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!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Making Common Core math fun!

Today I taught a lesson on multiplication using arrays and area models.   For those of you, like me who grew up in an era that did not learn math like this, this could be a very challenging task to do.   Actually last year I was devastated when I attempted this lesson.  I really didn't understand it.  I looked at my 4th grade Common Core State Standards and saw that 4th grade students needed to multiply a whole number up to four digits by a one digit number and two-two digit numbers.  Ok, I thought, that would be easy.  I have been doing that for over 20 years with the regular standard multiplication algorithm that I learned when I was in high school.   But then I kept reading, and the standards continued to say, "illustrate and explain the calculation by using equations, rectangular arrays, and/or area models".  Last year I thought to myself, "What the heck is that?"  Truthfully, I really tried last year.  I tried to learn how to do arrays and area models when multiplying but it just didn't sink into this "older' brain of mine.  But seriously, I tried, but when I taught the lessons, I remember I would get the steps all mixed up, and it just didn't make any sense to me.  I totally understand parents when they say that this math is impossible! 

But something happened over the summer.  This concept began to click in my brain.  I think I had gone over it so much, and the key word is, I never gave up.  No matter how frustrated I was with this concept, I knew that I needed to learn it, and I would.  I evoked the Growth Mindset within me and told myself, "Don't give up!"  You can take a break and let the information settle in your brain, but return to it.  I think the turning point was when my fellow 4th grade teachers and I collaborated and they expressed their own frustrations with arrays.  They had not yet put the work into understanding it, so I gave it a go at trying to teach them.  It's true what we teach our students about taking on the teacher role helps you internalize a concept.  As I struggled to explain what I knew about this Common Core strategy, I began to really see it come to life. 

So that's what I did this year to teach multiplying using arrays.  I utilized peer teachers.  I taught the concept, I modeled it, explained it, and gave the students multiple opportunities to use manipulatives to explore it.  I made it fun!  We used graph paper, lots of graph paper, to draw and model the arrays, and then I let them color the different sections, or partial products.  They LOVED this lessons.  They actually had never seen math before like this.  Also the correlation to art really helped to hold their interest and that was especially helpful for such a difficult concept to learn.  Then I assessed them.  I kept teaching until half of them understood.  Then I sent them out like little soldiers on a mission to teach the students who still hadn't grasped the concept yet, just like I had taught the other 4th grade teachers.   It was a very fun Common Core lesson. 

I then offered to post this "math art" on our walls so anyone who passes by in the halls could see how fun Common Core could be and be amazed at what my 4th graders were learning.  What was surprising was their reactions.   Well, many students did want to post the day's math arrays, but I heard many say, "No way am I posting this on the wall, it's going home to be posted in my room".  That's when I knew that this Common Core math lesson was truly a winner! 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Retelling Stories using Nonlinguistic Representations in a Dual Language Classroom - day 2

Last week I wrote about a lesson I taught in my 4th grade Dual Immersion classroom on retelling stories.  This was a two part lesson and on day one, the class listened to a read aloud of a chapter of The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White in Spanish.  In order for my language learners to understand the text and use key vocabulary, I had them use non-linguistic representations, or drawings to sequence key story events.  I then discussed my plan for the next lesson which would entail students working in collaborative teams to retell the chapter with their best Spanish vocabulary and grammar, along with a presentation to other class members to practice speaking and listening skills.  I left the readers of the blog post with a cliffhanger... would the second part of the lesson work out as planned...

It actually basically did go as planned.  I knew that there would be some issues.  If there weren't, then the lesson would have been too easy.  I had taught this lesson three times before, so the students knew the routine and expectations pretty well.  The only difference was the chapter, content, and vocabulary.  For this reason I chose this class session to step back and play the facilitator role.  I walked around and observed how the students interacted with each other.  I wanted to ensure that everyone was participating and on task.  They were, for the most part.  The cooperative learning structure that I used which ensured that every student was responsible for one sentence gave every student the leadership role and ownership for a fourth of the paragraph.  Most team members listened, evaluated, and improved upon the leader's content, grammar and vocabulary.   Teammates were kind when telling another that their sentence didn't make sense or that better vocabulary could be used, and the leaders took suggestion humbly.

One problem did arise.  The first time I walked by a group I heard "Michael" give his sentence to his teammates.  I knew it was incorrect, really incorrect.  I nonchalantly looked at his teammates.  Everyone was quiet and looking down.  I walked away, so to give them some private time to discuss the sentence without teacher intervention so they could help Michael out.  I circled around the classroom, and when I made my way back to Michael's table, there the team was, all writing Michael's sentence.  I stopped them and asked them if they were all happy with the sentence.  All except Michael said no.  I asked them why they were writing a sentence that did not have a consensus by all members.  Why didn't they give Michael suggestions to make it better?  They said they were nervous about being wrong.  I stopped right there and gave a mini lesson about expression your point of view.  I then listened to the advice they gave to Michael to make it better.  After some explaining, and some persuasion, the group was able to write a good sentence that was appropriate for the topic and standard.

Overall, the lesson was a success.  Students were able to retell the chapter in their own words with good academic vocabulary and grammar.   They were able to work collaboratively, for the most part, and everyone learned from each other.  As I watched this lesson unfold, I was happy that I had successfully taught this lesson and that the students had one more Common Core Standard under their belts.  They could engage in collaborative conversations, with diverse partners, building on others' ideas, and expressing their own clearly.  They could retell stories safely within a group setting.  After taking on the facilitator role in this lesson, I saw that it was time to move on.  The next lesson would have to be more challenging and more rigorous.  For the next chapter, we will continue to work on the CCSS of retelling a story, but instead of reading with partners, students will read and draw non-linguistic representations independently.  And instead of working in groups to retell the story, students will be able to rely on only one partner to check their content, grammar, and vocabulary.  Baby steps to slowly but surely move these brilliant students from dependence to independence, always moving forward.   I can't wait to see what they do next!

The New PD: Teachers observing teachers

Today I got to get out of my classroom!  I sound excited, but normally I hate leaving my students.  I view every minute of the school day as time for teaching and enrichment, and when a substitute is in my class, it just doesn't get done the way I get it done.  If you are a teacher you know what I mean.  Well, today was different.  The reason for leaving my students was well worth the absence in my opinion.  I left to observe other teachers teach!

I actually don't think I have ever been given the luxury to visit another teacher's classroom, just to sit down and observe them in charge of their craft.  It was a very special occasion.  My assignment was to go to two other Common Core Demonstration Teachers' classrooms to observe their classroom management using the PBiS (Positive Behavior System, not sure what the "i" stands for...).  I got to visit with two other teachers so that we could review and discuss our findings after the observations.

So the three of us entered the first classroom.  It was a third grade classroom.  We walked in and immediately a calm peace overcame me.  The lights were turned off and they were working on IPADs.  The teacher was completely in charge of her students so I studied the class interactions to find out why.  She was completely in control of her domain.  As she taught the lesson, all students followed along and choral read when expected to participate.  Academic vocabulary usage was through the ceiling!  Those third grade students easily responded to questions using words like "novice, apprentice, expert, collaboration, and much more.  When the students started to work individually on their seat work, everyone seemed to know exactly what was expected and how it was to be completed.

The next class we visited was a fourth grade classroom.  This time when we entered I felt an more of a positive energy, rather than calmness.  Again, I wanted to find out why.  Where did this feeling come from and why?  As the students filtered into the classroom after recess there was a small amount of chit chat, but as soon as the teacher asked for their attention, she got it.  Just like the third grade classroom, the teacher began teaching a lesson, this time on a math concept.  As she taught, her students recorded notes in their notebooks.  She reminded them to analyze what they needed, whether to write neater or faster, their choice.  She was also completely in charge of her students, but in more of a casual manner.  She constantly made jokes and showed that she cared about her students by using terms of endearment when addressing them like "my crazies, kiddo, even jackolantern face" in honor of the Halloween season.  These names worked because the way she used it in context really made you want to be called it.  She had complete control of her students because they knew she cared about them.  It seemed they would do anything for her.

Observing these two expert teachers was a fantastic experience for me and my fellow teachers.  They were both so very different but seemed to get the same great results from their students.  I think I know why.  Both were true to themselves.  They taught with their personalities.  The first teacher is a strong, no-nonsense mature woman who is vocal about what she wants.  She cares about people and is not afraid to tell them if they are doing something that has negative consequences.  She has grandchildren whom she adores and it seems like she sometimes thinks of her students as these precious offspring, ready to impart words of wisdom every chance she gets.   The second teacher is a younger, carefree independent woman.  She travels all over the world and is not afraid to take chances.   She seems to treat her students as fellow travelers, ready to take an adventure together, an adventure in learning.   I think the correlation in their successful classroom management styles is this willingness to be themselves when teaching.

What will I take back to my classroom after this day out?  Of course I will take back some teaching strategies.  I will try to use technology more successfully with my students, they need that.  I liked how the second teacher encouraged collaboration when solving math problems.  I could always use more of that in my classroom.  But really, what I'm really taking back is more of a mental lesson.  Be yourself with your kids!!! You are most effective when you are not trying to be someone else.  If you are a loud, boisterous extrovert, be a loud, boisterous extrovert!  If you have a sense of humor that doesn't quit, show your students that side of you.  If you are a thoughtful introvert, like me, show your students the value of quietly analyzing situations before speaking.  All of us teachers are different and we all have personalities that could benefit our students.  That's why we were made so differently and that's why our students will never get bored by us because every year they get to experience a different type of character trait.  As long as we teach as ourselves, and let our personality shine through, if we really care about our students, they will follow us wherever we go. So my personal lesson on PBiS (Positive Behavior System) in the classroom, positivity comes from being truthful to yourself.  There can be no prescribed system of management for classrooms just like you can't put a classroom of students in a box.  It just doesn't work.  What does work is knowlegeable caring teachers that aren't afraid to let their own Personalities, Beautiful and Individual, Shine.  That's what I learned about PBiS today, and it was so worth it to leave my class for this lesson in self love and revelation.

Monday, October 10, 2016

More Common Core Conversations with the Community

Today I had a plumber come to my house.  While he was working on my kitchen sink, I was working on school work.  So for small talk, he started a conversation about education.  He told me how he was at another mom's house and she was so mad at this Common Core!  She said that her son was made to miss a recess because he was not solving math problems on paper, but rather in his head.  She couldn't believe that the teacher would be so nit picky, and if an answer is right, than an answer is right.  In my mind I thought about the time I had used to think like this parent too, before I had studied the logic and reasoning behind the Common Core standards.   Now I know that Common Core stresses different ways to solve problems so the students' minds are broadened and they are able to look at problems from multiple perspectives, and then solve them using multiple strategies, which is what I imagine the teacher is trying to teach to this young boy.  Now, the loss of recess, that is another issue...  for another post...

This conversation led to my plumber revealing that he had a toddler at home right now.  He was really worried about what would happen when he entered formal school under the Common Core regime.  He said that since he was of the older generation, he was completely clueless and wouldn't be able to help him with assignments.  I tried to assure that his son would most likely be okay, actually he probably would be better equipped than the students currently in my fourth grade class.  My students have the added disadvantage of being literally thrown into the Common Core education system completely unprepared.  Any student that is in 2nd through 12th grade have been thrown into the system.   What I mean is that they did not get the luxury of having been instructed in Common Core practices in previous grades.  The fortunate students are the ones in kindergarten and 1st grade right now.  They started their schooling under Common Core standards and are being properly trained and every grade will build upon this knowledge.   Once they get into my class, 4th grade, they will have all the background needed to fully participate and understand at the level I am supposed to teach.  That child that was having trouble solving math problems outside his head, should not struggle so much with learning different strategies because he will be used to learning different strategies beginning from age five.  Now I know this sounds very idealistic, and it is, but I have great hope that all teachers will work together to make it that easy for students.

Something else that my plumber said surprised me.  He said that he would not be able to help his son with his education because his generation knew absolutely nothing about Common Core.   I so disagreed with him!   Common Core Standards are all about creating creative thinkers, problem solvers, collaborators, and communicators, the four C's.   Because of this, when robots supposedly take over all the jobs of the world, teachers and plumbers, among other career choices that entail problem solving, will be safe.  The reason we will be safe is that robots can't creatively think, problem solve, collaborate, and communicate like we can in our professions.  This plumber cannot be replaced and he can transfer these necessary 21st Century Skills to his son.  Just like the example he personally gave me about the teacher who wouldn't take one solution for a math problem, but wanted various solutions, his job entails looking for different solutions to problems that arise in someone's plumbing.  Those skills are golden and he already has them.

It was interesting talking to the plumber today about Common Core and the future of education.  It reminded me of the discussion I had with my waitress a couple weeks back about the same issue.  So many parents want to help their students but they are clueless about how to do it.  They don't know that they possess the skills already, and just need to transfer them to their children.  They need to talk with them, listen to them, show them what they do in their own occupations.  All that information prepares them for their future, and that's all that Common Core is, preparing students to use their brains for the future.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Close Reading 101 - the philosophy

As I have been giving professional development at my school site and throughout my district, I have come to the realization that many teachers have not yet grasped the purpose of Close Reading.  I think that ever since Common Core Standards have come out, teachers have been hard pressed to first, learn all the standards for their grade level, and second find fun, meaningful, and engaging ways to teach them.  I think that many teachers have been given so much Professional Development about so many strategies, that they are confused and don't know where to start.  I see this when I give presentations.  I assume they know the basics of Close Reading and so I begin a strategy that they may not be ready for.  They in turn, do not want to say anything for fear of being the only one who doesn't know the strategy.  But as I look around at the staff, I see the same, "What the heck?" look on every face.  That's when I know I am in trouble and am teaching the wrong lesson.

So I'm going to blog about Close Reading to begin with, then I will take a new and improved lesson to my staff members (I learn to teach while blogging).  This will take a few posts.  Close Reading is a fascinating strategy with a lot of research and philosophy behind it.  I believe that if you don't understand the logic that creates something, you will not truly believe in it and you won't internalize it and teach it to your students.

So what is Close Reading?  Close Reading gets its name literally from the idea of reading text up close, like you are examining it.  You look at it over and over again, from different angles and view points, just like a doctor would examine her patient.  Then like a doctor interprets these observation and tells you whats wrong, the reader interprets and analyzes the meaning of the author's words.  Its an interaction between two entities, both reader and text.  I tell my students that it is they are talking on the phone to the author.  The author speaks when the student reads, and the student speaks by responding in writing on the text.  And very importantly Close Reading involves reading, and rereading, and more rereading.

There are a lot of rules for Close Reading.  They are not rules that would stifle your teaching, but rather rules that ensures that the teacher doesn't get carried away with trying to make Close Reading something that it isn't.  I have seen many teachers who don't understand Close Reading but feel pressured to do it by administrators or what have you, give the same reading lesson they gave in 2002, but call it Close Reading because the students had to read the text twice.  I've also seen administrators who don't understand it buy class sets of textbooks just because they have a comprehension section titled "Close Reading".  Publishers are making a fortune on the naivety of educators regarding Close Reading.

Well, let me tell you the guidelines so you don't fall into that category and you can successfully provide Close Reading lessons for your students.  First, Close Reading must create engagement and joy.  If your students groan and don't jump for joy when you say its time to do Close Reading, then you are doing something wrong.  Don't get discouraged if that's happening to you!  Keep reading to find out how to make it fun.

Second, it must be only one part of your reading instruction.  One teacher was visibly upset once when I was teaching how to give Close Reading instruction.  He said, "How are they supposed to learn how to sound out words if all they do is read to themselves?"  Close Reading a strategy meant to get students to observe and interact with text, so they can analyze meaning more closely.   A teacher still needs to do read alouds, choral read, partner read, guided read, explicitly teach phonics, and all the other great strategies teachers are already using.  Close Reading is just one part of the big picture.  There is no rule as to how often it has to be done.  Some teachers do it every day, some twice a week, me, I change it up, but currently, I just do it every Monday.

Third, it must lead to student independence.  Remember what your goal is.  Remember how you want your students to leave your class at the end of the year.  You don't want them to need you, you want them to have the skill and the confidence to read and analyze text on their own.  Now is the time to begin the process of this independence.  You can start off slow, model it, guided practice it, whatever you need to do to get your students moving in the right direction.  But remember to lay off gradually.  Let them struggle with the text, its good for their brain!

Fourth,  you must allow time for them to read independently for extended amounts of time.  Teachers, me included love to hear themselves talk.  And sometimes they feel that they are not teaching if they are not talking.  There is nothing further from the truth!  Teachers need to learn that there is a time to instruct, and there is a time to step back and facilitate.  Now is that time to step back.  Give your students a good 15-20 at least, to read and struggle with this material.  This is time your students need to become independent.  Of course, step in for students obviously struggling but don't do it for them.  Give them some scaffolding tools such as a mini vocabulary or phonics lesson to get them on track, but then let them go so they can read without you talking.

Fifth,  Close Reading should be repeated across themes.  It should be done in language arts, science, social studies, math, and any other subject you are teaching.  Not all at once!  You don't want to burn the students out on it, but one week or month do Close Reading instruction in Social Studies, and the next math, ect.  Students need time to practice these skills across the curriculum.

Lastly, and this is another mistake a lot of teachers make, Close Reading activities should be designed and tailored for your students strengths and weaknesses.  Teachers sometimes think, "Ok, the students will be tested on _____, so I'm going to do a Close Reading activity addressing this ____ standard.  This is when they students start to hate Close Reading.  Learning will not happen if it is not meaningful to the students.  I usually start my lessons with the hook, "Many of you have shown that you know how to _____, so lets give you a challenge and work on becoming experts with this next lesson."  Or if it is addressed to the students' weaknesses,  "A lot of us didn't quite learn this ___, so I've specially designed this next lesson to help you succeed in it."  Tailor the lessons to your students, not to tests, what your neighbor next door is doing, or what the publisher claims you should be doing.  Its all about the students.

So that is the why and the general how of Close Reading.  I'll let you ponder it a bit, and later I'll post what to do on day 1.  Until then, Happy Close Reading!

By the way, I got the majority of this information from a fantastic conference I went to titled Falling in Love with Close Reading.  Here's a picture of the book.  I highly suggest it!
Falling in Love with Close Reading

Even introverts can enjoy cooperative learning!

The first conference I've ever attended as a Common Core Demonstration Teacher was Kagan Engagement and Cooperative Learning.  My job entails attending a variety of Common Core conferences throughout the year and then applying the strategies in my own 4th grade classroom.  I had never heard of Kagan and the only reason I went was because other Common Core Demo Teachers had signed up.  It was also in Pasadena, California, which is somewhat close to my house and it was on a Saturday and I wouldn't have to miss any school.  So at 7:30 in the morning my friend Hortencia and I roll up to the high school where the conference is scheduled.

We walk in and I'm impressed with the environment at once.  Although we are in a high school cafeteria, it looks comfortably set up and they have a spread of breakfast danishes and bagels from Panera including fruit plates and coffee.  I am already feeling at ease and ready to learn.

I sit down at a table of four with other fellow Common Core Demonstration Teachers.  We all begin to chit chat and catch up with each other when the conference begins.  I am feeling very comfortable in our small group and I'm ready to learn something new.  Our presenter is hilarious right from the beginning and makes everyone feel right at home.  He is wearing a little bow tie and looks like the biggest nerd, but he is so cool!  You just love to listen to him and then you discover that he has a lot of knowledge!  I learn that Kagan presenters have been educators and even administrators and have thoroughly utilized Kagan strategies in their classrooms and became Kagan fanatics long before making the transition to Kagan presenter.

Right away we begin getting acquainted with engagement strategies.  We learn how to share with a partner, giving each party equal talking and listening time.  We learn how to team build and class build by telling our face neighbor what we ate last night with lots of elaboration.  We list ice cream flavors, taking turns with our shoulder partner.   Then we take turns, again everyone with the same amount of talking time sharing with the four members of our table what is our favorite food with descriptions and sensory details.  We learn how to greet each other, praise each other, and say goodbye to each other.  Kagan really stresses the social component in their lessons.

By now I'm getting really comfy and self assured with my group when the music starts.  We are told to get up and walk around.  I don't want to get up and walk around.  I am a happy introvert and I really like to learn in my little area of known variables.  But I get up and walk around with the music just like everyone else.  Some people begin to dance, but that is definitely not me.  When the music stops, we are to find the closest partner to us, someone we don't know.  We are to shake hands with them and introduce ourselves.   Kagan stresses the fact that our students do not know how to greet or introduce their selves so they must practice, like we are practicing now.   We then have to tell each other why we chose to get in the teaching profession, practicing the strategies we learned in our comfy, risk free group.  Now we don't say goodbye to our partner but are told to take him to find another pair of partners.  We greet each other again and go through the routine of meet and greet.  Now my original partner has to introduce me to the new pair.  This teaches him and trains him to be a good listener.  When it is my turn I realize that I was so nervous that I forgot why my "new friend" wanted to become a teacher.  I have to ask him again, which is embarrassing, but it teaches me to get over my fears and listen and pay attention to others when they share something with you.  I guess adults need these lessons in social etiquette also unfortunately.  Now that the new group of four knows each other we are told to grab our things and move to a table with our new group.  My heart drops!  I was so happy before in my little risk free group of fellow teachers and peers.  Now I have to get social and talk to new people??!!  I was not happy anymore.

Well the day went on and it wasn't so bad.  The presenter remained as entertaining and knowledgeable throughout the day.  I learned so much as to the why of student engagement.  I learned that getting students out of their comfort zone helps develop their minds.   I learned that standing up, dancing around, any type of movement are types of brain breaks that young minds (an old ones) need so desperately if they are going to learn and retain information.  I learned that equal time sharing gives the introverts, like me, practice sharing and prepares them for life that you can't always sit back with a cozy group of four.  I also learned that equal time listening gave extroverts time to learn that listening is just as important as speaking.  I also learned that my new group of four were great people and I spent a very fun day learning amazing new strategies and philosophies with them.

The day went so well that I am now a complete Kagan fanatic.  Everything I do in my classroom has some type of Kagan engagement strategy behind it.  My students absolutely loved my new teaching style also.  Throughout the year I returned to a Kagan conference seven separate times.   If you continue to read my blogs you will probably see elements of Kagan engagement and cooperative learning woven throughout my lessons and my rationale for designing them.  I would encourage anyone to personally check out a Kagan conference.  They have them all over the world actually.  My favorite spot is in San Clemente, California because it is their headquarters and situated besides the beach in a comfortable two story building.  (I still can't get away from wanting to be in a comfy and riskfree zone.)  What is wierd is that now Kagan headquarters the place for cooperative learning and engagement kind of feels like home to such huge introvert like me.     Here is their website in case you are interested.