Second blog in a week! I almost forgot the power behind blogging. Trying to rock it out again this week.
Communication has been vital for hundreds of years. The way people communicate has changed drastically. From sending notes through the Pony Express to a note on a pigeon’s leg. Now, we have email, text messaging, and other forms of online communication that can essentially let us hide from having more intimate conversations with individuals.
Even though we have easier ways to communicate, face-to-face conversation seems to be quickly losing popularity or perhaps it already has been cast aside. Just recently I was astonished at my 8th grader’s reaction when I told them they couldn’t have cell phones on their upcoming bus trip to the fish hatchery for our Salmon in the Classroom project. It was as if I just told them I was going to cut off their arm or leg.
As I have pondered their reaction, I began to think about the communication that takes place in education and more specifically among teachers, administrators, parents, and community members.
I am all for the use of technology in responsible ways and it has made our world easier to access the individuals that we need to get in touch with. In fact, we can’t blame technology for how our students learn today. The downfall to all the ways we can access people has caused a serious decline in building effective relationships with others. This just doesn’t fall on the teachers or the students either, it falls on everyone’s shoulder to get better.
When it comes to building positive relationships between administrators and teachers, it is easier for principals and superintendents to put out emails and videos. Videos can be created for staff meetings instead of trying to work around everyone’s schedule when it comes to coaching and other after school activities. However, unless there are face-to-face conversations taking place, those positive relationships are not being built. I am thankful that my principal not only has an open door policy but has the leadership to engage in conversations with the teachers in the hall and in their classrooms. He doesn’t just send emails to the teachers hoping they will read it and claim he is communicating with us.
In addition to administrators reaching out and building relationships with staff members, I feel we are at a critical time in education where school board members need to be having face-to-face conversations with not only teachers but with the community as well. Currently, what I am seeing, is little interaction between board members and community members. It seems to me that there is not a working relationship to make schools better between these entities. I know that this isn’t the case for all school districts and I don’t mean to offend those that have solid relationships. However, I am currently seeing it with my own eyes and not only has it had a negative impact on relationship building, there is a lack of respect among board members, teachers, and community members. So much, that people are starting not to care which has negative consequences on the students in the end.
It is true that communication has changed drastically over the past 100 years. I feel it is more important than ever to talk with people and build relationships with them through everyday conversation, not useless emails, newsletters, or text messages. If we can do this as adults, we can definitely help our kids understand the importance of effective communication not only make them better citizens but help our schools become better places to learn.
What does communication mean to you?
(Photo compliments of Mistie Bibee from freeimages.com)
I am beginning my quest to reflect back on my teaching practice each day and week for the rest of the semester/year. During this reflective period, I am throwing out or reworking what isn’t getting my students engaged. Though I am posting for my own professional use, I invite anyone to offer suggestions and critiques into what I am doing or what I could be doing in the future.
There were two specific areas I wanted to highlight with 8th grade. First, I recapped parenthetical documentation. We went over this prior to Christmas break and it needed to be reviewed for a paper they are doing in Social Studies. The lesson in December went well, however, the review was just mehh! One class asked questions and were engaged. My first class, however, was unresponsive and I think if I used jumper cables they wouldn’t have budged. So, the initial lesson was good. On the other hand, the review needs some spice.
Next, the 8th graders finished their semester writing reflections. I asked them to look at their first piece of writing from the beginning of the year and it was awesome to just watch their facial reactions. I then had them follow-up with some basic reflections questions. They all did really well for the most part. I will definitely keep doing reflections.
As a side note, although 8th graders did well, I have some work to do with the 7th graders. Last week we started to look at Civil Right issues prior to us starting to Role of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. I showed a short video to the classes, but I feel that I need to do more here. Some how I need to incorporate informational text reading at the beginning of this unit.
I also need to continue to work on grammar and doing more of it in my classes.
Monday I had a meeting with my principal and I told him I have had thoughts about taking everything I do in my classroom and throwing it out the window and starting from scratch. This is where I envision books, student assignments, computers, tablets, pens, pencils, etc being on my desk and clearing it all off in a raging fit with one swing of my monstrous long arms.
Anyways, I want to reinvent, reimagine my classroom and what I am doing. It is not to say that everything I do does not have an impact on students, but I feel like I need to change some things. There are days I feel, I am not reaching my students.
My principal suggested that I start reflecting on each day and writing down what works and what doesn’t work. I thought that would be a great idea and I am definitely going to start doing that next week. It is time to reflect on what it is I am doing in my classroom and changing what is isn’t working anymore.
Has anyone else ever had these thoughts or something similar?
As I finished out the Chippewa River Writing Project’s (CRWP) Summer Institute for the first time as a co-director, I had the opportunity to give feedback to my group members that I worked with for almost four weeks. As we sat on my colleagues couches and bar stools, I started to think about authentic assessment and what the definition of authentic assessment actually is in relation to what I was doing with CRWP participants as well as what I do with my students on a yearly basis.
Realizing I hadn’t given much thought to authentic assessment, I started doing some digging. In the past I had focused more attention on formative -vs- summative assessment. As I begin researching the idea of authentic assessment, I knew that I needed help from someone who was familiar with assessments and had vested time with the subject at hand. I emailed a writing project colleague and friend Scott Filkins (@scottfilkins). Scott is the author of Beyond Standardized Truth: Improving Teaching and Learning through Inquiry-Based Reading Assessment (Principles in Practice). He has also worked with students in grades 6-12 and works with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) on the ReadWriteThink resources.
When I emailed Scott I asked him to direct me towards some resources on authentic assessment. Scott replied with a few questions that I had never considered before and therefore plunged me further into thinking about authentic assessment. Scott asked:
“Do you mean assessment that’s true assessment in the sense that it’s embedded in the ongoing work of the local classroom ecology and truly shapes a teacher’s understanding of a kid and what’s next for him or her? Or do you mean the kind of authentic assessment that’s like project based where the kids are doing something “authentic” with reading/writing/literacy?”
Both questions were spectacular in regards to how broad I began my thinking. As I thought about the questions, I knew that I was thinking more along the lines of students doing something “authentic” with literacy. After all, that is what participants of the Summer Institute had completed for us to review.
On the other hand, I was also thinking authentic assessment was the type of feedback we give students when we grade their assignments. I sat down and took approximately 3 1/2 hours to give solid feedback to four individuals. I didn’t fill out a rubric or grade a multiple choice test. I was giving each person what I felt was valuable feedback on the pieces they created during their time of the Summer Institute. Feedback that was going to help them become better writers and teachers.
The more I thought about it and read some of the great resources Scott Filkins had shared with me, I started to realize that authentic assessments and authentic feedback are two different things. They weren’t the same. However, we can’t give students authentic feedback unless we give them authentic assessments. By giving our students more authentic assessments we can then make better decisions about curriculum and more effectively communicate with our students about their learning. Therefore, making them better learners and helping them understand where they are and where they need to go!
As a result of my research and help from awesome colleagues like Scott Filkins, I will reflect more about the assessments my students complete this school year and the feedback I give to them.
(Picture compliments of Chris Potter on Flckr.)
This past school year presented its challenges, which is not unlike most years in the teaching profession. Every teacher struggles with lessons that don’t work out, an unruly class or student, and the every day ins and outs of teaching. When we do have the time to catch our breath, we have our own personal lives to manage. Bottom line it isn’t easy, but for the most part we manage.
For the 2014-2015 school year I was presented with the biggest challenge in my life, not just my career. October not only brought about the leaves changing color and Halloween, but a separation from my wife and eventually divorce. Needless to say I was devastated and my personal world came crashing down.
Quite often, I am not one to share too much of my personal life with my students. Don’t get me wrong, my students know a lot about me, but there are numerous things I keep secure in the ole’ brain. My divorce was no different. I didn’t share any details with my students about how my marriage failed. My principal and colleagues knew, but that was as far as my comfort zone was going. It was already stretched.
I wasn’t willing to share with my students because I was afraid to share my failure. I was a wreck and I am confident my students saw it on my face every day. As the school year progressed and my divorced was finalized, I started to realize that I may have failed at my marriage, but I didn’t fail at teaching or life. Even if I did, I needed to pick myself up and move on. After all, my ex-wife and I got along just fine and we had our own children to take care of and think about. So, instead of feeling defeated, I started to pick up the pieces. In all honesty, it was my principal who provided the spark that made me see that I am a better person and professional than what I was displaying. I needed to get my spark back!
Besides accepting the challenges that my principal set before me, I also recalled there are many students who come from split families in my district and I started to understand that I now could relate to those students a bit more and perhaps sympathize more with their situation. Furthermore, I think my students need to have more insight into my own personal life so they might have a better understanding of where I am coming from and what I am all about. They need to see that I am human, a change that I am ready to make for the 2015-2016 school year.
Failure does not mean we are less of a person. Out of failure comes success as mentioned in a video highlighting Michael Jordan and many other great individuals. I have picked up the pieces this Summer because despite my failures, I have had many successful things happen in my life. Besides, my own kids need their dad to be the best that he can be every single day and my students need me to show them that, despite the failure in their own lives, they too can succeed.
As more and more students bring mobile devices to school, we have more opportunities (and challenges) to teach reading and writing, speaking and listening. For next week’s #engchat conversation (1/12/15 at 7:00 PM EST), join co-authors Jeremy Hyler (@Jeremybballer) and Troy Hicks (@hicsktro) as they share some strategies from their book, Create, Compose, Connect! Reading, Writing and Learning with Digital Tools (Routledge/Eye on Education, 2014).
More importantly, we invite you to share your ideas about how best to engage students in authentic literacy activities with smartphones and tablets. Some questions we may pursue during the chat include:
- What is your school’s policy for mobile technologies? If your school has a BYOD or 1:1 program, how did it begin? If not, what do you want to know in order to start one?
- What are the literacy skills that mobile technology enable? How are you working with students to develop their skills as readers and writers, listeners and speakers?
- What lesson ideas do you have for mobile tech — daily, weekly, or just once in awhile — what works for you and your students?
We look forward to creating, composing, and connecting with #engchat colleagues soon!
First, I want to say thanks for all of my new followers here on my blog. I am trying hard to write more this school year. It is hard to believe my third week of school is over already.
This year as a staff we decided we wanted to follow a universal format for our students to write summaries. I presented the idea last year to our staff and it was accepted with open arms by everyone. To me, this was another proving point for me that as language arts teachers we need to be willing to reach across the isle and help other colleagues who aren’t so comfortable teaching students reading and writing skills. We decided to follow a format called TDPP, which comes from Get It Done! Writing and Analyzing Informational Texts to Make Things Happen by Jeff Wilhelm, Michael Smith, and Jim Fredricksen.
T – Cite the Topic
D – What are the key Details
P – How are the details are Patterned
P – What is the Point made about the topic of those patterned details
The social studies teacher and I have been working closely together to help students become better readers and writers over the past year by doing article of the week, working on a Civil War Research paper together and just making sure we are on the same page when it comes to teaching our students reading strategies. Working together has been phenomenal and because of our collaboration, our students are learning more and becoming better readers and writers.
This year as the TDPP process was being reintroduced to our 8th graders, who have already seen it for a year, the Social Studies teacher had a great conversation with the students about how to make the process easier and the students gave some remarkable feedback that was shared with me. As we discussed our students feedback on the process, it occurred to us that we needed to make some changes in the process and our approach to teaching it to help our students be more successful when writing summaries. Below are the changes that we made.
T – Cite the Topic
M – Describe the Main Ideas that support the topic (3 main idea sentences for 8th grade, advance 7th graders as the year progresses)
P – Explain what Point is being made by the main ideas
P – Wrap-uP sentence
We made the changes because the 8th graders vocalized that they were getting confused with the Details part of the TDPP process as well as the last two P’s because they almost felt they were the same. Now, we didn’t want students copying down specific details from the articles they are reading so we changed the D to an M. When discussing this with students it was helpful to talk about a grocery list and how we write down what we want, which are main ideas, but we don’t write down specific brands, which are details. It helped the students make the difference between the two.
To us, we felt the students were taking charge of their learning and we were moved by the fact they were asking questions, engaged, and willing to take an active role in their education. This reflection and feedback not only allowed our students to perform better on a concept that can at times be difficult for even college students to write, but it gave us insight into how we were teaching the students and it made us better teachers.
Personally, I am really excited how much the 8th graders have grown and retained from last year. I am excited to see where the year takes us!