Friday, August 27, 2010

Eyes on the prize

Next week, I'll ask my freshmen students (who will finally get to "do" English next week now that all the setup is complete) to set personal and learning goals for their first semester.  I ask my students to do this because this is a practice I engage in so often both personally and professionally.  I feel particularly inspired to do some goal setting after attending five conferences over the summer where I truly learned so much.  Often, I attend these conferences and forget about those things I learned, so this year, I sat down and looked over my notes, highlighting some inspiring items and using those items to determine how I hope to evolve this year. 

Here's what I came up with:
1.  Find audiences and experts beyond our classroom walls. I want to connect with people in other countries, in other classes and help my students gain more perspectives and build a bigger learning network.  I've started this and will follow up about how this progresses next week.
2.  Choose one class to try scribe posting.  Alan November professed the value of this practice and, so far, I am loving what it tells me about what my students learned and am also enjoying how if focuses as a permanent resource from another perspective for the kids. 
3.  Focus on building classroom culture to create a better learning and working environment.  Harvey Daniels talked about the concept of membership grids where students craft questions they are curious to know about one another and record those questions in a grid each day to begin group work.  I am trying this with all my classes and am loving seeing their relationships cultivate.
4.  Share my reading life.  I want to model my love for reading by sharing good books I read by bringing those in, doing book talks, and sharing my Goodreads account.
5.  Read out loud more in class rather than assigning so much reading homework.
6.  Blog once a week.  So far, so good, but I'm realizing how tricky this can get sitting here at 4:15 on a Friday afternoon...
7.  Differentiate based on readiness, interest, and learning profile.
8.  Engage in metacognition and help my students do the same.
9.  Explore other ways of giving feedback.

I figure if I tell the world my goals, it will be trickier to reneg.  I'll surely follow up as the semester continues...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First Day Fun

Every year I begin the school year the same way: asking myself what I will do the first day.  No lesson plans all year take me as long, there is no day that makes me as anxious.  No matter this was my seventh first day, I am perplexed every year by the idea of this big, first impression and how to make it a great experience for my students.

I shared this concern with my colleague and friend, Kristin LeClaire, who confessed to the same wonderings.  With that sentiment in mind, she asked me a terrific question.  It went something like this:  If you were a student in your class, what would make you feel excited that day?  Excited for the following class?  What would make you feel validated?  Like this class was worthwhile? 

Here is the list I came up with:
  • I want to know my classmates enough so when I have group work, I have someone to work with. 
  • I want to know them enough so when I walk in the room, they say "hi" to me and call me by name.
  • I want to know the teacher a little as a subject enthusiast and as a person.
  • I don't want to listen the whole time; I want to feel like someone wants to hear my voice and this is not just my teacher's show.
  • I want to have an opportunity to get up and move around; this is the longest I've sat and listened for a long time.
  • I want to learn a little about the class's content and why it matters or is interesting, why it applies to my life.  I want to be excited about that content because of relevancy, interest, or, preferably, both.
  • I want to know my teacher knows a cares about me a little, even after just one day.
With these bullets in mind, I drafted my lesson plans and had a solid first day experience, but I am still wondering how others might answer those questions and what they do on that first day of school. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

What the Scores Don't Show

In the spirit of the year's beginning when test scores are sure to be a prominent topic of conversation, I wanted to share an article that my step-grandfather-in-law, (if there is such a term), a member of my personal learning network, shared with me.  Jack, an incredibly well-read ex-lawyer, keeps me up with happenings via email that he thinks may be of interest to me, including this New York Times' article entitled "The Case for the $320,000 Kindergarten Teacher".
In the article, Leonhardt describes how Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist, is examining the lives of 12,000 students who shared an experimental education experience in the 1980's.  Chetty describes his purpose: "We don't care about test scores.  We care about adult outcomes."  Although his research remains a work in progress, Chetty's initial results reveal a connection between economic success and the effectiveness of one's kindergarten teacher.  Particularly, the older an individual gets, the larger the gap is between an individual with an ineffective kindergarten teacher and one deemed effective.
Clearly, such an experiment has many variables and raises many questions, which Chetty recognizes:  how does the research team define effectiveness?  What other life experiences may have affected these disparities?  In answering these questions, some of Chetty' findings yielded the age-long conclusions that, for example, class size and socioeconomic status possess significant correlations to academic success.  The new and uplifting finding, however, is that despite what test scores may yield in any given school year, some of teachers' effects can be best evidenced in the long run and are more consequential than we may imagine and than our parents and students may realize.
Although I appreciate the author's conclusion that this testifies to the value of education, its need for reform, and to the case "for the $320,000 kindgergarten teacher", I, instead, look at this article as an uplifiting veil through which to examine my test scores this fall.  Though we don't place all our worth as teachers in our exam scores, many of us pour over them and feel a sense of validation or lackthereof as we look at standardized test reports.  Chetty's results, however, encourage teachers to consider the big picture, long-term outcomes of our teaching despite what these scores may seem to show.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Summer Summary: what I learned these weeks

Like most teachers, I spent my summer in part relaxing, in part traveling, but, the majority of the time, I spent my summer learning.  Having attended various conferences and also spent many hours studying, I experienced many epiphanies and I wanted to begin my blog by reflecting on these learnings and also reflecting on why I am, again, blogging and, moreover, beginning a brand new blog after abandoning the one I began years ago.

One of my summer highlights included attending several conferneces, including the ISTE conference in downtown Denver in July.  Generally, I spend my time at these tech conferences feeling so behind the times, and this year proved no different.  Don't get me wrong, I truly enjoyed the experience; however, I struggle to feel like an effective teacher when I hear of all the "twenty-first century" activities others are doing in their classrooms and personal lives.  I walked away with a swollen brain, a Twitter account, and an epiphany about what had changed for me regarding technology:  yes, I had implemented more technology in my classroom; however, I had gotten away from modeling why I find technology important when I abandoned, for example, my own personal learning network and blog.  Under the instruction of an inspiring technology director, I began these practices now five years ago, and have since abandoned the practice, sacrificing modeling to grade more quickly and devote more time to planning.  After attending these conferences, I am beginning the school year re-committing myself to modeling my own thinking, learning, reflection and, moreover, making all of those gerunds transparent.

Another thing I learned during these conferences and my summer studies?  How it feels to be a student.  If for no other reason, even if one gains nothing from the conferences he or she attends, remembering how it feels to inhabit the small desk is an incredibly valuable learning experiience.  Standing in front of our sixth hour, sometimes we forget how it feels to have been sitting, listening for the several hours previous.  Another summer experience that enforced these realizations was spending a lot of the summer studying material I genuinely struggled with and felt frustrated by.  These frustrations were further exacerbated by the fact that I was then tested on this, what I found to be, trivial and frustrating information.  I heard myself grousing "I don't get its" and "how is this going to show my intelligences"; how appropriate to the school year's beginning.  Regardless of what comes from these studies, I look forward to entering the school year more empathetic to my student's plight.

As always, the end-of-summer cliches are swirling through my mind as I post this first response--it went too fast, I feel like I was just here, and the like.  But  I am looking gleefully forward to a new school year in the hopes that I will be a more understanding, better modeling teacher and learner as a result of my summer experiences.