Friday, March 29, 2013

Leading Questions Develop Craft

What are your current leading questions when it comes to your craft.  This is my short list:
  • How shall we revise a popular, traditional learning unit, endangered species research, so that students both learn the unit content/skill and focus their learning and final project on educating and affecting action for positive change (learning that makes a difference)?
  • What is story and why is story important? How do we write and share our stories with craft, organization and voice?
  • How do digital tools enhance and develop voice, understanding and share of mathematical knowledge, reasoning and skill?
  • What are best practices and protocol when it comes to vibrant, productive collaboration
  • How does math workshop create a student-centered, engaging environment for math teaching and learning?
  • What tools, structures and strategies support the 24-7 classroom: a learning community that develops a student's life-long learning foundation, mindset and action?
    • MassCue potential workshop, October 2013
  • What tools, structures and strategies support student learning in the multimedia literacy studio?
    • 2013 Literacy Focus
  • How do educators effectively design learning that is engaging, thought-provoking, responsive and standards-based?
  • How will I design a vibrant online network to serve as a virtual classroom platform which encourages voice, choice and share of all members of the learning community: parents, family members, students, and educators?
  • How will I redesign the classroom structure to effect optimal independence, efficiency, and engagement with regard to learning? 
In this info-laden age, we are question driven.  Knowing your questions is one important way to navigate your learning path through the dense thicket of available resources.  The questions serve as your map. 

Collaboration: Practice What You Preach

As educators move from isolation to collaboration, there is a learning curve. This learning curve is challenged in some ways by current evaluation systems that utilize individual teacher's students' scores as part of the process which creates a somewhat competitive arena in schools rather than a positive, collaborative culture.

Research points to the strength of collaboration and collective thought when it comes to serving children well, and it is our professional responsibility to engage in this collaboration in ways that benefit children. What does this collaboration look like?

As I move in this direction, I find that there are constructs and practices I support, but I also find that I have questions and areas for growth.

I believe that collaboration benefits from the following practices:
  • Establishment of educational teams that are sized with the right numbers and adequate diversity to serve children well.
  • Collective vision and a short list of meaningful, positive collective goals.
  • Shared protocols.
  • Adequate time for efficient, targeted collaboration.
  • An online base for shared materials and meeting notes.
  • Leadership support and involvement.
The questions I hold about collaboration include the following:
  • How does my team view collaboration, and where are my thoughts similar and dissimilar with regard to theory and practice in this regard?  We've actually never really talked about this.
  • As we move forward with greater collaboration, how should we revise our protocol?  We started the year with protocols, but I believe we need to revisit these as now that we've worked together we can see areas for growth in this regard.
  • What is our collaborative, short list of goals?  What is the emphasis of our collaboration?  Again as our collaboration grows, I believe we need to revisit our vision, goals and mission in this regard.
Listening to Michael Fullan last night as part of the 2013 Leadership Summit awakened my thoughts with regard to the promise and responsibility for collaboration in schools today.  Also, a member of my PLN recently recommended I read Intentional Interruption as I further my knowledge and practice in this regard.  The move to greater collaboration in schools will serve to build our schools with strength and community as we teach children well, and it is the responsibility of individual educators and learning communities to devote time, research and support in this regard. 

21st Century Learning?

A 21st century learning mindset is different from learning in the past, and this mindset holds tremendous potential for learners young and old throughout the world.

In the past we were mostly concerned with teaching discrete areas of knowledge rather than empowering all learners with the mindset, strategies, actions and resources with which to learn.

Today, as we teach essential skills, concepts and knowledge, we are able to couple that education with lessons about how one can utilize his/her strengths, tools and comrades to build the knowledge both in school and outside of school.

This learning transcends not only to students, but to the entire learning community.  The more we actively learn, share, debate and create together, the more the entire community will grow to serve  each other in ways that effect a positive education for all students.

What does this 21st century learning look like?

Successful learning strategies, tools and knowledge are readily shared in streamlined ways with the goal of enriching the entire learning community.  For example no useful knowledge or "good news" is hidden, and all positive knowledge, strategies and tools are ready to use via websites, person-to-person shares, supply closets, newsletters and social media.  Learning is valued, and is a source of shared focus and intent. Community members are not only judged by their unique learning/teaching efforts and results, but they are also judged by their commitment and collaboration with the learning community by way of shared knowledge, growth and innovation.

Knowledge sharing is a two-way, responsive process.  Rather than letting the curriculum or content lead classroom endeavor or professional development, this work is led by the learner whether it be students in the classrooms or educators at an after school meeting.  Regular assessment, conversation and discussion identifies the learners' needs with regard to content, process and structure, and educators and leaders respond to those needs in timely, thoughtful ways that invigorate learning and investment.

There are structures in place for collaboration. Those in the learning community collaborate regularly with both formal structures such as PLCs and team meetings and informal, spontaneous collaboration in person and online.

Everyone's voice matters. Organizations value everyone's voice in the learning community and recognize that the strength of a community comes from working as a team with a common vision and mission. In education that mission simply stated is a positive, responsive education for every child, and unlike "factory models" of the past, new schools distribute the power of time and voice to all in the organization in an effort to optimize learning practice and thought.

Protocols lead the way. Rather than tight rules, the learning community is led by "loose-tight" protocols that are commonly known and shared as well as regularly revised to meet changing needs. These shared protocols help everyone to understand the learning community's values and action related to working together and teaching children well.

Debate and discussion are welcome: No one knows it all in any organization. The strength of the learning community comes from dynamic conversation of diverse voices, and that dialogue is welcome.

Timely. 21st century learning communities are responsive and communicate regularly.  Change doesn't happen on a monthly basis, instead change happens routinely and responsively dependent on the needs of students.  Hence regular, daily communication is a vital currency of a the 21st century learning community--a currency that is better used than stored away for selected times.

21st century learning communities are inclusive communities focused on the mission and vision of a successful education for all children.  Individuals in these communities work together to learn and teach with the best tools, strategies and processes.  These communities make adequate time for communication, streamline systems, and embrace apt protocols so that most of the time is spent in direct service to students by working with students or planning, researching and responding to student efforts.

In what ways does your learning community embrace 21st century practices, tools and strategies? What does your community need to continue their growth in this regard?  Personally, I continue to think about collaboration, idea share and time for response, planning and research--all areas that I personally need to work at and advocate for to optimize the work I do each day.  This is a time of great promise and potential in education.  The thoughtful dedication, collaboration and communication of all those interested in uplifting our education system for the benefit of students will help us to reach that promise and potential.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Exponential Learning: The Future of Education

The Internet offers exponential learning.  The Internet brings us to places we could never have imagined before.

Tonight, I listened to Michael Fullan, the author of Motion Leadership; the Skinny on Becoming Change Savvy as part of the 2013 School Leadership SummitFullan described his successful work in Ontario and offered educators many links and strategies for moving school systems forward with optimal results.

Steve Hargadon's Future of Education series offers educators a chance to learn about, listen to and converse with leading educators and leaders weekly from the comfort of your home.  These leaders will serve to impact and inspire your work with students in significant ways.

In the past, many thought of education as an isolated profession.  Today, the Internet offers educators exponential learning as well as a vibrant community of educational practitioners, leaders and researchers.  

On April 4th, Hargadon will interview John Hattie, a leading educational researcher whose book, Visible Learning for Teachers, Maximizing Impact on Learning has profoundly and positively impacted my teaching.  If you're curious about Hargadon's work and Hattie's research, this might be the perfect time to try out this one, very effective and powerful Internet learning path. I hope to see you there. 


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dollars Spent?

Who decides how to spend the dollars in your organization?  Are the decision makers impacting students on a daily basis?  How do you assess the return on investment?

There are many, many private industries creating educational materials today.  Daily there are new apps, tools and strategies to try out.  Experts are everywhere ready to come to your school and help you with the next best thing when it comes to teaching students well.

As I think about all this, I believe dollars must be spent wisely, and I also believe that organizations need to empower those within the ranks.  Often the answers to a tough curriculum issue or student potential lies within the ranks of an organization. The problem is that those within the ranks often don't have time to share ideas, discuss issues or make positive change.

It could be that dollars spent on outside experts, in part, could be redirected into giving teaching teams time to synthesize their knowledge and questions, and then if the expertise, tools or strategies don't exist in-house that's the time to seek a knowledgeable expert, new tool or strategy.

Empowering the individuals within an organization can serve to strengthen that organization with collaboration, confidence and care. That's where student-centered innovation and change should begin.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Time for Analysis, Response and Prep is Critical

If educators don't have time to do the necessary analysis, response and prep, their work will be hindered and less effective.

To implement lesson after lesson without thoughtful analysis can mean that the lessons are not what students need or desire. This is similar to serving a pbj sandwich repeatedly to a child who does not like or need pbj.

When a teacher has the time to carefully review and respond to students' efforts, the teacher's work becomes more personalized, targeted and engaging.  Further, when students receive thoughtful, targeted feedback their investment, effort and care develops. Also the thoughtful feedback serves to educate students' family members about the ways that they can support that child's academic success too.

The simple truth remains that time for analysis, response and prep is hardly assessed, analyzed or prioritized in schools. Some educators have substantial responsibility for this mostly after-hours work while others have little to no responsibility in this arena.

In some cases, school systems are hiring middle managers to assess data and provide response, yet those middle managers rarely work with the students or have a personal investment in students' success.  I'd rather see the educators who are working with students daily receive that time, and the newly created middle management levels moved into roles that have direct responsibility for teaching students well. I believe that the best ways to build this time is through collaborative teams of hybrid teachers who both work directly with students, and have time to adequately and thoughtfully analyze, respond to and prep student learning endeavors.

As roles and responsibilities are audited, I recommend that the time, consequences and skill related to analysis, response and prep are part of the audit. The audits I recommend essentially take a close look at education roles and student needs noting the responsibilities that best support student success, and those responsibilities that have little impact.

We know that students learn well when they are coached well, and we also know that analysis, response and personalized prep contribute to student success.  Hence, it's in the best interest of students for all of us to advocate for educator time to analyze, respond to, and prep student learning endeavors with care and effect.


Illness prevails.

It's difficult to be ill when you're a teacher. You hate leaving your students as you know that means interrupting the ongoing stream of learning, the routine.

You also get frustrated that you didn't wash your hands that extra time, get the sleep you needed or avoid the point of contagion.  But, people get sick, injured and interrupted--that's part of life. A part of life that exists in every field as evidenced by the canceled conference, the sports player's leave, and the meeting delayed. A part of life that serves to remind you that you're human, and a part of life that builds empathy and compassion too.

Hence, it's time to get better and then return with a new commitment to a healthy schedule. Fortunately this is only a small bump in the road.

Serving Children Well?

What does it mean to serve children well?

In your work as parent, educator, politician, community leader, business person, and neighbor, what do you do each day to serve children well? How can you strengthen your commitment and care for children: the foundation and future of our country?

Serving children well calls forth the best of us.  When we ignore the needs of children, we weaken our communities and hinder happiness--happiness for children and happiness for all who surround those children.

So what is it that children need, and how can we serve them well. I offer the following suggestions.
  • Children need loving, safe and nurturing homes.  Loving, safe and nurturing homes are places where family members have the time and basic needs to care for children well.  These are homes that are warm, mostly predictable, happy places where children have the time and place to play, ask questions, eat nutritious meals, read and be read to, learn about life and rest peacefully each night.  
  • Children need safe, welcoming, engaging learning experiences. Whether home schooled, public schooled or privately schooled, students' learning communities should first leave them with a sense that they matter, and that they belong.  Next schools should be places of inspiration and growth where students learn about who they are and what they're curious about. Also learning communities should be places where students learn the essential skills of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking so that they can grow to be engaged, active citizens in their own communities and families. 
  • Children need those in the larger community to care. They need those who are wealthy to use their wealth, in part, to build and preserve parks, bike paths, pools, playgrounds, libraries, schools, museums, theaters and other places of knowledge, culture, health and exploration to engage the community in positive, forward endeavor and growth.  Beautiful natural and human-made places inspire.
  • Children deserve respect, and in every endeavor individuals should question their efforts and investment with the "eyes of children."  For example, the many who spend their time profiting and supporting gun laws that put dangerous guns into the hands of ordinary citizens, should think, "Are my efforts in this debate serving children well?"  Similarly those that profit from unhealthy foods, environmentally dangerous products and processes, and life-draining publications and events should reconsider the ways they use their talents, money, voice and time with the lens of what's best for families and children.  For many, profit trumps quality and care, and that is a problem for our children.
Are we serving children well in our country?  How can we better use our collective and individual resources of time, energy, voice and dollars to build a country that truly respects and cares for children?  Personally, I will be looking at the way I perform my craft and the choices I make each day so that my work as an educator and parent as well as my advocacy for optimal schools continues to grow in the direction of student-centered care and work.  I will also make my judgements with respect to dollars spent and voting with the question, "Is this a company or individual who makes choices that support children."

Children call us to be our best selves. As parents, educators, neighbors and leaders, we can all probably point to efforts and moments where we are challenged in this regard. Yet we know that when we respond to children with kindness, care and commitment we will not only serve children well, but we will serve ourselves and our communities well too. That's a commitment worth the time, dollars and focus.

Related Post
Responsibility and Privilege of Parenting

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pinsky Inspiration

Yesterday as part of Wayland Reads, I was fortunate to hear Robert Pinsky, former United States' Poet Laureate, share his poems and thoughts.

Inspired and awed by his incredible artistry, poise, voice, and words, I listened carefully as a writer, teacher and seeker of truth and beauty.

Pinsky's presentation was essentially a conversation with the audience.  Relaxed and smiling, he created a give-and-take that was well received by the many poetry enthusiasts in the audience.

His words that resounded to me included the following:

"Poetry is a fundamental human art."

"Poetry is something people do--it is natural in us."

We have to "get over the idea that poetry is a test."

"Part of the pleasure is the repeated listening."

Look up to see Americans of all walks of life share their favorite poems.

"Poetry is the most natural of all arts."

"The poem is on an individual scale."

In response to a young girl's question regarding classroom poetry analysis, Pinsky suggested that "physical proximity" to poetry creates an appetite for analysis, and after you experience poetry you are ready for analysis.

Pinsky prefers to think of himself as composing poetry rather than writing poetry since his poetry is often created with words, not always pen and paper.

He talked about poetry and children, playing with words, and the fact you were probably "writing poems" before you were born or before you had words.

He discussed the intersection of song and poems, and pointed to the fact that they belong to a spectrum rather than distinct categories.

I'm so happy that I had the chance to hear Robert Pinsky in person. I must say he strengthened my  interest, enjoyment and understanding of poetry in a joyful way.

Educator Metaphors?

The way you think about educators impacts the work an educator is able to do.

For example, those that think about educators as collaborators, make an effort to create systems where collaboration regularly happens.

On the other hand, those that think of educators as soldiers in the field are more concerned with training and orders.

Then, sadly there are still some who think of educators as mindless robots who are served directives to follow without voice or choice.

I prefer Hattie's definition of educators as activators of learning, and I also support the notion of educators as collaborators.

What is your metaphor for educators, and how does that affect the work you do as colleague, parent, student, community member or leader?

Lead Time, Reflection and Analysis

Lead time, reflection and analysis are integral to an organization's success. Communication is similarly critical.

I'm wondering why those efforts are sometimes forgotten or not in place?  And as I think about the health of individuals and the health of organizations, it seems to me that thoughtful planning and share are ingredients that energize and support an organization's health.

What does lead time, reflection and analysis look like?

Lead time means that any effort that is not critical or spontaneous is thoughtfully planned out from beginning to end with a "loose-tight" schedule of events.  That scheduling allows participants to plan and be prepared for meetings, and also allows for revision and change by the group when necessary with lead time. Lead time for most events also leaves the necessary time and availability to react to events of a spontaneous, circumstantial situation.

Reflection is the necessary time to think, discuss, debate and imagine related to what's happened, currently going on, and future plans.  Reflection needs to be shared and discussed in an organization in order to be fruitful and productive.

Analysis is the formal process of assessing an endeavor, a process that looks at data with mathematical precision. Analysis like reflection is productive when shared, discussed, debated and further analyzed with regard to next steps and policy, practice, revision, and growth.

Communication includes regular systems of share--systems that mirror the members' needs and advantage. Both communication that is cumbersome and communication that is rare can hinder an organization's efforts. Most communication should be timely, predictable, and proactive while some communication will be reactive and spontaneous.

Members of an organization have a right to timely, transparant communication, lead time, reflection and analysis as those constructs help to create a structure where both individuals and the organization in general is positioned for success.  

Education Role: Reasonable and Healthy?

Education is a limitless profession.

Yet, as humans we're not limitless. Hence, it is important that we put controls in place so that we both do a good job and stay healthy too.

I believe I wrote a similar post about a year ago--two-thirds of the way into the school year.

How can you keep the job reasonable for you and your colleagues, do a good job, and stay healthy too?

First, advocate for the necessary supports to do the job well and to keep it reasonable and healthy.  That might include reasonable daily breaks, sufficient time to plan, respond to, and prepare student study, and lead time for important efforts so you're not rushing at the last minute.

Next, remember you can't do it all. Prioritize the most important aspects of your job, and do those tasks well.

After that, delegate when possible. Plan carefully so teaching assistants, specialists and others can share in the goals of meeting students' needs with care.

Finally, make sure that you create and sustain a healthy schedule. Though this is often challenging to do, in the end it will make you a healthier and happier educator.

Teaching can be unreasonable. Hence educators have to advocate for and adhere to a schedule and expectations that enable a job well done and a healthy, happy routine too.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Oates and Twitter: Literary Affirmation?

I enjoy reading the definitions and explanations people provide when they talk about Twitter.

I usually say that Twitter is an idea stream or "your questions answered."

Today in the Boston Globe's Bibliophile there's an interview with the author Joyce Carol Oates.  I really like the way she describes Twitter:

"Books: What else do you read?"

"Oates: I follow 30 people on Twitter, which makes for a kind of online magazine.  Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times posts about 15 times a day.  He'll have links to photographs and other sites. I also follow Daniel Mendelsohn, Andrew Sullivan, Margaret Atwood, and Steve Martin.  In a way it's like going into a vast library where someone taps you on the shoulder and says, "You might like this article, which you'd never know about otherwise.  I was reading a lot of articles in England's New Statesman. I would never seen them without Twitter. I'm interested in poetry, and some links will take me to poetry sites."

To me, Oates words give Twitter a literary affirmation.  Would you agree?

Blogging Audience?

Writing is enhanced when you have an audience.  Hence the question, for whom do I blog?

As I write, I think of my varied potential audience including the following:
  • Educator colleagues near and far who research, plan, implement and reflect on teaching practice daily.
  • Education leaders who want to understand what it's like from the front line of teaching, from those who work with children daily.
  • Policy makers who desire to impact schools in positive, student-friendly ways.
  • Parents who want to understand the behind the scenes thoughts, planning and rationale for teaching decisions and efforts.
  • The general public so they understand what a teacher's job is really like rather than the skewed reports in the media that emphasize outlier, and often negative, stories and events.
  • Students who want to know an educator's perspective and rationale.
  • Preservice teachers and those who are thinking about becoming educators.
  • Professors and educational leadership who are creating programs for preservice teachers.
  • Business people, technicians and entrepreneurs who are creating tools to excite, develop and improve the learning landscape.
  • Myself as I reflect, develop and improve my craft for students' gain.
With my blog, I hope to tell one true story about education thought, inquiry and practice.  I hope to incite debate, affirmation, understanding and growth with regard to the field of education.  Too often, the public reacts to narrow sources of information rather than the broad spectrum of stories and voices that abound in a particular field of study or work, and with this blog I hope to broaden that spectrum by one degree.

For whom do you blog, and what is your rationale?  I'm curious. 

Spring School

Spring is here.  The fresh air of spring reminds you that it will only be days until the first crocus sprout their colorful heads through the still snow covered earth.  The bright sunshine is another reminder that grassy, green days are ahead.  Students' new heights, tighter clothes and squirming are further reminders of spring.  The long, dark winter days are behind us now as we spring into the new leg of the school year.

I'm past that late winter sigh that every plan and wish was not met.  Instead it seems like the bright days and spring air have served to give every child a boost, a leap and a burst just like the budding trees and flowers--a rebirth.

Hence, it's time to seize the spring light and bright sky as we move onto new kinds of learning which take into account students' new skills, strengths and maturity--they're ready now to synthesize the skills of the year into wonderful projects with student choice and voice, deeper discussions and greater creativity.

As for me, the new ideas for next year have been voiced and I'm waiting for response; the books for summer reading have been ordered and professional development plans made, and the curriculum for the spring is set, planned and ready to go.

My classroom focus will return to the fall emphasis: student coaching.  In the last leg of the school year, I will really try to fine tune the schedule so that my focus and intent is on helping each child grow with confidence, voice and independence when it comes to successful learning.  The class has a strong, vibrant community and they're ready to spring ahead.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Where Are We Growing?

It is a time of change and growth in education.  Systems that embrace new tools, structures and strategies are noticing so many positive changes.  In the system where I work I believe that PLCs, RTI and tech integration has energized our efforts and effect.

In what ways can we continue to develop these practices and revise other old structures to further innovate with a focus on timely, engaging and effective education for all students.

First, I think we need to continue our efforts with RTI, but now focus more on the details.  How can we continue to develop this practice so we are serving all students in a responsive, tailored manner with regard to skill development in math and English language arts.

Next, I believe that our work with regard to literacy studio has been wonderful.  Students in our school mainly enjoy reading, sharing and discussing literature.  Again, similar to RTI, I believe that this is an area that we need to finesse with regard to the details.  We also have to acknowledge the terrific gains that have been made in this area.

Then, the one-hour math block and the integration of math tech tools and programs have served to develop our math teaching and learning well too.  I think we can further develop this aspect of learning for students by an increased focus on the blended math learning environment, a deeper look and response to our students who struggle the most with math concepts, and increased time for teacher collaboration, lesson planning and response with respect to math RTI and classroom teaching. Also a greater dedication to making the whole school environment a math-friendly, inspiring place will serve to build enthusiasm, engagement and experience with math concepts.

Also, our move from isolation to collaboration with the use of PLCs (professional learning communities) has strengthened our shared practice, discussion, learning and debate with regard to teaching students well thus creating a more vibrant teaching and learning environment. One challenge in this regard is that we never have enough time to adequately and peacefully discuss the issues and plan--this is a constant barrier to our collaborative work.  Hence, I believe we should double the time for PLCs and work to make our collaboration more effective as moving from isolation to collaboration requires new skills.

Further, the principal's focus on "kindness matters" and service learning have served to develop a compassionate, caring student body where discipline issues have almost disappeared since the children are engaged with thinking about and acting in ways to better our community and world on a regular basis.

Finally, I believe we have to re-look at our science and social studies rotations schedule and focus at our grade level, and work to include new standards and build 21st century project/problem labs for student exploration and learning. I would like to see our team use our PLCs and perhaps additional professional development time to work together to build vibrant lab models that focus on broad science, math and social studies' concepts included in our grade-level standards.  Together we would first focus the labs on student passion, engagement and 21st century skills: communication, critical thinking skills, collaboration and creativity.  Next we would create websites, program menus and supply cabinets in each classroom to support each lab.  Then we would build the labs with similar structure with regard to expectations and intent, yet leaving room for students' and teachers' artistry, passion, and style.  It is my hope that by building these project/problem base modules we'll be able to provide students with greater diversity with respect to instructors, tools, processes and content during the learning year as we foster independence and a love of interdisciplinary learning.

I am fortunate to work in a dynamic school system with tremendous promise and potential, but that doesn't mean we don't have work to do to further develop our systems and efforts.  I look forward to working with my team with regard to the next steps to meeting students' needs, interests and passions as we teach children well.

Where are you growing with respect to your role as educator and a focus on student engagement and learning?  Do you have any revisions, additions or modifications to add to my growing list?  I welcome your thoughts.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Good Day

Today was a good day.  It was mainly a good day because I had many real chances to connect with my students in meaningful, interactive ways.

First, I pretended to be a fourth grader taking the state test.  I modeled the entire process from start to finish.  Although it wasn't the most exciting lesson, the process was worthwhile as the students could hear my thoughts, see how I tackled the task and think about their own strategies for the upcoming test.  The test requires students to plan, draft and write a final copy story or essay that responds to a prompt in a day by hand.  It's not an authentic task, and it is a mighty task for anyone young or old. That aside, I was able to share some great stories about my childhood days with "My Best Cousin Judy."  It was enjoyable to see how the students reacted to stories of jumping in hay, playing Monopoly to the wee hours of the morning and making tree forts.

After that we had some time for recess, and then we got to work making our "self regulation plans." That title sounds strange, and I told students that the plans were our personal strategy or to-do lists for the big day.  The idea had been a suggestion by a visiting consultant.  On the plans, students wrote their rationales for doing a good job, and then listed their planned actions for the big test.  After that they shared the plans with me.  I enjoyed discussing the plans with them, and then let them pick from my sticker collection as a reward--they liked that.

My story about Judy had all the students wondering about what happened with our friendship which led to a great conversation about life, relationships and change.  We all shared stories, which I reminded them was another good way to prepare for writing.

Later in the day we had lots of time to read books of choice.  Some children gathered on bean bag chairs and shared iPods and books while others found cozy corners for reading.  They read and read for about 45 minutes. After that we went outside to play on our gigantic snowy playground lit by lots of bright sunshine.  Finally the day ended in the computer lab as students took their weekly facts quiz, played SumDog and had a few minutes of free choice.

It was a all in all a happy day of play, learning and conversation--a great way to finish the week!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Who Shares?

Who shares in your environment?

Who takes the time to share their ideas, thoughts and work?  Who spreads the good news of insightful practice, vibrant classrooms and teaching strengths?

Sharing is a give and take, and if leaders and others don't share ideas, initiatives, efforts or good news, the give and take starts to become one sided and people become discouraged.

When people don't share you wonder about what they're doing and where the ideas are?  You wonder what's happened and what's ahead--the landscape becomes less transparent and productive.

In healthy environments, sharing abounds and good ideas are abundant.  That doesn't happen in environments where the door is closed and news is hidden.

Related Post
Beehive Communication

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

21st Century Learning: Tools, Content and Processes?

It's that time of year when colleagues and I are assessing our efforts and programs.  As we watch students prep for State tests, we're thinking about the strategies employed throughout the year to ready our students for tests (yes) and for life long learning.  We want to do both.

Hence, what worked and where is there room for further growth?  What tools, processes and efforts will move our students further with regard to engaging learning and yes, doing well on assessments too?

As we think about this, we are considering the following:
  • PARCC: At this time our State has not officially signed on, but we know a shift to this testing is possible.  Today I was reading about the minimum tech requirements for this test which leads me to think about what tools will help students write with the greatest ease, voice, organization and craft?  What would you choose?  Personally, I like writing and creating with my laptop, and find it hard to create and write as quickly or as well with an iPad, but I'm only one person and I've read of many successes with iPads--what would you choose?  What's your writing tool of choice, and what tool will support young children best when it comes to writing well?
  • Digital Stories: Our work with digital stories gave students' voice this year. These projects seemed to build greater fluency and voice with regard to reading and writing well.  I will also add that this project seemed to grow tech skills, creativity and confidence too.
  • Curriculum Mapping: What is the best roll out for our writing program?  That will be a collaborative decision based on new standards, current units, and students' needs. 
  • Expert Visitors and Cultural Enrichment: What kinds of special events, experts and professional development will develop our work?
  • Learning Flexibility and Fluidity: What tools will we employ to develop executive functioning, brain strength, flexibility and learning engagement? What projects will we develop and implement with this in mind?
  • Schedule and Organization: How will we schedule the day, week and year so that we teach essential skills, engage students and respond to interests and passions?
  • What worked this year? Literacy studio, RTI, PLCs and One-hour Math all served our students well.  Also an increased focus on a blended learning environment created engagement and learning success.  While students enjoyed our social studies/science rotations, it seemed like we could add greater depth and also respond to new science standards in this regard with project/problem based, tech integrated teaching/learning modules. That's something we'll be discussing. 
As we continue to think about this, I'm curious about what your teaching/learning team is thinking about with regard to program growth and development?  What tools will you access to ready your students for tests, and more importantly provide your students with a rich blended environment for learning?  How will you develop programs related to reading, writing, math, science and social studies?  Where will you foster interdisciplinary project/problem base learning, nature study and exploration, STEAM, RTI and tech integration in your overall blended learning program? 

There is a lot to think about as we develop learning programs today, and as we begin to write pilots, grants and plans as well as order materials for the year to come. I welcome your thoughts and ideas with this in mind. 

Learning Paths Planned and Executed

Picture Credit
Learning paths like colorful ribbons blow in the winds around me.  I like to have an array of bright paths at my fingertips so I am able to match spirit, energy and intent with the path's journey as I plan, implement, revise and reflect.

The rainbow of paths that circle me right now include the following:
  • ELA MCAS prep/implementation: This is path is reaching it's final implementation and reflection has started.  
  • Fractions: The initial stages of this path has been set. The next step is a team meeting to discuss, build and create.
  • The New Evaluation System: I am not the leader of this path, but I am part of it. I'm ready for the next meeting--research complete, materials prepped.
  • Endangered Species Research/Presentation: I'm just about to plan this learning path for this year.  I'll begin by rereading and collecting all the past posts, materials and efforts, then reflection.
  • Field Studies: Lots of leg work needed here i.e. busses, permission forms, agenda. . .
  • Ed-Tech Pilot: The collaborative draft is ready, just waiting for the collaborative meetings, presentation, response, further steps.
  • Grade-Level Program Review/Revision: This plan has started on a Google doc and through hallway conversations. Again a meeting is planned to bring us to the next steps.
  • Summer Study 2013: I've been culling wonderful articles, videos and ideas from the Interent to inspire and inform my planned summer learning design study.
  • Workshops: I've started post drafts  for each sumer workshop: Math Workshop, Digital Stories, and Students' Khan-Like Videos.  When time permits, I'll add details to those posts so that by the time the workshops arrive, I'll be ready.
Learning paths like colorful ribbons in the wind dance about me. I like having many paths to choose from as it makes the learning more diverse, engaging and interesting rather than narrow and single focused. Another advantage to multiple paths is that if one path ends or an error is made, you don't feel like it's the end of the road as there other inviting paths ready for your thoughts and work.  Further, when you're engaged in multiple paths, they serve to inform each other, intersect and add greater texture, depth and spark to each other.

Multiple learning paths is a 21st century way of learning, and the key to success lies in how one organizes, tends and nurtures these paths for success. 

Do you engage in multiple learning paths at once?  If so, how do you organize, energize and support those paths?  What are the advantages to multiple paths, and what are the disadvantages?  As I think about learning in the 21st century, I think this is an important conversation. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Snow Day to the Rescue: School Change

It's a snow day today.  A needed day to catch up on curriculum planning, responding to student work, and prep--the kind of time I was wishing for when I wrote yesterday's post, Overwhelming Workload.

Schools are quickly changing, and if we embrace these changes with the needed thought, reflection, revision and planning, the changes will be positive.

What structures, processes and tools do we need to embrace?
  • Blended Learning: The best way to learn is to use a variety of tools and processes online and off in strategic, targeted ways.  It is the job of the teacher to embrace, lead and respond to the blended learning environment in timely, thoughtful ways. 
  • BYOD and Diversified Tools: Rather than foster two distinct learning environments including school and away from school, teachers and students should embrace life-long, integrated learning environments.  To embrace this well, schools will have to take into account the wonderful tools that students access at home and intersect the use of those tools with school tools in dynamic ways.  One way to do this is to, as much as possible, utilize learning platforms that can be accessed 24-7 on multiple tools at home, in the community and/or in school. It is also essential that we begin to look at ways to host students' at-home tools in school. 
  • Streamlined, Inviting, Targeted Organization: The Internet today is a wild west of information and ideas. Teaching teams need to work together to streamline and organize information in ways that make the information easy to access, use, manipulate and respond to. 
  • Personalized and Differentiated: As we coach each child to competency in essential skills, concept and knowledge, facility with learning-to-learn skills and habits, and motivation with regard to developing interests and passions, we need to utilize tools, strategies and structures in engaging, student-centered ways.  Learning menus, social media, RTI, PLCs, learning workshop, quick-feedback online learning programs and ePortfolios are all tools that can help to build this dynamic emphasis.
  • Expertise and Role Definition: In this knowledge laden age we need to target and identify the areas of learning we will foster with depth and engagement. Teams need to divvy up the responsibilities in many ways as it's impossible for one to do it all with regard to traditional teaching and learning.  
  • Deletion and Refinement: We need to get rid of practices that are no longer engaging, efficient or profitable on a large scale.  It might still be possible to utilize some of these activities with individuals and small groups because we know that learners thrive with diverse strategies dependent on need and interest. PLC teams should continually discuss what's working and what's not to best build effective teaching repertoires and practice. 
  • Learning Community: As much as possible all decisions should be made in tandem with the learning community including students, families, community members, educators and leaders. 
Building learning teams, practice and vision for best effect is both challenging and exciting as this process is leading us forward to schools that have a greater potential of reaching all students in engaging, life-enhancing ways.  That's an effort worth our time. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Developing a Tech Savvy Elementary School

What are the best strategies for building a tech savvy elementary school?  How can we best use our resources to create an engaging, child-friendly learning environment?

As we look to the future, there are many possible right answers to these questions.  I'll start with what I know and look forward to any new ideas you'd like to share.
  • Learning Community Knowledge and Talent:  First utilize the learning community's talent and knowledge well.  Think about the educators, students, family members and community members who are tech savvy, invested and ready to share and grow their knowledge with regard to a tech-friendly, student environment. Engage their ideas, expertise and availability to serve children well in dynamic, systematic ways.
  • Tools: Assess the tools you currently use, and then list the tools you desire. Utilize the design mantra of "form follows function," and think about the functions you aim to meet. Then list the "forms" or tools needed.  Decide which of those tools students may already have, and how you might utilize those tools.  Also think about the types of tools you'll need to purchase to best meet the desired functions.
  • Learning Goals: Determine the overarching learning goals, processes and vision.  Make sure that the tech you employ meets those goals.
  • Engagement: Make sure that all voices of the learning community are involved in the decisions, particularly the voices of children.  They're very tech savvy, and utilize tech regularly--don't forget their voices. 
  • Brain-Friendly Education: Look for tools and practices that are brain-friendly.
Tech is today's pencil--it is the essential tool for vibrant, efficient, and productive learning.  Tech is the tool used in conjunction with a number of processes and structures to develop a well-balanced, child-friendly, engaging learning environment. With that in mind, the next step is developing the tech environment to best support positive forward movement that inspires an attitude of life long learning and curiosity.  

Writing: Form and Function

As I drove into work today, I thought about how I would strengthen commitment and understanding related to writing a high quality essay or story for the upcoming MCAS test.  Rather than "teach to the test," I try to bring greater meaning to test-related tasks.

I started thinking about what's important when it comes to an MCAS essay--what is the form and what is the function?

Hence I decided to discuss invention and creation with students.  I introduced the terms "form" and "function" and asked students what modern inventors come to mind when they think about a focus on form and function.  Career titles such as architects, clothes designers and chefs came up. Steve Jobs came up as a specific example. I talked about the efforts of Jack Dorsey and last night's 60 Minutes piece.

Then we discussed our upcoming test and determined that the form was an essay or story, and the function was to prove that you're a good writer.  Then we discussed the ingredients that go into forms that function with quality--we talked about the many specific ingredients of fine clothing and great meals and the difference between mass production and tailored, original craft.

After that we listed the kinds of ingredients that make an essay high-quality, original, entertaining and inviting.  I told students that I wished I was introduced to the theme of "form and function" at an earlier age as it is a good way to look at all aspects of life and creation, a valuable concept to understand.

We'll play with this theme more as the year moves on, and I'll build upon the concepts by introducing the idea that "form follows function" which is outlined nicely in this post I found online.

On Friday, the day before the test, we'll discuss the themes of self regulation and rationale and the effects those themes have on one's performance in any task, specifically on our task to write an essay or story on Monday.

By matching test-prep work to themes that can be applied to a broader range of work helps to give these tasks some meaning--meaning which can transcend the sometimes, inauthentic and cumbersome tasks that standardized tests present.

Overwhelming Workload: Any Solutions?

It's that time of year when the workload is overwhelming, and that is ever so frustrating.

Teachers know how much better their teaching is when they have the time to carefully review and analyze student work.  They also know how limited the time during the day is for this, and how weary they are after a day's teaching when they come home to a stack of essays that each require a good 10-15 minutes of careful reading, analysis and response--that's just one set for a large number of students.

Now critics will say pick and choose, use computer response systems and that comes with the job, and my response is yes, I do those things and I know it comes with the job, but there is great potential for student growth and confidence building when teachers have the time to conference one-to-one at best, or second best review student papers with depth and thought.

Not all teachers have responsibility for this kind of deep response and analysis as that depends on your role and responsibility, but I do believe that teachers who have this kind of responsibility deserve some time on task for the endeavor.

I don't want to sound like a matyr, but last week my students completed 25 essays--they worked really hard to complete this work.  I knew that timely response was essential, and that timely response would take hours of thoughtful work--hours that I don't have while in school and have to work hard to carve out of my busy family life.  Hence I got up at 2am when I had 4 hours of uninterrupted, thoughtful, coffee-ignited time to thoughtfully analyze, respond and assess the work.

I was so happy to be able to pass back these papers to students and their families.  I was delighted to let students know about all the wonderful craft, organization and voice they exhibited in their work, and I knew that the small, next challenge I gave each student as I responded to their work would foster further, positive growth in their writing development.  After distributing the papers, I noticed a positive response in student attitude, effort and endeavor.

Now I have another huge stack of similarly important papers in my bag--essays and responses students have labored over and deserve thoughtful response for.  I will do it, but there's a part of me that resents the fact that year after year, week after week, I have to take time from my family or wake up in the middle of the night to do the work of my profession--it's not healthy, it leaves one tired and cranky and it's also not equitable. And it's not just a matter of time, but a matter of energized, thoughtful time it takes to correct student work.

What's the answer for this age-old teaching dilemma?  I know that other countries give teachers considerably more time to respond to, analyze and assess student work, and I've read studies of the positive affect of this practice.  I know that it's physically impossible to keep up with this level of response so teachers have to make tough choices about what they respond to, and what they don't respond to. And, I know that thoughtful response, analysis and assessment positively affects student learning.

I believe it's time that systems re-look at roles and responsibilities--who has the time and who does not for student response, assessment and analysis, and who is doing that work in a formative way that affects the daily learning and success of students?  Just one more area for revision and growth in education today.  Thoughts welcome.

4/11/15 Update:
This year the system added 30 more minutes of planning time. Also, I taught with a partner and was responsible for half the subjects which meant half as much planning and prep and less leaders and coaches to work with each week. Both of these changes have made a considerable impact on the quality and depth of work I can do. A forward step.

10/2015 Update
We've bought a bit more time by using a shared teaching model where our efforts are streamlined with regard to subject area responsibility. The next step is to gain more support for lesson planning, preparation, and response from some of the educators who support our classroom teaching--that would possibly be very helpful.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Effective Initiatives Include Concise, Timely Share

To bring teachers fully into the conversation regarding education, timely, concise share is necessary.  Too often share is late in coming, cumbersome and incomplete, and this leads to destructive conjecture. Also, when leaders and consultants work without communication or response, it leaves educators guessing about effort, intent and result.

All initiatives and efforts in a school system should represent a full-circle cycle from initial introduction, reports of ongoing work, reflections and assessment from all involved.  The communication should be timely, inclusive and concise. When this doesn't happen innovation, change and best effect are hindered.

What initiatives are you currently involved in?  Have you made an effort to include those impacted in the discussion and work?  Are you transparent about the investment, efforts, and results?

Full-cycle, inclusive, concise and timely communication that mirrors initiatives, efforts and results is an effective 21st way to do business in all organizations.  The old "factory ways" of "manage the message" and exclusivity with regard to information are outdated, inefficient and ineffective.  Don't you agree?

Schools: Work--Family Balance

There is a lot of talk today in the media about the role of women in the work place--a role that has been shifting throughout my life. In today's Boston Globe, Joan Vennochi and Joanna Weiss discuss Sheyrl Sandberg's ideas in her new book, Lean In. I'm happy that Sandberg has reignited this national debate as there's definitely room for growth in American society with regard to work-family balance, and our national focus on what's best for children and humanity as we grow a nation.

As a young child, it was unusual for women in my neighborhood to work outside of the home, yet when I became a teenager many women in my working class neighborhood had returned to work. Then as a new teacher, I found that most moms were at home when I first started teaching, and most teachers either had older children or did not have children--there were few teachers working with small children.

Now, where I teach, many moms work, and those moms and dads who are home are very, very busy doing all the jobs that the full force of at-home moms used to do including school volunteering, PTO, community service and more. Ideally, our whole society will look at laws and structures that support (or do not support) quality family life so that there is time for all of us to do what's right for our children and communities, but for now I'm focused on an educator's work environment.

As I read the stories and ponder my own experience as a working mom, I am wondering about how schools can best support both women and men in the work force as well as provide optimal models for the children we teach.

First, I think it's important for educational leadership to remember that a large percentage of their work force are working parents. Hence when making schedules, decisions and support, not only should the individual's work be considered, but the fact that he/she is a parent should be considered too. Consideration of educators' family lives will help to build a happy and invested work force. The following actions can help to support that climate:
  • Know your staff and know their preferences.  Through a yearly survey, find out about your staff's needs and preferences.  You'll never please everyone, but knowing their needs with regard to school culture, schedules, and supports will help serve many.  For example, in the system where I teach, they will pay for a professional development course once you complete the course.  When I was a young parent, I often didn't have the money to put up front to take the course so that delayed some of my professional development.  That would be a simple change for a school system.  On another occasion, when driving my children to daycare on a snowy, winter day, the path to the system-run daycare had not been plowed hence limiting my ability to drop off my children and get to school on time--another simple situation to remedy.  Finally, many new parents and staff live far away from our school community and drive old cars, hence the ability to get to work on time during a weather event can be challenging. Therefore a policy to delay opening on days like that would also serve staff well.
  • Be considerate of child-related events.  In my place of work, this consideration has increased over the years.  Parents have unlimited sick time to care for ill children as long as they make a commitment to share that responsibility with their spouse and others--this has served to actually limit the time off new parents take and support honest communication.  Also, if there's a last minute issue and a young child needs care, sometimes a teacher will bring that child to school.  That doesn't happen very often, but the fact that the system understands that it can happen and doesn't make it a big deal, again creates greater investment.
  • Consider on-site daycare options. School systems might be smart to consider on-site daycare.  I know as a young mother, my husband and I spent thousands of dollars on daycare. Perhaps on-site day care would leverage those dollars and time for both parent and school system gain.  
  • Make decisions with lead time.  While not every decision can be made with lead time, lead time can serve to foster a better, more effective work ethic particularly with educators who are balancing family and work.
  • Serve the working parent client base well.  Know the families you serve and in every way possible respond to their needs as working parents when it comes to the time for school events, homework, and parent responsibilities. Perhaps survey your parent population to best understand their preferences in this regard, and work to revise old constructs and events that no longer serve your populations' schedules and needs well.
  • Document family support protocols and options with transparency and clarity.  Make sure that every person who enters your organization understands the options related to financial, health care, scheduling and other supports in a responsive, accessible manner. Often these events are scheduled at times that young mothers and fathers are running out the door to pick up children at daycare. 
  • Allow educators' children to attend your schools.  The system I work for allows this and while an educator pays a small price of sharing his/her work life with his/her family life, the benefits for both the system and family are great.  The system benefits from increased investment and time on behalf of the educator who wants to see both his/her school system and children thrive, and the educator benefits from the fact that his/her work/family life is better focused, coordinated and streamlined.
  • Fair Salaries and Growth: Educators deserve fair salaries.  They deserve to make enough to support a family and a good life.  Some systems, like the one I work in, typically offer a fair salary, and some do not. In this regard, it is also important for school systems to analyze growth attitudes and actions related to both women and men to make sure that the policies do not favor one over the other. 
Education has always been thought of as a family-friendly work environment.  Summers give educators time to catch up with their children and family life--a factor I'd like to see repeated in other organizations throughout the country. Also the days off during the school year usually line up with children's days off.  A greater look at matters related to financial reward, protocols and structure, and direct family supports will help to make school environments even more family friendly and provide our children with models that demonstrate that a man or woman can both raise a family and be a professional and contributor to society at the same time. What constructs in your educational organization support family life, and what ideas do you have for positive change and growth in this regard?

I'm so happy that this once secret conversation is now a public debate as we look carefully to the ways we support families and children in American society. Women and men younger than me, like Sheryl Sandberg, are pushing this debate and conversation forward, and I hope that means we'll see better policy and protocols to support children and families well. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Fractions 360

I will enlarge the diagrams for students' ease of use.
Each time I embark on a new unit, I try to tie the new unit teaching to past units' themes and learning.  I also think a lot about the range and learning profiles of my current class. Hence as we begin the fraction unit, I thought about ways that I could tie the unit to our past factors/multiples, operations, and measurement units.

First, I imagined using a number that had factors including all the numbers from 1-10, but the only number I came up with was too big to deal with.  Then I decided to settle on using the amazing number 360 which includes the factors 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 12---Wonderful!  Further 360 relates nicely to past measurement concepts and future angle concepts.

Now, I know that the real mathematicians out there are probably alarmed that I am seeing only a fraction of the import of 360, but I'm sure I'll see a lot more after my amazing young mathematicians start exploring this number with depth and an eye on fractions with this initial exploration packet.

This packet will give students lots of time to explore, examine and discuss fraction and number concepts.  It will also give me time to analyze, observe and reflect upon students' initial fraction understanding.  There's plenty of room here too for fourth grade enrichment, and it matches in part the fraction concepts to come.

What would you add to this exploration?  What links would you share with fourth graders related to this topic?  What other ideas do you have to enrich and extend this study? I'm looking forward to this investigation.

Teaching Mindscape

From the start of the school year until the end, the children you teach become a part of your mindscape--you think about them often: strategizing, organizing, planning and responding to effect positive, engaging and life-enriching learning experiences.

Hence, I woke up this morning with the following questions in my head:
  • I notice that there are a small number of students who don't engage with independent reading; how can I find time to make a responsive, engaging book group for those students? What books will intrigue them?  Will they work best as a small group, independent readers or a couple of groups?
  • We have several complex math concepts to master, yet the class math skills, attention and abilities range significantly. How can I utilize the resources at hand, time and tools to best effect positive learning for all in this regard?
  • The schedule that was put together two months ago needs to be changed with regard to use of the computer lab, assistant teachers, recess and more to meet current needs.  How can I make those changes or do I try to fit the new learning goals into the old schedules?
Teaching in many ways is like a giant, interactive puzzle.  You, your colleagues, students and families are working in response to each other as schedules, lessons, activities, and projects unfold to meet desired goals, engaging events and positive interaction.  This is what makes teaching an engaging, creative and challenging endeavor, and what keeps me coming back to the profession year after year. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Moving Up in Education?

There should be a sense of excitement and encouragement with regard to "moving up" as an educational professional, but in many ways this movement is met with a range of emotion.  Why?

I think this is true because for some "moving up" means "moving away" from students and teaching.  The upward mobility in education is a path where moving up is seen as a positive movement and suggests that staying in the ranks of classroom teaching and coaching is not as positive. The financial rewards and role/time flexibility of "moving up" support this notion. In many cases though, we're talking about two very different jobs as what a classroom teacher does and what an educational administrator does differ in many regards.

There needs to be leadership in education, and there needs to be highly qualified teachers and coaches.  The best leaders recognize the difference in the two jobs and work to support, encourage and lift up the potential and possibility for classroom teachers, while those who are not as positive put "ambition ahead of mission" and don't serve teachers or students as well.  Those leaders that don't serve teachers or students well have a top-down, controlling attitude that puts them above the teacher or coach whereas the most positive leaders have an attitude of collaboration, shared problem solving, respect and transparency.

To "move up" in some systems is tricky business that necessitates political savvy and favors, while systems with clear mission, role definition and practice create "moving up" processes and roles that are fair pickings for any professional interested in a role change.

I'm in favor of role audits and reviews in education today.  I believe the skills, talents and interests of positive education leaders differ in many ways from the roles of teachers--I don't always think that "moving up" means that a teacher moves to leadership, but instead I think there should be many ways to "move up" and many roles of advancement in education. I think the current education roles are too narrow and mirror old factory notions in too many ways.

I'm not sure what the new roles would be or how new pathways to advancement and leadership would be created, but I do believe it's an area in education that needs reconsideration and revision. What do you think?

Learning Design: Fraction/Decimal Time!

Our class will study fractions in earnest in the next few weeks.  Students had an introduction during our fall measurement unit, and practice with initial concepts using SumDog and Symphony Math.

As I think about the new unit standards for our grade level, my class's learning profile, and the multiple tools available, I look forward to crafting and teaching this unit for best effect. In a year, the tools and information online as well as the time for collaboration and student-centered teaching efforts in-house have increased dramatically hence I'm delighted to work with my team to plan a terrific learning unit.

First, I'll start with the Standards for Mathematical Practice.  I'll set up a chart so that as I plan the unit activities, I include each standard.

Next, I'll attend to the fraction and decimals standards which are outlined on a Fourth Grade Standards' Presentation (images of these standards are located at the bottom of this post). Each standard is accompanied by a short introductory film to refresh my memory and model one approach to each concept. I'll watch each film and study the standards.

I've also hung up wonderful posters of the grade-level fraction/decimal vocabulary in the class, and plan to create a number of crossword puzzles and other presentation tools to help students practice saying, writing and figuring out the meaning of these words by using the clues, posters and classmates' help.

I will assess students preliminary knowledge and skill as they complete the Fraction 360 packet.  Students will also make their own fraction bars using Google table.

Our grade-level team will meet at PLC for the next two weeks to review the concepts and share materials. Prior to this meeting, I'll re-look at last year's efforts which are documented in part on my blog and math website. We'll review the pages and activities in our math curriculum online and hard copy that teach the standards.  We'll also share other materials that we plan to use to teach the unit. The intermediate math coach will share his knowledge and information related to this unit too.

In my class, I'll start teaching the unit with a a review of the measurement and fraction concepts we worked on in the fall utilizing the ruler as a model for a fraction number line.

After that, I'll give the class a pre-assessment to see what students already know with regard to the concepts, knowledge and skill.

Once I analyze the pre-assessment, I'll plan a learning path that helps every child achieve the standards with a number of activities including explicit teaching, paper/pencil practice, online videos and games, crossword puzzles, problem solving and a differentiated project that will probably use digital tools to help solidify students' discussion, thinking and understanding. I'll utilize a number of formative assessments along the way to support students work, and also employ our RTI Math time to foster this learning.

This will be a valuable learning journey for the fourth grade student-teacher team, and a chance for our learning community to invest in planning and executing content/process with focus and depth.

Related posts/Links:
Khan Project
Khan Project Continues
Using a Ruler to Teach Fractions
Learning Fractions in a Flipped Classroom
Fourth Grade Fraction Project Film
Math Website: Fractions
BBC Fractions

Grade Four Math Standards

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Classroom Writing Program

When I started teaching 27 years ago, writing workshop was just taking shape in my school system.  I really loved that model then and continue to love it today.  Writing workshop, when does well, engages readers in the process with authentic, engaging activity.

Loving writer's workshop doesn't mean that I always do it right or that I never hit roadblocks in the process.  The truth is that one never knows it all when it comes to writing--there's always something to learn.

Now that we're at the point when students are about to take the MA MCAS composition test, I find myself analyzing our class writing efforts this year with an eye to next year.  What will I do the same, and what will I do differently:
  • Craft: I will continue an early year emphasis on writer's craft as children write about their friends, families, interests and experiences.  It's a great way to introduce all the wonderful craft writer's use, and learn about students' too. 
  • Poetry: I like the way that craft matches a poetry unit at the start of the year since the text is short and accessible to all making poetry a good assessment genre as well as you get to know students.  I'd still like to place this at the start of the year.  It's a good time to write personal, "get-to-know" each other prose too. 
  • Digital Stories, Presentations and Poems: I will continue to employ the use of digital media in storytelling and presentation as I believe this work builds voice, fluency, engagement and a sense of audience.
  • Paragraphs: We were able to teach paragraphs as part of our culture unit presentations.  Ideally I'd like to move that teaching up to the start of the year, and make both personal and informational paragraphs an early writing goal.
  • Reading Response: I'd like to match this work more tightly with our writing/reading genre studies and our science and social studies units.  I started the year doing this and then it tapered off (time is always an issue for all the standards).  Next year I'd like to make this a two-lessons a week focus that integrates with our current themes.
  • Personal Narratives: We had a lot of fun with this genre as we wrote and published digital stories--this unit is a keeper.  The timing worked well too as a mid-year project.
  • Personal and Persuasive Essays: This unit was a nice follow-up to personal narratives.  I'd like to move this unit up a few weeks so that it doesn't push up to the testing period so tightly. 
  • Test Prep and Review: There are many fun, light writing exercises you can employ right before the testing period to review craft, organization, voice and genre.  This is a good mini unit to schedule just before the testing period.
  •  Informational Reports and Presentations: We will embark on this unit at the end of the year as we embark on endangered species, U.S. Regions and plate tectonics study.  I'd like to bring more persuasion into this unit, and also offer the chance to create fiction stories based on fact.
As I think about the structure of the writing program, I have the following thoughts.
  • Next year, I'd like to employ a simple, meaningful start of the year writing assessment so that I can identify the students who really need extra support with writing.  I think a letter to the teacher in September is a perfect way to assess writing.
  • I really like the writing folders we bought this year as they served as helpful, easy to locate organization pieces.
  • Early introduction to the writing workshop process, tools and protocols will help to make writing a fluid, engaging part of the day.
  • Digital (Google docs and sites) and hard copy writing notebooks will be introduced and used throughout the year.
  • Weekly word study related to our read aloud and informational content will inform our writing.
  • Read aloud will also inform our writing as we notice the organization, craft and voice wonderful authors use.
  • I will schedule writing periods about 3-4 times a week and try to stick to it since it is such a big goals at fourth grade.
  • I will edit one-to-one with students as much as possible.
  • Students will use mnemonic devices, employ self regulation talk and actions and collaborate regularly.
  • I will also carve out writing niches in my classroom that host materials, posters, books and tools. 
  • I will continue to weave illustration and writing efforts together as when they work in tandem for young children the stories and essays have greater detail, depth and voice. We will use multiple tools for illustration. 
  • I will also continue to use multiple graphic organizers to develop writing fluency and skill. 
  • I will continue to explore SumDog as an engaging tool for practice and skill with regard to writing conventions.  
  • I will have students type most stories as that's the best way to write a story today, and a way that consistently works on students' spelling and grammar skills. 
I've always enjoyed writing, and often say that writing is my sport.  I still have a lot to learn and look forward to continued teaching of writing this year and in the year to come.  If you consider my list, please let me know what I've missed or what you might revise.  This is one area of the curriculum that can profit from shared inquiry. 

More About Learning Design

Learning design is an action and notion that brings all members of the learning community together with vital questions and best intent.

This morning when I opened up my computer to read the latest posts, I was struck by two motivating posts about learning design.

The first was an interview with Charlotte Danielson related to teaching the common core, and the second was a post by Chad Sansing, Teacher Remixed. Conversations and discussions related to learning design have potential to move the education profession forward with greater autonomy and respect as we delve deeply into what it takes to teach children well.

I continue to add to my learning design summer study list of articles, a list which mainly reflects the ways in which I want to develop my practice. I also wonder about the ways school systems will continue to support this process in an effort to develop learning communities.  I support the following practices in this regard:
  • Teacher directed PLCs (professional learning communities) with system commitment to time and place.
  • Information share and discussion: timely systems and protocols which foster professional sharing.
  • Attendance at virtual and real-time conferences with an obligation to share learning.
  • Greater professional time for research, planning and response in an effort to develop craft.
  • Transparent systems and communication which allow all in the learning community to have voice, choice and understanding related to the system's performance, goals and vision.
I also support a growth mindset with this in mind.  No teacher can know it all, and there is always more to learn.  Hence, it is essential that we all invest in learning design with an "I want to grow and learn" attitude, a willingness to challenge ourselves and learn from each other.

In the weeks to come, I will be writing a lot about learning design.  I welcome your thoughts and ideas as I travel this rich path of teacher growth and development. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Best Games and Tools?

There are lots of tools out there, but I bet if you consulted the list of tools that you and your students use most often, you could make a shortlist of 25 or less tools.

I've been busy using a host of games and tools for student practice, learning and review. I typically choose a tool based on recommendations of teachers near and far that I trust, and then continue to use the tools if the students demonstrate growth and engagement while using the tool. I also choose tools based on the following attributes:
  • 24-7 access.
  • simplicity so that most time is spent learning.
  • engagement.
  • offers progress reports.
  • grows at a students' rate of learning, accomplishment.
  • offers diverse paths to learning
  • free or cost-effective.
My favorites tools right now include the following:

ELA/Multimedia Composition
  • Sum Dog English
  • Google Docs, Sites, Presentation
  • KidPix
  • iMovie
  • Animoto
  • Garageband
  • Symphony
  • Xtra Math
  • That Quiz
  • Sum Dog
I'm ready to explore more tools such as Atlantis Quest.

I'd like to explore more tools for math, ELA, executive functioning skill and brain coaching.  What apps and computer programs do you suggest I try.  Please send me the names of tools you and students find most helpful and engaging so I can further my exploration for best effect. Thank you. 

Building a Holistic Learning Environment

We've come a long way with regard to learning design, tech integration and student engagement this year.  I like what we're able to do now so much more than teaching in the past.  Due to digital tools, PLCs, and RTI we have greater ability to serve students in differentiated, personalized and responsive ways.  This increased ability to service students well has served to develop student engagement, investment and growth.

Now we're working on further growth. To grow further, it's first important to realize what we have.  Here are the program elements that are serving our students well.

English Language Arts
  • A strong developing multimedia, student-centered writing/composition program that focuses on organization, voice, genre and craft.
  • Literacy studio that focuses on students' reading interest, comprehension, fluency and response writing.
  • Read aloud that promotes reading comprehension strategies, story elements and further literary discussion.
  • Multiple digital tools available to further develop students' literacy skills including iPods, Kindles, iPads, and laptops.
  • Many wonderful programs that support student learning including KidPix, iMovie, Google docs, Animoto, Garageband, Lexia, SumDog English and more.
  • Wonderful school and classroom libraries.
  • Terrific cultural enrichment events, a weekly school assembly and frequent interdisciplinary classroom learning events
  • Streamlined data sources: GRADE test, Progress monitoring, MCAS
  • Reading Intervention Teachers and an ELA Director
  • Great software program support including Symphony Math, SumDog, That Quiz and Xtra Math.
  • Multiple digital tools and programs that support math project work such as Google docs/apps, iMovie and YouTube
  • Clear, learning standards. 
  • Streamlined data sources: GMADE, CBM, Symphony, Xtra Math, That Quiz, MCAS
  • Manipulatives, games and hands-on tools to develop math skill, knowledge and concept.
  • Math Director support. 
Social Studies and Science
  • Interdisciplinary units to grow content knowledge, skill and concept.
  • A great playground, healthy lunches and Open Circle/Responsive Classroom efforts which support optimal health and time for social skill development. 
  • Just Like Me Program which develops understanding for those facing challenges. 
As I think about our current program, the areas that stand out for growth and development include the following:
  • STEAM work and study (science, tech, engineering, art and math). Our students are hungry for this. 
  • Assistive Technology: tools to meet our learners with greater personalization including writing, reading, ELL, math and enrichment tools that focus on specific skills.
  • Creative, multimedia composition tools to develop students' repertoire for presentation and content creation.
  • Greater work in the area of guided research, discovery and presentation via unit research websites.
  • More hands-on materials for in-depth science and social study inquiry and project work.
  • Greater project planning and work related to units and field studies. 
  • Revision of curriculum map, student reporting vehicles and data collection schedules.
  • Guided social media use.  Family Twitter and student social media platform to be identified.
  • Brain coaching and executive functioning software, tools and activities. 
  • Greater inclusion of service learning in our social studies/science work. 
  • Greater use of "grow-at-your-own-rate" digital programs such as Lexia, Xtra Math, Symphony and others for home study to decrease need for parent help and teacher response, thus creating greater time for teacher response and planning for significant teaching/coaching efforts. 
  • Greater access and use of digital books that are accessible 24-7. 
  • Multiplayer social studies/science gaming such as Atlantis Quest.
  • More outdoor, nature exploration and study.
My team is meeting soon to begin the process of outlining and obtaining tools to develop our program more.  This collaborative process will serve to strengthen the work we do with regard to student learning and engagement.  Let us know if we're missing any primary tools, content or processes that make a difference.  Thank you!

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