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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PD or Infomercial?

After hearing/ reading the unrelenting enthusiasm of my colleagues who have attended ‘edcamps’ and ‘unconferences,’ I determined I needed to experience this phenomenon for myself. Could it really be that everyone who attended these events got exactly what they wanted and more? People who had experienced unconference-style events reported feeling professionally satisfied, respected and invigorated.
My attitude is generally pretty ‘glass-half-full…’ maybe even mostly full. This however, seemed too good to be true. I’ve watched enough late night infomercials to know that when something sounds like a win-win, and costs only 4 easy payments of $49.95 (a much better deal than $200)- your best move is to change the channel.
products as seen on tv
I’ve tested that theory a few times just to be sure, and my juicer, food dehydrator and wavy hair-maker all insist- my theory is correct (too good to be true). In the name of research however, I thought I should look a little more deeply into this idea of no-cost, participant led, free-learning that everyone was raving about.
My research told me that the closest edcamp event to me wasn’t until August, so I needed to get creative if I was going to get to the bottom of all this hype.
I decided my colleagues’ constant quest for knowledge, might provide an opportunity to bring the research specimen directly to me! Some of my (amazing) colleagues had been exposed to a variety of tech tools while coaching around the state this year- and their interest was peaked. “I just need time to sit and let someone show me this without pressure,” said one coach as she was getting to know Drop Box. Another asked again, “Can’t we just put some time aside so that the people who are using Twitter can help the rest of us get started? They’re learning so much!” The teacher in me heard: “I am ready- teach me now!” The conspiracy theorist in me wondered, “did someone pay them to ask that? Are they like the live studio audience at the taping of an infomercial?” Nevertheless, my wheels were turning!
The teacher in me won out. I networked with two other coaches to explore how we might utilize an unconference style format to meet the very diverse learning interests of our colleagues. We took our cues from David Wees, who has posted valuable details about Edcamp Vancouver, and linked to Kristen Swanson’s TED talk about organizing Edcamp Philly.

Shawn Rubin, who organizes EdCampRI (which is coming up in October-yes!!), was also key in supporting the event by sharing his insight and reflections, as we found ourselves looking for answers. It’s so helpful to talk to someone who has done something before, pick their brain about the logistics you just don’t read about in an article or blog post, and breathe a sigh of relief, realizing it’ll all work out. And it did!
Our unconference was small- about 35 participants in all. But, it yielded some serious learning. You can see pictures and comments Tweeted that day on our Storify.
Upon reflection, it seems like those educators who told me how great their experiences at unconferences were telling the truth… I guess they weren’t paid actors, like I suspect everyone in the studio audience of an infomercial is. I shouldn’t be surprised. Educators are dying to learn new strategies to engage students and families… on their own terms! Engagement at the unconference was high- really high. At one point, we tried to interrupt learning to transition to the next session… and it just didn’t happen. No one wanted to stop their learning conversation for a minute. For me- that was the highlight of the day! My brain was fried when the day was over. I learned SO much. And, I’ve been playing with the new tools and tricks I picked up that day…a lot.

Brain map
Unfortunately, not everyone who wanted to attend was able. In fact, a few people who we really wanted to share this experience with, couldn’t make it on June 26- which was kind of a bummer. Then, though people started asking, “when’s the next one?” which led us to wonder if there might be a next one. Maybe my research isn’t done yet. Maybe June 26th is a little like the first month I had my juicer, before it was relegated to the way back of the cabinet to collect dust. I should probably experience more unconferences before I draw any conclusions. And maybe, I should dust off that juicer in the meantime.
Juicers

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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Improving Questioning & Discussion Techniques- 1 week Challenge

Let’s think about where we are starting! If you missed the rubrics I posted yesterday, you may want to check them out.

Level 1: Questions are rapid-fire,and convergent,with single correct answers. All discussion is between teacher and students; students are not invited to speak directly to one another. -> Level 2: The teacher frames some questions designed to promote student thinking, but only a few students are involved. The teacher invites students to respond directly to one another’s ideas, but few students respond. -> Level 3: The teacher uses open-ended questions, inviting students to think and/or have multiple possible answers. Discussions enable students to talk to one another, without ongoing mediation by the teacher.-> Level 4: Students initiate higher-order questions. Students extend the discussion, enriching it. Students invite comments from their classmates during a discussion.
With these descriptors in mind, which level would you say best describes your daily teaching experiences?
Next, consider the difference between your current level and the next level? What is described in the next level that is not in your current level? Knowing this will help you set a goal to make purposeful, explicit change that is directly connected to these indicators.
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