Friday, May 17, 2019

“Teacher, Teacher, how do I do this?” ... or ... “What are you going to do when I’m not here to help you?”

Ever wonder how to help your students know what to do when they don’t know what to do? Me too. I like to give a lot of lip service to how important it is to support success skills (four C’s, soft skills, life them what you will), but I’ll admit it: They can be overwhelming. I mean, seriously, critical thinking?! What does that even look like?

One thing that is clear, though, is that they are a critical component of our picture of a successful BPS graduate. Our parents and community want our students to develop them. Our school board monitors student engagement with them. And, if that’s not enough for you, do a Google search for “top job skills for 2020.” They need to be a focus in every classroom...every day. (That’s right, I said it: “erryday!” If I had a microphone, here is where I’d drop it.)

Yeah, yeah, still haven’t told us what they look like, sound like, feel like.” O.K., O.K., I hear ya. Honestly, I’d tell you if I knew. It’s not like there is a rubric out there for creativity or collaboration (ahem)...and here we are again...OVERWHELMING!

These are just a few reasons that teachers at BPS have been participating in an opt-in professional development project called “Success Skills in Action.” The goal: focus on and learn what success skills look like in our classrooms. When do our students use them? How do our students use them? What does it look like when students aren’t using them? What does it look like when they’re learning to use them?

How are we doing this? With success skills, of course. We are thinking critically about the specific behaviors (both explicit and implicit) in the BPS success skills rubrics (if you haven’t found them yet, drive your web browser to -> Teaching Practices -> Success Skills). We are thinking creatively about what types of experiences and opportunities students need in order to apply these skills. We are working collaboratively by sharing our desired student behaviors and visiting each others’ classrooms to help each other observe which behaviors students are and aren’t demonstrating. We are communicating that information back to teachers and students in those classrooms to build our collective understanding of these important skills.

What are we finding out? Well, take a look at what some participants have said:

“Watching the teacher push these students' critical thinking really reminded me of the importance of creating experiences where the kids are required to find the answers themselves and where I am a facilitator of their learning. Students teaching one another was so powerful, which shows the significance of collaboration.”

“As I read the feedback, I realized how all the work on teaching the 4 C’s throughout the year really paid off.”

“ I was pleased to hear that they were problem solving and helping each other to stay on task.”

“I am so happy I participated in Success Skills in Action because having extra ears and eyes in the classroom was helpful to determine if the behaviors I wanted were achieved.”

“I believe I can impact student ability to think critically more than I used to. I believe teaching the process of critical thinking and modeling it is very important to help students deconstruct problems and ideas.”

We’re still learning how to best support these important skills, but one thing we can say for sure is: success skills aren’t an outcome...they’re an action!

Twitter Tuesday Questions:

  1. What types of behaviors do you look for to indicate student engagement with success skills?
  2. What relationship to you think success skills have with social-emotional learning?
  3. How do success skills allow students to engage in deeper learning?
  4. What do you do to support and encourage communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking?

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Turning Student’s Minds On To Math

In February, I had the opportunity to attend a math conference led by Wendy Ward Hoffer and focused around her book titled Minds on Mathematics Using Math Workshop to Develop Deep Understanding.  I was fortunate to go with a team from the district, many of whom I recognized, but hardly knew.  My skepticism was turned up high and my willingness to try something new unfortunately was lower than I would like to admit as I boarded the plane.  It was a mixture of excitement and anxiousness that we feel before attending professional development training.  The fear that you’ve just left your classroom and family for multiple days and the hope that what you learn at the conference will make it worth it.

Within the first thirty minutes of the conference all anxiousness was quickly washed away by pure excitement, and it wasn’t just because of the killer cowboy boots and fabulous earthy styled hair the speaker, Wendy Ward Hoffer, was rocking.  It was because the words she spoke about the learning of mathematics were so simple, so honest, and so spot on.  She introduced what she has identified as the key beliefs around the learning of mathematics, which included:
1.      Math is about making sense.
2.      Students are capable of brilliance.
3.      Understanding takes time.
4.      There is more than one way to solve a problem.
5.      All students are capable of doing the math.
The components within a math workshop are always the same.  They include teaching for understanding by identifying thinking strategies, using the workshop model, and including lots of student discourse.  Wendy repeatedly stressed the importance of two-thirds of the workshop time being student focused and lead, along with the encouragement of student talk

While quickly clarifying that math workshop is not a station rotation model, it was clearly defined that it is a structure for lesson planning and a framework for thinking about math instruction.  The math workshop framework consists of four essential components including a,
1.      Cognitive hook
2.      Mini-lesson
3.      Student work time (independently, with partners, and in groups)
4.      And a Reflection

The cognitive hook is used to gain the attention of your mathematicians.  The hook is followed by a mini lesson which begins to frame the thinking of the day’s learning.  Then comes the best part, student work time.  Work time is focused around rich mathematical tasks.  It is during this time the teacher will intentionally insert a moment to pause the thinking of students to catch them based on the needs observed and then release them back to the learning.  The work time should consist of a balance of independent, partner, and group time.  As always, student discourse is truly at the heart of math workshop.  Students being allowed and encouraged to think about the problems and then talk about the math.  It is during these conversations they gain confidence, new math knowledge, solidify their thinking, and showcase their math thinking in a way that it could be shared, justified, and discussed with others.  The final and critical component of the math workshop model is student reflection.

I remember thinking the simplistic idea behind the shifting of thinking about the learning of mathematics was genius!  The professional development received had provided a framework that would blend beautifully within the curriculum, tools, and other resources with which the district has already provided.  I left the conference ready to go back into my classroom and turn all of my students’ minds on to mathematics. 

In honesty, however, it took me over two weeks of dragging my feet, figuring out some of the small details, and getting over the general fear of disrupting the flow of our math time for me to try it.  But jump I finally did, okay the first time was more like a belly flop, but I was in the water and it felt about as good as a belly flop does.  I muddled my way through the hour.  The quality and quantity of student work was okay, and their understanding of the concept progressing, but it was their reflections in their math notebooks that ultimately got my teaching partner and I.  Comments such as, “Math was fun today.”  “I didn’t get it right away, but my partner showed me their way and then I got it.”  The next day, we tried it again and using the workshop model felt a little better!  And today I can tell you, that more days than not, using the math workshop model within our math block is as exciting as jumping off of the high diving board into the deep end of the pool.  

The students’ engagement has gone up, their feelings about math have changed for the better, their critical thinking has increased, and they started to feel like the mathematicians they truly are.  They no longer fear failure within mathematics, but instead look at it as a stepping stone to get to true understanding.  They finally look at all math as something they CAN DO and if they cannot quite wrap their brain around the concept yet, they look at it as a puzzle they are going to try to figure out.

Throughout this learning journey, I have again been reminded of my role as a teacher.  I am here to pose a challenge, make students think for themselves, encourage them to persevere, catch them at just-in-time moments to support their thinking/learning (this step may be repeated multiple times dependent on the student you are working with) and celebrate them for success and willingness to be risk-takers.  It’s truly what teaching is all about! 

It became evident very very quickly to me that this was the exact professional development that I didn’t even know I needed, and I’m so grateful for having had the learning experience.  As you take a plunge this summer into deeper learning, why not try the high dive?  It may just be the exact refresher you are looking for.

Twitter Tuesday Questions-

Q1:  How do you encourage student discourse within your lessons/classroom?

Q2: What are some creative ways you have students reflect on their learning?

Q3:  What profession development are you excited to be digging into this summer?