I feel a pang of annoyance. Parent follow-up every day? I wonder if I should feel insulted by a lack of trust. And doesn’t that parent know I have 25 other students to monitor? And what if all of their parents requested the same level of communication?
Sadly, such was my attitude when I first started teaching whenever a parent asked for more frequent communication on their child.
Fortunately, over time, I started to recognize just how important it is for parents to have a better window into their children’s learning–not just because of the fact that they have entrusted them to my care for 7 hours a day, but also because I came to grasp just how really terrible grades are at conveying meaningful learning.
Student-led conferences helped me take one of the first leaps forward in creating that window. The student ownership, the authentic conversations, and the overall sense of meaning facilitated unprecedented parent/student/teacher communication. (the link above will take you to that process, along with a lot of pdf resources)!
Student blogging came next in furthering the communication cause. I knew I wanted my students to be able to showcase their learning journeys in ways their parents could more easily access. The students loved commenting on one another’s blog posts, but the real joy came as parents started leaving responses, too–words of encouragement, support, and love.
Here are just a few of my what ifs for now. I would love to hear your feedback, especially if it’s something you’ve tried/dreamed about as well!
What if teachers and students regularly coauthored learning reports (do you think something like this would work–I was thinking that notes could be added in each relevant category as learning developments worth noting arise, not as a chart to be completely filled each week)?
What if teachers openly discussed our anecdotal notes with each student and asked for their feedback?
What if parents were able to write and respond to notes with what they are seeing at home with regards to specific learning goals?
What if students were able to write and respond to notes with what they are experiencing with regards to specific learning goals?
What if we completely eliminated surprise “grades” and moments like those illustrated in the meme below?
You know when you get those moments of clarity that make you giddy with excitement? I’m currently in the thralls of one of those right here!
I’ve been reflecting lately about my blogging habits that I know are holding me back. Like the fact that my brainstorming process reminds me of chicken feed scattered thin across a yard (I have several dozen Google Documents of ideas I start and then abandon to jump to something else). Or the time I waste second-guessing myself before I hit publish. Or the mental energy I squander with worry that since I’m not currently in a classroom, my ideas are less valuable.
But today, I’ve had a stroke of inspiration that I hope will help me better organize, focus, and refresh my thoughts and time. I’ve decided to try joining those bloggers who create weekly topic schedules for their posts:
Mondays: Inspiring Inquiry
Friday: Learning Through Reflecting
Some background on each topic:
Mondays: Inspiring Inquiry
I feel like I’m constantly stumbling across beautiful and thought-provoking images, articles, or videos that I think would make incredible Provocations or conversation-starters for students (for those not familiar with International Baccalaureate or the PYP–Primary Years Program–a Provocation is a component of an inquiry unit that provokes students’ questions and thinking, hopefully orienting them toward that unit). Sometimes I’ll tweet them and sometimes I’ll bookmark them. But I’m generally left with a nagging, back-of-mind worry that I’ll want to find that one resource again for my future students, only to be thwarted by my hopeless lack of organization.
So I’m setting aside Mondays as “Inspiring Inquiry” as a personal goal to not only better organize provocation-worthy material, but to share with my fellow teachers. In addition to publishing my favorite resource of the week, I’ll also plan on listing open-ended questions you can have students consider.
I’m particularly excited about this one. I’ve often heard the advice for bloggers to “write what you know.” As a teacher writing for an educational blog, I never anticipated this being an issue (after all, despite being on year two of my extended parental leave, I still can’t seem to turn off “teacher mode”). But the longer I’m away from my classroom, the more difficult it’s becoming to reach back to write about my experiences in the classroom. And if I’m not reflecting about personal teaching experiences, I worry about originality–I don’t want to just recycle other people’s ideas.
What’s more, child-rearing has taken center stage on the “what I know” front while I’m home with our three little ones. And I don’t often turn to this all-encompassing aspect of my life for writing inspiration because it’s not the classroom.
But I recently realized how very silly this has been. Though my students are much smaller, they still offer rich learning opportunities every day. And not only run-of-the-mill parenthood learning (ie, don’t lay down on your picnic blanket during a crowded library storytime, or the toddler behind you might try to pick your nose), but learning that very much uses and extends my professional development as a teacher. So it’s time for those #TeacherMom stories to come to light. Buckle up!
Friday: Learning Through Reflecting
I’m setting this aside to reflect on lightbulb moments on my previous teaching practices. These “aha” moments usually come as I connect with and learn from my PLN–their tweets, blogs, and photos. They also come through keeping up with educational journals and news.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about making this kind of commitment. I know there will be days or even weeks where it just doesn’t happen. But since I want to continue to model important learner qualities to my students (current small ones and future bigger ones), I refuse to let fear of failure keep me from taking a chance that might help me grow and improve.
Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever tried a blogging topic schedule? What worked for you and what did not? What are your thoughts on the topics I’ve chosen? And I’d also love to hear your feedback on these themed posts as they start rolling out next week!
A week ago, I opened my email to find a lovely message from Edutopia telling me they had published my article. The sequence of my response went something like this:
“Woo-hoo! I feel validated!”
[clicking on my article] “Wait. I wrote and submitted this back in November. Is it even as relevant anymore?”
[frantically rereading my article] “Shoot, I would totally reword this entire section today!”
[reaching the end of the article] “How did I think that people would actually benefit by this?”
[a few hours later after the retweets started coming] “Wow, people are reading this!”
[a few seconds later] “Shoot, people are reading this! What if they read my bio and see I’m not even in the classroom right now? Or won’t they scoff at the fact that I’ve only taught for 4 years?” There’s no way this will keep up…”
[the weekend after] “Um, a lot of people are reading this. And commenting on it. And sharing it. I can feel good about that, right?”
And this morning, exactly one week later, I came across, “Overcoming Imposter Syndrome.” Though centered on the common struggle experienced by designers, I realized that this “Imposter Syndrome” nails it for me as an educational blogger, too. The fear of being “found out,” the hesitation to share, the worry of being under-qualified.
But it’s comforting to know this is a shared human experience. And those dark and shady fears look quite different when they’re named and standing together in the light.
Because the truth is, our individual stories and voices matter. They are making a difference. Even if our only audience is ourselves. These words are journeys, helping us better make sense of the world, and to become better teachers, better designers, better people. And that’s the truth to hold on to.
Have you ever felt the “imposter syndrome?” Please share your experience in comments!
Mid-February in 2014, I shut off the lights in my fifth grade classroom and headed home for the weekend–for what would turn out to be the last time. That weekend, pregnancy complications abruptly landed me on bedrest. With a due date near the end of the school year, I was not fated to return to my fifth graders that year. And the following fall, I decided to continue my leave from teaching until our small children are in school.
So that’s it, right? One day, learning amidst a thriving classroom, and the next, dropped off the face of the map for an unknown length of time.
Only not quite. As chance would have it, during bedrest, I was offered the opportunity to run an educational blog sponsored by Honors Graduation here on HonorsGradU. I consider it my voice in the education world. And once I revived my dormant Twitter account (and the wonders of a PLN) I discovered my window. And so, with a voice and a window, I find myself still very much (and very gratefully) involved in such an important facet of my life.
For other teachers out there who currently find themselves without a classroom, and to thank all the teachers who have taught me so much over the last two years, I’d like to share 10 of the most essential insights I’ve gained while equipped with just a blog and Twitter.
#1: Nothing matters more than the fact that we are working with human beings. The most important lesson I’m reminded of again and again is this: people over paper. Sometimes, the textbook strategies need to be set aside. Sometimes, we need to stop and think if our assessments are showing us who our students really are. Sometimes, we need to just remember that the 10 year-old in front of us might need more help being 10 than preparing for college.
#2: No shiny platform or gadget is worth it if it simply maintains the status quo. I remember investigating Flipped Learning with great enthusiasm–until it became clear to me that it’s still often rooted in direct instruction. That’s not to say that it’s not useful (and some teachers do an amazing job of using flipped learning to foster inquiry). However, it was an important realization of how we sometimes think our tech makes us innovative, when in fact we might not have changed at all.
#3: Personalized professional development is out there for the taking. I am living proof of it! Twitter chats, my PLN, and even just reflecting on prior classroom moments like diy PD have all provided rich opportunities for professional learning. And it has all been free and personalized to my needs.
#4: Emphasizing concepts over content isn’t some pie-in-the-sky notion. Thousands of teachers practice it every day–and they share how they do so in abundance. Just take a look at the Twitter feeds for Taryn BondClegg, Graeme Anshaw, Chris Beddows, or the entirety of hashtag #aisq8.
#5: Providing students with authentic opportunities to make, create, and design isn’t just some passing ed fad. With our dynamically shifting future, most of us know that the content we’ve memorized is no longer enough. Providing students with opportunities to show what they can do with their knowledge–and better yet, to push the bounds into the unknown–will both better prepare them for the future and provide them with more enriching learning experiences now. MakerSpaces, coding, blogging, design–the list goes on, and you don’t have to have an enormous budget or a fulltime 1:1 classroom to get started.
#6: Digital citizenship is an urgent topic for students of all ages. Even if a school is hesitant about young students sharing their ideas with cyberspace, we must do all we can to help our students understand their role and responsibilities in the digital society. We must get digital citizenship out of the “wait-until-they’re-older” category. Today.
#7: Technology itself isn’t what makes edtech so amazing–it’s the way it encourages teachers to take risks, fail, try, and problem-solve WITH their students. It is SO easy to just “talk the talk” of being a lifelong learner. After all, we are in the business of trying to help people love learning. But do we truly embrace the messiness of learning? Do we move forward with unpolished ideas, even when we still have questions or feel like we could use more training? Modeling our own real learning process yields greater impact than delivering a lifeless lesson from a manual.
#8: “Letting go” as a teacher (trusting our students and giving them ownership over their learning) is essential, but it is a journey. Understanding that we need to let go is a major hurdle, but it’s just the first step. We need to be patient with ourselves as we gradually move toward that goal, reaching out to others who may be farther along on that journey. Whether or not you have that kind of support in your building, my shortlist of online recommendations include Kath Murdoch, Pernille Ripp, and Edna Sackson.
#9: Cute and orderly doesn’t automatically equal learning. Not that having a chaotic mess is necessarily conducive to learning either. But when an activity is adorable and highly pinnable, we sometimes fail to evaluate the real learning value.
#10: Kids can and need to understand words like metacognition.
Or at least the concept behind it. The unfortunate truth is we start labeling ourselves from a very young age, boxing ourselves into the fixed mindset. Realizing just how flexible our brains are might be more far reaching than anything else we learn.
***Bonus flipped sign: Play is a rarity. (***We call this flipped because just a couple of decades ago, practices tended to favor more play, especially for younger grades; today, even kindergartners are often laden with paperwork).
So what happens if you are devoted to exploring the edges of 21st century best practices, but your child’s school seems to match the above description?
Send positive and supportive communication to the teacher. Odds are, she is drowning in all the meetings and paperwork that are often mandated at such schools, and can use all the support she can get.
Frequently discuss with your child his/her motivations and passions. When she comes home with a sticker for cooperation, discuss whether stickers are the bottom-line for her choices. Would she cooperate without stickers? Why or why not?
Share those kinds of above conversations with your child’s teacher. During conferences and other opportunities, share your child’s thoughts on personal motivation (or better yet, encourage the child to do so). Get the conversations going that may help broaden perspectives and initiate reflection.
Implement 21st century practices at home. MakerSpaces, coding, SOLE’s, blogging–the list goes on. Whatever you do, the point is to allow your child to drive the learning.
As parents and teachers, we can take action to cultivate our children’s pursuit of genuine learning, despite conflicting policies or practices. Please share some strategies that you have found effective below in the comments!
The Daily 5 and 3 for literacy and math: perfect for addressing some questions I’d had on inviting more student choice and ownership. Unfortunately for me, my school adopted it the very year I began my extended parental leave. However, I was thrilled when I was invited to mentor a student teacher that fall, allowing me to still test out the Daily 5/Daily 3 waters for myself. And after a few weeks, the students and I agreed that it was a worthwhile change.
Meanwhile, not everyone at the school welcomed the transition with such enthusiasm. Some worried about not spending enough time on spelling. Others worried about students squandering time. Others were simply entrenched in their existing routines. If you are considering either program, here are some tips to keep in mind to foster a smooth transition.
Allow a LOT of training time
This is no joke. Most students have learned “school” pretty well, but that tends to be more of a teacher-directed perspective. The autonomy of evaluating how they need to spend their learning time is going to be quite novel for most of them. Take each Daily 5 or Daily 3 choice one at a time, emphasizing not only stamina, but metacognition to support their ability to reflect upon their own strengths and needs.
Use status of the class–especially starting out!
One of the recommendations in the current Daily 5 book for monitoring which Daily 5/3 choices students make is roll call or status of the class. It enabled me to track their choices and to offer brief feedback so they could learn to really plan their time well.
Many teachers I spoke with felt it would be too time-consuming to call out each student’s name for their response. However, after a period of training on this process as well (we even timed ourselves to make it a competition), we were able to finish in under 2 minutes. Especially for older students, over time, you may be able to eliminate this step and let students simply move their name or picture on a choice board (such as the example below).
However you decide to track their choices, avoid the temptation to regularly assign them to stations. This eliminates one of the fundamental purposes of Daily 5/3, which is to foster students’ ability to determine how they need to spend their learning time.
Make the schedule work for you
Don’t be intimidated by the way blocks of time are outlined in the book. Interruptions to the school day are almost always a package deal, but the good news is that Daily 5/3 are designed to be flexible.
If the time you have available for student choices time is a bit shorter than ideal, add one more Daily 5 block (without any whole group time) during the day for them to choose another station to revisit and catch up on. See the example schedules at the bottom.
Don’t skimp on wrap-ups
Despite the flexible nature of Daily 5/3, don’t skip the wrap-up! This moment of reflection is invaluable both for you and students to gauge the progress, problems, and successes.
Stagger the mini-lesson one day and assignment the next
If you don’t have enough student choice times for all students to get to a station that includes an assignment based on the mini lesson, simply give the assignment the day after the corresponding mini lesson.
Make an assignments board
Simplify where students should look for Daily 5/3 assignments (and possibly a reminder on essential agreements) by designating a bulletin board or a corner of your whiteboard. See below for a great example.
Don’t drown their choices with teacher-centered worksheets
It may be especially tempting in Math Daily 3 to make each of the stations different kinds of worksheets from the lesson manual. However, keep in mind that one goal for Math Daily 3 is to foster more hands-on learning experiences. Both “Math by Myself” and “Math with Someone” are intended for games and exploring math manipulatives (see next tip). “Math Writing” is appropriate for students to show their understanding on paper.
Create a running bank of games/activities for math
As students learn each new game or math manipulative activity, write down the title on a sentence strip. Then, for Math by Myself & with Someone, you can just pull out familiar games for new concepts (or for review, especially at the beginning of a unit). Examples:
This teacher has prepared gallon ziplock baggies of games ahead of time for partners to play together. Her examples are geared toward grades 2-4, but the concept is great because it reinforces having a bank of games the kids are familiar with. This would be a great parent volunteer activity!
If the noise level is reaching a distraction for students in independent stations, seek out solutions as a class. For instance, they might find limiting the number of partners that can work during a block to be helpful.
EXAMPLES OF SCHEDULES/CHOICES FOR 2 DIFFERENT CLASSES:
The day my school decided to move science fair to sixth grade instead of fifth, we all cheered–students, teachers, and parents alike. Years later, I’m reflecting on the root of our mutual animosity toward the project. And it seems to come down to three problems–and solutions!
Lack of Teacher Modeling
We ask students to dig deep. To ask questions that don’t have an answer yet. In short, to go beyond comparing popcorn brands. But how often do we model how we develop our own original questions? Share our honest, raw wonderings? Demonstrate our process of Googling to refine an idea?
A7: Research trends in science to create your own q’s that have not been answered. Can you google the answer? If so, dig deeper #mogtchat
Creativity and innovation are skills, and science fair projects are an advanced exercise of these skills. If we expect our students to suddenly showcase skills we’ve never helped them cultivate (or worse, that we’ve never cultivated ourselves), we are setting them up for failure–or just another diaper absorbency project.
SOLUTION → Teach questioning: If you want students to ask “measureable questions,” teach them how to do so long before introducing science fair. Strategies like frequent use of Visible Thinking protocols trains students how to develop and refine their questions. (see also Tubric).
Lack of Existing Student-Driven Project-Based Learning
The science fair should not be an isolated experience of students taking ownership over and driving their own learning process. If it is, it’s unlikely that many will rise to the freedom in ways that will fuel their passion and motivation.
SOLUTION → Project-Based Learning: Make it your next weekend project to create one new PBL opportunity. Guides like this one found on Edutopia can help you get started.
SOLUTION → Student Voice & Choice: Mindfully consider your students’ choice and voice in their day-to-day learning. When we gradually let go of control and allow our students to steer the learning, they will grow in confidence and self-understanding.
Lack of Engaged and Authentic Audience
Even if students do manage to find a passion-driven project, how often does their work ever go beyond a cardboard trifold display in the gymnasium (unless they happen to move on to regionals)? Too often, we only allow our students small sips from locally limited audiences–when we could lead them to the very fountain of global conversation with our fingertips. It’s time to throw open the floodgates and watch what happens when our students swap ideas with peers, scientists, and experts across the world.
SOLUTION → Student Blogging: Encourage your students to blog not only the final presentation, but their entire process along the way. Then, teach them how to ask for feedback to fine-tune their ideas.
SOLUTION → The Wonderment: This is an especially wonderful platform for younger students to collaborate safely online. They can upload photos, videos, and text, asking questions and getting inspiration from kids around the world (see other excellent blogging alternatives here).
Let’s break the mold of hating science fair this year. What are some of your strategies to do so?