The first month or two of teaching English was an adjustment and a challenge all its own, but I think I survived, and survived well.
I don’t know if it is the upcoming Super Moon or some manifestation of Murphy’s Law, but in the past couple weeks I’ve been “Taking L’s”. This is what “the kids say” when they are taking “losses”, real, perceived, or immaterial. I’ve been taking all of the above.
So to cheer me up, here are some “W’s” from the past few weeks and things I have planned coming up.
I planned a trip and took several high school seniors on a DAY trip nearly 250 miles away to watch a play in a real theater. We also went to a modern art museum. They saw real-live protesters on strike protesting their wages. We ate at Chick-Fil-A, and we did all of the above (minus lunch) for FREE. #WIN
I searched for and planned maker-spaces to go with all my units for the rest of the school year. Our Poet-TREE has been coming along well! #WIN
For our Informational Text Unit coming up, I’ve designed a survey using Google Forms to allow the students to pick the topics that we read about in the coming weeks. I’ll gather the results and choose our texts according to their interests! #WIN
This 6 weeks, our homework will be student choice using a learning menu. There are 12 options, and the students will choose 4 to complete over the course of the grading period. #WIN
I’ve got several exciting projects planned, but the most immediate one is an infographic project my students are going to be working on this 6 weeks. Stay turned for exciting stuff in the Spring!!! #WIN
So, L’s: I’ve got some pretty great W’s to balance this out. You don’t win. I don’t lose. This weekend wasn’t quite long enough, but it was plenty to remind me that I love kids, and high expectations are part of loving them and believing in them. Teaching is hard, and sometimes those stakeholders are more like “stake-throwers” while we navigate the seas of change together, raising the stakes. (How many “stakes” puns can I put in a paragraph?) I’m not mad, and as frustrating as it is, I’m not allowed to be hurt, either. I’m just moving forward and buckling down. Thanks for reading.
Every Wednesday at the school I work at, is “college day”. Teachers and staff are encouraged to wear jeans and a college T-shirt. The idea behind this is that by wearing college T-shirts, we might encourage students to learn about and attend college.
Teachers are also encouraged to choose one college with which to decorate their classrooms. Rather than choosing only one college, I have chosen to use every Wednesday as a college day in my classroom. Each Wednesday, I highlight a different college, and I wear that college T-shirt. Additionally, I answer my students’ questions about college. We have covered everything from crazy dorm-mates to ACT scores. I use the questions and answers from our Q & A sessions as the decor for my classroom. I also post a logo from each college that we talk about.
I teach at a rural high school, and many of my students view college as something that is not an option for them. If they do view college as a possiblity, they typically look at the colleges that are nearby, which are small community colleges or universities. Our students can get a good education at these schools, but I want to encourage them to look at all of their options, and to evaluate more than family tradition when considering a college. I have been asking them tough questions. How is the program that they want to attend ranked? Does this college offer their major?
Lastly, many of my students believe that they can only afford one of these small schools. I have been trying hard to bust this myth. I teach at a title I school, where over 70% of our students live in poverty. This means that many, if not most, of my students would qualify to have the vast majority of their education paid for.
Whether my students’ goals include a career school, a small college, a big university, or the military, close to home or far away, I want to make sure I’m taking the chance to provide my students with the knowledge they need to evaluate their options.
This is where YOU come in. I am running low on college shirts for my Wednesday bit. I’m hoping some of you would be interested in sending me a college, university, trade school or military t-shirt from anywhere in the state, country or world that I can wear to show my students I am invested in their future.
Sending a shirt (and maybe a quick note?) would mean investing a few dollars and a few minutes of your time in my students. Address below.
I’m not sure other professionals are as qualified to discuss and analyze e-portfolios in the same way that educators who have graduated college (of any level) in the last ten years are uniquely qualified. During my undergraduate degree I went through a number of e-portfolio initiatives put on by the State of Florida in an attempt to ensure we were actually educating our preservice teachers. Now, in my Master’s degree here in Texas, I am going through it again. I have an e-portfolio for the university, and separate e-portfolios for different classes, and one that has run the course of a few classes with the same professor.
And of course… there is the e-portfolio that never died. This one. That is right! This blog began 6 years ago as part of an e-portfolio initiative in a class I was taking at the University of South Florida. What it turned into is even more than what was intended, I’m sure. This blog has turned into my teaching happy place. This has become a place that I voluntarily go (at the bequest of no one) to reflect and vent and innovate.
At the creation of this blog, I hoped no one on the internet would stumble upon it. Now, I check my app every day to see if anyone did. I’m not famous. I haven’t gone viral. However, I’ve had views from all over the world and I’ve had amazing conversations with students and teachers who found my blog while scrolling on social media. Not only does this blog serve as a learning tool for me, it serves as a piece of authentication to the students who may come across it: Mrs. W is a real teacher, really trying, really learning, really failing, and really continuing on the path. I’m not there for the paycheck. And, I’ve got a weekly post to prove it.
All these thoughts bubbled to the surface this week while reading over a section on authentic assessment and the use of e-portfolios in Web 2.0: New Tools, New Schools. E-portfolios can (and should) become more than just a collection of worksheets and assignments. As in the case of educators, they can become a useful and fluid curation of resumés, philosophies, unit plans, resources, ideas, and more. The idea behind authentic assessment is that our assignments lend themselves to real life, or in my case, my actual classroom setting.
More importantly, e-portfolios in a Web 2.0 world have another capability: they can aid the learner in reflection. While my blog does curate some of my trials and failures, it mostly houses my reflective practice. This space holds me accountable to my integrity both as a teacher, and as a life-long learner. Creating spaces where learners can authentically showcase their work, fluidly revise and edit that work, collaborate with others on it, then return for reflective practice… this is the gold standard in learning. How can a learner who does all of those things not learn at a high level?
Fullan and Stiegelbaurer (1991) summarized this by saying, “Nothing has promised so much and has been so frustratingly wasteful as the thousands of workshops and conferences that led to no significant change in practice when the teachers returned to their classrooms” (p. 316).
-Web 2.0 New Tools, New Schools by Gwen Solomon & Lynne Schrum, page 101
There are a few things that both blow my mind and frustrate me:
I am reading a book written almost 10 years ago that STILL hits the nail on the head.
I am reading a book written almost 10 years ago, that quotes something written 25 years ago that STILL hits the nail on the head.
Education hasn’t changed at all.
That’s right. For all the hype and the memes on social media informing us of the changes in the role of the educator, the change of the student and the family profiles, and the changes in educational theory… We still have nearly identical problems set in new contexts.
The problem is simple: we have new information, we have new resources, we have new systems, and we have an ineffective delivery method.
Actually, I’ll correct that: We have effective delivery methods, that many districts refuse to implement. Or, they try, but they aren’t really trying–because they are not on board with the philosophies themselves. Instead we spend millions of dollars (maybe billions?) doing things described as:
“one-day program” (p.101)
“pray and spray” (p. 101)
“4 hours right after school” (p. 101)
“entire staff is required to attend” (p. 101)
So, what are some of these more effective delivery methods?
It is pretty simple really: teachers need support. Actually, something I’ve been saying for a while now is that teachers are students. In fact, let’s take a detour to think about how we teach and reach students, and what we expect of them.
Do we instruct them one time, never revisit it, and the hold them accountable for learning? No. (and if we do, please fire this person, ‘mkay?)
Do we casually mention information here and there, tell them “no pressure to know this now”, then test them on it and blame them when they don’t know? See answer above.
Do we give the information, provide them no support, no authentic practice, overwhelm them with 4-8 hours of single subject information with no breaks, no collaboration, and no clear expectations? See answer above.
The answer is: I certainly hope not!
In order to truly “develop” teachers, we need to focus on really teaching the new ideas, the new tools, the new resources, in the ways that we know stick in the brain.
We need learning communities. (Web 2.0 Tools, page 103). Actually, what we need is TIME to actually engage in these communities. I am (personally) sick of seeing schools add classes to the schedule to accommodate Athletics programs (YES! I said it!), rather than giving teachers a “learning” period to really engage in professional practice.
Someone will argue that 2 “off” (hahahahahaha) periods a day costs schools money, because they have to hire more teachers. However, better test scores, higher graduation rates, and actual utilization of the devices and software schools pay so much subscription money for doesn’t “waste” money. It saves money, or at the very least, prevents the waste of money.
We need peer coaching and mentor programs. (McREL Technology Initiative, Pitler, H., 2005) I was astounded to find (read sarcasm here) that when teachers are supported with coaching and mentorship, they use technology resources at higher rates and have more success in their classrooms doing so.
The best teachers are constantly giving their students time to learn, time to apply their learning, time to compare learning, time to reflect on learning, time to collaboration on new learning and support to re-learn old concepts that need to be retaught. But, for some reason, the classroom teacher is not afforded those same opportunities herself, and yet, is still equally (if not more) accountable for the learning.
That is my two cents. (Mic drop.)
P.S. I will end with this thought: many schools will say they provide all of this, but they do it outside of the work day. You know, when teachers are responsible for grading, planning and creating all of the content for their classes. It is ENTIRELY unreasonable to assume that time provided primarily “outside of the school day” is effective. While a few online PLCs can find an effective niche there, that won’t be what turns a school around.
Last week, I shared some of my learning about Universal Design for Learning in my post. This week, I got the chance to delve into some of the UDL resources offered by the CAST organization at cast.org . (In order to access the free content, you will need to create a free account…)
First, I want to reiterate that creating lessons that reach every student, and help them each move forward in learning is an extremely daunting task. Luckily, CAST has created several tools to help link educators together and make the hard work of teaching a little more accessible. For instance, within the CAST website, there are links to:
Today’s classrooms look very different than they did 100 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Today we have access to a million different resources on a daily basis, which can enhance learning (whether it does or not… well, we’ll talk about about in a paragraph or two!). We also need every bit of those resources. Unlike the classrooms of our forefathers, our classrooms are diverse.
Diversity is more than race. Diversity is ethnicity, culture, economic status, ability, life experiences, home life, home diet, technology experiences. Diversity literally means “all the things that make us different from one another”. Personality counts too!
Despite our best intentions and greatest hopes, technology is not the long awaited savior of education, nor it is the “great equalizer” we once hoped for. In fact, a great article I read this week, though “old” by academic standards, still had nuggets of valid insight, like this one: “The level of effectiveness of educational technology is influenced by the specific student population, the software design, the educator’s role, and the level of student access to the technology” (page 5).
We must constantly approach technology as a tool for our trade. Everyone is passing out hammers (technology), but some kids have screws and not nails. The educator’s role in determining what a student needs to move to the next stage of learning is vital. We will never be replaced in this way.
Universal Design For Learning
Before reading about Universal Design for Learning, it never occurred to me that I might already be doing it–but I am (most days)! The basic premise behind it is that in our age of diversity, in classrooms of mixed ability levels, with access to thousands and millions of tools for learning each day, there is a way to help every student move forward in learning every day.
Essentially, lessons should be designed to give students options and access to learning that is relevant and on their level, in three main ways: (1) multiple means of engagement (the “why” of learning), (2) multiple means of presentation (what knowledge is presented to various learners) , and (3) multiple means of action or presentation (how they show what they know).
I am teaching high school English classes right now with students on a 2nd grade reading level in the same room as students on a college reading level, the average being about 6th grade. And somehow I need to help every kid move forward in learning. Somehow I need to engage every learner, teach every learner, and get a product out of every. single. kid.
It is a tough task, but it is much more difficult to pretend that the issues and challenges do not exist. So, I press on–as do most teachers. And I believe Universal Design is a great way to do that.
How does technology fit in to UDL (Universal Design for Learning)?
It is pretty simple, really. An iPad does not fix everything. Bringing students all to the same website does not fix learning. During a literature lesson last week, I wanted to introduce Edgar Allen Poe with a biography, to help the students better understand his dark writing. Rather than choose one, I chose 3. (Multiple means of presentation)
If I want students to present information, I can provide multiple tools for doing that. Can students with a fear of public speaking make a video ahead of time to show to the class? Can students use an infographic instead of a powerpoint? (Multiple means of expression).
If I want students to write a research paper, can I have students choose topics they are passionate about? Can I work with each student to choose what an appropriate way to cite sources would be based on their project choice? Can I allow students to collaborate using a variety of tools of their choosing?
I am working on a UDL unit right now, and I am very excited to see how it turns out. I am even more excited to see it in practice come April 2017! Stay tuned…
Some things just warm my heart, and this one thing in particular tops my teacher-list for sure.
My AP Spanish Literature kids did it last year without prompting, and already this year, another group has joined their ranks.
I love to begin reading a work by circling up my students and reading it together, popcorn style. We stop every few sentences or paragraphs and I point out important details to model the thinking I want them to do for the piece. We discuss imagery, authors’s purpose, context, and we draw conclusions. This may last for a few paragraphs or a few pages.
Eventually though, I knowwe will never finish the work if we keep on that way, so I ask the kids to continue independently.
In the case of my class yesterday, we spent the whole class that way, and today, I planned to have them continue the reading independently, to prepare for an essay on Friday. While they were to do that, I planned to come around and hold mini writer’s workshops with each student.
While I was at my desk taking attendance and getting their work in order to come around and conference… The class took matters into their own hands.
Without my prompting, and without my explicit permission, I looked up to find this:
Some teachers would be angry. This is my class. My decision. Some would be upset. What about my writer’s workshops? Others, like me, would pull up a stool and join in.
Nothing warms my heart more than students who know what they want and need. That is more valuable than any lesson plan.
Notice: No kids on phones. No one disengaged. 100% student choice. That is the ideal.
This week I’ve been exploring technology education theories in one of my classes, and I’ve come across what I call the “Big C’s”. Constructivism, Connectivism, and Cyborg Theory. I thought it would be worth sharing my thoughts here!
After all the reading and watching I did this week, I can’t help but think that rather than choosing a theory to believe, I really agree with both Constructivism and Connecitivism.
Constructivism is the idea that we build new knowledge on the foundation of our old knowledge.
As a teacher, I have to agree. Besides being identified as a best practice, I have personally noticed a huge difference in the success of a lesson if I begin by activating prior knowledge. One other component of Constructivism is that learning should be relevant to the learner, and thus, authentic. This older article on Constructivism shares some of the misconceptions about learning in a constructivist classroom (or really any classroom that differentiates learning). Under all of the technology learning theories, we have to understand that how the classroom looks and how the students interact will change. In fact, education has clearly had a major shift in the last few years. For instance, what is represented in Scenario #1 of the article above as a “chaotic” classroom, is more along the lines of what is expected of us with T-TESS (Texas) now.
In terms of constructivism, one part of this publication says it all: “Learning as a Personal Event”. Learning must be critically connected to the student. This is where the student-centered learning environment comes into play. If classrooms are centered around the teacher, students have a lower chance of being able to connect the learning to themselves. In order to do this, we must use technology to be the flexible tool that we cannot always be, ourselves, in the classroom. For instance, technology tools give students the freedom to connect research to their own interests and knowledge bases, and they provide excellent tools for helping students begin right where they are rather than where we’d have to start with the class as a whole.
Connectivism is the idea that technology connects us to more knowledge, and that the real role of education is to help students learn to connect to what they need to know, rather than needing to ingest every single bit of information.
I’m going to be honest… I subscribe to this theory in so many ways! I’ve always told my students that what distinguishes “smart” from “dumb” is knowing how to find the answer… not IQ. I’ve had really intelligent students who drop out of college because they can’t figure it out, while other students will less inherent “smarts” end up with Master’s degrees. Technology connects us to so many resources and we need to be teaching our students how to use them. This includes the dreaded database lesson in high school English, and it includes how and where to get news, create products, and crowd source information, as well as collaboration. Connecting ourselves to information is truly a 21st century skill.
Do I find lots of ethical and religious problems with it? Yes.
But! Nonetheless, many people see this as a route to the learning of the future. Imagine how much sooner we can become productive members of society if we could program early learning and spend more time on other tasks? How about the efficiency of military members who could accomplish more, more safely with the help of technology?
Sure, it sounds awesome… until all those microwaves and radio waves cause an epidemic of brain cancer. And, of course, until we lose the only thing that has made us human to begin with: The ability to learn and innovate unlike any other species on Earth.
I wrote in a previous post that I’d retire when I had nothing more to learn. I guess it is a good thing, then, that I learned some new things today!
We had a consultant visit our school district today to get us started with Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Although I am already familiar with GAFE, Google is always updating, adding to, and improving their products–which means I’ll always have more to learn! Here are the top 3 tidbits I picked up on today:
Google Doodles! I already knew that Google Doodles were themed, and that some of them lead to neat little tricks or games, but I did NOT know that you can click on any special google doodle and explore the history or cool facts behind it. Check it out for yourself! This would make a great bellwork topic, a rainy day assignment, or the opening to a fun research project!
Google Slides Q & A. If you don’t know what a backchannel is… it is the digital, behind-the-scenes conversation that goes on behind a presentation. More info, here. Google has now incorporated a backchannel in Presenter View on Slides. Instead of using Twitter, Today’s Meet, or Google Docs for a backchannel, it is now incorporated in the same tool! Here is a little write-up about it!
Google Forms Quizzes! Many educators have been using various add-ons for this now for years… but Google finally just added the option right into Forms for us. In your settings, choose the quiz option. Check out a quick tutorial here.
I hope your first days back at school are full of awesome new things you can take back to your kiddos as well!