Thursday, September 29, 2011

Charts & Challenges

Last week was the second full week of school and I was feeling pretty pleased with how well things were going. We had created "I" Charts (I for Independent) for 3 of the Daily 5 literacy tasks, practiced them and had built up from 3 to 6 minutes of stamina for Read to Self time.

For the most part, students were beginning to follow the routines and procedures we had made together. Below are the rough drafts that were made with my students. I always have a vision of what these Procedure Charts should contain and always re-create them every year with my new students. I've found the process of having students help develop these charts results in a stronger learning community and greater student buy-in. They never cease to amaze me with what they come up with! The rough drafts stay up for a couple of days in case they need to be modified or edited. I then make a permanent copy of each one. Charts are together on a book ring and hang in a prominent place.

Procedure Chart rough draft examples from this year

Despite all of this, something happened. . . not sure what or why, but we had a major set-back--down to only 2 minutes of Read to Self. After 2 days of re-teaching, more teacher and student demonstrations and practice, we were still having problems.
Final draft from last year

Time to dig deeper and have students define what Read to Self time would look and sound like under certain conditions; so together we made a rubric and created a "Read to Self Time-O-Meter" to monitor how they were doing with building stamina. So far, it seems to have done the trick--8 minutes today! And, should we have a set-back at any point during the year, we'll use the Classroom Meeting format for problem solving.

 The cute Time-O-Meter to monitor stamina came from Nicole Scott's awesome blog,  Flipping For First Grade and Pinterest. This visual has really helped---my students are so proud of their progress toward their goal of 15 minutes!
Read to Self Rubric--We used the I Chart above for the far left column and students brainstormed ideas for the other 2 columns!
 These are a couple of other "Challenges" we are monitoring daily for quality by timing, recording and posting data. These ideas came from the Langford Quality Learning seminar my district sponsored a while back.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back To School!

New garden path
Our "Barbie & G I Joe" kayaks
In less than two weeks I'll be greeting my new 1st Graders for their first day of school! It's had to believe that the summer passed by so quickly. The summer was filled with lots of fun, work on projects around my home, some travel and, of course, new learning for me.

Where to start??

I'm working very hard to get my mind back into the 'school mode'. I'm thinking about the usual things like how to arrange my classroom, how to  establish a learning community and what to do during the first days. I'm also reflecting on how to apply my new learning from Cognitive CoachingSM Foundations I & II.  So far, I've completed days 1-6 and am already looking forward to days 7 & 8 in September and Group Cognitive Coaching in October. Each interaction with students, colleagues, parents and friends will be an opportunity to practice my new skills!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Competing with the Carnival

The teacher, when she begins work in our school, must have a kind of faith that the child will reveal himself through work. ~Maria Montessori

How do we keep 1st graders engaged in learning despite the arrival of the dreaded (but much loved by children) Fruitport Old Fashioned Days Memorial Day carnival? That's the dilemma we face at the end of every school year. Not only does the carnival set up in the center of town, nearly every bus going to or from our school drives by it twice a day!

This year I decided to do something a bit different. We built
our own "Roxaboxen" in our classroom. First, we read Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran. Then we discussed what materials we would need. Students brought in some cardboard boxes--one even brought in a huge appliance box! Measurement and telling time were math concepts specifically incorporated into the project. However, it has become truly integrated across the curriculum--and a project that evolved in an amazing way! As we were planning what shops or buildings to include, I realized mapping skills and expanded vocabulary could be included. The students incorporated money and economic concepts naturally. We googled 'Roxaboxen' and found that there is a park in Yuma, Arizona dedicated to the original Roxaboxen and we took a "trip" to Yuma, Arizona via Google Earth.
Codi's Pet Shop--Open 24 hours!

Jamie's Train Station
Brody & Brady's 'Hunting Shack'

The room was quite loud, but everyone was completely engaged, from Ryan the banker who was "making money" and using existing student mailboxes for "accounts", to others who were busy measuring and cutting white paper to make "stones" to be used to delineate boundaries. As I looked around, I saw 6 and 7 year old students collaborating as they were creating Jamie's train station, Madyson's Beauty Salon, Brody's Hunting Shack, the Martin & Evans vehicle race track, Codi's Pet Shop, Miss Ead's School of Dance, Miss Louetta's Coffee Shop, Allen's Sporting Goods Store, and Timothy's Weather Station. The Day Care closed before it even opened "because there weren't enough kids" and Amy's Artist Studio took its place. Hand written signs were everywhere: 'Open' and 'Closed', store names, and direction signs complete with directional arrows.

Miss Ead's Dance School
Banker's Hours??

One of the best moments? When the banker realized that other kids were making their own money, he commented, "Hey, that's not fair! Only the money made by this bank can be spent in our Roxaboxen!" Which then led to a lively discussion about counterfeit money and the FBI.

It was clear this project was loosing its power to engage students when "For Rent" signs went up on Wednesday. So, yesterday was "Demolition Day." I'm confident my students were fully engaged and learned so much more than I'll ever know---or could ever be measured on a standardized test.
Supposing I said there was a planet without schools or teachers, where study was unknown, and yet the inhabitants—doing nothing but living and walking about—came to know all things, to carry in their minds the whole of learning; would you not think I was romancing? Well, just this, which seems so fanciful as to be nothing but the invention of a fertile imagination, is a reality. It is the child's way of learning. This is the path he follows. He learns everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so he passes little by little from the unconscious to the conscious, treading always in the paths of joy and love. ~Dr. Maria Montessori, MD

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Professional Portfolio

UPDATED 4-19-14:  The pages that were created for this portfolio have been combined in their entirety into a one page archive, "Professional Portfolio Archive"

Today, I publish and present my Professional Portfolio. This portfolio was developed in conjunction with my internship experience for EDL 770, for my Educational Specialist program at Grand Valley State University. My goal was to create this portfolio in a completely digital format. You can link to my documents and presentations housed in Google Docs and on YouTube. This portfolio will continue to be updated to reflect new experiences and valuable resources as they are discovered. The portfolio components are contained within the tabs beginning with About Me through Policy that you see above. The home tab will remain my blog posting page.

I already have list of resources I want to add!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Eye of the Beholder

Sandhill Cranes a few miles from my home
Not everyone gets as excited as I do in March and April when Sandhill Cranes and loons are migrating though West Michigan on their way north to their summer breeding grounds. For the past 20 years, at least one loon has stopped by for a week or so on Pettys Bayou near my home. A few days ago, my husband spotted a sizable flock of migrating Sandhill Cranes in a corn field nearby. I think they are beautiful birds and I'm fascinated by their prehistoric-sounding call. And, again, not everyone agrees with me.

You can't see the birds in the video below, but about halfway through, you can hear their call.

This got me thinking about the  "good teacher"/"bad teacher" discussions surrounding education reform. In particular, about the following quote: "Everyone knows a bad teacher." Each time I read it, I wonder, what exactly is a "bad teacher?"

The characteristics that define a "good teacher" or "bad teacher" are as subjective as those that define a "beautiful bird." However, I suspect that both definitions are in the eye of the beholder.

How do you define a "good teacher"? "bad teacher?"

4-3-11 Update: When You Have a Problem with a Mediocre Teacher . . . Hat tip to Terie Engelbrecht @mrsebiology -- Thank you!

The above article breaks down difficulties with problem teachers into three categories: committing an immoral act, insubordination, and incompetence. It makes sense to me as an educator. However, there seems to be a significant difference in how the general public makes these distinctions.

In today's local news, a high school teacher was arrested for an immoral act and placed on unpaid leave, yet a number of the comments from the public indicate some feel this doesn't make him a "bad teacher."

In another situation, a very competent teacher was considered a "bad teacher" by parents because the teacher held a student--their child--accountable for unacceptable behavior.

I don't have answers to this, but the disconnect is frustrating.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oh Look! Shiny!

Oh Look!  Shiny!

I attended MACUL (Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning) annual conference, March 17 & 18 with Fruitport Community School’s Technology Team. We are in the midst of a district wide technology adoption that includes ‘smart carts’ for every classroom. There are five of us piloting a cart with different components in each of our five buildings.

While attending one of Leslie Fisher’s sessions, she talked about how easy it is to get lost in what you’re doing when working with technology on the web.  I think she called it AD-LS—attention deficit—Oh LOOK! SHINY! And, before you know it, you’ve navigated away from the page you were working on and are off looking at the next “shiny” site on the web.  I experience that routinely, so what a relief that I’m not alone!

Now that I’ve returned home, and am trying to synthesize my MACUL experience, it’s been one “Oh Look! Shiny” episode after another. For now, I’m going to post a rough list of the sessions I attended along with links to their websites.

Adam Garry
Link to other speaker handouts

Here’s the outcome of one of those Look Shiny! Moments--Simpsonized an Avatar for myself! And, I created a Wordle from text in this post (above).
Kathy's Simpsonized Avatar

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Teens With an Ax to Grind

In the spring of 2005, when my youngest son A.J. took our state’s high-stakes standardized test, the MEAP, (now the MME) he had an ax to grind. Unfortunately, no one really knew how angry he was until after he took the exam. I received a call from the principal requesting a meeting. It seems that my son had chosen to draw a very large and detailed fist with an extended middle finger where his science graph should have been. And, he chose to bubble in his multiple-choice answer sheet with “AC/DC” and “ABBA”, as well. The principal was quite distressed since my son’s unconventional test responses would most definitely effect the school’s test results and would reflect poorly on the district. So, why would he do this? It turned out that A.J. was upset about one of his teacher’s policies that he had tried unsuccessfully to address with the teacher and administration. Feeling he had not been heard, he took his revenge. I had assumed A.J.’s stunt was an isolated incident—until yesterday.
Fast-forward to March 9, 2011. A colleague who supervises pre-service teachers for a nearby university shared a disturbing conversation he overheard while he was visiting a high school classroom that morning.

At the beginning of the class, he was sitting near a group of four young ladies. As Juniors, they had just taken the Michigan Merit Exam (MME) and ACT last week. One of the other adults in the room asked these girls how the testing had gone. One said, “they’re so stupid, I paid attention for the first couple of pages, then I just started bubbling in randomly.” A second girl said, “Yeah, I couldn’t take it seriously, I don’t want (our school) to do well.” One of the other girls responded, “Yeah, if this was for us and they were still giving out the scholarships, I would have taken it seriously.”

What’s particularly interesting to me is that while A.J. decided to take his frustration out on the science exam, it was a foreign language teacher’s policy he was protesting. In addition, the comment above “I don’t want (our school) to do well,” didn’t target a particular teacher or subject area, but apparently the school in general.  

The standardized test movement is based on the assumption that students are actually going to take the test seriously, that the test will measure achievement and will measure teacher effectiveness. Neither A.J.’s performance on the science MEAP, nor that of the girls mentioned above meets those assumptions. This has me wondering, and it raises questions that I believe need to be addressed.

·      Is there any research about whether or not students actually take high-stakes standardized tests seriously?

·      How many teens out there have an ax to grind with the adults in their lives, particularly with their teachers and their schools?

·      How many angry teens would it take for testing results to be corrupted for a given school district?

·      How often does this happen?

·      Do students understand their teachers and school are being held accountable for how well they do on these exams?

Perhaps some understand it only too well. It’s entirely within a teen’s nature to subvert the adults and authorities in their lives. Why would anyone think it’s a good idea to put teacher’s careers and the viability of a school district in their hands?

ClipArt Courtesy FCIT

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Let the Learning Begin!

Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear, Washinton, D.C. 10-30-10
Empowered. That’s how I felt at the Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear in Washington, D. C. back in October, 2010. That feeling was there again while attending the Kent Intermediate School District’s (KISD) Literacy Coaches Network (LCN) last Monday. Spending the entire day with an incredible community of professional learners is a special treat for me and I left feeling hopeful and empowered.

The theme for the afternoon session was "empowerment". As we ended our day, we watched Chimamanda Adichie’s TEDTalk “The Danger of One Story”. She describes the critical unintended consequences when only one story is told, including rigid stereotyping. Unfortunately, we are all vulnerable when it comes to only knowing one story about others. However, when we understand that we all have more than one story, we are empowered to make a difference. After some discussion, the facilitators posed three questions:

When do you feel empowered?
What do you do to empower yourself?
How might you empower others?

As I reflected on the first question, the answer came quite quickly. In fact, I wondered if it was too obvious: I feel empowered when I’m part of a learning community and I have a voice that’s heard and valued. To be heard and valued doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with me, or adopts my point of view, although that would be nice, but not realistic! It’s when others truly listen and validate that I have something worth sharing that I feel stronger and more confident.

The second question, “How do you empower yourself?” was certainly serendipitous! Lately, with the negative national narrative surrounding U. S. public education in general, and teachers in particular, I’ve become increasingly frustrated. This narrative, started and promoted by corporations and billionaires, exemplifies “ The Danger of One Story.”  The risk of not knowing how to empower one’s self is to become a victim. I refuse to be a victim. So a couple of weeks ago, I turned to Twitter and blogging. Though this action may seem small, maybe even inconsequential, I feel liberated and more confident. I’m now connected to a Professional Learning Network that’s global. I have a voice and am taking action. Perhaps it will lead me to discover new ways to empower myself (and others).

As I think about the third question, “How might you empower others?” I’ve been reflecting on why I joined the LCN in the first place. After being trained as a Teacher Leader during the 2004-2005 school year, I had additional duties coaching teachers in my building for three years. That experience was empowering not only for those I coached, but also for me. In 2008, coaching was eliminated in my district for a variety of reasons, and I found myself really missing the interactions and community from that experience. So, I began working on an Education Specialist (Ed. S.) in Educational Leadership at Grand Valley State University. During one of my final classes this past fall (Data Based Decision Making) I learned that KISD was forming a LCN Beginning Cohort. I jumped at the opportunity to join this network.

Empowering others comes from listening and valuing their story. Providing positive encouragement to find their own voice helps to build agency and capacity, which in turn leads to empowerment. I shared with the LCN group (and several individuals) how these two social media tools have helped me find my voice and feel empowered. I hope the enthusiasm and passion that have come as a result were conveyed and will inspire others.

So, now I’m thinking empowerment is reciprocal. The synergy created by being in a learning community is life giving and empowering, both for the self and for the other. No longer is there just one story, but many intertwined stories.

“You’ve got to do and be the message you preach and ‘walk the walk’.”  Kelly S.

“Being willing to try something together, and not being afraid to fail.”  Susie M.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hello World!

Well, if I'm going to Tweet, I've decided I might as well jump in with both feet and blog as well! After watching with fascination the events in Tunisia and Egypt during the past couple of weeks, I have new understanding of the power of social media, Twitter in particular.

Two weeks ago, I attended the Conversations Among Colleagues/Math in Action conference at Grand Valley State University, as both a presenter and attendee.  I was a bit late for the Keynote speaker, and didn't realize there had been a change in the schedule.  That change turned out to be serendipitous for me. Dr. Zalman Usiskin, from the University of Chicago was talking about the new Common Core State Standards as they relate to mathematics.  His talk motivated me to begin taking a more active role in speaking out about issues in education.  As I contemplated just how to do this, Tunisia and Egypt came to mind.  I decided to turn to Twitter as a way to connect with others in education and have a voice myself.

Since beginning to tweet, I have been able to link to a wide variety of blogs that have inspired me to begin my own.  I hope to blog at least once a week about a variety of education issues, and at the very least, this blog will help to make my thinking visible and serve as a record of my journey.