Monday, September 30, 2013

Visualize the Day

Each morning I visualize the day ahead.  I troubleshoot, prep, and anticipate the twists and turns in the school day road. I find that this visualization helps me to be prepared, energized, and successful with intent and delivery. Below is a snapshot of the day's visualization.  Feel free to read if you're thinking about starting or developing this practice or if you're interested in a typical day in a fourth grade classroom.

Monday, September 30 Visualization

The students will start with quiet writing about their weekend.  It will take my encouragement to make sure that everyone takes out their writer's books and focuses.  Positive comments and encouragement helps.  Getting up and moving around the room inspires too.

After that, it will be time for assembly.  Generally everyone is attentive and interested.  A SumDog update with a colorful sign may serve to inspire extra math practice for 4th and 5th graders, hence I'll prep that beforehand.

Then time for a short snack and break, then students will work on creating tables and number models online for a host of numbers that increase with difficulty.  I'll give a short review and then let students get started with friends, working where they want.  They love using the computers and choosing their work friends and places.

Lunch will bring more play and nutrition. After that during a short 15-minute transition we'll sing a host of favorite math songs, then off to gym. While students are at gym, I'll meet with grade level colleagues to discuss upcoming tech projects, The Culture Museum celebration dates and roll-out, the week's schedule, and more.

After gym, I'll attend a data meeting where we'll focus on students' reading progress and need.  A teacher with terrific reading expertise will lead the meeting. Hence, I want to be mindful of her suggestions. I also want to be mindful that I don't promise more than I can deliver as I'm still responsible for large numbers of students at a time.  While I'm at the data meeting, an assistant will lead a lesson in alliteration and the start of reading workshop.  Upon return, students will probably be finishing up their work and reading.

The day will end with our Letters from Rifka read aloud.  I'll start with asking if students have any questions about the story reminding students that asking questions is one strategy that helps us to understand what we're reading well.  Then we'll dive into the book with attention on Rifka's the results of Rifka's thoughts, actions, and language, essentially how does she impact her own story.

At day's end I'll get out and take a short walk, then focus on prepping student folders for upcoming family conferences.

This is the day I expect.  There's always a few unknowns thrown into the mix each day, and I'm prepared to attend to those factors if essential or helpful.  Yet, for the most part, I'll try to stick to the plan created.

Visualizing the day ahead is a helpful practice for educators as it helps us stay focused and ready to teach children well.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Animation Exploration

Prepping for STEAM led me into an animation exploration.

Here's what happened.

First I labored over my first couple of SCRATCH animations marveling at my student SCRATCH experts the whole time.  I learned enough to lead this activity in the lab.

First, I created Dancing Girl

Then I created an animation of the idiom (ccstandard) a "a fish out of water."

Then I discovered "Make it Share it" which unfortunately is closing in December, but I loved the platform (can someone take it over and keep it running?). With this platform I played around with the concept of the powers of ten:

I found Wideo and a couple of other comic strip and animation sites I want to explore more.  I created a Symbaloo for the student menu.  Most of all I stepped into the the STEAM student shoes using trial and error, exploration, creativity, and invention to design--what fun, one step closer to leading this week's STEAM lab with zest

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Tech-Connect: 24-7 Classrooms

As part of our school-wide collaboration with Framingham State University, Dr. James Cressey (@drcressey) has invited me to present to a number of pre-service teachers this Thursday night. The theme will be the tech-connected classroom. Later in the month, I'll present at MassCUE, Massachusetts' popular yearly tech conference. My presentation for MassCUE is titled the 24-7 Classroom.

The slide show above captures the essence of both presentations which is to create a seamless line between the classroom and learning outside of the classroom by providing the learning community, students, families, community members, and leaders, with the links and learning to access, employ, and create best tools with which to reach and share the goals they're aiming for.

As the presentation demonstrates, technology is the glue that connects the learning community to each other and to the many tools that assist, prompt, develop, and communicate learning. This is an important step in the learning evolution because we know that the more technology is integrated into the fabric of society, and education in particular, the more learning will move beyond the four walls of what is still known as the typical classroom. By adopting a 24-7 mindset with regard to education, teachers will prepare their students and themselves for the new world learning.

This new world of 24-7 access, multiple tools, and worldwide connection has the potential to educate with much greater success than in the past simply because this access offers limitless avenues to learning. Unlike days of old, students will not be limited by geography, learning style, physicality, development, or interest, instead the learning journey will be much more available to all.

The key to this evolution is the way we guide, coach, develop, and deploy tools, strategies, and encouragement. All who educate today including parents, community members, teachers, leaders, and students, have a responsibility to guide with care and positive intent using the best of their abilities and knowledge. While tech alone will not suffice, teaching without tech is absolutely insufficient since you're limiting the education of so many who can profit from technology's broad reach.

Hence, I advocate that all educators and tech developers begin to incorporate a 24-7 mindset into the work they do so that anyone at anytime anywhere can access the valuable tools they need to reach the dreams they have for their own life, community and the world.

Creating a STEAM Lab

Our efforts for STEAM Labs/Maker Station Fridays have started. Week one introduced students to the notion, and now we're in the development process.

This week also showed us that we need to extend our labs to all classrooms to meet students' need for varying spaces, volume, light, and room to build, create, and share. Hence, we divided up the responsibility and took specific areas of focus to develop in the week to come. My area of focus will include math, research, animation, and movie making.

Now the challenge is to set up the room to support this focus.

Here's the plan:

First, I'll create a Website and Symbaloo to guide students' choices.

Next, I'll restructure the space in the room to support research corners (one for quiet, independent work and one for collaborative work), recording spaces, and conferencing/editing locations.

After that, I'll plan the introduction.

Then, I'll observe, guide, and support children during next Friday's STEAM time.  After that, I'll reflect alone and with the team, and then continue to build and develop the effort.

Week Five: Focus Evolves

The school year blooms quickly. The roots have been established, and now we're moving towards goal setting and greater differentiation.

The week ahead includes the following focus:

Student Performance Folders and Goal Setting Conferences
Students engaged in STEAM exploration last Friday. 
The student performance folders will include a top sheet of standardized test scores including GMADE, GRADE, MCAS, and Dibels.  The folder will also include early year examples of students' fact mastery, close reading/reading comprehension, writing, problem solving, and self reflections. I will share these folders with collaborating teachers and family members at upcoming goal setting and review conferences.

As our STEAM initiative develops each classroom will turn into a STEAM lab. Each lab will have a number of online and hands-on tools available as well as a specific focus. The foci will include architecture/design, game making/invention, research, math and movie making, and interactive arts/design.

Math Unit
We'll start our second week focused on the roll-out of our first math unit, Place Value.  We are following a blended learning model that embeds the standards of mathematical practice throughout the unit. Students will also take their final start-of-the-year math assessment, the GMADE test this week.

Close Reading
Our emphasis with close reading continues with continued practice with pre-reading strategies, identifying unknown words skill, and reading for understanding steps. This week we'll focus on text related to the author, Grace Lin, and The Pledge of Allegiance.

Reading/Writing Workshop
I'll continue the one-to-one student reading/writing conferences I started with students last week. We'll also continue our writer's craft introductory lessons, and start a few book groups this Thursday. During workshop times students will have the chance to write in their writer's books and read books of choice too.

Read Aloud
We continue to read Letters from Rifka with a focus on story elements and a review of all comprehension strategies.

We'll continue our work on our first digital writing project, I AM Poems.

The year is taking shape. I look forward to completing the student folders in preparation for the upcoming goal setting conferences which will lead to more targeted interventions and differentiation--one way to teach children well.

New MA Evaluation System Tips

This little film can serve teachers prepping for the new evaluation system 
as well as students designing their learning paths.

I've noticed that my posts related to the new MA evaluation system are getting a number of hits. I imagine that's because for many schools the deadline for self assessments, writing goals, and making plans is around the corner. Here's a short list of support.

Our school system put together a website to guide teachers. This provides teachers with an easy guide to follow.

I've written a number of posts which may be helpful: Writing SMART Goals, The First Eval Meeting, and Navigating MA new initiatives.

Finally, I put together a website to guide teachers' efforts in depth. This post both explains and links to the website.

Most of all, it's important for educators to shine a bright light on the fine work and efforts they've devoted to teaching over their career as well as highlighting the growth initiatives they intend to embark on in the year ahead with regard to professional practice, student learning, and the standards they'll be evaluated on.

I hope this is helpful to you!

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Day of Firsts

Today is a day of firsts for Team 15 2013-2014. It's the first time we'll start the day with a weekly review--a short assessment to gauge what students learned and thought this week. For the first time, I'll start individual reading/writing conferences today. Our first digital writing project, I AM poem videos, start today and it's our first STEAM share/Maker Station day with the whole fourth grade. We've purposely choreographed Fridays as the most hands-on interactive, creative day of the week. As all teachers know, this is a good way to deal with the waning energy and enthusiasm at the end of the week--give the children something to look forward to. Since it's a day of firsts, I imagine there will be a number of unexpected events that will serve to spur revision and refinement of the Friday plan in the week ahead. For a day of firsts, it's best to be positive, flexible, and responsive. Hence, that's today's goal. Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Learning in the Field

Soon the students will learn in the field. They'll visit a local nature preserve in our area to spend the day as young naturalists studying the environment around them. We created this trip for many reasons. First, we want to send the message that learning doesn't just happen in school; learning happens everywhere. Next, we want to introduce the children to naturalists' and environmentalists' study by doing what these scientists do. Hence students will bring "wonder" notebooks, colored pencils, a backpack, lunch, and snacks for the day in the field. In addition, we want children to have the chance to work with dedicated experts, naturalists who know the land and the study of the land well. A final added benefit is that this trip will give students and teachers a time to learn with joy and build community in a beautiful, natural setting during the still fresh days of the school year.

As the excited students gather in the classroom, I'll make sure to remind them that this is still school, and that we have to bring our best listening, reading, writing, and thinking skills along with us. I'll also have to remember to remind them all to bring their lunches, backpacks, observation tools, and snacks.  As we board the bus, I'll take attendance to make sure we haven't missed any latecomers. Then I'll pick up the check from the office, gather the healthy supplies from the nurse, and bring the camera too so we can record this wonderful day.

We'll begin the day with focus on a short talk by the Farm's education director, and then we'll begin a number of habitat explorations. During that time I'll encourage students to find quiet places to use their five senses to "read the landscape," and record their findings in their wonder books.  During lunch students will run and play, and then we'll have time for farm chores too.  I'm hoping that in addition to the science learned, students will have a chance to build new vocabulary, practice writing, and get to know a new place that we'll visit a few more times during the year--a place they might want to return to with their families as well.

Field studies have the potential to be wonderful additions to the school program.  The key to the field study success is planning, investment, preparation, and a good attitude. I wonder what new ideas we'll have after this extraordinary school day.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Blended Math: Place Value Table 1

Example of student's work today.
Today I'll guide 23 students and a number of teachers in a complex-for-fourth grade activity.  I will start the activity by telling students that this will be tedious at first, but in the end they'll learn valuable tech skill and math skill.

These are the steps involved.
  1. Open a Google doc. 
  2. Name the Doc: Place Value Chart 1
  3. Place title on top of doc.
  4. Set the font size and type: 18pt, bold
  5. Make a 2X1 table.
  6. Label the table" Column one: base-ten numeral name, Column two: model.
  7. Type the number 1,234 in base-ten numeral form (standard form) 1,234, number name (word form): one thousand, two hundred thirty-four, and expanded form 1,000+200+30+4 
  8. Open a new window and google, "everyday math etools"
  9. Open the etool site, open base-ten blocks, and make a model for 1,234.
  10. Screen shot (shift-command-4) the model.
  11. Go back to Google doc table, insert and size the image.
  12. Click "insert page break"
  13. Repeat the process three times with three new numbers: 406, 2,091, and 34,678 (note as numbers get bigger, students may need to make two or more screen shots to make the number.)
  14. When students complete all four tables, they should review, print in b/w, show the teacher.
  15. Then if they have time, they can attempt to make a challenge number 2,345,678. Note that they will need multiple screen shots for this and use creativity. 
Learning to make tables is a very effective tech skill--a skill that can be applied to all learning areas and a skill that can help students organize information in useful, memorable ways.

Today's lesson will be tedious as the children will want to jump ahead, but I'll take the time upfront to set the stage for their thoughtful, step-by-step investment. 

Let me know if you have any tips, and if you try the lesson, let me know how it goes. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Righting the Teaching Ship in Wavy Waters

I've noticed that the Internet buzz amongst teachers seems a bit quiet these days, and I'm wondering if the reason is that many teachers are righting their classroom ships in the wavy waters of new evaluation systems, RETELL, new standards, and other matters that create the busy waters of school life.

This week I'm working hard to keep the ship directed towards student learning; sharing the journey's choices along the way with students. For example, the new standards find us working with a bit more precision and detail when it comes to our usual studies. We're thinking deeply about reading strategy, writing craft, and the standards of mathematical thinking.  This precision is fostering even greater emphasis on "learning to learn," habits of mind, and collaboration as we work through the sometimes tedious vocabulary, close reading, and math detail. That's one part of the complex steering mechanism alive in the classroom, yet we know that too much detail can serve to diminish creativity and excitement, hence we've also got the STEAMship and PBL gears oiled and active. The daily conversation about learning, focus, priorities, tenacity, and curiosity keep us energized and ready to learn.

Choreographing this ride well is the key to running a good classroom. Keep the focus, include the right mix of precision, creativity, collaboration, and effort, and don't lose sight of your destination: teaching children well. Happy Travels.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Common Core Creativity at Fourth Grade

I spent the day digging into the Common Core Standards for fourth grade. The specific language of the standards, numerous resources on the Internet, knowledge of my students, and summer learning design research served to set the stage for some great work.

The key to the Common Core is to embed these standards into worthy learning design, design that responds to students' developmental level, essential skill needs, interests, and passions.

Hence with each standard I attached a learning experience that I feel will engage my students, support essential skill development, and prompt further inquiry.  I used a blended approach for the learning design which includes tech integration, video, collaborative work, field studies, hands-on explorations, paper/pencil/tech practice, and celebrations.  The lessons range from one-period detail lessons to multi-period units. Also, with every lesson there's a 1-2-3 range of learning with 1 as a review level, 2 for grade level, and 3 for enrichment opportunities. In addition there's a rubric with which students evaluate their own work then review the evaluation and work with the teacher.

At present, I'm designing many of these lessons for UClass which are available for a small fee. UClass is providing me with a platform, editing, and team to promote my work.  I'm also using all the lessons I create with my fourth graders so that we meet local, state, and national standards. I continue to be excited about this opportunity to dig in deeply with the common core standards in a creative, student-centered way. I am attempting to blend the best of both worlds by combining the essential skill development of the Common Core with project/problem based learning whenever possible.

Take a look if you're interested.  Let me know if you have further ideas.

Update: UClass efforts took a turn away from learning design and at that time I stopped working with them as the work no longer directly matched my classroom efforts.

Maker Station/STEAM Share Grant

Our collegial work on our Maker Station/STEAM Grant continues.  We've been researching tools, materials, and processes over the past few days to write this grant.  We'll add the finishing touches tomorrow.

What do we think is important when it comes to this effort?

First, students, in our tech age are hungry for this kind of collaboration and learning.  One boy has been asking me daily when STEAM share will start?

Next, I'm excited about the fact that we've chosen a relatively "dead" teaching time for this invigorating activity as we're planning this grade-level learning exploration and share for Friday afternoons.  Certainly I'd like to schedule this as a daily event, however the standards we're required to teach in order to develop a foundation of essential reading, writing, and math take up most of that time.

After that, I'm really excited that we might be able to start true STEAM exploration at a young age, an age before minds start to close and opportunities narrow.  I'm hoping that we'll inspire some future scientists, mathematicians, artists, tech experts, and engineers.  In particular, I'm excited about reaching out to young girls with this exploration.  The STEAM emphasis provides many inroads to science; avenues that are often not made available to young girls.  I keep thinking about Cornell's School of Human Ecology, a place where interdisciplinary work often takes place to create solutions to world needs and issues.   STEAM supports this kind of thinking and work.

Finally, I look forward to the carrot STEAM will provide for my students who are sneaking Minecraft rather than doing their reading/writing work.  Now I can say, "Hey, Friday is right around the corner, and that will be a time that you and your friends can collaborate with multiple tools to create, innovate, explore, and discover.  Do your skills work now, and then you'll even be stronger at doing what you want to do during Friday STEAM!"  I know this probably doesn't sound wonderful to those outside of the field, but we still do have to shore up those essential skills--skills that some children don't learn easily or gravitate to with zest.

I'm grateful to my colleagues for supporting this effort, and for Ms. Cherwinski (@susan_cherwinski), in particular, who is leading the way with countless hours of STEAM research and exploration.  I'm also grateful to my PLN for supplying me with a multitude of ideas and links that got this effort going last year.  Stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed--I hope we get the funding we're looking for, and just think ten years from now our students may return to tell us stories of the amazing STEAM work they're doing as young adults.

Related Posts:
Building Something That Matters
STEAM Labs, Tools, and Play
Full STEAM Ahead

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Macro-Micro Focus

I move between the macro- and micro- focus of education constantly.  As soon as I challenge the macrosphere of education, I return to the microsphere so that I'm exemplifying in my tiny sphere what I'm asking for with the greater picture in mind.

For example, I just asked for greater response and share in my post, Sharing Ideas, so now it's time to ask myself that question--Am I meeting the need for share and response of my students?

There's always room for growth in this regard since most of the effort lies in your personal time--weekends, nights, and early mornings, but like most teachers, I'm committed to this because I know feedback and response matters.

Hence, over the next week I'll attend to the many papers the students have produced--wonderful stories, reflections, responses, and creations.  I'll also continue to check Edmodo and e-mail daily for updates, questions, and ideas.  Further, I'll continue a commitment to updating the class website, daily Twitter about class learning, and a weekly newsletter with information about efforts achieved, current learning, and future plans.  An open door policy invites parents to partake in the learning, join the class for special events, and have meetings when needed.

If I ask a lot of others, I need to ask a lot of myself too.  Time to get busy.

Sharing Ideas

A leader recently chided me for sharing too much.  My response was to say, "Then what do I do when I have an idea or question?"  The leader left without answering that question. Another leader simply never answers my emails--that's another way to send the message, "Questions aren't welcome here." I have other leaders who are responsive, straightforward, and supportive. Leadership matters in schools because supportive, encouraging leadership that takes the time to listen and respond with truth and transparency invigorate the environment and grow the potential possible when it comes to teaching children well.

It's probably troubling to some leaders to have staff who ask questions--another issue to consider, another email to write.  Yet, I think systems of idea share and exchange can serve to move learning communities forward.

Yes, I have lots of ideas. When you sit at the front line of education like I do you are always coming up with ideas to make teaching and learning better because you're forever met with more to do than time to do it--your job is one of constantly prioritizing who and what gets the attention. Most educators accept the fact that it's not their place to think "outside of their role" and don't share their ideas further than the water cooler or the teaching team.

Hence today when I was about to share a few ideas with leadership, I decided to place my ideas on the blog instead.  This morning's awesome and riveting #satchat prompted this share--the chat was great because there was lots of debate and disagreement--the kind that serves to teach you and move you forward.

Therefore my ideas:

How do you keep the vision alive?
School systems will thrive if collective vision is kept alive regularly rather than infrequent attention to our common goals.

Listen to the voices of all stakeholders?
Sometimes teachers get discouraged because no one is listening or answering questions. For example, teachers have strong opinions about what they need to do a good job, but we are rarely asked, and if asked, our responses are not shared with each other.

What's being said at the leadership table?
When the leaders' goals and focus are clear and specific with transparency, the whole organization benefits.  Where are we hitting the mark?  Where are we not hitting the mark?  What is the main focus?

Efficient Process
We've instituted many new structures to move schools forward.  It's clear that some of those new structures are inefficient and don't reap results at least not apparent results.  I wish we could have honest discussions about that--what structures make a difference, and what structures do not make a difference.

Teacher Success
What teachers are reaching wonderful success, and how are they doing that?  I want to know that.  Leaders have all kinds of ways of looking at teachers' success with depth, but that data is often not shared--sharing that data in meaningful, inclusive, authentic, respectful ways can serve to move us all forward.  The data, however, has to be looked at well with all factors in mind.  For example if one class has all well-cared for, advanced students and the other has a pocket of children who struggle for a number of reasons, those factors need to be considered.

What's on the agenda today, tomorrow, and in the weeks to come.  How are we going to meet the new State standards, and what's our approach?  It's embarrassing to go to a teacher meeting and not know what's going on in your own system as teachers discuss new initiatives, efforts, and mandates. 

What is the long term vision?  What are we reaching for?  Where are our rough spots?  Where are our success spots?  How can one advance in our system?  What questions are welcome and what questions are not, and why?  

Yes, I ask a lot of questions.  Yes, I share a lot of ideas.  Yes, I believe that communication, transparency, and shared ideas and vision do work to forward a learning community. Perhaps I'm wrong about this, and perhaps there are issues I'm not aware of.  I welcome your insights.

It's difficult to be passionate and inquisitive and told to not ask questions or receive no response. I'll remember that as I work with my students with similar attributes in the days ahead.

I welcome your thoughts on this matter.

Friday, September 20, 2013


The Massachusetts' MCAS (standardized tests) scores are in.  The scores are posted and ranked in the local news, and no we were not number one.  Of course, like anyone, I like to be #1 and that's the aim each year, but with all competition aside, what can we cull from this report?

First, I work in a fortunate system.  The children are well cared for and the parents typically have the means to meet basic needs and more.  Hence, our scores are typically good overall.  We all know there's an economic edge to scores.

Next, the scores are one of many indicators from which to assess our work and draw conclusions. I typically analyze the scores with scrutiny and make new goals dependent on what I notice. Over the years my classes have had a range of scores, and when I analyze carefully I can see trends, areas for improvement, and areas that affirm our collective efforts.

After that, I remind myself this is one indicator of overall success for students.  These are relatively short tests where children (my students are fourth graders) sit at their desks for a l o n g time to answer paper/pencil questions that require a good memory, fine grasp of the skills/concepts, and the ability to apply those skills.  That's a lot to integrate for many fourth graders so there needs to be room for variability in scores.  The main area of importance is growth over time, and a positive attitude towards learning.  If we looked at successful adults' childhood scores, I imagine we'd see quite a range.

So let's take these scores for what they are, one indicator of collective and individual performance. Let's see what goals and potential growth for our teaching and student learning we can cull from these reports, and then let's continue on a renewed path of teaching children well.


This week was complex. Multiple initiatives were in gear, and I was pulled in many directions including standards-base report card review, Math Institute share, new evaluation system details, PLC protocols/roles discussion, writing unit start, teacher collaboration meetings, and parent meetings.  This was on top of the regular teaching day. I know I'm not alone. The week felt like someone stepped on the gas with a heavy foot as we jerked ahead into the school year.

The calendar next week is much more reasonable.  The choreography of daily work, initiatives, collaboration and more is a delicate process, and it's likely that at times that choreography will liken a mosh pit rather than a symphony.  I survived. All intentions were good--the new year like a new driver includes lots of staccato that hopefully will smooth out as routines and roles take shape.

The week's finale was a great collaborative meeting of the four members of our grade-level team. I was reminded of a conversation I had at a Google round table during last year's Intersection Event which emphasized five with one more or less as a good collaborative number.  We were able to support one another, share perspectives and experience, and create an awesome collective teaching approach for our upcoming persuasive unit, a unit guided by an outside consultant as well as other resources. That's the kind of collaboration that feeds the soul and inspires good work. This successful event reminded me that we need to think carefully about the collaborative groups we form with regard to size, strategy, and goals. Groups need to be sized right for the task at hand.

School transformation and good work create a rocky road--there's so many variables involved in the process, and in many ways little time for thoughtful steps or communication, hence complexity.  Now, on this Friday afternoon, I'll put the week to rest as all work and no play makes teachers dull.  Next week will bring new triumphs and challenge.  Stay tuned.

A Range of Friday Reflections

Contrived vs. Authentic
Situations that are contrived do not lead to the same kind of rich, real learning that authentic situations lead to.

Who do you structure for?
Your school structure is your focus, routine, physical space, and schedule.  Who do you structure your day and space for--who does that serve?  When we structure the day for authentic student learning, we are doing a good job.  When we evaluate that structure we should look at efficiency, results, and ways to improve.

Is your time on task with students effective?
I believe that the skilled time on task with students is the best way to build better schools and respond to student needs.  When you are with students is your time effective?  Are you spending most time working with students or most time planning for working with students?  

Have you chosen the right goals?
Do your professional goals truly impact and enrich student learning?  

Do you advocate effectively for what is right and good for students?
How do you advocate? What approaches do you use?  Are you successful, why or why not?

The end of week three is a time of refining goals, structures, and focus as I move forward in the school year.  Summer study and idealism set me up for some big expectations and disappointments at the start of the year, now with my "place" in  mind, I'm reworking the goals and focus.  The upside is that I teach a terrific group of young children who have tremendous family support.  Onward.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Classroom Close Reading Continues

The first week's close reading exercises were a true s t r e t c h.  The stretch actually gave us a chance to focus on how to figure out words you don't know, and the scientific words in the passage had many great clues embedded in each word. The format of the text also allowed us to apply Bill Belichick's "chunking" strategy--we took the article sense by sense. The article's challenge especially captured the attention of a few future doctors who particularly enjoyed the content and vocabulary the article offered. We finished the task with a related crossword puzzle and deeper knowledge about how our senses work.

Next week, I'll strive for use a mostly grade level text about habitats.  I'll use this process:
  • Students will take a few minutes to apply the 5 p's with independent preview.
  • We'll review their work together and decide on a class reading plan.
  • Students will read the text with partners or small groups.  Some small groups will be led by teachers, and others will be independent. 
  • I'll review completed work and offer a challenge vocabulary activity to strengthen understanding. 
Week by week I'll continue this process as I work to develop students' close reading and reading response. I look forward to reading more articles on the topic. 


Injustice exists big and small, and the truth is that we're all perpetrators of injustice at one time or another, perhaps knowingly and perhaps unknowingly. I've always held the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. close, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter," yet as I grow older, I realize it's more than silence we have to be mindful of.

Speaking up is important, but that's only a first step.  Follow-up steps include the actions you take before, during, and after you speak up--the follow-through.  What does that include?  What process works the best when it comes to truly dealing with injustice?  How does one effectively respond to injustice in order to make change?  These are questions I'll be thinking about as I encounter injustice on a small scale, and as I possibly contribute to it without thought on a large scale with regard to the things I buy, the places I frequent, and the people I vote for.

I'll also think about what is just work, action, and thought?  How does one become mindful of this in his or her work, contribution, and investment?  Big questions with much room for thought, action, and commitment--a deeper path to travel?

If you have authors, prose, links, research, or ideas to support my journey, please let me know.  Thank you.

A Standards Routine

Yesterday our teaching staff met to discuss standards base report cards. Yes, yet another change, but a promising change that will serve to direct our eyes and practice with specificity.

The new standards are upon is in multiple ways including revised scope and sequences, new language, and updated weekly routines to meet all standards language and intent.  Further, I'm working diligently to embed these standards into worthy learning design, design that's brain-friendly, student-centered, engaging, and rich in breadth and depth.

The only way I can do this is to continue to build an efficient lesson planning and response pattern each week on my own and with colleagues.  How will I continue to grow this practice?  In what ways will the collegial groups I work with use time to optimize this effort?

1. I'll continue to use UClass as my inroad to the standards--as I create lesson after lesson to match current units, I'll use their templates and resources to help me with the process.

2. Next, I'll work to incorporate a successful feedback system both to inform teaching efforts and to build a learning conversation with parents and students.  Right now as students learn and work, I'm collecting a host of assessment data to use as parents, teachers, and students set goals in the coming weeks.  On a daily basis, I'm checking in with students with regard to their classroom work.

3. I'll create a chart of the report card standards and student names.  I'll target lessons on these standards and keep track of students' progress as we move forward.  That will provide a clear picture of how we're doing with regard to meeting each standardards for each child.

4. I'll continue to read about renewed processes such as close reading, writing process, and math problem solving--processes which serve as the foundation for most other standards. There's lots to learn with regard to detail and action with regard to these processes--processes which are truly life long goals.

5. I'll focus on my SMART goals--goals which I've chosen after analyzing student data from last year.  I noted areas of my practice and the weekly routine that could be changed for better effect.

Why do I continue to write and write and write about the same topic, repeating often.  I do this, as I've mentioned before, to cheer myself on as I embark on this teaching/learning journey as there are so many distractors in the school setting which can easily take us away from our primary mission which is to teach each child well.  Hence continued effort to create a meaningful, efficient, targeted process to embed best practice, new research, optimal tools, and student-centered, engaging efforts remains.  I look forward to the continued encouragement and insight of my PLN near and far as I travel this road.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

UClass Enthusiasm

I continue to be enthusiastic about UClass.  I signed on a couple of months ago to participate in this start-up for a small fee.  Recently some of my PLN challenged my association for a number of reasons--reasons that caused me to make the following positive responses:

  • Adding a disclosure to my blog stating that my blog comments and actions are my thoughts alone (see disclosure at the bottom of the blog).
  • Public acknowledgement that I'm receiving a small fee from UClass.
  • Published posts about beta testing and public/private collaboration.

I continue to work with UClass for a number of reasons.

First, I like working with these facile, young, and energetic start-up founders.  They're eager, excited, and encouraging!  They don't sweat the small details and they're quick to try out new ideas.  I like this fast-action development and response as it feeds my creativity and encourages the work I'm typically responsible for.

Next, UClass has provided an easy framework with which to create and publish multiple lessons, lessons I have to write on my own time to meet new standards and student learning.  I enjoy the synthesis that goes into new lesson writing, implementation, and assessment.

UClass has also provided me with a new team to work with.  As I work with my global team of lesson creators, I'm learning a lot from their creativity, investment, and voice.  These are educators I typically wouldn't work with on a daily basis, and I like the way this opportunity is broadening my lens through their work.

Also, I like being part of a new idea, innovation, and process--I like the energy innovation brings to creativity and share.  Plus, I'm learning about how start-ups work which is valuable information to share and replicate with my young learners as they start-up new investigations, inventions, and explorations during our Maker Station/STEAM work and project base learning.

Finally, UClass is an easy way to share lesson ideas in tight packages with my PLN near and far.  Yes, it's not totally free share, but like any teacher who writes a book, presents at a conference, or publishes articles, the platform allows me to share in an easy way, and it's stepping stone for me with respect to further share, learning, and publishing.

I'll continue the journey with UClass as I continue to embed all the new standards into my current curriculum in student-centered, engaging, blended ways. Take a look at UClass to see if it serves your needs at this time. Also, reach out to start-ups and other tech organizations to get involved if you're interested in exploring this work.  Let me know how it goes.

Learning Journeys: Fourth Grade

Elementary school teachers journey with their students down multiple content/skill paths during the year. Defining those paths helps with efficiency when it comes to the necessary research, materials, and prep time. What journeys will my fourth graders travel this year?

Read Aloud: About three times a week we'll read a book together. During that time we'll focus on story elements, comprehension strategies, the author's intent, writer's craft, and genre.  I'll choose a wide variety of books to read aloud, books I believe will capture this class's attention while also introducing the students to many genre. Assessments at the end of each book will help to determine the next read aloud focus.

Close Reading: Two to three times a week we'll focus on short text and close reading.  During this time students will practice multiple close reading strategies as they gain to tools to understand and respond to text with depth. Through a series of lessons and assessments, I'll continue to build this process throughout the year.

Reader's Workshop: During this time students will read books of choice independently, with partners, and in small groups.  Students will have the chance to write reading responses related to those books as well. The next step in this effort is student-teacher one-to-one conferences where we set reading/writing goals, discuss interests, and determine ways that I can help the student develop best.

Writing Books: Our online and offline writer's books will be used during free write times in school and at home. Now that classroom routines are set it's time to make time to let student share their wonderful writing with me, classmates, and visiting volunteers and teachers.

Writer's Workshop: During writer's workshop we'll focus on specific genre including persuasive, narrative, and research topics using the writing process. This week begins our persuasive writing unit. Writer's workshop will also include focused lessons on grammar and spelling.  Further grammar and spelling will be included with Lexia, grammar/spell check, Sum Dog English/Writing, and other tools.

Math: Math will be taught standard by standard using a unit approach that embeds the standards for mathematical practice.  This teaching will include multiple modes of learning and teaching including hands-on, games, online practice and learning, projects, discussion, and models. Our first unit begins next Monday now that we're nearing the end of many assessments and the start of practice/study routines.

Social Studies will mainly be embedded into our reading and writing activities as well as related field studies and special events. Class culture, meetings, and decisions are part of our social studies work.  Our first efforts to learn about the history and current day aspects of Native American culture begin this week.

Science activities will be embedded into our Friday afternoon Maker Station/STEAM Fourth Grade Explore lab.  This will be a time when students can utilize the scientific process to research and create using online and hands-on tools and resources in self guided, teacher assisted ways. Next Friday will mark our first STEAM afternoon led by a talented colleague for the entire fourth grade.
Tech will be integrated throughout the curriculum and during our Wednesday and Friday tech workshops where students will learn specific tech skills and utilize those skills for interdisciplinary project work. Our tech specialist and fourth grade teachers began this process by creating a wonderful "Be the Architect of Your Own Learning" bulletin board.

Field studies are planned throughout the year to give students a chance to learn and explore in the field. Soon we'll begin our first adventure, Farm Days.

Each ingredient in the fourth grade journey is a limitless ingredient, one that students could eventually spend their life using and developing as a career and/or passion.  At this level, however, it's our aim to develop a broad foundation of multiple skills, concept, and knowledge in student-centered ways so that every one can find themselves in the curriculum offerings and information.

Is your fourth grade menu similar to ours?  What additional activities and events do you include? What efforts do you make to integrate all of these components into meaningful work and study for children?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Language of Learning

Note that much of this language came from John Hattie's book, Visible Learning for Teachers, Maximizing Impact on Learning 
Today students took a math assessment. The assessment will provide a baseline for an individualized math fact program.

Prior to the assessment we discussed learning.  I told the students that true learning causes change--a change in action, attitude, ideas, and/or knowledge.

Then I told them that there is a success process when it comes to learning.  I showed them the diagram above and we reviewed each step with the story of how I learned to teach my son to ride a bike, and how they'll use this process to meet their fact fluency goal:

Step One: A desire or need to learn.
My son was seven, and he couldn't ride a bike.  The children in the neighborhood were riding bikes, and we were going on bike rides as a family.  The fact that he couldn't ride a bike meant he was left out of friend and family activities.  He desired to ride a bike, and we knew that this was a need.

Similarly, students need to become facile at math facts in order to learn math at a higher level with ease and success.  This isn't true in all cases, but it is true in most cases, hence this is a fourth grade goal. 

Step Two: Determine Success Criteria
In this case, it's easy, the success criteria is riding a bike.

For facts, our goal is 50 facts of each operation in three minutes or less with three or fewer errors. 

Step Three: Assess
What did my son know at the start of this learning journey?  He could ride a bike with training wheels.

What do students know as they start their math fact learning journey.  Students took a series of That Quiz tests to find out.

Step Four: Plan and Strategize
I planned to hold on, push forward, and run close to my son to help him learn.  

Students will make a plan to reach their fact goal. Students will choose from a number of strategies.

Step Five: Act, Adapt, and Assess.
At first I tried to teach my son to ride his bike on a bumpy, hilly tar road.  That didn't work.  Then I brought him to a flat, part pavement-part grass school playground.  I also added a $ bribe to encourage him to try.  That worked.

Students will try out their plan.  We'll assess regularly and adapt the plan as needed so that they reach their goals.  There will be in-school parts of the plan and at-home parts.

Step Six: Final Assessment/Next Steps
My son's final assessment was done by observation.  I observed that he had learned to ride and was ready to ride wherever he wanted to.  The next step was to take him on some bike hikes and teach him about safe bike riding.

In class, students will choose when they are ready to take the test for each operation.

Step Seven: A New Goal!

We'll revisit this learning process regularly this year as children begin to understand that they're in the driver's seat of their education--they are the most important people when it comes to setting and meeting worthwhile learning goals.

Classroom Close Reading Starts

I've begun to think about close reading strategies in earnest as I teach my students this year.  I've heard a bit about the topic, and I've had to do a lot of close reading throughout my life for a large variety of reasons. Hence I'll combine my experience to date, classroom teaching, and regular research and reading to grow this practice throughout the year.

First, why is close reading important to teach. As I told my students today, there are many strategies that can help one to understand complex text, and if we understand how to read and understand complex text, we won't be tricked or left in the dark about subjects--we'll be in the know, and that's an important place to be for many reasons in life, reasons related to money, work, law and more.

With this in mind, we started the year learning about pre-reading strategies and the purpose of pre-reading. Yes, I realize that some close reading experts don't want to spend much time with "pre-reading," but we all know that pre-reading strategies set the stage for purposeful, efficient, and targeted reading.

Hence we took some time to answer these questions related to the selected text:

Purpose: Why are we reading this text?
The text was selected to teach us more about the five senses, senses we'll use as naturalists during our upcoming field trip to the farm.

Prior-Knowledge: What do we already know about the topic? What do we want to know?
Listing prior-knowledge and questions wakes up the brain and helps us to make connections to the new information.

Preview: Take a look at text structure and the author's intent by looking at titles, subtitles, illustrations, diagrams, length, and organization.
We learned how the author structured the text sense by sense.  We noticed diagrams and illustrations to make the information easier to understand.  We noticed there was a subtitle for each section.

Predict: What do we expect to learn from this text?
We made the prediction that the text would teach us how our senses work.

Plan: What's the best way to read the text?
We made many decisions about this including the following:
  • Read slow enough to see a picture in your mind.
  • Circle unknown words and try to figure them out by using the following strategies:
    • Read the whole sentence or section to figure out what the word might mean
    • Look for little words in the word to figure out the meaning.
    • Use the diagrams and illustrations to help you figure out the words. 
    • Consult a dictionary or ask a teacher if you're able.
  • Underline key information, information that matches our purpose.
  • Write questions and draw pictures in the margins as a way of having a "conversation" with the text.
  • "Chunk it" as Bill Belichick suggests the Patriots do at each game. We decided it was best to chunk it sense by sense.  Then after reading each "chunk" write a short summary including questions if you have any.
Since I started using the 5 P's of pre-reading for my own reading, I've been much more efficient, targeted and successful with my research.  Tomorrow students will have a chance to read the material with like-ability partners.  They'll follow the plan we set and answer a few questions at the end of the text.  

This is simply step one of our year's close reading activity.  I look forward to learning from my PLN and research about other ways to teach and facilitate practice of this important skill.


Pulled in Many Directions

Classroom teachers are pulled in many directions.  I've written about this many times.  There's committee work, multiple leaders' initiatives, student needs and interests, standards, curriculum programs, and more. All of these initiatives and needs can serve as a forceful tide to nowhere if you're not cognizant of the pull's weight and the need to choose the direction that matters.

What matters most in schools is student learning--that's what we're there for.  We teach so that we can give students the best possible gift of education--an education that is engaging, forward-moving, rich, and broad.

How do we make this happen?
  1. Stay true to a solid weekly routine--a routine that meets the most important student needs and interests.
  2. Don't overbook yourself with regard to outside initiatives and efforts--keep time for the important work related to student learning. 
  3. Find a professional learning network near or far that serves to support, encourage, and develop your knowledge and efforts. Contribute to and learn from that community.
  4. Assess, adapt, create, and implement continuously in an effort to teach children well. 
  5. Evaluate opportunities before signing on to make sure the work supports the primary objective: teaching children well.
Teachers need to work together to make the time and efforts to teach children well sacred in schools.  I'll use this guide as I move forward today and in the days to come. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Third Week of School Promise

The first two weeks of school have passed. Those weeks were very busy as we began routines, tweaked schedules, and hosted parents for a curriculum night.  As week three starts today, I'm looking forward to a student-centered week.  The lessons are planned, the focus targeted, and the team informed.

What will the week bring.

First, there are a number of assessments this week. I'll watch closely as students tackle math, writing, and reading assessments. Will they meet the tasks with energy and an open mind or will they be resistant, worried, and challenged?

I'll also dive into the first close reading lessons this week. How will I generate enthusiasm and investment into this important process--a process which will serve to give students critical reading and writing skills as well as an information foundation for upcoming field studies and projects.

We'll continue our read aloud making connections along the way and charting how the main character's actions, thoughts, and feelings affect her life's events.  We'll also create a timeline as that's one good way to keep track of a historical fiction.

Edmodo, Kahn, SumDog, and Dragon Box will serve as at-home bonus study spots--I'll check in to see who is gravitating towards this enrichment work.

Finally, there will be a number of opportunities to hone my collaborative skill as our team works together on the persuasive writing unit, shares learning materials, grasps the new evaluation system, and sets the stage for a year of successful, fruitful PLCs.

A busy week ahead, but a good week.  Thanks to my PLN near and far for all their support, great ideas, and encouragement as I move forward in this teaching year.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Frustration and Solution

Frustration often leads to compromised work.

Often frustrations are given little time at the education table so they persist.

I'm thinking about the frustration in order to minimize the distraction to good work.

What are they?
  1. Ineffective process. How can we make process effective and efficient to teach children well?
  2. No breaks. How can we find time in the day so that everyone gets a short break every two or so hours. In some cases that doesn't happen. This might mean a subtle change in the schedule.
  3. Lead time. How can we make sure to give educators lead time for tasks noting that most educators are busy from the time they step into a school on Monday until Friday afternoon. The best think time is usually the weekends--that's the time to plan ahead, take a close look at agenda items, and schedule appropriately.
  4. Timelines. Initiatives that come with a "loose-tight" timeline foster vision and production. When an initiative lacks this there is no structure, and when there is no structure much falls through the cracks of the initiative.
  5. Transparency. Straight talk matters and makes a big difference.  If others are spending time trying to figure out what's going on, that wastes time. 
  6. Respect. Have a positive attitude and respect the actions and attitudes of others. Be open to questions for clarity as clarity helps to build respect. 
  7. Office Hours. Make time for your constituents and make those times or communication protocols transparent--be available for those you serve.
  8. Guidelines and Communication. Share the news on a regular basis through weekly memos, updates, or feeds--keep people in the loop of the organization's accomplishments, focus, plans, and needs. 
  9. Delegate. What can you delegate for best effect. Often we don't take the time to realize that we don't have to do it all.  There's often eager volunteers ready to help out. 
I write this list for my own work as well as anyone else who finds it helpful?  What frustrations do you have, and what would bring resolve?  The more we can smooth out the rough edges of our own work and efforts, the better we'll be able to do.  Agree? 

One of Many

A challenge for children in classrooms is that they are one of many--one of many who needs the teacher's help, one of many who want to use a particular toy, and one of many waiting in the lunch line to get their lunch.

Similar to students, teachers too are one of many.  One of many who wants to share an idea, one of many who waits for a leader's time, and one of many who stands at the copier before school to copy that last minute inspired lesson for the students.

As we move forward towards greater collaboration in schools, we have to consider this "one of many" factor--the so many times that you have to wait your turn to be heard, use a tool, or ask a question.

This can be troubling, and can serve to encourage strong wills or silence.

The key in this regard is to take a look at the waiting time both teachers and students are doing in school--when is it necessary and when are there other ways to deal with the situation.

With regard to committee work or student learning, when is the team too big for voice and choice?

With regard to leadership, when are the numbers to lead too many?

When it comes to coaching and support, is it clear who a child or teacher is to report to, consult with, or ask when issues arise?

Streamlining and defining systems and supports in school well can take that "one of many" issue and manage it well so that when the important question, issue, or need arises, it's your turn or at least it's your "one of a few" turn.  What do you think?  How do you solve this issue?

Embedding Standards into Meaningful Learning Experiences

I am very excited about learning design. The goal is to embed standards into meaningful learning experiences. There is little time for this activity, hence an efficient process is necessary.  How does one start?

Our grade level has a number of meaningful interdisciplinary learning experiences that match the context and current social studies/science frameworks.  I will work to embed the standards into three of those units this year:
I will start this process with Farm Days and the Culture Project since those are fall initiatives. 

The first way, I'll embed standards is to collect and create a number of close reading lessons that match the intent of each project.  For example today I created a close reading learning experience that focuses on pre-reading strategies and the five senses since during our first Farm Days' visit we'll use our senses as scientists to discover and chart information about the habitats around us. I'll follow up with a next close reading passage and focus related to habitats. I'll continue to study, find, and create close reading passages and practice related to the themes of each project.  For example, for the culture project I'll facilitate a stretch close reading as we focus on Blanco's inaugural poem, "One Today."

To embed writing standards, students will begin by creating "Wonder Books" to use during the Farm Days exploration.  I'll also work to match craft and genre lessons to the themes of each project. Our focus for the Culture Project will be short-text informational paragraph writing. We'll guide students with research skills and practice, note taking, and digital efforts to produce these projects. Students will later use these skills with greater depth during the spring endangered species projects. 

As far as math goes, as much as possible I will try to use the numbers and data related to our study and work.  For example, our rounding exercises will help us to visualize numbers related to local and world geography--the s t r e t c h for that focus might be to create ratios of one country to another or one ocean to another in order to visualize area with greater precision. We'll do some data collection at Drumlin Farm too which can help us with regard to our work with line plots and pie graphs.  

During free reading and writing workshop time, students will have the time to focus on our interdisciplinary topics through available book collections and writing/publishing opportunities.

As I write, I realize I'm just at the start of this process of building invigorating project/problem-base design that incorporates the standards, field study, themes, and students' interests and passions with depth.  The collaboration with colleagues will help me to build this emphasis with greater effect.  I welcome your thoughts and ideas as well. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

New Tech To Try

New tech is outpacing my ability to try it all, so I'm starting this list of tech I want to try and will return to it when I have a chance.

Voice Commenting on Google Docs

Effective Process: Collaboration

As I ready for next week, I'm thinking about effective process and collaboration.

As I think about this topic, I'm reminded of the following attributes.
  1. Sharing procedural information and information to consider prior to conversation so people can reflect, think, and prep for a good conversation.
  2. The need for a facilitator to lead a meeting beginning with introductions and the review of the agenda.
  3. The importance of a meaningful focus, one that most people are invested in--a focus that matters.
  4. The advantage of backwards design, working from the point of the success criteria of an initiative or plan and backwards as you map the work you plan to do.
  5. Taking the time needed to analyze a problem well before discussing solutions.
  6. The number of people involved--how many people are too many for a good discussion, share, collaboration, and initiatives.
  7. The need for tight foci--too many agenda items can diminish effectiveness.
  8. A positive attitude--giving everyone a chance to share, contribute, and debate.  This process is really helped by preview of agenda, materials, and focus. 
  9. Record keeping so that all have an accurate idea of what has happened throughout the process.
Effective process makes a difference when it comes to positive change--I want to focus on this topic next week as I collaborate with colleagues to teach children well. 

Teaching a Blended, Standards-Based 4th Grade Math Program

I am facilitating a blended, standards-based math program this year at fourth grade.

Blended means that I'll be using multiple tools to teach math including tech, hands-on exploration, problem solving, worksheets, and more.

Standards-based means I'll pay particular attention to new standards as I teach each unit.

My work with UClass is prompting me to look at each standard with depth.  I'm adding lessons to that website for a small fee and a chance to work with a start-up in the ed field. If you want to access standards-based lessons with an easy-to-use "package" I'd recommend you try UClass.

I'm also placing my lessons and organization on my own Tenacious Team 15 Math Website which I'll update unit by unit and share with grade level and school system colleagues as we implement and assess new standards and strategies for effective teaching.

As I think about this year's roll-out of the program, I will follow this initial order as outlined on the website:

1. Review of Scope and Sequence and Standards (we did that last week).
2. Starting Facts Practice Routines (online with Sum Dog and Xtra Math)
3. Assessments, Review of Data, and Teaching Plan.
4. Place Value/Rounding Units
5. Addition/Subtraction and Introduction to Problem Solving.

After I complete these units, I'll begin my work on the measurement unit.  Each unit will embed the skills, strategies, and concepts of previously taught units to provide continued practice.

Please add any useful tools and strategies to the website in the comments section if you'd like. Also feel free to access these links and strategies as you augment your selected school programs to teach children well in a blended, standards-base math environment.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Journal: Week 2

One of the week's highlights was creating this bulletin board with the entire fourth grade team. 
Unlike last week's sunny, bright Friday, today was a sticky, humid day.  The children worked and learned with joy despite the heat. We created writing websites, listened to Chopin's Prelude in A Minor which a child in the class played at Carnegie Hall, looked a pictures of Carnegie Hall, wrote in our journals, read books, listened to student-crafted stories, played instruments, collaborated around math tech games, and engaged in some free choice.

Last night parents attended curriculum night displaying terrific support for their children and the school program--such a gift from a teacher's point of view.

The professional week itself provided many challenges from the new MA evaluation system's wavy waters to standards' debates, tech discussions (yes, debate about tech use continues to prevail sadly), and the challenges of figuring out how to manage the workload. Many of the professional challenges are perennial issues in schools, issues I wish would go away. (I know, after wishing them away, the next step is dealing with them).

Next week will bring the introduction to the persuasive writing unit, lots of varied math and reading assessments, more standards-based report card discussion, writing a STEAM grant, beginning our Native American culture unit, more MA teachers' evaluation and standards' work, and lots of student-teacher interactions, a busy, positive week.

In many ways the year at this time is like a train that's starting to gain steam for the journey. There's fits and starts as students get to know me, and I get to know students.  There's the ebb and flow of new teams, schedules, and standards.  All in all, the year's off to a great start thanks to the efforts of so many in the learning community: dedicated students, family members, teachers, leaders, and community members.  Onward.

Know Your Place

When entertaining and studying big ideas in education, there's a temptation to forget your place as a teacher. Teachers are still workers who have leadership, rules, and contracts.  We work in systems where we have mandates and protocols to follow.

There's a temptation to want what you imagine for schools to be present right now, in the moment--vibrant communities of ready share, collaboration, debate, and forward movement, but the reality is that schools are organizations of multiple view points, roles, structures, schedules, and timelines--no one alone dictates this, and teachers usually don't make leadership decisions.

Forgetting one's role can stand in one's way of successful work. This becomes difficult when belief systems, new information, and ideas differ from the current landscape. What is one to do?

First, understand the educational landscape that you work in accurately. Know your role, and understand how to advocate effectively. It's okay to take risks, but you have to know the consequences with regard to those risks.

Next, seek collegial advice and insights. Often idealists need the real-time perspective of trusted colleagues to understand situations well, because often idealists see no reason why a dream, vision, and belief can't be implemented or needs a different process.

After that, mostly know your role, and work your magic, vision, and beliefs through your role. When treading outside of your role you risk troubles, troubles that are often not worth the time and effort.

Schools are still not the learning communities I dream of--schools are political organizations often far more complex than the clients they serve or the agenda that's important.  As I move forward with greater understanding of all of this, I also move in a direction of greater service to the children I teach and the families I serve as a classroom teacher.  I'll continue to write about my vision for good schools and optimal process--process that serves to move us towards a learning community.  I'll heed the lessons I've learned of late eating a bit of humble pie in that regard (must say I don't like the taste of humble pie, but it serves the spirit well in the long run), and I'll dive into my new challenge. Lessons learned.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Wavy Waters of the New MA Evaluation System

I continue to explore, study, and try to understand the new Massachusetts' Evaluation System with care.  As I've mentioned numerous times it's a complex process, but not a process without merit.  I still believe that if we streamline and implement this system well, it has the potential to move the teaching/learning profession forward with strength.

Currently I'm exploring my role with regard to this process.  I'm realizing that the language a system crafts with unions and administration impacts how the system is implemented and managed quite a bit.  I'm noticing that teachers' roles in the system differ from system to system, and systems are treating the new evaluation system with a myriad of responses from less to more time, effort, and effect.

At this time my focus lies in supporting educators with the process and doing my best to use the process to develop my teaching/learning repertoire and impact when it comes to teaching children well.

I updated my TeachFocus website today.  Please feel free to use this website to help guide your work in this regard. As you embrace and embark on the process be mindful of your system's details related to the roll-out timelines, language, and efforts as this will differ from system to system.

In some ways, this system has a "choose our own adventure" feel--I wish you well as you embark on this adventure. In the meantime, I'll continue to update, prune, and enrich the website as I continue to learn about the process.  Let me know if there's anything I've missed or other helpful resources and school system stories.  The more we share with each other, the better we'll be able to navigate this potent process.

Schedule Revision

As noted, the year met its first unexpected pothole this week which resulted in lost time and a revised focus and schedule. The more specific I can be about the focus, the better chance I'll have at meeting the goals and maximizing my teaching/learning efforts.

Assessment, Review, and Response
There's no choice but to set aside weekend time for thoughtful student work and assessment review. I simply don't have the time blocks and energy necessary during the week to carefully look over students' work with care and an eye on future learning needs, differentiated teaching, and the tools needed to review, practice and teach skills. Hence I'll set aside Sunday mornings for this effort. As Hattie suggests in his book, Visible Learning for Teachers, Maximizing Impact on Learning, assessment, review, and response is an important key to successful learning.  Classroom teachers work with multiple children each day, children who produce a large number of wonderful projects and papers--more than any teacher could review.  In a perfect world, there would be time set aside each week for this thoughtful student review and response, an effort that serves teaching and learning well, but it's not a perfect world.  Hence, each Sunday I'll choose a few important papers for each child to review with care.  I'll use online assessments and in-class response when I can to help with this process.  I'll also put aside my thoughts that we need more skilled time-on-task professionals with regard to this process as that's outside of my impact at this time. However, a quick audit of staff with regard to who has responsibility for large quantities of at-home work and who doesn't would shed an interesting light on school roles, possibility, and potential.

Lesson Planning
I'll continue the practice of planning the week's lessons a week in advance, and sharing that plan with other teaching professionals and assistants that work with my class.  I'll leave room in the schedule to change plans as needed to respond to student need and interest.

I'll update websites, documents, tech lists regularly, and send out a learning community newsletter once a week.

Unit Planning
Similar to lesson planning, I'll prep units about a month in advance, leaving time for material acquisition/prep, scheduling, and research if needed.

I'll continue my daily a.m. practice of research, writing, and detailed prep related to the day's lessons and expectations.

I'll continue my weekly #satchat and #edchat which feed my teaching/learning spirit. Thanks PLN!

Each month I'll engage in one professional learning activity.  October will find me at the MassCUE technology conference.  November brings NCTE.  December--a focus on writing.  January: Educon. February: RETELL.  March: the finishing touches on NBPTS.  April, May, and June?

Next summer I'll make room for a curriculum review with respect to the efforts this year to integrate all the new standards into worthy learning design and teaching.  I'll also leave room for the unexpected learning which most often leads the summer learning effort.

I'm sure this routine will continue to undergo change as I meet the unexpected, but until now this provides a framework with which to move forward to teach well.

Do you create a similar framework to meet teaching/learning expectations and needs?  If so, what leads this effort and do you have any tips to share?  This is one area of the teaching/learning life that remains a challenge as factory models continue to stay strong in most schools.

Shared Documents Require Process

Recently I worked with a number of people on a shared online document. What we never considered was the process that would underlie the life of the document? When would we edit? How would we communicate? Who would be responsible for what?

Unlike a binder, an online document has a life of it's own. Similar to a plant in your garden, websites and public documents require pruning, weeding, and nurturing to stay vital, attractive, and useful.  And when it comes to a collaborative document, the decisions about how to care for the document, the document share, and decisions about the document have to made by those who created the work.

Also unlike a binder, an online document has the potential to be a ready, accessible, helpful resource that individuals can access at the stroke of a key anytime night or day.  The online document doesn't require carrying home a cumbersome file of papers, and it's easy to edit, modify, or enrich.

Yet, if a process for collaboration, editing, and updating doesn't exist, then the online document ceases to fulfill its original aim or goal, and it essentially becomes much more like the outdated binder that sits on your shelf.

With regard to my own garden of websites, I update on a regular basis. I typically update unit websites a month before teaching a unit.  I update my ePortfolio, class website, and subject-area websites regularly to reflect new research, structure, and ideas.  I pay particular attention to websites that are public so that the information I share is timely and accessible.

It seems to me that online documents and websites require a bit more process and decision making up front in order to make the document useful, timely, and informative. As we move forward to include new tools in our work, it's important to understand and employ a process that matches those tools too.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

New Course

My new course will be to study and implement all the new standards with depth.  I'll challenge myself to implement these standards into worthy, student-centered learning design.  I'll move standard-by-standard in ELA and math this year to help students learn with success. I'll complete my year's coordination and commitment to UClass as part of this process.

At fourth grade most of the standards are related to essential reading, writing, and math skills--the building blocks of a good education.  I'll integrate tech, hands-on learning, and field study, as I work with my talented grade-level team to share ideas and teach children well.

The routine for this will include the following:
  • Use my professional learning time to study the new standards and embed those standards into great learning design.
  • Choose professional activities related to learning design.
  • Use professional energy for teaching students well including lesson planning, teaching, assessment, response, and adaptation.
  • Try out new tools and strategies often.
  • Continue to collaborate with learning design PLN in real time and online.
  • Set small goals along the way, unit-by-unit.
Meaningful goals set the stage for good work. Meaningful goals also serve to fill the energy reserve needed to teach well.  The focus is set, and the work is waiting to be done.  Onward. 


If you read my blog, you know that I believe systematic change holds promise for teaching children well. I believe a lot of the long-held structures, schedules, and systems can be revised, enriched, replaced, and/or streamlined to better serve students. I believe this is potentially a great time for education--the tools available are amazing, learning access is better than ever, and there's more community support since so many people from all walks of life know education matters.

With this in mind, I've invested a lot of time thinking about new systems and structure to move schools forward.  I've been outspoken about systems which I believe can be enriched or improved as well as systems that require replacement.  I dove into the State's new teacher evaluation system with strength to find out if Massachusetts is moving in the direction of research.  I've met with Union and school administrators to learn about the system and advocate for win-win teacher--leader information and access.

I like this work, creativity, and problem solving, and feel that my daily work with children gives me a front row seat to what really matters to students and schools. Yet, my role as a teacher serves to hinder my work in this regard because for many this work is seen as leader-work, not the work of classroom teachers. For many, the classroom teacher is the implementer, not the thinker, creator, or problem solver.  For many, classroom teachers are looked down upon if they ask questions, share information, or have ideas--in fact, some even see this as an embarrassment and wonder, Why is a teacher getting involved in this work.

Of course I don't agree with these sentiments, but these sentiments are a reality in schools throughout the country.  I talk with many teachers from diverse systems, and many face the same challenges. Few listen to teachers or make the time to include teachers in decisions that impact their daily work and efforts, and if teachers are given voice, the situation is often scripted, contrived, and already completed.  One practical reason that teachers have little voice is that many decisions are made while teachers are unavailable because they are spending most of their time each day with time-on-task efforts with children while others are spending that time making decisions.

I've expressed these sentiments before.  Usually this type of blog post arises when a valued idea or effort has been dismissed, used without credit, or demeaned.  Without idea systems and share protocols, many ideas are met with those reactions.  These kinds of idea responses show others that it is not a good idea to share ideas offering a kind of warning.  These reactions also serve to put me in my place, the classroom.

So once again I've been rerouted--it's cause for thought, analysis, and redirection. I'll once again take a break from big ideas, innovation, and debate and focus on my students' individual needs.  It's challenging to meet students' needs when you don't feel like part of a greater team, but nevertheless I'll do my best.  I'll throw my energy into meeting new standards in ways that engage, excite, and teach children well.  I have a great class of eager learners and supportive parents.  Onward.

Cheer Yourself On!

Teaching is a job that comes from within.

You need that inner vision, energy, and enthusiasm to do the job well.

It really helps if the community around you boosts that drive with shared goals, encouragement, appreciation, and collaboration.  That's ideal.

Sometimes, however, that's not available and you have to reach down inside yourself to energize, encourage, and cheer yourself on to do a good job--a job for which the rewards are often difficult to see or calculate, a job quite similar to parenting.


Sometimes a solid conflict helps you to see your path with greater clarity.

A conflict can remind you of constraints, rules, hierarchy, focus, and more.

Meeting a conflict head on can clear the air for forward movement and focus.

And so the year begins and rights me once again in my direction to serve children well--to focus on their needs, challenges, and passions.

Whenever I tread the waters outside of that focus my boat is turned back to that place--the place of childhood dreams, play, learning, challenge, and growth.  A teacher's place.


I have a vision of great schools--places where children thrive and educators are treated with respect.

I have a vision for great schools where people work together to develop, grow, and change for the better.

I have a vision for great schools where the unimportant processes, events, and actions are streamlined so there's time for what's most important.

I have a vision for schools where most people serve children with skilled time-on-task each day.

I have a vision for schools with great buildings, wonderful playgrounds and sports fields, arts programs, and state-of-the art tools that make learning accessible to all.

I have a vision for schools where educators work with vision taking risks to try out new ideas, looking for the best learning venues and projects, and continuing to learn and share.

I have a vision for schools that are learning communities which include families, students, educators, leaders, and community members in the process, decisions, and actions on a regular basis.

I have a vision for schools where each group serves another--teachers serve students and families, leaders serve teachers, the community serves leaders so that everyone has the support and encouragement they need to do a great job.

I have a vision for schools where every child is treated with respect and there's an urgency to serve every child well.

I have a vision for schools where all have a reasonable schedule, and all work with care during that time to serve children well.

I have a vision for schools where all earn a fair salary so that they can devote their work time to school and still have time and money to enjoy family and friends.

I have a vision of schools where people work together for the mission of teaching and serving children well, and that mission is at the forefront of all efforts, discussions, share, and action.

That is my vision for schools at this time, a vision I am committed to, and a vision I'll continue to work for.