Monday, March 31, 2014


Do you inspire those that you serve?

Do you stop to talk to them, find out what they need, and then work to meet their needs?

Inspiration is a key element of good work.

Without it, eventually, the good work possible is compromised.

The Monday Memo?

I still continue to long for the Monday Memo--the note that inspires team and reviews the week's agenda an organization.

I know there are others for whom the Monday Memo is a chore, one more email to read, and an unnecessary gesture. After all, everyone can take a look at the calendar to find out what's happening this week.

The Monday Memo, however, is more than a calendar, it's a short text that sets the weekly course and inspires the team.

Or, it could be an ongoing document, the kind I use with my class--I encourage students to check in daily to see if there's new news as well as to review the week's focus for home study, enrichment and more.

So on this rainy Monday in March, the week when most ELA MCAS tests are complete, and a week just three weeks before April break, what would the message be.

A picture from your own school would be best. 
First an inspiring quote and image:

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
James Baldwin (1924-1987); Author
This week's big idea:
Invigorating learning perseverance, self direction, and attention to learning goals and objectives. Encouraging students' knowledge and action demonstrating the understanding that they are in the "driver's seat of their education."

Next, the nuts and bolts--the week's agenda (I've included our team focus here):

  • Fractions, fractions, and more fractions.
  • Endangered Species: close reading, vocabulary, and informational posters.
  • Professional Learning: RETELL writing focus, bridging the achievement gap tips, introduction to new tech, and field studies prep.
  • eBooks and Reading focus: class book, story board, using ebooks, fluency practice.
The Monday Memo doesn't have to be long, but it does need to be focused on the inspiration, targets, and the important details related to the week ahead.  

I believe that the Monday Memo is one way to build team--do you agree?

Bring the Sunshine

It's another dark, gray day in New England--the last day of what always seems like the longest month, March.  A good day to bring the sunshine of happy learning activities, a sense of community, and cheer.

The children, like me, will come in a bit weary and perhaps sleepy on this dark morning.  We'll begin by sharpening colored pencils and organizing colorful markers in preparation for making clock fraction models after school assembly--that will bring some color to the day.

Later, we'll finish the wonderful story, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and discuss the paper-cut panels we'll make for the very large story board we'll make depicting this story, a story board that will help us prepare for attending a play that tells the story at a nearby college theater.

After gym, students will have some time to read their books of choice, and then we'll spend time finish our endangered species informational posters and exploring Khan Math.  There might be sometime left over for tech choice too if everyone meets the early day expectations.

Despite the gray, dark, day, we can bring sunshine with our collective activities and attitude on this very last day in March.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Begin Vision with Unmet Needs

Beginning vision with unmet needs is a good place to start.

Who in your learning community continues to struggle--struggle academically, socially, physically, emotionally?

Who in your learning community is distanced from the tools, materials, processes, content, skills, concepts, and success possible?

Who in your learning community demands more attention and care?

Typically helping those most in need serves to help all in the community.

This is a good place to start when creating vision.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Invigorating Learning Communities

How can we invigorate learning communities small and large? A learning community is the community of individuals committed to learning. For example, my classroom is a learning community that includes students, teachers, parents, community members, and educational leaders. My school learning community includes all of my colleagues, families, the greater community, students, and leaders. As educators, we all belong to multiple learning communities online and off.

How can we invigorate these communities so that we're always moving towards best effort and result? How can we navigate the waterfalls of promising new research, materials, tools, processes, and ideas for best effect?

In this day and age, there is no reason why our learning communities can't be positive, forward moving, organizations of growth and development?  Yet, we may be stymied in old think and structures that prohibit the best of what we can do.

So, in moving forward, we need to think about the following questions:

First, and foremost, what do we believe in. I think most learning communities can agree that they want to serve every child well with programs that are engaging, empowering, and successful.  Defining what engaging, empowering, and successful looks like in the learning community is essential.  What does apt engagement look like?  Who is an empowered student, and what attributes define that?  How do we define success for each child, grade, activity, learning objective?

Next, I think we have to look at the integrity of our structures. What structures produce vital, successful learning, and what structures need repair?  This can be analyzed on many levels. For example, as a classroom teacher, I need to continually look at the learning design and structures I employ to see what works and what doesn't.  I keep a running list of successful strategies, and quickly retire those strategies that don't lead to greater growth, engagement, or academic success.

Then, we have to employ new strategies to invigorate our learning/teaching communities. For example, I think that long-term, traditional committee work might evolve to include short-term, differentiated, targeted study groups and learning pilots--groups that are responsible for targeted growth and change.  I also think we need to re-look at communication systems assessing the systems to identify those that lead to vigorous share and learning, and those that don't promote better work, share, and learning.

There's much to think about as we consider the ways we already support vigorous learning communities, and the ways that we can do this better.  I will bring these questions to my own microsphere of learning, the classroom community, in the days to come.  I welcome your thoughts and ideas in this regard.

Experience the Joy: Teaching Young Children

Yesterday during playground duty I told students that I had decided to be a child for a while.  For the first time, I slid down the slide, climbed up the monkey bars, and played on a few other playground pieces I had never explored. I also relaxed on the swings. The beautiful, warmer air and snowless playground inspired the play.

It was great to see the children's delight as I interacted with their playground activities and structures--"Run, Ms. Devlin, Run," they called out as they ran all over the muddy fields.

So many in my PLN remind us daily to remember the joy, and bring the happiness to our work each day. I won't be playing on the equipment every day as it's clearly made for young, flexible bodies, but I will wear sneakers and "play clothes" more often so I can interact fully with the imagination, energy, and open attitudes students bring to learning each day.

Promoting a balance of multiple learning paths and free time too, I'll continue on the path of choreographing days that teach children well.  What do you do to foster playful, joyful, learning communites?  I'm interested in your ideas as I grow this aspect of teaching and learning.

Where Are We Going: Ed-Tech Vision

My students are currently fully involved in three deep learning streams including fractions study, reading and responding to great books, and endangered species research and presentation--these threads of learning require lots of engaging class study, collaboration, and exploration.  For me, these in-class threads require lots of coaching and personalization. The energy and effort is good, the prep work is complete, and so I have a bit of time for analysis and forward thought.

Through Educon 2.6, social networks, and interaction with the system-wide Tech Task Force, I've collected a number of vision/assessment articles.  I plan to read them soon in order to gain a broad direction for the ed-tech work I do to teach children well.

These are the documents I'll read:

U.S. Department of Education Strategic Plan For Fiscal Years 2014-2018
Digital Learning Now 2013 Report Card
Massachusetts Business for Alliance in Education Tech Vision
Pew Research Internet Project: Digital Life in 2025

I'll read these documents with the lenses of a teacher of elementary school children, a parent of young adults and teenagers, and an advocate for what's best for children.

What articles, books, or reports would you add to this list?  What are the big questions you would target as you read these reports?

After I do this analysis, I hope to complete these other analyses and work.
  • Completion of my reading and review of all the deeper learning MOOC information.
  • A return to reading and work related to brain-friendly education efforts and work.
  • Review of last year's learning/teaching assessment and Massachusetts' new evaluation system elements
Like so many teachers in the field, I truly enjoy the deep analysis that goes along with teaching well--the time to thoughtfully analyze the broad landscape of education.  I find that this study truly impacts the work I do each day to teach children well. 

I look forward to the thoughts and ideas you have to share in this regard. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Closed Groups Hinder Promise

Recently a colleague asked me to join a group only to find that the group was closed to a select few. Like a castle surrounding a moat, the valuable information was unavailable to me.

Yes, there will be times when closed networks are necessary. For example, I don't want to share my entire professional evaluation with the world since there will be fine, personal points, both positive and challenging, that I want to hold close, but when information could serve all, I believe that those information networks should be open and advertised to all interested.

Closed networks, too-tight procedures, and selected share are all methods that serve exclusivity in a school system rather than inclusivity. If we open up our share with almost all information, you'll find that those who are interested will come, and others will not as we can't all do all things, and we're not even interested in all matters.

Too many closed networks will create exclusivity at schools.  I advocate for opening up and advertising most initiatives to all as I believe that open share will create greater, more purposeful work--the kind of collaboration that will move schools forward to serve children well.

The Balanced Day: Teaching Well

As a classroom generalist, and a teacher of all subjects for young children, I find a main focus of my work is creating a balanced day for children.  That balanced day includes learning in multiple ways, time for play, and socialization.  The learning design is a give and take which starts with standards and students' identified interests and needs, and grows with a "call and respond" like movement not unlike a dance, a give and take. Choreography.

The same is true at the collegial level since my colleagues are also working towards balance in their efforts--a balance of responding to their students, meeting system-wide expectations, and pushing forward with new learning and endeavor. It's an energized momentum that keeps our school and system buzzing with activity, continual positive change, and healthy debate.

There's a need for balance too with regard to school efforts which we know can be limitless, and one's personal life, family, healthy routines, recreation, and exploration, because as I've written many times, but not always followed--"all work and no play," makes educators dull and less effective.

The greater the transparency of effort, direction, and need, the more balance is possible because colleagues, students, and family members know where you're heading, and are able to better support, communicate, and even challenge that direction in positive ways--ways that efficiently provide momentum for your learning/teaching path.

Also, a regular pattern of identifying and solidifying the mission is integral. For me, the role, in many ways, is classroom conductor, one who leads and orchestrates multiple efforts to foster deep, meaningful, student-centered, standards-based learning each day--one who facilitates students' learning flexibility and facility as they learn to learn, learn about themselves, work/play together, and gain a strong foundation of skill, concept, and knowledge across disciplines.

As the classroom conductor, coach, and mentor, it's my role to access and use the best ideas, materials, problems, and information to support my learners' needs and the expectations of the learning community.

I need to continually ask the questions: How can I balance my time and effort to best serve and support the children in my midst--what do they need, and what will they profit from?  How can I support a holistic learning environment that is joyful, engaging, empowering, and academically rich?

The answers to those questions will continually change, and benefit from apt curation of online/offline tools, information, and materials, collegial share near and far, and targeted, efficient, and rich collaboration within the learning community.

The questions that will lead this work include:
  • Is this time well spent, and directed towards serving children well?
  • What do children need in order to develop strong, joyful learning dispositions, mindsets, and foundations?
  • What routines best support optimal collaboration and efforts within the learning community?
  • How can I contribute to the greater learning community with care and positive impact?
  • In what ways am I able to foster balanced routines in school and at home to maximize my contribution and work to teach children well?
The path of teaching well twists and turns as it responds to multiple stimulus. The educator continually has to assess and determine how to respond, and what's the best course given many possible choices, and many voices.  Choosing with transparency, collaboration, and a child-centered approach invigorates the path and directs our work well.  Onward (with balance)!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Efficiency of Information Shared

I spend a lot of time asking questions, and trying to figure things out.

When information is readily shared and coordinated, less time has to be spent asking questions and seeking information.

Yet, how can information be shared.

First, as information is collected and discussed, the notes can be hosted on a collaborative document or website. There could be places on that document for questions, ideas, and suggestions--I noticed that teaching platforms such as Khan Academy has that. This creates a "go-to" place for information, expression, and share.

Next, information share can be timely and regular--an ongoing conversation of information shared that learning community members can regularly check. In busy organizations, this creates team and serves to integrate information in positive ways.

When information is shared often and with depth, less time has to be spent asking procedural questions and looking for information, and more time can be spent on the important questions and conversations that move our schools forward to teach children well.

How do you share information regularly and comprehensively?  How does that information share serve to streamline procedures and leave more time for the important work of teaching children well?

Lots of Teaching Today

After a few days of testing, and a deviation from our typical schedule, we're back to the teaching/learning routine today, and I must say I welcome the change.

Testing disrupts our school in many ways due to the staffing needs, time, and energy needed to administer the tests.  That disruption affects students' attitudes and readiness for the other curriculum and daily matters, and it's important to consider that disruption seriously so students have the energy, inspiration, and focus to "show off" and do their best on the tests.

Now that we're headed back to our typical learning routine, I'll have to make some time to acknowledge the return as we create our endangered species mini posters, learn about equivalent fractions, and read wonderful stories today.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Struggle that Supports Deep Learning

Yesterday the students and I took apart a few pages of complex text that introduced the main reasons why animals and plant species are endangered, and also, why it's important to conserve species.

There was lots of new vocabulary, and the text was dense--every sentence brought forth a new idea, concept, or fact. Children labored through the text with me. Later, partners chose a section of the text to rephrase and make student-friendly in mini posters as one way to teach the whole  school about this topic, and a way to practice the standards-based reading, writing, and presentation skills they'll later use when they write their reports.

The first part of the partner work included coming up with a question that summarized their section of the text, the kind of question that would attract young readers' eyes, thinking, and imagination, and the kind of question that would create understanding with regard to the big ideas of endangered species.  That task created lots of struggle as students tried to get to the main idea of each section of text. Some wanted to give up, and others tried numerous avenues that didn't quite meet the expectation.  I coached always with our audience in mind, This is important as understanding brings support and action for positive change.  You have the ability to make a difference to all students in the school with the way you convey this information.

Today I'll coach some more as students create those big questions, then bullet important points, and describe how people can help preserve plant and animal species. I'll also guide students as they choose just right, free-to-use images to support the information, format words and images on cardboard, and film their one-minute oral presentations via PhotoBooth for a multimedia informative, eye-catching, persuasive introduction to our study of endangered species and animal reservations.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Promise of Deep Teaching

As I sat with my son this morning editing a social studies assignment related to the brutal murder of Emmett Till in 1955, it was clear to me that we have an obligation to this kind of deep teaching--the kind of teaching that strengthens students' skills, concepts, and knowledge so that they can clearly understand their world, both past and present, and then respond to that world with concise, accurate, and thoughtful communication.

We need a populace that is well educated, knowledgeable, and ready to tackle the problems they will face in life as they build a better world.

While many worry about the Common Core Standards, I must say that I like the way the standards at my level are pushing us to deeper, more comprehensive teaching.  Those standards, along with current researched-based tools and processes related to learning well, have the potential to strengthen all that we do in schools.

The key is to focus on the forward moving aspects of these new initiatives, and not  get caught in the potential webs of inefficiency and wasted time. For example, spending lots of time on specific details related to work that's not deep, or proving points that are not integral to growth, is not positive.  Instead we should be working together to invigorate dynamic work, and streamline efforts that are more procedural and less meaningful when it comes to teaching children well. We can aid our journey in this regard by simply asking the question, "Does this matter when it comes to teaching students well, and does this make a significant difference?," as we relegate time and energy to specific tasks, initiatives, and efforts.

Clear focus on what's important with respect to our collective vision and goals will help us to navigate this busy road in education today--a road that can lead us forward with vigorous and life-changing service to students, the kind of service that limits hateful, unjust acts like Till's murder, and forward life-enriching actions such as beautiful national parks, clean oceans, renewable clean energy, peaceful governments, wonderful schools and more.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Stepping into Guided Research

We're revising the endangered species unit once again to meet current educational needs and potential. To begin with, students and teachers will model the main actions of the unit for each other in the following ways.

Close Reading and Reading Response
The teacher will guide students through close reading activities related to introductory complex text. Students will preview, define/identify central questions, "read to find out," and then share that information aloud and in writing with mini posters. The posters will be hung on the class bulletin board as a reminder of the main ideas of the unit. Reading fluency, speaking, and presentation skills will be emphasized during the share.

The teacher will introduce the main vocabulary of the unit through a number of online and offline vocabulary activities. The students will use the 7-step vocabulary method to introduce the words--partners will introduce two words to the class using this presentation guide.  Once again reading fluency, speaking, and presentation skills will be emphasized during the share. Then we'll create a large vocabulary board that students can refer to throughout the unit to inform their study.

Visual Presentations
Students and teachers will discuss what makes an inviting visual display, and students will use the noted elements when creating vocabulary and introductory posters and information.

Speaking and Presentation
The students and teachers will list what makes an engaging, fluent presentation. Students will practice those skills as they present their posters and initial information.

Research Teams: Choice and Voice
Once a background of information and vocabulary is set, students will study the project/reservation list and make choices related to team members and study focus.

Writing Questions
Prior to the start of the team research project, students and teachers will discuss the importance of writing questions, and letting those questions lead the research.

Also prior to team research, students and teachers will identify a large number of online and offline resources for the project. The resource links and titles will be hosted on the class endangered species guided research website.

Backend Design
Once research teams are created, students will start their project with a backend design process where they visualize and chart their end project, and then work backwards listing all the important steps in the project work.  After that, they'll add dates to the project steps to lead their work.

Project Steps
Teams will then research an animal reservation, create a Google presentation, write a script, create a learning service project, practice the script, present to friends and family members, conduct their service learning activity, assess and reflect.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Fourth Grade Journey Continues: Spring

As targeted efforts come to an end, new paths begin. That sums up spring in fourth grade--a transition time with regard to curriculum.

We're tying up our heavy concentration on writing skill development, and we've completed multiple interdisciplinary learning units.

Now the focus is on synergy as well as new units of study.

Endangered Species Projects
With regard to synergy, our reading/writing efforts to date will be synthesized in our upcoming endangered species project. A project that will go through another revision that points the project in the direction of the following learning targets:
  • Integration of reading response and writing skill learning into a thoughtfully crafted fact-filled informational Google slide show, script, and presentation.
  • Focus on developing reading fluency, speaking skills, collaboration, and creativity.
The Fraction Unit
The fraction unit brings new content that will be integrated into the curriculum with problem solving, multimedia composition, skill work, and model making.  This unit represents multiple standards and will take up a large portion of our daily teaching in the next month.

Math Skills, Concept, Knowledge Review
A math skills, concept, and knowledge review will be the focus of the last week in April--a time when we play games and create projects that help everyone review all the math they've learned this year in preparation for May MCAS tests.

Lots of reading will fill our days too including independent reading, small group reading, and whole class shared reading. We'll look for ways to integrate ebooks into this effort.

Special Events
Trips to a play, zoo, and animal sanctuary will broaden students' learning too. Field Day, concerts, and end-of-the-year special events will enliven those hot days at the end of spring as well.

Professional Learning and Effort
With one foot in this year and one foot in the next I'll continue the effort to re-certify my NBPTS, build learning design knowledge and effort, synthesize my blog into the book, Classroom Choreography, organize and box school supplies (there'a reconfiguration and building update coming), order supplies for next year, revise scope and sequences to respond to standardized tests and new standards, and prep for summer institutes (learning design, math models, and team research).  

To date, it's been a busy year--another year of substantial learning and effort.  I'm really excited about the growth in the classroom program this year, and I continue to look for the best ways to collaborate and share ideas with the greater school community. 

In this time of change and growth with regard to the evolution in education, systems are filled to the brim with new initiatives, transitioning roles and efforts, and both "tried-and-true" traditional practice and new age learning tools, materials, and processes.  It's a busy time in education--both an exciting and daunting time, a time that requires stopping now and then to reflect, and right the path with students' success as the central focus. 

Student Achievement: Goal Setting

In many ways, last fall, it became clear that many wanted students to do better.  Unhappy with overall State scores, there started to be a steady stream of emails, workshops, observations, and subtle notices sent to educators with respect to raising standardized test scores.

The reality is that I work in a terrific school system where children are well nurtured and generally score well, but some pockets of the school community were a few percentage points behind the target.

Now we're in testing season again. It's clear from students' attitudes that some of the new initiatives we put into place have boosted children's stamina, focus, and test readiness. It's also clear though that our students continue to represent a wide variety of readiness when it comes to standardized tests--after all, they are young children, and every teacher and parent knows that young children develop in various ways--it's not a "one size fits all" for all childhood growth and development.

Hence, where do we go from here?

I'm still committed to the goal of teaching so that students do well on test scores and broader, more holistic measures of learning success. I work in a community that devotes terrific time and financial support to the schools--a community where families make the time, and have the resources to care well for their children. I believe that we can embed the new standards with meaning into dynamic, student-centered learning experiences that garner success on standardized tests, and success for the broader, more interdisciplinary learning efforts that will prepare students for later learning and life.

With this in mind, I think we can better set goals and identify learning/teaching targets with efforts such as the following:
  1. When initial scores are reported in June, educators can make the time to identify the groups that scored well, and those that still struggled. At that time, while learning and teaching is fresh in our minds, we can list the reasons for both success and challenge, and questions to explore more over the summer months.
  2. Later when more scores return in late summer, we can once again review the success and challenges, and building on our spring list we can add more observations and questions.
  3. When school starts, we can set some initial goals based on the results, and any upcoming changes related to standardized tests and learning goals.  For example, we may transfer to a new testing system next year which will require some small changes in curriculum focus and timing.  I can imagine the goals we set to possibly include the following:
    • Continue with last year's writing efforts/program.
    • Look for ways to build greater stamina in students' attention and focused effort. 
    • Start multi-step math problem solving efforts earlier, and give those efforts greater time in the school week.
    • Employ Khan Academy efforts and other invigorating math tech earlier in the year for home study and in-class skill building to provide greater ongoing feedback.
    • Provide greater professional development in the area of (an identified area of need), an area most students seemed to struggle with. 
    • Revise the scope and sequence to include more ______, and less _________.
  4. Then, when State analytics are released, curriculum leaders can analyze our initial analysis and goals with the State notes in mind. The State analytics are detailed and offer glimpses of the data that we could not easily cull from our own, general review and reflections. At that point we can think deeply about the children who need greater and/or different efforts with regard to learning--we can problem solve around those needs possibly shifting services in ways that better meet the needs of those children individually, in small groups, and for the whole class.
As the testing season takes hold, it's time to think about the analysis to come when test scores are released--this is the time to create score review paths and analysis objectives. Starting the school year with an overview of what worked well, what we want to do better, and our overall vision and beliefs with regard to what we deem to be success for each child, grade level, and school is an invigorating, focused, and team building way to begin a year of scholarship and growth.

The detailed approach to teaching today, when analyzed well, has the potential to invigorate learning for each and every student. If not done well, conjecture and less thoughtful analysis can lead to efforts that diminish students to a test score rather than valued people with multiple skills, challenges, passions, and talents--the kind of people whose diverse profiles have the potential to create a dynamic, forward moving, happy community and world. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Beginning a Unit with Complex Text

There's an advantage to beginning a unit with complex text--the advantage is that complex text has something for everyone.

Yesterday, I started our endangered species/animal reservation unit with a complex article and related activities (complex for fourth graders).  The article included many unfamiliar words and concepts.  The article also included some terrific start-of-the-unit inspiration with a wonderful Rachel Carson quote.

I liked this piece of text because it gave us a great starting point for our upcoming collaborative research and presentations for many reasons. First, the article provided an inroad to some of the important vocabulary we will use throughout the study. Next, the article provided students with a glimpse of what it's like to be a child living on an animal preservation. After that, the article depicted the viewpoint of a scientist who has chosen to work and raise her family on a land preserve. Finally the post provided children with a terrific Rachel Carson quote that we'll return to again and again as we study animals and reservations around the globe.

We'll continue to use complex articles as we outline the reasons for endangerment, and the ways we can protect animals--articles we've hosted on this website.

Then we'll move to texts of differentiated complexity as students begin their independent research beginning with easy-to-read texts and moving to more complexity as students' questions become more sophisticated.

Starting with complex text, if done well, can serve to pique the curiosity and interest of all your students and teachers at the start of the unit. It lifts them up with a spark whereas if you start with text that's babyish you can lose a large number of students at the beginning, and that's not the way you want to start a month-long, dynamic unit.  I welcome your thoughts related to this topic.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Making Meaning with Math Movies

Anyone who has made a movie big or small knows it's great brain work--making a great movie demands the synergy of words, voice, image, movement, and sound in masterful ways.

The thought that goes into multimedia compositions like videos is a great teacher as you have to think about a concept with depth.

Last night I played with this notion as I made short animations related to fraction equivalency models and fraction vocabulary.  I'd give my movies a 1/10 with 10 being the best. I have a long way to go, but I know my journey will be enriched once students start making their movies--they'll teach me things I haven't even dreamed of, and they'll bring their own voices, creativity, and questions to the process.  As students and I work together, our synergy will boost the creations, our collective learning, and the learning of those we choose to share the videos with.

This is a good way for teachers to start with tech-ed integration.  Try it yourself, create a simple exemplar, chart the steps, introduce, and then let students make the project their own--the unleashed synergy, excitement, and collective creativity will be amazing, I promise.

At this juncture in the road, I'm looking for ways to invigorate the learning in engaging tech-ed ways, and I know that movie making is one path in that direction.

The steps I used to make the movies are included on this Fraction Action Website. I welcome your ideas.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Thinking Big: Brainstorm List of Learning Tools and Resources

There are so many ways to learn, create, share, assess, and reflect today--multiple ways.  As we move past a standardized test focus, I will open the world of greater learning up to students in the weeks to come. What will be available?

Collaborative Docs and Presentations
Students will collaborate with collaborative docs and presentations more.

Students will use numerous resources including SCRATCH, Minecraft (at home), iMovie, Garageband, musical instruments, KidPix, PowerPoint, and more to craft collaborative videos.

Skype and Hangout 
With teacher and/or parental guidance, students will use these platforms to research with experts.

Khan Academy
We'll invest in this platform with greater depth and effort as we learn to use online tools to strengthen our concept, skill, and knowledge in specific topics.

Guided Research and Google Sites
We'll utilize the method of guided research and the use of Google sites to learn how to research with the multiple, readily available information sites available on the Internet and beyond.

We'll explore the use of eBooks for our next shared read aloud.  The teacher will use the eBook at the front of the room with the white board, and students will have the choice to use the eBook or a hard copy for their at-home reading.

I'll explore the iBook more, and may offer that platform for students if time permits.

We'll use etools  more to make and present mathematical models and lessons.

Online Crossword Puzzles 
This is a great resource for vocabulary building.

There's many more tools and resources to add to this list, but this is a start.  What tools and processes am I missing that have great impact on student learning?  Thanks for letting me know.

Transition to Transparency

Transitioning to greater transparency is not as easy at it seems.

This transition assumes that all are in favor of greater transparency, and that all understand the benefit of transparency.

Transitioning to transparency requires trust too--you have to trust in the fact that greater transparency is beneficial.

Embracing the notion of learning and working in a learning community means that I am transparent about almost all things related to the classroom including plans, activities, and results. The only area that I am not transparent about is information related to individual's personal stories and needs--that, like in the medical world, is private information, information that I don't share.

Keeping communication fluid and transparent really helps to support a dynamic learning community for so many reasons.

First, there's less time needed for conjecture, questions, and misunderstandings since almost everything we do is transparent and communicated at the start of an initiative--during the "question and information stage" of a lesson, project, celebration, or presentation.

Next, the transparency invites voice from all members of the learning community, and that voice typically results in richer, more inclusive, learning opportunities for all.

Similarly, the transparency widens the numbers of teachers and decision makers in the learning community since all members play a role as mentor, coach, and educator--students teach students, family members coach, and teachers facilitate learning.

Finally, the transparency helps us grow our learning efforts and actions with strength.

Why would some not support a transition to transparency?

For some, perhaps, knowledge is power, and sharing that power is not seen as a positive effort.

For others, perhaps, transparency leads to questions, questions they're not ready for or do not want to entertain (the problem here is that the questions eventually come out anyways, and those questions are usually more potent later than they would be with early transparency).

Then, there's that lack of trust with transparency, the feeling that "if everyone knows, then the outcome won't be as good."  I feel quite the opposite about this in most cases.

How are you or your organization transitioning to greater transparency?  What methods of communication and share are supporting this transition?  Where do you draw the line and or manage transparency--can it or should it be managed?  I'm curious about this topic, and look forward to the learning community's ideas in this regard.

MCAS Composition Test: A Day of Writing

Today my fourth graders are taking the MCAS Composition test. As I proctor the exam there's a part of me that would actually like to take their place as I love to write; it's a sport for me.

This year we put a lot of effort and time into writing including the dynamic SRSD approach which I believe lifted students' enthusiasm and confidence for writing across genre.

Yesterday we played with the SRSD ideas by creating "coach yourself" poems, movies, songs, and lists to strategize and prep for the test.

I thought I'd be able to correct papers while I proctor, but those papers take too much thought, thought that takes away from careful proctoring.  Instead I'll look ahead and plan for our upcoming Endangered Species project revision--an exciting, challenging learning experience to come.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Who Do You Champion?

When I opened up my Twitter feed this morning, I was struck once again by an administrator who continually champions his staff.  Almost weekly he posts news and links to his staff's success, efforts, and impact--amazing.

That led me to the question, "Who do you champion?"

As a classroom teacher, part of my charge is to champion my students and colleagues.  Ways to do that include the following:
  • Display of student learning and efforts.
  • Open houses, celebrations, and presentations.
  • Give credit where credit is due--thanking and acknowledging those that share.
  • Listening to the students, and responding with care and detail.
  • Making time to talk about goals, actions, and needs.
How do we champion those we serve in meaningful, authentic ways?  An important consideration for teaching well. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

So Many Considerations for Education Today

Like a million tears, the wind-blown
waters of the 9/11 pools gently splashed against
us, yet in the pool, like a beacon of hope,
a rainbow shimmered. 
As I followed the New England Google Summit and ASCD14 on Twitter and email while participating in a number of activities in New York City this weekend, I was struck by the vibrancy and potential of the world around us.

While walking down Fifth Avenue I saw one display of creativity after another with design related to architecture, clothing, signage, vehicles, foods, and more. It was a feast for my eyes. Similarly all around me I could hear multiple languages spoken--harmony. On Saturday night I had the chance to see one of our former student's first off-Broadway play--a wonderfully staged story, and a tribute to the young man's creativity, collaboration, and depth. I also visited the Empire State Building and the Freedom Tower and marveled at the vision, engineering, and design displayed by both buildings. The tweets from ASCD14 and The Google Summit chorused for me a similar vibrancy and potential with regard to the processes, tools, and efforts possible to build dynamic learning communities in every school for every child.

We live in a world of tremendous potential for positive acts, beauty, collaboration, and learning.

Signs of how that work could go awry also exist. The 9/11 Memorial Site brought tears to my eyes as I watched individuals from all over the world pay tribute to so many innocent individuals who lost their lives that day, and the sad and scary news reports related to the Malaysian flight also stood as as reminder that we are not without challenges. It's not a perfect world.

The Freedom Tower is an amazing tribute to those
who lost their lives, and an amazing example of
the creativity possible when people work together
with knowledge and mission. 
What can we do with all this stimulation and possibility? How can we funnel this energy into our school work and practice so that every child leaves our lessons, classrooms, schools, and systems with a solid foundation of skill, concept, knowledge as well as hopes, dreams, and vision for a good life and better world? A challenge further ignited by an article in the Boston Globe about gifted students today.

First, we need to think about our own actions--what do we model each and every day? Do we model the behaviors, actions, and efforts we want to see our students display and engage in.

Next, we need to focus on the activity we engage students in at school--do we provide learning experiences that empower and educate with depth, meaning, and investment? Do the learning experiences we sponsor ready students with enthusiasm and ability for the world they live in now and will live in during the future?

After that, we need to think about our learning community--are we reaching all students with strength and care, and if not, what can we do to invigorate our efforts and reach in that regard?

There is much to consider in education today, and strong school communities, both educators and leaders,  will take the questions above seriously by discussing what it means to be mentors who model and facilitate meaningful learning experiences for all students' engagement, empowerment, and success. I look forward to that ongoing conversation as I continue to work to meet these challenges with regard to my charge as a fourth grade teacher.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Acceleration and Change: How Are Schools Reacting?

Every now and then it seems like learning accelerates at an even faster than normal pace.

I've seen so many signs of that lately.

First, I introduced an upcoming project topic, and that night a student in my class produced a multi-slide Google Presentation of links related to that problem. Acceleration.

Next, last night I watched Boston's terrific show, Chronicle, which featured the robotics movement--amazing! There are robots doing important work all over the world and in multiple work and study spaces. The use, study, and innovation with respect to robotics are accelerating with tremendous speed.

After that, technology integration in schools is accelerating. With online tests for almost all students in the United States on the horizon, that means every child will have access to a computer. That's going to mean tremendous acceleration with regard to tech integration in learning. Also we know that most homes have ready tech device access these days.

I was at the doctor yesterday, and I couldn't believe the changes with regard to tech integration with medical attention in just the last few months. Students' health care will be so much different than what we've known due to technological advances and use.

The world is changing so quickly, and it's the job of schools to monitor and keep up with that change.  What can schools do in this regard.

First, all schools have to have STEAM efforts from the early grades on. Students need to know the language, action, dispositions, and efforts that support science, tech, engineering, art, and math to live well and contribute to our world today. When I was at a round table discussion at Google a year ago, innovators spoke of this, and as I look around me today, I know this is true.

Next, all schools have to look at the way they design learning experiences with, and for students.  Old time "sage on the stage" teaching is outdated.  Teaching needs to take on a community approach where educators mentor and coach all students towards success using multiple tools, experiences, and efforts. Hence, our collaboration efforts need to be forward moving focused on vibrant learning.

School spaces have to morph too because standard spaces often hinder what's possible.  Space considerations need to take into account noise factors, students' ease of movement, science/creativity spaces, and coaching spaces.

After that, we have to focus on interdisciplinary learning efforts. Fields outside of education are weaving their efforts with other disciplines to reach best success. We have to model and involve students in that kind of learning integration regularly.

I continue to support the common core at the elementary level if those standards are embedded into worthy learning units since those standards represent foundation skills which are important for thinking, learning, and communication.

All around us learning is accelerating everywhere, and as educators it's our responsibility to be aware of that acceleration, and to think carefully about how we can transform our teaching efforts and spaces to engage our students in that acceleration in ways that matter.

Friday, March 14, 2014

ELA Test Weeks

The test weeks are disruptive in schools.

Specialists teachers' schedules shift since they are administering tests.  Students' typical routines are disrupted too.

The key is to keep the momentum going with regard to confidence, doing your best, and a happy balance of test taking, play, and attention to other learning objectives.

We eliminate homework, in part, during these weeks to give students time to play.  I also increase time on engaging, learning efforts. For example, we'll watch the film, The Amazing Panda Adventure, to whet students' appetites for upcoming endangered species study.  We'll also spend a lot of time reading great books such as our current read aloud, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, which we are all enjoying.

So while the tests serve to disrupt the status-quo, teachers can work to keep a happy balance focused on students' needs, interests, and upcoming projects.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Professional Role and Activity

What is your professional role?

What makes up your weekly professional activity?

During this twisty, turvy time in education, I continue to redirect my path with greater refinement and direction. Yesterday I had the chance to talk ed philosophy with colleagues, and that helped to reroute the path yet again.

Student Learning 
First, as always, the path is directed towards students' success with the development of worthy foundation skills through student-centered, deep, multi-sensory, interdisciplinary, engaging, and empowering learning experiences. Yes, lots of words, but important words when it comes to teaching well.

Contribution and Collaboration
Next, the path is directed towards positive contribution, the kind of efforts I can contribute with strength. First, I can share my research and efforts through conferences, blogging, and responsive share with those who are interested. Next, I can contribute to my team by sharing ideas, information, learning experiences, and curriculum/student program efforts. Finally, with regard to the greater school community, the best contribution I can make at this time is doing my job well, and supporting others' efforts with honest, positive response and effort.

Professional Learning
Knowledge is positive power--the more I know and understand related to teaching children well, the better job I can do on all fronts. Hence, I will continue to learn via conferences, reflection, reading, writing, online chats, and more. A daily diet of learning truly empowers what I can do as an educator.

Recreation, Health, Family, and Friends
As we all know, a happy, healthy life strengthens the attitude, efforts, and response we can bring to our students. Hence, it's important to make the time for good times with family, friends, interests, and adventures.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Making Space for Vocabulary in the Daily Learning Diet

I am pleased with the way that attention to vocabulary builds confidence with respect to classroom learning and conversation. The challenge is making time for this addition to daily learning--where does it fit in.

Today students will start the day with a standard math tech program, then we'll break for vocabulary review that includes the seven steps:

1. Teacher says and acts out the word, students repeat and act out--three times
2. Teacher states the word in context from classroom text, assignment. . .
3. Teacher provides dictionary definition.
4. Teacher explains meaning with student-friendly explanation (rhymes work well here)
5. Teacher highlights word features: polysemous, cognate, tense, prefixes. . .
6. Teacher engages students in quick activity to develop word/concept knowledge
7. Teacher reminds students about how the new word will be used.

I'll chart the seven steps on an anchor chart for easy reference as we embed this new activity into daily learning.

Monday, March 10, 2014

What's Your Objective

It is a challenging time in education. There are many new initiatives on the table, and countless research studies, opinions, and advocates related to multiple ways to teach well. Further, the consumer is discerning, and looking for the optimal education environment.

Given these challenges, it is a difficult time for educators to speak up for what is right and good, the kind of education that serves all children well.

It's a time when keeping the objectives clear is essential. What is the objective of your teaching/learning day, each day?

As I think carefully about that, I identify the following points:
  • A solid plan for teaching children well. A plan that includes a loose-tight yearly scope and sequence, unit roll-outs, weekly, and daily plans.  "Loose-tight" so that you're ready to cover all the essential content, and you also leave room for students' needs and interests.
  • A caring, kind, academic demeanor that welcomes children into the learning environment each and every day.
  • A students-first mindset with all activities, efforts, advocacy, and professional learning.
  • Professional learning that informs your work and effort in ways that benefit children.
Though challenging, a focus on right objectives is the path to success in teaching.

Fluency and Vocabulary

Our Learning Objectives Board to takes shape.
We've heard it almost weekly for the past few years, vocabulary needs to be a focus in classrooms since some students don't have the word knowledge to access text. Now the Retell course has fast forwarded that work for me.

Last week, when I handed out a vocabulary sheet to help students access a math lesson, I saw the smile on one student's face; he clearly appreciated the gesture as he began to use the sheet right away as I taught the lesson on area and perimeter.

Similarly, a multi-sensory focus on specific vocabulary related to a reading passage brings greater meaning.

The approach includes the following:

First, the classroom now hosts a learning objective board that continues to take shape with weekly learning objectives and vocabulary.

Next, the inclusion of the seven-steps of pre-teaching vocabulary:
Image Link: See Example at the bottom of the page.

I added a visual aspect to the vocabulary roll-out including a morning work preview and a slide show visual display

Finally, students integrate the word knowledge into guided reading, writing, and problem solving efforts. 

The key to these new steps is to incorporate them into the weekly teaching in seamless ways--ways that students expect, utilize, and even foster on their own as they tackle new words in their independent learning. 

Saturday, March 08, 2014

My Mission

Opportunities in education are bountiful these days. Once you're a connected educator, you could spend every minute of the day partaking in a new opportunities, inventions, or ideas, but time remains a limited resource, hence we have to choose our paths with care.

I continually return to the path I love the most and that is the path of classroom teaching--I look forward to perfecting what I can do for children with strength, and find that the research and tools related to learning and teaching today are tremendous. There are many tools, processes, and information that challenge and develop my work with strength.

Hence, in summary, my mission continues to be to teach children well.

To meet my mission, I will embark on professional learning opportunities and engagement that serves that goal.

I will give back to the greater learning community by sharing my classroom teaching ideas, processes, and tools regularly through writing and presenting.

I won't partake in the numerous other invitations related to the professional realm, and leave those for others whose mission might stand more firmly in the areas of educational leadership.

Righting your path regularly helps you to make wise choices related to your efforts and time--the choice to teach children well is my goal, and I will accept invitations that serve that goal.

Endangered Species Project Revised

It's that time of year when we're preparing for our grade-level signature project, The Endangered Species report.

It's time to revise this unit yet again to better reflect new standards, student needs, and the current education landscape. A report of facts and information is less interesting or motivating today because we all know that the information is found with a click of a computer key.  Instead, we want to deepen the project with student-driven essential questions.

Other changes we're going to focus on include:
  • quality over quantity
  • collaboration
  • presentation skills
  • reading fluency
  • collaborative Google presentations
  • embedding new standards
This is a rough sketch of the project to come, a project framework that will develop with student/teacher discussion and design:
  • First, students are watching The Amazing Panda Adventure. They watch the film for about 15-20 minutes once or twice a week. This movie serves as a nice bridge from our current standardized test-centered work to a focus on endangered animals.
  • Next we'll discuss nature preserves, and research the kinds of nature preserves that exist on earth. In the fall, we spent several days at a local nature preserve, and we'll connect that work to this study. 
  • Teachers will guide research and collaborative skill, and also provide background information related to vocabulary, research sites, and more. 
  • After that we'll identify a number of nature preserves we want to focus on.
  • Small groups of students will "adopt" a preserve to study. I hope they'll have a chance to Skype or "Hangout" with the preserve naturalists.
  • Study will include a focus of the work people do there, the animals protected, and the geography of the location.
  • Students will include a small service learning activity as part of their research, a learning activity that will support the preserve and educate others in some way.
  • Students will create a Google presentation about the preserve and animals.
  • Students will create an entertaining and informative presentation to share the information they learned with family members and classmates (we might film the presentations).
  • Finally students will assess their work and impact.
Students' interests and needs will lead this study, but in the meantime I have the following teacher homework.
  • Create a guided research list of animal preserves around the Globe.
  • Create a list of information topics that students may want to include in their work.
  • Cull the related standards from the CCSS.
  • Think about the way I'll create collaborative research teams--teams that will serve to develop each others' learning.
  • As we watch the film, discuss the project with students. Those discussions will create enthusiasm and early ideas.
  • Reach out to my learning community including parents for links and information related to contacts and resources in this area. 

Elements of Good Teaching: Classroom Choreography

This morning I'm thinking about the elements of good teaching.  In the coming months, I'll organize my posts into a book, Classroom Choreography (c. Maureen Devlin)  so that the blog can serve educators as a teaching year guide.

The elements will include the mindset, preparation, and actions that create the framework of a child-centered school year.

The elements, to date, include:
  • Knowing Your Role: Expectations and Standards
  • Creating the Learning Environment
  • Building the Learning Community
  • Establishing Learning Routines.
  • Learning Design
    • Scope and Sequence: The Big Picture
    • Assessing Students' Needs and Interests
    • Unit Design
    • Lesson Planning and Design
  • Feedback and Response
  • Professional Learning 
As I move forward towards next year, I'll rearrange the blog to better guide my own work and the work of others who are looking for these ideas. 

Friday, March 07, 2014

Invigorating Team

A long winter, a concentration on academics related to standardized test, and challenging assignments and collaboration have left my team of energetic fourth graders ready for a renewed focus on team.

They're not the fourth graders that entered the room last fall as they've all made a leap in maturity, interests, and needs--it's time to regroup, talk, and set the path for the months ahead.

Food used to be a good way to do that.  I'd make pancakes or crepes for the class and we'd have a wonderful class breakfast to warm everyone up, but now we have considerable food restrictions, so what will be a good way to bring the team together, and focus on our class strengths, needs, and growth?

I'll start with a short survey, a chance for every child to share their personal thoughts about our class team and needs.  Then we'll have a class meeting, and make some plans.  One idea is a class birthday party since we've missed a few birthdays recently, and we need to recognize the summer birthdays.  I'm sure the children will come up with some other wonderful ideas.

It's important to stop now and then and think about team as that's the structure that makes optimal learning possible.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Parent Conference Week

It has been a successful week of parent conferences.  Every family signed up to meet with me, and every family has come with caring, kind, thoughtful reports and questions about their child's learning.

I've been listening carefully looking for trends with regard to requests and questions, trends that will result in pruning the program to best meet students' needs and interests.

This year's conferences profited from many actions that I want to repeat in the future.  The actions included the following:
  • Plenty of lead time for scheduling.
  • Student folders that include the essential family/student information. (It's best to be thoughtful about these folders beginning with move-up day).
  • An online schedule posted each week in the newsletter for easy parent/teach reference.
  • A rolling file full of student efforts including benchmark standardized test scores related to foundation skills and examples of student writing, reading, and math.
  • A circular table. I wish I had a few more adult chairs though as I only have one "big chair" in the class. Perhaps I'll get some of those for next year.
  • Computer for easy reference to other information.
  • Paper and pens for note taking (most of the time I had those).
  • A check list for my own use showing student growth and indicating areas for discussion.
  • Scheduling all the conferences in one week has kept the focus targeted on similar subjects and issues which makes the result so much better for the teaching/learning environment.  This is a positive change from the six week roll out I used to do. 
I'm fortunate to work with a class where every child has loving, caring parents--parents who make the time to put their children first.  That makes a teacher's job so much more successful.  The tech has also fostered greater community since regular share and back-and-forth questions are so easy to manage and produce.  

There's a few more conferences to go, and I must say, this year's plan is a keeper.  

Write-A-Thon Two

Today our class will have our second write-a-thon. The first one went quite well as I coached students in multiple ways towards writing wonderful stories related to a broad prompt.

Today, we'll make the write-a-thon a bit more test-like so students will be prepared for our day-long MCAS composition test.

Similar to the test, the desks will be arranged in rows, and students will have a dictionary and book to read available.  Also similar to MCAS, I won't do any deep coaching during the task.

Unlike MCAS though, I'll be able to answer questions. I'll also be able to review the mnemonic, graphic organizers, and possible strategies with children.  I'll chart those on the white board at the start of the day with children to guide their work. Also, unlike MCAS, I'll give a few who do not have MCAS typing privileges, the chance to type--students, for whom, handwriting for a day is a huge physical challenge.

Students completed a writing strategy list yesterday--a list that reminded them about best prep
including a good night's sleep, healthy breakfast, substantial snack, comfy clothes, and a do-your-best attitude and effort. I'm sure they'll apply much of that today as they work to write stories they'll enjoy writing, want to share with the world, and know a lot about.  Looks like I'll have a lot of reading ahead this weekend--last time this class of young writers produced a 75-page storybook.

Why Change?

Sometimes people wonder why I care so much about change.

Daily I teach a large number of children, and in their hearts, eyes, and actions, I see ways that I can serve those children better. That's why I like change--I like change that makes a positive difference in children's learning.

For example, recently a parent mentioned that a child didn't like school.  This is a bright, capable child who learns with ease and interest.

I know this child craves greater opportunities for hands-on invention and design--lab time work to create, investigate, and explore.

I want to build that time in for the child during the typical school day. I want to personalize those hands-on explorations with wonderful tools, materials, and processes to enliven that child's mind, curiosity, and learning appetite.

We have had the chance for some significant, positive change this year. For example, specialist teachers agreed to sponsor a five-day-a-week numeracy club during the school day.  I watch as the children in  my class jump out of their seats to attend that small-numbers group. I foster similar numeracy play, learning, and development during that time with others in the classroom--a time that gives all children a stronger foundation for the core lesson each day.

We've also had the chance to invigorate our writing efforts with consultant support, release time for planning and share, and lots of in-class time to coach students' writing craft and skill through numerous genre. Students have responded with positive attitudes and growth towards writing.

Today, we'll start a concerted effort towards fluency development. Beginning with a scholarly article, then an expert-led discussion by our reading specialist and ELA Director, and after that a teaching/learning team discussion about how we can better embed fluency efforts and work into our approach.

Further, the RETELL course is pushing me to think about my ELL students with greater attention. Similarly RETELL is developing my awareness towards vocabulary development with all students by fostering new weekly and daily learning habits including the learning list board, strategies and routines that embed vocabulary into the curriculum/home study, and direct vocabulary rehearsal.

I like change, especially change that takes a thoughtful, inclusive, child-centered, learning focused path--change that is choreographed and communicated for best effect.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014


Teaching can be tough.

You see so much potential, and you face so many blockades.

You're often in a lowly position with little voice or power of any kind.

It is extremely humbling, and at times, very frustrating.

Yet, I believe the work is so important for our children, communities, and our country.

I believe that schools have the potential to be vibrant, life enriching learning communities where every child has a chance to succeed, learn, and grow.  The tools, materials, and processes available today are amazing and hold tremendous promise.

It's very difficult to see the promise, but be hindered by the constraints.

I'm sure many teachers understand this.

This is the caution I would give to anyone considering the profession.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Embedding Math SMPs into Problem Solving

Students work together to solve multi-step math problems.
It's that time of year when our attention to math problem solving is growing deeper. I am working to embed the Standards for Mathematical Practice (The SMPs) with greater detail.

Today's lesson was a good example of a first step.

First, I set the stage.
Students were seated with pencils and clipboards on the rug and at nearby desks in our class presentation space.

Next, thoughtfully prepare the materials.
After reviewing students' most recent math problem solving, I realized they needed a more structured graphic organizer to move them into better, more comprehensive problem solving work with pictures, numbers, and words.  Today's packet provided a good guide at this point in the learning.

After that, more of them, less of me.
The bean bag chairs provide cozy work areas for collaboration.
I reviewed the problem solving mnemonic with the students, then they got up one by one to demonstrate their mathematical thinking and problem solving.  They did a good job, though we have some work to do to strengthen share protocols and routines.

Finally, the students moved from the group share to partner work as they worked to solve the next problem. Later we'll share those solutions up front too.

As I move this work forward, I'll add the following steps:
1. A review of the SMPs by reciting the short poem below.  Perhaps we'll even make the poem more catchy and add some music and dance moves too:

2. I'll enlist students in a discussion related to how we can coach each other towards optimal math problem solving work.

3. The problems will become more challenging, and students will be weaned off of the graphic organizer into the standard forms used for testing first, then more real-world problem solving structures later.

4. I'll attend to the SMPs as I design the learning experiences, and add the language and objectives to our newly created weekly learning list board.

Students loved the chance to get up and share their thinking today.  The more opportunity I provide for this type of teaching/learning, the better their ability to solve complex, multi-step math problems will be.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Yes, Reading Response Success!

Yes, it's happening, students are gaining success with reading response.

After initial reluctance with the SRSD approach, I'm now a fan.  It took a concerted consultant effort with our ELA Director, Karyn Saxon, and ELA consultant, Leslie Laud, to get me there, but now that I'm there I'm anxious to learn more.

Essentially, the SRSD approach, a "coach yourself approach," leads students gently from dependence on graphic organizers and written guidelines to independence with memorized strategies and mnemonics.  There's plenty of practice involved, lots of conversation, and continual problem solving.

Additionally, the use of the weekly newsletter and guidance for family members has multiplied my coaching efforts since parents are able to coach their children with a similar approach.  Specialist teachers also use the approach.

As students work to comprehend text with care, they read with their pencils (or highlighting online), and a focus on the essential question(s) they are trying to answer collecting evidence along the way. Later they:

  • restate the question as a sentence, 
  • provide four pieces of direct evidence, and 
  • four explanations that tie the evidence back to the question with rich language from the text.
  • Finally, they sum it all up with a closing sentence that once again restates the question and if possible restates the main points delivered in the body of the paragraph.  
  • Once the writing is done, students reread with a small voice and listen to their words making any final corrections. 

Yes, this is test prep, but it's also life prep as there are multiple times in life that close reading and specific responses are due as you read to make meaning, communicate that meaning to others, and solve problems.

Once the MCAS tests are past, we'll use this skill to practice our guided research skills related to habitats. Then we'll use these skills again as students collaborate to create endangered species presentations with composing and speaking.  Finally, at the end of the year, these skills will come into play once more as students synthesize their learning for the year with an end-of-the-year personal research project/presentation.

Focused attention on the standards, skills, and students' needs/interests is the way that we can move towards deeper learning in schools--our ELA approach this year continues to exemplify this movement. Most of all, what's sold me about all of this is the students' positive reactions and efforts-they are so proud of what they're able to do, and their smiles illustrate this pride.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Learning Design: The Fractions Unit

The fractions standards at fourth grade are relatively new. In fact, last year was our first year with many of these standards.

My UClass learning design weekend gave me a new lens and perspective with regard to unpacking the standards, hence I'll use that lens as I build the unit--a unit which will commence the week of March 10.

Unpack the Standards: Concepts and Skills
First, I'll copy and paste all the fraction standards into one document, and as the film linked above shows, I'll unpack each standard. As I unpack the standards, I'll identify concept, skill, task, vocabulary, materials/tools, and possible dates for teaching with a chart like this:

I'll also add language standards since I'm synthesizing this unit with my RETELL, English Language Learner work, as well. I will research any concepts or vocabulary that I am not proficient in to find the best teaching language, tasks, and tools.

Identify Tasks: Multimodal Variety
Once I've charted all the standards, I'll go to PARCC and look at their fourth grade fraction information and performance assessments for fractions. I'll weave that information and those performance assessments into the tasks. I'll also include existing, tried-and-true fraction materials and strategies in the grid. A search for "fractions" on my own blog will unearth many of those activities. Similarly, I'll look to links and information sent to me by my PLN throughout this unit design process. Next, I'll look over the list of potential tasks and revise so that the tasks include multimodal variety and plenty of practice so students can reach mastery.  I'll also note potential places for formative assessment, and look for a just right place to include a near-end-of-unit project that synthesizes student learning with content creation and presentation.

Vocabulary, Links, and Tools
When the framework is complete, I'll begin to create a vocabulary sheet and board for student reference, a learning objectives chart, an online learning list for student in-school and at-home practice, a classroom collection of related books, helpful charts, a manipulative corner, and project materials.

Unit Google Site and UClass CMS
Since I don't want to have to recreate all this work next year, I'll also make a Google website to host all the units' materials and links.  I'll compose the website for students, teachers, and family use, essentially a "reference book" for the unit. Similarly I'll upload all the lessons to UClass as I've been finding that tool to work well for teaching.

Essentially I typically start a lesson now by accessing the UClass site, clicking on the lesson and reviewing the objectives/summary with the students and then utilizing the related materials from the site. Students are able to go home and find that lesson with family help if they'd like, and reread, watch,  recreate, or enrich any of the learning we've done in school. In fact last night one of my students did that.

UClass is becoming a terrific content management system for my curriculum work as the platform forces me to create comprehensive lessons, while the streamlined access provides a wonderful path for easy use, reference, and share.

Design Start
Now that the creation path has been set, it's time to get started with unit design.  Of course once the design is set and the unit starts, there will be lots of revision, differentiation, and personalization along the way so that the initial plan responds to students' needs and interests as they reach for fourth grade fraction mastery.

Let me know if you have any ideas, links, or materials you'd suggest for this unit.  An initial request led to this tweet by Jonathan So:

Now, let the design process begin. . . .

Mind Shifts Great Deeper Learning Synthesis

Vision and Reality: Moving Down the Teaching/Learning Path

I envy those who work toward significant change with success--it's a gift to be able to move forward with light, grace, and care, and make improvements in any locale.

It's not easy to advocate for change--it takes skill.

Yet, as a member of my PLN, Gail, reminds me, the small steps in your own place of authority and effort offer the easiest space to affect change. There's less avenues to travel, and more frequent space to assess and refine as you go along.

The White House Student Film Festival filled me with hope today, and gave me the inspiration to speak up once again for some ideas I value, yet it's clear that the way I speak, ask questions, and advocate is not welcome and challenged by some. Hence, I will need to learn more about this to grow, another bite of humble pie as I journey down the path of teaching/learning well.

Some may say, Why reveal this side of your life and work?  My answer is that it's simply easier to grow beyond this when the challenge is transparent--there's no ill intent in my share, only a strong desire to make positive change. Hence as I travel down this road, I'll learn, and as I've learned in the past, this will strengthen the work I'm able to do to teach children well.