School is back into full-swing for many schools by now. Amid back-to-school supplies, carefully-designed units, and seating charts, remember to maintain a vision of those things that are most important. Here are a few of our favorite reminders.
#1: Brene Brown’s Leadership Manifesto
(and while you’re at it, perhaps her “Engaged Feedback Checklist,” too. Both of these come from her latest book, Daring Greatly, which is definitely a worthwhile read for any educator!)
#2: Bill Ferriter’s essential technology reminder
#3: Ann Lander’s wisdom on child autonomy
#4: Dr. Haim Ginott’s realization on a teacher’s daily influence
#5: And this.
Or maybe just a poster that says, “Serenity now!” Have a great 2014-2015 year!
Featured Image: (only visible on mobile devices with current layout) Nick Amoscato
If you’re pausing your teaching career during parental leave for a few years, we have some ideas to help you keep up with the education world!
#1: Watch for license renewal credits opportunities
When the time comes for you to resume your teaching career, you don’t want to be stuck with retroactively tracking down hours and paperwork! Develop a professional learning plan now, combing your state or country requirements. Contact your prior administration for documentation of any accumulated credits during your employment.
#2: Volunteer at your last school
Strap on that Baby Bjorn or occasionally drop off kids with a babysitter to maintain educational ties in your community. Gauge what’s realistic for your circumstances, though, whether it’s simply to read with students now and then, or to facilitate an extracurricular activity, such as a TED-Ed Club
#3: Volunteer online
Sign up to tutor online! Become a Granny in Sugata Mitra’s “School in the Cloud.” You can even combine #2 & #3 via interactive platforms like Skype. For instance, when I was housebound during our school’s annual PYP Exhibition process, I volunteered to mentor a few student groups through weekly Skype “meetings” instead. The students loved sharing their progress on the webcam, and I loved being involved despite my situation.
Classroom 2.0 LIVE hosts free online shows. PLP Network offers purchased E-courses (with options for graduate credit, too). And once you’ve established #4, Twitter Chats can be especially helpful–for me, one solid chat usually ends with with about 37 new open tabs of resources.
Was packing your classroom materials a whirlwind of items flying into unlabeled boxes? Then you need to fire up your scanner and read our post on getting organized. ASAP. Your sanity will thank you later when you resume teaching.
#7: Organize your new resources
After getting inspired by the 37+ tabs of resources discovered during a Tweet Chat, make sure you can find them again! Establish a bookmarking system that works for you, be it a Delicious account, or several categorized folders to sort your bookmarks on your browser (Chrome is a great option since it saves your bookmarks across your devices if you’re logged into your Google account).
#8: Develop a Skill
Brush up your old high school Spanish using the free Duolingo app. Fine-tune your piano playing. Explore PhotoShop or Prezi. Anything that you enjoy will enhance your classroom, even if it’s not directly related to your content–after all, your future students need models of adults pursuing passions!
#9: Revamp Your Class Blog!
Browse your favorite class blogs, and then find ways to incorporate your favorite user-friendly features on your own blog!
#10: Re-evaluate your WHY as a Teacher!
Reflect on your previous practices and honestly assess what can be improved or tossed altogether. Consider how you can return to the educational work-force with an even deeper commitment to authentic learning (on that subject, be sure to check out our tips on becoming a 21st Century teacher)!
And of course, remember to make the most of this precious and swiftly passing time with your little one(s)!
“There’s something powerful and exciting about the society-wide experiment the digital age has thrust upon us.” ~James Estrin, National Geographic¹
Whatever shape our personal digital involvement takes, the above statement has become irrefutable. With an exponential quantity of global interaction on our hands, we can already identify many ways our lives have changed. However, time has yet to fully reveal the long term and unintended impacts of technology, known as “drip effects” (Peter Skillen gives the example of cars, where their original purpose was to simply transport people places; the unexpected drip effect became the phenomenon of city sprawl and suburban life²). To us, the most thrilling aspect of this “society wide experiment” lies in education.
Sudden Educational Evolution
For many years, education remained fairly static. Professors of education could share similar concepts and resources for decades, with little deviation. Sure, the pendulum would, at times, swing between such matters as phonics vs. whole language, but nothing altered too radically.
Now, all that is changing thanks to technology. It’s not just social media platforms that create customized professional development for teachers. It’s not just cloud storage like Google Drive that foster global collaboration. It’s not even just Youtube videos that provide instant tutorials for every topic under the sun. It’s a revolutionizing and unexpected drip-effect: the manner in which teachers are pioneering new practices. Since even those who graduated college 5 years ago were unlikely to have possessed a textbook on the benefits of Twitter in the classroom, teachers are tinkering and experimenting with new resources themselves–learning and growing right alongside their students!
The Counterintuitive Effects of Vulnerability
This kind of pioneering requires teachers to share their personal, authentic, and vulnerable learning processes–the out-loud wondering, the messy brainstorming, the trial and error, the failed projects–all are brought front and center in the classroom. What is the result when students watch adults experience genuine learning? In the “Pencil Metaphor” below (as shared in other posts), the erasers, ferrules, and hangers-on may fear that exposing their limitations could result in a loss of respect, productivity, or control. The the rest are discovering the true results: strengthened relationships as students see their teachers as more human; heightened motivation as students are inspired by what lifelong learning looks like; and abundant empowerment for everyone in an atmosphere where it is safe to experiment, fail, discover, and grow.
During the most recent #5thchat (held Tuesday nights at 8 pm ET), Tyson Lane summarized this approach well:
@mary_teaching@ICTmagic definitely. It’s very much like life; develop and share values rather than force and instruct to get better outcome
Such common sharing and learning is also reinforced by the findings of vulnerability and shame researcher, Brene Brown, when she describes the necessary shift in education and business alike, “from controlling to engaging with vulnerability–taking risks and cultivating trust”³ (p. 209. See her terrific manifesto for leaders here).
Walking the Talk
I was always surprised at how much one phrase delighted my students: “I don’t know.” Giggles and slightly dropped jaws would consistently ensue, followed by profound discussions on whether I should find out myself (while modeling to them), or whether they could help me figure it out. My most carefully crafted inquiry questions rarely elicited as much engagement from my students as those three words. Similarly, I once attempted to create a DIY interactive whiteboard with a Wii remote–a venture that ultimately proved completely ineffective. Though one might expect that students would respond to such failure with scorn, my students were keenly supportive through every step–and in turn, showed increased willingness to try and share new ideas themselves.
Through blogs, Twitter, and more, I have learned from exceptional individuals who are boldly learning with their students. Listed below are a few:
Jon Bergmann: Within a couple years of Youtube’s debut, Jon wondered what would happen if he gave his lessons in video format as homework instead of teaching them in class. The result has been the Flipped Class Movement.
Numerous other educators in my PLN who daily share their triumphs, trials, and resources on Twitter.
Trying new technology to improve your classroom is risky. But even if the intended goal fails, the drip effect of being vulnerable with your students and allowing them to watch you authentically learn is priceless.
The dialogue on “digital divides” is extensive with regards to student learning and accessibility. But what about digital divides for learning and accessibility among teachers?
No Teacher Left Behind?
When I graduated from college in 2009, I had never heard of concepts like PLN’s, teachers using Twitter professionally, or encouraging elementary students to create digital portfolios with blogs. When I began teaching at a fairly new school filled with other recently graduated teachers, our video projectors were as high-tech as it got–though most classrooms still had overhead projectors, too. And when I finally began to explore 21st century educational technology years later (social media in particular), I discovered a rather counterintuitive pattern: despite being raised with the internet, younger teachers as a whole are not the fluent edtech masters one might expect.
Putting the Pieces Together
The more I started to catch up on edtech, the more aware I became of this pattern. For example, as the Flipped Learning Network has gathered statistics on flipped classrooms, it has shared findings using various Infographics. The one below states that 85% of teachers flipping their classrooms have at least 7 years of experience; another shows that for 46% of teachers polled, that number jumps up to 16 years!
“…the majority of Gen Y teachers grew up using the Internet and technology. Given this simple fact, it would seem to be only a matter of time before a cohort of tech-savvy, actively tweeting, social media-integrating teachers take over our schools. The reality, however, is more complicated…being born at this time did not necessarily mean being born into a world of social media…nor did it necessarily mean being educated in a technology-rich learning environment.”
With regards to teacher education, it further states:
“Surprisingly, given that the vast majority of those entering the profession are digital natives, new teachers are no more likely to integrate technology into their practice than their veteran peers. The research indicates that it is not a lack of access, but primarily lack of knowledge and practice integrating the technology into their instructional pedagogy.”
To an extent, the shortcomings of collegiate teacher prep makes sense. As a recent Huffington Post article points out, college in 2005 was dramatically different from today (ie, neither MacBook Pros nor Twitter existed yet, and Facebook was still limited to college freshmen). Even the professors were unfamiliar with rapidly evolving educational technology tools and practices.
Meanwhile, teachers whose careers were already established when such tools debuted became the prime candidates for becoming the digital literates in the field. Thus, I would contend that older teachers are even more likely than younger ones to integrate technology in their teaching practices and professional development.
Closing the Gap
So how do we close the gap of teachers who do and don’t effectively integrate technology? The above-mentioned NASBE report cites policy and institution-based solutions such as improving technology instruction at the university level, as well as implementing quality, ongoing professional development and peer mentoring. While these are sure to help address the issue, we suggest it can also be remedied when teachers take individual action. With the wealth of free professional development available online (ie, communities of teachers on Twitter that share, discuss, and support), teachers can be quickly brought up to speed on the latest ideas. Our post on ways to become a 21st century teacher has specific ideas for such action. Let us endeavor to close any digital divide that arises to strengthen our global community of teachers and learners!
If you are thinking of adopting Pam Allyn’s Core Ready series for teaching the Common Core English Language Arts standards, be sure to check out our review based on our experience with the program!
As teachers, we know that it’s difficult to truly evaluate a program until we’ve actually used it for a solid time-period. At the same time, we also know it’s not often practical just to try out programs, due to financial and time constraints. For this reason, I’d like to share my experience with teaching using Pam Allyn’s Core Ready books, in the hopes that it assists teachers considering their implementation. My fifth grade team decided to adopt the series this past year since we wanted a Common Core-aligned reading and writing workshop program. We had previously been using The Complete Year in Reading & Writing: Year 5 by Pam Allyn with much success, so we had high hopes for the new series. I was personally able to teach using all of the books this year except The Journey to Meaning,due to maternity leave.
Each of the four books have 1 “lesson set” or unit per grade, which includes:
10 lessons each for reading and writing (reading and writing to be taught simultaneously)
1 Language Lesson (to be taught at some point within the lesson set)
Appendix of resources, including graphic organizers and rubrics
Grades 3-5 Books (can be taught in any order you prefer):
The Power to Persuade: Opinion & Argument
Focuses on strategies on what makes writing persuasive
Main published piece for 5th grade: a persuasive text
The Road to Knowledge: Information & Research
Focuses on how to gather research, note-taking skills, and how to correctly cite others’ work
Main published piece for 5th grade: an informational text; topic chosen by students
The Journey to Meaning: Comprehension & Critique
Focuses on reading poetry & essays to analyze themes, subjects, and author point of view
Main published piece for 5th grade: analytical essay
The Shape of Story: Yesterday & Today
Focuses on various types and components of stories, including character development and conflict, with an emphasis on fantasy for the 5th grade lessons
Main published piece for 5th grade: a narrative fantasy story
Other Corresponding Resources
Be Core Ready: Powerful, Effective Steps to Implementing and Achieving the Common Core State Standards: Detailed introduction both to the Core Ready series and to the ELA Common Core Standards themselves.
PDToolKit: An online resource in which you can access additional resources for the lessons
♥Common Core-aligned, vertically and horizontally!
This is obviously a major attraction to this series. Now that the Common Core has simplified the focuses of ELA standards, it can be difficult to revise your current ELA program to be completely Common Core aligned–especially across an entire school! The beauty of the Core Ready books is that not only is it completely Common Core-aligned within your own grade level, but it masterfully builds learning between grades.
♥Simple structure in each lesson (Warm up, Teach, Try, Clarify, Practice, Wrap-up)
I enjoyed this framework both because it facilitates plenty of guided student application, and because it allowed me to easily divide up the lessons into multiple days (if we needed to break it up, we would often end with “Clarify” one day, and begin with “Practice” the next).
♥Fosters teacher authenticity
The series thoroughly embraces the 21st century view of teachers as readers and writers growing right alongside students (rather than as wizened experts or sources of knowledge). A perfect illustration of this approach lies in the fact that as students create a published piece in each lesson set, the books also encourage teachers to do the same. The benefits here are reciprocal; first, it builds in authenticity as teachers model their own warts-and-all literary process. As a result, students glimpse the true nature of literary learning: not a neat, manufactured, step-by-step process, but one that is messy, purposeful, and beautiful.
♥Student-centered –> Plenty of room for inquiry!
Rather than teachers directly pointing out literary concepts, it encourages students to discover the concepts themselves within texts. The lessons also constantly invite students to consider their own literary backgrounds, to identify their personal inspiration, and to make purposeful choices as unique readers and writers.
♥Encourages critical thinking and metacognition
The lessons are designed to continually challenge students to ask, “WHY?” For instance, any time students are asked to find examples of literary concepts in texts, they are also nearly always asked to locate text evidence that defends their reasoning. This makes for lively student discussions as they share their personal analyses. Additionally, every lesson set involves student reflection, and I definitely saw growth in my students as they regularly examined their own thinking and decision-making processes.
During a webinar early in the school year, I asked Pam Allyn and Debbie Lera whether 40 lessons would be enough to span the entire school year, as we worried this seemed like more of a supplemental program. They assured me that many lessons would likely take more than a day to teach, and they were absolutely right; particularly when students gathered research or revised, some lessons took more than a week! Additionally, our grade kept a couple small units from previous years, which we found easy to incorporate alongside the Core Ready series.
♥Encourages digital literacy
For the informational text unit, my students turned essays into multi-media blog posts. For the fantasy narrative, my students created illustrated Storybirds. The Core Ready books are packed with suggestions for engaging and natural technology integration.
This is part of the reason that each lesson can be extended well beyond a day. They include:
Ideas for both high-tech & low-tech classrooms
Suggestions to bridge concepts for English Language Learning students
Suggestions for Speaking & Listening development
Concrete ideas for formative assessments throughout the lessons.
Fantastic Appendix of resources and rubrics
♥Few anchor texts required
If you previously used the Complete Year in Reading and Writing books, you understand the financial strain of programs that require many anchor texts. While this series does recommend a few anchor texts, it more frequently gives suggestions for online-accessible texts!
Of course, dedicating time for daily reading and writing is essential. However, this program requires at least 40 minutes each for the reading and writing lessons. You will also likely want to find time to incorporate guided reading groups, and while it’s been suggested that these groups can be run during the “practice” component of each reading lesson, that simply isn’t always practical. For one thing, it keeps you from one-on-one interactions available during their practice time. Plus, that practice time doesn’t happen the same way every day since some individual lessons are stretched over multiple days, which makes it very difficult to predictably schedule guided reading within the reading/writing workshop time.
♦Language Standards not fully integrated
Throughout the 4 books for 5th grade, some of the Language standards are only covered once–and a couple, not at all (Standards 4 and 5). While a wonderful characteristic of the Core Ready books is that each lesson masterfully integrates a variety ELA standards, this can also make it difficult to keep track of which areas need to be supplemented if they aren’t included. For how time-consuming this program is, I found myself wishing that the entire ELA standards were covered so we didn’t feel we needed an additional grammar program to provide complete Language instruction and spiraling practice.
♦Teacher talk can be lengthy
Each phase of each lesson includes detailed sample teacher talk, which is positive in that it gives teachers clear ideas on the lesson’s intended direction. However, it can get quite long–the “Teach” component in particular. For this reason, the lengthy teacher talk only becomes a “con” when teachers don’t realize it’s essential to adapt it to their own timetable and student needs.
The strengths of this series clearly outweigh the few drawbacks. I would highly recommend these books to any teacher, especially if they are looking for a way to naturally build reading and writing skills in an interdependent, authentic manner!
Class meetings are more than about discussing logistics or class management, although those are benefits, too. It’s about creating an environment where everyone can feel comfortable to speak their minds & learn from each other!
#1: Develop as Risk-Takers.
“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller
We all develop inhibitions through the years as we become fearful of failure. This kind of mentality, however, is absolutely stifling to any real learning. We must find authentic ways to show students we welcome risk-taking, rather than just telling them we do. Class meetings are a perfect way to do so! Because of their low-pressure settings, they have the capacity to help even the shyest students to slowly build their confidence over the year.
#2: Cultivate Relationships with Students.
In the blur of lunch count, P.E., and grading, it’s easy to get caught up in the logistics of school, neglecting personal relationships. However, most of us began teaching because of people–as it should be! Class meetings provide an appropriate, dedicated environment for sharing personal experiences–ones of celebration, loss, anticipation, anxiety, and just plain silliness. Such sharing renews and strengthens our most important priority: the students with whom we work.
#3: Social Skills.
Listening, turn-taking, appropriate responding, articulating ideas–these are just a few social skills developed in a class meeting environment. As teachers, it’s easy to react to apparent deficits in these social skills during instruction time with consequences–but what students often need more is additional practice and examples of people effectively using these skills!
#4: Opportunity for Meaningful Discussions.
This benefit is best illustrated with an example from my classroom. On my first day back at school after a week-long illness-related absence, we gathered in our circle. Students quickly began to report that behavior was not always at its best with our substitute teachers, which led to one student volunteering the statement, “Some kids think, ‘Well, I’m not going to get anything for it, so why should I be good?’” This led to one of our most animated and earnest conversations of the year. As they explored and debated this question, the class eventually came up with the following thoughtful answers, among others:
No matter how smooth your classroom management or arrangement, the fact is, issues invariably arise each year with each group of students. From desk arrangements to concerns about homework loads, students will pick up on small details teachers overlook. When you give them the opportunity to voice concerns and then to discuss them as a class during regular meetings, the classroom starts to truly become a shared, democratic environment instead of one run by one imperfect person. While a class meeting should by no means be the only opportunity for student voice, it is one helpful medium!
5 Set-Up Tips
#1: Establish rules and routines first!
No matter how old your students are, it’s essential to start by discussing expectations. To help them understand the shared nature of class meetings, make sure these are not your expectations, but what the class truly expects from one another during the meetings. Make a shared list, have students sign it as a contract, and post it in the class meeting area for a visual reminder. Have a couple of practice trials that emphasize the expectations, and model some of those skills by role-playing with students!
#2: Start With a “Talking Circle” with a “Talking Object.”
“Talking circles are more successful when the participants have trust with each other. Taking time to share stories, build relationships, explore values, and create guidelines for participation helps everyone feel physically, psychologically, and emotionally safe in the circle and creates a foundation for courageous acts of sharing.” (Winters, A.)
Have students start by sitting in a circle, and one-by-one, passing a “talking object” that declares that they have the floor for sharing. (My students have always loved using a Koosh ball for this purpose).
#3: Put out a Suggestions/Compliments Box.
Place this box in an accessible location to give students the opportunity to share compliments for the positive acts they notice from classmates, or for suggestions to help the classroom run more smoothly. We recommend making and printing your slips to provide a template that includes lines for names, solutions, etc. Remember to model to students what quality compliments and suggestions look like (which will avoid excessive “You are nice” slips, or complaints without ideas for solutions)!
#4: Establish a regular weekly meeting time.
If it matters to your students, it should matter to you! Set aside a regular weekly time, even if it’s only 15-20 minutes. If assemblies or field trips shift the schedule, discuss with students whether they’d like to reschedule that week to help them know it’s still a priority!
#5: Allow Flexibility.
During the Talking Circle, we suggest that you leave the sharing open-ended, rather than giving students a prompt. We also recommend that you give them the choice to “Pass” on their turn to keep it from becoming a stressful, pressured situation.