Tuesday, October 28, 2014

4 Things I Would Like to See at My Parent - Teacher Conference

1.  Show me you know what my child is passionate about

Every student who comes to school is passionate about something.  It could be a TV Show, a video game, a sport, music, dance etc.  For my six year-old son it is Star Wars.  I'm not sure exactly when this happened but he has bought in fully to the power of the force.  He is putting together lego Star Wars, is dressing up as Luke Skywalker for Halloween, and has checked out every book possible at our library on Star Wars.  When he wakes up in the morning the first thing he does is grab a Star Wars book, look at the pictures, and begin to decipher the words that go along with them.  He has spent countless hours trying read these books on his own.  My son doesn't see reading these books as work, or an assignment, he sees them as a way to uncover the secrets about what happened ... long, long ago ... in a galaxy far, far way.  As educators we need to understand every student has a passion like this.  They have something they are so excited about they don't see it as work.  It is our job as educators to identify this passion so we can connect with our students, to show them we care about them as people.  Identifying this passion will also allow us to relate school work to them in a way they can understand, and see the importance of.   

2.  Show me you know what his strengths are

Every student has talent.  Every student is amazing before they walk through the doors of school and then somehow we lose sight of some these talents the further students go in their academic journey because they aren't reading, writing or math.  This takes some work as a teacher to identify strengths in every student.  It might require you to go to recess and watch him/her play, watch the way they interact with others, or ask them about their weekend and what they did.  For my son I know at home he works hard, is kind to others, and has a love learning.  And just like any other parent I hope to hear he has some of these same strengths at school, that they don't stop when he enters the classroom. 

3.  Show me how you think he can improve

This one can be difficult because every parent, myself included, thinks their children are the most exceptional people in the world.  Sometimes teachers fall into the trap of merely explaining what skills a student is weak in, we can do better.  At conferences bring student work to show parents what their child's current level of performance is.  It also helps to bring other student work (with the names removed) to show what a typical student is doing.  It is difficult to understand what a teacher means when they say things like, "your child's writing needs to improve" or "inferencing is a skill he needs to work at."  SHOW me through student work how you believe the student needs to improve.  This way when I discuss these issues with my son we can speak the same language.  I can say, "Remember that assignment you were working on..." and we can begin to have a conversation because I understand the types of assignments that take place in the classroom.

4.  Work with me to develop a plan

By the end of the meeting parents should have a plan of action moving forward.  As a parent I want to know what I should do more of, continue to do, or do less of when it comes to my son.  Should we be spending more time reading?  Should we alter the place he does his homework?  Do we need adjust his pencil grip and check back in a few weeks?  As a parent I need a plan of action to work as a partner with the teacher, something that works for the both of us, not just the teacher or just the parent.  Like most families, my wife and I both work but we will find the time to do whatever is necessary to help our son.  All I ask is that we develop the plan together, as partners. 

These are the four things I would like to see at my Parent - Teacher conference.  Please leave a comment below, I would love to hear what you are hoping to see. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Do more...Continue to...Do less...

One of the most important aspects in education is developing a growth mindset.  This doesn't mean taking what you have done in the past and throwing it away for some new idea that is now suddenly in-vogue.  For me, having a growth mindset means reflecting on what you have done in the past and designing a way you can improve on past performance for the benefit of students.  So here is my list of Do more of...Continue to...Do Less of...

Do More...

Put it in Writing

This year I tried to meet with grade level teams as often as I could.  These meeting helped to gain a collective vision on writing samples, disseminate school information, develop helpful teaching strategies, listen to concerns of teachers and much more.  I tried to keep these meetings as informal as possible so teachers felt comfortable bringing up concerns or issues they might have.  As the year went on there would be occasions where grade levels would have a different interpretation of what I was saying.  This may have come from different people interpreting information in different ways, or I wasn't as clear in one meeting versus another.  This coming year I will do my best to create a paper and digital agenda for teachers to access to ensure everyone is on the 'same page' throughout the year.

Push Send

I just looked at my blogger and I have 10 blog posts stuck in 'draft'.  I wanted to come back to them and add quotes, pictures, more details etc., but never got back to these posts.  This upcoming year I will push publish and not worry as much about the details of my posts as much as sharing the learning and ideas in our school.  As much as I tell others to not allow perfect to be the enemy of great, it is clear that in this case I fell victim to that very phrase.  I just need to push publish.  Thanks Jon Harper for being an ongoing inspiration.

Highlight the Great

There are so many amazing things going on in my school!  Everyday I am amazed at the talented teachers we have who to deliver instruction in such a unique and meaningful way to their students, and I am blown away by the ideas students have to solve problems and improve their skills.  Many of these students have a schedule that is jam-packed from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep, and are still able to perform wonders both in and out of the classroom.  This year we are going to have an assembly once a month, Byram Highlight, to acknowledge their greatness.  Thanks Jimmy Cassas for showing me, we should never apologize for acknowledging greatness.

Continue to...

Visit Classrooms

In order to know more about the great things taking place at my school, and even somethings that might need to change, I need to spend more time in classrooms.  Last year I felt I did a decent job of doing this, but my goal is for my default position to be, 'In a Classroom'.  Instead of people feeling they need to find me in the office, I hope they search classrooms or the halls for me.  Thanks Patrick Larkin.

Make Positive Phone-Calls Home

Last year I called a great deal of parents to share with them something amazing their son or daughter had done at our school.  This year I have created a spread sheet with every student listed and I am crossing students off one by one every time I am able to place a positive phone call home.  My goal is to reach EVERY student in the school by the end of the year.  These students show up for 180 days of school and I don't think it is too much to ask each of them to get just one phone call from me. Thanks Tony Sinanis for this idea!

Do Less...

Allow my Schedule to be Interrupted

The clock is what runs the day of a school, it is all powerful and waits for no one.   Too often I would allow meetings to run past their allotted time, and tell others I had time to meet with them when I already had scheduled another event like a classroom observation, a walk about, or just visiting classrooms.  Of course there are always going to be emergencies and I know I cannot control when/where they pop up.  But I need to do a better job os saying things like, "I would love to meet with you could you please schedule an appointment" so I can keep myself and our school on schedule.

Be in my office

The amazing thing with laptops is they work anywhere.  I am going to try and answer emails, type reports, and other office-work outside of my office and in the halls of our school.  I'm not sure if I need a mobile desk, or one I could use while standing (that would be awesome) but I am going to start this week.

Be the Focus of Faculty Meetings

Too many times last year I stood in front of the faculty and spoke.  It doesn't matter what they subject is I need to have our staff doing more at our faculty meetings.  My short list is for teachers to:

  • Be the deliverers of information
  • Work in cooperative groups 
  • Create lessons to improve their craft
  • Collaborate and discuss with colleagues

So this is my list, and I'll work hard to try and stick to it.   I know there are many other ways I can improve, but for now this is what I'm going to focus on.  What is one thing you would Do more...Continue to do...Do less...?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Twitter in 5th Grade

I was reading through blogs that focused in on 'A Year in Review' from teachers who I respect greatly like @TechNinjaTodd, @pernillerippp, @DeliaBush and many more.  One thing they all had in common was how valuable Twitter had become to them, as a professional development tool.  I remember thinking it would be great to expose my students to something like this, however my students are only 10 years old, and I do not believe they are ready for the world of Twitter.  

When I returned to school this week my co-teacher, Dani Marangon, had a brilliant idea.  She said we should create an area outside the class where the students can post what they have learned and we can call it our class Twitter Feed.  I instantly liked it and though it would be a 'cool' idea to have serve as an exit ticket.  These were the steps we took:

1) Laminated sentence strips so the students could use dry erase markers to update their status, erase and create a new learning update.  

2) On each sentence strip we wrote with a black sharpie the students first name, last initial with an '@' to make them feel like they are part of Twitter.

3)Created a large Twitter Sign using Block Posters.  We copied and pasted images from Twitter and then printed them out over 4 pages. W taped them together, laminated and posted up on the wall.

4) After our Social Studies class we had each student post one thing they learned from class.

As I was reading through the posts I became a little disappointed.  Many of the students were just writing facts that you could look up on Google.  Things like, "Spices, silk, and customs made their way from China to Italy along the Silk Road."  It was a true statement, but it involved no higher level thinking.  

So as we started the next lesson I made sure I 'Favorited' a few posts that showed higher level thinking and then spent the next hour showing the students how to create a new idea that raises their level of thinking.  The students were asked to pull out four important facts from one section of reading and then use those four facts to develop a 'New Idea' based on what they learned.

As I was walking around the room assisting students I could see they were grappling with what they had to do.  The could identify key points easily.  But connecting ideas from different sections of the chapter to form a new idea that wasn't even in the text was difficult.  I was so happy.  They were struggling, grappling, learning, and persevering.  After about 45 minutes we had over half the class developing ideas and sharing them with people in their groups.  By the end of class everyone was able to produce a profound learning statement even if they did have help from others.  

With the Common Core emphasizing the importance of non-fiction I was so proud of what my students had produced.  They showed they could dive deep into a text, pull out was important, and re-arrange it to say something valuable and new.  I now feel as though I have a tremendous tool to teach a portion of non-fiction reading that I did not before.  It all started with an idea from my co-teacher, Dani Marangon, who brought this brilliant idea for how to bring #Twitter to 5th Grade.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Great Math Tool

Original Post 3/31/14

Ten Marks is a website that allows you to register your whole math class and assign work based on Core Curriculum Content State Standards.  For example I registered my entire math class, aligned with CCSS and each student was given a log-in name and password free.  Once the students are registered the teacher can pick a standard for each student, a small group of students, or the whole class to work on.  I envision giving the whole class the same assignments at first, but once I can see common deficiency areas I envision giving differentiated assignments   The website offers the students both hints as well as videos to help them through problems they are struggling with.  It records their responses and if the students earn enough points they earn a certificate or award that allows them game time.  Now if there were only a web-site like this for reading....

Seven Steps to Increase Student Responsibility and Parent Involvement

Original Post 4/14/13

Learning happens best when the student, teacher, and parent all play important roles in education.  Too often however it seems as though the teacher is playing a role that is too dominant in this process.  Teachers aren't sure how to engage parents more, parents aren't exactly sure what is happening in the classroom, and students don't have enough of a voice in their own learning.  This is my seven step plan to involve parents to so they have the opportunity to be a partner in the learning process and provide students with more of a voice in their own education.

Head Start Day
Students and parents are invited in to meet the teacher and see the classroom a few days before school starts.  Not every student will be able to attend, but the information will be sent to all via email, snail-mail, etc.  This meeting will be a little like an open house or back to school night, but it will involve both parents and students.  They will be invited into the classroom to hear about how the class will run, gather important information, take home books for the students to begin previewing.  In my class I am planning on providing students and parents with all the math assignments for the year.  As soon as the students go home they can begin learning. (see flipped learning for more information) If you are an administrator, would you consider having this Head Start Day as part of one of the in-service days teachers have before the students report to school?

Back to School Dinner
This was an idea @Joe_Mazza floated on Twitter and I loved it.  Since we have already had our first meeting, this will serve as a check in and problem solving session.  Students will not be in attendance in case the teacher or parent wanted to discuss a difficult situation involving the student.  Before Back to School Night I will send home information that I would like us to all sit down for dinner at Back to School Night.  I will be making a dish, with the help of my wife, and asking if anyone else would like to bring something as well.  We will keep track of it all using a Google Doc for parents to check in on so we don't have 6 families bringing brownies...although that doesn't sound too bad.  As we sit and eat I plan on having discussion topics posted on the SMART Board which are related to the subjects the students are learning about in school.  If your Back to School Night is an hour, think about how you could divide up that time between subjects.  For example, 20 minutes for Math, 20 for Language Arts, 20 for Science and Social Studies.  The parents would have each other to talk to and use as  resources.  The teacher would rotate from group to group answering questions.  These questions would be much more personal and the hope is that a sense of trust is built not only between the teacher and the parents, but among the the parents themselves.  Often times parents are better at solving problems at home than a teacher is, they walk the walk every day.

Student Led Conferences
Conferences are now approaching and usually the students are not present.  The teacher and parents sit down and discuss the performance of someone who is not even there.  Can you imagine your boss and your mom sitting down talking about your performance at work and you were not allowed to be there?

Student led conferences or SLC's allow the students to not only attend these meetings but have a voice.  With the help of the teacher, the student defines their strengths and weaknesses, sets SMART goals for themselves, and explains their plan for achieving their goals.  The parent is there to ask questions to the student about their presentation, but the student is the one presenting.  This provides the students with a remarkable sense of responsibility over their learning and will increase their initiative greatly.   This will allow the parents to have a touchstone throughout the year, "Remember when you said you wanted to be able to do X, and Y by the end of the year?  How is that going?"

Barbara Fidler and Jason Krieger from Central Junior High, in Euless, Texas, created this document to help me get started with my planning.

Standards Based Grading
I am guilty, guilty, guilty of mixing behaviors and performances on  report cards, and they really shouldn't be.  In the past I have counted completing homework as 20% of a grade, quizzes 20%, tests 50% and participation 10%.  How does completing homework equal mastery or understanding of a concept?  So if a student has all their homework done, and participates regularly, but has a 69 test and quiz average they will wind up with a 78, or a C+.  Students aren't really sure of what they know and dont' know, parents aren't really demanding their students improve because they were close to a B after all, and a teacher doesn't feel as though anything drastic has to be done, after all a C is average right?

With Standards Based Grading or SBG teachers would identify and grade the students on their ability to master a standard.  Their behaviors would and should be graded in a different section of the progress report or report card.  Often times behaviors are the reasons why students are not having the success they should be having and the behaviors need to be documented. This will show students  hard work really does pay off.

Flipped Math Instruction
1+ Year
There is too much to discuss when it comes to how to flip your classroom.  If you need some background information you can visit Jon Bergman's Blog, where I wrote a guest post, or see what my colleagues Todd Nesloney, or Delia Bush do in their flipped classroom.  One of the largest benefits as an elementary teacher to flipping one subject, is that parents  can see exactly how a lesson was taught.  A video is posted online and when a student becomes stuck and wants help, the parent can quickly click on the video to gain a sense of understanding to help their student.

It also allows for students to be self paced.  If a student masters a concept, why should he or she be held back with other students who need more time?  In a flipped classroom, if a student demonstrates mastery they are allowed to fly ahead.  I have tried this before in 5th grade and did not have the greatest success because I did not institute a floor.  In math instruction especially you cannot allow students to spend weeks, or months learning one new skill.  At some point they need to move on.  Now that I have the floor intact I have a feeling many in my class will fly.  You can read more about this self-paced plan here.

Window into the Classroom
1 Year
With all the social media today many teachers have found a way to document the learning as it takes place in the classroom.  Teachers are using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flckr, and many more platforms to provide parents with a window into the classroom.  Parents need to see how learning takes place in the classroom, so they are able to continue the conversation at home.  If a parents asks, "What did you do in school today?" The students give very little in response.  But if a parents asks, "I saw you were working on in science today, can you tell me about it?"  The student will talk about it much more about their day.  It provides students with a much better chance to reflect on their own learning.   We created a private Twitter account where I take 3-4 pictures a day, and a picture of the homework board. Parents have been so appreciative to have this opportunity in my class this year.

Innovation Day
Scheduled June 12, 2013
This idea I got from Josh Stumpenhorts (@stumpteacher), Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp), and Karl Fisch, (@KLS471).   The students are given a whole day to learn about one thing they are passionate about.  From the moment students enter school they are at the center of their own learning.  Students have written songs, learned about lift and created a plane, and even created to scale models of the Sears Tower.  I'm really excited about this idea and can't wait to get started.  You can read Josh's blog about his day here.

By implementing these seven ideas we will begin tearing down the walls that separate the students, teachers, and parents.  We will have a more transparent classroom and learning environment, connecting three major players in a student's education.

Students in the Driver's Seat of a Data Driven Classroom

Original Post 4/24/14

It has been a goal of mine this year to make our classroom more student-centered.  After students complete an assignment we often have a reflective piece called Two Stars and a Wish.  This requires the students to identify two things they did well and one thing they wish they did differently.  The students are great at this now, and reflect often on their own work and the work of their peers.

However, students rarely get to work with data.  Now that so many schools are become data-driven, shouldn't we allow students to have a part in this?  Since it is their data, and they are the drivers, I couldn't believe I had not done this before.  In our class once a week the students answer multiple choice reading comprehension questions and answer one short constructed response or SCR.  As a class we took these two specific assessment pieces and turned a Friday into Data-Day.   Here is how we did it.

Step 1:  Placing Student Work in Chronological Order

Students pulled out a year's worth of work, and placed it in chronological order.  This took longer than expected.  Even though all students were required to keep their work samples in a certain folder, some assignments were missing.  Part of the reason for this is some students did not complete assignments, forgot to hand them in, or students simply lost their work.  
20 Min

Step 2:  Students Record Data

We wanted to incorporate some math skills in this lesson.  Students were responsible for turning all their fraction scores into percents.  For example if they received an 18/20 they turned into 90%.  As the students worked out these problems some of the students said, "So this is how you get a grade."  Students then recorded this information onto one table.
20 Min

Step 3:  MS Excel

With a partner students entered their scores in MS Excel.  They then created a line graph based on that data and printed them out.  We worked with partners, because for 5th graders it is sometimes difficult to remember all the steps need to create a line graph in MS Excel, and when they have a partner students can work together to problems solve.
40 Min

Step 4:  Data Analysis

This was the most important part and not everyone was able to get to this step on Friday.  Once students printed out their graphs, they had to come up with five questions about their data.  At first students wanted to create questions like, "What was my high score? What was the range?  What was my average?"  While I was very happy to see them using math vocabulary words when forming their questions, they were a little off the mark in terms of why we were doing this activity.  We then worked together to create questions that could not be answered by using just the graph they created.  Examples like, "Why did I do so well on March 11?  Why did my score decrease from October to November?" were some examples of the great reflective questions the students created.  
20 Min

Step 5:  Student Responses

Students were given a week to analyze their work samples and to answer the reflective questions they created.    Students will have more time in class to this, but some of this work will be done for homework as well.  The students will be posting the answers to their questions on our kidblog site, an example can be viewed here.  Responses are due by Friday, April 26th.
Homework 1 week

I am hoping through this process students will be able to see the amazing gains they have made throughout the year, will identify areas they are still weak in, and create a plan to correct those areas of weakness.  By taking these steps we are allowing the students to look at their progress over a longer period of time, which I have never given them time to do.  


Original Post 5/4/13

Recently, I had posted on Skype in the Classroom, that I was looking to connect my students with students from another country.  Aylin Silig, an educator from Turkey, answered my call.  We were both  excited about our students learning about another culture.

This biggest obstacle we had to overcome was the seven hour time difference.  In order for our classes to connect her students had to stay after school, while my students had to arrive an hour early.  I offered this opportunity to all our students, but I wasn't sure how many students would want to wake up an hour early, especially on a Monday.   In a class of 23 students, 21 climbed out of bed an hour early, on a Monday morning.  I was amazed.  Amazed at how much these students wanted to connect with others from another country, amazed by the parents who found a way to transport their children, amazed that this was actually happening.

Once our Skype was underway we exchanged questions and answers with our Turkish partners, we were so impressed by their ability to ask and answer questions in English.  The students in my class wrote blog posts about this experience, and an example can be found here.  Our classes talked for an hour and we had to stop sooner than we wanted because our school day was starting.  Within a week Aylin, had left comments on all my students' posts, my students were thrilled!

That afternoon I introduced Twitter to other teachers in my school and had set up a Google hangout where other educators from around the world to join us.  I learned about this type of platform by reading this post from Joe Mazza on Connected Principals.  I asked nine amazing educators to come and join us.   I thought if I invited nine I would at least have five join us that day.  I know how busy teahers can be, problems can pop up during the day that need to be dealt with after school, administrators can ask for just a few minutes of time, and working this hangout around family needs can be difficult.  With all that said I was thrilled to have eight connected educators join us.  Kristin Ziemke Fastabend, Adrew Thomasson, Yau-Jau Ku, Sandra Wozniak, Michael, Matera, Jason Bretzmann, and Cheryl Morris all told their story about how Twitter has changed them as educators.  I was honored to have such a respected group of connected educators share their story with my school.

The panel shared how at first, they thought Twitter was just for celebrity gossip, how they collaborate with each other from thousands of miles away, how they are able to learn new concepts 24/7, how Twitter is much more powerful than Google, and much more.  Because this hangout was taking place during a part of a faculty meeting I was not able to have them share their stories for as long as I originally wanted, or have them answer as many questions as I originally had planned.  I am grateful for their flexibility.

For the next few weeks I'll be hosting Twitter Tuesdays in my classroom where teachers can come and ask for help using Twitter.  I have already signed up three teachers while our Physical Education teacher already joined her first twitter chat.

These experiences taught me that we have a desire to connect with others that is stronger and more powerful than I originally thought.  21 fifth graders showed up an hour early on a Monday to connect with other students from a foreign country.  Educators from around the world gave up time from their family, friends and job to share their twitter story.  Not bad for a Monday.