If You Give A Kid A Spelling List…

If you give a kid a spelling list…

…she will need words that are on a developmentally appropriate, differentiated level.

If the words are on the right level…

…she will want to break them down for patterns, connections, and language concepts.

If she is breaking them down for bigger concepts…

…she will want to know why spelling matters in general.

If you show her why it matters…

…she will want to take ownership over the way she practices it.

If she is practicing spelling with more ownership…

…she will begin to find more autonomy elsewhere in her learning.

This “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” (by Laura Numeroff) thinking arose from reflecting on how spelling is great example of the need to challenge the status quo.

Spelling has looked the same for decades in many classrooms: everyone gets the same list on Monday, practices copying down the words throughout the week, gets tested on Friday.

This pattern often persists despite all we’ve come to know and continue to learn about spelling instruction and development (see the checklist for evaluating spelling programs on page 35 of this document by D.K. Reed at Center on Instruction).

Some of the most important changes include the following:

Instead of the same words, we should be differentiating. I enjoyed using the program, Words their Way for this purpose, as I was able to assess students within their individual stages of spelling. Quite apart from reaching students’ developmental needs, I also appreciate approaches that do not make spelling a one-size-fits-all situation that unfairly challenges only those who are below “grade level.”

Instead of mandating uniform spelling practice each day, we should be teaching students to recognize how to allocate their word study time. Even when spelling is differentiated, it will still come more easily for some students than others, which results in wasting valuable time. A framework that helped me adopt this approach was Daily 5 (for literacy; Daily 3 for math).  It was wonderful to watch my students make informed decisions about their learning time rather than just passively checking everything off the teacher’s list each day.

Instead of focusing on memorization, we should be helping our students break down and investigate each word. This better scaffolds students in their language acquisition, building upon their grasp on patterns in phonology.

When we step back to see an even bigger picture, we see that these changes are not only about better spelling instruction, but about broader 21st century principles including student ownership, inquiry, and personalized learning.

 

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Taming Those Housekeeping Routines #TeacherMom

When we moved to our new home two years ago, I vowed to stick to the plan for keeping things tidy. It went something like this:

  • Mondays: Deep clean the kitchen
  • Tuesdays: Sweep and mop the floors
  • Wednesdays: Clean the bathrooms
  • Thursdays: Vacuum
  • Fridays: Laundry and dusting

My reasoning was that if I kept to a regular routine, I would keep things “covered” and under control. There would be no backup of forgotten chores, because it was already built into my everyday. Seems pretty reasonable, right?

I did manage to stick with it — for a few months.

But then life happened. My husband’s surgery, another difficult pregnancy, welcoming a newborn — gradually, the cleaning routine fell apart, and I instead had to go with sporadic cleaning according to my limited energy and time.

Now, the way I see it, I have two choices: I can look at this as a failure & berate myself into getting back into the groove, OR I can reevaluate my approach & look for learning opportunities and extended applications.

I’m going to go ahead with the latter.

Trying to turn everything into a routine in an attempt to keep things “covered” and in control often leads to things becoming…:

1. Arbitrary/Redundant: Attention getting divided up equally among unequal tasks.

2. Limiting: A reverse effect where rather than getting life more in control, we wind up feeling more controlled by the very routines we create.

3. Rigid: Reduced tendency to notice when things aren’t working, or when there’s a better way.

Routine-izing life to preempt failure is often an appealing temptation, and in far more spheres than just housekeeping. I see it in education, too:

1. Arbitrary/Redundant: Early education programs that devote one whole week to each letter to cover the alphabet, though it’s more logical to dedicate much more time to trickier, high-frequency letters like vowels (and a lot less time to those rarer letters like Q, X, & Z).

2. Limiting: Reluctance for teachers to adopt more student-centered inquiry approaches for fear of deviating from/not covering the plan.

3. Rigid: Invariably covering history in chronological order year after year, rather than looking other possibilities such as approaching it by concept

None of this is to say that routines don’t have their place. I wouldn’t give up the weekly routine of class meetings any more than I would give up daily tooth-brushing. Furthermore, my original cleaning routine now informs what needs to happen; it’s just more fluid as I evaluate factors such as urgency, whether we’re having house guests, etc.

But in the end, we should be wary of any routine we construct that causes our practices to become arbitrary, redundant, limiting, or rigid.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Resource Round-Up (aka early spring cleaning?)

My online bookmarks are a mess. The only thing that irritates me more than the fact that they aren’t doing me any good in their jumbled mess of folders is that they aren’t doing anyone else any good there either.

Fixing that today with this little graphic of resources, strategies, and ideas that I couldn’t help but bookmark over the years (even though I knew it meant adding to the mess). It also links to a few of my posts that included many of those bookmarks to further help me organize my favorite resources/strategies.

As you browse, please remember that innovative ideas will only make an impact when wielded by innovative teachers–individuals committed to thinking outside the box, encouraging student empowerment, and cultivating a personal growth-mindset. Also know that they aren’t intended as a silver bullet for classrooms everywhere; some might be more/less useful than others to you and your circumstances.

But I hope that you will be able to find something new, useful, and/or inspiring from this graphic!

I decided to frame the entire thing around the 4 C’s of 21st century education (I wanted to use the ISTE standards for students, but it proved too much for the visual I intended, but if you check those out, you’ll see a lot of parallels anyway). Please let me know what you found most useful, or if you have additional ideas to share! Enjoy!

“Let Them Fail” Is Not Uniform #TeacherMom

The benefits of failure are becoming more and more widely discussed. Perfectionism is getting the boot it deserves. Messy learning is finally gaining the acknowledgement that it’s due. And I’m thrilled!

However, I’ve noticed another trend along these lines that’s of a little more concern to me, though it can be tricky to spot.

To me, it’s in the form of these signs. Or in the form of comments that take stories like this one & declare that this is how it should be for all children to teach responsibility.

Like I’ve said before, there’s nothing inherently wrong with these signs or with this story. In fact, in many circumstances, these are great examples of allowing our children to fail in order to help them grow.

 

What makes this tricky is that allowing our kids to fail does not look the same for all children for all circumstances. But sometimes, we make it look like it is.

Which is problematic because then you have parents and teachers who feel like weighing the circumstances is no longer an option–that they must always apply “tough-love” in order to allow their children to learn from failure. And that to do otherwise is an automatic fast-track to entitlement.

It’s problematic because it sweeps away the messy process of working one-on-one with a child, leaning more in favor of one-size-fits-all policies.

And it’s problematic because it can get us focusing too heavily (sometimes still exclusively) on the behavior aspect of failure.

Now, I support and appreciate approaches like Love & Logic. But it’s SO important to remember that relationships are complex and must be approached on an individual basis. What might be the suitable consequence for one child in one context might not be for another. Anything that encourages us to stop listening and start mandating should give us pause. 

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto 

Top 20 Posts from 2016…That YOU Wrote

When I began this extended parental leave from teaching, I could never have dreamed how much I would still wind up learning even while away from the classroom. How many people would be willing to teach me. How often my thinking would be pushed.

When I share blog posts and articles by others in my PLN on social media, I often include a quote that was meaningful to me. I want you to know that each time I do this, it’s because you’ve taught me, challenged me, and lifted me. And I am so very grateful.

Here are 20 articles that particularly made me think in 2016. Their impact has been such that I have continued pondering them long after reading them. They continue to shape and inspire my thinking, writing, and living. Thank you for making my continued professional learning possible, and for enriching my life in all facets!

Working with Adults will Make Me More Patient with Children by Taryn Bondclegg:

Are You the Only Judge? by Edna Sackson:

The Least We Can Do by Pernille Ripp:

The Key to Learner Agency is Ownership by Bill Ferriter:

What If, It’s Not the “Program?” by Faige Meller:

Part of the Journey… by Jina Belnick:

Best. First. Week. of School. Ever by Taryn Bondclegg:

Student Led Conferences by Mr. Ullman:

Life Without a Number System by Graeme Anshaw:

Giving the Writing Process Back to Our Students (Part 2): Teaching Students To Find Their Own Mentor Texts by Jessica Lifshitz:

Slowing the Hands of Time by Darian Mckenzie:

Language by Megan Morgan:

Positive, Negative, or Neutral? by George Couros:

Going Gradeless Part 2 by Jonathan So:

Independent Reading: A Research Based Defense by Russ Walsh:

Allow Choice But Insist on Depth by Sam Sherratt:

Cuisenaire Around the World by Simon Gregg

Tools for Student-Driven Learning by Richard Wells:

Enliven Class Discussions With Gallery Walks by Rebecca Alber:

The New Liquidity Of Learning by David Culberhouse:

 

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

My #OneWord2017: Synthesis

Have you ever looked up the definition of compartmentalization? One Wikipedia it reads:

“Compartmentalization is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person’s having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves.”

My translation: compartmentalization is driven by fear. And I’m done.

I recently came across a quote (and for the life of me, I can’t remember where it came from or who said it, so if you know, please share) that went something like this: “I’ve spent much of my life trying to compartmentalize it. I’m ready to try to synthesize instead.”

With each day since then, this notion has grown and swelled within my mind and my heart. And it makes my 2017 one-word goal an easy choice: synthesize.

The longer I reflect and write, the more I recognize the inter-connected nature of this world. I think this is the reason my favorite blogging days are my provocation and #TeacherMom posts.

For the former, I gather scraps of inspiring resources scattered across the digital world, weaving them into broader concepts. For the latter, I gather scraps of inspiring moments scattered across my days as a mom, weaving them into broader teaching principles.

Opportunities for learning and growth are everywhere. As I work to step back and mindfully embrace the ebb and flow of life — the diaper changes, the lunch boxes, the library trips, even the tantrums — it all starts to join into a larger tapestry.

As I synthesize instead of compartmentalize, the most precious principles in my life become more pronounced and accessible: authenticity, resilience, courage, compassion, kindness. Everything begins to work toward a greater, self-perpetuating whole, rather than getting piecemealed into an eternal, competing to-do list.

My word is synthesis. What’s yours?

10 Ways For Practice & Student Ownership to Co-Exist

In a recent reflection, educator Faige Meller recently posed some excellent questions:

“As I reflect on what I call the “transference of learning to application,” I wonder how this works for our diverse learners? Is drill and practice an option? How do the programs you have, work with your students? How do we adapt our lessons to meet their needs? We know one size doesn’t fit all, but where is the “give” that’s okay?”

Readers of this blog know I am a huge advocate for student ownership over learning. To me, Faige’s questions come down to the balance of asserting our timetable over our students’ progress vs honoring their individual pace, development, and interests.

There is no quick, easy answer to this. But I strongly believe that every measure we take to be aware of this balance and to prioritize our students’ needs over external agendas/pressures is worthwhile. Here are 10 strategies I have found to be helpful in this pursuit.

1. Focus on big concepts first. I like Kath Murdoch’s description of this approach of setting up “rich, transferable concepts” in her article Inquiry learning – journeys through the thinking processes:

“For example, the inquiry into invertebrates has potential for students to develop a greater understanding of interdependence, cycles, growth and adaptation. Once we are aware of this, we can stretch students thinking beyond the ‘topic’ itself and compare and contrast the learning we are doing in this instance with conceptually similar contexts in the past.”

This helps place skills and abilities from standards into better context as students make connections within broader, more meaningful/relevant scale.

2. Encourage autonomy & metacognition in skills practice. I am a big fan of the Daily 5 routine for literacy skills (& Daily 3 for math) for this very reason–it’s one framework that not only allows students to choose how to spend their learning time, but helps them learn how to discern how to spend their time. In other words, help students stop waiting for you to tell them what skills they need to work on, & start teaching them how to identify that themselves.

3. Use Visible Thinking Routines. This practice helps strengthen metacognition and allows you a way to document thinking in a setting that provides much more student ownership and expression than perhaps a worksheet might.

4. Model reflecting on progress frequently. In the above article by Kath Murdoch, she lists possible questions that might help students to better understand the learning process, such as “What have we been doing to find out about this? What have been some of the most effective resources? How might we go about organizing this information?” This allows students to take greater ownership over the learning process, better understanding when and why practice might be necessary.

5. Make assessments as metacognitive & student-centered as possible. 5th grade teacher Jess Lifshitz shared a phenomenal example of this in the revision process with her students. Their “Revision Checklist” for their fiction writing unit prompted students to examine not just what their writing was like, but the specific reasons their writing improved.

6. Use standards-based grading over traditional grading. Younger grades are generally already good at focusing on the standards instead of grades and averages. But for older students in particular, it’s crucial for them to break away from the mode of doing “enough” for the grade, and that starts with a shift in mindset to the actual progress. An ASCD article entitled “7 Reasons for Standards-Based Grading” gives a great example of what this kind of grading might look like:

screenshot from ASCD.org, credit Patricia L. Scriffiny

7. Keep whole-class instruction to a minimum. Rely more heavily on student conferencing, small group sessions, and, when needed, whole group mini-lessons. You’ll be better equipped both to differentiate and to keep up individual conversations on students’ progress and what practice is needed.

8. Use creative problem-solving to promote student voice & to assess. We have countless digital tools at our fingertips today to help us solve old problems in new ways. A recent example of this was when Taryn BondClegg introduced back-channeling to her 4th graders so they could share and discuss ideas during their read aloud–without actually interrupting the read aloud.  She even uses the transcript as a formative assessment of their reading comprehension. An ingeniously authentic way to both ascertain and develop their abilities.

9. Allow students time for personal inquiry. This goes by many names– Genius Hour, 80/20 time, Passion Time. Allowing our students time to pursue their questions gives them the opportunity to practice & build upon many of the skills they are learning in a way that’s meaningful and directly relevant for them.

10. No “Secret Teacher Business.” This is one of my favorite phrases learned from Edna Sackson, and it makes complete sense. We are all be on the same team, and students should be familiar with all the vocabulary, longterm goals, standards, etc. that are in place for their progress and benefit.

Student ownership is key for taking practice from a place of “doing school” to a place of purpose and context in our individual learning journeys.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto