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Student learning is no accident!

Phew! They’re Chatty!

One of my biggest take aways from a New Teacher Center Mentor Academy last year was, “the ones who are doing the talking are doing the learning.” The focus of that academy was Coaching for Equity, and we spent timing thinking about Conditions that Support Students with Exceptionalities. Early on in that academy, one of my amazing colleagues suggested that all students are exceptional, and that became our platform as a group. We had previously agreed that the strategies that best support students in Advanced Placement classes, provide similarly rich learning experiences for students who might struggle… so this was not a huge leap for us. I spent the rest of the year seeing opportunities everywhere I looked to get kids talking! If I reflected with teachers about one idea last year it was, “the ones who are doing the talking are doing the learning.” We thought hard in kindergarten, third grade and eighth grade about how to make the most of that statement. And we all watched the videos on the NTC Oral Language Development site together.

As I get to know my new community of sixth graders this year, I find myself reflecting on these ideas daily. We often spend a great deal of energy as teachers, doing what we can to diminish students’ chatter. “If not in September, then when?” we rhetorically ask each other as we defend our systems of consequences. This year, a nagging voice in my head keeps reminding me that, “the ones who are doing the talking are doing the learning.”

Now, I know that the kids who are talking about what happened in PE instead of setting up their desks for my class, are not (in that moment) doing the learning in my classroom. Believe me, I’m not proposing a ban on silent homeroom (how could I survive?), silent moments or organization, or silence anywhere else that it benefits student learning. I am wondering though… how I can capitalize on the fact that these students like to talk.

What I am proposing is that we take the chatter and grow it into academic conversation. Let’s turn these talkers into active listeners! I recognized on Tuesday that I am sharing a room with some very social 11 year-olds this year. Today, after a 60 second turn and talk responding to the prompt, “what do you know about a seed story or a watermelon story,” I was sure this was the right move.

One student raised his hand and said loudly (in a lunchroom voice), “Zachary suggested that a seed story was a story about one small thing that happened, but was really important.” He then turned and looked at Zachary for approval, who nodded, and added, “and I agree.” Next, I did 3 internal cartwheels and I calmly provided specific feedback about the way he used his partner’s name, and how actively he must have been listening to provide such a response, and smiled.

This was amazing positive reinforcement for me! And, this incredible moment was no accident… I know, because I’ve been carefully dissecting the moments leading up to what I now realize was (drum roll please) my most successful moment of the entire school year. Here’s what I found supported this amazing moment:

As I gave the turn and talk prompt, I told the students I would be paying close attention to how actively they would be listening to each other. I told them I would not be asking them to share out their own ideas, but instead a partner’s. I listed some sentence stems on the board as they talked like, “My partner______ said…” and “Talking with ___ changed my thinking  because ____…” and “_____ suggested.” I will continue to encourage the use of these sentence stems in my classroom as evidence of active listening during collaboration.

How will you harness the strengths your students arrived with this week? What amazing moment of teaching and learning happened in your classroom today… and what did you do to engineer it?

Looking Forward to Celebrating Successes Together,

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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

Respect & Rapport… starts with us!

What better way to develop an Environment of Respect and Rapport than by developing a 1:1 relationship with each student??Watch Rick connect with students about their reading during conferences. What does he do/ say that develops an environment of respect and rapport? What does Rick communicate to his students with his verbal and non-verbal language? I’ve seen similar successes with Experimental Design Conferences in a middle school science class as well as Think Tank conferences in a high school math class. In each instance, teachers demonstrated great respect for their students’ thinking by honoring scheduled time with everyone. How could you make something like this work in your context? What do you & your students stand to gain?

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Respect & Rapport… Naturally

I’ve been following the release of each week’s #yearatMH video clip since hearing Sam Chaltain speak at this year’s NTC Symposium. These clips are a prime example of the value of respectful relationships within, around and between members of a school community. If you haven’t watched one yet, make today the day. I believe these videos to be powerful on so many levels, not the least of which is shaping our expectations (& those of non-educators) of school culture. Share with a parent and watch how quickly they find themselves able to articulate what they want from their child’s school! Think too as you watch and listen, about what pieces of this experience you can bring into your classroom. What do you notice about the language of learning (both verbal and non verbal)? How do adults and students show respect for each other, the school and learning? Happy viewing! I hope this is your first if many visits to this site!!
~Alicia

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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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

 

 

Are we asking too much? Who’s getting Shortchanged?

What would parents think if they knew?

I find that the majority of first year teachers I support teach in multi-age, self-contained special education classrooms. Many of the challenges they face are unique to this setting and predictable to administrators and veteran teachers in the school. Many of these challenges are also driving potentially long term and high quality special educators out of these settings and into other positions.

There are two major issues of equity that I see as prohibiting these programs from being the vehicle by which students’ transition back into the general education setting is supported and encouraged.

Access to Curriculum

There are two issues within access to curriculum. First- teacher expertise. I have yet to see a school or district find a way to provide the same professional development opportunities to the classroom teacher with students in grades 5-8 in his room as provided to the sixth grade math and science teacher next door. By professional development, I mean more than just the once or twice yearly content and strategy workshops (although that would be a start). The sixth grade math and science teachers meet bi-weekly as a cohort to plan, develop common assessments, problem solve around student misconceptions and work together to design ways to skillfully differentiate instruction by scaffolding a challenging topic in next week’s lessons. Throughout their time together, these teachers reflect, build on experiences, analyze student work and support each other. The good news for the students in sixth grade general education math and science classes is that they will reap the benefits of their teachers’ work for years to come. The level of expertise of these educators continues to grow as they interact as a community of professionals. This is an excellent example of teachers leading their own professional development. They’ll likely pass along any materials they created to Tim, the self-contained special educator, and someone will probably stop in his room to recap the learning… but just like in a classroom where 21st Century Skills are paramount, the growth and development of the learners is a result of actively participating in the learning experience, not just accessing the paper and pencil product. All of these teachers have the best of intentions. Read More

Teachers on the front lines

Good Morning & Happy Halloween!
If you’re reading this, you have power somewhere… and that’s great news for you and your students. They are so lucky to have you today. I want to share a quick thought with you before your day goes into overdrive and you are lost in the responsibilities and assessments and deadlines of the noble profession we are all so lucky you joined.
Today is a different kind of day. Today you need to know your students more than other days. Today (mixed with the drama & excitement of October 31), you will have a student in your class who didn’t sleep last night because he was on Grandma’s couch, because his parents were pumping her basement. Some of your students haven’t showered or eaten a good meal in days and that’s precisely why their parents sent them to school. So, when Johnny tells you his backpack is in Auntie Sue’s car… today~ let’s assume it is. Today’s not the day for: “This was your last chance to get your homework in.” Today’s one of the many days that you will juggle curriculum, a schedule, your own evaluation and parent communication… and you will put it all aside to address your students’ basic needs… you will be balancing the art and science of teaching. You will put compassion first while giving your students the structure they crave… And you’ll pull it off with a smile!
Thank you for being in front of these students today. I’ve been thinking a lot about the horrible flood a few years back that took so many of my students’ homes. That was a difficult time- students moved for months. School, for so many, was the only stable part of life that year. I hope Sandy was kind to their families- they went through so much then. I’m relieved that the students who are struggling at this time have amazing teachers like you in front of them. The work you do is beyond important & I am thrilled that you have chosen to do it.

Station Teaching

Lately, many of the teachers I support have been expressing a desire to take risks with new and different teaching strategies. One strategy many teachers are investigating is station teaching. Over the next two weeks I will attempt to respond to their needs as best I can through group work sessions, classroom observations and modeling.

Here are some videos from Teaching Channel.com that provide examples!

Algebra Example             Geometry Example

Here are the documents we used in one workshop with high school math teachers:

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At the Application Station, teachers considered embedding authentic, real world situations into math tasks. Collaborating with the Physics teachers is on this group’s list of next steps.

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After setting a purpose for their work, these math teachers watched the videos linked to in this post looking for strategies they could use in their own classrooms.

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Here at the Manipulation Station, teachers investigated new math kits they will have access to in their classrooms. They focused on incorporating manipulatives into as many concepts as possible. The green tent card lets the facilitators know they are “going strong and need no assistance.” Some teachers plan to use the green, yellow and red tent cards during their stations to increase students’ independence.

  Signs for Stations           Station Descriptions & Planning Sheets

Norms to Post               Sample Rotation/ Map      10 Principles

Here are some great links to resources that may support your work:

Math Coaches Consortium       Dare to Differentiate    Mathematics Assessment Project

Why Beginning Teachers need Leadership Skills

One of the most recurring topics of conversation within the groups of beginning teachers I support is teacher assistants. Some of the most common concerns I hear include:

  • “I don’t know what to give Mrs. T.  to do. She is always ready for the next job and I can’t keep up.”
  • “She doesn’t think I should do it this way… Do you think she’s right?”
  • “He knows the kids and the program better than me. How can I possibly give him directions? I’ll just follow his lead.”
  • “I don’t know how to tell her that I don’t like the way she interacts with certain students.”
  • “The teacher assistants aren’t getting along with each other and I’m stuck in the middle.”

It’s no surprise that this can be one of the greatest stresses for beginning teachers. A beginning teacher is often the newest member of a classroom community. In many special education settings, students remain in the same classroom for more than one school year. This often means that even the students are a part of the community that the beginning teacher is joining. There may be routines and procedures previously established that everyone knows except for the teacher. Consider an awkward pause at a party, when you are the only one that didn’t understand the reference to an inside joke. For many beginning teachers, being faced with “that’s not what we did last year” and, “Mr. G. did it a different way” can be deflating at best.

Beginning teachers generally recognize the value of having another adult support in their classroom. They have subbed in classrooms where a teacher assistant was their savior. They have heard horror stories of classrooms that should have had a teacher assistant but did not… Mostly, beginning teachers are thrilled to have the luxury of a teacher assistant and want the relationship to work. The best way to make that happen, many think, is to be nice. And luckily, the beginning teacher is pretty sure that s/he is already nice… so this should really be a non issue.

Making it Work

It’s too bad that within their studies of Educational Psychology, Differentiated Instruction,  Methods of Teaching Science, Assessment Strategies and Mathematical Literacy, pre-service teachers don’t have a required field placement that focuses on management, collaboration and leadership. A semester analyzing the work of an inspiring manager whose employees always give their best effort and report feeling respected at work, would be quite a learning experience. I have yet to hear a beginning teacher tell me that s/he has such an experience… but I’m still asking and hoping! In the meantime, while I wait for the colleges to add this class for me, I do have some suggestions for teachers.

The National Association of Special Education Teachers has also provided some guidance on this subject in the articles: Communication Observation And Feedback, Intro to Working With Paraprofessionals In School, Team Building With Paraprofessionals, Paraprofessional and Supervision, Solving Performance and Interpersonal Problems & Related Services Paraprofessionals.

 

 

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