Reflective Teaching Practices – Week 1

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(Photo compliments of Mistie Bibee from freeimages.com)

I am beginning my quest to reflect back on my teaching practice each day and week for the rest of the semester/year. During this reflective period, I am throwing out or reworking what isn’t getting my students engaged. Though I am posting for my own professional use, I invite anyone to offer suggestions and critiques into what I am doing or what I could be doing in the future.

There were two specific areas I wanted to highlight with 8th grade. First, I recapped parenthetical documentation. We went over this prior to Christmas break and it needed to be reviewed for a paper they are doing in Social Studies. The lesson in December went well, however, the review was just mehh! One class asked questions and were engaged. My first class, however, was unresponsive and I think if I used jumper cables they wouldn’t have budged. So, the initial lesson was good. On the other hand, the review needs some spice.

Next, the 8th graders finished their semester writing reflections. I asked them to look at their first piece of writing from the beginning of the year and it was awesome to just watch their facial reactions. I then had them follow-up with some basic reflections questions. They all did really well for the most part. I will definitely keep doing reflections.

As a side note, although 8th graders did well, I have some work to do with the 7th graders. Last week we started to look at Civil Right issues prior to us starting to Role of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. I showed a short video to the classes, but I feel that I need to do more here. Some how I need to incorporate informational text reading at the beginning of this unit.

I also need to continue to work on grammar and doing more of it in my classes.

Cheers!


Ever have the thought?

Monday I had a meeting with my principal and I told him I have had thoughts about taking everything I do in my classroom and throwing it out the window and starting from scratch. This is where I envision books, student assignments, computers, tablets, pens, pencils, etc being on my desk and clearing it all off in a raging fit with one swing of my monstrous long arms.

Anyways, I want to reinvent, reimagine my classroom and what I am doing. It is not to say that everything I do does not have an impact on students, but I feel like I need to change some things. There are days I feel, I am not reaching my students.

My principal suggested that I start reflecting on each day and writing down what works and what doesn’t work. I thought that would be a great idea and I am definitely going to start doing that next week. It is time to reflect on what it is I am doing in my classroom and changing what is isn’t working anymore.

Has anyone else ever had these thoughts or something similar?

Cheers

 

 



Why Student Feedback Makes Teachers Better

First, I want to say thanks for all of my new followers here on my blog. I am trying hard to write more this school year. It is hard to believe my third week of school is over already.

This year as a staff we decided we wanted to follow a universal format for our students to write summaries. I presented the idea last year to our staff and it was accepted with open arms by everyone. To me, this was another proving point for me that as language arts teachers we need to be willing to reach across the isle and help other colleagues who aren’t so comfortable teaching students reading and writing skills. We decided to follow a format called TDPP, which comes from Get It Done! Writing and Analyzing Informational Texts to Make Things Happen by Jeff Wilhelm, Michael Smith, and Jim Fredricksen.

T – Cite the Topic

D – What are the key Details

P – How are the details are Patterned

P – What is the Point made about the topic of those patterned details

 

The social studies teacher and I have been working closely together to help students become better readers and writers over the past year by doing article of the week, working on a Civil War Research paper together and just making sure we are on the same page when it comes to teaching our students reading strategies. Working together has been phenomenal and because of our collaboration, our students are learning more and becoming better readers and writers.

This year as the TDPP process was being reintroduced to our 8th graders, who have already seen it for a year, the Social Studies teacher had a great conversation with the students about how to make the process easier and the students gave some remarkable feedback that was shared with me. As we discussed our students feedback on the process, it occurred to us that we needed to make some changes in the process and our approach to teaching it to help our students be more successful when writing summaries. Below are the changes that we made.

T – Cite the Topic

M – Describe the Main Ideas that support the topic (3 main idea sentences for 8th grade, advance 7th graders as the year progresses)

P –  Explain what Point is being made by the main ideas

P – Wrap-uP sentence

We made the changes because the 8th graders vocalized that they were getting confused with the Details part of the TDPP process as well as the last two P’s because they almost felt they were the same. Now, we didn’t want students copying down specific details from the articles they are reading so we changed the D to an M. When discussing this with students it was helpful to talk about a grocery list and how we write down what we want, which are main ideas, but we don’t write down specific brands, which are details. It helped the students make the difference between the two.

To us, we felt the students were taking charge of their learning and we were moved by the fact they were asking questions, engaged, and willing to take an active role in their education. This reflection and feedback not only allowed our students to perform better on a concept that can at times be difficult for even college students to write, but it gave us insight into how we were teaching the students and it made us better teachers.

Personally, I am really excited how much the 8th graders have grown and retained from last year. I am excited to see where the year takes us!

 

 


“I Quit”

The first week of the new school year is in the books. Overall, I feel we are off to a good start and moving forward nicely.

This year I am really focusing on building relationships with the students during the first two weeks of school. The first day I only discussed one rule with my 7th graders; respect me and I will respect you. Then, we spent time in a circle sharing something about ourselves. I learned a few things about my students and they were excited it wasn’t going to be another class filled with rules.

As the week progressed, students read a short story, a memoir, and did some smaller writing assignments. Yesterday I did the Marshmallow Challenge with my 7th graders. If you have never done this with your students, I highly recommend this activity to witness your students problem solving skills and it is an activity that helps them develop their collaboration skills. The gist of the challenge is participants have 1 marshmallow, 20 pieces of spaghetti, 1 yard of string, and 1 yard of masking tape. They must create a free standing structure in 18 minutes with the last thing on top being the marshmallow. Tallest structure wins. I usually give the winning group suckers.

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I am always super excited about having my students participate in this activity…until yesterday. Needless to say I was very disappointed with not only how most of the students performed, but the number of times I heard:

“I quit!”
“This is hard.”
“I give up!”
“This is impossible.”

By the time my third section of 7th graders left my room for the day, I couldn’t help but shake my head and begin to worry about how my 7th grade students are going to perform this year. I was pleased with a number of the groups and the structures they built, but at times my coaching voice kept trying to creep to the surface of my throat and I had to keep pushing it back down. I would reply to the students by telling them that quitting and giving up in middle school is not an option.

I really worry about the work ethic and the perseverance that our students are lacking and it seems to be getting worse. I truly do believe in having compassion for students, but I also believe there are times they are going to have man up or woman up to the challenges that face them. I refuse to hold the hands of middle schoolers unless absolutely necessary. Middle school is a huge transition from elementary school and I will continue to encourage them to do their best and I will not accept mediocrity from my students.

As a society, we need to challenge our children to problem solve and not always lend a helping hand. After all, some of the greatest success’ does come from failure.



Reflections of a Middle School Teacher

Ahhh! Yup, school is out for the Summer. At the start of every year I tell my students that we need to treat each other as if we are family. AND… just like family we will get sick of each other and bicker, pick, and get tired of each other’s habits. Well, I can honestly say we were at the edge. It was time for us to part ways and have a break. My students were ready and I was ready too.

It was an exciting year for me professionally. The book Create, Compose, and Connect Troy Hicks and I wrote was published, another book I contributed to is coming out very soon, and I am working on a book with some really great educators from all levels right now. In addition, I had the opportunity to present at some excellent conferences here in Michigan. I also felt I did a better job as a reading teacher, but I still have a long ways to go to consider myself stellar.

Looking back on this past school year has left me with mixed feelings. On one hand I feel as if the students completed a lot of writing and dug pretty deep into some reading throughout the year. On the other hand, I struggled with students retaining information as we made connections later on in the school year. My colleagues struggled with this as well and at times it was very exhausting to get students to make connections from earlier lessons.

As a middle school staff, I feel that we grew more this year and we are continuing to keep the students at the center. We are striving everyday to do what is best for them. In particular I worked more closely with our S.S. teacher on doing article of week, a historical research paper, and we worked on a written report for our Salmon in the Classroom Project. You can see where we were featured on Michigan-Out-of-Doors. You can see us around the 20:00 minute mark.

 

The Social Studies teacher and I  are starting to mutually appreciate each other’s strengths and I know our professional relationship will continue to grow. This year I really tried to be patient with all staff members and recognize their strengths when I could.

Besides trying to build more positive relationships with all of my colleagues, we will have a schedule change for next year, which is positive. We will now have about 60 minutes per class to teach. I am very excited about this because when our S.S. teacher figured it out, we are actually getting one extra class period per week when all of the extra minutes are added together. Prior to this we only had about 52 minutes per class.  I feel that my class discussions around different text we are reading or the different genres we are writing will be deeper and the students will have the opportunity to do more critical thinking. Feeling rushed to get through material could potentially fall to the wayside if all goes well (snow days could hinder this).

In addition to having more time with students, our principal made a push to put a more solid curriculum in place. Our monthly early release meetings can at times be a joke. In the department I co-chair we work hard to keep moving forward and we have done some tremendous work with the CCSS Anchor Standards, but from what I have heard from other departments, participants were using the time to shoot the bull and grade papers. At times when we have met as a whole district, it has irked me to see fellow teachers also grading papers.

This past year, it was proposed that there is a more solid focus on developing curriculum maps, pacing guides, and establishing what is important in concerns with the anchor standards. Though this was received well at our district improvement meeting, time wore on, and there were some complaints about what we needed to accomplish within our departments. My big question is why? Why are questioning what should be in place already.  We can’t just adopt the CCSS and say that is our curriculum. Personally, I am glad we are being asked to do this. Yes, I am willing to take time over my Summer break to make my teaching better and do what is best for students.

Overall, I am glad this year has come to a close. There are many aspects of my teaching that I am going to change. I am also spending the Summer reading some professional texts on how to become a better reading teacher. Summer is not a time to be lazy, it is time to think about our instructional practices and what we are going to do to help our students succeed. However, a few beverages are nice too!

Cheers!


Killing Passion for Reading in March

March is over and another year has passed where elementary teachers have celebrated reading with “March is Reading” month.

I like a party as much as the next person. I love socializing, dressing up if there is a theme, and who can forget about the food. Okay, so I love eating! I don’t consider myself a party pooper by any stretch, but can you imagine trying to have a Hawaiian Luau for an entire month?  That is a lot of pineapple and roast pig!

The point I am trying to make is that I feel we are doing our students a disservice when it comes to “March is Reading” month. Every day, on the calendar sent home with my oldest,  is a different way for my child and his classmates to celebrate reading.  Whether it is wearing flip-flops or reading with an e-Reader, the idea is to motivate students to want to read and for them to be excited about it.  For 31 days students are asked to do something different in association with reading to make it feel fun.  Again, I go back to what I said at the beginning of this post, imagine going to a pig roast 31 days in a row.  After awhile, you are going to crave something different.

I want my students to be excited about reading, but if they have been repeatedly bombarded in elementary school every March for an average of 6 years, they may have a bad taste in their mouth by the time they reach middle school.  Don’t get me wrong, there are other factors too.  Such as giving students questions at the end of every single chapter.  Something Kelly Gallagher calls Readacide

I don’t want to take just a month to focus on the importance of reading or to celebrate it. I want to celebrate it all year and motivate my students throughout the whole year and throughout their lives hopefully.

I have always been diligently trying to find when and how middle school students lose their passion for reading. I have been pestering my 8th grade students all year about why they don’t like reading and I get responses such as:

  1. They don’t have time
  2. Availability of resources in limited
  3. Being forced to read something that is not interesting
  4. March is reading month killed their love.

The last reason made me raise my eyebrow and let out a hearty, “really?”  However, it did make me think long and hard about “March is Reading” month that takes places in schools. I will admit, I don’t do a lot in the month of March as far as recognizing the month and the reading focus the month brings.  My students are reading and I still like to read to them because I feel it is important.

I am always open to new ways to get my students motivated to read, but I am not going to do overkill with my students. This is not an attack on elementary teachers or any other teachers.  I simply am asking that we should reflect on our practices and decide if what we are doing is best for students.


Fighting the Good Fight with Technology in the Classroom

Last Monday I had  a chance to present and talk with teachers at our local writing project site; the Chippewa River Writing Project. There were many great sessions where I took a ton of valuable information and resources away from the two sessions I attended. In addition, we had a spectacular Keynote speaker, Jim Fredricksen who is the author of  So, What’s the Story?: Teaching Narrative to Understand Ourselves, Others, and the World (Exceeding the Common Core State Standards). His ideas and thoughts on narrative are very thought provoking and have made me realize that it isn’t easy for students to write narratives.

My own presentation gave the teachers and pre-service teachers a sneak peek into the book I co-authored with Troy Hicks titled: Create, Compose, Connect: Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools due out March 6th. As I discussed with the participants some of the digital tools I use in my own classroom, a very interesting question was brought to my attention.

  • What do we do when the technology director blocks sites that are useful to students and won’t open them?

It is a great question and though I don’t have the answer, I can offer some suggestions that may help with your argument for implementing certain sites or apps withing your everyday lessons.

  1. Access and read your school’s acceptable use policy.
  2. Have face-to-face conversations with your principal.
  3. Discuss with colleagues what you would like to do and see what they are thinking – perhaps they can add support for you.
  4. Analyze your current technology situation at school. Will students have access to computers, iPads, cell phones, tablets, etc.?
  5. Why? Why are you using the app or site for your given lesson?

It occurred to me after the teacher asked the question that if the time is taken to thoroughly read the acceptable use policy it can work to a teacher’s advantage when it comes to trying to implement technology.  I hear teachers from time to time stating that the acceptable use policy is what was their demise when it came to their idea to implement some type of technology.  Though there is no doubt this may be true, I would approach it is how can it help my case.

After looking over the acceptable use policy, I feel it is vital to have a well prepared conversation with your principal and other administration.  Thankfully, I have a principal and a superintendent that sees the benefit of technology and they both understand how students are learning today.  Remember this too, Technology directors aren’t the final line of trying to open up a digital too.  I have overwhelming respect for Tech directors and the very reason they may not be allowing a site or app to be available is because the school may not have the capacity. However, administration should have the final say and it should be a collaborative conversation between administration and the director. It shouldn’t be left up to just the director. Thankfully, I also have a great tech director at our school which makes it easy where I teach.

The final point I would like to elaborate on is the why.  Why are you using the tool?  How does it benefit the students? Furthermore, I want to direct you to the info-graphic below.

Technology Purpose2

I want to give credit where credit is due for this take on using tech in the classroom. However, because I have seen it on Google + and Twitter several times…I have lost where it originated. I want to go out on a limb and say this is NOT mine and I did NOT create it.  The point of the info-graphic is to not turn people off to Prezi, blogs, or Wordles.  I perceive it as something for us to think about and remind us that we shouldn’t use these tools for just the sake of using them because they are cool or the students think they are cool.

Student engagement is something we all want, but we should also keep the student at the center of our lessons and ask the question: How are my students going to benefit from using this tool and how is it going to be used to further their education?

Just some thoughts to consider when trying to fight the good fight on using technology in the classroom.

Cheers!


Teachers Reflecting

I was a basketball coach for almost 12 years at all levels and as a coach I always reflected after each practice, game, and season how I could be better individually and how I could get my programs better.  I think that same principle applies to teaching.  After every class, lesson, day, week, year, etc. I am constantly trying to find ways to get better and help my students to be more successful. 

There are plenty of high quality teachers that reflect continuously on their practices and make adjustments from hour to hour, day to day, and year to year. But as I continue to wrap my brain around the idea of reflecting, I wonder if it is possible and how it can be possible to have teachers reflect on their own teaching to better serve students. In other words, how does a principal or fellow teacher establish a routine where reflecting on one’s own teaching should be done without it coming across harshly?  How do we get colleagues to step outside of their comfort boxes to try new instructional practices where they may have a more substantial impact on student learning?  Even though reflecting may be part of my professional routine, it may not be the routine of a few teachers down the hall (just speaking in generalities here, this does not necessarily reflect my own school or work environment).

 Students should be at the center of our lessons and units and we should start with them in mind when we create our lessons and units. Education is changing and has changed over the years. It should come as no surprise to any educator. We have the Common Core, new teacher evaluation, and the introduction of more technology into the classroom just to name a few.  Myself being in the mix of it all, I feel it is imperative that every educator takes time to reflect on what they are doing in their own classroom and make adjustments.  Don’t be afraid to try new lessons, teaching strategies, approaches, technologies, etc.  We need to have open minds to how our students learn and constantly think about what we can do to make our students better! They don’t learn the same way they did 20 or even 10 years ago. If we as educators can model for our students that we take the time to reflect, it can help our students to embrace that life skill that can be applied in all situations.

Cheers!