Saturday, February 18, 2017

Betsy Devos, Secretary of Education - #LetHerIn

The other day I smiled as I watched the video where Betsy Devos, our new Secretary of Education, was blocked from entering a school in D.C.
"What a way to humble her!", I thought.
"Now, she will understand that everyone cannot be bought, there are still free thinkers, my thoughts rambled on.
Then I read a statement from the AFT Union President Randi Weingarten, where she stated that Devos should be let into public schools.

Yes. let her in.
Let her in so she could see what public schools are about.
Let her in to see in many of the public schools of children of color and rural schools:
the lack of supplies and resources
cramped rooms
large class sizes
no Recess
digital inequity
inexperienced educators
stressed and depressed educators
"whole child" ignored
children suffering from trauma and/or poverty
excessive testing
high turnover in teachers

Yes, let her in.
She can also view:
teachers working miracles with what they have
educators with empathy and compassion
students learning who deal with things adults couldn't
educators going above and beyond to do for "their" kids
a sense of community
out of pocket purchases for the students
happy parents
teachers meeting the needs of the "whole child"
children succeeding
children learning how to code, build robots,collaborating globally

Let her see the reality of public schools, the positive and/or the negative.
I don't expect miracles, she is a billionaire who has a charter school agenda. But maybe if she visits public schools, she will come to understand why we love them, and work hard in them.

Update: Well, they #letherin and this is what happened...

Saturday, February 11, 2017

"Thank You Mrs.M" - Why Small Group Instruction Works!

I was frustrated.

I knew I was frustrated, and they knew I was frustrated.

Decimals. Place value.
I gave a formative on Quizizz, and I was not pleased with the results.
I looked at the data, and gathered a small group to the kidney table.

We did an activity with decimals, and then reviewed the same questions that were on Quizizz. Most of them did well, in the back, with me.

Here's the thing. Because I was dealing with about 5 kids, I took the time to ask them why they did well at the kidney table and not on Quizizz.

"Because it's timed, Mrs.M. The time was too fast and we were competing!" 

"Duh." Makes sense.  Lesson learned, in small group.

Sometimes a student needs your full attention. And if it's not your full attention, at least not having to split your attention with 27 other students. Small group instruction has become a mainstay in my classroom. It's not always easy when working with 28 5th graders smack in the middle of puberty. But it can be done.

  • Use data to guide your group. I use what I call " Engaging data". Plickers, Quizizz, Kahoot, Edpuzzle, there are so many to choose from. But they all help me achieve the same goal, immediate feedback that helps me form groups.

  • Use ability to form groups not names or the letters of the alphabet. I don't care if they are Group A, someone in that group may not understand.

  • Create your groups. Manage the size. 10 kids in a group is not small group instruction.

  • Change the way you deliver instruction in the small group. What did Einstein say, "Doing the same thing over and over..." Same content, different delivery. Don't just go over the same questions they worked on.

  • Don't hold the students hostage. If they get it, let them go. Give them a chance to work independently, they can always come back if they need help.

  • And the most important piece, manage your classroom. If you spend more time correcting behavior than focusing on your group, small group instruction will not work.

He was the last one left. Everyone else had demonstrated understanding, and left to work independently.. We/he solved a few problems. He got it!

After his high five, he stated sincerely, "Thank you Mrs.M.", and walked back to his seat.

Yeah, small group.  It works!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Ability Does NOT = Zip Code!

I have worked in schools that have been defined by a number of labels. High poverty, large percentage of free and reduced lunch, low income, those types of labels.
When those labels are used, although they shouldn't, they tend to define a school, their students, and the parents.
Generalizations are made.
Well, you know, because the school is  high poverty, the free and reduced lunch percentage is high, and there are many low income families.
Those generalizations lead to beliefs.
Beliefs that lead to an excessive amount of reading and math instruction.
More intervention.
More worksheets.
More computers, just so we make sure these kids don't miss out on all the adaptive programs that are available to them.
But many of them do miss out.

They miss out on STEAM programs, global collaboration, plays,  passion projects, student ownership, being allowed to think!

This year, thanks to a friend of mine and her connections, (Shout out to Michelle!),I was able to obtain a grant for a LEGO Robotics kit. With the Robotics kit came the responsibility of getting a group of  kids ready to compete in a FIRST LEGO League Robotics competition. I never doubted they could do it.

These kids.

I looked at the LEGO kit when it arrived, and wanted to cry.

They looked at the LEGO kit and began to build.

They built Mission models, a robot, and programmed it.(Shout out to Home Depot for building and donating their practice table)
They studied their Core Values and completed their Animal Allies research project. (Shout out to Jillian from +Sharks4Kids!).
Our, the other coach and I, faith never wavered. We believed in them.
These kids from this "high poverty, large percentage of free and reduced lunch, low income" school went to the competition and did their thing.
They went, worked as a team, behaved respectfully, and showed what they are capable of.
They got points on the board for getting their robot to complete 3 missions! (Shout out to to Mr.Bill from Caravel Academy!)
They won the award for the Research category. YES!
I'm  still grinning.:)

Let's give our kids, no matter where they attend school, a chance to be exposed. A chance to experience all that life has to offer. Give them a chance to shine!

Zip code. Does not.  = ability.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

My Students Have Taken Over The Easel!

An easel sits in the right hand corner of our room.
It's always been there.
Sometimes I use it, most of the time I don't.
I started to notice something a few days ago.
My students have taken over the easel.

First, they would write who was sharing during Morning Meeting.
Then at the end of the day, they would write the date.
The other day, I did a double take.
Unknown to me, they asked a question of the class, and the class answered, on the easel!

OK, call me a bad teacher, but I do not know when they wrote it or when the kids responded, it was just there.
"How was your day?" was the question.
The answers ranged from "not so good" to "awesome." (I wish I knew who wrote not so good so that I could find out why. Hopefully, I had already resolved that issue.)

I could have blown a gasket. I could have started yelling about how the kids were writing on "my" board. I chose not to, instead I encouraged it.

I am an advocate for student ownership.
Our students need to feel like it is "our" classroom,not mine.
If they were confident enough to commandeer the easel without even discussing it with me first, I think my job is done.:)

I am ecstatic that among the many other things that happen in order to make this classroom theirs, they have started their own trend.

I love reading their questions and responses.
Today's question was about our field trip, whether they enjoyed it or not.
I still don't know who is writing these messages, and I really don't care.

The easel is theirs now,and I can't wait to see what their future messages look like. :)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Synchronized Teaching- The Loss of Uniqueness!

There used to be a time when a teacher would find his/her groove teaching, a style of teaching that produced results. Of course,as the years went by, that style, hopefully, would be refined, adjusted, tap here, tap there, and all is good.
But "individual teaching styles" seem to have gone by the wayside. Teaching has lost its spontaneity and  I am baffled. If this teacher, and that teacher, and the other teacher, are moving in step, why not hire a robot?
A friend of mine shared that if someone walked in to observe the classes on his grade level, each of them should be teaching the exact same thing at the same time. I started cracking up.
He said somberly, "There is a binder." Chills.
PLC's, formative assessments, pacing guides, and scripted curriculum have made synchronized teaching a thing.
Unfortunately, as so often is done in education, we have taken concepts that are meant for good, and turned them into, ok, if I say evil, am I going too far?
PLC's should be teachers sharing ideas, strategies, and yes data, but certainly not forced data.
Formative assessments shouldn't be group planned. "Hold your teammates accountable if their data is not ready when it should be."Well, what if my kids are not ready, and the other teacher is?
Pacing guides should be just what they say they are, guides. Guides that allow for flexibility, depending on who is sitting in your classroom.
Scripted curriculum should not be followed blindly. That's just some lazy, or mandatory, teaching.
I know of a few teachers who did not get stellar observations because they strayed from the script.They were not teaching with "fidelity."
If teachers on a grade level, or even throughout the school, are all doing the same thing, where does spontaneity come in? Can you get off track? Can you engage in conversations that weren't planned? Are you able to give your class the chance to 'do what other classes aren't?
There is just so much wrong with "synchronized teaching!"
We are not synchronized, we each move to the beat of the kids in our classroom.
Our kids learn differently.
Teachers teach differently.
Synchronized teaching.
Stepford teachers anyone?