then tonight on the ball field I heard news about my school that I didn't know. I wondered why I had to hear the news on the ball field instead of in my professional organization.

This led me back to the topic of trust as earlier in the day I had been involved in a discussion related to the topic discussed on the ball field and no one shared the news.

There will always be information that leaks from organizations in untimely ways, but in general, apt communication systems and protocols will minimize these events.  Communication systems that work toward transparency and inclusion build trust, and trust builds stronger communities.

I have made a commitment to be transparent about my goals, vision and work.  I am open to debate and discussion, and eager to learn about better ways and ideas for serving children well.

That's one more reason why I like working with children, they're honest and earnest. That's what I value in collegial relationships too, even if the truth hurts.




Sunday, April 22, 2012

Students' "Khan" Project

To teach is to learn.

That's what students will do this week as they create their own Khan-like videos.

I just worked on my own example for a couple of hours--it's not as easy as it looks as it takes time to choose the best language and models to explain your thinking.

Tomorrow or the next day, I'll show a Khan video related to equivalent fractions and I'll share my video draft too.  My video is not finalized yet because I made one mathematical error during the process. I'm going to show the film with the error to give students a chance to find it--they love finding my errors.  I'll also give students a critique sheet to fill out as they watch my video.  Then we'll discuss what would have made my video stronger, and the steps to creating their own fraction videos.

Students will work in teams to compare two fractions. Using models and words students are required to do the following:
  1. Using a draft template students will explain which fraction is greater or if the fractions are equivalent. They'll also prove their point using fraction models, a number line and words. (Fraction pairs will serve to differentiate the assignment.)
  2. They will meet with a teacher to edit their draft.
  3. After that, they'll create a short video that teaches their lesson using Quicktime screen recording, Photobooth or iMovie.
  4. Finally they will share their video with the class. 
Sometime during the process, I'll edit and correct my film and reshow it to the students to model the revision process.  

Creating "Khan" like math movies will develop students' understanding of fractions and also give them a greater ability to access and use Khan's and other similar videos as a learning resource.

Have you tried this project?  If so, let me know how it worked.  Also let me know if you have any suggestions for the students or me.  

This is a fun part of teaching, don't you agree?

Project Update
Since I found the time, I corrected the error and published both videos for students' reference and critique.  Here are the links:
Ms. Devlin's Equivalent Fraction Movie
Ms. Devlin's Simplifying Fractions Movie

Khan's Simplifying Fractions Video
Khan's Equivalent Fraction Video

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Professionally Speaking: Education Direction?

As I examine recent posts, blogs and websites, I am well aware of the education revolution in our midst. The field of education is changing by the second, and debates are flowing in all directions.

Educators are taking on new roles as thought leaders, teacherpreneurs, small business owners, authors, consultants and national leaders. These educators are leading us forward with their words and actions.

It is imperative that we all take the time to reflect about our professional direction, and make sure that "Mission Trumps Ambition" rather than the other way around.  Service to children and a better world needs to be center stage in an educator's work and endeavor.

So, professionally speaking, what is your role at this changing time in education?  Where is your focus and direction?  What path have you created for growth and continued service?

Personally, I see the light and promise of so many paths, but I'm only one educator, and like all, I have limited time and resources.

So, for now, I'm laying this path for my professional growth:
  1. Classroom: What I can do to engage and empower learners?
  2. School and School System: How can I contribute my efforts and energy to supporting a top-notch, student centered, 21st century school system?
  3. Professional Community: In what ways can I engage, share and learn within the education community?
While I am indebted to the many educators in my PLN that are playing a national role with regard to this educational revolution, I believe the best role for me right now is a primary focus on the classroom and microsphere where I teach. And with that focus, I'll continue to share my questions and thoughts through the magnificent venues of the blog, Twitter and other online platforms.

I'm interested in your pursuits at this time in the education revolution?  Where are you now, and where are you headed? What path have you planned? We are all a part of an amazing journey, one we could not have imagined fifteen years ago.  

Vacation's End: The Final Leg of the School Year

Vacations break up the school year.  In Massachusetts we have a long stretch from September to to New Years, and after that it's like hopping from one stone in the water to the next with three distinct teaching periods: Jan. to Feb., late Feb., to April, and late April to June.

As this beautiful vacation week in Massachusetts wraps up, I've got my view set on the final leg of the school year.  I'm also aware of the tremendous activity going on within and outside of my school with regard to initiatives, start-ups, privatization, one-to-one endeavors and more. It continues to be a revolutionary time in education, one that repeatedly calls me to pause and ponder my role and direction.

As I've mentioned before, and will mention again and again, it's best to focus your education reflections with students as center stage--what are you doing for the children in your care?  What more can you do to empower their learning and engagement as the year wraps up?

My class is in a great place.  They are a terrific group of eager, energetic, creative and thoughtful students who love to learn.  They have been looking forward to the the year's final project, the endangered species study.  The stage is set to complete this project in a 21st century, student-centered, interdisciplinary way.  I will play the role of coach, mentor and guide as students utilize the resources and their skills to learn and present.

We are also preparing for the Massachusetts Math MCAS tests.  I want all students to have meaningful exposure to all the topics covered on the test, and we'll work towards as much mastery as we can accomplish since the tests' breadth and depth, for some, is equal to more minutes than a fourth grade year includes. The students have access to a number of independent, quick-feedback, online venues to practice, and in class we'll explore and learn math with a multimodal approach including projects, paper/pencil, discussion, practice sheets and problem solving.

Ms. Sheffels, our local geologist, will visit our class a number of times to share her expertise related to plate tectonics, and students will travel from fourth grade class to fourth grade class to explore the regions of the United States in a virtual, multi-sensory "travel across the USA."

Our RTI efforts in reading have been very successful this year as students are reading many, many books with interest and understanding.  We'll continue these efforts right up to the last days of school as the most important lesson I've learned throughout this initial RTI endeavor is that substantial, meaningful time with text is the best way to build reading skill and fluency.

Bringing the year full circle, I want to end the year where I started last fall and that's with a primary emphasis on encouraging and empowering individual learners with the skills and habits that make them "smart."  The gift I want to leave each child with this year is the knowledge that they are capable and worthy students who have the power to achieve their dreams and make a difference in their own lives and the world around them.

Hence, it will be a student-focused final chapter to an energized, transformative teaching year!


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reprieve: Beautiful Places

What brings you reprieve?

It is vacation time in Massachusetts' schools so I planned what brings me reprieve, and that's a strong dose of natural beauty.

My family and I biked all over the windy, woodsy paths and roads of Martha's Vineyard.  The warm sun, fresh air, spring flowers, ocean cliffs and lapping waves welcomed me as we pedaled through one village to the next.

For a long time, I have wanted to see the island off season when it's mostly quiet, and this week's unseasonably warm weather gave me that opportunity.

What brings you reprieve?  It's essential that educators know what that is, and find time to claim it now and then throughout the year.

Note: 
Reprieve is that the word you would use?  "Reprieve" can have a negative connotation, but I can't find a word that better states what this feels like. What word would you use?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Endangered Species Unit Revision: Continued

I continue to review, revise and respond to student needs and interests as I revise and refine the endangered species research project this year.  I imagine that this is a process I will employ each year as tools, information and my students change.

Providing a content preview and vocabulary review has begun as a successful process.  In small groups, the class is reading and discussing background information. We're building vocabulary through targeted word study.

Many of the students are eager to get started so I added a research resource Google site to guide their independent work and study. I'll provide more formal support for this activity after the preview work is done, but if students are eager to learn now, I don't want to hold them back.

If you're in the process of revising or refining a signature unit for deeper, more meaningful, responsive education, what pieces are you revising? What process are you using?  Are you doing it on your own, or is there a systematic, collaborative process in place.

With the evolution of education, we will find that processes of reflection, review and revision will become a mainstay in the work we do each year as we rewrite learning units and endeavors.

If you're teaching this unit or a similar one, do you have any suggestions for me?  I'll continue to blog on this process both to share with colleagues and to inform my practice next year as I review the approach once again.


Related Links:

2011 Endangered Species Unit

Endangered Species Preview: Informational Text Groups

Project Base Learning: An Evolving Process in Education

School-Zoo Partnership

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Teacher Focused or Materials Focused?

The education info streams are filled with ads for the next best curriculum map, unit or material.  This leads me to wonder where systems will put their dollars?  When it comes to the development of educators and the acquisition of materials, where will the priority be?

The best teaching responds to specific students' needs and interests.  The best teachers take the time to know their students well so that they can facilitate optimal learning events.  Successful teachers are life long learners who pick and choose from the best educational materials to coach, mentor and guide student learning.

Hence, I suggest that systems choose educators over materials when it comes to professional development and dollars spent.  Focus on the development of your educators, and let those educators and their students choose the processes, tools and materials that optimize students' learning and engagement.

Do you agree?

Student Focus: Lead Your Learning

Today's classroom focus is "lead your learning."

Yesterday students answered the question, "What do you want to learn about?" Then they eagerly shared topics of interest.

The list was long and varied.  Right away, we were able to weave many of the topics into our upcoming study units.  For example, many students wanted to study clay sculpture, and we're able to weave that into our endangered species presentations.  Another student wanted to study dinosaurs, and we started that study yesterday as part of our endangered species preview work.  Others wanted to study programming which will push me to review that topic over the vacation so that I can facilitate their investigation during the final weeks of the school year.

Today, I'll build on yesterday's discussion, with a short meeting about "leading your learning."  We'll take another look at yesterday's list, and then discuss ways that we can build knowledge in those areas both in and out of school.

Then, the day's schedule will give students a chance to "lead their learning" in the following ways:
  • Tech Workshop: Choosing tools that bring your closer to your learning goals and interests.
  • Informational Text Groups: Reading and discussing text together to learn and build foundation for independent study.
  • Reading Workshop: Choosing books that you enjoy and/or satisfy your learning quests.
  • Fraction Bars Project: Choosing the place, people, pace and process to complete the math project.
Leading your learning in fourth grade is an activity that provides choice and voice during daily learning units. It is also an ongoing conversation between teacher and student related to a child's interests, academic needs and style which results in a responsive learning environment.



Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Endangered Species Preview: Informational Text Groups

As part of our RTI implementation, I work with a small group several times a week. My group has a lot of energy and an equal amount of curiosity.  I've been using many different genres and activities with the group as we develop reading fluency, interest and comprehension.

This week we've been using Delta Education's Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading short texts to build understanding of vocabulary and concepts that underly our upcoming endangered species unit.

This work has been successful for many reasons.

First, the text is short, but rich.  The illustrations are wonderful, and the questions elicit thoughtful, enthusiastic discussion.

The vocabulary is clearly marked and easy to build upon as we discuss prefixes, suffixes, similar words and phrases.

Students are clearly developing a rich knowledge base for their upcoming independent research projects.

Our group meets for an hour three times a week.  The number of students in the group varies dependent on the interest and needs at hand.  We spend as much time discussing concepts as we do reading about them.  Students find themselves teaching each other as we learn.  It's an invigorating, engaging endeavor that I'll continue in the weeks to come.

Today's Goal: Listening

A morning focus begins the day.

Today, my focus is listening.

I'll listen to ideas at the early morning school council meeting as we create the school survey.

Then I'll listen to strategies for best effect during our math PLC.

Thanks to Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp), I'll start my student day with the question, "What do you want to learn today?" Then, I'll listen to their answers.

After that, I'll listen for harmony or conflict, and guide accordingly, during our buddy time with second grade.

At the endangered species small group preview, I'll listen to students questions and explanations.

After lunch, I'll listen to students read and analyze nonfiction text and vocabulary.

I've done the thinking and planning for each of these meetings, and now it's my chance to listen with care, interest and a focus on how I can further facilitate learning with responsive action and intent.




Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mathematical Thinking?

I'm walking the balance beam between 21st century, rich student-centered learning and the test culture that exists in schools. Yes, like many teachers across the country, I'm trying to do both--teach in meaningful ways while prepping students for the tests too.

The tests create a schedule of sorts for us. Winter finds us getting ready for reading/writing tests, while spring sets the stage for the math tests.

Hence, right now, I'm thinking deeply about math and mathematical thinking.

What are the best habits of mind for successful, young mathematicians? What questions are they asking? Which tools do they access to solve problems, and what processes are they regularly utilizing as they think mathematically?

I enjoy teaching math. I love to watch numbers and word problems expand to models, debate and discussion. And, I look forward to blending multiple tools including video, online practice sites, paper/pencil, manipulatives and problem-based learning to facilitate the development of students'  mathematical process, concept and skill repertoire?

What fuels your math teaching? How do you excite students about learning math?  What habits of mind do you model and foster? What lessons lead your math teaching?

I look forward to your ideas as my students and I embark on Math Month, and prep for the Massachusetts Math MCAS test.  Thank you!


Monday, April 09, 2012

Classroom Discussions?

How do you handle a classroom discussion?

I remember the frustration I felt as a young student during classroom discussions--so many students, so many ideas and so little time.

Today was a good example. We were talking about text-world connections as we read Out of the Deep.  I mentioned that one connection I made was the connection between the recent marine mammal strandings at Cape Cod and the stranding in the story at Acadia National Park.  I further described a conversation I had with my brother-in-law, a biology teacher, about the causes for the Cape Cod strandings, and that was like opening up the flood gates of questions, connections and expressions.

All hands were up.  Everyone wanted to share a question, story or idea. Side talk ensued.  Then after listening to many questions, answers and stories, and similar to my own teachers many years ago, I announced it was time to move forward in the story.

Tonight, students will have a chance to blog about their connections so that's one way to extend the conversation.  And, tomorrow, we'll continue on with the book.

In the meantime, how do you handle a classroom discussion?  What do you do when tangental, but important, questions begin to sway in all directions?  What is this like from the listener's or student's point of view?

As noted earlier, discussions like these often frustrated me as a student, yet on the other hand some of my most important learning occurred when the class was engaged in meaningful dialogue.  I'll never forget our late sixties discussions with my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Quist, as he facilitated debate and dialogue related to the Vietnam War, hippies, yippies and protest.

If you'd like to share some helpful hints, links or ideas related to the classroom conversation, please do. This is an area of school life I want to think more deeply about.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

"Beehive Management" and Communication

I just read a great communication article, Beehive management, in the Boston Sunday Globe.  I found myself imagining the lines of communication we would draw in schools when it comes to communication paths and patterns, then I wondered about what leads that communication.


I agree that good ideas "are a product of people sharing what they know," and I believe that we have to create a climate where "everyone is talking to everyone else."  


I wonder about the role that vision, mission and goal play in "beehive management."  Could it be that people communicate a lot, but the communication is not related to the organization's goal or mission?  Does that matter?  Or, are there some that communicate regularly, but others that feel uncomfortable with communicating their ideas and thinking? Do people in your organization value communication and shared ideas?


Who are the "charismatic connectors" in your organization, and is that role welcomed or frowned upon?  What prevents sharing in your organization, and how can that be transformed?  What communication protocols and activities foster communication in your organization?


I was happy to see this article today as it supports the notion that schools have to rethink and reimagine the ways that they share, deliver and facilitate knowledge at this juncture in the education road.  


Does your school subscribe to "beehive management," and if they do, what does this look like and how did you make it happen?  I'm curious.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Knowledge Knowledge Everywhere

A quick scan of Twitter and Google+ this morning opened my eyes to so many articles and information posts that I want to read, understand and implement into classroom life.

In particular I was drawn this morning to articles about gifted students and neuroscience--two areas of knowledge that affect our work in school each day.

That search led me to wonder about knowledge expertise, research and share.

Many educators shy away from blogging and sharing their new knowledge, ideas and practice, however in this knowledge age there is too much knowledge for one person to know. Hence, we need educators to share in order to bring all of us forward with better practice and intent.

We may even need to ask specific teachers to read and report on specific knowledge areas in order to move an entire school forward.  What would this look like? What information does your school need in order to do a better job?

I imagine steady streams of information in a "give or take" blogging-like venue that staff could access to better develop their work with children.

What kinds of information would school streams carry?  What kinds of streams improve our work with children? I imagine that the list would vary from school to school, and community to community.

Here is an info streams list I can imagine for my school:
  • Health and Fitness at School
  • Children's Literature and Informational Texts
  • Giftedness
  • Cognition
  • Numeracy and Teaching Math
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Literacy
  • "The Achievement Gap"
  • Caring for the Environment
  • Tech tools and Integration
  • Learning Design
  • Opportunities for Student/Faculty Growth: Summer Exploration, Contests, Field Studies, Internships and Conferences
The ways that a school system researches, understands, shares and implements knowledge affects the work a system does?  How does your school system share knowledge, and how does your knowledge sharing processes impact the work you do? 





Friday, April 06, 2012

We Can't Be All Things

No one educator can be all things, but if you look closely at the skills, talents, passions and vision of a school staff, the potential to collectively be "most things" is there.

What are the essential talents, skills, interests and passions that drive a school forward?  Who on your staff plays these roles?

The Book Whisperer: Who are the staff members that are passionate about books.  The ones that take the time to stay on top of the best children's literature, and are always suggesting new titles and genre for students?

Sports Coach: Who engages students in fair, fun games on the playground? They pull in the outliers, set the rules and promote active, energized games during recess?

Naturalist: Who tends the gardens, creates the nature trails and fosters students' love of the environment around them?

Scientist: Who has the "science lab" in your school--the room with plants, aquariums, experiments and tools to investigate, experiment and explore?

Techy:  Who are your tech savvy leaders who infuse technology into every aspect of learning?

Social Coordinators:  Who plans the parties and manages celebrations?

Artists:  Who develops and presents the visual art, music, drama and dance in your school?

Counselor: Who is keenly aware of children's social intelligence and emotional needs?  Who fosters an environment of care and compassion in your school?

Friend: Which educators demonstrate friendship?  Who takes the time to develop relationships among staff and students?

Interior Designer: Who creates comfortable, inspiring child-centered environments?

Planner:  Who keeps an organized schedule, and realistically plans for events?

Researcher: Who takes the time to read and research in specific content areas?  How do they share their knowledge and implement their research?

Travel Guide:  Who plans the field studies?  Who connects learning in school to the community and world at large?

*Humorist: Who brings the laughter to your school?

*Problem Solver/Innovator:  Who proposes the new ideas and comes up with solutions to problems? (i.e. Celina: "the superhero.")

*Positive Leadership: Who sees the jar "half full," and shines the light on what's going well in your school environment.  Who brings the positivity?  (as Celina calls it, "the Jedi Masters.")

What roles am I missing?  What talents and passions do you observe in your colleagues each and every day?

Similar to parenting, educators wear many hats each day.  Thoughtful employment of the passions, experiences and talents of a school staff can help schools meet students' needs and interests with greater effect.


*Thanks to Celina Brennan @celinabrennan, I added these roles.








Limitless

The potential of what you can do in a classroom is limitless.

There are so many avenues to travel, concepts to teach, and experiences to facilitate.

Now that we're truly embarking on the final leg of the school year, the focus has narrowed to a short list of topics including the following:
  • Responsive Reading Workshop
  • Project Base Learning: The Endangered Species Project
  • Math, Math, Math (many topics, many modes of learning)
  • Fiction Stories
  • Expert Geologist Visits with a focus on Plate Tectonics
  • U.S. Regions continued
  • Portfolios
The overall goal is to boost students' independence, discipline and scholarship a bit more before they embark on summer adventures and next year's class.  It's also a great time in fourth grade for greater collaborative work and student-centered response and action.  

As for me, the teacher, the classroom is the mainstay now.  There will be time for thoughts related to the bigger school issues this summer and next year. My year-end professional energy and time belongs to the children. 



Thursday, April 05, 2012

Speaking Up With A Classroom Point of View

I've been speaking up with a classroom point of view.

The reading and research I'm doing points to new areas of consideration and thought with regard to teaching young children well.

I don't expect my viewpoint to represent all view points, and I know I don't see school life from all perspectives, but I do believe that classroom teachers have an important perspective with respect to children's success in school.

I also believe that schools and learning are evolving--evolving in more responsive, student-friendly ways, and I want my students to be part of that evolution.

I welcome debate and discussion.  I look forward to timely rationale and research related to decisions made with respect to our work, and I am happy that many are giving us voice and listening to our thoughts.

It's a changing time in education, and we can profit from thoughtful, researched voice, process and action from all perspectives including students, families, educators, administrators, scholars and community members when it comes to teaching children well.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Curriculum Development and Change

When it comes to change, there's a lot to consider particularly when you're talking about change that affects many people such as educators, families and students in a school community.

How does your school community effect change in positive, enriching ways? Has your curriculum process changed since the onset of technology and the ready access to information?

Since I'm usually creating change based on new information and research, I face this situation, and  have some thoughts about it.

I believe systems should adopt protocols and process related to curriculum, rather than static curriculum pieces. Protocols and process can be based on the following questions and actions.

Questions
  • What are the system's goals with regard to student learning?
  • What learning goals are currently being met?
  • How can we provide support to finesse, enrich and share those practices?
  • What learning goals are not being met, and what steps need to be taken to meet these goals?
Actions
  • Identify umbrella topics, standards and practices to lead student learning.
  • Create, order and organize materials and materials' processes to support that learning.
  • Provide time for all teachers who facilitate the learning to review, revise, learn and discuss essential information related to each unit.  Also provide educators with time and resources to develop their professional repertoire related to the following topics:
    • content knowledge
    • differentiated instruction
    • project base learning
    • specific strategies related to essential skill development
    • integration of technology and other apt tools
    • cognition
    • best practices
    • collaboration and student response
Time, process and clear intent will facilitate optimal teaching and learning.  It's essential to create a structure that educators can use as they embark on collaborative, targeted, responsive educational endeavor.  I believe this is a valuable first step to curriculum evolution.  Do you agree?  


The Shared Experience of a Book


Our school system has adopted the practice of interactive read aloud.

During interactive read aloud, a teacher and students share a book through shared reading, discussion, focus lessons, think alouds and other activities that help students deepen their ability to comprehend, read and think about text.

So far this year, we've tracked our interactive read aloud work with Google sites, ePortfolios, paper/pencil booklets, and online/offline charts.  This time we're using a blog to inform and track our work and discussion.

Right now, my class is reading Out of the Deep.  It's a National Park mystery that fits well with our current United States Regions and Endangered Species units. It is also a good fit for current events since many dolphins and some whales have recently beached at nearby Cape Cod and South Shore beaches which has presented a mystery similar to Out of the Deep in our region.

Throughout our reading, we'll focus on the following aspects of reading.
  • Review of the comprehension strategies: visualization, making connections, asking questions, and making inferences.
  • Review of story elements.
  • Learning how to read and think about the mystery genre.
  • Facts and information related to U.S. regions and endangered species.
As we work on this unit, I'll consult the reading coach and students as we face the following challenges:
  • Supporting readers who need teacher help for the at-home portion of the reading.
  • Completing the more rigorous aspects of our study in ways that are enjoyable and manageable, not too challenging or dull.
  • Helping students out with blog access and response.
If you take a look at the blog, you'll notice that there's a range of responses, and many students are still satisfied to copy a friend's comment as their own. I'll work to extend their thinking.  Some are also working to keep up with the at-home reading and response.  

All in all, this interactive read aloud is off to a good start.  

Do you utilize interactive read aloud as part of your classroom program?  If so, how do you track and share student work?  Do you embed technology into your work?  If so, how do you do this?  What suggestions do you have to offer me as we continue this study?  Thanks for your ideas.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

School Culture?

What is important when it comes to school culture?

That's a big question--a question with multiple answers.

I have been teaching for a long time.  I've observed great teaching and extraordinary efforts. I am humbled by the talents and strengths that the students, parents, community members, administrators and educators in my system exemplify each and every day, and I continue to strive to include those strengths in my work as I facilitate learning events for and with students.

As I think about a strong school culture, I identify the following attributes:
  • Students First: A culture that strives to respond to student needs in responsive, caring and creative ways.
  • Learning Community: Learning is the goal and mission.
  • Respect: Students, educators and administrators treat each other with care and respect.
  • Recognizes and Employs Talents: A culture that doesn't expect all people to be all things, but instead looks for, notices and employs the strengths community members bring to the school.
  • Inspired: An environment and program that inspire a love of learning and engagement.
  • Communication Systems: Efficient, regular communication systems that keep the community informed, and leave real time for meaningful, targeted debates, discussions and voice.
  • Streamlined: A school that does a lot, but not too much.  Prioritization and focus.
  • Healthy: An environment that embraces healthy food, schedules and activity.
  • Celebrations/Traditions: A system that regularly celebrates learning and engages in valued traditions.
I wonder what my colleagues would list as they think about an ideal school culture?  What would you include?  What have I missed or forgotten?

I am also wondering how I can alter my work each day to better reflect the values I list above.  School culture matters, and school culture also leaves a lasting mark on the families, students, administrators and educators who experience that culture each day.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Details Matter

Recent data points prompted me to rework the classroom schedule for better effect.  I am building in more time to shore up essential skills in meaningful ways.

Today as we began the schedule, I realized with greater awareness that details matter.

It matters that students have the chance to practice essential skills in meaningful ways every day.

It matters that teachers target their focus and coaching when working with individuals, small groups and the whole class.

It matters that we leave room for student questions and ideas.

It matters that we share rationale and expectations with students.

And, it matters that we coach with encouragement and positivity, not letting the goal get in the way of a positive working relationship with the students we teach.

In the weeks to come, I'll pay more attention to the details as I try to teach and coach my students for best effect.  What details lead your daily work?  What aspects of teaching and coaching are essential to the work you do to support children well?  I look forward to your ideas and links.