Sunday, November 20, 2016

Knowing your weakness can be your strength

Exploring the concept of repelation and attraction

I have never been very good at Science.  As a Dual Immersion fourth grade teacher I have relied on my strengths of languages and language arts to make lessons fun and rewarding for students.  I teach Science, but I teach it from the point of view of a language teacher in that I encourage a lot of vocabulary, grammar, and reading and writing.  Now that the Next Generation Science Standards need to be included in my teaching repetoir I realize that I have some learning to do.  (Growth Mindset is not only for students!)

I just finished up a unit on electricity for fourth grade.  Like every year, I taught students the vocabulary needed to access the concepts I needed to teach.  I taught about static electricity, protons, electrons, and neutrons and how to construct a series and parallel circuit, all the while focusing on using complete sentences and verb tense correctly.  It has always been a good unit for the students but I knew that this year I wanted to take it a step further, I just had to figure out how.

So I went to work to study electricity and its components further.  I checked out books on it from the library and researched it on the internet.  I know that a person gets shocked from a transfer of electrons, but how does that happen?  Why does it happen?  I read about it but it just doens't sink in.  Even though I have taught my students what the fourth grade Science text tells me, I still don't understand it, and if I don't get it, they won't get it.  That's definite.

So this is where I realize my weakness.  I completely subscribe to the Growth Mindset, but I'm still not getting it...YET.  Maybe next year will be the year that it finally sinks in.   But for now, I need to take care of my current students, and how do I do that when I only have a basic working knowledge of this subject?

The solution is brilliant.  We have a community college within a 10 minute walk from our school site.  I contacted the Dean of Science who put me in contact with the most brilliant and generous professor,  Ms. Ana.  She invited us to her classroom to participate in a real college level Science lesson.  My students felt so special and thus, particularly motivated to learn.  Above is a picture of us walking to Ms. Ana's classroom.

Ms. Ana had so many Science realia, tools, and manipulatives.  It was wonderful to see my 2nd language learners seeing, touching,  and hearing all the concepts we had learned about from lessons in the book.  This field trip to the college had brought all the lessons to life.  The students experienced electricity and all of its components in a real world situation.  They constructed and connected series and parallel circuits, they themselves became conductors and demonstrated how electricity moves, they created situations that demonstrated the laws of attraction and repelation.

Now, even though I still don't understand how electricity works...YET... many of my students do.  They understand because I knew my weakness well enough to search for help from the experts at the Community College.  That is why I say that knowing your weakness can be your strength because my students got the best education possible all because I knew to seek help. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

What will become of Common Core?

I haven't been inspired to write lately since the election.  I actually try to stay away from what is reported on the news and social media because I know that both sides tend to exaggerate and that only works to raise public hysteria.   I would rather wait and see what time will bring and go from there.  One issue I can't mentally escape from is our president elect's stance on education.   My principal just announced at our School Site Council meeting that Common Core will most likely be eliminated.  I don't all together trust or believe this insight because as I said, I like to wait to see what is hype and propaganda so as not to be swayed by it and thus react in a way that is not beneficial to my cause.  I also was told by a member of the school district's teacher preparation team that our boss would be changing my position title from "Common Core Demonstration Teacher" to "Demonstration Teacher".    This piece of news could be considered gossip since I did not hear it directly from my boss, but I assume since it is from a very good source, it is extremely possible that the title change is in the works at this very moment.  With all this talk and assumptions going on about education and Common Core, it is inevitable that I would reflect and possibly worry about the fate of the educational philosophy that I am Lovin.

Most everyone has an opinion on Common Core State Standards.   I feel as though my situation makes mine extremely valid and reliable.  I have been a teacher for over 20 years and have seen politics change the education landscape multiple times.   When I was a young teacher I trusted the powers that may be that ruled above me.  I did what they said, figuring that they were more educated than I was, more experienced than I was, and that everything they did were for the interests of the children and our futures.  I am definitely not naive anymore.  Everyone has an agenda, and usually the students, our future, are at the bottom of it.   New teachers, I'm sorry if this offends you or blows up your idealized idea of teaching, but as you age and gain experience, you inevitably open your eyes and see what is really happening behind the scenes of your classroom.  Twenty-five years have passed and I see a generation, a generation I tried to educate by blindly following the winds of educational change and policy who cannot think for themselves.

After all these years of teaching,  all these years of being told to either "only teach phonics" "only teach sight words" "only read from the script in your Teacher's Edition",   I have found a system of education that works.  A lot of people say that Common Core doesn't work for students.  I believe they say it because they don't understand it.    I believe that they don't understand it because they are not able to understand it.  Parents come to me upset because they can't help their children with their homework because they don't understand Common Core.  When they see it as a detriment, I see it as a positive move in the right direction.  My people, my fellow United States of Americans, are in the lower register of knowledge and intelligence when compared with the rest of the world.  If we are teaching our students something that their parents don't understand I say that is progress!

Four years ago when I began taking an interest in CCSS I struggled with its value.  I thought along with my peer teachers that this was just another wind of change and that if I didn't like it, it would not be a problem because like all educational policies, the government would replace it with "something better" before it was actually allowed to be enacted.   But as I began to review it, to read about it, I was surprised with myself.  I actually agreed with it.  For the first time in all my teaching career, I saw an educational policy that worked.   I began reading heavily about it.  I read books like 21st Century Skills by Bellanca and Brandt and anything by the author and education researcher  Dr. Robert Marzano.   I became fascinated by the idea of making education meaningful for the students.  I have always been the type of person that hated to waste her time, and with Common Core I saw that students' time was not being wasted either.  They were not being babysat anymore or taught only what mattered to get a good grade on the state test.  I saw that through Common Core there was a purpose for everything and that everything built on the previous lesson.   I became inspired by this revolutionary approach to education and I saw that if teachers could buy into it, that year after year, working together we could actually close the achievement gap, that mythological idea that most people wish for, but truly don't believe in. 

So I have researched Common Core philosophies, I have enacted them in my classroom, and I have seen huge success with my group of students.  I have become a Common Core Demonstration Teacher so that I could promote the Common Core ideology and show fellow teachers that it does work and that it is our dream come true!  I am a seed that is trying to sprout and spread the amazing news of Common Core.  But change takes time.  Teachers need time to digest this change.  After they digest it, they have to research it and apply it.  Administrators need to buy into it also.  They need to buy into it so much that they let their teachers leave the class to learn about it and observe others to see how it works.  Teachers need time and freedom to try these strategies.  They will fail, no doubt about it.  I have failed many lessons also, but you know what, I reflect and learn from my mistakes and become a better teacher for it.  My next lesson after the failure is league years better than the mediocrity I was teaching before Common Core.

Why am I writing this post?  Well, one to plead that the United States of America gives Common Core the time it deserves as a good, valid, well researched revolutionary educational philosophy that it can be.  Two, I hope that parents, teachers, and administrators can see its worth to continue to use and allow it to best reach our students and give it time to gain the momentum it needs to flourish and meet the needs of our developing and up and coming generation of diverse students.  Third, I want to get out of this writing funk that has gripped me since the election and made me second guess all the great work I am doing with Common Core.   I'm going to move on with my life and teach in the way I know best serves my students.  I will not be swayed by the winds of change anymore, and I hope you will do the same. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Mannequin Challenge as a Scaffold for Language Learners

I teach a fourth grade dual immersion class.  The majority of the students are Spanish Learners so at times it gets challenging to reach all students especially during Language Arts hour.  We are currently reading the book La trompeta del cisne or The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B.White.  In English the book is rated at a high fourth grade level, but in Spanish I would say it could be an eighth grade level book due to the high academic vocabulary and the fact that it was published in Spain and uses verbs and grammar with which my mostly Mexican and Central American student population are not familiar. 
Even though this novel is a much higher educational  level than what my students are accustomed to, I choose to use it every year due to its high interest level.  After the third chapter, all students, even the beginning Spanish Learners are hooked.  My secret... Scaffolding... Continuous, not stop and fun scaffolding.  It is so necessary when you are teaching a second language, no matter what the language is.  In previous blogs I have shown and discussed a few of my scaffolding and differentiating strategies.  Retelling Stories using Nonlinguistic Representations in a Dual Language Classroom and Retelling Stories using Nonlinguistic Representations in a Dual Language Classroom - day 2 discusses a lesson where I used sketches and illustrations to ensure comprehension for all.  

Lately, though, these types of scaffolding strategies have become boring and repetitive for the students.  So I have decided to change the lesson up a bit.  Lately I have been facilitating skits to illustrate in a multiple intelligence type of style plot summary.  After these skits we get into the grit of the lesson with inferencing, using citations, and dialogue analysis. 

Today as we were reading a chapter called "Serena" I asked my students to get in their diverse groups to discuss, reread,  and refer to text to create a short skit to act out the chapter.  As I walked around and observed, I discovered that the students were not being very successful in their creativity.  And as I reflected on the reason why, I realized that the chapter was much more descriptive than it was active.  It was mainly about the time that Louis, the swan decided to declare his love for Serena by playing her a love ballad with a trumpet.  These two swans were living at the zoo and the chapter was mostly about all the other animals in the zoo and how they reacted to the beautiful music played by Louis.

Now, I know that most, if not all administrators tell their staff that the best lessons come from preplanning, but at this moment, I came up with the best lesson that I could ever have planned.  I remember that I had seen this new phenomenon on Twitter called the Mannequin Challenge where people create a scene and stand like a mannequin to illustrate it.  I thought to myself as I saw the students struggle with recreating the scene through actions that this would be the perfect Mannequin Challenge activity.

As I struggled with the idea, debating on whether it was "Common Core" worthy or not, I thought the following thoughts.  What is my purpose?  Well, I wanted the students to understand the chapter so we could go further with it in the next lesson.  I thought, yes, the Mannequin Challenge would accomplish comprehension on text.  Next I thought, I wanted lots of conversation among students being that this is a Dual Immersion classroom and one of the best ways to learn a language is through speaking and listening.  I thought, well, the statues don't talk, but the students have to plan together to create the scene of the statues, so yes, this would also accomplish my goal.  So we did it!  And we got an added bonus of the students LOVIN the activity and wanting to read even more of the chapter.  What more could a Common Core teacher want?

I'm noticing that at times the video is not functioning, sorry about that.  Here is a photo that can help you envision the lesson if the video doesn't play for you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

How does an introvert successfully collaborate?

If I were to give myself a teacher nickname I would be the "Queen of Collaboration".  I completely buy into the idea of using collaboration and student engagement activities to promote the learning of all students.  If you would walk into my classroom at any random time during the day there would be a good chance that you would walk in to see students discussing concepts together, working together or peer coaching each other. 

The juxtaposition is that I am a huge introvert.  I personally don't enjoy collaborating with others.  If I am asked to plan with my grade level team, I will, but truthfully, nothing really good comes out of it.  I just can't think straight when I have other people talking and lots of extra stimuli going on around me.  I do my best work alone, where I can think, and plan, and reflect without distractions.  I'm not saying that I don't listen or want the ideas of others, but I just am unable to assimilate their ideas into mine until I've had some quiet time to reflect on how to go about doing it. 

So that is the dilemma I am in.  Last night my son, who also is a huge introvert, and I were reading the book Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  The topic we were reading touched on how the classroom in the 21st Century highly subscribes and depends upon heavy collaboration and interaction in order to prepare students for their futures.  My son, who is an academically advanced GATE or gifted student told me that he hated collaboration times, and asked me if I insisted on them in my classroom.  That was when I realized that I didn't practice what I preached.  

I do completely believe in the power of collaboration.  The following picture is a common, every day occurrence in my classroom.  I believe in letting the students who have shown mastery in a subject benefit by "teaching" the students who have not yet learned the subject by having to organize their thoughts enough to be able to voice it logically to another.   I also believe that a student who does not yet get a lesson, will listen to their peer and value how their peer explains it, maybe even better than the teacher.  

So again the question my introverted son brought up, do I differentiate for introverts?   With all this collaborative discussions and student engagement going on in my classroom, where do my introverts stand?  What type of scaffolding and special attention and instruction do they receive?  If my son was in my classroom, would he be serviced adequately by me?  I realized sadly, that the answer was not really.  I do allow time to work individually during a five minute quick-write after an hour of high student engagement and collaborative activities.  I do allow 10 minutes of individual math work after and hour of direct instruction and peer coaching.  So no, my son would not be adequately serviced in my room.  

So that leads to some reflection and problem solving on my part.  I know that about half of my class has not learned the Common Core State Standards to mastery and I really feel that collaboration is the best strategy to reach all students.  But now I am also realizing that in addition to differentiating instruction for English, Special Education Students, GATE or Gifted Students, I should add introverts to the mix.   

Today I tried out a new strategy.  The class was reading a page from the Science book that we had really prepared well for.  Preparation is actually discussed in my previous blog posts "The Perfect English Language Lesson, Part 1-3".    Because of this preparation I felt comfortable giving the following instructions.  I told the students they could work with a partner, their team, or.... alone!  This seems simple, but if you knew me, it is revolutionary!  As I walked around to monitor, assist, and now observe this new class dynamic I had created, I noticed that four students chose to work alone.  As I checked their work, I saw that it was the same quality as the others who had chosen to work together.  

So for today, letting students choose to work alone or with someone was functional in fulfilling my Common Core Objectives.  I am still not fully convinced, even though I am an introvert and if I were in my classroom would also choose to work alone.  This is a subject that is worth more reflection and research.  I want to do what's best for my students and it seems like I have two strong educational philosophies playing tug of war for my attention.   If anyone has advice or comments I'd appreciate them!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Perfect English Language Learners Lesson - Part 3

Welcome back!  I am continuing my 3 Part post on "The Perfect English Language Learner Lesson".  What had happened is that my school district's English Language Learner Department had asked me to model a lesson for them that included the standard GLAD or Guided Language Acquisition Development and student engagement strategies.  I have previously discussed my intense planning for the lesson and the motivational and vocabulary piece.  I now continue the lesson description with a progression along the Depth of Knowledge ladder to reach higher levels of knowledge, while preparing all learners to have the ability to assess the lesson.

The next step of this "perfectly" planned out lesson was to teach the sentence structure that I wanted the student to master when they finally wrote an expository paragraph at the end of the lesson.  The class brainstormed words that could be used to compare and contrast two themes or concepts.  They gave me words like similar, unlike, and difference.  I used the graphic organizer of the Venn Diagram to organize these words.   They then used the when they responded to questions I had strategically created, using DOK level 4 questions.

Because the English Language Development Department was visiting me,  I strategically added sentence stems, which you can see listed below the question.   I actually don't usually use sentence stems.  I have always felt that my students need to learn to be independent and that they should not be encouraged to develop the habit of relying on outside interventions.  I usually go about lessons with letting them struggle with what they already know to find within themselves the correct way to word an answer.  Then if/when they fail, I swoop in and give them hints to move them in the right direction.  But reflecting upon today, and especially the sentence stem portion,  I now see why the ELL Department insists on them.  As I walked around the room to monitor and assist students, I found that no one needed assistance.  Everyone had been successful the first time writing their response to this high DOK level question.  And their answers were insightful and actually the best I had ever seen!  Little did these district officials know that not all my lessons went this well, and it was all because I had stopped being stubborn about using this new found strategy of sentence stems!

Here are some examples of student responses to the question "How are series and parallel circuits similar?"  They are not perfect, and there are definitely opportunities to pull small groups to differentiate according to their responses, but the sentence structure is fantastic and the vocabulary is coming along, which were two of the main focuses of my lesson!

To close my lesson on collaborative conversations and electrical circuits I asked my students to write a quickwrite.  I gave them five minutes to write anything they wanted on the topic of electrical circuits.  Besides being a time for them for them to organize their thoughts on all the new concepts and vocabulary they had learned today, this would be an informal assessment for my eyes only.  This was not used to grade or evaluate them, but for me.  I wanted to see how they learned.  I wanted to see what strategies worked and which ones didn't.  If they used academic vocabulary then I knew that the pictorial and Quiz Quiz Trade had been successful. If the sentence structure was good, especially when writing sentences that compared, then using the Venn Diagram to introduce comparison words as well as the DOK level 4 questions combined with sentence stems were compatible.  This is an example of a student's quickwrite, an activity of pure uninterrupted, ungraded writing for five minutes.

Again, I was happy with the results.  The concepts I had taught were evident in the writing.  Granted, there are mistakes, but I see these mistakes as new lessons to be taught.  If most everyone is making these mistakes, then I will teach the whole class.  If it is only a few, I will take note of it and teach them in a small group, differentiating instruction while the rest of the class does their next quickwrite.

So this concludes my description of the "Perfect English Language Learner" Lesson.  I hope you realize, especially if you have read all four posts that no lesson is perfect, never.  But what can make it close to perfection is the planning and reflection that goes along with it.  I was only able to plan a good lesson, worthy of the ELD Department's visit because I had reflected on all previous English Language Lessons in the past.  But the planning and previous reflection wasn't what made this particular lesson perfect.  It was the fact that I am always open to change.  I am always ready to see a new way to teach my students.  I never teach within the box, but always question if this strategy, this book, this method is best for my students.  Just like today I changed my mind about using sentence stems.  I had always thought they were a waste of time and a detriment to students.  But today I see different.   That is why this was the perfect lesson.  Because not only did my students learn something new, I did too.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Perfect English Language Learners Lesson - Part 2

In The Perfect English Language Learners Lesson - Part 1 I discussed how being observed by your peers motivates you to plan and teach the best lesson possible for your students.  In Part 1 I was only able to describe the motivational piece of the lesson.  Now I will discuss the teaching component.  I began my lesson on electrical circuits and collaborative conversations with a GLAD pictorials.  If you're not familiar with GLAD it is a superb strategy that helps English Language Learners obtain content, vocabulary,  and grammar in a fun and engaging manner.  The pictorial is used to download information quickly by illustrations and academic words or phrases.  As the teacher tells the class about a certain topic, she draws and writes to make the lesson meaningful for the students.  The students interact with hand gestures and choral repetition as well as 10:2 conversations.  10:2 conversations means that after 10 minutes of lecture, students discuss with their partners what they have heard/saw/gestured/repeated.  The idea is that all short term memory is transferred to long term memory through these conversations.  In addition, studies show that when students grapple with newly learned information and vocabulary, they get their brain working, thus making them more intelligent and better able to handle the information given.

Well for this model "Perfect English Language Learner Lesson" I wanted to take it a step further.  I had noticed in past lessons that usually the students who were confident in the language were the ones doing most of the talking.  I thought that this was a waste of time actually because the ones who weren't confident were the ones who needed the practice speaking and wrestling with the concept.  So I decided to apply a Kagan student engagement strategy called Think, Pair, Share.  I pair the students up strategically so there is one language learner with one confident language speaker.  I ask the question and give think time.  Then I tell the pairs that partner A, or the partner with the longest hair, or whatever determining factor you can think of, speaks first.  This partner has 15 seconds to answer the question.  The question I gave was a fairly easy one, DOK level 1.  I just asked students to regurgitate back what they knew about electric circuits.  After 15 seconds the other partner got their turn to share.  In this manner each partner got equal time to both listen and speak, with 100% equal participation.

The next step in this "Perfect English Learners Lesson" was vocabulary practice.  This Science unit was a hard one with a lot of technical Tier 3 level vocabulary.  I decided to let my students play Quiz, Quiz, Trade, yet another Kagan student engagement strategy. Here are the directions.

 The students each get a vocabulary card with a question and answer on each side.  Students all stand up, put their hands up, and give the person who will be their partner a high 5, thus cementing the team.  Teammates greet each other and handshake, a social skill students need to learn for their future, and begin quizzing each other.  Partner A begins and if partner B doesn't get the answer right it is not a big deal.  Remember that this activity is to develop vocabulary.  You want to create opportunities for discussion and when students get the answers wrong, its the perfect time for vocabulary practice in a real world setting.  So when Partner B gets the answer wrong Partner A gives them a "tip'.  It could be anything, and since they have the answer on the back of their card it can be fairly easy.  After three "tips" partner A just tells Partner B the answer.  Partner A praises partner B for his perseverance, and then they switch roles.  After both have gone through steps 1-7, the partners switch cards and look for another partner by beginning at step 1 again.  This is a classic Kagan engagement strategy that is fun for the students and functional for giving vocabulary practice in a creative way.  Here is an example of one of the cards the students used.
As you can see, its not a very high Depth of Knowledge question because the focus here is vocabulary for English Language Learners.  We are building up to higher comprehension skills with every lesson we do.

Again, I am explaining so much that I have run out of space to continue the lesson today.  Like I realized yesterday, when you have visitors come to your classroom you plan a bit more than usual.  Truthfully for this lesson, I would not have searched for the pictures I found on the vocabulary card you see above.  I really think the picture helps make the lesson more meaningful, especially for an English Language Learner.  Having the visiting team come through my room was a blessing to the students as much as it was to me.  Having a peer observe you teach holds you accountable to give the best lesson for your students, and that's why we got into education, right?  I will be back tomorrow to explain the remainder of the lesson.  Until then, I'd love to hear about any "perfect" English Learner Development lessons you've seen or given in your class.  Until tomorrow.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Perfect English Language Learner Lesson - Part 1

The night before "The Perfect English Learner Lesson".

I just learned that the English Language Learner's Department from my school district would be visiting my classroom to observe my student engagement strategies.  I am so very excited!  It's an honor to be chosen for the visit because it means that word has gotten out that my students are constantly engaged in learning and this engagement has produced great results in their English Language progression.  But even more than that, I am excited about the influence I could possibly have in my school district.   Like I said, I have had great progress regarding Language Learners, yet my strategies are not widely used among other teachers.  If this visit goes well, than I could possibly persuade the administrators that make decisions for the whole district, to promote engagement strategies that would foster the growth and well-being of thousands of children in my district.  This opportunity is huge!

So tonight I am planning the perfect English Language Learner lesson.   Our district uses GLAD strategies (Guided Language Acquisition Design) which teaches students academic vocabulary, grammar and content.  Its a fun way to deliver information to the students, prepare them to assess lessons at the appropriate grade level, and get them on their way to becoming fluent in the language.  My assignment is to add engagement and collaboration to these GLAD strategies.  I need to ensure that everyone is participating in every lesson and that no one is allowed to become a wallflower during the lesson, and that everyone is challenged at their own level.  I also need to ensure that the lessons are fun and have an element of variation to hold the students' interests.

Here is the lesson I taught, written a day after the lesson delivery, continuing my thoughts of how I planned "The Perfect English Learner Lesson".
So here is the lesson I planned for.   I went full Kagan Engagement Strategy on them.  Everything taught was strategically planned to ensure 100% class participation with listening and speaking.  I started out like I always do with a description of the content and language objective.  I explained how it related to the students by reminding them that we would be visiting an university next week to build our own electrical circuit in a science lab.  (This really motivated them!) And I explained how these lessons would help them to write a report on the electric circuit which is our big idea of the 4th grade Electricity Unit.

I began with a motivational piece.  I asked the students which component of an electrical circuit is most like them and why?  I gave sentence stems appropriate to their English level and expected a complete sentence or something appropriate to their individual level of English ablility.  When finished writing, I directed them to go to the corner of the room that declared their component.  There was battery, copper wire, switch, and bulb posted on a flash card.  They got happy about this part of the assignment because they got to group up with some friends, but since I had made them pre-write their answers, they were only with like-minded friends for this activity.  Next, I told them to pair up with someone and shake their hands and greet them with a "Good morning!"  I always add this component to my engagement strategies because I have found that many students have never been instructed or have experienced using correct formal social skills.  This is a quick way to add it into the lesson in addition to creating a bond with the partner whom which they will be sharing personal information.  Next I told the students that the taller person (I always pick some random criteria) will share for 30 seconds.  While they were sharing, the less taller person would listen and afterwards would tell them what they liked best about what was shared.  This ensured that the listener actively listened.  If the person sharing ran out of things to say, the listener would encourage them to speak more by asking questions about their topic.  Then roles were switched.

The teacher had a job to do during this lesson too.  She was to walk around listening to conversations, one for class management and two to listen and correct any errors in thinking or grammar that really need to be addressed (small errors can be allowed to slide, we don't want to nitpick or kill dreams or courage).  And third, the teacher repeats whatever conversation she hears that she feels is helpful to move the class along to their next topic.  For example, during this conversation I walked over to the battery section and heard a girl stating that she was like a battery in that at night she sleeps and recharges, while during the day she uses her energy up.  At the switch corner, I heard a boy say he was like a switch because someone could turn him on and off by saying, "Stop that!"  I spoke these answers out because I wanted the other students to hear the creative metaphors that some of their peers were using and understand the concepts better and build on their ideas in the future.

This is actually just a five minute introduction to my ELD lesson.  All of this planning and action for five minutes!  But this is what I want to show you.  I want to show how much planning goes into a very successful lesson, or as I said tongue in cheek, "The Perfect English Learner Lesson".  If I had not had the English Language Learners Department from my district visiting me, this may never had happened.  Because I had an audience I was motivated to plan the very best lesson that I was capable of.  I did my research.  I did my planning and got all materials ready and accessible.  And who benefited most from this extra preparation?  My students.  This is why I say in my previous post that teacher observations are one of the best forms of professional development.  The precise planning and intense preparation benefits everyone.

In my next post, I will try to finish the day of the "Perfect English Language Learner Lesson".  I actually think it is ironic and a bit comic that I only got through the first five minutes of the lesson in this post.  It just proves how much insight and planning goes into a good lesson.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Invite a peer visitor into your classroom!

I just read a blog,, that really made me think of how I grow as a professional in the education arena.  After reflecting these are some of my thoughts.

A fantastic way to grow as an educator is to observe and be observed by a peer.  I have elected for the past three years to invite anyone into my classroom to observe me as I teach a lesson.   People don't realize it, but its actually not that nerve-racking because when they come, they are not actually observing me, but my students, and that's what I want.

When a visitor enters my classroom, whether it be a fellow teacher, an administrator, a departmental team from the district, a university student, and even a parent, they all come expecting to watch me.  But that doesn't happen.  They watch the students.  They look at what the students are doing, how they are interacting, how they are behaving.  They get ideas to put in their own teaching repetoire rotation of strategies.  They look at the students either silent reading, working on a project in a group, teaching another student a math problem, writing in their journal, whatever the assignment may be and they envision how it would look in their classroom.  They reflect on their own teaching practices and determine if this is a strategy that could help them better teach Common Core Standards.   This is one reason why I don't get too nervous when peers visit because I know I am not in the spotlight, but rather my students. 

Besides watching what the students in the class are doing, observers look at my material.   They evaluate me a bit on whether I am truly using Common Core State Standards and then they interpret using their own knowledge of them, if I am teaching them correctly.  They look at my questioning skills to determine if I am really using Depth of Knowledge or DOK appropriate questions.  This is good for them because they reflect on their own CCSS knowledge and helps them grow as a teacher.  Just like our students, if we can get someone to recall background knowledge and introduce a new concept that correlates with this knowledge, we can get dendrites in their brain clicking to help cement this new found knowledge in their long term memory.  This will help in planning their lessons when they go back to their own classroom.

I actually am energized, rather than demoralized by this evaluation that is inevitable in an observation lesson.  Like I said previously, having someone observe your lesson helps you grow as an educator.  I know someone is coming in to watch me and I want them to get something out of it so I will take extra time to plan for it.  I will make sure my students are motivated and engaged so they will show the behavior I am looking for while I'm observed.  I will take extra time to know my subject and content so I don't say something incorrect and the focus is thrown off the students and back on me.  I will look over my questions and ensure I have a variety of DOK questions to address all learners in my classroom.

In short, I will really and truly plan for this lesson as if my life depended on it.  And guess who benefits...  The teachers who observe, obviously, and that's what I want because if I can touch them, then I touch all of their students and I can make a difference in the education system hopefully.  But, really, and maybe more importantly I have taught a really well planned and thought out lesson for MY students.  They are benefiting from this observer being in my classroom by leaps and bounds, and not only with this lesson.  By putting the extra effort and research into  a lesson, I develop a habit for myself that will turn into not just putting this effort into lessons in which I am observed, but all the time.  This planning, researching, and preparing becomes easier and quicker the more I do it.  Pretty soon, all lessons become model lessons, and why?  Not because I attended a conference, not because I read a book or watched a webinar, although those PD strategies definitely help, but because I opened up my doors to the possibility of someone watching me fail as I taught a lesson.

I encourage everyone to invite someone to watch a lesson this upcoming week!  Just do it!  Take turns!  Take that risk!   It will pay off with the people who matter most of all, your students.  I'd love to hear from anyone who tries it.  :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Learning from math lessons that bomb

Today I provided a math project task for my fourth grade students.  It was very eye opening and I'm glad I gave it, but for probably different reasons than you're thinking.  It went really bad.  Well, actually it didn't go bad because everyone was on task, and everyone was engaged and excited about the lesson.  Now that I think about it, maybe one could say that it went very well.  The problem though, is that the students TOTALLY bombed it.

This math lesson was a group task.  There were about 6 students in every group.  I had copied a page from the math book and had made it into a gigantic poster.  This created a novelty about what could have been a common worksheet in their eyes.  But to them today, it was a privilege to be able to work together on this giant poster, to be able to write on it with markers.  It was a great motivational tool.  In my opinion, the task was pretty basic.  The students had to figure out which text books we used in the classroom, then figure out how many students were enrolled in the class, and then multiply the two numbers to decipher how much money would be needed to buy the books.  Easy, right?  Nope.  Every single group was trying to add different columns and rows.  There was no rhyme or reason to the madness.  They just all wanted to add.  They had forgotten that we had spent the last month on multiplication, and that just yesterday we had worked on group problem solving using these same problems.  Nope.  They all felt they needed to add.

So I carouseled around to every group, giving bits and pieces of nuggets to try to get them to see that addition did not make sense for this particular problem.  You would not believe the hints I had to throw at them to get them to work in the right direction.  Some even would say, "Oh!  It's multiplication!"  Which is when I left them to work independently on that idea, yet when I carouseled back around to their group they were back on an addition problem. 

We didn't finish the activity, but rather will continue working on it tomorrow.  As I said, I initially thought of the project as a disaster, but as I reflect it was one of the best lessons I've given.  First of all, the students were excited about doing this real world problem solving on a poster.  Even though they were all on the wrong path, they were all working together and collaborating, throwing ideas out for group evaluation and discussion.  If you were looking at the lesson through the lens of English Language Development it was brilliant.  All students speaking and listening, using math concepts in new and fun discussions.  Students were taking risks and not afraid if they were incorrect.  Students were definitely struggling with the concepts and strategies, which is good both for the Growth Mindset model and brain development.

It was also a good lesson for me.  I initially thought this was an easy lesson.  I thought that my students could read a table and would know what each column meant.  I thought it was obvious that it was a multiplication problem but obviously I was alone in that prediction.   As for reteaching, I actually don't think I'll do a lot of it.  Truthfully, I've taught til I was blue in the face everything that was on this activity.  I don't think they need more lectures from me.  They need more projects like this.  They need to struggle and talk and fail, so they can want to find the correct answer so they can succeed.  When I lecture, there is no motivation for them to actively learn, but with this project I saw a different fire in their eyes.  Its the fire I want to see tomorrow, and the next day, and for as long as I can keep it going.  We're going to do more projects like this.  I think this is the missing link in my teaching repertoire.  So today's lesson was a turning point for me in my teaching career.   It was a time I learned what my students didn't know, and I now have hope for a direction we can take to remedy that.    Today was a good day wresting with the Common Core.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Lovin Using a Writing Rubric

I used to detest writing rubrics!  When an administrator or some department in the department above my ranking would tell me that a certain activity or assessment needed a writing rubric I would get very annoyed.  To me a writing rubric meant many things.  First, it meant I had to grade a lot of papers, looking at various standards and categories on my own time, time that I should've been spending with my young son at home.  Writing rubrics also meant that I had to teach my students how to read them and what they meant since it wasn't an everyday occurrence in my classroom since I didn't buy into them.  They were sent top down to me with little or no explanation by in my opinion, someone who knew very little about my individual students.  My last complaint about them was that they were hard to read.  There was so much information on them in tiny print, that it took a whole class lesson just to explain to my students the format and what each column meant.  I just didn't value them and didn't want to waste valuable class time on something that wouldn't be useful to their future.

Well, that was a long time ago.  Today I absolutely love rubrics.  I see them as useful to both me, the teacher and the student.  You are probably wondering what caused this huge change in philosophy and teaching method.  Well, I attended a conference put on by my school district.  It was a workshop to help develop teaching strategies for English Language Learners.  The presenter explained rubrics like this.  She said, "Everybody think of your favorite restaurant.  Now think of your waitress and tell me what she needs to do to get an average 20% tip."   So the conference participants yelled out answers while she wrote them on a list in the middle of butcher paper.

                                                                   Bring the food hot.
                                                       Refill my Coke without me asking.
                                             Takes my plates away when I'm finished eating.
                                                                Takes my order quickly.

So after we had told the presenter our ideas of what needed to be done to get a 20% tip, she asks up to tell her what the waitress would need to do to get a 25% tip.  I list these responses in red in the left column.

  Talk with us a lot.                                  Brings the food hot.
  Give us a free beer.                               Refills my Coke without me asking.
  Clean up after a messy child.               Takes my plates away.
                                                                Takes my order quickly.

After creating this list with with our input, the input of restaurateurs who are experts in food service, she explains what this activity is all about.  She said, "You just made a rubric.  The column in the middle is the passing section, the "3"  or proficient on the CAASPP, the B/C grade.  This column has what you expect and what any waitress should know and do if she wants to keep her job.  The red column on the left is a "4" or advanced on the CAASPP, the A grade in traditional grading."  Then she explained the last section, written in blue below, which is a traditional D or 2, Below Basic, which would earn the waitress a tip of 15% or less.

Talk with us a lot.                              Brings the food hot.                               Waitress only does 3
Give us a free beer.                            Refills my Coke without me asking.       or less of the section
Clean up after a messy child.            Takes my plates away.                              in black. 
                                                           Takes my order quickly.

At that moment everything clicked!   First of all, I could make up this rubric!  It shouldn't be prescribed from the top down, but I should design it according to what Common Core Standard I am teaching in class and expect that the students know.  The waitress couldn't get a 20% tip if someone hadn't trained her correctly, taught her how to bring the hot food timely and refill the drinks without being asked.  This is a skill she needs to be taught, just like my students.  I need to teach everything on this 20% or "3" column to give my students a fair chance at the grade on the rubric.   The 25% column made so much sense to me also.  Those students that give a little more, they are the ones getting the "4", and the ones who are lacking something from the "3" section, well, they need to be retaught a bit more.  It all made so much sense!  Rubrics had become so useful!

Now I use them all the time.  I just make sure to make them mine.  I don't let anyone tell me what to put on them.  It's all me and my class.   The rubrics are fluid and adaptable.  Whatever Common Core State Standard that I teach within a week or maybe a month, goes in the middle of this rubric, the section "3".  There is no confusion anymore with me or my students when we use the rubric because they are as familiar with the vocabulary as I am.  They know what it means to have a topic sentence because I have just talked about it and we have practiced it many, many times in a variety of different ways.  The students who don't get a three, are easy to identify and thus easy to call for small group instruction, targeting that one section that they didn't pass.

Lastly the time issue.  Before I had abhorred using writing rubrics because I had to reread writing assignments using rubrics during my off work time.  Now that doesn't happen.  Because the students know what the rubric is, and buy into it just like me, they correct themselves.  This cuts down of the time spent in conference with them about their writing because now I don't take writing assignments home, but rather discuss assignments with my students in class.   By using the rubric we quickly assess because we are both using the same vocabulary and there is no need to explain expectations because it is all right there on the rubric.  They can even cut time even more by collaborating with a peer using the rubric.  You see why I'm loving the writing rubric?  There is so much good coming out of it!

Now, math rubrics.... that is another story.... I'm in need of a conference to convince me of the need for them.  Anyone know of a good one?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Struggle is good for students as well as their teachers

Today I taught a lesson that was a struggle!  It was a struggle for the students and it was a struggle for me.  Lately my lessons have been pretty well planned out or I have done them before so I know what to expect and where my students will need a little bit of extra guidance.  Today was definitely not one of those days!

I was finishing up the last segment of a Close Reading activity.  (I wrote about this type of lesson previously titled, "Close Reading with Shakira").   Day 1 we had read for fluency, annotated text and discussed findings with a partner.  Day 2 we had read through the lens of word choice focusing on a clear image.  We created lists of words that showed a clear image and we shared and those lists with a partner as we negotiated which words belonged on our combined lists and which words needed to be eliminated.  Day 3 we reread the article with our partners and then collaborated to organize the words listed on day 2 in categories for better understanding of the whole text.  Day 4 was today... the day of struggle.

Every day the big idea of the lesson was to determine the author's central idea.  After every day's lesson I had the students write their interpretation of the main idea.  The key word is "interpretation". I learned how to do this lesson through a conference titled "Falling in Love with Close Reading".  The presenters, Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts both stressed the component of the lesson of letting the students come to their own conclusions by using their word lists.  They stressed that all answers were right, and that eventually with all these rereadings and analyzations of text, that the students would come around.  So, day one, when no one wrote a central idea remotely related to text I just looked the other way and had faith that they would understand the text better on day two.  But then day two and three resulted in the same feeble results.  So today, the last day of our four day lesson, I was determined that I would see some progress.

So I started the day with a choral rereading of the article.  Then I did a quick review of the previous days lessons.  Then I showed them my idea of the author's central theme using my personal organized list of words that evoked a clear image from the text.  I was very clear and left the sentence on the board for review and possibly to be copied, or at least used as a sentence stem.  I paired the students up again for good collaboration and asked them to call me when their duo had written the central idea, just one topic sentence.  Again the sentences were a disaster!  Many of them weren't  actually sentences, but rather phrases, and if there was a sentence, it had nothing to do with the article.

That's when I got frustrated.   I began thinking, "What a waste of time! We could be doing so much more and learning than rehashing this same idea that my students obviously aren't mature enough to grasp yet."  I was about ready to scrap it all.  I just wanted to scoop down and take everyone's work and throw it in the trash.  Well, those were my initial thoughts, and luckily I kept my sanity and didn't let anyone know how very large and a little bit crazy my own struggle was.   Then my Common Core background thoughts started jumping into the conversation.  They said, "No, let them struggle!  It's good for them!  Their brain dendrites are growing and even if they don't get it right, they are trying!  They are reading text, and collaborating with others.  Let them continue!"  So I did and I was able to calm myself down enough to start focusing on them and hear their struggles.   I listened to their conversations and I was able to figure out a common problem they were all having.

The article contained an important metaphor that all students were using incorrectly.  That was why they were all off topic.  I realized, "Oh my gosh!  This is not their fault!  It is mine!  I didn't hit all the vocabulary I needed to to ensure this standard's success!"  So with this newfound realization,  I stopped the class, gave a little mini lesson on the metaphor, and redirected the students to begin again on their central ideas.  And you know what?   Now when they called me over to check their central ideas, they were right on task.

So today was a huge learning curve for me.  I'm glad that I took the risk with this new lesson.  It was hard.  It was challenging.  It did stretch everyone involved, including me.  And it was so worth it!  I know my students grew today.  They didn't give up even when their teacher wanted to.  They persevered and kept working with their partners.  They kept discussing their problems so that I could hear them and determine where the missing link was.  We worked as a team today to complete a standard that is very difficult, and new for most.   Identifying the author's purpose and central theme is always a struggle, but a good one.

Before Common Core we didn't make these students struggle.  The philosophy was that if a child failed it was detrimental to their well-being.  Now we're learning that we created a generation of students that don't know how to struggle, and maybe their brains aren't wired for it because we didn't provide the struggle to create the pathways.  Now, I could sit back and feel horrible due to the fact that I was one of those teachers that believed that type of faulty philosophy, but I won't.  What I will do is learn from my mistakes, and make sure that the students I have right now, in the present, are given the opportunities to push their mental capacities to the fullest.  Struggle is good!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The best type of Professional Development

There are so many types of fantastic Professional Development opportunities for educators!  There are books, conferences, webinars, and EdCamps.  You can collaborate with fellow teachers and/or observe them.  You can take college classes, and create social networks with Twitter and Facebook, and so many other sites that I would know if I had done more PD on technology.   There are many more PD activities, I know, I just don't want to make this post go on forever as I try to name them all because this post is not about all of the PD available to teachers.  It is about the best one, presenting what you know and are passionate about in front of your peers.

Presenting at a conference, at your school, in front of a few peers in your classroom,  is in my opinion the best Professional Development you can give yourself if you are really serious about learning and growing in your craft.  First, you REALLY need to know what you're talking about.  You need to do more than just go to a conference, read a book, observe another teacher teach, or any of the other PD ideas I mentioned previously.  You not only have to know what you are talking about, you have to believe it.  You have to practice it in your class multiple times.  You have to have success as well as failure in it.  You have to internalize it and be on the path to becoming an expert in it.

After you research your PD topic, you have to then organize it for your presentation.  This takes a lot of analysis and reflection.  You have to address the topics of what is the best way to organize this information so that everyone can understand and access it easily.  Should you make a Powerpoint?  Should you have pictures, diagrams, charts, or something else?  Should you include a video?  Should you plan for conversation to allow your PD participants to digest the information or would that ruin the flow of your presentation?  All of this takes thought and planning, lots of thought and planning.

I equate giving Professional Development to what we put in our lesson plans regarding differentiation for the GATE students or enrichment for the high students.  We partner up our highs and lows so that the lows get tutored and the highs get practice organizing the information in a meaningful way.  We say that if you explain a concept it gets cemented into the long term memory and becomes a part of us.  That is the same reason teachers should give Professional Development to others.  It makes them much better teachers.  These new Common Core strategies that we all struggle with becomes our own when we internalize them in our own presentation.  

One last comment about becoming better teachers - I have not heard one teacher say they don't prescribe to the Growth Mindset.  Everyone I've heard talk about this has said that it is exactly what our students need.   They say that students caught up in the Fixed Mindset don't grow and become stale, especially the ones who have had great success in the past.  Those who believe that their success comes naturally is in for a big surprise when their future arrives and that "success" hasn't grown along with them throughout the years.  Well, teachers are the same.  There definitely are successful teachers but it is highly doubtful that they will remain successful throughout their teaching career if they don't continue learning and growing.   Teachers must model the growth mindset for their students.  The students must see them struggling and failing in order to have success and become experts.

So teachers, if you want to grow to your fullest potential,  if you are willing to fail in order to succeed, because trust me, giving PD is really challenging,   if you are willing to not only attend a conference, but read the book the presenter wrote, follow her on Twitter, and even read some of her blogs, then you are ready to embark on the greatest challenge of your teaching career... Tell your principal, tell a group of teacher peers, tell someone that you want to give the next Professional Development.  Pick something you are passionate about.  Pick something that works in your classroom and altruistically you want others to have the same success.  Do it for the right reasons and you will have success.  Well, maybe not the first time... I told you it is hard, but success will come with time.  Giving Professional Development is the ultimate professional development, and so very worth it!

Try it and let me know how it goes!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Parent Conferences from the point of view of the introverted teacher

Today I began the first day of a week of teacher/parent conferences.  I usually don't enjoy these conferences, although I know they must be done and they are necessary and beneficial for student progress.  It's just that the first ones of the year are exhausting to me!  Its the first time I meet a majority of my students' parents.  I am a huge introvert so you probably now can see where I am coming from.  I like parents and I enjoy discovering what makes my precious students tick, but it just takes so much energy out of me to do the discovering.

The first parent will enter the classroom and we will shake hands, introduce and greet each other, and then make some type of small talk before we get to the issue at hand.  I hate small talk!  But I know its what needs to be done to open the parent up to discuss their child's progress and behavior in the classroom.  I know that building the teacher/parent bond is a huge factor in a child's success in school.  The problem is that the first conference of the year is when many parents come into the class, full of mistrust.  They don't know me yet and they don't know what to expect from this meeting.  Many have had bad experiences in the past with either their students' previous teachers or their own teachers when they were in school.  So when many enter, I have to work my hardest to put them at ease and let them know that I am on their side and that we are a team.  Again this takes energy from an introvert such as myself, but I know that besides being a component of my job description, it will pay off throughout the year.

Another reasons that these first parent/teacher conferences are difficult for me is the news I have to deliver.  I teach in an inner-city school with 95% of the students receiving free lunch.  Many of these students unfortunately are not working at grade level, and actually many work at levels far below grade level.  I don't know why, but it seems to be surprising news when I give the parents this notice.  Many are shocked and do not know why this has happened.   I don't know if the previous teachers didn't tell them, or if they sugar-coated the truth, or maybe the parents just were only able to hear what they wanted to hear.  I tell them with as much tact as possible and I make sure to tell them how together we can lift their child up and help them soar, but it will be work for all parties involved, teacher, student, and parent.  I also make sure that I praise the positive aspects of the child's skills and abilities.  I really work for this parent/teacher bond and newfound partnership!

It is really interesting actually to have a good sit down, get to know you talk with my parents.  You can find out so much valuable information that can help you teach each individual student.  For example I always hear of a couple divorce proceedings every conference.  This is something, that although very personal and painful for the family, helps me to better know how to handle changes in behavior and attitude.  I've seen that many children that are experiencing the effects of divorce proceedings act out in one way or another.  If I know what's going on at home, I will definitely deal with these behavior changes differently than if I think the student is just testing me.  I feel very bad when I discipline a child for bad behavior and then later find out that there is a serious reason behind it, and a counseling session would have been so much more beneficial.   So this type of information that usually comes out during conferences is very necessary.

I also find out who is being mistreated or bullied in the class.  A lot of the times children won't tell me that they are having problems but their parents will definitely share the news, and we can devise a plan to prevent any further harm from happening.  Parents will also tell me tidbits about their children, such as who is playing soccer, or taking dance, or playing piano.  This helps me build further bonds with my students as I can talk to them about their personal lives away from school.

So, in conclusion, parent/teacher conferences are exhausting for me!  But after the day is over, and I'm home relaxing in front of a good Netflix program, I'm glad that I did it.  I know that the worst is over because now I know the parent, and the parent knows me.  Now we have started to build trust between us about the little person that is so very important in both of our lives.  I also know that the next conference will be so much better!  Students almost always progress in my class, so even if I have bad news to tell, there is always the positive that there is growth.  And really in my grade book, growth is the only grade that matters!  (I do wish our school's report cards reflected the same mindset!)  :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Let your students become the teachers!

Today I had a great day during math class.  The reason - I sat on a table and observed.  This is the view from my table.  Isn't it beautiful?  Let me tell you what is happening, or rather, let me tell you what happened before this picture to get me to my state of bliss.

It all began last week.  I set out on the task to teach my 4th grade students two digit by two digit multiplication (34 X 56=).  It was hard!  And I came home everyday exhausted!  I explicitly taught them the why and the how of two digit multiplication.  I began with a good Common Core lesson using area models on graph paper, then arrays on white paper.  Then I showed them the connection between the models and arrays and expanded algorithms,  and I'm not going to even attempt to explain here.  We covered all the strategies listed in the Common Core Standards for math to prepare them for the formula I would be teaching today.

So I began today modeling on the whiteboard how to multiply problems like 45 X 33 =.  There was regrouping involved and as I showed them all the steps I drowned them with all the appropriate academic vocabulary.  After I modeled a few, and had them do the problems with me on their own whiteboards, I began to back off.  I did half the problem with them and invited them to individually finish the problem.  Some were successful, some not yet.   Then I began letting them do the whole problem.  As they finished, they held their board up and I would excuse them to come to the front of the class.  These successful students then became the teacher.  I enacted a system in which students who wanted me to check their answer raised their hand, and those that needed help from the "student teacher" stood up.  All of a sudden there was structured chaos all over the classroom as there were "teachers" running over to help their friends with hands raised and myself running over to keep up with the students who were "getting it" all over the room.  It was beautiful, fun, and exhilarating.

I kept teaching with this model of instruction until more than half the class became "student teachers".  Then I told that select group to come up to the front of the room.  I said that we would play a game, a game of teacher and scholar.  The objective was for the teacher to buddy up with a student and teach that student the material.  The challenge, if that student could successfully complete a similar problem by themselves after 10 minutes, than both student and teacher would get table points.  The battle was on!  The student teachers dispersed out through the classroom ready to find their scholar and impart their wisdom.  It was especially nice because since there were more teachers than scholars, some scholars had two teachers to learn from.  This is the picture that you see above.

I love this picture because if you look closely at every student everyone is engaged.   I love the scene of the three boys closest to me completely enthralled in their discussion of Common Core multiplication.  I could just imagine the one who's face is turned toward me telling his scholar, "Yes, I see your point, and next you have to regroup", or something like that.  I especially like the shot of the the two boys where one is pointing to the board as if saying, "Look at that!  You're not multiplying 1 by rather 10, that's why you must use the zero as the place holder", or something like that.  Then look at that girl in the middle of the boy with the plaid shorts and the girl with the striped shirt.  She doesn't have a chance of not learning the material with these two motivated teachers.  Observe their body language, the boy is like encouraging while the girl is like "Focus!"

This student teacher/scholar arrangement is a win/win/win for everyone in the class.  It is obvious what the scholar receives from this practice, she gets a one on one tutor to show her how to complete the problem.  She has an expert right beside her to watch her every move and not let her make a mistake that she continues making and thus forming those hard to break detrimental habits.  The student teacher also wins from this arrangement.   She gets the status of course of being an expert.  But more than that, she gets to explain to someone how to complete the problem.  Explaining is harder than one might think.  She has to know how to complete the problem, then organize the process in her brain.  She has to then come up with the correct academic vocabulary to successfully express herself.  On top of that, she has to evaluate her scholar's answer, and if wrong, figure out where the mistake is.  Being the teacher is a rigorous job!

Lastly, I get a win for the situation too.  Just look at that picture!  I'm not there at all!  I spent all week preparing my students for this lesson.  I deserve a bit of R and R!  Well, its true, but as I'm resting my tired feet, propped up on a chair, my mind is working.  I'm watching them, analyzing them.  I 'm thinking, are they ready for the next lesson or should I reteach?  How am I going to address those that don't yet get this concept after the tutoring session from their peers?  So, even if you can visualize me here, in this classroom, with my students on automatic pilot, teaching and being taught, I am still working.   A teacher never rests, even when her students become the teachers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Why are we still giving awards in the 21st Century?

     Student Awards Ceremonies are scheduled soon.  My elementary school holds them three times a year which coincides with the trimester report cards.  Its the same ceremony every time, probably the same as all elementary schools across the nation.  Tonight I had to choose five students who would receive these special honors in front of parents and the whole student body.
     I have never enjoyed award ceremonies.  Never.  When I look around during one all I see are a select group of proud parents, a select group of happy award winning students, and then a a very large group of bored, sad, and possibly jealous students who didn't receive awards.  I see this every time.  And its always the same students that win these awards.  "Arturo" who tries so hard in class, but has a learning disability doesn't make the list.  "Jennie" who is an English Language Learner but is not learning the language "quick enough" doesn't make the cut either.  "Victor", whose single mom works two jobs while he stays home to take care of his two younger siblings somehow doesn't get good enough grades to be celebrated either.  The list goes on and on.
     I am actually, but not surprisingly, a parent that got invited to my son's award ceremonies every month.  He was and is a brilliant student, but he should be.  I am a teacher and I know what he needs to learn.  My job affords the luxury of being able to stay home with him during weekends and vacations and evenings.  I know the importance of taking him to the art museums and the beach and the Science Discovery Museum.  He takes music lessons once a week and we read every night.  There is no reason why he shouldn't win an award with this background.  So why do we reward him, and students like him every month for skills and knowledge that were easy to acquire?  And more importantly, why do we ignore and subconsciously put down all those other students by not honoring them?
     Doesn't 21st Century Learning value soft skills?  Shouldn't we honor empathy, compassion, teamwork, leadership?  What about the communication skills of listening and speaking?  There is critical thinking, using tools strategically, as well as art, music, and dance.  What about learning a second or third language, and valuing differences and cultural diversity?  Let's not forget the skills of good sportsmanship, athleticism, perseverance, and positivity.  Why can't we give all those other students who are sitting in the award assembly audience these awards?  Why do we have to stick with the same set of rules and expectations that were held in the 20th Century now?  Why hasn't this aspect of education evolved?
     I know that as a Common Core teacher we are supposed to be backing away from the competitive aspect of classroom management and moving towards a more collaborative learning system.  We are supposed to move our desks out of the single desk set up and into groups of 4 or 5 with the goal of teamwork, rather than competition.  I know that some of the grades I give now are based on collaboration and working within a group.  Why are we still giving awards for something we really don't even teach anymore?  Why are we putting our students through this torture that kills their self esteem and hope?  Why?

Check out this post from a fellow blogger with the same point of view!  He offers some interesting solutions of what to do instead of awards. 


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Teaching Leadership through Literature Circles

Teaching Leadership through Literature CirclesMy students just participated in Literature Circles for the first time this school year.  They had a blast!  I assigned the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio which is fantastic to promote collaborative discussions in addition to combat the problem of bullying with the promotion of empathy, something I think every classroom needs.  All week long the students read the assigned pages, worked on individually assigned worksheets that addressed various Common Core Standards such as summarization, referring to details to answer questions and inference, and use context to determine unknown vocabulary words.  Then on Friday, when everyone was prepared to contribute, we held the collaborative discussions.  

We had three groups with five to six diverse student participants in each group.  One member from each group had been selected as the leader and they had been prepped to lead the discussion.  So I explained the procedures to the students.  The leader was in charge and they would solve any problems that arised.  The leader had a discussion sheet that listed all the literature circle discussion jobs and how to go about giving the floor to them.  For example the leader would say, "Ok Discussion Director, it's time to ask a question."  And the Discussion Director would ask one of the open ended questions they had created while reading the assigned pages throughout the week.  All members would be encouraged to participate and respond to the questions, in addition to build on each other's opinions with agreements and disagreements.  They all had a sheet that listed various sentence stems which could help in case there was a lull in the conversation.  These sentence stems were also very helpful to the English Language Learners in my class.  
The collaborative discussions went fairly well, especially for being the first time they had done this activity.  I took the facilitator role and stood back and listened while the groups wrestled with governing their own discussion.  I sometimes sat and participated as if I was a member and gave my opinions and responses to the questions, modeling how to back my ideas with details and citations from text (that will be a lesson in the future and I always prepare them for up and coming rigor).  One group had a leader that was letting others run the group for him.  I had to remind him many times that he was in charge and to not let others take away his power.  He got better at the end of the discussion which encouraged him.  I also had to show another leader who had a very, very strong member in her group that was visibly trying to usurp the leader's authority with unnecessary questions and interruptions how to maintain the leadership role.  I directed the leader to the section of the sentence stem worksheet that dealt with holding the floor.  This leader began to take back her power in a strong, yet polite way by saying phrases such as, "As I was saying..." and "If you'd let me finish my thought..."  By the end of the discussion this leader was feeling great about her communication skills also when she took control of the situation and made it her group again.  I was happy to watch this because how many people get to see young students learning that there is power in their voice?  How many students who are not naturally born leaders get to learn and develop their leadership skills so that they too have the opportunity to to lead and voice their opinions?  
Also, as I listened to these discussions I was impressed with the thought, analysis, and application that these student used to express themselves and answer the questions.  This is just the first week, and I'm really excited with  where I can take them as the year progresses.  It's going to be a great year for Literature Circles!  I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Envoking the Growth Mindset to overcome your fears

Next weekend I will be attending the California League of Schools Professional Development Conference as a presenter.  This is huge for me.   When I was hired as a Common Core Demonstration Teacher for my school district I was told that my job expectation would be to attend conferences and learn, then apply this knowledge to my classroom so that other teachers would learn from me and Common Core passion would move throughout the district like a gently wind.  I was also to create education videos to reach a bigger audience.  My district has big goals regarding Common Core Standard implementation and I was motivated and excited to be a part of it.

So the past three years have been a whirlwind of conferences, observations, videos and collaboration.  Last year my director called a meeting and told all of us Common Core Demonstration Teachers that she now wants us to take our department's outreach a step further.  She wanted us to begin presenting our Common Core experience and knowledge at conferences.  My first emotion was fear.  White faced, bare knuckled, can't breathe, fear.  If you knew me you would know that I am the last, absolutely last person who would stand up in front of a group of peers and talk.  So while she discussed our added on job description, I thought,  "I will find a way to get out of it.  Somehow, someway, I will make it not happen.'

Well, time passed, and something happened to me.  As I went to other conferences, I thought to myself, "I could do what they are doing.  I have the knowledge, I have the expertise... "  And then the final thought came,  "Why not?"  I was currently reading The Growth Mindset by Carol Dwekk and if I was teaching my students that they could overcome any obstacle, why couldn't I overcome my fear of public speaking?  So I did it!  I signed up to speak at our district's English Language Development conference and I held two break out sessions on the topic of student engagement.  It was a success!  And it was fun!  I liked sharing my knowledge with others.  I could see I was helping other teachers perfect their craft.  I was giving them more tools for their toolbox and they were grateful for it.  In addition, I realized that I wasn't just helping them, but them multiplied by their students for however long they decided to teach.  It was an invigorating feeling and a bit addicting.  I decided to talk at more conferences.  I began to give presentations at my school site in front of my peers, at workshops hosted by the Common Core Demonstration Teacher Department, and I even volunteered to give an EDTalk at CSUSB where I stood up in front of 600 educators and gave a 10 minute speech on student collaboration.  It was scary, but such an accomplishment when I finished!  I just kept thinking, "I'm positively influencing a generation of students in the San Bernardino County by speaking in front of their teachers.  I felt the sense of purpose and it felt great!

So today I sit here, on my bed, looking at the window at a beautiful day.  I have my computer and I'm ready to plan my PowerPoint presentation for next week's Writer's Workshop break out session at the CLS conference.  I'm a little terrified again.  I guess the feeling never leaves you.  I'm trying to organize my thoughts about Writing and Differentiation and plan, but I can only think of another 100 things more important to do right now, including writing this post.  I need to get motivated and lose this fear.  I think I need to reread The Growth Mindset a bit to motivate myself.  I know this conference will be great!  I have been teaching Writer's Workshop for over 20 years and there are so many teachers who have never heard of it.  It is such a powerful strategy to engage students in writing and help them learn from their mistakes.

Okay, I think I've gotten past the writer's block.  Thank you so much for letting me get my nerves out.  I'm going to sign off and write a fantastic presentation that will benefit many, many teachers and thus students, and also prove that Growth Mindset is real.  If I can get over my fears and follow my dreams, absolutely anyone can!