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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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Reflection: Ain’t nobody got time for THAT!

For the last two years I have been welcomed into many classrooms as a coach, or as my favorite mentor Jan so accurately describes: a thought partner. When she used that language two years ago during our first New Teacher Center Mentor Academy, I had no idea just how connected I would feel to that phrase today. I have partnered with some incredible thinkers over these two years. Some of these thinkers have been my fellow coaches, the teachers I support and their administrators.

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Teachers Respond to National Tragedy

Dear Teachers,
This morning I reflected once again, on the important roles we all play in the lives of so many children. This past week was an emotional roller coaster for so many of us. Glued to the news, many of us saw images and scenes play out that seemed more like clips from a film (set anywhere but here) than breaking news.
As educators, we do our best to control our students’ experiences… to set them up for discovery, inquiry, and success. One variable that remains out of our control is our students’ experiences outside of school.
Many of us tomorrow, will return to our students and to our schools after a week away.
Know that each of your students, and each of their families experienced this week Read More

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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Dittos & Worksheets & Packets, Oh my!!

So, your school department actually has a manual for you and it’s full of printables… They were designed by educators and statisticians… and people that must know more about teaching this content than you do… so why aren’t you students engaged? Well, I am writing this post to make sure you don’t “throw out the baby with the bath water!” Before you throw away every workbook and ditto in your classroom… let’s put our heads together.

You are right, experts did design these materials, so there’s probably something that works in here…

 Don’t reinvent the wheel- Re-purpose it instead!

Here’s a template for a cube (as well as other amazing ideas- amazing wiki). Why not put the best questions from your packet on the 6 sides of the cube and let students roll and discuss in pairs? Your goal (with the packet) was for students to think about the questions, right? Imagine all the ideas they’ll get from their partner when rolling the cube??!! Two heads are always better than one.

You could listen in on student conversations and assess their Speaking & Listening Skills or their content knowledge. Another idea is to assess student learning with an exit slip at the end of class. When you encourage students to have conversations, arm them with sentence stems and accountable talk to make it as productive as possible.

What will you re-purpose this week? Let us know in the comments & you may inspire someone else to take a similar risk!

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PS… I’m looking to give away a TpT gift certificate to a lucky blog commenter this week! Spread the word- bring a friend!

Student Engagement… Strategy #1

Jigsaw it! jigsaw

Regardless of the subject, brain research tells us we need many rehearsals (+20…yikes!) for new learning to stick! Learners rehearse learning when they are actually engaged in it. And, just to be clear… a worksheet with 20 math problems does not equal 20 rehearsals…( awwww, maaaan!) So, let’s consider the value of a jigsaw!

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Student Engagement… Buzz Words Demystified

According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), the 4Cs: Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and Innovation are infused in learning.

Watch and listen to how ASCD describes 21st Century Skills. 21st_Buzz_word

In the video P21’s video library, the section titled “In Practice,” features sample lessons incorporating 21st Century Skills for any grade level/ content area. This is a video jackpot! I’d love to know what videos you found most valuable and to which you made connections. Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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Carol Ann Tomlinson writes, “The idea of differentiating instruction to accommodate the different ways that students learn involves a hefty dose of common sense, as well as sturdy support in the theory and research of education (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000). It is an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms.”

The teacher in this video creates an opportunity for all students to be successful with a very challenging written assignment. Watch this 5 minutes video to see what he does to support all students. Any ideas or questions come to mind for your own teaching? Share in the comments!

In my upcoming posts, look for go-to strategies to ramp up already planned lessons and ways to re-purpose assignments, lessons and resources that need a 21st Century kick! Also during this challenge, a lucky teacher who supports readers by sharing his/her experience in the comments will receive a TpT gift certificate!!

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Student Engagement- Week 2 Educator Challenge

If you are back for round two… congratulations on your successes during week one! If you’re just joining us, welcome~ we’re thrilled to have you here and hope you join the conversation! Let’s think about where we are starting!

Level 1: Projects, activities and assignments lack challenge, are inappropriate, or do not cognitively engage students. -> Level 2: Projects, activities and assignments inconsistently challenge all students appropriately and only cognitively engage some students. -> Level 3: Projects, activities and assignments are appropriately challenging for all students, require 21st century skills, and cognitively engage almost all students in complex learning. -> Level 4: Projects, activities, and assignments are appropriately challenging for all students, require 21st century skills, and cognitively engage student in complex learning.

With these descriptors in mind, which level would you say best describes your daily teaching experiences? Read More

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

 

 

K-2 Centers

Dear Teachers,

Thank you for attending today’s work session on using centers in the primary classroom!

Here are the links and documents I promised you. I hope you find them helpful.  My favorite website for literacy centers is the Florida Center for Reading Research. It is amazing because the skills are organized by grade level and common core standard. To create math centers I always visit Mathematics Coaching Consortium and K-5 Math Teaching Resources. What I love about visiting these sites is that I get a crystal clear picture of what the skill I am trying to teach looks like at a variety of grade levels. Here are some of the documents we used in today’s session. The first video we watched is one of my favorites from The Teaching Channel and is called Creating A Safe and Positive Classroom. I would love to know what you thought of today’s session and how implementing centers in your classroom is impacting student learning! Let me know by leaving a comment!

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One reason this was such a successful session was your honesty. Your willingness to put your concerns, apprehensions and fears on the table right from the start helped us map a course together that met everyone’s needs.

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You came in knowing you were doing what was best for your students- for so many reasons & in so many ways! With dedication like this, it’s no wonder you were collaborating at 6:00 at night!

 

 

 

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