Do You Want to Join Our Group? #12MonthsBlogging

Much has been written about the efficacy of teachers reflecting on their practice through blogging.  

As teachers, we often ask students to reflect on their learning; since we are the lead learners in our classrooms, shouldn’t we be reflecting too?  Some people keep a journal. My daughter creates journal entries a couple times a week, and she tells me that she talks about what happened at school or with her friends (no, I haven’t read it – there hasn’t been a need).  Other people (like me) don’t want to write something that no one will ever read.  That’s when a real, authentic audience cinches the deal and makes blogging a win-win situation for me. If someone else is actually going to read what I write, then I’ll take the time to edit and make sure I’m writing exactly what I want to say.

 

The problem with blogging comes down to actually writing. Is it writer’s’ block? Is it fear that people will label my choice of topics as cliche? I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s because writing inevitably ends up at the bottom of my to-do list.  Perhaps there’s fear that my readers will find my topics boring or boorish.  But you know what?  It doesn’t really matter.  A reflective blog is about MY learning, and if others somehow receive drive-by benefits, then it’s a bonus for both of us.  

Writing and editing a post doesn’t really take that long, so what I need is a support group to keep me on task – you know THOSE people who nag you until you finish (start?) your workout or call your mom? I need a group of fellow educators intent on improving their craft to join with me as I work through my teaching.  Is doesn’t matter what your job title is.  You could be a superintendent or a custodian.  We are all in the business of ‘doing what’s best for kids’ and in our collective effort of furthering that cause, we can learn from each other.

Enter #12monthsblogging.

For each month, there will be an overarching topic with specific writing prompts.  You can write your own post about the topic, or if you need more focus, use one of the prompts.  OR (in an effort to be totally student-driven) disregard the prompt all together and write something of your own choosing.  It doesn’t really matter what you write about – just make sure you have a message to communicate.  Fully flesh out your idea, and post it on your blog.  Advertise it on Twitter using the hashtag #12monthsblogging.

#12monthsblogging monthly topics

Finally, while you’re on Twitter, check out #12monthsblogging yourself, read some posts by fellow bloggers, and leave a comment or two.  

In the end, I’m hoping that regular posting to my blog will help me solidify some of my opinions on education.  That way, when people ask my opinion on a topic, I will have already examined my own biases, explored the evidence, and come up with a reasoned take on the subject.

I’m hoping you’ll join us – there’s no need to sign up, just post and tag on Twitter!

Google Hangouts for Lunchtime PD

The Literacy Coach and I put our deviously creative hats on to come up with a new form of Professional Development.  We developed a semi-monthly, 30-minute session that repeats three times during lunch from 11:00 – 12:30.  So far there have been five dates, and the fifth one which occurred today, was the most successful by far.

The Technology

Photo: roe17.org

Photo: roe17.org

We chose Google Hangouts for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s on everyone’s classroom computer.  It’s also an amazingly simple tool to use, and one that I think the staff could really use, considering we have seven buildings (8 if you count the District Office).  However, it’s a hard concept to demonstrate and fully understand the potential without actually participating.  And goodness knows I already make enough videos that they don’t watch.

The Content

Google Hangouts provides the framework, but the content had to come from elsewhere, and where better to look than other district-wide initiatives.  The Literacy Coach in our district is amazing: 30+ years of elementary teaching experience in all grades, not to mention a growth mindset like nobody has every seen.  She was always trying new styles, techniques, and ideas while in the classroom and hasn’t stopped.  She and I brainstormed about what teachers still weren’t ‘getting’ when it came to Daily 5/CAFE implementation, and also what they might like to learn with PARCC (our annual Common Core Standardized Test) on the horizon.

  • GHO #1 – Classroom Innovation
  • GHO #2 – Vocabulary Instruction
  • GHO #3 – Citing Evidence
  • GHO #4 – Paired Texts
  • GHO #5 – Constructed Responses on PARCC

The Details

Ms. Witkus and I created a Google Doc in advance, and developed an agenda, complete with questions and resources that we could share out through the Chat feature.

We wanted a safe topic for our first one, since we realized people were really going to be learning how to use GHO.  We added Vocab Instruction because a mutual pet peeve is the use of DOL (Daily Oral Language) by the many of the reading teachers, and the fact that some of the vocabulary lists that students learn every week contain words for no apparent reason (but I digress…).

The next three topics cover Common Core skills that seem to be difficult to teach.  Citing evidence correctly at the secondary level is easy, because your school follows a specific format, like MLA or APA.  However, at the elementary level, where citation is introduced, can be more tricky:  how do you know what proper citation for a 3rd grader is compared to a 5th, for example? Paired texts seems easy to accomplish with such websites as ReadWorks, but I think many teachers have a fear of, or don’t like to, create their own material.  Therefore, we thought it beneficial to introduce some online resources for Paired Texts.

Finally, helping kids write Constructed Responses for the PARCC is huge.  As I assist teachers in the computer labs as their practice PARCC with their kiddos, MANY students get to that question, and then write a two- or three-sentence response. Not cool. So, Ms. Witkus shared some lesson ideas to get kids writing daily, especially with responses to informational text (say in science or social studies) that kids finish in 30 – 40 minutes. I then jumped in with a plan to help students actually complete a constructed response, the crux or which was for them to use the scratch paper explicitly allowed in the directions to make an outline at the very least, and an outline with textual evidence source as better yet.

The Reflection

The first two GHOs were held for an hour after school.  I suggested an hour, because Twitter chats generally last that long, and I have been in several that FLY by.  However, attendance seemed low to us, and feedback indicated that many teachers would like to join, but had family obligations after school.  Therefore, we decided to move it to the lunch.  Better, but still not where we would like it.

It seems best if we divide and conquer, too.  If we are in different buildings, and can drum up business in each of THOSE buildings, we have better attendance.

Topics with immediate relevance seem to elicit better attendance as well.

The Future

With every session, more people have experienced GHOs.  At the end of the year, Ms. Witkus and I will look at attendance stats and determine if the Return on Investment was really worth the effort.

Have you ever used Google Hangouts for PD?  I would enjoy reading about your experience.

3 Ah-ha Moments of #NoWorksheetWeek

It’s been twNWWribbono days.

In the two days since #NoWorksheetWeek started, our Literacy Coach and I have visited the classroom of all 62 participants in our district, welcoming them to the week, presenting them with a badge to post with pride (picture), cheering them on, listening to first impressions, and observing all the great activities.

Some were nervous, checking with us to be sure that what they were doing fit within the realm of ‘No Worksheets’.

Some were excited, proudly inviting us in, introducing us to their students, and showing off their kids’ work.

Some were scared, thinking we were coming in to evaluate or critique.

One actually thanked me for putting this whole challenge together.

For the most part, teachers were already having those Ah-ha moments we were hoping for.  One teacher (kindergarten) went through the worksheets she had already printed for next week, and weeded out several, because she learned how she could accomplish the same goals orally.  Another teacher (6 grade social studies) is making paper like the Egyptians used to (with the addition of an electric blender!) using all the unused worksheets.  A third (junior high intervention) threatened her kids with, “If you don’t quiet down, we’ll have to do a worksheet!”  and immediately realized that giving worksheets is a punishment.

Perfect.

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Here is the badge, in case you would like to use it, too.  It was originally made on Canva.com:

White background

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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!”

WS_example

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?

Ground Zero: Creating a Tech Integration Program From Scratch

As I sat down today to really think about creating a technology integration program, I was struck by the magnitude of opportunity I have before me.

How often does one have the chance to create a program from the ground up?  How often does one have the ability to create it on your own, since you are the program?  Not often, if ever.

It’s not like I sat down and just put something down.  With the help of my PLN, I’ve been learning about what’s really important in education, how to best teach teachers technology, and how technology can really drive positive change in schools.  So clearly I’ve been pondering this for about the last year.  About three-quarters of last year’s time was taken up with teaching and all that goes with that (’nuff said).  This year, I will be a full time Tech Coach, so I need a structure, a curriculum with standards, from which to work.

To accomplish this, I started with the biggest picture and progressively narrowed the scope.  I looked at my District’s vision and mission statements, and then the same documents from the Technology Department.  With those open in one window, I was able to craft a first draft mission statement for my Program:

To provide District teachers, administration, and staff with the resources, training, and support necessary to integrate technology into the existing curriculum emphasizing 21st century skills and authentic, relevant learning.

 Taking this mission and Danielson’s Instructional Specialist Rubric (which is used by my District for my evaluation), I was then able to create three broad goals for the program:

1.  training – To develop and provide relevant and meaningful training sessions for faculty and staff of District 90 in the areas of iPad use in the classroom, Web 2.0 tools using the PC labs, and District software programs.

2.  resources – To develop and provide relevant and meaningful digital and print resources to help teachers and staff integrate technology tools into their professional lives.

3.  method for data collection & program improvement – To continually collect and review data from teachers and students on the effectiveness of the Program, and to then modify the training and resources to better fit the needs of the teachers and staff as a whole.

I then went on to create timelines, action steps, resources, etc. (but I don’t think you want to see all those).  HOWEVER, I do want feedback on these goals and on my Mission Statement.  What needs to be added/deleted/substituted?

Thanks in advance for your comments!

Maintain Professional Authority & Responsibility

IcarusI’m currently reading The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin in preparation for an Icarus Session to which I’ve been invited this week (more on that later).  During our Family Reading Time today, I highlighted this quote:

“[I]f you rely on external motivation to be your best self, then you will have ceded responsibility and authority to someone else.”  ~ Seth Godin The Icarus Deception p. 110

This then made a connection in my brain with the attitude of many teachers as our district works to implement a new form of Teacher Evaluation, and as I work to implement technology-related professional development.  Why do so many teachers fear the new evaluation instrument?  Why do so many teachers fear edtech?

For those who already know me, you’ve realized by now that I operate under a couple assumptions which I feel can prevent ceding responsibility and authority over what I do to someone else:

ASSUMPTION #1:  Always start with trust.

ASSUMPTION #2:  There is a Helper Gene buried in our DNA, and all educators have it and express it (and if you are someone without the HG phenotype, then you need to find a new career).

Seth Godin’s quote can be restated thus:  If you rely on the results of your Teacher’s Evaluation to be the best teacher you can be for your students, then you have effectively given your principal (or whomever evaluates you) the responsibility  and authority over you and your teaching.  You are being judged on how well your principal motivates you, not on you as the teacher responsible for your students’ learning.  If you are the type of teacher who needs constant reassurance or repeated check-ins by the principal in order to keep your eye on the goal you wrote for this next year (you know, the one you penned only because you had to fill in that box on your evaluation form?), then you must not have a strong helper gene, and perhaps you should find another career.

Wouldn’t you rather be judged on who YOU are as an individual? As a teacher? If you can look inside yourself and say with certainty that you have done everything in your power for the good of your students and your school, then an overall sense of pride, self-worth, and job satisfaction should be the primary result.  As a corollary, a positive evaluation should naturally follow from your supervisor.  When you are responsible for your own motivation, the summative conference conversations can be focused on ‘what can I add to my A-game?’ rather than ‘You tell me what I need to do to have an A-game.’

In my mind, an effective teacher always works toward a personal vision of helping kids become successful.  The purpose of the evaluation instrument is to help guide and expand this personal vision to coincide with that of the school and of education-at-large.

I am sure there are some out there, but I have never met, talked with, or heard stories about a vindictive evaluator.  Usually, the evaluators have past experience in the positions they critique, and have strong helper genes that want to help people improve their A-game.  A good place to start in your relationship with the person who writes your teacher evaluation is one of trust.  Between that initial trust and the desire to help people, you can draw on your intrinsic motivation to maintain authority over your own future as a teacher.

Fixing Bad (Writing) Habits

artwork: youngwritersconference.org

I’m really excited because this week I’m scheduled to guest teach a writing class for fourth graders.  My goal is to unteach some of the bad habits these students have learned over the years with Power Writing.

Don’t get me wrong; I think Power Writing has it’s place as an introductory method of illustrating the parts of a paragraph.  But when, as a 7th grade Language Arts teacher, almost every student would hand in an essay that ended with, “In conclusion, I think that…” I just about took my flair pen and embedded it in my retina.  Topic sentences don’t always have to be at the beginning of a paragraph, and what happened to concluding sentences providing one last piece of information – one last, new image for the reader to consider?  How do students transition from the blocky essays of my 7th graders to the fluid, interesting examples one hears on NPR?  Somewhere, students have to unlearn those bad habits taught in elementary classrooms with programs such as Power Writing, and it might as well start with me.

BACKGROUND:  Mrs. P., their teacher, wants her students to write a paragraph on something for which they are thankful so that she can put up her Thanksgiving bulletin board in the hallway in time for Parent/Teacher conferences.  Got it.  Good to have a reason for the lesson.

TECHNIQUE:  Subversion.  They’ll never know what hit ’em.

PLAN:  This week during regular journaling time, students are writing a list of things they like.  Not what they are thankful for, but what they like.  This will serve as their idea list for Thursday.  On Thursday, I will come in and perform a Writing Think Aloud for them as I write about something I’m thankful for.  I will not start with, “I am thankful for my mom and dad for three reasons.  First…”  Instead, I plan on telling them a story, giving them sensory details and maybe even some dialogue, using strong verbs and avoiding ‘be.’  They will hear how I vacillate with my word choices and sentence structures.  They will witness how entire sentences are deleted and replaced without hurt feelings.  And then when I finally hit them with the topic sentence of what I’m thankful for at the end of the paragraph, all that narrative tension will find release.

Whew.

Try it.  Join me in fighting the bad habits taught to students everywhere by the evil Power Writing Curriculum!