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Student learning is no accident!

Classroom Teacher: Reality Check

The view from down here.
“It all falls on the classroom teacher, it always does” she reminded me. This was my mother. A retired elementary school teacher, who had made it the long haul. In the classroom for her entire career, advocating for kids, mentoring new teachers- reminding me when I express frustration in the system that, I shouldn’t be surprised because “other people just don’t get it. Everything is the responsibility of the classroom teacher.” In other words- s#!t rolls down hill. I’ve been hearing it for years. But, honestly I didn’t quite get it until recently.
I’ve spent most of my career as a middle school teacher. I guess I have that genetic mutation that appreciates the sass and limit-testing of the adolescent. Anyway, after a few years of moving around, including coaching and mentoring new hires to “fight the good fight,” I opted for a change. Something I admired about so many of the elementary classrooms I had visited as a coach, was the deep sense of community that I watched develop within those four cheerfully decorated walls. In my ever idealistic dreams of the next chapter of my life as a teacher, I thought- that is where I belong. If I teach in an elementary school classroom, I can have so much more of an impact! I can foster a sense of community, encourage students to work together, develop their character, their leadership skills, and of course… differentiate instruction so they don’t end up in middle school with so many gaps in their learning. Yes- if I meet them each exactly where they are (in grade 2) and do my job, I will change the course of the future.

Last night at dinner, a friend was telling us about the new job she’d be starting as her maternity leave comes to an end. She is taking a position where she will work three 10 hour days, instead of five 8 hour days. While it will be a decrease in hours, it will work for her family, and for that we were celebrating. My mind wondered… thinking about all of the ten hour days I had been working since September… Someone interrupted my thoughts with a question. “So… I know teachers work a lot more than the hours they have to be at school… but how many hours is the actual school week anyway?” As I answered, “Umm… 35ish, I guess…”  my mind raced with the math of my typical work week. 7-5 most days, 7-6 some… there was that day I made it to my 4:00 dentist appointment on time. That felt like a holiday.

And yet, almost every morning (while I race around hoping that the hour before my students arrive will tick by more slowly) I chastise myself for my lack of preparation, for everything I’m not doing. And most afternoons, I leave wishing I could just find three more hours to prep, to  plan… or maybe even (dare I say?) to think. On the way home, I beat myself up about the administrative tasks I’ve pushed off yet again- logging those scores into the database, filing last week’s evidences into student folders. And then I offer myself some consolation- if something’s gotta give, at least it’s not your face time with kids… But let’s face it- I judge myself solely on what I haven’t accomplished in my classroom. Don’t we all?

So during the rest of that celebratory dinner, I multitasked, making some mental lists, doing some serious math. What was it that was getting in the way of the real work I wanted to do with kids? Why hadn’t I helped every student choose a “just right” book from our classroom library yet, met with reading groups regularly, held enough writing conferences and completed a running record for every student? I found my answer in the math. My students are at school for 6 hours and 15 minutes each day. They attend a specialist class, eat lunch, and have recess- all outside of our classroom. This brings our time together for teaching and learning down to just 4 hours and 25 minutes. Next, we visit the lav as a class- twice a day. While I wish it were faster, it takes a solid 15 minutes each time. We practice our math facts in the hall because I’m trying to squeeze every educationally productive minute out of the day possible, but these necessary bio breaks bring our time together to 3 hours 55 minutes. Next is snack. Seven and eight year-olds need a healthy snack during the day. I dreamed of protecting this time for reading aloud while students munched. I imagined kids eating their snacks on the edges of their seats waiting to hear what would happen next to Junie B. Jones or Charlotte, the spider.

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Fruit cups however, are killing me. Every day at least three kids bring a fruit cup for snack- a very healthy option for sure. The seal though… they can’t open it themselves. And even when I open it for them and suggest they drink the extra juice first- the end of our snack time always brings the “sticky desk sweep.” I race around the room spraying down the desks of every student who had a fruit cup or yogurt. This is a new routine for me- and quite genius, I think. It saves me instructional minutes later, when students would regularly raise their hands mid lesson to say, “my desk is sticky. I don’t know why.” This would cause a much more serious loss of instructional time… but alas- the read aloud snack time dream was just that- a dream. After accounting for snack time, we’re left with 3 hours 40 minutes, on a good day. Let’s subtract 15 minutes for classroom jobs and cleanup at the end of the day, and 15 minutes for the morning meeting that helps us remember we are all individuals, that matter- and care about each other. (I will foster a sense community!!)

I have 3 hours and 10 minutes. And thank goodness- because I am going to need every single one of those minutes! My “job” is to design opportunities for these amazing second graders to learn math, reading, writing and science or social studies concepts each day. Oh yeah, and I have to deliver a 40 minute phonics lesson each day- that luckily I don’t have to design…so… 2:30 it is!

What did I do so irresponsibly with those minutes this week? How is it that my “to teach” still feels so long?? Monday we had an assembly… one hour gone. Tuesday, I was out learning about the phonics program. Enlightening? Yes. Necessary? Definitely. Wednesday was picture day. Thursday, we had chorus rehearsal and our hearing tested. And Friday… why was Friday so hectic? Oh right… it was Halloween, hat day and we met with our fourth grade reading buddies. And thank goodness we did- because I definitely did not sit and listen to each student read this week.

So, kudos to all of the elementary school teachers who have the systems in place to juggle these demands. Those of you that juggle them and don’t sleep at school- you are my heroes! I’m watching and learning from every single one of you, every single day!

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New Year’s Resolutions & Goal Setting Success

As a student, I always saw September as an opportunity to rewrite my story. I could make a good impression on my new teachers. I would keep better track of my materials and assignments and maybe even be one of those kids that seemed to “have it all together.” These days, I still find myself resolving to do better every September, and… I’ve gotten much better at actually making progress toward the goals I set!

One goal at a time. I am more likely to make progress toward my goal if I focus on one at a time. This is really hard for me, but I remind myself that it worked the year I vowed to “use a classroom website in a meaningful way” as well as the year I hoped to “involve families in academics.” The years I pledged to significantly change my assessment methods, overhaul reading conferences and exercise every day, I did not feel nearly as successful.

Share with a supportive colleague. This makes all the difference in the world for me! Having the opportunity to share my goal and talk through it with someone is valuable, especially if we schedule time to reflect on it regularly, and check in on each other. Having a partner prevents me from getting stuck and giving up because we can trouble shoot together and provide support and encouragement. Feeling responsible to someone else keeps me focused and decreases the likelihood that I will get so busy I completely forget that I set a goal!

Know Success. I am much more likely to be successful if I decide in advance what achieving my goal will look like. The year I set a goal to “be more organized” (always a much needed goal for me) I never felt like I had achieved it. I definitely made positive changes in planning and tried out a binder system an amazingly organized colleague showed me… but, I wasn’t clear with myself from the start. Now, I like to brainstorm what success might look like and revisit it and revise it as I work to make progress. (Here are my ideas about what this year’s goal might look like in action.) This way, once I’ve achieved my goal I can think clearly about moving on to another or expanding my work in the same are.

Self-assessing followed by goal setting is a process that supports me in developing or changing my practices. What goal are you working toward this year?

image from doblelol.com

image from doblelol.com

 

 

How do your students self-asses?

Lately, I’ve found myself having conversations with many educators who think self-assessment is a good idea… but just aren’t sure about putting it into practice. Consequences of thoughtful self-assessment:

1. Students reflect on their process, performance, actions.

2. Students become more aware of their learning and/ or actions- in the moment!! “Johnny, don’t you ever think before you speak?!?” (which never has any impact, BTW) —-> “Johnny, I noticed you stopped yourself  before responding to Maria (how responsible of you)… tell me a little about your thinking.

3.  Students begin using on the language of the self-assessment in their classroom dialogue. (And I wasn’t even trying to teach content specific vocabulary!!)

Here’s a Scientist’s Self Assessment I plan to use this week in a third grade science class. You’ll notice I’ve embedded a home-school communication component as well!

Here’s a Self and Group Assessment Tool I created and have used successfully with grades 4-8 to encourage academic discussions.

Here’s part of a Behavior Chart Self Monitor program my teammate and I have used for a few years now. We tweak it regularly… The weekly self-assessment and twice quarterly goal setting have really strengthened student- family conversations around progress at school. We use the data (student-collected) as the basis of our Student-Led Family Conferences.

 

Before Open House, we complete this Personal Responsibility Self Assessment on our team. Then, at Open House, we weave in some of the elements of Personal Responsibility that we plan to encourage during the school year in our talks with families. We revisit this list often throughout the year, students add new ideas to it and we track our progress.

Here’s another self-assessment that supports student reflection and analysis around Quality of Work. I like to use it on days that we add work to our portfolios.

I hope you’ll consider trying these out! Modify them to meet your needs and please let me know how they impact your students’ learning.

How are you encouraging reflection, goal-setting and self-assessment?

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Formative Assessment Checklists

clipboard How do you capture all of the learning that occurs during discussions, hands-on exploration and collaborative group work? When there is a written product… we know we can collect and correct (ugh)… but that’s not always my first choice. When I collect and correct too much, I lose the ability to catalog and analyze and make instructional decisions based on the evidence. Instead, my school bag gets heavy Read More

Week 4 Challenge: Assessment in Instruction

Dear Teachers,

Thanks for wanting to jump back in with us as we dig into Assessment in Instruction! This is the last of the 4 challenges- and I know you’ll finish strong! To get started, think about which level you feel most accurately describes your daily teaching experiences…

Level 1: There is little or no assessment or monitoring of student earning; feedback is absent, or of poor quality. Students do not appear to be aware of the assessment criteria and do not engage in self-assessment. There is no attempt to adjust the lesson as a result of assessment. -> Level 2: Assessment is sporadically used to support instruction through some teacher and/ or student monitoring of progress of learning. Feedback to students is general, and students appear to be only partially aware of the assessment criteria; few assess their own work. Questions/ prompts/ assessments are rarely used to diagnose evidence of learning. Adjustment to the lesson in response to the assessment is minimal or ineffective. -> Level 3: Assessment is regularly used during instruction through teacher and/ or student monitoring of progress of learning, resulting in accurate, specific feedback that advances learning. Students appear to be aware of the assessment criteria; some of them engage in self- assessment. Questions/ prompts/ assessments are used to diagnose learning, and adjustment to instruction is made to address student misunderstandings.   -> Level 4: Assessment is fully integrated into instruction through extensive use of formative assessment. Students appear to be aware of, and there is some evidence that they have contributed to, the assessment criteria. Students self-assess and monitor their progress. A variety of feedback, from both teachers and peers, is accurate, specific, and advances learning. Questions/ prompts/ assessments are used regularly to diagnose evidence of learning, and instruction is adjusted and differentiated to address individual student misunderstandings.

There are Four Key Elements in this Component:

Assessment

Which one do you consider your strength? Is there one you will focus on most this week? Set a goal for yourself for this 1 week challenge. To increase your chances of success, make it public by sharing it in the comments. Check out my Assessment Learnist Board and my Assessment Pinterest Board to get the ideas flowing!

Let’s make it a meaningful week of growth for your students and for your practice!

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PS~ You may want to connect your thinking to the related RIDE_assessment_Rubric or I3_Assessment_rubric

 

Week 3 Challenge: Creating an Environment of Respect & Rapport

‘An Environment of Respect & Rapport’… This is an area I find myself discussing quite often with teachers. At least once a week, I have conversations with teachers about how tricky they find this particular domain/ standard to assess. Recently, I attended a presentation about how some teachers and mentors are tackling this very topic. Before we think about how to improve our practice, let’s think about where we are beginning…

Level 1: Patterns of classroom interactions, both between the teacher and students and among students, are mostly negative, inappropriate, or insensitive to students’ ages, cultural backgrounds, and developmental levels. Interactions are characterized by sarcasm, put-downs, or conflict. Teacher does not respond to disrespectful behavior. -> Level 2: Patterns of classroom interactions, both between the teacher and students and among students, are generally appropriate but may reflect occasional inconsistencies, favoritism, and disregard for students’ ages, cultures, and developmental levels. Students rarely demonstrate disrespect for one another. Teacher attempts to respond to disrespectful behavior, with uneven results. The net result of the interactions is neutral: conveying neither warmth nor conflict. -> Level 3: Teacher-student interactions are friendly and demonstrate general caring and respect. Such interactions are appropriate to the ages, of the students. Students exhibit respect for the teacher. Interactions among students are generally polite and respectful. Teacher responds successfully to disrespectful behavior among students. The net result of the interactions is polite and respectful, but impersonal. -> Level 4: Classroom interactions among the teacher and individual students are highly respectful, reflecting genuine warmth and caring and sensitivity to students as individuals. Students exhibit respect for the teacher and contribute to high levels of civility among all members of the class. The net result of interactions is that of connections with students as individuals.

Level 1-> Level 2

Moving from level 1 to 2 on this rubric means that interactions in the classroom become generally appropriate. In level 2 the teachers attempts to respond to disrespectful behavior.

Level 2-> Level 3

Moving from level 2 to 3 on this rubric means that interactions in the classroom become generally friendly, caring and respectful. In level 3 the teacher’s response to disrespectful behavior is successful.

Level 3> Level 4

Moving from level 3 to 4 on this rubric means that interactions in the classroom become highly respectful, genuinely warm and caring. Students contribute to the high levels of civility among members of the class. (Notice that the level 4 refers to student contribution to civility as opposed to teacher’s response to disrespectful behavior. I read: classroom runs like a well-oiled machine or a mini-city between the lines here)

How would you rate your typical daily classroom experiences?

I attended an excellent session at the New Teacher Center’s Symposium last month called, Using Student Perspectives to Enhance Mentoring Conversations. As part of the presentation, teachers of a variety of grades shared how they administered surveys to their students, what they learned from the surveys, and what types of adjustments they made to their teaching as a result. It was incredibly inspiring to hear teachers share the impact of their willingness to be so vulnerable with their students! I can’t wait to use a student perspectives survey in my classroom!

How might you use this survey to guide your work? Do you think it would support your work in this particular domain of the Professional Teaching Standards?

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SPIDER Web Discussion Strategy

Whether you teach math, social studies or general music- if you want to facilitate truly student-led inquiry in your classroom discussions, you may want to give Alexis Wiggins’ version of the SPIDER Web Discussion strategy a try. She has been refining this strategy for seven years and shares her experiences and her rubrics!

While students are the ones discussing, the teacher is still the referee and master of knowledge, offering up the right question at the right moment, redirecting the conversation, correcting misunderstandings, and ensuring that students are being civil to one another.

Maybe that lesson you have planned for Tuesday of next week needs a kick… Try adding this strategy to your repertoire, and let us know how it goes!!

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Improve your Teaching Practice: Take the 1-week Challenge!

Dear Fellow Teachers,

Let’s roll up our sleeves, take some risks and be proud of the outcomes! It’s February and by now you have a good idea where you want to focus your attention. Maybe you’ve been observed by a colleague or administrator and you have some actual feedback to guide you (yes!!) or maybe you’ve known for months and have finally dug yourself out of that pile of paperwork and are ready to go!

Mountain of Paperwork

However you got to this place of wanting to grow- I’m glad you did. All we need is some focus and a little bit of persistence and together we will make change happen! Over the next four weeks, I will post practical tips you can use right away to make change happen in your classroom! We will focus on a different area each of the four weeks, and connect the work directly to the RI Teacher Evaluation System (based on the domains of Danielson’s Framework for Teaching). We will self-assess, implement a strategy and reflect. Any comments or feedback you leave will help me to generate the next post. I will respond to your needs… Based on teacher requests, we will start with Questioning/ Prompts and Discussion Techniques.

There are lots of rubrics out there! Here are two you can use to self-assess, reflect and set a purpose for our work together around questioning!

RIDE_Questioning_Rubric     I3_Questioning_Rubric

Let’s support each other and celebrate success using feedback, comments, Facebook & Twitter. Subscribers will receive additional tips along the way, so if you haven’t already subscribed- make today the day!

So excited to get started!!

Alicia

 

 

My Territories

I was first introduced to the idea of a writer’s notebook by my tenth grade English teacher, Mrs. Catamaro. I loved that notebook! My notebook helped me see who I was as a writer, and focus on the writer I wanted to become. It met my needs as a learner the way nothing before had. I was impulsive and unfocused, and in my writer’s notebook my ideas and Mrs. Catamaro’s feedback would wait for me. I could read and reread. I could process what I wanted, when I was ready. I’ve used the writer’s notebook with my own students and hope I provided them with opportunity to navigate their learning that Mrs. Catamaro did for me.

My Blogging Territories (Like in A Writer’s Notebook, these are ideas I want to remember so I can write about them later)

Common Frustrations & Pitfalls of New Teachers

  • Curriculum- Where is it? How can I write it? I haven’t even learned their names yet!
  • “I don’t want to be mean…” Let’s explore consistency and inconsistency. How can we lower students’ anxiety?  Which teacher actions actually model respect?
  • Feedback, grading & that gigantic pile!!
  • Top Ten myths to dispel around Home/ School Communication: No news is good news, right? In high school, parents are just more hands off… they want it that way…

Educational Issues that keep me up at night

  • Meaningful Reporting Systems: A,B,C,D,F… but what about E? Why do we report? To whom are we reporting? What is the goal? Do all of our answers align?
  • Creating Communities of Respect
  • Effective Teacher Evaluation
  • The push to privatize education, and the lack of honesty around the push
  • Biased reporting
  • Equity in Access to Education & ‘Soft bigotry’

 

 

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