Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Creating Experiences for Kids

When I think back to my years as a student, the memories that spark the most joy were the ones that were out of the ordinary routine. Popcorn parties on the playground. Parading through the school wearing costumes. Eating lunch in the “Rainforest Cafe,” which was the teacher’s lounge covered in crepe paper. Field trips. School assemblies and pep rallies. Learning about sign language and dog sledding during an exploratory day. Trying rock candy at a powwow. Walking to a country music radio station where our teacher was a weekend disc jockey. Creating my own country, Pina Columbia. Screen printing my own t-shirt design. Experiences made school a place I wanted to be.

Though I did not realize at the time, all of these experiences required adults to go the extra mile behind the scenes. Enthusiasm required. Comfort zones expanded. Forms filed. It took time, talent, and resources to make it happen for the benefit of kids like me.

Now as a teacher myself, I see how experiences impact kids. One of my favorite experiences that I have provided to my students was a community service field trip to a senior citizen technology fair. My students taught older adults about makerspace technologies like Sphero, littleBits, and Makey Makey. The maturity and tenderness that I saw in those eighth graders that day was so beyond anything that had occurred in our daily lessons. It was worth the time, effort, and sub plans to make it happen.

Experiences grow relationships. Experiences help kids connect to content. Experiences make learning more fun and memorable. Every kid can benefit from experiences in the classroom. There are teachers in our district that are creating awesome experiences for kids. Let's share (and not compare) those experiences to inspire each other.

  1. Tell about an especially memorable experience that you had as a student.
  2. Share an experience that you have provided to students in (or out of) your classroom.
  3. Why are experiences important for kids?
  4. What kind of support do you need to provide these experiences?
  5. If you had all of the time and resources required, what is a dream experience that you would love to give to your students?

Thursday, November 14, 2019

AVID in the Elementary

What is AVID, you ask? AVID stands for Advancement Via Individualized Determination. AVID is best teaching practices nicely laid out for teachers to refer to; it is not something new that we have to “learn,” it is something we’ve been doing but need to be more diligent about. What is its purpose? The intention behind AVID is to prepare students to be college ready. AVID has been in secondary schools for some years now, but AVID at the elementary level, in Bismarck Public Schools, is very new. There are two elementary schools, Pioneer and Jeanette Myhre, who have taken on this great opportunity for their students, and from a firsthand experience, we have already seen the positive effects. According to Justin Miller, fourth grade teacher at Pioneer, “In our first year of AVID implementation, I have already noticed an increase in student responsibility and passion for their learning.”

This past summer, eight teachers (six from Pioneer and two from Bismarck High) packed themselves into a van and traveled to Minneapolis for the AVID Summer Institute. We attended a three-day training on how to implement AVID strategies in an elementary setting. Part way through the training, we established two goals for Pioneer that we felt our students needed the most. Our goals were organization and focused note taking. While these are goals for grades 3, 4, and 5, we are speaking mainly from what we do and see in our own fifth grade classrooms.

Our first step was to adapt our student supply list in grades 3-5 to meet the criteria for our organizational materials. All three grade levels decided to color-code the four core subject areas: math, reading, science, and social studies. All folders and notebooks were assigned a color that was consistent throughout so that students moving to the next grade would already be familiar with the system. Fourth grade implemented one binder for students, while fifth grade implemented two in order to accommodate all subject areas. Binders are used in AVID electives in our feeder school, Simle, so we want to gradually prepare our students for that transition. While this is definitely a work in progress with it being so new, we are seeing responsibility in our students. They are more independent when it comes to keeping track of their work and immediately know where to find it. There has been a huge decrease in the amount of time spent digging through desks trying to find a paper that was stashed in it days beforehand. We expect to see students’ organizational skills continue to increase as we move further into the school year.

Goal number two may seem tedious to some, but we have found great significance in note taking using AVID strategies such as two- and three-column notes. All of our notes have a purpose. I know as teachers, we always have good intentions behind everything we do, but let’s face it, sometimes note taking is assigned in the hopes that our students will simply learn something from the process. Using our learned strategies, we have students constantly refer to their notes right after taking them; they use the right side of their notebooks to take the notes and the left side to reflect on their learning through diagrams, written reflections, example problems, illustrations, etc. If students are absent and miss a day of notes, they take it upon themselves to get the notes from a peer, because they, too, are beginning to see the importance of them in our day-to-day activities. Students who struggle with a concept we have covered are taking the initiative to go back into their notes to guide their own learning, and, as teachers, these are moments of huge success and pride.

Some of our favorite assignments we have done this year with fifth grade are activities we have taken directly from the AVID book we received last summer. This include the “Successful Student,” which focuses on student empowerment, achievement, and self-determination, ultimately helping them set a purpose for why they are in school and how they can reach their goals. Another example is a one-pager. The first time we gave this assignment, we were anxious because we had no idea how much effort would be put into a simple hygiene assignment. We were extremely taken by surprise and proud of the outcome. Students did not want to quit working on them. In fact, some literally begged for additional one-pager assignments. These are only two of many things we have been doing with our classes that has shown us that AVID is working by providing evidence of students’ engagement and passion for their own learning.

Lindsay Mock & Arlene Wolf
5th grade teachers
Pioneer Elementary School

Twitter Questions:

Q1: If you are familiar with AVID, in what ways has this impacted your students?

Q2: What are some critical "soft skills" that elementary students need prior to entering middle school?

Q3: What organizational strategies are you currently using to help students become successful and independent? 

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Do Your Students Know You’re a Learner, too?

We know that learning is essential for professional success.  As adults, we are often expected to learn according to someone else’s agenda.  This is in contrast to studies that tell us the most meaningful and lasting learning is collaborative, authentic, and goal-oriented. Further, we tend to be settled in the patterns we have established and may fear failure if we try something outside of that comfort zone.  In our rush to get through “it all”, we often miss the learning opportunities that present themselves to us on a daily basis. Yet, research tells us that continuous learning contributes positively to self-efficacy and our own well-being. 

Career Academy teachers discuss learning targets
In education, it is our goal to create systems that provide experiences for students to become independent thinkers who are  able to contribute to society in authentic and meaningful ways. I was once told that I would know I did my job well if my students didn’t need me anymore.  The concept of students driving their learning was both daunting and exciting. First, it seemed out of reach. How was I, one person, going to meet the needs of all these students?  Second, it seemed out-of-sync with what I’d been taught. Aren’t teachers supposed to be the boss in the classroom? Finally, it felt like a challenge and I like a good challenge.   

This idea of student driven learning caused me to reflect on what I was currently doing in my classroom. At first glance, I thought I was doing pretty well. Students seemed to be busy, they were doing their work, engaging in discussion, and I had minimal management problems. Then, I decided to ask the students what they thought. Some responses affirmed that I was meeting the needs of some learners. (I like the open ended activities, having a choice makes writing more fun, my best friend isn't the best partner, my journal is a safe place for me to think.) Several more indicated that I had some work to do! (Sometimes I need more directions, I need some quiet space, I like more think time and, my personal favorite, "You know some teachers give candy for motivation.") It was a humbling experience to realize that my carefully planned activities empowered some students while leaving others to flounder. If I hadn't asked, I would never have known. It marked the moment I realized the importance of intentional and personalized learning, for both my students and myself.
Problem solving anyone

Earlier, I wondered, “How was I, one person, going to meet the needs of all these students?” The answer is simple: “I” cannot, but “we” can.   I learned the students in that classroom were not just mine. I learned the value of a school community: students, teachers, families, administrators.  We all share responsibility and that requires collaboration and communication. My team PLC and our instructional coach became two of my greatest resources in my personal learning journey.  I also wondered, “Aren’t teachers supposed to be the boss in the classroom?” I learned that in a sense, yes, that is true. Teachers control the culture of their classrooms. I learned that true learning requires a partnership between the students and the teacher.  In order for students to feel safe enough to ask questions, reflect, collaborate, and take risks, I needed to be vulnerable enough to listen and own my mistakes. It is up to me to keep my eyes open for the learning opportunities that present themselves in the ordinary pieces of the day.   It brings to mind a quote by John Cotton Dana, “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” Now that sounds like a challenge I’m willing to take…are you?

Twitter Questions:
Q1: As an adult learner, what needs to happen for you to feel supported in your own learning?
Q2: Share a time you saw a gap in your own learning based on an experience with a student. 
Q3: What opportunities can you take advantage of to see yourself and your teaching from a different perspective?
Q4: What strategies do you use in your classroom to empower student voice in their learning?
Q5: How do you model your learning for your students?
Boyle, B., While, D., &Boyle, T., (2004) A longitudinal study of teacher change; what makes professional development effective? The Curriculum Journal, 15(1), 45-68. doi; 10.1080/0958517042000189470

Knight, J. (2018). When teachers lead their own learning. Educational Leadership, 76:3, 20-26.
Martin, L.E., Kragler, S., Quatroche, D, & Bauserman, K., (2019) Transforming schools; the power of teachers’ input in professional development. Journal of Educational Research and Practice 9(1). 179-188. doi; 10.5590/JERAP.2019.09.1.13

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Career Ready/Work Place Ready

For the most part school assessment is about grades in specific subject areas as it relates to classroom assignments and projects.  However, if you ask business, industry employers, or Human Resource directors, they will say one of the most important skills needed by employees are soft/professional or career ready skills. 

Butler Manufacturing presentation to students
The State Department of Career and Technical Education has adopted 12 Career Ready practices.  ND CTE CareerReady Skills

These practices align with what employers want to see in employees. Attitude, communication, listening well, responsibility, problem solving, teamwork, critical thinking are a few examples. They also align with what we say we want in a graduate from Bismarck Public Schools. 

BPS Mission: "All students will have the academic, social, and personal skills to be college, career, and community ready."

If our mission statement indicates students need to have "...personal skills to be college, career and community ready", then should we be assessing students in their career readiness?  What do we do if they are not career ready?  What does this look like at the elementary level?

I invite you to join me on Twitter Tuesday, October 22 to chat about Career Ready as we explore this topic. 

Twitter Questions:
1. In your opinion what are your two top career/soft skills?  
2. How could students be assessed on career ready or soft skills in the middle and school level? Elementary level?
3. If a student is not proficient on career ready or workplace practices what could be done to help them improve?
4. What career ready practices could/should be assessed in an online course environment?  

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Workshop Model of Teaching

Have you ever met your hero? Have you been afforded the opportunity to visit with someone who inspires you or who has changed the way you teach? Lucy Calkins is my “teaching hero”! I have learned so much from reading her books, emulating her lessons, and following her model of writer’s workshop. My personal meeting with her was at an International Reading Conference many years ago. Very briefly, I was able to express my gratitude for her extensive work in the area of literacy!

I have used the workshop model for many years and I firmly believe that all teachers regardless of their content/subject can effectively teach using a workshop model. Workshop model in a nutshell looks like this:

  • Mini Lesson (5-7 minutes)
  • Work Time (25-40 minutes)
  • Share (5-7 minutes)

**times are simply a suggestion rather than a hard and fast rule

The mini lesson is where you teach! You share new information, reinforce previously taught material, reteach, etc… The work time is where students work but also where you get to visit with students, confer. This is a time to really see what students can do and listen to them explain their thinking. Some of the best relationship building has come from student conferences! The share time is when students get to visit with others about their work and they get to listen as others contribute to the classroom discussion. (If you are unsure of where to get started with conferring with students, I recommend reading Carl Anderson’s book, “How’s it Going?” 

Being an English teacher, I have the luxury of a multitude of resources that help me teach using this model. However this model can be used by anyone and everyone! Athletic coaches have been using the workshop model for ages! It really does work for all. :)

Questions to ponder:
  1. Do you currently teach using a workshop model or have you witnessed someone using a workshop model? What are your thoughts on this method of teaching? 
  2. Describe how you could incorporate this model into your teaching. If you already are a workshop model teacher - What is the best piece of advice for those teachers that may be hesitant to try?
  3. The suggested length of a mini lesson is 5-7 minutes. Does this amount of time seem adequate? 
  4. When you have seen conferencing with students what approach seems most effective? Are the conferences more student or teacher directed? 
  5. What kinds of information are you hoping to gain in a student conference? What do you do with this information?