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?
When I finish reading articles that illustrate the sad statistics on absurdly high teacher workloads and burn-out rates, it makes me pause. I wonder whether all my reflections and recommendations about developing PLN‘s and diyPD are just a mirage for teachers trapped in such circumstances.
And perhaps they are. Which is why it is important to continue to spread awareness of such issues and to challenge policymakers to address them. But meanwhile, I find it equally important to share our strategies with other teachers that serve us even amid less-than-ideal circumstances.
On that note, here are 3 resources to better organize and maximize time for personal diyPD learning. I have found them to be enormously beneficial to keep me organized, and it’s especially my hope that they will help lessen the load for those teachers seeking to find scraps of time for personal professional learning!
RSS feed reader. Are all of your email subscriptions bogging down your email box? Try switching to an RSS feed reader. Chrome has some simple and free extensions that I’d recommend, like “RSS Feed Reader” if you want a simple menu bar icon that will give a drop-down menu of new posts; or “Feedly” if you want a more news-oriented layout that you can also sync to a phone app). You can then organize your content into folders to better select what/when you want to peruse specific topics. Remember that you can also subscribe to individual Youtube or Vimeo channels!
Inbox. Speaking of email boxes, Inbox by Gmail is a fantastic way to lasso out-of-control email. Not only can it sort incoming emails into neat folders, but it’s an excellent task-managing, sanity-saving tool. See more reasons to give it a try: “Why Google Inbox Is an Organized Teacher’s Best Friend.”
OneTab. Seeking respite from the dozens of tabs I perpetually left open on our computer, my husband introduced me to this beautiful little Chrome extension. With one click, all those tabs collapse into an easy-to-organize list in a single tab. I love it because I can more easily see all the pages/titles I’d opened with less mess. And my husband loves it because it saves our computer speed. Win-win.
What are some of your favorite time-saving management tools when it comes to media use? Please share!
When it comes to lassoing the thousand demands on our attention, we all have different strategies. A daily Post-it note on your desk, a detailed planner–maybe even alerts on your phone. But one to rule them all might just be the new Google Inbox. If you have a Gmail account, and if you are a teacher, you’ll want to upgrade the desktop version and replace the app on mobile devices with Inbox today. Here’s why:
You can snooze emails for later. I don’t know about you, but when I receive 11 high-priority emails simultaneously, but only have time to address 3, it translates to instant background worry that the other 8 will slip through the cracks. This is one of many reasons I love the snooze feature. If you know you’ll have time to email Johnny’s dad back later that evening, or maybe tomorrow morning, you can easily dismiss it until that time. Not sure when you’ll have time to revisit an idea introduced in an email (like an annual conference or newsletter on an interesting gadget), but know you don’t want to forget it forever? Just snooze until “Someday.”
You can create Reminders. Watch your email inbox become a neat, one-stop for all school-related to-do’s. When you hover over the bottom right circle, you can either compose an email or add a reminder for yourself that gets added into your inbox. You can also schedule these to display at specific dates/times or preset times (ie, “This weekend”). No more leaving to fate (or sticky notes) your intention to follow-up with Susie on her book choice next Monday, or to share that new resource with your grade level team. The mobile app is just as adept at this.
It will conveniently group your emails. Instead of every. single. email. cluttering up your screen in a long list, you can utilize Inbox’s bundling feature. For instance, instead of rows and rows of emails from Scholastic, Youtube, and DonorsChoose interspersed among more pressing emails, you can set them to show up in one Updates bundle line that expands when you click on it. Other bundles include Purchases, Finance, Promos, Trips, and Saved–and you can even make your own.
You can clean out your box quickly. The Done button is another favorite feature. Instead of clicking on an email and then trying to decide if I want to archive it, trash it, or send it to a group, I can just click one beautiful checkmark that appears next to the email when I hover on it. This feature becomes even more beautiful when it comes to bundles–I can click to expand all those Updates emails, quickly glance down the list to check whether anything needs my attention, and then click Done to sweep the entire bundle from my box.
The pinning feature adds even more flexibility. If a more important email shows up in a bundle that you’d otherwise like to sweep out, you can just pin it and it will move to your main inbox. You can also toggle the view so you see only pinned vs. unpinned items at a time.
And there are hints of more time-saving features to be added all the time. As much as we all dislike change, Inbox is definitely a winner. Make time this summer to tinker with it for a more organized and efficient next school year!
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:
With an abundance of clever crafts, cute bulletin boards, and coordinated decor, Pinterest generates much that is adorable in classrooms. But the meatier stuff is out there, too–if you dig a little deeper. Below are 10 Pins to brainstorm better self-assessments for your students.
Insufficient sleep, lack of breakfast, trouble with parents–there are a lot of reasons students may enter class with less-than-chipper attitudes in the morning. And while we should encourage them to take charge of their own mindsets, we should also consider empathy as we design the first 5 minutes of each day.
So in those first few pivotal minutes, let’s consider how we are setting the climate for the day. Do we orient the students into an atmosphere of meaningful connections? Do we remind them that their contributions matter here? Do we set the tone of shared ownership and responsibility for learning?
If a 30+ minute weekly class meeting isn’t in the cards with your schedule, consider holding condensed mini-meetings each morning, pulling out just the essentials like High-Lows, essential announcements & changes to the schedule, or a quick Talking Circle.
We are going to defy the many discussion threads on, “When is my child too old for picture books?” by declaring NEVER! No matter what grade you teach, you will not go amiss by starting class with a quality picture book. Not only are they full of essential life-lessons and values, but they’d also be a great incentive for kids to come to class on time!
Especially useful if your schedule prevents a solid wrap-up the day before. Activate the discoveries, concepts, and difficulties from yesterday by using strategies like visual thinking routines (we find “Compass Points” or “Used to Think” especially intriguing for this purpose).
• Instead of taking roll, create a check-in board where students move clothespins, magnets, or pocket chart cards labeled with their names or numbers
• Instead of calling out for hands for who is ordering hot lunch, make the check-in dual-purpose by adding lunch choices, like in the example below:
Keep it well-oiled:
• Model clear and high expectations for the start of class–if you spend the first few minutes double-checking your email or making last-minute preparations, the students will follow suit. Instead, model readiness and enthusiasm to start right away!
• Take the time to teach and then occasionally practice the morning routine expectations. For instance, you might teach them the following routine:
• Hang backpacks, make lunch choices, unstack chairs, turn in papers, and gather at the rug (if you’re doing a read aloud, start reading as soon as you have greeted each student at the door to help encourage them to join you quickly).
Prioritize and Strategize:
• Sometimes, we come across pet activities that can distract us from what will matter most for students’ present and longterm self-driven learning. We must honestly evaluate them for their authentic learning value for students, especially when placed next to other possibly more worthy ventures. Some culprits may include:
» Having students write down your entire week’s worth of plans in their planners
» Logic puzzles–especially when it’s almost always of the same variety (Pretty sure my fifth grade teacher made us to Hink-Pinks every morning of the school year)
» Arbitrary worksheets
• For those self-starters that may be completely non-negotiable, such as math fluency practice, strategize the timing. Is first thing in the morning really the optimal time for that practice, or could there be a better time when students are more alert and ready?
As we work to start each day with more purpose, we, along with our students, will more clearly glimpse the big picture of what matters most for our learning throughout each day.
What about you? What morning routines and strategies help you and your students start each day out right?