Professional Development Drought

*This blog post does not reflect the views of my school or anyone working within my school.

Professional development (PD) should be the cornerstone for anyone looking to better themselves no matter what career they choose. Educators seem to be at the forefront when it comes to attending PD. We are a profession that is constantly trying to make ourselves better and in some instances told we have no choice but to attend certain professional development because we cannot be licensed to be a teacher without a set number of hours of PD or college credits to match.

Since starting my teaching career over 16 years ago I have slowly and steadily watched professional development make the proverbial dive out of the sky as if it is an airplane that is slowly losing one engine at a time. Teachers aren’t going and the quality of PD isn’t always top notch. For me, I am lucky because I have had the privilege of being on both the delivery side of PD and the receiving end through work with the Chippewa River Writing Project. Through many conversations with colleagues and like-minded educators, I have come to a few conclusions as to why professional development is facing a potential breaking point for teachers and educators.

First, professional development is expensive. Many school districts used to help their teachers out and help pay for professional development. With constant cuts to per-pupil funding, declining enrollment, and other funding like Title II being cut, teachers are forced to pay for PD out of their own pockets. If you add up the cost of the conference, potential hotel expenses, gas, and meals. Teachers can potentially be looking at costs between $500-$1000 depending on the type of conference. Please don’t think I am complaining about what teachers make either. I am simply saying therepotentially is a lot of out of pocket costs to absorb.

Besides the financial burden of professional development, I feel there is low-quality PD being offered by our Intermediate School District (ISD) where multiple schools belong. They do a poor job of helping teachers. Our ISD is supposed to support and develop teachers and their skills. That is not happening. I do see them helping our new teachers, but that is it. I hear too much from their end about the high cost and poor attendance, etc. Why is it then that our ISD sits on almost 3 million dollars, but can’t offer quality experiences for teachers? I don’t know if this is true everywhere, but I know it is within my ISD.  They are not the only entities to blame for quality PD, but when considering the types of professional development that can be low cost or free for teachers, this is good place to start.

Now, put aside financial burden and quality of PD and the issue of teacher burnout existing. I never really gave much thought to teacher burnout until I was talking to a very close friend and colleague about why teachers are not participating in PD. He discussed that fact that teachers plates are becoming increasingly full. With reduced staff in schools, teachers are being asked to do more and more. When teachers prioritize what they need to do and get done, PD seems to be at the bottom of the significant list of items. I think of PD like a salad. We know it’s good for us and it can make us better or healthy. However, we just want to skip it and get to the main course or the main items on our plates. We don’t have time or the need to mess with the salad. I have even witnessed teachers turn down a professional development package that was worth over $1000 and all it would cost them is gas money to travel.

All of this lends itself to rethinking how professional development should be delivered to teachers. Yes, there are many online PD opportunities, but are they better than face-to-face? Is true collaboration taking place with online spaces? I do have a passion for the 4T Conference which is truly phenomenal. So, to say that all online PD is low quality is not a fair assessment. I do not have the answers and I am sure others don’t agree with what I am writing. On the other hand, I do feel it is time to rethink how PD is being done and what we can do to help teachers in this area.

Cheers!

 

PD

(Image Courtesy of Johnson County Community College http://blogs.jccc.edu/2017/08/11/professional-development-days-fall-2017/)

 

 

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Fighting the Good Fight with Technology in the Classroom

Last Monday I had  a chance to present and talk with teachers at our local writing project site; the Chippewa River Writing Project. There were many great sessions where I took a ton of valuable information and resources away from the two sessions I attended. In addition, we had a spectacular Keynote speaker, Jim Fredricksen who is the author of  So, What’s the Story?: Teaching Narrative to Understand Ourselves, Others, and the World (Exceeding the Common Core State Standards). His ideas and thoughts on narrative are very thought provoking and have made me realize that it isn’t easy for students to write narratives.

My own presentation gave the teachers and pre-service teachers a sneak peek into the book I co-authored with Troy Hicks titled: Create, Compose, Connect: Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools due out March 6th. As I discussed with the participants some of the digital tools I use in my own classroom, a very interesting question was brought to my attention.

  • What do we do when the technology director blocks sites that are useful to students and won’t open them?

It is a great question and though I don’t have the answer, I can offer some suggestions that may help with your argument for implementing certain sites or apps withing your everyday lessons.

  1. Access and read your school’s acceptable use policy.
  2. Have face-to-face conversations with your principal.
  3. Discuss with colleagues what you would like to do and see what they are thinking – perhaps they can add support for you.
  4. Analyze your current technology situation at school. Will students have access to computers, iPads, cell phones, tablets, etc.?
  5. Why? Why are you using the app or site for your given lesson?

It occurred to me after the teacher asked the question that if the time is taken to thoroughly read the acceptable use policy it can work to a teacher’s advantage when it comes to trying to implement technology.  I hear teachers from time to time stating that the acceptable use policy is what was their demise when it came to their idea to implement some type of technology.  Though there is no doubt this may be true, I would approach it is how can it help my case.

After looking over the acceptable use policy, I feel it is vital to have a well prepared conversation with your principal and other administration.  Thankfully, I have a principal and a superintendent that sees the benefit of technology and they both understand how students are learning today.  Remember this too, Technology directors aren’t the final line of trying to open up a digital too.  I have overwhelming respect for Tech directors and the very reason they may not be allowing a site or app to be available is because the school may not have the capacity. However, administration should have the final say and it should be a collaborative conversation between administration and the director. It shouldn’t be left up to just the director. Thankfully, I also have a great tech director at our school which makes it easy where I teach.

The final point I would like to elaborate on is the why.  Why are you using the tool?  How does it benefit the students? Furthermore, I want to direct you to the info-graphic below.

Technology Purpose2

I want to give credit where credit is due for this take on using tech in the classroom. However, because I have seen it on Google + and Twitter several times…I have lost where it originated. I want to go out on a limb and say this is NOT mine and I did NOT create it.  The point of the info-graphic is to not turn people off to Prezi, blogs, or Wordles.  I perceive it as something for us to think about and remind us that we shouldn’t use these tools for just the sake of using them because they are cool or the students think they are cool.

Student engagement is something we all want, but we should also keep the student at the center of our lessons and ask the question: How are my students going to benefit from using this tool and how is it going to be used to further their education?

Just some thoughts to consider when trying to fight the good fight on using technology in the classroom.

Cheers!


Flipping Grammar

Last year, my principal approached our science teacher and myself to think about the idea of flipping some lessons in our classroom.  Since we have the ability to do so we thought it would be a great idea to try.  Here are our goals in doing flipped lessons:

1. Engage our students more.

2. Cut down on missing assignments.

3. Create more time in our classrooms to help remedial students.

4. Give the brighter students a chance to excel at activities presented with each lesson.

Our journey began by reading Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, which is a great book for anyone that is a beginner at flipping lessons.

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Our principal also had us go to some profession development that was very informative and well worth our time to help us develop what we wanted to accomplish with our students.

So, I decided in my classroom that I wanted to flip grammar.  This is an area kids want to fall asleep and at times can be difficult to engage them.  This year, it has been a success flipping grammar.  My 8th graders have been working a lot with flipped lessons on dialogue and some students created skits with dialogue and performed their skits in front of the class.  It was awesome! I wish I could have taken pics.

By no means am I an expert at flipping lessons yet, it will take me at least through this year to refine my lessons and approach. In addition, I need time to reflect back on what I have done this year too.

Below is a flipped lesson I did with my 7th graders on types of sentences. It is very amateur, but I like it. I used an iPad app called TouchCast, which is free. I hope you enjoy!

http://www.touchcast.com/mr_hyler/The-Latest-on-Sentence-Structure

Cheers!

 


Digital Literacy Summer Institute Day #2

I can’t write a short enough post to discuss every nugget of information I gained from the second day of the Digital Literacy SI. So, I will explain one idea that hit home with me as we proceeded through the morning/day.

Thinking about the lessons that are created within a given classroom, I want to pose the same question that was given to us. What drives our planning process?  Is it our own agenda?  Perhaps the content or curriculum (no, couldn’t be)? The amount of time we have to teach the lesson? Okay, I could go on and on here and to be quite honest, I have planned lessons around all of the above mentioned. This is where you shake your finger at me, right?

So, what about planning with the learner in mind? Yes, keeping the learner might seem to be a no-brainer.  Duh!! Well, it wasn’t to me.  I will be honest, I am not completely lost here, I have done it from time to time.  However, consistently keeping them in mind, I have failed myself and my students.

As our facilitators discussed how to frame our inquiry project, they included the idea of the TPACK model.

tpack

A great reading resource for the TPACK with reading and language arts is by Spires, Hervey, and Watson.

How many times do we focus our planning more on the content or the curriculum instead of the student?  In my opinion, I feel we are driven by our curriculum and our given content most days, if not every day. In addition, I know I feel pressed for time and have structured my lessons in such a way that I knew I could get my students to their next class on time. Pointless, if you think about the fact there is not any deeper learning taking place.

So, I wonder what others think about this. For me, I know that I will go back into the lesson plans I have already written and restructure them to best meet the needs of my students and create future lessons with the student as my main focus. Thoughts?

Cheers!

 


Digital Literacy Summer Institute Day #1

We were asked on Sunday at the Digital Literacy Summer Institute to watch Matt Harding’s video: Dancing to Connect to a Global Tribe and his This I Believe statement. If you haven’t watched his video, I encourage you to click on the link!

After watching his video we were asked to do the following:

  1. Write…what do you believe about digital literacy? What would your video look like and how would you use words to capture the essence of your images, ideas, and perspectives about digital literacy in a narrative form?
  2. Share your belief statements

Though it is my first draft, below is what I wrote in the short time we had to compose.

 

I believe digital literacy is a world that is newly discovered and has not revealed itself fully.

In 2010 when I went through the Summer Institute for the NWP, I was brought into a world that completely blew me away. As a visitor I saw a world where students were engaged, teachers were having fun, and creativity seemed to be at the center of it all.

I knew there had to be a different way to reach my students.  How was I going to get them to produce writing that was not only well written in conventional sense, but was thought provoking and brought out their creative freedom? Creative freedom that at one time was helping them bottle up and store away.

The introduction of the digital literacy world exploded in front of my face with students creating artifacts that reflected collaboration, visuals, blogs, wikis, posters, digital stories, reflection, and more. My students were getting sucked into a world that they wanted to be a part of and they were looking at me with compassion in their eyes as if telling me, “Thank-you, thank-you for bringing us home.”

What are your beliefs about digital literacy?

Cheers!

 


Just Hanging Out…and Learning

This week has been crazy to say the least.  On the other hand, it has been phenomenal!

Tuesday, my 2nd hour seventh grade class began an adventure I felt was worth taking.  For quite some time a writing project colleague and myself had discussed having our classes collaborate with each other using Google Hangout.  If you do not have prior knowledge of Google Hangout, it is just that, an online space for people to collaborate via web cams and voice chat, or…hangout!  I believe up to 10 people can chat at the same time. The idea was brought on by our discussions we have had previously about using digital portfolios.  Eventually we decided we wanted our students to collaborate and discuss the myths that each our classrooms were reading and writing along with have the students publish their writing to a broader audience.

As we searched for a common time for our students to meet online, it occurred to us that we needed to introduce our students to each other before we did any real collaboration about the myths.  Each of our classes had written “This I Believe” essays, and we decided we would use these essays as a mean for our students to get to know one another. Because my own students had already written their essays at the beginning of the year, it was a great time for my students to reflect back on their writing to polish it and decide if their beliefs had changed at all.  Furthermore, they needed to understand their writing was going out into the bigger world for people to see and they needed to clean it up before publishing.

Prior to work with the essays, we showed our classes our school websites, discussing  with students what they noticed.  In addition, any questions they might have.  Before our meeting on Tuesday each of our classes composed questions to ask one another.  As we were hanging out, the students went in front of the camera  and asked questions about each other’s school.  For example:

  1. What types of writing have you done this year?
  2. How many students do you have in your middle school?
  3. What sports can you play at your school
  4. What do you do for fun?
  5. Can you choose your own electives in middle school?

After the students took turns asking questions and answering them, we talked with the students about what we were going to do next with them.

As I mentioned earlier, the students are using their “This I Believe Essay”  to get to know each other more. My colleague and I decided we would have the students post their essays on Youth Voices. Youth Voices is an online platform where students can publish their writing where other students can discuss the same topics or issues.  By having the students post here, they could read each other’s essays and respond appropriately.

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

This allows the students to see what beliefs they may have in common or what they may not have in common as well.  Regardless, we feel that our students are now publishing their writing for a broader audience besides their teacher or classmates. Furthermore, they will get feedback that can have the potential to make them better writers in the future.  After our students have posted to Youth Voices and everyone has had a chance to be paired up to respond to at least one other student, we will move forward and participate in doing more live hangouts where our students can discuss myths.

Reflection

Doing something this simple with technology has long lasting impacts on the students from each class.  First, I would like to say our schools are very different when it comes to the dynamics of the number of students and the cultural diversity.  My middle school consists of 120 seventh and eighth graders.  My colleague has just over 500 in the same two grades.  My school consists of about 98% whites where his school has Latinos, Hispanics, Arab, African American, and whites.  With this being said, I felt it was wonderful for my students to be emerged into this type of cultural diversity.  Our students need to learn they will be working with a very diverse culture when they enter the work force.

I was also surprised at how my students “locked up” when it came time to talk on camera.  They were dead silent and if it wasn’t for the fact I had students assigned for each question being asked, I would not have had volunteers.  My students were very shy and I was shocked at this.  In the end, when it came to them talking on camera, they needed to speak up too.  My colleague actually felt his students were rude and too loud.  A concern, I actually thought was going to arise.

Overall, Google Hangout and Youth Voices are great tools, especially ones that can help meet the demands of the Common Core Standards. The ideas behind using the online tools were to:

  • Collaborate
  • Practice communication skills
  • Publish student writing to a broader audience
  • Receive feedback on student writing
  • Become connected with other learners
  • Be exposed to more diversity as is such in the real world

Cheers!


Getting a Grasp on Good Readers and Writers

It has been busy the last few school days of school. I feel as if I am wasting time at certain moments, but I know what I am doing only paves the way for the rest of the year. As I sit here in my local library, escaping the hustle and bustle at my house, it occurs to me that within the first few weeks of school, I still do not have a clearly painted picture of my students as readers and writers.

Thursday was great with my middle schoolers! I felt very accomplished with both 7th and 8th graders.  The 7th graders continued their brainstorming and pre-writing with completing their wordles about their beliefs.  It was an interesting start to the morning when students were having difficulty with the website freezing up from time to time and they had to start over.  Then, the printer was having issues with the ink cartridge and I had to have that replaced.  Needless to say, I was off to a rough start with the 1st hour of the day. As wonderful as technology may be at certain times, it still can cause major issues with completing your lessons you may have for the day. The students completed their wordles and handed them into the homework tray. As part of the brainstorming process for their “This I Believe” essays, I gave them a grade on their wordle.  Next, I gave the students an experience survey as a pre-reading activity for the novel we are going to start on Monday or Tuesday, depending on time.   The 7th graders are going to be reading The Acorn People by Ron Jones. In my opinion, it is a very compelling tale about a young man right out of college who learns to look past people’s differences and see people for who they really are and as a result the campers are allowed to be themselves. Below is the survey I gave to my 7th graders.  I posted it on Schoology for them to start the discussion.

  • Pick at least two questions to answer for discussion. Please use QIS and explain with detail. Respond to at least two classmates.Have you ever…

    1. Been faced with a challenge that seemed not only unpleasant – but impossible?

    2. Felt uncomfortable around someone very different from you?

    3. Felt uncomfortable around a physically or mentally handicapped individual?

    4. Felt adults underestimated your abilities?

    5. Met someone who stayed positive no matter what?

If anyone is curious about what QIS is, it stands for Question Inclusive Statement. I am a huge fan of my students writing in complete sentences that includes part of the question. This survey acts as a springboard for our discussion prior to the novel.  The students are already doing an excellent job of discussing the questions on Schoology.  In addition, we will also have another discussion about disabilities.  I am thinking I may have the students do a short 2 minute video using a webcam describing what they think are their disabilities might be.

In terms of technology, the 7th graders have been fully submerged.  Friday I finally was able to send home the Gmail/Google Drive letter to gain parents permission for 7th graders to create a Gmail account.  If you would like to see the letter I sent home, just email me.

The 8th grader have spent more time writing this past Thursday and Friday.  Seeing how the 8th graders already had a Gmail set up from last year, we took some time and I showed them how to set up a folder on Google Drive to start their digital portfolio.  When they were done setting up their folder, I had them put their 6 word memoir and their 140 character Twitter memoir in their digital portfolios. When they completed adding work to their portfolio, I had the students try something I have not tried for a very long time.  The 8th graders completed their first reading assessment on a short story we read earlier in the week.  On Schoology, in the discussion section, I asked the students to take an event from the story “The Osage Orange Tree” and I asked them to write the event from the antagonists point of view. As readers we only saw the story from the narrators prospective. I wanted the students to write the event from that other point of view and ask themselves if the story changed at all.  I want my students to understand how the outcome of the story could be completely different if told from another characters point of view.  We actually spent some time talking about how The Hunger Games could be an entirely different story if it were told from Haymitch’s point of view.  The students of course laughed and I think they got what I was trying to say.  Upon reading their responses, most students did a great job and I started see some creativity pop out in some of their writing.  Others, still struggled with the idea and what I was trying to get them to do.

These first few weeks have been used to get a lot of technology and digital tools up and running. On the other hand, both 7th and 8th grade have already read a shorts story and completed 2-3 writing tasks.  Even though the students have been busy, I still don’t feel I have a grasp on what type of reading and writing skills they have.  I am referring more to the 7th graders of course, because I had the 8th graders all ready last year.  Next week I do plan on sitting down and talking with each of the 7th graders to discuss what their strengths and weaknesses are as readers and writers.

As I prepare for next week, I am looking forward to starting both grades novels and their bigger writing assignments.

Cheers!