Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ready Or Not, Here I Come!

Today is the big day! My presentation, apparently titled Collaboration Through Technology for Assessment Information, is this afternoon at 4:00 at ASCD. I'm feeling reasonably prepared, but quite nervous. It's a topic about which I have quite a bit of passion (contrary to the surprisingly formal title I gave the session) which helps a lot.

Thanks to all who shared their thinking about collaboration.On that topic I still have a lot of mulling to do, but I appreciate the pushes.

The basic information from my session can be found here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Goofing Off Poorly

As mentioned previously I have a wonderful intern working in my classroom at the moment. So, for nearly a week now I have been out of there. I'm keeping busy (teaching guided reading groups in two classrooms, observing in bunches of classrooms) but I don't have direct, daily responsibility for my kids at the moment.

Yesterday afternoon, however, I got pulled into a problem that irritated me, but is now mostly making me laugh. My students use VoiceThread a lot in a lot of different ways. Recently they've been recording themselves reading their guided reading books and their own writing. Then they listen to themselves. It's pretty powerful.

Yesterday a few of my darlings decided to record themselves singing and rapping rather than reading. It was fairly tame (with lots of references to butts and poop) but clearly not what they should have been doing. I deleted these recordings, so as to retain the integrity of our VoiceThreads, of course.

But I was left feeling really annoyed with these three. Not because they had goofed off, which is pretty normal and easy to handle. But because they did it in such a dumb way.

My kids all created images to use as their icons on VoiceThread at the beginning of the year. They have to choose their own image before they record each time. These three all chose their own image before recording themselves misbehaving on multiple occasions.

Really? They couldn't choose another child's image? It's not that we wouldn't recognize their voices, but still. These are bright kids.

My husband gave me a hard time because I was upset that my students weren't sneakier. I guess it does seem a bit odd. But honestly, what were they thinking?

By the way, this is what I do when I should be preparing for ASCD. Only about 48 hours til my presentation and I'm blogging? It's possible I'm making as dumb of choices as these kids!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Technology in the Primary Grades

When I made the move from fifth grade to first, one of my concerns was how I would integrate technology with students who were just learning to read and write. It seemed impossible. Fortunately, I found some fabulous mentors in the online education world and we've had a blast learning with a variety of tools.

My newest post on addresses a few of those tools.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Teachers Like Us Support Unions

This post is written as a part of today's Edusolidarity.

I am a member of a union. This has little meaning in the state of Virginia. We do not have the right to collectively bargain and we can not strike. But I don't think that is all a union does.

I joined the union as a new teacher for the insurance. It made me feel better to know that someone would have my back if there was a problem. I have never had such a problem. I don't expect to. I still like knowing the insurance is there. No doctor would practice without malpractice insurance. Doctors don't intend to need malpractice insurance, but they are human and not everything is under their control. I am human. I can't control everything.

But the union means a lot more to me. There are cheaper options for that insurance.

Individuals have so little power in our society. Money speaks and money makes things happen. Most individuals don't have the money to have that kind of power. The union is my way to some of that power. I am happy to give them some money, to join with others, to speak up for what we believe.

Teachers' voices need to be heard. We are the experts. I see the union as one, very powerful way for our voices to be heard.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Is Collaboration Universally Accepted?

This Saturday I am presenting on Collaborative Assessment at ASCD in San Francisco. As I have been preparing (and I really have been, contrary to how it appears!) I have been thinking a lot about both collaboration and assessment. At Educon my husband and I focused on the assessment piece because I believed that would be the area we would have the most difficulty all agreeing about. However, based on that experience and my recent research I think collaboration is a tougher idea than I expected.

Looking at some of the recent, 'big' books in education, I don't see collaboration as a significant focus. (I'm thinking of Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov and Focus by Mike Schmoker.) Have we moved away from valuing collaboration or is there an assumption that it is happening so much that it doesn't need to be specifically addressed?

When I initially proposed this session I was thinking that collaboration is well established and accepted and I would need to simply make the argument and share ideas for collaboration in relation to assessment. Now I wonder if I need to make the argument for collaboration first. Any thoughts?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Productive Math Games

I love to use math games with my students. They seem to like them too. However, I've been frustrated for quite a while that I don't feel the math is as important to the students as I'd like it to be. It's clearly there, but I want kids to be aware of their thinking and sharing it. So, we teach kids things to say during a game to support that, but once they start playing they get caught up in the game (not a bad thing, actually).

One of our great math coaches recently suggested a way to scaffold this for kids. She suggested sentence starters. Give kids the prompt for sharing their thinking and learning about the math.

I've tried it with a few different math games this year and I'm amazed by it. The kids seem to appreciate having the support and use the sentence starters well.

I'm not ready to add these to every math game we play, but I'm glad to have this in my toolbox.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Choices and Decisions

I have a fabulous intern (student teacher) working in my classroom this semester. As always, working with an intern pushes me to think more deeply about why I do what I do.

Last week one of my dramatic little darlings got quite upset. She was frustrated by some friends and when we tried to smooth things out it just made things worse. She removed herself from the situation, but in a loud, stompy way. She headed over to our 'quiet spot' and shoved the chair and desk around. I told her I would count to 3 and if she did not stop the interruptions she would have to leave our room. I counted to 3 and she stopped, but as she sat down she shoved a stack of sentence strips around one last time.

I chose to let that go. She sat at that desk and cried (an exceptionally fake cry) for a few minutes. Then she sulked for another minute or so. Then she asked me if she could return to her math. I said that was up to her because she was the one who had decided to leave her math. She went back and worked with her classmates beautifully, including numerous high fives.

How did I know to let that last shove go? Why did I make that choice? I'm not sure. I do know, however, that the countless decisions teachers make each day can be so important. I owe it to my students to think about why a given decision worked out well or didn't.

Thirteen years of teaching, of making decisions every day, have increased my batting average. More of my decisions work out well now than did ten years ago. I owe it to my intern to try to explain what I've learned in that time.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Time is of the Essence

I feel strongly about how time is spent in my classroom. We have two hours every morning for language arts (reading and writing), fifteen to twenty minutes each day for our calendar math, and an hour for math. In addition, I make sure we have twenty to thirty minutes for free choice.

While kindergartners have 'center' time everyday to play, first graders are not expected to do so. I have a whole host of reasons for including this in our day which I will not go into here. Several teammates have remarked that they wish they could figure out how to include this in their days.

My feeling is that we make time for what we value.

However, I've recently been mulling this over some more. My thinking now is that how much time we spend on something is only part of the question. The quality of that time is equally, if not more, important.

Which is not to say that time is irrelevant. But we could spend two hours on math each day and if we don't use that time well then it doesn't really matter. Contrary to what so many (Bill Gates, Jay Mathews, Arne Duncan, etc) believe, our school days are plenty long. We just need to be using our time better, much better.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Just Like Lincoln

This picture was taken by one of our kindergarten teachers around President's Day (maybe on that day since we had school to make up a snow day). In case you can't read it, their hats say, "Under my hat I would keep _________." As her class marched down the hall I remarked on how darling they were and she emailed me this photo. The little one striking a pose was attempting to look as much like Lincoln as possible. If he had a few more feet of height I think he'd be a match!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Snow Fun in the Toasty Indoors

After seeing this post I decided we had to give this a try. For a few weeks it sat around in my head without a good opportunity. Then, we were ready to wrap up our study of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington Carver (don't judge, state standards).

So, we reviewed our data retrieval chart, with their names, dates, nicknames, contributions, and interesting facts. After reviewing each student picked one of the men and created a snow globe about them. We did show them some pictures of snow globes with people and items in them in the hopes that they would create something similar. These don't really hit that level, but they do show their understanding.

On the whole I was pretty happy with the results. We haven't stuck any glitter on them yet as we were trying to avoid it being all over the floor in the hallway. Hopefully we'll do that before we send them home (because the parents will love that).

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Very, Very Late to the Game

When Waiting for Superman came out, months ago, I read a lot of negative reactions. So, at that point I decided not to spend my time or money on it. Then, a couple of friends and colleagues saw it and actually felt reasonably good about it. I began to rethink it. Deep down I knew I'd have to see it for myself at some point.

Last weekend a friend invited over a small crowd to have dinner and watch the movie. Watching it with others and with wine was good.

My overall response to the movie is that it is propaganda. Maybe that is always true of documentaries, I haven't watched too many of them. The music used, the slow motion as parent and child walked to school, the images of the Capitol and sounds of the Pledge of Allegiance all work to create a certain feel. A clip from School of Rock was shown at one point to illustrate bad teaching. (Really? A movie?) The entire film builds around the suspense of several students attempting to get into charter schools. It is a well-made film. I understand why so many people were persuaded by it.

Just in case it isn't clear, I think we have significant problems in our urban schools. That may be the only thing I agreed with in this film.

Now to my concerns:
  • There was lots of talk about how our country is falling behind the rest of the world. Actually, we've never been ahead in test scores. We've always fallen somewhere in the middle. It doesn't seem to have slowed us down very much.
  • Lots of statistics were used without any information - where are those stats from? what tests are being discussed?
  • Good schools, effective teachers, positive results - all terms used frequently without any explanation as to how they are defined. (I'm guessing I define positive results differently than Davis Guggenheim does.)
  • Bill Gates arguing that innovation requires well educated citizens - I might be more interested in his thoughts on this if he hadn't dropped out of college - he seems to have succeeded just fine.
  • Quote from the voice over: "This is the damage this school has done to this neighborhood." discussing an inner city area. I find it hard to imagine anyone really believes the school has caused all the problems the neighborhood faces.
At one point in the movie the voice over says, "Only one in five charter schools are producing amazing results." I found that statement to be jaw-dropping in the midst of a movie that could have been an infomercial for charter schools. The movie followed five or six kids, all of whom had highly involved parents. What about those kids who don't? Are we suggesting we just let them fall by the wayside? Do charter school proponents not recognize that such children exist? Also, I'd love to see a charter school set up like any other neighborhood school. Take the students within their boundaries and see how it goes. Would it be as successful? I doubt it. But I'd love to see KIPP give it a try.

Another huge issue for me was the idea that there are so many bad teachers. At one point a statistic was thrown out about the percentage of teachers, doctors, and lawyers who lose their license (credentials, board certification, whatever) and the percentage of teachers was significantly smaller than that of doctors or lawyers. However, a significant number of teachers leave the profession in the first three to five years and that information was never addressed. I believe that many teachers who should be removed from the classroom, remove themselves early on. I would guess that is not so true for doctors or lawyers. Related to this I was very frustrated by the continuing suggestion that tenure means a job for life. That is completely untrue in K-12 education. Removing a teacher requires a process and it takes time, but it is far from impossible. If we want to blame anyone for this we should put that blame on principals who might prefer to move teachers around (The Lemon Dance as it was called in the film) rather than take the time to remove them. Finally, if we got rid of all these 'bad' teachers, who would replace them?

In light of all that is happening across the country with teachers' unions (and other public sector jobs) I found it frustrating that unions were somewhat demonized in this film. People they interviewed seemed to accept that they would have to deal with bureaucracy to do what they wanted to do, but were unwilling to deal with unions. Why is bureaucracy better than unions?

Final thought, a quote near the end asked, "What happens when a school fails a kid?" I believe we ought to be asking what happens when society fails a kid. The issues are larger than 180 days, six and a half hours each day.

I took five pages of notes as we watched the movie. There is so much more I could say, but this feels like it covers my major concerns. You're welcome.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Value of Smiles

I think of myself as a glass-half-full kind of person, a happy, hopeful person. When I run sprint triathlons I typically smile the whole time, even though I'm pretty awful at them. Folks have remarked on it at a number of different races.

Lately, for some reason, I don't feel I've been smiling enough (as much?). My gut reaction when I glance at a student or at my daughters or at my husband is closer to a frown. The message I think I'm sending is that I don't trust or don't like what they're doing. Is that the message I believe? Is that why I'm less smiley? I don't know.

At a recent team meeting one teammate had a cup of coffee from Caribou. It had fun quotes all over it and I couldn't help but read as many as possible from where I was sitting. One really struck me.

"Smile first, ask questions later."

That's my new goal.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Benefits of Outside Observers

Several weeks ago some folks came in to video tape a lesson in our classroom. There were things that went well and things I would change given the opportunity. That's not surprising.

After everything was over, my student teacher remarked that she wished people came in to video tape everyday because the kids did so well.

My thought is that it might not be the kids who did so well, but me. Their presence in our classroom likely meant that I was my best self. I can't be my best self everyday, but how do I manage to increase the percentage?

Friday, March 04, 2011

Mr. Chase's Wisdom

There are so many brilliant educators around the world writing about education. I'm grateful for that. So, it feels strange to single out one, but Zac Chase's recent posts have been so amazingly reflective, thoughtful, and thought-provoking that I felt an urge to share. If you aren't reading him currently, check it out. He's an English teacher at Science Leadership Academy. He turned 30 a couple of days ago, which actually makes him three or four years older than I would have guessed and makes me feel a little better.

I teach first grade, which is worlds away from high school in so many ways. However, I am pushed to think about my own work when I read Zac's writing. To be honest, that's one of my favorite things about the blogosphere. It has broadened my horizons. I learn from folks in and out of classrooms at all levels and in all areas around the world. That's pretty awesome.

Zac is writing a series of posts, "Things I Know" daily this year. That's quite a goal and I'm amazed he's not only kept it up but kept the quality so high. Go give him a read.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

What I Teach

For those who have never taught, it would be I think, a shock to realize how much we teach. I don't mean our content and subject areas, although that's daunting enough.

I also don't mean moving from one activity to the next, walking in the hall, sitting on the carpet, talking quietly with friends, or cleaning up. These are all fairly standard, along with a host of things I haven't even mentioned.

Just a bit ago we walked down the stairs from the computer lab and I had to help two or three students walk down the stairs. I'm not talking about being safe, I'm talking about walking down the steps one foot on each step. They still (in first grade) walk with both feet on each step. That takes forever. With my reminders and encouragement they can take the stairs like the rest of their class, but they aren't independent yet.

I spend at least at part of most days working with at least one student to help her realize when she is getting upset. If she can begin to recognize the way her body feels before she explodes, she can try to take a break and diffuse the situation for herself.

I teach students to use a stapler and paperclips regularly. Just recently I taught them to use screwdrivers and pliers (although I'll admit that's far from standard). I teach how to hang up coats and backpacks and where to put mittens and hats so they don't get lost. On a regular basis I teach how to close markers properly so they don't dry out.

If I am with my students then I am teaching someone something. The great majority of what I teach is not on any standard anywhere, but it is as or more important than anything the state or district has mandated I teach.

I'm sure other teachers could name dozens of things they teach that haven't even occurred to me, things that don't meet any standards for their grade or subject.