Monday, April 24, 2017

Personalized Learning Meeting the Needs of ALL Learners

Over Easter break, I was able to visit my sister and her family in Minnesota. My sister and I are 23 months and 5 days apart in age me being the oldest. We grew up in the same home, had the same rules to follow, and created enough shenanigans to occupy our time pre-technology. However, Stefanie and I are different in many ways. One of those ways is how we learn. Stef is an auditory learner and can memorize facts and information by putting it to a tune or song. She also likes to think things through before starting a project. Me, on the other hand, I like to jump right in with whatever I am doing and learn as I go. Which has got me thinking what does it mean to personalize learning for our students? With schools around the country looking at ways to meet students where they are in their learning and preparing students for the future. What are we doing to personalize learning for students?
Recently, I attended the conference The Art of Coaching Teams in Chicago. During our time one thing we talked about was the principles of adult learning two principles which really stuck out to me one adults want agency in their learning, and two adults come to learning experiences with history. I believe these two adults principles are also relevant to our K-12 students. Our students want agency in their learning and come to our classrooms with their own past learning experiences. What can we as educators do to accommodate and honor those differences?
When I think of personalized learning in the classroom the first thing that comes to mind is the power of relationships with my students. Student-teacher relationships are the key to student learning it’s through relationships where trust is built, and when there's trust students are given the security to take risks, and try new things in their learning. Knowing our students well allows us to fully embrace their unique differences and meet them where they are as learners.
During a recent walk-through, in 8th-grade English teacher, Kelly Moormann’s class students had just finished reading the “Outsiders”. The students chose two out of four RL standards and proved their knowledge on them by creating whatever type of project they wanted. They used the proficiency scales as a checklist for the items they needed to include. Projects included: writing a rap song, an essay, tri-fold posters, various models, interviews, and skits.  Students are able to use voice and choice when selecting items off of a learning menu. Here are a few of  the comments I heard from students:  “This harder than a worksheet, I like it better because I am actually learning what is means to find a theme of a story and support it with details.”  “I like this learning menu because I can choose what do as project with what I like doing.”

Using our district’s 5 rocks along with critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity is the framework to being personalized learning for our students. Stef and I are sisters who grew up together and have a lot of things in common, but our learning styles are not one of those commonalities. As educators, parents, aunts, uncles, and all the other important roles we are blessed to have we know the people in our lives learn differently and we have the privilege to make that happen for the students who walk through our doors.

Please join in on the twitter chat on Tuesday, May 2nd at 8:30 here are the questions.
  1. What does personalized learning mean for students?
  2. How can students have voice and choice in how they learn and what they learn?
  3. How can teachers take into account students' input in the process of learning?
  4. How can you implement personalized learning for students or staff?
  5. When has someone provided opportunity for you to experience personalized learning in your life?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Meaningful Metacognition

 Image result for metacognition

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think if only you try!” – Dr. Suess 

Growing up I loved reading this book at my Grandparents' house. They had a dark wicker basket in the playroom full of books. I loved all the silly “thinks” on each page and how it encouraged me to use my imagination to think up any “thinks” I wanted to. This book really empowered me to “think” outside the box.

This year has been a big growing year for me and my classroom. I made the decision to join the Assessment Academy in the fall, not really knowing what I was getting myself into. I thought I would glean a few new insights to boost our current 3rd grade PBLs at Liberty. What I wasn’t expecting was a major “meta-shift” both in myself and within my classroom!

I say “meta-shift” because this all came from my study of metacognition. It all started one night when I was feeling particularly tired and a little bit grumpy that I had homework to do for the Assessment Academy. I remember grumbling under my breath about the homework being “a waste of time”. The workshop was on Metacognition and the article was titled, Metacognition: Nurturing Self-Awareness in the Classroom.

Today’s fast paced world is saturated in instant gratification. The other day one of my students said that his computer was “lagging”, I had to chuckle to myself. These kids will never understand what a lagging computer is really like. Patience is a lost art in America, and I didn’t fully understand this until I spent two years teaching overseas in New Delhi, India. In a culture where “time” is a relative term and an afternoon nap is a necessity, I had to learn how to slow down and through gritted teeth embrace this thing called patience. It wasn’t until I was put into a culture of early morning meditation in the park that I realized what a frenzied life we lead as Americans. Being busy is a trophy that we parade around under the guise of hating it. We say things like “Oh I’m so busy, I just don’t know how I’ll get it all done!” secretly hoping that the other person thinks we are a superstar! Yet everything I know about good reflection involves higher order thinking: reflecting, analyzing, observing, examining, critiquing etc. Good learning takes lots of time, lots of failure, and lots of uninterrupted thinking!

Kids expect immediate results and we have to show them that steady growth is anything but immediate. Our brain is a muscle, and just like resistance is the only way to grow your arms, legs, abs, etc., resistance is also the only way to grow our brains. The first strategy for improving metacognition mentioned in the article was to teach kids how their brains are wired. The last two years I have started off the school year teaching about the brain in the first 3 weeks of school and connecting it to Conscious Discipline, which is what we use at Liberty. The students learn about their Brain Stem, Limbic System, and Prefrontal Lobe so they understand how their brains function and learn. We need to change their “self-talk” from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. I don’t allow my students to say that something is hard. If a student says to me, “I don’t get this! It’s too hard.” I respond with, “It will take time and effort. We are growing our brains.” The students hear from me often that resistance is good and when they have their “a-ha moment” when that new concept clicks, I tell them to kiss their brain. Then I kiss my own hand and touch my forehead. At this point in the year, I hear the students telling each other to kiss their brain when they see a classmate connect new learning.
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Two practices that have changed my classroom are Think Alouds and Socratic Seminars. As teachers we are already good at explaining what we are doing, now we just need to explain what we are thinking, while we are doing it. So now when I am teaching a new skill at the carpet, I tell the students exactly what I am thinking instead of what I am doing. They can already see what I am doing. They need to know what's happening behind the scenes inside my brain. So I use vocabulary like, "So then I thought..." or "Now I wonder...", or "Oh, I just noticed that...". If I make a mistake, I draw attention to it before I fix it, and when I do fix it, I tell them why I am fixing it. Metacognition is not something concrete that can be taught through words like how to read or solve math problems, it is abstract so it must be taught through actions like how to love, show empathy, and develop friendships. 

My first time leading my students in a Socratic Seminar was very enlightening. I remember laughing to myself thinking there was no way I could sit 8 and 9 years olds down and have them facilitate a meaningful conversation. Sure, for the first five minutes it was awkward, and some of the questions/statements from certain students were off topic, but it didn’t take very long before the students were drawn into the conversation. I was amazed at their questions and insights and it was a huge “A-ha” moment for me. My students weren’t really having meaningful metacognition before because they were never put in a situation where they felt like their opinions TRULY mattered. If we treat our students like they are incapable of meaningful discussion, then that’s exactly what we will get! One of my students whispered to me from the circle “Mrs. Heiple, it’s like we’re having adult conversations!” Yet, 8 and 9 year olds are more eager and ready to have these discussions than most adults because they are constantly analyzing the world and formulating questions and opinions which are often hushed by our busy lives rather than fostered through meaningful “meta-moments”. The students also needed to understand that if they wanted their opinions to be heard and valued, that they needed to really listen to one another, and reflect before they responded. This has to be both taught and modeled since we all are usually quick to respond. Most of the time we are formulating our response before the speaker has even finished. 

If we want students to value learning, they need to know that what they’re learning is relevant, that their questions are important, and that resistance is necessary!   

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Taking Charge of our Learning

Our profession is evolving; there is no doubt about it.  Everyday, we must ask ourselves if we are ready for the challenges that await us when we walk through our school’s doors.  Technology, the economy, changing demographics and diversity, politics, and increased demand for accountability make our jobs high stake every day.   Ultimately,  we have two choices.  We can sit back and talk about the “good old days,” or we can march forward and model learning for the sake of the young people in our charge and our own sanity.  
Tom Whitby says that to be better teachers, we must be better learners.  Like the students we teach, we seek to be actively engaged in our learning to make it meaningful and authentic.  Also like our students, we come from different backgrounds, fields of thought, and experiences.  For this reason, the days of staff development, or “sit and get” are numbered.  
Today, I heard a potential teacher candidate say he “craved innovative learning experiences” for himself.  If that isn’t powerful testimony to the importance of personalized professional learning, I don’t know what is!  As administrators and coaches, we must provide a diverse menu of opportunities for our staff.  These opportunities should be job-embedded to be immediately meaningful and applicable.   At the same time, as educators, we must take responsibility for our learning.   As lead learners, our time is too valuable to wait until the next staff development day to be told what we are to learn. By consciously reflecting on our practices, we are better able to create purposeful learning goals for ourselves. We must actively seek learning opportunities in the form of workshops, learning walks, books, blogs, coaching conversations, and Twitter Chats which can all serve to expand our Professional Learning Networks.  
Two teams use peer coaching strategies to review lesson outcomes.
One strategy we have been implementing at Horizon is peer coaching.  With the help of Steve Barkley, our Instructional Leadership Team has been trained in strategies for peer coaching. They have been modeling the process by inviting colleagues into their classrooms to observe.  Prior to the observation, they meet and have a conversation to plan for what specific feedback the teacher might want from the observer.  Following the observation, a second conversation takes place to reflect and plan next steps.  It has been a slow, but exciting process watching literal doors open as teachers become more comfortable with vulnerability.   An added bonus is that feedback from those involved in peer coaching has allowed us to plan for workshops and book studies to differentiate for our more introverted crowd. Most importantly, this is teacher-lead and teacher-driven learning. Now, isn’t that what we want to be modeling for our students?

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Sound It Out

                                                   “Sound It Out”

Early in my career as a second grade teacher, my student “Sam” was reading aloud to me as part of the “listening in” portion of a guided reading lesson.  The story is about a dog who can’t make up his mind of which way to go.  Sam reads, “And the dog ran off in a new ____________.”  When faced with the word “direction”, Sam stops.  I prompted him with the only strategy I knew- “Sound it out Sam”.  Sam tries the strategy I gave him- “duh-ihh-rrr-eh-k-taa-ihh-aww-n”.

When I look back at this (and how I failed this poor reader) what I should have prompted him with was “Think about what is happening in this story and reread the whole sentence”.  Be sure to say the first sound of that tricky word when you get to it”.  If Sam would have had this better teaching prompt and read “And the dog ran off in a new direction”, I would then say “Does that make sense? Does that look right? Does that sound right?”

Sound it out” has always been the go to strategy for many teachers and parents when a reader encounters an unknown word.  This is because many of us were likely taught this way when we encountered difficulties with words in our own reading.  Unfortunately, “sounding it out” is often not efficient or sufficient in decoding all words.  We would better serve children by teaching them to flexibly apply multiple strategies when coming to an unknown word.  Decoding a new word is best seen as a problem solving activity and readers need to use a variety of strategies to solve the problem.

Skilled and automatic decoding is necessary for reading, and visual information (phonics) is crucial.  We also want our readers to use their knowledge of English to say a word that sounds right and their knowledge of the story (context and illustrations) to decide what word would make sense.

For example, complete the following sentence;
The boy studied for the big test all ___________.
Chance are you generated words like:  day, night, evening, afternoon, morning, week.

Notice that all the words were nouns.  Proficient speakers of English know that a noun will come in this place in the sentence- only a noun would “sound right”.  You likely generated nouns of time.  Because we expect English to “make sense” we use our semantic understanding to predict a meaningful word for the context.

Now, look at this sentence;
The boy studied for the test all n____________.

You are likely to say “night” because it looks right, sounds right and makes sense.  If you tried to sound out “night” you may run into trouble, especially as a developing reader if you do not know that the “gh” is silent. 

“Sounding it out” might be useful, but not a sufficient tool for an early or striving reader.
So, if you are working with a reader at whatever stage they are at- remember there are more strategies than just “sounding it out” (visual cues).  Understanding of the story (meaning) and understanding of the English language (syntax) can be useful as well.

‘Children are small; their minds are not.’ – Glenda Bissex

Twitter Questions
Q1:  Introduce yourself and name your favorite Dr. Seuss book.
Q2:  What do you remember about your own process of learning to read?
Q3:  Describe an instructional strategy you have used with a developing reader when they encountered an unknown word.
Q4:  Should students be taught phonics in isolation, or in a meaningful context?
Q5:  How can writing enhance phonics skills?


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Embracing the Socratic Temperament

Embracing the
Image result for socrates to move the world
Socratic Temperament

Socratic Seminars are powerful opportunities for students to be fully engaged in their learning.  Today, I am not focusing on what, how, or why.  

I am focusing on who – the Socratic Teacher.

In this way, I hope to lift your practice to new levels.

Socrates believed that a continuous journey of self-improvement was vital for every person.  As educators, we are on our own journey, but also guiding the journeys of our students. Socratic Seminars can create opportunities for students to be more receptive to new learning and more effective in gaining knowledge and increasing understanding.

To be successful at designing and facilitating Socratic Seminars, the Socratic Teacher must be able to live and model positive attitudes about inquiry and self-reflection.  In my experience, teachers who do not embrace a Socratic Temperament, will have a difficult time bringing a Socratic Seminar to life in their classrooms.

Characteristics of the Socratic Temperament:

The Socratic Teacher loves to discover her own errors.
The Socratic Teacher embraces the discovery of error as a joyful moment.  The teacher cherishes this moment of realization because a step towards knowledge and understanding is taken with every misunderstanding we uncover.  The capacity to examine our own cherished ideas and beliefs without the fear is an essential part of the Socratic Temperament and the Socratic Seminar.  Students learn this best by watching their teachers live it.

The Socratic Teacher is in touch with her own ignorance.
Socrates said that the only thing he knew was that he knew nothing.  The Socratic Teacher sees her students as teachers and embraces learning from them.  She knows that it is possible for the students to be wise in unexpected ways.  This realization makes it easy for the Socratic Teacher to treat all students as sources of understanding, who have the power to teach the teacher. 

The Socratic Teacher models the joy of hard work in the quest for knowledge.
The Socratic Teacher sees knowledge as a great treasure.  She experiences true satisfaction in working hard to gain knowledge.  Thus, the Socratic Teacher takes opportunities to demonstrate and communicate the value of hard work to her students and the joy that can be found in the work of learning.

The Socratic Teacher experiences deep curiosity and the desire for self-improvement.
It is impossible to value knowledge so greatly yet remain indifferent.  The Socratic Teacher is deeply curious and always desires to improve her understanding. The development of understanding is seen as essential to self-improvement.  The Socratic Teacher creates opportunities to model a deep curiosity and passionate desire for self-improvement for her students.

Knowing this, I try to make small shifts every day to empower students as learners.  Designing, facilitating, and coaching Socratic Seminars is when I feel most connected to my Socratic Temperament.  As I live the teaching life with a Socratic Temperament, I know that when the students engage in Socratic Seminars I can step back and observe, assess, and reflect on their powerful learning.  The results are amazing for my students and for myself.  I encourage you to embrace your own Socratic Temperament!

Q1. How can (or how do) Socratic Seminars support high levels of student learning and engagement?
Q2. What can Socratic Seminars do for your classroom culture?
Q3. How can Socratic Seminars shift the power of learning to our students?
Q4. How does the Socratic Temperament align with your learning or teaching style?
Q5. In what other ways can the Socratic Temperament influence student learning?

Join the Twitter chat - Tuesday, March 7th at 8:30 p.m.
Chris Job
Instructional Coach at Murphy Elementary