New Job Prerequisite: Failure



I ran across this poster from Startup Vitamins about a year ago when I toured the T-Rex complex in downtown St. Louis.  My copy of it now stands on display behind my desk.  It reminds me to take a chance, to push myself outside my comfort zone, and to take the occasional risk.

I think the teaching community needs to add a prerequisite onto all our job descriptions – a criteria that needs to be met before a candidate can even apply for his/her first job:  “A successful candidate must be willing to take a chance, and to have experienced a painful failure at least once in their life.”  By talking in the interview about how the candidate learned from that failure will speak volumes about their character, and about how they will approach the challenges of their career.  I would rather hire a teacher who had started out as an entrepreneur and had lost everything than someone who had never missed an ‘A’ in school.

There is something to be said for being able to get up, dust yourself off, and get right back in there teaching big and on the edge again, teetering between epic fail and epic win.

Who fails? The teacher.  Who wins? The teacher AND all his/her students.

To me there is no alternative.

Autopsy of a Worksheet

This post was originally titled, “Anatomy of a Worksheet,” but such a title  implies something worth learning about and carrying forward.  I think it’s more apropos to learn about was, why it died, and how we can prevent it from happening again.

The first question people ask is, “What is a worksheet? I’ve been handing them out for years!”


Fill-in-the-blank worksheet: No understanding required.

My definition of a worksheet has three parts:

1.  Worksheets are mass-printed, either by the teacher at the copier, or by a publisher in a workbook.

2.  Worksheets are given to every student in the classroom.

3.  Worksheets contain questions with black & white, right or wrong answers.  For example, they may be fill-in-the-blank, true/false, multiple choice, or math computational problems.

Why is a worksheet not the best instructional model?

1.  Worksheets do not promote depth of learning.  In his keynote at #METC14 in February, @Kevinhoneycutt told the story about how he was tired of being the ‘dumb kid in the back of the class,’ so he asked to be moved to the front where all the action between the teachers and the students took place, and what did he learn?  All the right answers to the questions were in bold, right in the text!  He didn’t even have to understand what the words meant to start answering questions correctly.

2.  Worksheets do not promote creativity.  When students know there is only one right answer, they work to respond with what they think is expected.  Check out this video by Sir Ken Robinson from the #ASCD14 in Los Angeles this winter:

3.  Common Core does not support Worksheets.  Common Core is about teaching kids the HOW and WHY of things –  explaining, creating, analyzing, evaluating, and understanding.  A worksheet shows a teacher their students understand two things:  the WHAT of things, and that they are adept at filling in blanks.

I hope you will join our #noworksheetweek challenge the week of April 7 – 11, 2014.  Join our No Worksheet Google+ Community, and check out these other educators who are in on the Challenge:  Rae Fearing (CA), Dan Gibson (IN), and Kristie Burk (PA).

What do you do instead of worksheets to promote student creativity in your class?  What lesson are you the most proud of?

TextHelp: One of the New Add-Ons in GDocs

This week, a powerful new feature appeared on Google Docs.  You and your students can now run little sub-programs called ‘scripts’ on your Documents. These scripts can be found in the new ‘Add-ons’  button located in the main ribbon:
Add-ons new
There are tools in there for making bibliographies, adding charts, making labels, flowcharts/mindmaps, tables of contents, and even for writing music.  The one that caught my eye is the highlighting tool called TextHelp.
Students can highlight parts of a text in different colors, and then this script will collect the different colored highlights together in a new document. Check out this page of suggestions on how to use this in the classroom.
How else could this be used with students?

Visualization Activity with First Grade and iPads

MeTeaching Fridays at 10.  It’s my standing appointment with a first grade class to work on one of their weekly skills using a new app every week.  We’ve done Screen Chomp, Educreations, and more to work with skills like fluency and sequencing.  Last week, their skill was visualization, so we used the Doodle Buddy app on our iPads, and some books from the library.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1.7: Use illustrations and details in a story to describe its characters, setting, or events.

“When students listen to or read text, they can create pictures in their mind or make a mind movie. When readers visualize what is happening in the story, they remember more of what they read or hear. ” (The Daily 5 CAFE)

NatalieDoodleBuddyBefore class, I went to the school library and found 5 books I figured they had never read (my sole criteria for determining this was that they looked OLD, and had those uniformly beige hardcovers).  I made a makeshift book cover out of orange construction paper, so they couldn’t see any part of the book.  I then read a page or two from a story, then gave them about three or four minutes to draw what they were visualizing.  At the end of the time, they held them up for me to see, then had another minute to show each other.  Finally, I took off the orange construction paper and showed them how the illustrator had visualized it.

We started with an edition of The Princess and the Pea where the characters were illustrated as animals (all the kids’ illustrations were stick people), read a couple pages of The Goggles by Ezra Jack Keats (the kids all drew their goggles in black, while Keats did his in yellow), and the first two pages of Big Al by Andrew Clements Yoshi (describing a very nice but scary-looking fish named Al).  We finished with the beautifully illustrated book called Crossing by Philip Booth.  In this book of rhyming train terms, our suburban kids had no idea what any of it meant without seeing pictures.  I started in the middle:

“Fifty-nine, sixty, / hoppers of coke, / Anaconda copper, / hotbox smoke.”

cars on roadThe results on the iPads were the best of the day.  There was more variety than with any other story, and the fact that they all drew automobiles rather than trains led to a discussion (well, a pointing out – this is first grade after all) that they drew auto cars because that’s what they know (the teacher even used the word ‘schema’!).  In reflection, the classroom teacher and I decided that the more nonsensical the text, the more imaginative the visualizations.

I would suggest everyone try this 45-minute activity with some of your lit picks, and let us know how it goes!


Making Audio Books with QR Codes

Recently, our district decided to unify our reading instruction practices by implementing The Daily 5 and CAFE by 2015-16.  The five parts of The Daily 5 include Writing, Word Work, Read to Someone, Read to Self, and Listen to Reading.  As teachers started assessing where they were, and how they could best implement Daily 5, they noticed that there was a dearth of audio books available for Listen to Reading.  The premise behind Listen to Reading is not only to listen to stories, but to follow along in the text.  Hence, it’s necessary to have an extensive library of audio books AND the accompanying texts.

ImageTo solve this problem, I enlisted the help of the National Junior Honors Society.  These students are constantly in need of community service hours, and besides, who doesn’t love to read children’s books?  Classroom teachers gave me books from their classroom libraries. I took them to after school sessions at the Junior High, and the students there used iPads and the Voice Record Pro app to record the stories.  Files were converted to MP3 versions (the app recorded them in MP4), renamed, and uploaded to Google Drive (here are the recording directions I made for the students).  Once in Drive, QR Codes were made and uploaded to Drive.  All parts were then added to a Google Doc (Title, Author, Illustrator, audio file link, and QR Code).  Finally, QR Codes were printed and affixed to the front of the books with packing tape.  By sharing the Google Doc Master List, teachers can search (using that handy CNTRL + F feature) for books they have in their library which already have a QR Code available.  Primary students then scan the codes and listen!

It takes a bit of behind-the-scenes work, but I believe this to be a low-cost (as in just about FREE!) way to increase your classroom audio book libraries.