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!

Advertisements

(Wûrk’ shēt)

Wassup With the Worksheets?!

It is time for the 2nd annual No Worksheet Week! This movement started as a blog post, and quickly went global, thanks to the help of Rae Fearing in California.  To read more about the development of the No Worksheet Week Teacher Challenge you can read here, here or here. Rae and I are collaborating on this post so we can help teachers interested in taking the challenge learn how to to go worksheet free and discover the benefits for their students as well as providing support and new ideas for past participants.

 

What is a Worksheet?

 

Going worksheet free is about much more than not using paper.  A worksheet-free week is not necessarily paper-free.  Remember that both technology and paper are tools for learning.  What we are working toward is real learning, and worksheets do not promote real learning. Think about the last time you learned something.  Did you have to answer a bunch of true/false questions, or did you have to DO it – demonstrate mastery – in order to prove your learning? In order to move away from the dreaded worksheet, we first need a common definition:

  • Worksheets are mass-printed, either by the teacher at the copier, or by a publisher in a workbook.
  • Worksheets are given to every student in the classroom.
  • 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 Do We Need No Worksheet Week?

 

Worksheets do not support deep thinking or reflection.  If the answer to a problem is only found in the textbook and must be copied or paraphrased on a worksheet, it only demonstrates the student’s ability to copy down information.  A completed worksheet, or getting an answer right on a worksheet, does not demonstrate understanding of the material. When I was in the classroom I used to ask my students three open ended questions about a topic; if they could answer those questions verbally and discuss the topic with me then I knew they were ready for assessment.  Try asking a student to explain and discuss material after completing a worksheet, and you will be surprised by the lack of understanding they have obtained.  According to Best Practice (Zemelman, Daniels & Hyde, 2012) meaningful and useful assessment “involves students in developing meaningful responses, and calls on them to keep track of and judge their own work.” To achieve this, we need to change the way classrooms work and we also need to involve students in activities and collaborative projects that foster discussion and deeper thinking.

 

There are many ways to guide students to deeper learning as you ditch those worksheets.  Take a look at Matt’s Autopsy of a Worksheet post or Rae’s Thinglink image that takes on a 4th grade worksheet about sentence rules. You can see more examples of #NoWorksheetWeek ideas or share your own on our collaborative Padlet wall.

The Two Big Ideas of #NoWorksheetWeek

 

  1. Increase the 4C’s – Creativity, Critical thinking, Collaboration and Communication in the classroom.
  2. Bring relevance to learning through real world applications of learning and authentic assessment.

What Does a Worksheet-Free Classroom Look Like?

 

Do more of this Do less of this
communicate thinking busy work (work that’s required but which doesn’t advance learning)
sharing ideas learning about other people’s ideas
discover answers trying to put down the ‘right’ answer instead of the best one.
communicating understanding showing the teacher you can provide the answer they like/are expecting
creating authentic learning products using technology as a substitute for a worksheet
engaging students in meaningful, academic conversations asking students for the ‘right’ answer

Please participate in the No Worksheet Week Teacher Challenge and share your experiences using the hashtag #NoWorksheetWeek.  We will be sharing some of your best ideas on our blogs, so get creative!

 

You can also join our Google+ Community

Great Example of Kindergarten Math

 

 

 

 

In Kindergarten math today during #noworksheetweek, the kids had to solve a problem.  It seems that the farmyard cat made the animals mad.  They chased him, and, in the process, ruined all their pens!

FarmyardMath1

 

Students estimated how much building material would be needed to make new pens.

FarmyardMath2

 

The kids then charted their estimations, and then checked them by building new pens.

FarmyardMath3

 

Then they reviewed, charted, and discussed their findings, and fixed the farmyard!

FarmyardMath4

…and the teacher was told that her students never want to see their math workbook ever again!

***

Brilliant!

 

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.

***************

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

White background

Transparent background

New Job Prerequisite: Failure

PosterPic

 

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!”

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?

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.