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Monday, November 20, 2017

Using Google Form Assessments to Build Metacognition

Students don't have to wait days for me to wade through 75 tests to find out their scores. Instead with Google Form tests, they know their results the minute they press the submit key, and if they don't think they were scored correctly they can come right up to me and debate their score. This new approach to assessing students is efficient and leads to greater ownership with regard to performance and result.

As I get better at making the tests, I am watching how students respond. This efficiency is also allowing me to delve deeper with regard to what students readily understand and what is still confusing to them. It's also giving me a glimpse of what happens when they take an online standardized test. For example, many adept math students simply type their answers in too fast and make silly mistakes related to accuracy, not skill. And so many get weighed down with the language and simply read the directions incorrectly or skip reading the directions altogether. Then, of course, there are the precision masters who are the first ones to figure out where I could have done a better job making the test--I appreciate their eye for detail.

I think the use of Google forms is helping students to become better at metacognition, thinking about their math learning and performance. As they complete answers and solve problems, they know that they'll be scored right away and that makes them want to ask clarifying questions, take their time, and answer precisely. Further practice tests similar to the final tests give them a chance to use Google form to perfect their skill with specific standards and concepts. They can take those tests over and over again.

Finally, as I've stated before, the fact that the data is poured right into a spread sheet gives me lots of analysis opportunities which, in turn, help me to use the test data more efficiently and strategically to inform instruction. Google Form assessments are a terrific way to uplift the teaching/learning program in ways that matter, and hopefully will result in better metacognition, math learning, test taking, and standardized test scores.

Goals Ahead: November/December 2017 Teaching

It's a short and celebratory week with Thanksgiving just a few days away

This week I'll focus on the following:

Math Assessment
Students will do their best on the unit two assessment. I'll coach them to use good test taking strategy. Later they'll positive learning strategy to puzzle through a number of relatively new concepts using online exercises.

Mars Expedition and Space Exploration
Students will have the opportunity to virtually travel to Mars and explore the universe. It will be an exciting and eye-opening event.

Coordinate Grids
Students will learn the basics of plotting points, then practice by making coordinate grid pictures.

Good Character Campaign
Students will continue to focus on our school wide Good Character Campaign with a focus on how we make the attributes of good character visible using this page as a guide. The rationale for this unit is that people with good character typically enjoy greater happiness and more success.

Thanksgiving Breakfast
Our school sponsors an event to foster our collegiality. It is a long held tradition that recognizes the strength and promise of our camaraderie.

After the holiday, the focus will include these events:

Unit Three Math
Students will review their learning success so far this year as we discuss ways to successfully master the standards in unit three. Then we'll get started with the learning.

Culture Focus
Prior to Thanksgiving, students focused on culture in their social studies class. That focus will continue as we entertain many cultures during December when students discuss their holiday celebrations. A deeper focus will occur with respect to the ancient Mayan culture.

STEAM
There will be a number of days devoted mostly to science in order to complete our first science units.

Character Campaign
With posters, announcements, and other activities, students will foster a school-wide good character campaign.

Math Fun
Wednesday math will be devoted to a number of fun math activities to build skill in numerous standards-based areas, areas often not taught with depth until the end of the year, but areas that are included in mid-year and spring assessments.

Keeping the focus is essential to good teaching, and naming the priorities is a good way to support fidelity to that focus. Onward.

Voice and Teaching Well

Educators met with the school committee to voice their thoughts and ideas related to an upcoming decision about school start times. School start times considerations is a topic that's being considered in many school systems in response to research that demonstrates that teens need more sleep. The decisions related to this topic are more complicated than one would think since school schedules are intricate weaves that synthesize academic, social, emotional, and physical needs for optimal programming. Other realities that affect these decisions include traffic patterns, work start times, daylight, and daycare costs/availability. Few decisions related to schools are simple since schools reach out to support all students, and those students represent significant diversity with regard to age, culture, family style, needs, challenges, and strengths.

What's important in all of this is that people stand up to express their thoughts and ideas--decisions are best made when those decisions are inclusive representing the voices of all stakeholders. Though timely, it's best to create the kind of process that listens to everyone's voices including the voices of educators, students, and family members.

As educators we can't be afraid to respectfully stand up and speak out for what we believe is right and good. Similarly we have to be ready to listen to the voices of others too--to see it from their point of view. None of us know it all or have all the answers, and our good work profits from our collaboration with others.

Years ago when an important issue was discussed in our school system, teachers mostly stayed quiet. Many citizens spoke up, yet their point of view was not considered with depth. I went along with the decision made only to realize later that many of the points that citizens were making were not listened too, but were rightly made. The decision made resulted in a lot of problems, problems I didn't expect, but problems that many citizens had predicted. In hindsight, it would have been better if all sides of the story were considered before a decision was made. That would have resulted in less pain and problems.

I often want to make decisions quickly, but the older I get, the more I recognize that it's usually better to take your time with important decisions. If wait time isn't going to create harm, then it's better to take the time to use good process to make optimal decisions. Rushing usually does result in less good, more costly decisions, while taking our time has the potential to result in win-win decisions.

Of course, as my father taught me, we can't complain about decisions if we stay silent. Instead we have to push ourselves to be involved in important decision making. We have to make the time with our colleagues to review the information, listen with an open mind, and share our point of view. Whether we are educators, family members, or students, our good work depends on using our voices to speak out and stand up for what matters.

As educators our experience, expertise, and point of view matters with regard to decisions that impact our students. The experience, expertise, and point of view of students, family members, community members, and administrators matter too. It is in coming together with all points of view and good process that lead to optimal decisions. We can't forget that.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Idea Percolation

Sometimes I just sit for hours and let the ideas percolate. This happens when new paths are being forged and new ideas are taking shape. I can feel them working in me, and it's hard to relax and rest when this is true. Generally this idea percolation takes place prior to big events such as the start of school, holidays, travel or milestone events such as birthdays, graduations, wedding, and new babies.

So as I try to bring the percolation to fruition, I'm thinking way ahead beyond the holiday season and well into the new year. What ideas are brewing?

It's more of the same, a time for deepening and enriching craft, team, trust, and practice. Unlike a shiny new car, this is similar to a favored painting that becomes more dear over time. In less than a decade when I leave my practice, I want to leave on top which means providing the best possible service to families, students, and colleagues--as I've written about this is a period of pushing in, going deeper, and getting better at the most critical aspects of the teaching profession which are all about engaging, empowering, and educating children so that they continue to develop with strength, confidence, positivity, creativity, and a solid foundation in the basics of literacy, numeracy, knowledge, and life skills.

To reach this crescendo is all about efforts to quiet, build character, listen, observe, read, research, and practice, practice, practice--that's the path toward this desired momentum, and then, perhaps, after that I'll write about it, use what I've learned in a different setting, or venture in other ways--only time will tell.

I've bought a few good books to read as I journey in this direction, and as with any new or renewed journey there's a sense of curiosity about where this path will take me.

The Content of Your Character

Students watched MLK's "I Have a Dream Speech" which led to a deep discussion about what's important. Later during an Open Circle meeting we discussed the idea of forwarding a Good Character campaign. Children had all kinds of awesome ideas including:
On Wednesday, just before Thanksgiving, students and I will meet again to discuss how we might divide into Character Teams and make good character visible in our individual and collective lives. Each team will be responsible for making posters and completing other related tasks for the Good Character Campaign which we'll figure out together.

As we do all of this we'll let the information on this Developing Character page lead our efforts. If you have any additional ideas, please share.

Priorities on the Teaching Path: November 2017

This is a year of pushing in and focusing deeply on the classroom and school team--how can I contribute more and better to teach well?

As I think about the teaching path ahead, and this central question, I identify the following efforts that are empowering direction:

Family-Teachers-Students Teaching/Learning Team
Family members have been an incredible source of capacity this year. I have reached out to numerous parents to support me with the efforts to teach math well, and they have responded with incredible honesty, care, and support. This level of teaming is resulting in much greater student investment, understanding, and development which is awesome. I want to continue to make more time for this in ways that matter. In some cases, this requires push since some families are difficult to get ahold of and others are sometimes more difficult to understand with regard to their needs and what will help, but instead of turning away from the challenging situations, I want to work with my colleagues to be more inviting and making the family-teacher-student team accessible and successful for all.

Extra Help: Homework Club
By making time for extra help, I am gaining tremendous capacity with regard to student-teacher relationships, understanding my learners, and the ability to help students in ways that matter. In the past, I was unable to provide this extra support due to my own parenting schedule and duties, but now that my children are older, I have that extra half hour most days to open the classroom up to students who want to drop in, ask questions, gain support, and work on their home study at school. The hum in the room during these extra help sessions is energizing, and what I learn from these young, enthusiastic learners who are choosing to be there is meaningful, inspiring, and ever so useful when it comes to teaching well.

Everyone in the Classroom is both a Teacher and Learner
To foster a culture that understands that everyone in the room is both a teacher and a learner is to gain far more teachers, and an openness to learning from your peers. Often students who master a concept will help a student who is working towards mastery. There's an eager attitude here that promotes best possible teaching and learning. When students help each other, everyone benefits and it gives me more time as the teacher to zero in on specific students and their learning needs.

Welcoming Learning Environment
The cozy chairs, bright rug, and multiple supplies make the room a cozy learning environment. This is positive, and the more I work to create that atmosphere in spirit and set-up, the better.

Email Me
I encourage families and students to email me anytime they have a question. I find that this open invitation typically results in a number of emails upfront, and less after that. To answer people's questions right away is to create a sense of camaraderie and trust which leads to greater efficiency and ease of questioning after that. I tell students "Don't Stay Stuck, Ask," and I tell family members, "No question is to small, please email me with your questions and concerns."

Teacher as Learner
Vulnerability is a large part of this year's focus as you have to make yourself vulnerable so that you can learn. These vulnerability means owning your mistakes, reaching out for help, asking questions, and taking responsible risk to better what you can do for each other. The teacher as learner is the teacher who continually betters his/her work for the benefit of all. There's sometimes that tendency to close the door to new ideas, suggestions, and ways of increasing capacity, but we can't do that if we're going to teach well--we have to be ready and willing to ask questions and then to listen to the advice that our colleagues, families, students, administrators, and community members have to better our impact.

As I look deeply into my practice, the areas above are areas I want to focus on in order to build my capacity to teach and learn well. Onward.


Trustworthy Teaching Teams

I work with a trustworthy team, and as I work with this team, I am beginning to deepen what I can do to be a trustworthy team member and also foster the kind of trust that empowers what we can do together to support students, their families, and each other.

What does it take to be a trustworthy team?

Good Structure
A good structure for regular communication and meetings is important to building trust. Our team meets about 3-4 times a week regularly. Not all team members are present at all meetings, but in general we have a good showing of classroom teachers, special educators, guidance counselors, reading/math specialists/coaches, and administrators. At those meetings we share a lot of data, ideas, stories, research, and more to forward our practice. We also have a few shared communication vehicles including a grade-level website, online teaching sites, and Google docs where we share information regularly. This kind of structure is important to trustworthy teams.

Service Delivery Maps
The idea of mapping students' service delivery in collaborative ways with maps is one that I'm thinking a lot about these days. To map service delivery in advantageous ways demands good collaboration, communication, and trust. We have to be willing to nudge one another forward with regard to fidelity to the service delivery schedule, openness to make change, honesty about teaching/learning pedagogy, resources, and direction. We are exploring this idea more as a team and looking deeply at service delivery with the following questions:
  • How can we maximize meaningful time-on-task with students?
  • What group sizes are ideal for what teaching priorities? When is a one-to-one teaching/learning situation more powerful than a small group, and when does a small group or whole class learning focus reap better results?
  • How can we utilize online tools and platforms to maximize student learning and engagement?
  • When do we embed lessons related to growth mindset, learning-to-learn behaviors, cultural proficiency, and rationale to develop students' self efficacy?
  • How do we broach challenging problems of practice with one another in safe, trusting ways? Often it is when we disagree, that we collaboratively end up with the best new ideas and solutions.
  • What practices will we retire, and what new practices will we adopt to further student learning?
  • How can we help one another with our strengths, and turn to each other for help with regard to our challenges?
Team Building and Consultation
I think it's important for teams to look for opportunities to strengthen and build team via shared reading, idea share, attending conferences, and working with consultants. Three members of our team will be attending a teacher leadership conference in a week. This will give us a whole day to reflect on the strengths of our team as well as to look for ways to develop our team more.

Making Time to Know, Value, and Support Each Other Beyond Work Expectations
My brother recently sent me a New York Times article about the Google study that explores optimal work places including meeting potential and working with satisfaction. As we discussed the article, we clearly understood the importance of seeing our colleagues as more than workmates, but instead taking the time to know and value them as people. It's this basic and integral level of human dignity that is essential to any positive work environment.

Respect for and Acceptance of Vulnerability
We are all vulnerable because none of us bring all strengths to a team. With our strengths, we bring our challenges too. This is where respect for and acceptance of vulnerability are key. The more we understand ourselves, the more transparent and forthcoming we can be about our vulnerable areas, and the more we understand our teammates, the more accepting and supporting we can be about their vulnerabilities too. This is essential for good family teams as well as positive work teams.

Honest, Transparent Communication
Too often difficult-to-share thoughts, questions, and ideas are not communicated well. I think that almost everyone meets a challenge here, yet I've known individuals who have taught me a lot about honest, forthright, and caring communication that quickly deals with situations and sees the "promise in problems" with good result. Those individuals have been mentors to me in this regard. The more we can be honest with our colleagues in ways that matter, the better.

Letting Some Things Go
Teams of individuals will never always agree--that's a given, and with that in mind, often it's good to just let some things go. The route to good teamwork will be peppered with challenges and struggles from time to time. Some of those rough spots are worth the time and effort to figure out and make better, and others are simply passing annoyances that do go away and aren't worth the effort to deal with. Sometimes a little space and time goes a long way to solidifying team whether it be at home or at work.

In my years of teaching, I am finding that building trustworthy teams is an essential ingredient to doing the best possible work with and for students, families, and each other. The more we can commit to trust, the better. Do you agree? 

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Good Day

A bit of a room shift and some help from a terrific and talented teaching assistant made the day extra positive. We started with lots of attention to reading, then math, and after that more reading, and finally buddy time and recess. While I was teaching math, students had time to to practice their writing as well.

Lots of activity in the cold air helped the students to focus when it came to learning time which made us realize that, perhaps, the schedule is a bit too squished and that's something we can look at in the week ahead. Next week is scheduled with special events as well as a unit test so it will be a good precursor to the Thanksgiving holiday. Onward.

Sexuality and American Society

I find myself cringing with all the news about sexual harassment these days. I find myself considering all sides of these stories, at least all sides that we hear. I wonder if we're not holding the bar for past events too high, yet I respect and support the need to elevate the bar with regard to the ways men and women are treated related to their bodies, minds, and right to live without harassment or inappropriate predatory behavior. No women or man should be harassed or inappropriately treated in matters of attraction, sexuality, relationship, or any other matters. That's a given.

Yet, on the path to understanding attraction, sexuality, and relationships, people act with all kinds of clumsiness. That's especially true with regard to sexuality. As men and women become aware of sexual desire and interest in others, their actions are affected greatly by the contexts in which they live. In many places, there is nowhere to go to discuss sexuality and appropriate behavior towards those you are attracted to. In these cases, people are learning from what's available rather than what is reliable. Also within every context there's a great variety of what is seen as appropriate behavior and response, and what is seen as inappropriate.  In a sense, as people become sexually aware, it is an awkward process--a process with many missteps. Yet there's a difference between missteps and inappropriate predatory and abusive behaviors.

With the daily reports of groping, inappropriate conversations, and nonconsensual acts, I find myself looking back in time to a time when most women could expect to be harassed almost daily. Many men acted inappropriately towards women in many, many contexts. In general, women were more often treated as second class citizens whose bodies were more important than any other aspect of their humanity. It was degrading and still is degrading when it happens. I remember the pain when boys held up ratings as girls passed on the college campus, the remarks made when I walked down a street, and the constant verbal harassment in places where I worked. I also remember the dates gone wrong. We were learning about attraction, relationship, and sexuality, and in some cases these situations could be described as abuse and harassment, yet I know in all of those cases it was a situation of unknowing and little good leadership or mentoring about appropriate and positive relationship behaviors and actions. There is a long historical acceptance of inappropriate behavior with regard to sexuality, and that has to be unlearned and deleted from our culture, and we all have to work towards this change. Fortunately I grew up in a home with a strong mother who used her voice to stand up for her rights--this helped me as a young women to stand up to inappropriate behavior, yet like most women my age, I also accepted comments and behaviors that would now be considered harassment, but back then were the norm.

America, in general, has always had a difficult time talking about sexuality in open, honest, and natural ways. The fact that for many it's a taboo subject, has made the situation difficult and problematic. Hopefully all the discussion now will help our society to move forward with regard to optimal discussions and education related to sexuality and appropriate behavior as well as respectful treatment of men and women with the multiple types of relationships that exist. We can't accept the bad behavior of the past, but rather than focusing on scapegoating and finger pointing, I think we have to look ahead as to how we'll help people embrace the wonder and beauty of sexuality, relationships, and attraction in ways that are honest, uplifting, and positive rather than old time acceptance of behaviors that were disrespectful and dehumanizing. Of course, however, in issues of abusive, predatory behavior, we have to act with greater legal and moral strength. Onward.


Teachers: Student Champions

I believe that teachers have to be student champions--we need to find ways to champion and support our students in ways that matter.

How can we do this? These questions may help.
  • Do my students feel welcomed and heard in the learning environment? If not, how can I support this integral component of school success?
  • Are my students receiving the services they are entitled too? If not, how can I rework the schedule so that all students are receiving the appropriate supports?
  • Do my students have access to optimal educational resources? If not, how might I advocate and work towards providing my students with those supports, supports such as hands-on materials, comfortable seating, adequate learning facilities, necessary technology, and playful spaces for recreation?
  • Do my students take part in a holistic, positive learning program? How can we continue to build learning programs so that these programs mirror the research and positively forward student learning in engaging and empowering ways?
  • Do we team with families to foster optimal teaching/learning environments and programs? How can we build this vital aspect to teaching and learning?
  • Have I spent enough time with a student in order to build a positive teaching/learning relationship, and to understand well what that student needs to succeed? 
  • Am I making sure that I meet my obligations to meet with all children regularly to service their academic needs, challenges, and strengths?
Similar to parenting, the ways we can champion our students is infinite while time is finite so we always have to prioritize what we can do. This is an essential ongoing process so that we meet the wonderful potential to positively help each child develop and succeed. 


Doing What's Best for All: School Start Times

Yesterday multiple teachers met with the school committee to discuss proposed school start changes. In general, the educators present urged the school committee and system leadership to look deeply at the needs of all involved, not just one group.

Many told stories of what it takes for young students to succeed, and the fact that an early start for young students and families is advantageous for optimal learning, family support, and thoughtful teaching. Late starts for young children mean greater day care costs, longer commutes, less good energy for learning, and more potential for stress and struggle. It was felt that to make positive changes for high school students with regard to school start times should not mean that the elementary school programs have to burden the change with less than ideal start times and reduced supports. Why can't we make positive change for some without taking away from others--how can change be a win-win for all?

The whole issue has made me think a lot about vision and process. Over the past many years our system has tackled a number of singular issues, but not since the work to build a new high school, have we engaged in a deep and inclusive process to set systemwide vision and provide a long range plan. I believe that when you don't have a long range plan, the short term goals suffer, and money and time are often not well used.

So what next steps are important in this regard? As one educator recommended, I think the issue should be tabled for now with the intent to work more closely with other school systems to make a regional decision that positively affects all while not taking significant time or effort away from some. I don't think that we should start elementary school at a later time as I do believe the increased traffic, loss of optimal instructional time, impact on family/work lives, and day care costs for our students, their families, and teachers are too great. We have a terrific teaching/learning program, and instead of making decisions to challenge that program, I think our efforts should be centered on how we can work to improve that program with a focus on the problems of practice that exist.

As for later start times for the high school. I understand that there's lots to discuss. I am a strong proponent of holistic school programs and believe that all students should have the opportunity for wonderful academic, arts, physical education/sports, and social competency learning and progress. Time needs to be looked at closely to fit all that in, and that's an issue that those in the know including administrators, high school teachers, and students and families at the high school level need to discuss and consider carefully. No one was complaining about a later start time for high school students as long as that time is truly going to result in a significant positive change.

As I think of our school communities, of course I'm a fan of spending the time and money to truly make impactful decisions--decisions that retain the terrific programming and service to families and students that currently exist, and decisions that help us to move forward with greater strength and purpose. In my view, decisions that I believe will lead to greater success are issues related to the following areas:
  • better and more purposeful communication amongst and between all levels and stakeholders of the school system. For example, I believe the system will profit from more modern ways of sharing research, professional learning, decision making and new ideas to forward teaching/learning as a system-wide team of families, educators, and students.
  • re-looking at school buildings and potentially creating a master plan for an elementary school campus that forwards a modern day approach to inside/outside healthy learning and collaboration. The issue of neighborhood schools is an important issue--is it best to forward renovated neighborhood schools or to pool the money and create a more modern elementary school campus? That answer would have to be the result of good process.
  • utilizing greater models of distributive leadership in order to foster greater leadership amongst all educators and students. I believe that when models of teaching and learning are too hierarchical and top-down, there's less room for creativity, innovation, development, and sensitive student/family supports.
  • greater modern use of technology and experiential learning to forward learning in modern, worthy ways.
There's many positive challenges in my own teaching/learning sphere. Our shared model of teaching at fifth grade is successful and there's plenty of room to grow that model to be even stronger. I'm excited about that work. Greater and better use of technology to foster rich and deep learning is possible, and I'd like to see us move in that direction too. I would also like to see us partner with local organizations to foster greater and deeper experiential learning as I believe that kind of learning fosters strong citizenship and a greater love, depth, and success with regard to learning. These kinds of efforts demand lots of collaboration and support. 

In summary, how can we make good decisions that benefit all rather than decisions that only benefit some and potentially hurt others? That's the key question, in my opinion, with regard to this situation. 



Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thursday Musings: November 2017

The priorities remain the same: math, science, and community building, and the focus is to forward those priorities in engaging, empowering, sensitive and caring ways. Onward.

Math Focus: Positive Growth

MA educators receive reports that depict growth.
In Massachusetts students get a growth score related to their academic performance. This year those scores were not published for parents since it's the first year of a revised MCAS state testing program, but educators did receive those scores. Essentially the growth score compares students to other like students, and rates their growth. I have studied these scores carefully over the years and have found that these scores, overall, demonstrate some important correlations with regard to instruction, attention, practice, and teacher-student relationships.

Students who get the best growth scores generally demonstrate the following attributes:
  • Regular practice
  • Positive teacher-student relationships
  • Pedagogy that matches the students' learning needs, strengths, and challenges
  • Good use of at-home and in-school technology
  • Multi-modal lessons that focus on visual models, problem solving, collaborative work, independent exercises/tests
  • Regular progress monitoring with reliable tools
  • Extra, targeted supports in math
  • Explicit focus on growth mindset, asking questions, learning-to-learn behaviors, and growth over specific knowledge or scores--the attitude that we're all on the learning journey and our goal is to continually progress
  • Positive family-school collaboration
  • At-home tech access and use with positive practice venues
  • regular attendance at school
  • basic needs met
When I have seen less growth, I have noticed the following:
  • less positive student-teacher relationship
  • less regular practice
  • less targeted, positive support
  • impactful challenging life events also affect this growth 
Why do these scores matter?

When students achieve, their confidence and knowledge, skill, and concept foundation grow. This is positive for later learning. Parents also relax when they receive score reports that demonstrate meeting or exceeding expectations. 

I believe that all scores have to be evaluated with the whole child in mind. In no year do all children demonstrate optimal growth. There are always some who demonstrate less growth, and in these cases some children do meet or exceed expectations, but some do not. Life events affect these scores too--when children face troubling or upsetting life events, their growth is generally impacted. That's why it's optimal to provide children with steady, loving, and predictable routines as much as possible at school, at home, and in the community. Yet we can't plan for all of life's events, and that's to be expected.

While many find faults with standardized testing, I continue to believe that streamlined standardized testing can offer valuable information if used to develop schools, not demean teachers and schools. For example, we can't ignore the economic correlations with test scores. Students in schools and communities that face greater economic challenges have lower scores. That should point the state in the direction of better economic support for those schools so they have the conditions for excellence. I work in a school that does have conditions for excellence, and generally our scores are good. That doesn't mean there isn't room for growth though. Our challenge is to use the "conditions for excellence" that we have in ways that translate into positive growth for all of our students. Conditions such as highly qualified teachers and assistants, substantial technology with one-to-one computers, good time for collegial meetings and collaboration, many resources, and a solid, positive infrastructure for teaching well are attributes that every school needs to foster success. I also believe that every child deserves reasonable class sizes so they get the attention they deserve, and I believe that in areas that are economically challenged, class sizes should not exceed 12-15. That would spell significant success if the other conditions for success were available too. The investment in our schools now will spell greater peace and success for society later on. 

As I think about growth, I am thinking about how I can work with my team to invite students to grow with a positive attitude and regular success. I will focus on the attributes at the top of the page to reach this result. If you have other attributes to add, please do. I am very interested in this journey. Onward. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Google Form Quizzes and Online Practice Promote Self Efficacy

I want to capture this learning event while it is fresh.

I've been using the combination of online Google Form tests, paper/pencil tests, and other online venues to forward students' math learning and self efficacy in effective ways.

Students take the Google form practice test first on their own using a paper and online copy. I encourage them to ask lots of questions which they do. They also help each other. When they complete the test, they submit the results and immediately get their score and the results demonstrating which problems they got correct and which ones were wrong. The wrong answers also show the correct answer. I have them take the practice test until they get everything right. If they believe their answer is right, but is corrected as wrong, we look it over together to see what the problem is or if, indeed, the answer is right.

Using this paper/online combination with instant feedback allows students to lead their learning, and gives me time to work with individuals in areas of need. The Google Form also allows students to learn to take tests online and to monitor their work in this regard. The online form work quickly demonstrates to students when they make silly mistakes, typos, and other errors related to precision. This helps them become more precise. Further, there is a lot of emphasis on reading the problems carefully, taking your time, and checking your work. Again their desire to and the expectation that they will get a perfect scores prompts them to take the test several times until they reach mastery.

Similarly, students use the free and simple That Quiz site for multiple math exercises to solidify their understanding and ability with multiple math skills, concepts, and knowledge points. I tell students to see me for an exercise reset if they get lower than 75. I can see their scores and generally check in with students who score lower than 75 to see what the misunderstanding and need for more teaching may be. I am able to pinpoint the teaching to help students reach mastery. This too is a great vehicle with which to grow self efficacy and math mastery.

Tomorrow we'll continue on this path as I give students the following choices to complete in order to reach mastery with the unit two concepts:

  • complete the unit math study guide
  • take the practice test again
  • work with one of the two above options with a teacher
  • if done with the top choices, see me to discuss next steps which might be completing homework, working on online practice sites, or working on bonus options.
When the class is motivated, we team with families, and multiple human and other resources exist to help student learning, success is attainable. 

Too Fast Expectations: Math Education?

A colleague commented that a child she was helping had no idea of the concepts related to the math unit. I became sensitive since I have to follow such a tight parameter with regard to teaching the standards, and there is little time to help students who need greater help with deeper understanding. In a sense, it's the conveyor belt of teaching and learning. If you stay on the belt and move with the group, you're okay, but if you are not keeping pace, then the problems begin.

I asked to run an extra help program in a different way to help those students who are not staying up with the speed of the class, but my offer was refused as the predetermined way of helping them will be the mainstay even though reports show questionable results from that method. There are other help efforts in place too, but, in my opinion, there's a synthesis and personalization missing that could really benefit children. Yet I have to go along and do the best that I can do by meeting the expectations set and finding time to deepen the learning and teaching for those who are not keeping up.

At yesterday's DESE TAC meeting the topic of professional judgement with regard to curricular materials came up. In general educators felt that decisions around curricular materials needed to be collaborative, research-based, and personalized too. While one educator's professional judgement may not lead us to a singular, right choice, the educator's judgement needs to be considered with regard to teaching children, and then that judgement based on expertise and experience needs to be a part of a greater collaborative effort to identify, embed, and teach the curriculum in ways that matter.

In general, the following efforts will help us to teach math better:
  • loose-tight curriculum parameters that take into account an educator's professional judgement, experience, and expertise as well as students' personal academic needs, challenges, and strengths.
  • Extra help sessions that are well managed, timed, and planned to really zero in on students' individual needs. Sometimes these extra help sessions are too general to make a big difference with regard to a child's learning.
  • Greater communication and synthesis. When programs are disjointed the learning becomes disconnected too. The better that we can collaboratively map the service delivery to meet students' academic needs, the better.
  • Identifying funding and using that funding earlier than later to staff helpful Title One, Extra help, homework clubs, and other supports. Earlier identification and scheduling of supports leads to greater use and fidelity with regard to those supports.
Every teacher wants every child to succeed. Schools are busy places with many dedicated educators often with little time. We all need to do our best with families to create well choreographed programs that help every child succeed and make progress. Onward. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Learning is a Team Sport

As I review emails and prep for today's Department of Elementary and Secondary Teachers (DESE) Advisory Cabinet (TAC) meeting, I am reminded in many ways that learning is a team sport, not the individual activity many think it to be.

Student Failure
A friend told me a story this morning about a relative of her's who is failing in a few subjects. There's multiple reasons why this child is failing, and many, many ways the school and others can reach out to help this thoughtful, caring individual. Most of all this child is failing because he simply didn't have the foundation skills, concept, or knowledge that his peers at the new school have, and the school hasn't created positive paths for this child's success. There's lots of work to do in this situation, and the focus of the work has to be to maintain the child's integrity while working with him to find ways to succeed, ways that include positive social/athletic endeavor, learning-to-learn behaviors, positive tech supports, and educators/classes that meet the child's current foundation level and need. Learning should not simply fall on this individual child's shoulders, but instead be thought of as how the family, school, and student team will work together to help this child succeed.

Class Success
To lead an entire class to success takes the apt teaming of educators, specialists, administrators, assistants, students, and families--the best success depends on all involved. How do we work together to promote success for an entire team that represents tremendous diversity. That algorithm is essential, and some of its parts include optimal communication, goal setting, use of online/offline supports, frequent assessments, and more. A central question here is how can we best synthesize and map our efforts for best success for all students.

Optimal Curriculum and Practice
Today when I attend the state gathering, we'll work on a number of teaching/learning topics related to curriculum and practice success. This too takes a team, a team that represents the individual, local, state, and national level. Together we need to use good process to forward the kinds of learning environments, pedagogy, resources, and experiences that foster the best possible learning for all students. I am grateful that Massachusetts has created teacher, principal, and other administrative teams to team with state officials and educational leaders to work on paths of positive, successful curriculum and practice.

Teachers Union
The local, state, and national teachers' unions see it from the teachers' perspective--what do we need to serve children well? At this point in time, main topics such as equity, inclusion, good process, conditions for excellence, and researched-based decision making are priorities in all discussions. We know that it's imperative that all children have school experiences where the conditions for excellence exist. It's not in our country's best interests to provide some students with failing facilities, education programs, and supports, while other students, generally wealthier and more privileged, enjoy multidisciplinary educational environments that have the conditions for excellence every child deserves. All schools should be top-notch. Further, the processes for educating, assessing education, and making decisions for schools and school communities need to be uplifted. We can't stay mired in old-time processes for decision making when so many terrific tools and structures exist for more intelligent, and promising processes and decision making exist. To stay mired in the old is to limit the potential possible for children in our schools.

Learning is a team sport, one in which we have to reach out and look for modern day leaders to lead. The potential is great for what good schools with conditions for excellence can promote with regard to the well being of every child and our nation. If we look at our work as the work of education team players, then we will be able to find the places where we can share our best knowledge, research, experiences, expertise, and questions to help further the good we can do together.


Monday, November 13, 2017

ReTeaching: Reading and Working with Math Models

Today I'll reteach a concept, one that I noticed students had a lot of questions about on Friday. I've created an enlarged copy of the models that students didn't know how to read and work with. Together we'll deconstruct the model. I'll teach them how to read models like that and how they might use labeling to help them work with those models. I hope this will help them understand the unit standards better.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Collaborative Management

On Monday morning, I'll talk to the students about the need for us to collaboratively manage the classroom. To do this, I'll first review the morning routine:

  • Hang up your bag and outdoor clothing neatly
  • Sign in
  • Read the morning work board, and get started at your desk
For me, I'll take a few minutes to review the sign in, register lunch count/attendance, collect forms/notes, and look around the room for any needs.  I'll shift my desk and organize my files in ways that support this effort more too. I already shifted once this year, but most of the materials I ordered didn't withstand the energized use of 25 students, so there's a need to redo the sign-in board and collection folders. 

I'll re-look at transition times and routines too. As a team we added time for transitions about a month ago which helped, but now I need to add a few more steps to transition routines to make sure that children do what they need to do to be organized and ready for the next learning period. I'll also make more time to review homework expectations as well. Many students are following through with this, but there are still a few that are a bit confused as to the regular homework routine. 

Essentially on Monday we'll shore up our routines and organization to support the good year of learning that's already in motion. These kinds of resets happen throughout the year as varying needs become evident. Onward. 

Society's Imbalance: Investigate and Speak Up for Schools

Citizens need to be on the look out for too-great imbalance in society as it is this imbalance that leads to injustice, greed, and crime.

In talking to friends who work in school systems different than mine, I noted that the class sizes and supports are making it virtually impossible for their students to have the opportunities my students have. This is a too-great imbalance, and one that the state needs to remedy. Nowhere should public school students be subject to situations where the conditions for excellence do not exist--this leads to all kinds of problems, problems that become greater and more costly in time.

We all know that if we treat our country's children with the care and investment they deserve, the entire country will benefit. Every citizen should take the time to visit a local school, assess the numbers of students in each class, determine if there is enough technology, and find out if dollars are be using in ethical, legal, and positive ways. When citizens turn aside and don't take an interest in their schools, they are essentially inviting greater disarray, crime, and injustice into their neighborhoods, streets, and community.

Society will never be perfectly balanced, but too-great imbalance leads to great injustice and weakness--we can't let that happen.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Piecemeal or Big Picture?

Is it best to attack issues and initiatives piecemeal or big picture? I think, in most cases, it's best to start with big picture and then work down to the piecemeal stage. For example as I tackle the materials management/procedures challenge, the big picture is to create a teaching/learning environment that works seamlessly--the kind of environment where the procedural/materials issues occur well without thought so that we can spend most of our teaching/learning time on the priorities of the job--teaching and learning.

Then as we work down with a piecemeal effort, it's important to think about how we can make every material and procedure easily accessible and ready for completion/use.

What other issues are occurring that require thought?

What is the big picture aim/effort and rationale?

What are the pieces that need to be completed related to this?

I think this is a good way to think it through.

Service Delivery Mapping: Teaching Well

Since schools are already multidisciplinary service organizations with regard to the fact that students are served by multiple educators, the school nurse(s), cafeteria staff, therapists, and after/before school coordinators, do we map our service delivery for individuals and groups in ways that matter? I started thinking about this a few weeks ago as we began working to synthesize our experience, expertise, and effort to meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of a wide range of students. That got me thinking about the way we map service delivery, and why that matters. I'm curious if you and your colleagues engage in this, and if so, how does it work so that students receive the best possible programs, engaging programs that lead to happiness and progress. I'm curious.

School: Multidisciplinary Student Service Organization

What if "school" expanded to a multidisciplinary student service organization that included learning experiences, therapies, recreation, the arts, and health/dental care? What if your child attended a campus-like educational organization where he/she could learn the basics, problem solve, engage in meaningful projects, get his/her health needs met, participate in the arts, and engage in recreational activities? What would this school look like? How would this benefit children, families, and the community? Is this a vision we want to embrace?

Who Does What? Seeking Synergy

Sometimes in the school house, there can be finger pointing. We can wonder why he/she didn't do this/that when needs and opportunities arise. When this happens, there typically is a realization that more or better can be done and a quandary about how to do that. It's much easier to finger point, blame, or expect another to do the task than to truly sit down together and analyze the situation with the questions, Is this need a priority and how can we best synthesize our time, expertise, experience, and effort to meet this need?

Our team is tackling this question with regard to the math program. We have a number of great online/offline resources, experienced educators, and good goals, and the question remains how can we best utilize this rich environment to move students ahead in engaging, empowering, positive ways?

We've begun to draft a service delivery map that includes multiple targeted services and materials including targeted tech work, home study expectations, in-class supports, and learning experiences. We will be thinking more about this synthesis in the days to come. I'm excited about the potential this learning map making and service delivery holds, and welcome any ideas you may have as we grow this approach.

Growth vs Status Quo

Years ago an administrator upset me when he said that we didn't need to change anything since the system was in great shape. I was dismayed by his lack of a growth mindset and view towards betterment. Yet, now as a person who is always looking to make change and develop, I realize it's time to stay where we are for a while with some refinement but no big, big changes ahead. Why?

First, we've worked alongside many colleagues and administrators diligently to make our shared teaching model successful. The model, overall, is a great success for multiple reasons including the following:
  • Lots of positive teacher share and collaboration
  • Good results with regard to learning/teaching measurements
  • Overall happy students
  • Engaged families who all share a common program for their fifth grade children
  • A positive schedule and routine focused on good priorities related to teaching/learning
  • Good, deep curriculum and learning experiences
Rather than make any big changes right now, I'd like to take a few years to refine this model by digging into the current curriculum and refining it, updating the learning environment/routine as needed, and deepening our collaboration and collective efforts more. 

Sometimes it's okay to improve the status quo rather than make big changes, and I'm feeling like that's a good direction now. I have a chance to think about this with colleagues soon during an upcoming professional development day. I'll be interested to hear what they think. 

Teaching/Learning Priorities: November 2017

Unlike other years, the curriculum is the least of my concerns this year as I'm always eager to dive in and update curriculum efforts to meet students' needs. This area of school life is going very well. The challenge lies in the teaching/learning environment and procedural/administrative tasks. So as I look ahead, here are the jobs to do.

Teaching/Learning Environment Updates
In the days to come, I'll rework the STEAM center, math supplies area, general supply areas, sign-in area, classroom library, sports equipment, and files areas. I'll try to do a little each day.

Procedural/Managerial Tasks
I'll reorganize the files and desk area to support better completion of all these expectations.

Curriculum
I'll continue on the good path set for math teaching/learning, and start our new science study as time permits for planning and execution.

This is a truly classroom-focused year with lots of needed time to update systems, organization, and materials to teach well. Onward.

Materials Management

Part of a classroom teacher's job is materials management. With today's multiple ways of teaching and learning, we use lots of materials. I'm fortunate to have a healthy supply of paper, pens, whiteboards, markers, colored pencils, tape, science materials, math manipulatives and more. I thought I had a fairly good organization system going, but as my past posts have pointed out the addition of more students and less support, has me rethinking materials organization. Someday soon when I get a burst of good energy, I'll spend several hours reorganizing the set-up to better organize and manage all these good materials for student learning. Onward.

The Morning Routine: Surprisingly Challenging, But Important

The phone rang and the knot in my stomach grew. I forgot to complete the attendance online, I realized. Then I went to complete the attendance to find that the system would not open up. Oh no! You would think that it would be no trouble to complete the attendance and lunch count every morning. It's simple--students sign in; the register is reviewed; a lunch count slip is completed and sent down; and the attendance is recorded on the computer. Just a few simple steps.

What makes this routine challenging is the following:
  • Children trickle in from either 8 or 8:30-8:50ish. So you really can't get a good count until 8:50.
  • Several mornings students don't arrive on time due to a number of issues such as meetings with teachers, chorus, an early morning hallway discussion or conflict, and attention to other matters. These same interruptions often lead to students forgetting to sign in.
  • Then when a teacher is ready to check the attendance and lunch count, sometimes it's time to say the pledge or take part in the morning minute. Other times she is responding to a student need or collegial question. Any number of unexpected events can get in the way.
  • If not done by 9 on most days, the students have transitioned so there's no going back to the list.
What will help?
  • Practice the routine again and again--hang up your items, take in what you need, sign in, sit at your desk and start morning work. Teacher positioned in similar place near the sign in every morning--monitors who signs in, the lunch count, and completes slips/form on her own or with students' help and that's done. This simple routine takes lots of practice to get it right, and to get it right means a lot less stress related to reminders and follow-up comments/angst. 
I'll talk to the students about this on Monday. Over the years this hasn't been my strong suit--I tend to get caught up in the lesson or students' needs, comments, and events first thing int he morning rather than staying focused on lunch count and attendance, but I'll make a shift here. Some might say that it's crazy to put so much focus on two simple to complete tasks, but sometimes it's these simple tasks that are the most difficult in a busy classroom with many students. Onward. 

Surprising School Year Challenges

This has been a school year of surprising challenges, challenges unexpected and challenges that are difficult to figure out where they come from or why they happened.

Mostly it's been a year of procedural and managerial challenges--challenges related to schedules, routines, materials, and paperwork. The greater number of students has definitely been one factor as there isn't the wiggle room in the classroom or schedule for needed space and time because of the large numbers. The fact that some expectations are constantly changing is another challenge--expectations I thought I understood are different than what I expected so there's a learning curve there. And as I mentioned before, I simply have less support since last year I had a full time teaching assistant and this year it's only me, that's a 50% reduction in support for all things related to procedures and management, and the difference is challenging.

So what can I do in the face of all this. First, I'll add changes for next year to meet the new expectations. Changes that include the following:
  • Focus on the parent handbook and needed signatures at Curriculum Night
  • Focus on the student handbooks and signatures during the first days of school
  • Ask about required school forms during set-up days to plan accordingly
  • Attempt to get all field trip phone calls, schedules, and paperwork completed during the summer since it's difficult to organize these trips during the school year.
  • Do a better job checking that students have the supplies necessary at the start of the year, and contacting families of students who don't have the supplies to figure out next steps with regard to supplies such as headphones, portfolios, Sharpies, and more.
  • Create five extra supply collections for potential new students or students who don't have their supplies.
  • Make the time to order more supplies in the spring so there's no need to buy supplies over the summer and into the fall. Keep a running list of supplies during the school year. 
  • Re-look at scheduling with the team to even better our already good weekly schedule.
  • Think carefully with colleagues about administrative expectations and build those expectations into the daily routine for students. 
To update my procedural and managerial efforts will mean less stress for me and the class as this area of school life has been extremely stressful which has led to further stress and even an accident caused, in part, by the worry. 

The upside of the year is that it has been a very good teaching/learning year so far. The students are eager to learn, and the learning results so far show growth, perseverance, support, and happiness. We've built a good teaching/learning team with families, students, and teachers, and will continue to use our time and efforts to strengthen this team more. 

I'll continue to look for ways to better the administrative, management, and procedural aspects of my work--this year's surprising area of challenge.

Note: Every teaching/learning year brings new challenges, and every teaching/learning year there's lots to learn. What's mostly unexpected is that you can never predict what the year's challenge will be until the year arrives--there's always that element of surprise for better or worse. 




Thursday, November 09, 2017

Why Not Help?

I couldn't understand why an individual wasn't helpful. I didn't expect the pushback. Yet, it occurred. Reminded by the need to be reverent, I want to think more about those who push us beyond our comfort levels or expectations--when is this a good thing, and when is this troubling? What is the best way to react to these shoves we feel now and then in our lives? When might we too push too hard?

Some pushes are good, the kinds of pushes that helped you ride a bike for the first time or learn to pump to get the swing going. That little push that prompts you to go out on a first date, call an old friend, try out for a part in a play, or apply for your first job are promising pushes that propel us forward. But other pushes are too hard and rough, those kinds of pushes whether well intended or not can push us down, make us fall, and hinder betterment in all kinds of ways.

This need to push a little with love versus the too-heavy push and shove is all about the dance we do with those we live and work with, the back-and-forth energy we use as we move together and apart to do our work, live our lives, create, and develop. I want to think more about pushing, both the positive pushes and the hurtful shoves--how can we help each other without pushing each other over? Good food for thought.

The Week's End: November 9, 2017

All in all it was a good week as I powered through lots of math teaching/learning and reading with students this week.

Next week we'll focus in on the unit two math goals with multiple models, problems, and exercises. I'll also focus a bit more on practice to see who is completing the practice and who is not. Further, I hope to personalize students' in-school and at-home tech menus with greater sensitivity, and prep pre-test and unit assessment online and offline materials.

Administratively I'll organize the many handbook sign-off sheets that are in my desk, work with colleagues to complete another field trip form, and learn more about field trip procedures. I also have some progress monitoring scores to input to the computer.

On the professional learning side of teaching, I'll attend the DESE TAC meeting, a couple of student planning meetings, a PLC, and grade-level meeting. Mostly it should be a typical week with few surprises (fingers crossed).

Creating New Routines

There's been a number of procedural snags this year--snags that call for new routines and ways of doing things. As I noted before I had a terrific teaching assistant last year that helped me with all the procedural aspects of teaching and learning. This year it's just me so I have to make changes so that I can do this work on my own and take care of the 25 students in front of me too.

The first step is to identify the time to follow-up with students for the many notices that I collect. Young children don't always remember to deliver a notice to their families or then return it to the class. Reminding and following up is part of the job. I also have to make time to complete the many paper work forms and follow the many directions that accompany those forms. I'm trying to set aside time every morning to do those tasks. It's not simple on top of the many curriculum materials I have to prepare, emails to answer, and meetings to attend and lead, yet it must be done.

Further, there's a bit of follow up that needs to happen to bring any event or paperwork full circle and I have to do that too. I was definitely spoiled last year by having a top notch teaching assistant who truly did help out with all the procedural matters related to running a classroom. This year I need to update routines to reflect the fact that it's only me. I'll think about the needed changes this weekend.

Inclusion and Quiet

Many hold tightly to the original principles of inclusion, principles that help a child to learn alongside his or her peers. I believe we have to update our inclusion practices now to meet the ever changing landscape of education--just to be with your peers is not necessarily the best place to learn.

Instead of old-time inclusion principles alone, I believe we have to update our practice to include attributes of personalization and just-right education for every child. For example, the noise factor alone in classrooms can prohibit a child from learning. If you're working in a small classroom with many students who are eagerly exchanging ideas about the learning focus, it's not going to be super quiet. Some children need a good degree of quiet to focus and learn--a noisy, busy environment will be distracting to students like that.

Further, to figure out a complex student and how he/she learns also demands a quiet, focused space. A teacher who truly wants to support a child who is struggling needs that kind of focused space to examine a child's attitude, strategy, and progress in order to move that child forward.

Last year a colleague worked one-to-one with a student for a significant amount of time. That student made a lot of positive progress--that quiet one-to-one time mattered a lot. I know the students would not have made the same progress in the busy, populated classroom setting for that concentrated learning work.

I'm not suggesting that we return to a time when children who had learning challenges were always learning outside of the classroom. Instead I'm suggesting that we take a closer look at all of our learners and make thoughtful decisions about the learning space attributes such as comfort level, noise factors, lighting and more. We also have to take a close look at pedagogy, how we help students, learning experiences, and content. We are at a point given the technology available to personally design learning paths that help individual children of all learning profiles to grow with strength, positivity, and confidence.

How are you updating your inclusion and specialist services? What are you doing to improve the learning? I'm thinking about this.

In the Dog House

Have you spent time in the Dog House? It gets a little lonely and squishy in there, and frankly, I'm tired of spending my days in that cold, unfriendly place. It's not that I live in the dog house in all areas of my life, but there are some where I'm relegated to those tight corners all too often.

So what's a teacher, mom, wife, community member, and friend to do?

In general, my advice to myself is to slow it down. Those dog house moments are typically the result of too-quick action and resolve. I watch a friend who spends little time in dog houses and she's typically a lot more thoughtful about her retorts, decisions, and share.

So I'll spend a few more nights on the cold floor of the dog house, and then I'll reach for a reprieve for hopefully a longer than shorter time. Onward.

Looking Deeply at Student Needs and Services

Our teaching team collects lots of informal and formal data about students, and we use that data to inform our program. We also meet as a team a minimum of four times a week to discuss student goals and strategies to teach well. We're trying to give every child the chance to develop with academic confidence, joy, and success. This is a positive goal, and one that we're all invested in.

The next six weeks of school are rich teaching time. Energy is good, the days are colder and darker, and we know the students quite well by now. What will we do to boost student success in light of this?

Targeted groups, seating, and activities
We've targeted a number of activities including one-to-one coaching, extra help sessions, bonus/enrichment activities, independent practice, preferred seating, and personalized tech menus to support individual students. I'll hang a copy of the detailed plan near my teaching area and monitor the plan's success and need for change. We'll continue to meet and discuss how we might make the teaching and learning experiences a good fit for all students. This is the part of the job I enjoy the most.

Cozy, Comfortable and Positive Learning Environment
I'll continue to work to make the environment match the learners. Each year's group is different and thus requires a bit different environment. There's a number of simple changes I'm looking at with regard to the physical set-up of the room and materials organization that may help the students.

Teaming with Families
I'm looking for ways that we can deepen our teaming with families to support students. With large numbers of students in heterogenous classrooms, working with families is key to student success. Fortunately we have an outstanding group of loving and supportive families, and we'll keep a two-way conversation going about each child's progress and supports.

Growth Mindset
Our goal is positive progress for every child. The more that we can encourage children to work for their own progress by asking questions, choosing good places to learn, accessing helpful resources, and utilizing a large number of helpful learning strategies, the better they will learn. We are mostly in the business of teaching students how to learn, and having a positive attitude and growth mindset is critical to this endeavor.

Everyone Belongs
That's the theme on our class website, and the theme that we are fostering in every way possible. We want our teaching/learning environment to be a welcoming, positive place, and we want to bridge any opportunity gaps that exist in order to let every child know that he/she can learn, and we are there to help them. A child gave us a vote of confidence this week when he said, "Why is everyone so nice to me." He noticed our efforts to make the learning accessible to him. Now the goal is to teach so that every child feels the same way.

Engaging, Empowering Learning Experiences
A standards-based curriculum demands a lot of creative synthesis and exploration to make the sometimes seemingly dry standards lively and engaging. This is another part of the job I find to be a terrific challenge--how can we translate those standards into engaging, scaffolded, empowering learning events. My team and I will continue to work towards this aim in the days to come.

To look deeply at every child and to aim for concerted cultivation as Malcolm Gladwell discusses in his book, Outliers, is the aim of good teaching. That's our team aim, and the work to meet this goal is the reason why I teach.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Digging Deeper with Teaching: Tutoring, Collaboration, and Project Work

In many ways, the classroom is a laboratory of study on multiple levels. Students are studying the content posed while teachers are studying the students as well as how to effectively teach.

With that in mind, I've been digging in deep this year with regard to helping lots of individual students as well as groups of students during and after the school day. As I work with the students, I learn more and more about how to teach each concept with depth. I see how students puzzle through problems, make connections, and learn. As I do this, I wonder if a prerequisite to teaching whole groups should be teaching individual students, and coaching them to mastery since there is so much to learn when you work with a child one-to-one.

I remember a colleague of mine who retired once commenting how much more she could teach in a one-to-one tutoring session than in a whole class setting. Yet there's good synergy that occurs when students are working together to solve problems, explore, and learn too.

As I explore student learning with greater depth, I am recognizing the following.

Model to Abstract
Teachers know it's important for students to work with all kinds of hands-on, online, and paper models to learn about mathematical concepts. These models provide students with a rich understanding of concepts and relationships. When we work too fast and forgo the models, we often forgo the depth and richness of math. Manipulating models in multiple ways helps students to gain fluidity with math thinking and learning, and then later translate that fluency into their more abstract number work and problem solving.

Personalized Tech
The quick feedback, often engaging, and multi-modal online math tech venues can really help students practice and learn-to-learn math. The key here is to personalize a child's math tech use in ways that truly help them to build greater capacity for math learning and thinking. It's also important to teach children how to use the tech venues so that they are able to access hints, use helpful videos, enlarge the screen, and utilize other assistive attributes of the specific tech venue for better learning.

Asking Questions and Leading Their Learning
As much as possible we have to encourage students to ask lots of questions and lead their learning. A simple practice of having students use That Quiz to practice skills, and then to ask for a reset if they get lower than 75 on the quizzes, puts children in the driver's seat. That simple practice helps them to identify when they understand a concept well and when they need more help. Students need to understand that learning is a step-by-step journey and we all move at different paces/ways, so there's no need to worry about where you are, but instead worry about if you're moving ahead in positive ways.

Packets and Worksheets
I know that many recoil when they hear the words "packet" or "worksheet," but it remains true that with large classes of children, the packet or worksheet often serves as an independent guide, resource, or road map to concept, skill, or knowledge proficiency. When used in tandem with many other learning vehicles such as online games and tools, manipulatives, games, videos, problems, and projects, these workbook/packet guides offer a child some independence with regard to speed and order of completion as well a tool to see what they know and what they need to ask about. To gain a math concept with depth does take practice, and while games and projects are great ways to offer that practice in meaningful ways, sometimes classroom numbers and time point in the direction of using worksheets and packets as practice vehicles and guides.

Projects and Problems
Good, deep, meaningful math projects and problems open the doors to learning in terrific ways. This is where we need to reach as math teachers today. Boaler supports this with her research and outreach. The more we can do this, the better the learning will be.

Tutoring
In-school tutoring which means giving individuals and small groups the support they need can bring about rich teaching/learning relationships and progress. Looking for ways that we can offer this is another way to deepen the teaching we do.

Model/Problem Making
Asking students to make models and design problems related to mathematical concepts, and then to use those models and problems to teach others is another way to deepen the teaching and learning.

Team with Families
To foster optimal math learning, we have to team with families. This is integral to a child's math success.

As I continually look for ways to focus the teaching on learning more than behavior or expected routines, I am looking at the pedagogy that results in rich, deep, satisfying teaching and learning, the kind of pedagogy that inspires students' independent drive and personal responsibility with regard to mastering the standards (and more) in ways that matter.



Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Science Study Prep and Delivery

Our system recently purchased a host of new science study units. The units appear well researched and a good match for new Science and Technology standards. The challenge is finding the time to read, research, and prep the materials. With at most a one-hour a day planning period, there isn't much time for the initial multi-hour prep of the materials and lessons.

Now that the math is prepped for a few weeks to come, I'll use my after-hours prep time to prepare for the science.

First, I'll read through the standards related to the unit.

Then I'll read through the material to get the big idea of the unit I'll be teaching. After that I'll look for ways to break the multi-activity lessons down into in-school and at-home activities. For example, I can imagine that I'll take a module of nine or so lessons and turn it into one two-hour in-class investigation, related in-class reading/discussion, and at-home enrichment choices. I will focus the in-school activities on the activities most closely related to the Massachusetts STE MCAS standards.

I may also have students create a website to host their study notes, videos, models, and other information. This will give them a good place to revisit when they review the material for the spring STE MCAS. And I'll add the test to a Google form so that students can take the test both on paper and online as a good way to prep for the spring MCAS tests and for an efficient way to complete the test and receive their grades. Further the online test helps those with any kind of print disability making it a good assistive technology.

If I have additional time, I'll read a book about matter that I've purchased. I find that reading books at a higher level related to the topic helps me to teach a topic in a much more interesting way than if I just read the materials written for young children.

In the future, I think it's best if new curriculum is introduced prior to the summer vacation. While teachers do not have to read and prepare over the summer, I find that during the summer I have more time to dig in and think deeply about new curriculum as once the school year starts, most of my time is spent on the day-to-day prep, planning, teaching, and taking care of students rather than the deeper, more meaningful side of the teaching equation.


Monday, November 06, 2017

The Right Balance

An educator noted he was interested in the balance quotient with regard to teaching. That's a common question that educators think about no matter where they teach or how long they've been teaching. To find some balance, it's important to zero in on what's most important with regard to your job. Do the work that you are expected to do, the work that you prioritize most. This may mean that there are other tasks or endeavors that you simply take part in, but do not spend lots of time on the prep and planning for those activities.

As the school year turns a corner into a more predictable and established schedule and routine, I find myself focusing in on the priorities of math, science, community building and reading--the four main areas of my work with fifth graders and all areas that I enjoy learning about and teaching. There's a sense of balance related to highlighting these priorities, priorities I'm eager to meet.

Reflect for Success: Lead Forward

I asked a group of relatively new teachers to think about their ten year plan. Then I had them highlight the main words/images in their notes. I did the same. Those words have been coming back to me since we did the exercise on Saturday, and I'm thinking of those words as I plan the week ahead.  This is one example of how reflection can help to lead you forward towards your goals, dreams, vision, and pursuits.

Sometimes the "Sit and Git" Lesson is Necessary

Today's math lesson is mostly going to be a sit, listen, and collaborate lesson. There's a lot of new information to share for this lesson and to build the depth, students will need to sit quietly, listen, and contribute ideas and answers. Sometimes this is the most efficient way to introduce a new concept, skill, or knowledge point so that's what we'll do.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

What is your job and how can you do it well?

Sometimes we see the snags and potholes all around us, but we forget to look at the opportunity within us--the opportunity to truly make change and do good work. A relatively new teacher reminded me of that yesterday as he spoke on a panel at MTA's Just for New Teacher Conference.

It's easy to see the obstacles, but not always easy to see the potential. What can you do?

For me the job is to teach children well. That means I can do the following:
  • Reach out to families with the good news and news of opportunities that exist
  • Make extra time to help students learn, get along, create, and communicate
  • Read, research, create, and learn continually to teach better
  • Organizing the learning environment for optimal learning/teaching
  • Making time for engaging, empowering, educational learning experiences with students
  • Speaking up, working systematically, and reaching out with respect to advocate for and contribute to positive development in schools and school systems
  • Making sure I have the energy, skill, and motivation to teach well
I'm sure I'll think of other ways I can boost my work in the days to come, but the idea of looking in rather than out is one powerful way to elevate what you can do to teach well. Onward. 

Tech Advocacy: A Moving Target

I think that some don't realize that tech is a moving target, it's changing all the time. Some want to harness tech with strict rules, protocols, and policies, but it's really difficult, and I believe impossible to harness technology in our world today. Instead I believe in loose-tight protocols to guide tech use.

For example, with regard to student privacy, I believe it's important to well educate parents and students about the use of their names and other information online, and then to ask parents to provide permission for platforms you decide are top-notch and valuable for students. For example, I keep persisting in my advocacy to use Khan Academy for math in the face of rules that have banned the platform in my school system. There are so many reasons why I believe it's a platform that should be embraced, reasons that include the following:
  • Khan Academy teaches students how to learn online
  • Khan Academy is a great resource to act as a guide on the side for teaching assistants who are helping students master a concept
  • Khan Academy uses a terrific blend of language and visual models to teach a concept
  • Khan Academy is a progressive site that continually assesses a student's performance and then assigns tasks related on the student's needs. This is a terrific help to students and teachers.
  • Khan Academy has great enrichment opportunities with regard to math puzzles, coding, the standards of mathematical practice, and information and exercises in multiple other disciplines.
  • You can access Khan Academy in multiple languages which is helpful to immigrant students and families.
  • Khan Academy provides great data for teachers, students, and families to use to assist and motivate student learning
  • Khan Academy is supported by lots of money, good intellect, and modern day research--it's always improving
  • Khan Academy supports personalized learning and is a terrific home-school platform to use
  • Khan Academy offers students ready feedback whereas paper/pencil and some other platforms have substantial lag time between doing the work and receiving feedback. 
  • Khan Academy is a great way for students to learn how to succeed on standardized tests since its a resource for test designers and test questions for most standardized tests
  • Khan Academy is not language-heavy like other platforms thus giving students who struggle with language, a chance to learn math differently
Khan Academy is not all things, and you have to learn how to use it well. No one strategy or tool in teaching is the end-all, but when used with multiple other strategies and approaches, it's a terrific tool.

Our system pays for a Khan Academy-like system rather than approving Khan Academy. The other system is okay, but not as good, in my opinion, as Khan Academy. The other system is a little easier for teachers to use, yet it's language heavy thus leaving out the learners who struggle with reading and English, and it maxes out at the end of elementary school standards rather than a system, like Khan, that moves up to college and beyond which is terrific for our advanced students. 

Khan Academy is a free resource, and one that could help us to save money too since we pay for the other system. Though I do believe that systems should pay, in part, for quality tech. After all we have to support what is good, and that support, when used well, will lead to even greater quality. 

My students who did well on MCAS last year used Khan Academy effectively to learn. Many utilized the system for individualized and collaborative enrichment too. 

I will continue to persist as I believe this is a platform that fits the adage, "If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, he eats his whole life." Students can use Khan Academy to develop their learning throughout their lives. I think we're remiss not to embrace this platform, a  platform students all over the world are using to elevate their skill, knowledge, and concept understanding. If you agree with me, reach out and speak up too. Maybe together we can forward this small change for teaching/learning growth and betterment. 

The Week Ahead: Daylight Savings 2017

Daylight savings always creates a bit of a bump in the road when you teach young children. They are sensitive to changes in sleep and routine, and we see that sensitivity in school. It's not a big deal, but something to be aware of in the first few days of the daylight savings time change.

Further it seems that the seasonably cold weather is here, so we'll have to remind students to wear their jackets, hats, and mittens/gloves when they go out to play. In fact, it's a good idea to ask parents to fill one big bag, the kind you can buy at Target or Marshall's for about a $1.00 with a collection of outdoor gear for their children. This bag can hang on the hooks and serves as a good resource for happy days at recess during the cold days ahead.

In class, I'm happy that we have a number of days ahead that are mostly uninterrupted, days where we can move ahead towards the math, science, and reading goals set for the teaching and learning. To get there, I'll start Monday with a review of our typical daily routine, and then give students time to settle in. After that lesson by lesson we'll focus in on how to grow skill, concept, knowledge individually and with others.

There's a few family-student-teacher conferences to catch up on--conferences that were cancelled, and have to be reset. There's a number of small collegial decisions to review and make at our Tuesday grade-level meeting too. Our efforts to better scaffold and differentiate math instruction seems to be making good gains too which is positive. And there's a conference coming up that will give our teaching team a time to focus in on our work together, the shared teaching model, and how we want to further develop what we can do together to better our teaching/learning efforts.

With regard to the long, long view, I've got some personal goals to work towards--goals that I think will positively impact both work and home. I'm looking forward to those challenges. Onward.

Legitimate Process

Yesterday at the MTA's Just for New Teachers Conference I shared Hattie's learning cycle, a cycle that begins with identifying success criteria, then assessment, and after that the step-by-step activity including reflection and revision along the way to reach the goal. It's such a promising process, one that many have promoted and used throughout time.

It's important that we clearly and openly use legitimate processes because that's the way we build trust and work together to make good progress and change. As I think about this, I'm thinking about how I can apply this perspective to my own work.

Politics abound both locally and nationally. This is one area that I can utilize Hattie's cycle--what is the success criteria with regard to my political action and effort? What is my aim here? Essentially I'm a political enthusiast who strongly supports what it takes to make strong, peaceful, caring communities, communities where people have ready access to good nutrition, quality education, needed health care, positive recreation, suitable housing, freedom to live as they desire with the exception of illegal acts, and a clean environment. I would rather see more regulations and greater equality than policies that support some and distance others from life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I also support leaders who are respectful, intelligent, caring, open, inclusive, and forward thinking. Though I generally lean towards the democratic party, I am open to candidates and political leaders from many other parties and perspectives too.

At school, I am a fan of good, inclusive process to make decisions, set goals, and lead our schools ahead. I'm not a fan of processes that are less transparent, logical, or well thought out. As I've written about numerous times, I support the movement towards distributive leadership in schools, a type of leadership model that lends voice and choice to all stakeholders with modern age, inclusive processes. In many ways these processes exist in the school system where I work, and in some ways it's questionable whether these processes do exist. There are many decisions looming, and I will evaluate those decisions with the following questions:
  • Was the process used transparent, inclusive, honest, research-based, and timely?
  • Are the decisions made reflective of the priority needs and opportunities that exist?
  • How will the process and decisions help us to create modern day schools that result in future-ready, happy, successful students?
  • Are we focused on the right questions?
For my own practice, I've set some high expectations for my own work and effort. I've laid a few steep challenges in my path, challenges I really want to meet in the years ahead. I know that if I meet these challenges, I will be able to elevate my service and leadership to my students, their families, and the colleagues I work with. I value the very personal goals I've set, and will work towards attaining those goals on my own and with a few good comrades. 

To build trust, to do good work, and to make a difference, we have to embrace legitimate processes, processes that begin with highlighting the success criteria we seek and processes that identify how we will assess the work we do to see if we're truly moving towards our goals. These processes outline the steps that reach for the goal, and stop to assess and revise the effort regularly. I look forward to the shared and personal journeys ahead in this regard. 



Saturday, November 04, 2017

Divergent Lenses

In life we live and work with people who have divergent lenses, they see it differently from us and differently from each other. This can be very frustrating, and demands thought.

That divergence can be looked at in multiple ways. For example, I value the divergent lenses on my grade-level team. The more I work with the many teachers and assistants on the team, the more I value their unique and professional ways of looking at teaching, learning, and life. I learn so much from the way they interpret the job, create learning experiences, and make decisions. I don't think I could ever happily return to the one-teacher-one-classroom model after experiencing this rich opportunity for collaboration and teaching/learning success.

I feel the same way about many people in my personal life--they bring my life such richness and positive challenge because they think and see so differently than I do.

There are times though where divergence is a struggle. You wonder, Why can't he/she see it my way? and Why do they see it the way they do? An initial reaction may be to try to change a person's perspective or focus to your way of thinking or you might mistakenly interpret their decisions via your lens rather than using empathy to see it from their point of view, experience, or goals.

When this happens, I think it's best to take a giant step backwards to a place of reflection and observation--reflection and observation centered on understanding that thinker/doer who is so different from you. After that, if it matters, you need to think about how to harmonize your vision/perspective with that person's way of seeing the world and making decisions. As I've been saying a lot lately, find the promise in the problem that divergence can bring. When is this promising, and when does it require a different approach or reaction.

Just because you live in the same house, work at the same business, recreate in similar ways, or share common goals doesn't mean you'll think the same way, instead we all know that very different perspectives and lenses can exist in close proximity to one another with respect to interests, goals, jobs, and family life.

In schools, divergence is very important. If we were too narrowly and similarly focused in thought and acts, we could not serve our diverse students and their varying needs well. Instead it's the synthesis, harmony, and even the debate related to our divergence that creates a rich teaching/learning ecosystem that's able to lead and serve all students and families well.

I will think more on divergence in the days ahead as I work to elevate my teaching/learning practice, collaboration, and result. I welcome your thoughts on the topic.