Write Solutions

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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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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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.

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