Reflective Teaching Practices – Week 1

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(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.

Cheers!

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Reflections of a Middle School Teacher

Ahhh! Yup, school is out for the Summer. At the start of every year I tell my students that we need to treat each other as if we are family. AND… just like family we will get sick of each other and bicker, pick, and get tired of each other’s habits. Well, I can honestly say we were at the edge. It was time for us to part ways and have a break. My students were ready and I was ready too.

It was an exciting year for me professionally. The book Create, Compose, and Connect Troy Hicks and I wrote was published, another book I contributed to is coming out very soon, and I am working on a book with some really great educators from all levels right now. In addition, I had the opportunity to present at some excellent conferences here in Michigan. I also felt I did a better job as a reading teacher, but I still have a long ways to go to consider myself stellar.

Looking back on this past school year has left me with mixed feelings. On one hand I feel as if the students completed a lot of writing and dug pretty deep into some reading throughout the year. On the other hand, I struggled with students retaining information as we made connections later on in the school year. My colleagues struggled with this as well and at times it was very exhausting to get students to make connections from earlier lessons.

As a middle school staff, I feel that we grew more this year and we are continuing to keep the students at the center. We are striving everyday to do what is best for them. In particular I worked more closely with our S.S. teacher on doing article of week, a historical research paper, and we worked on a written report for our Salmon in the Classroom Project. You can see where we were featured on Michigan-Out-of-Doors. You can see us around the 20:00 minute mark.

 

The Social Studies teacher and I  are starting to mutually appreciate each other’s strengths and I know our professional relationship will continue to grow. This year I really tried to be patient with all staff members and recognize their strengths when I could.

Besides trying to build more positive relationships with all of my colleagues, we will have a schedule change for next year, which is positive. We will now have about 60 minutes per class to teach. I am very excited about this because when our S.S. teacher figured it out, we are actually getting one extra class period per week when all of the extra minutes are added together. Prior to this we only had about 52 minutes per class.  I feel that my class discussions around different text we are reading or the different genres we are writing will be deeper and the students will have the opportunity to do more critical thinking. Feeling rushed to get through material could potentially fall to the wayside if all goes well (snow days could hinder this).

In addition to having more time with students, our principal made a push to put a more solid curriculum in place. Our monthly early release meetings can at times be a joke. In the department I co-chair we work hard to keep moving forward and we have done some tremendous work with the CCSS Anchor Standards, but from what I have heard from other departments, participants were using the time to shoot the bull and grade papers. At times when we have met as a whole district, it has irked me to see fellow teachers also grading papers.

This past year, it was proposed that there is a more solid focus on developing curriculum maps, pacing guides, and establishing what is important in concerns with the anchor standards. Though this was received well at our district improvement meeting, time wore on, and there were some complaints about what we needed to accomplish within our departments. My big question is why? Why are questioning what should be in place already.  We can’t just adopt the CCSS and say that is our curriculum. Personally, I am glad we are being asked to do this. Yes, I am willing to take time over my Summer break to make my teaching better and do what is best for students.

Overall, I am glad this year has come to a close. There are many aspects of my teaching that I am going to change. I am also spending the Summer reading some professional texts on how to become a better reading teacher. Summer is not a time to be lazy, it is time to think about our instructional practices and what we are going to do to help our students succeed. However, a few beverages are nice too!

Cheers!


Digital Portfolio Resources – Technology & Writing: New Approaches to Literacy Competency

 Below you will find many resources for using digital portfolios in the classroom.  Comment with any questions!

Digital Portfolio Websites

  1. http://www.michiganportfolios.org/
  2. http://electronicportfolios.com

Book Resources on Portfolios

  1. The Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks
  2. Because Digital Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Online and Multimedia Environments by National Writing Project, Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl and Troy Hicks

The Many tools for Digital Portfolios

Cloud Based Spaces:  

Social Media Sites

Creating a Website

 

Marking Period Portfolio Reflection Questions:

  1. What piece did you choose to reflect on and why?
  2. What was your initial response to the comments by Mr. Hyler?
  3. In your own words rewrite what it is that Mr. Hyler commented on.
  4. Give an example of how you are going to make your writing better based on the comments by Mr. Hyler.
  5. How are you going to apply what you learned from reflecting on your writing to future assignments? Be specific.

End of the year Portfolio Reflection Questions:

  • What were your expectations for this class before we started? Was the class what you expected? What goals did you set for yourself in regard to this class? (Check your writing into the day from September if you don’t remember.) How successful were you in accomplishing your goals? What is the most useful thing you’ve learned in this class? How have you grown intellectually this year? Academically?
  • Look through all the writing you’ve done this year. What have you tried that is new? How has your writing changed?  What is your favorite piece and why? Is there anything you wish you would have done differently? How do you think of your writing abilities now compared to the beginning of the class? Has anything about your writing surprised you? What have you learned about the various kinds of writing you’ve done (narrative, informational, and argumentative)  What did you learn about revision? What kinds of feedback from your peers is most helpful?

CCSS Does Not Mean an S.O.S.

It feels good to take on a different format of writing with me writing this blog, I am not going to lie.  It has been over a month since my last post.  I have been extremely busy writing the book and submitting other pieces for publication.  The good news is that I feel as if the home stretch is here or at least near.  Recently, I have been doing more reading on the Common Core State Standards and simply listening to people have discussions on the curriculum as a whole.  After listening to some teachers rant and rave, completing some reading that left me shaking my head, I can’t help but ask anyone who is willing to listen, what is all of the complaining about, really?

I want to begin by mentioning how my state (Michigan) and some other states are trying to now “back out” of implementing the CCSS. Why you may ask?  Quite simply the fear of losing local control or state control of schools or so it appears that way.  This is one place I shake my head from side to side.  Let’s be rational here, the federal government is not trying to take over our schools. Let’s think about what one of the reasons the CCSS was developed.  One of the reasons was to have consistency within schools on what is being taught. Does it have higher demands for students? Yes sir! Is it going to be more work on our part as teachers? Yes ma’am.  Not once have I ever thought the Common Core was designed for a hostile government take over of any school.

Next, I want to address the parent (of a different school from where I teach) who threatened to take their 3 children out of the school their children attend if the teacher or district tried to use the Common Core as the curriculum.  I will be honest with you, I didn’t react to the parent in a hostile manner when I was listening. I just listened.  After their ranting and demoralizing of the CCSS, I asked one question.  What do you not like about the Common Core?  Their answer: It is too hard for my children and too demanding.  On the inside, I was screaming, but on the outside, I politely said thank you for sharing your concern.  To me, their response summed up why I see the work ethic I do today of some students, including the ones that I teach.  Some students (and parents) don’t understand they have to work hard in school!  It isn’t just about socializing or sports.  Furthermore, those students who may struggle a little, are probably going to have to work even harder. Wow and yes that does suck! Should I be teaching work ethic in my class too? Oh wait, I think I do!

Now, I am not saying the CCSS does not have flaws, because it does.  However, I really like what the Common Core is trying to do for our students.  Here are just a few things I notice:

  • Engages our students with more informational text.
  • Causes our students to have higher level thinking skills.
  • Consistency across states with curriculum.
  • The ability for flexibility on how we teach the skills that need to be met.
  • Students get engaged in all 3 genres (narrative, informational, argumentative.

While I notice the positives of the CCSS, the one gripe I will make public here is the little it says about students reflecting on their own work. Reflection is key for student improvement in whatever they do. As a matter of fact, it is a life skill that is essential for growing as an individual. I have to constantly reflect all the time on how to do a better job with my students.

With that being said, I can strongly say the CCSS is not going away anytime soon.  Though we don’t have to embrace it like a big fluffy teddy bear, it is no reason to toss out the emergency S.O.S. life belt.

Cheers!

 


Teaching Students to Reflect on Their Writing

Recently I came to the conclusion middle school students need instruction on how to effectively reflect on their writing. I just got done handing back my 7th graders book reviews. My classroom is essentially paperless and they had to complete the assignment using Google Docs. As I grade papers, whether it is 7th or 8th grade, I make notes on the areas my students struggle with throughout the particular writing assignment. Throughout this assignment, students struggled with basic spelling, sentence structure, and capitalization. In addition, students struggled with one major concept with the review, which was the compare/contrast section of the review.

Upon returning the student’s papers I asked the students to have me help them. I was frustrated with them not following directions. After all, I am well into the second semester and I needed them to realize their mistakes were nothing more then following simple directions. When I asked them what I can do to make them more successful…silence. Why couldn’t my students reflect on their own writing, or even their own work so I could help them grow?

After discussing with a colleague who had taught English before, we both came to the conclusion middle school students don’t know how to reflect on their work. My students have writing portfolios, both physical and digital. in addition, I have given them reflection prompts for their past assignments, but in all honesty I feel confident my students are more or less going through the motions rather then thinking critically about their own writing and how they can make it better. The Common Core State Standards say very little about reflection, but it is essential for creating a more rigorous classroom and for students to evaluate their own learning.

So, what can we do as middle school English teachers to help students reflect on their writing? To be honest, I don’t have any solid answers. One strategy I have adopted for my students is for them to look at a specific comment I have placed on their document. Then, they need to rewrite the comment and complete some tasks on a pre-made template I hand out to students. Below are the tasks.

1. What was your initial response to the comment by Mr. Hyler?

2. In your own words rewrite what it is that Mr.Hyler commented on.

3. Give an example of how you are going to make your writing better based on the comment by Mr. Hyler.

4. How are you going to apply what you learned from reflecting on your writing to future assignments? Be specific.

I am sure there are other ways for students to reflect on their writing. I am going to continue to research this important task that is vital for developing strong writers and strong students in general.

Cheers!


Will the Common Core Burn Out Teachers?

I am almost 1/2 way through the 3rd marking period and I am not going to lie, I am exhausted. Now, I do have a full plate when it comes to everything else going on in my life, but I want to talk about just teaching for a moment. Despite the fact I just turned 35, I have no plans of slowing down anywhere.

Anyone who knows me, realizes I do not settle for average. It is one of the main reasons my principal and I get along so well. I work hard for my students and am trying to set an example for them all. In addition, I am a supporter of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and see endless Possibilities. Freedom to be creative with assessments, integration of technology, collaborative learning, more vigorous learning (Yes, I said vigorous, not rigorous!), and the idea students can do research projects are just a few reasons why I see the upside to the CCSS.

On the other hand, I hear and read the negativity about the Common Core weekly. Teachers don’t think it is clear enough, they feel the need to start over with lesson and unit plans, others feel the Core has unrealistic expectations for students from kindergarten to twelfth grade.

I hear everyone loud and clear and I am not trying to add to the complaining, but I am wondering if the Common Core is going to push some teachers over the edge. Currently I teach both 7th and 8th grade English and the CCSS is fully implemented. My lessons are not only driven by the Common Core, but I also do sample Smarter Balanced Assessment questions with each of my classes. I have very little time to do anything else. I am sure other teachers feel the same way.

With little time to breathe, I worry about a few things. First, I worry about the potential for quicker burn out amongst younger teachers who are entering the profession. Are the younger teachers going to feel the task of implementing a challenging curriculum too demanding? Will the CCSS overwhelm them to the point they seek other job opportunities? I guess time will tell.

In addition to new teacher burnout, I worry about teachers being too accepting of a canned curriculum program that teachers will purchase so they don’t have to do any work as far as creating thoughtful and inspiring lessons. It is a concern that is a reality, trust me. There are many textbook companies and publishing companies that are going to produce Common Core guides, lesson plans, how-to’s, and many other resources. Eventually, the market will be flooded with a plethora of information on how to reach our students through the CCSS.

In all honesty, it is going to take hard work and determination to elevate our students to the level they need to be. It is going to take collaborative meetings between elementary, middle and high school teachers to sort out the finer detail. We will be forced to rethink what we are doing in our own classrooms and reevaluate what can stay and what has to go. It is not going to be easy and thus far, for me, it hasn’t. However, I will continue to push forward and do what it takes to be successful with my students. Even if it means I take a thermos of coffee into work everyday to stay awake.

Cheers!


As the Common Core Band Wagon Rolls By, I Stand and Wave

I wasn’t sure how to title today’s post.  I hope by the time anyone reads this, my post is well understand.

Recently we had another department meeting and I must say I enjoy our department meetings because we are always busy and engaged and trying to do what is best for the students that face us every day! One of the high school teachers was feeling the pressure of potentially not doing enough to meet the demands of the Common Core State Standards. The word rigor came into focus (See my previous post on rigor -vs – vigor). As the conversation progressed,  I couldn’t help but wonder how many other teachers are feeling the way my colleague has been. Their thinking was perhaps if  they used another Shakespeare unit in addition to what they were already doing might make their class more demanding and students would be required to do more deeper thinking.  Note to anyone: Adding more, does not mean a class is more rigorous (My colleague wasn’t thinking this, I just wanted to throw that out there).

This also spurred the conversation about looking at different curriculum in general to use in the classroom.  Though we weren’t considering replacing what we are currently doing, we were discussing what other possibilities could be included to extend our current practices or what were valuable resources to aid us in our teaching.

I have done a lot more thinking since that meeting and my colleague had a great point about what they have observed.  The sad thing is, I have observed it too. We have both noticed this mad frantic race to implement Common Core and have heard teachers discussing how their schools have these curriculum teams to rewrite their entire curriculum and these huge meetings are taking place to change to the CCSS.   In addition, everyone is making this mad dash to find the best books that are available to help them implement the CCSS.

Well, as I stand here and wave at the bandwagon rolling past me with others on it, I will tell you I haven’t completely changed my curriculum or gone to some canned program that companies might be trying to sell to schools and teachers. When my school did switch to the Common Core, I got out my curriculum and went through it with the Common Core Standards right next to it.  I went through and looked at what standards I was already meeting with the existing units and lessons I was teaching. Now, was I missing some things?  Absolutely! I will admit, I had to do some overhauling in some areas and not so much in others.

What I didn’t do was scrap everything I was doing in my classroom and look for the easy way out by trying to find existing CCSS units.  The Common Core allows us to use what we already know and it also challenges to implement new ideas and technologies.  I strongly believe if teachers are trying to find the magic button for teaching the Common Core in their classroom, they are going to be really disappointed, because there isn’t a magic button to push.

So, if you feel you are one of those people who are completely lost and you hope there is going to be this miracle curriculum program that is going to come out for you to use in your classroom, I invite you to examine what you are currently doing in your classroom first before jumping on the band wagon.  If you do jump on, I will be waving to you as you roll past!

Cheers!