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!



Common Planning Time: Accomplishing Nothing

Judging by the title of today’s blog post, I am sure people are thinking our common planning time meetings are pointless. Let me clear the air by saying I do believe we have the capability of being productive and, at times, we do incredible work with the hour and fifteen minutes. I work with some amazing teachers and I am no way discrediting or disrespecting them.

Our middle school staff has a very unique situation in being able to have this common planning time where we can all meet at the end of the day to discuss a variety of topics from assessments to lesson plans to discipline issues with students. There are many occasions this time is used for other things. For example, individual student IEPs need to take place, we have a monthly staff meeting during this time, we have department meetings once a month, on certain days teachers need time to correct papers (yes, this includes me), and we even have vendors come in to talk about new products we might be able to use for our school and students. All of the above mentioned are valid reasons for us to miss collaboration time with just ourselves as a staff, and at times, unavoidable. Furthermore, this year has been rather tricky due to new teaching assignments for all of our staff in the middle school.

The days we do meet, we tend to (pardon the expression) bitch about the problems we are having with certain students in our class (again, I am guilty of this too). Others are grading papers while we are meeting, we constantly try to talk over each other and we take advantage of this time to do our own personal chores. What are we doing? I understand we need to vent at times and find out if others are having the same problem, but it doesn’t make the student more successful if we just complain about them. This time needs to be used more wisely.

If we don’t use this time efficiently, we are going to lose the privilege of having a common planning time in future years. Personally and professionally, I want to see this time used to plan cross curricular units and lessons. In addition, I want us to meet about how to make students more successful. We need to be pulling more students in and finding out why they are failing classes or what we can do to make them more successful. We are going to have more students slipping through the cracks if we don’t get a hold of them and help them.

Our own selfish motives constantly come into the picture and it is understandable. It has always been said it takes a community to raise a child. Yes, it does. However, it also takes a teacher, a student, and a parent to educate a child. Not just a teacher, but many teachers. If we want to build relationships with students and at the risk of losing our advisory time next year, this time could be used to help build more relationships with students.

I propose we designate at least 1 day a week to meet as an entire middle school staff. Furthermore, an agenda should be created prior to the days meeting and distributed via email or google doc to allow items to be added. Having an agenda should help to create a more organized atmosphere and keep us on track.

I don’t claim to have all the answers or saying I am not guilty of doing some of the items mentioned. I do know we are heading down the path of negative thoughts and patterns and we need to get back on track and do what is best for our students. I am open to any suggestions from other educators.


Why is Collaboration Almost Non-Existent?

Monday I had another wonderful opportunity to conduct professional development at Central Michigan University on Informative writing as suggested by the Common Core Curriculum. I was very impressed how the conference was set-up and the number of people from all over the state of Michigan that attended. There were even administrators present.

As my writing project partner and I were giving our presentation we had several questions surrounding informative writing and the Common Core. We discussed with our audience about the unique opportunity we have as educators when it comes to the Common Core. What we were echoing from our director Troy Hicks is how we, as teachers and school districts, can decide how to assess students based on the Common Core. If teachers don’t look closely at the Common Core and make these type of decisions, they could be made for us from the powers up on high. The biggest idea we preached was collaboration with colleagues about creating units and assessments and implementing 21st century tools such as Google docs, cell phones, Glogster, etc. and making sure those assessments and tools that teachers choose to use tie back into the standards.

One question we had was from a teacher who virtually was on an island by herself in high school. She taught language arts for grades 9-12. She wanted to know how she was going to be able to collaborate with other colleagues when she was the the only high school L.A. teacher. Other teachers talked about how they didn’t gave any collaboration time at her school and she wanted to know how to get that time. We even had a principal say he was going to go back to his school and figure out how to develop time for his teachers to collaborate on the Common Core.

To answer the 9-12 teacher’s question along with the other teachers, we simply encouraged her to collaborate with the middle school staff and the elementary staff within her district. We even told her to email or call other teachers in surrounding districts.

What I have been absolutely amazed by all week is how many districts were not collaborating. And not just on the Common Core either, in general it was appearing teachers weren’t collaborating on much at all? Why is this? After talking with teachers this past Monday, I feel spoiled about how much time is available to me and my staff to meet. Not only do we have common planning time in my middle school, but we also have something called “early release” district wide. This is where once a month we meet as departments and discuss what is going on in our classrooms, textbook selection, teaching strategies, etc. Most of the time it is just building wide, but on occasion we meet district wide K-12. Recently our principal implemented meeting times in different areas such as literacy and transition. These meetings are also conducted once a month. Again, I feel more fortunate then most districts because it appears they aren’t getting the same opportunities.

Even if you aren’t in a district where you should be collaborating, the bottom line is you need to be, especially when it comes to the Common Core. Schools will be required to start assessing students in 2014 and if these conversations are not taking place, it is going to be more difficult to implement the Common Core Standards.

What can you do? If you are a teacher, start by talking to your administrator and your colleagues. Discuss a time you can all discuss the CC. Yes, this may mean you have to sacrifice time after school, particularly if you don’t have a common planning time. Second, attend professional development on the national standards. Educate yourself and become the “expert” your school district may need. Finally, email, call, or Skype with teachers and professionals in other districts to help you get off on the right foot. After all, teachers teaching teachers is powerful and everyone involved can benefit. For the most part, we are all in this together and we need to be willing to work together. It is exciting to think of all of the creative and amazing assessments that can come out of the the new standards laid before us!