Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Other Side

Summer (brief though it may be) offers me the chance to do a lot of the focused learning that I never manage to get to during the school year. So, this summer I'm taking four different classes. One class, Principalship K-12, is already finished. It met on a Saturday from 9-5 and then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 8:30-4:30. Long days, but a fantastic class. Now I'm taking three online classes. One is on Geometers Sketchpad. I signed up for the class to learn how to use the software, but I'm learning more about geometry than I dreamed was possible. Another class is on digital portfolios, something I want to implement with my kids this next year. Finally, I'm taking a class on the read/write web.

The principalship class is part of my endorsement in supervision and administration. The other three classes are simply because they interest me. I'll be blogging more on these classes in the future. And on how it feels to be on the other side of the classroom.

My reason for mentioning them is that I've been thinking about how teachers spend their summers. Many people think teachers have it made because we get our summers off. And technically, they're right. However, the teachers I know spend that time doing a ton of professional learning - and they don't get paid a thing. They take classes, attend workshops, read professional books,plan, and more. Teachers, as a general rule, want to do the best job they can for their students. In order to do this, they work long hours during the school year and spend their free time continuing their own learning. I'm not sure what this means or why it feels so important to me. But, it does feel important.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Thanks for Technology Thoughts

Thanks to Assorted Stuff I've gotten some great tips and thoughts on how to improve the work my students do with technology. I think one of the most challenging aspects of teaching is the isolation and lack of opportunity to communicate with others in the profession. Blogs are an intriguing new way to encourage discussions and create a community. I'm lucky to teach at a school with a staff that works hard to collaborate and deepen their thinking together and an administration that offers us many opportunities to do so. However, my thinking and teaching are also influenced by the many blogs I read. And I am grateful to those bloggers for sharing their thoughts and questions and for the catalysts they are for me.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Test Strategies

To comply with the rules for administering our state standardized tests several weeks ago, I covered up or took down anything academic on our walls. When the students walked in on our first day of testing they remarked on how our room felt like a cave with all the walls covered with brown paper.
The day after our last test I was too lazy to take the paper down. Instead, I gave the students permission to "vandalize" the walls. They were able to write on the paper things they had done to be good test takers. Some of what they wrote were strategies we had taught them; eliminating stupid answers, rereading, underlining, and such. Other thoughts were purely their own.

I took pictures of all of their comments for a couple of reasons. They had a lot of good ideas and strategies that I want to remember to share with future groups. But mostly, their answers are so them. Looking at the pictures will immediately conjure up these students. Even for those comments that aren't signed, the authorship is obvious to me. Their personalities are so clear through these thoughts.

I can't stand the testing and I hate the complex procedures we go through to be sure the tests are secure and fair. I'm far from convinced that these tests are a valid assessment of my students' learning (and I say this as a GT teacher whose students will likely all pass all tests). No one-time, multiple choice test is going to even come close to fully showing a student's abilities, knowledge, and talents.

As a side note, these brown papers were used in another classroom before hanging on my walls and then used to create backgrounds for our wax museum project. We recycle every chance we get!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Challenges of Working with Technology

My 5th graders are working on an interesting social studies project. We're testing it out for the county and trying to cram it into the last few weeks. On the whole, it's a great project. The kids have to think about global interdependence across time, cultures, or both. They can look at it through art, literature, trade, government, etc. It's a rare chance for them to make a lot of choices about their learning and how they present their findings. Our technology teacher has been a huge help. The technology office, social studies office, and librarians did a lot beforehand to set things up for us. There is very little more that could have been done to make this project successful.

And yet...certain things are driving me insane. Many of my kids are creating PowerPoints. A couple of them are fantastic. Most are not. They are so focused on making the slides look cool, transition in interesting ways, and have fun graphics that the content is getting no focus. A lot of kids are creating websites. Again, a couple are really well done. Most are so focused on having fun with the technology (and posting on each other's guestbooks) that their content stinks.

Should I give them opportunities earlier in the year and throughout the year to work with these technologies in the hope of getting this out of their systems? Should I require a storyboard of their PowerPoint or website before I allow them on a computer so that I can get the focus on the content before they can play? Any other thoughts?

I really want to do this project again next year - and others like it. But I clearly need a better plan.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Word Study

Again, I'm concerned about my ability to teach with our phenomenal reading teacher in my room next year. I've blogged about our text type units of study in order to remember how to do that. The other area I'm finally feeling some confidence in is word study and I don't want that to fall apart.

So, here's how it has worked. We identify a focus for the unit. We find a text with examples of words that fit our focus (words with apostrophes, prefixes, etc.). The class does a shared reading of the text and we look closely at those words. Then the students search in their reading for words that fit the unit. For a couple of days we collect a huge list of the words on a chart and in their word study notebooks.

The next step is to sort the words. Sometimes we tell the students how to sort them and sometimes we allow for an open sort. Eventually the goal is to have the words sorted in a way that will help us learn to spell them. Students then sort the words in their word study notebooks.

From that point we work on creating generalizations about the unit. Ideally students can create these independently but we help guide as needed. The generalizations then get typed up and glued into their word study notebooks.

The other piece of word study is buddy study. Students choose a word list (words from the unit of study, high frequency words, and words from their word to learn list) of about 8-10 words. Using that list they build, mix, fix with the magnetic letters, then look, say, cover, write, check. We do a buddy check (like a spelling test, but mostly as practice) then making connections followed by the actual buddy test.

Goals for next year:
  • Move through units more quickly once the routine is established.
  • Possibly do two units of study before doing the buddy study piece.
  • Have more of the unit and buddy study as homework once the routine is established.