Category Archives: Professional Development
I had an excellent Professional Development Day yesterday, on assessing writing. I’ve got so much work to do this weekend now! Don’t you just love it when that happens? You attend a PD session and by the time you get to the end, you have more questions than answers? Well, that’s the kind of afternoon that I had (in a good way).
We started off the session with reading a chapter from Assessing Writers, an excellent book from our Literacy Library by author Carl Anderson. Everything was made so simple in that first chapter- confer with your students, gather evidence on what individual students need in their writing and plan your writing lessons and mini-lessons accordingly. Sounds easy, right? In theory it is, and I’m planning on giving it a shot!
Toward the end of the session, I was able to score a few minutes alone with the Literacy coach to pick her brain about a few things that I’ve been concerned with in my classroom around our new ELA resources and how I’ve been using them. I feel (and have felt for a while) that I am not as focused in my Language Arts teaching as I would like to be. (My strength is Math – that’s no secret.) Therefore, I feel like I’m constantly trying to figure out the best way to teach reading and writing to my students. And, each year it’s like I start from scratch again, hoping to “figure it out” this year.
Our conversation turned toward another topic of concern for me as well - evaluation and marking. It’s not so much the gathering of information that I have the issue with. I know how my kids are doing and I assess them with rubrics, checklists, observational data, conferencing etc. However, the subjectivity and somewhat grey area that can creep into evaluating a piece of student writing, has given me a feeling of dissonance for a while now.
We operate on a 100 point scale in my province, and I truly feel as though I am working within a flawed system. Even when I use a rubric, mathematically the results don’t always convert to the percent that is most appropriate for the piece of work. On a four point rubric, if a student is meeting expectations across the board, he will receive a 75%. Did he deserve a 75%, though? Was his work a “strong three” and therefore more worthy of an 85%? Or perhaps, he met expectations, but just barely and since a pass is a 60%, he should receive a mark closer to 60%? Realistically, what’s the difference between an 87% and an 88%? I would love to give letter grades a try. Having a range of marks that is suitable for a piece seems so much more appropriate than the system that we’re currently using here.
Anyhow, we chatted for a while and it was so nice to get some of these things off of my chest and to come up with a plan of sorts for how to best work within the system. I’ve been teaching based on the themes and resources that we received 2 years ago when we got a new program. As the Literacy coach reminded me, they are the resources, not the curriculum (although of course they are based on the curriculum outcomes). She suggested that since I seem to be searching for a better way to organize my ELA program, that I do so by writing form, rather than theme. I’m willing to try anything and after talking to her, I’m quite excited to see what this may look like for the remainder of the school year.
The current book club writing focus is poetry, which works out perfectly, since we haven’t covered it much yet this year. This weekend, I’ll be looking at the other forms of writing that still need to be covered before the end of the school year and finding reading selections within our program resources that support/are examples of each writing form. That way, if we are doing Descriptive Report writing, for example, we’ll only be reading examples of descriptive reports so that we can really get a feel for how a report is written and the text features that authors may use such as captions, diagrams, headings etc. Even though this mid-year plan reorganization is going to take time and a lot of effort, I am SO okay with it if it means that I will be more focused in my teaching and my students in their learning. The thing is, I know without even beginning, that it will be! The Literacy coach also gave me some ideas for how to make my rubrics aimed more precisely at what I’ll be covering – so that’s great! Although she’s supposed to be just for the K-6 teachers, she has been wonderful to do her best to support me as well in our K-7 school.
As for my other issue, with the 100 point scale – I know that this is a shift that will have to come from above (or within). I am doubtful that things will ever change within my career – but who knows! Perhaps I’ll spearhead a crusade for letter grades and finally release us from the shackles of this ridiculous system of evaluating students once and for all!
How do you mark where you teach? Percents? Letter grades? What kind of assessment tools do you prefer?
PS: In case you haven’t heard – HUGE SUPER SALE at TeachersPayTeachers THIS SUNDAY – tomorrow! TPT is offering 10% off of all purchases and most sellers will be having sales in their stores as well. Everything in my TPT Store will be on sale at 28% off (the most I can do). If you have any items on your wishlists – it’s time to get them off of there!
It’s report card time here in PEI, and we have parent-teacher interviews tomorrow and Friday. I have a few years in at this teaching gig, but P-T interviews still give me those little butterflies in my stomach. Until I get going, that is. Once I’ve spoken to a few parents, I always loosen up and relax. It’s the pre-interview time that I’m a little anxious.
Anyhow, with report card time, comes assessment. This is generally assessment of our students – how are they doing? Where do they need to improve? If you’re a follower of my blog, then you know that at the end of the school year, last June, I asked my students for some constructive feedback of my teaching. I asked them to anonymously write some things that they enjoyed or that I did well and ONE thing that I could work on (because ONE thing x 25 students is a lot to work on!).
So, being that I’ve assessed my students and given them feedback on their report cards, I thought I’d let them have a crack at my teaching and give me some feedback. The great thing about doing this, is that you always get some warm fuzzies from the comments: Good sense of humor, I liked the read aloud that we did, you don’t assign to much homework, I like the Math games that we play… and so on. With the good comes the ugly. So far, it looks like my class would like to do more hands on projects, art work and it looks like I’m doing a good job of teaching math, but my social studies needs some work. (Go figure, guess what my favorite subject to teach is?)
Feedback is how we improve – students and teachers alike. Seeing it in black and white from the minds of the students who sit in front of me now, is extremely empowering! Of course it’s a little scary to ask them what they think of your teaching, that first time. It’s such a great exercise though. Just think, how many times have they put themselves out there to do something for you this year (read in class, do a presentation, post their artwork – the list goes on.)
The end of the week is approaching, why not make a point of asking your students for some feedback. You might be surprised with what they come back to you with! Good luck:)
Okay, you’re about to learn to what extent of nerd I am – if you didn’t already know. I love PD. I know, I know….what a geek! But you know what? I’m 30 and I can be a geek if I want to!
There’s something about professional development that makes me feel…. well…like a professional! Now,
I’m not talking about the “jumping through hoops” or “developing for the sake of developing” kind of PD. I’m talking about the really good stuff! New and inspiring ideas, fresh perspectives, and practical strategies that make me want run to my classroom to show my students. THAT’S the kind of PD I love.
We have our 2 day Teachers’ Convention tomorrow and Friday. Every teacher in the province will be there – all 1500 of us, all under one roof. I think that’s so cool! No other province in Canada can house all of its teachers in one ballroom all at the same time, but because we’re small – we can! I love the conversations and connections, the lunch time chat (not having to shovel my food before duty) and feeling like I belong. I only ever wanted to be a teacher and our Annual Convention reaffirms my chosen life-path and career (although my students do that most days, too).
Oh, and one of my teacher-friends and I have a room booked in the hotel where the convention is being held, which means some well deserved ME time in the evening. So, that’s a bonus! All in all, I’m pretty excited about the next two days.
So tell me, who else out there is a “closet PD lover”? I promise I won’t tell;)
Guided Math, by Laney Sammons, was the second professional resource that I added to my reading list for this summer. It was quite a quick read and I’m ready to share with you what I have taken from the book. I’m not going to completely review the book and give away all of the good stuff inside, as I don’t believe that the author would appreciate that. However, I’ll share with you my three “take-aways” that I’ll hopefully be able to incorporate into my room this year.
1) Use more small group instruction for math.
This one is VERY important to me, but I’m already overwhelmed with how much work this is going to be. Of course, there are heaps of research supporting using small groups for instruction and I am looking forward to trying to modify my main teaching style, which is definitely heavier on the whole class instruction side. The book did a great job of explaining how different small groupings may work and I related a lot to the idea of feeling like I’m failing by not being able to challenge everyone at their level, neglecting those at the top and those just floating by, while trying to get the whole curriculum “covered”. It’s overwhelming to think about how I may possibly get to everyone more effectively, because their levels vary so much. That being said, I know that I am ready to try to spend more time working in small groups with my students. I know that it’ll be a learning experience, because of the class management systems that must be in place to not be interrupted and so on – but I know it’ll be worth it!
2) Start the day with a Math activity.
Well, the last literacy book I read suggested starting the day off with independent reading! I can’t do both…or can I? I’ve decided to flip-flop independent reading and morning math activities. Three days of the cycle they’ll start the day with reading and the other three days, I’ll have a quick math activity for them to do. Actually, I’m QUITE excited about this! Every year, I get students who still struggle with basic facts (I teach grade 7). It’s hard to find time to practice math facts, since the expectation is that they have their facts by now. You know what? They don’t. Some of them just haven’t gotten them yet – for whatever reason, and this makes learning the grade seven concepts more of a struggle. Providing morning math activities that target basic skills and problem solving two or three times a week, will be super-helpful and might just give students the boost that they need!
3) Give choice.
In Math? This one, really got me! I give lots of different options in Language Arts and Social Studies for projects, topics, book reports, posters – whenever I can. But Math? I have NOT been giving choice in Math. I’ve given projects, played math games and created stations. However, I have NOT said – you can complete this activity OR this activity. Why? Not really sure, to be honest. However, this totally fits in with my goal (from a previous post) of using Bloom’s taxonomy more effectively AND working menus into my classes. I’d like to try to use menus for math – giving choice to my students and building in differentiation. It can be done. I’m sure of it! Even though I’ll inevitably fall on my face, trying to get it all done – I’m excited to try!
Guided Math is a great resource – especially for elementary grades. I focused in on just three things, so as to not be totally overwhelmed by all of the ideas that it offered. I think that I’m going to start with the morning math activities and then the math menus. Finally, I’m going to try to do more small group instruction, but I think that this one is something that I’ll be working toward all year – and not just in math! I’d like to spend more time with small groups in the other subjects that I teach as well.
There was a book study on Guided Math this summer, that I’d mentioned in a past post. If this book sounds like something you may be interested in, you may want to check out some of the conversations and comments that teachers made with this book study. Here’s the original post for the Guided Math Book Study.
So, over to you: Those of you who are already using small group instruction or guided math effectively…. How are you doing it? Class management issues? How time intensive do you find it, preparing the different tasks for the different groups, versus one activity that you modify for the class? What tips for time management could you offer?
Please share your thoughts and questions!!!
Today was officially my first day of summer vacation…wait for it…wait for it….YAY!!! Bring on summer! Okay – just had to get that out of my system;)
You know by now how I feel about doing some kind of professional, summer reading. So, I just had to share!
I just came across an awesome book study group for middle school/upper elementary. They are reading The Daily Five, and then The Cafe Book this summer. All are welcome to join in!
It begins tomorrow! Lots of notice, I know;) But I know some of you already have read those books, so it would be nice to be able to discuss how you used them with others who have not implemented them in their classrooms yet. Whether you’ve read the books or not, you can check out the posts that develop from the book study to see if these resources are something that might interest you for the summer or the next school year. All of the info including the blog posting schedule is on a wonderful new blog: We Read, We Blog, We Teach. The two resources for the book study group are below for you to check out, as well. As I said, they are starting with The Daily Five and will move into The Cafe Book in a couple of weeks. Check it out and join the conversations! Happy reading!
The Daily Five
The Cafe Book
I admit it.
I have committment issues.
Well, not exactly. My husband and I have been together since we were 17. It’s not that type of committment that I’m talking about;)
I can’t commit to just ONE book at a time. There. I said it. I read a bit, put it down, pick up another, put it down – read a chapter of this here and a chapter of that there. I know it’s not necessarily the best way to do things – but it’s my way. So, rather than choosing just one professional resource to flip through this summer, I’ll have four on the go!
I posted in May, encouraging teachers to choose a professional resource to read this summer, to enhance their teaching and hopefully, to find new and even better ways of doing things. Following this post, I got lots of comments about books that some of you were reading. I also went to my own school’s “professional library” to check things out. Just in case you haven’t decided on a book for yourself yet AND, to have as a resource for the future, I’ve added links to all of the titles that I have found and that were suggested to me. I have not read all of these books – yet. So, just to be clear, I can’t yet make comments on their usefulness…etc… However, they were recommended to me by other teachers. Since teachers have no time to read useless material – I figure that they’re all worth a look! So, without further adieu, here are my summer reading picks.
The four books that I’ve chosen all have to do with differentiation. I’ll be posting periodically about them, as I find interesting and helpful tidbits for you, so stay tuned! If you want to know more about any of the books below, I’ve linked them all from Amazon for you to peruse.
The first three focus mostly on differentiation, and teaching to the variety of students in your classroom. I found all three in my own school’s professional library! Before you buy anything, I suggest you start with your school or local library.
I’ve started reading the third one, “Differentiating Instruction in a Whole Group Setting”. The author, Betty Hollas, spoke at our annual convention a few years back. She was excellent! This book is for grades 3-8. So far, it’s a super-quick read, and also has lots of reproducibles in the back which is a huge plus!
My fourth summer pick, the book I’ve purchased, is about “Guided Math”. There’s actually an online study group blogging about this book – so it would be a great one if you wanted to join in discussions. Click here for the kick off post for the Guided Math Book Study. It’s a book that applicable from primary up into junior high and beyond. I can’t wait until my copy arrives…I just ordered this one..
So, that’s my summer reading list and you’ll hear lots about it over the next two months, as I’m sure I’ll have tons to share as I make my way through!
Here are some other book recommendations for you, coming from Lessons From The Middle readers:)
Common Core would be a great place to start – just choose the right book for your grade level.
To sharpen your discipline skills…
For teaching reading in the content areas…
A pick for 21st Century Learning…
Practical strategies to help manage students, irritating adults and making the best of an imperfect environment…
For when you have parents whose child can do no wrong…
That should be plenty to get started!
So, once you’ve taken some time for yourself this summer, find a book that excites you and meets your current professional goals and interests.
If you read any of the books above – please share your thoughts about them! Tips you’ve found useful (or not so useful). Also, let me know if you’re reading a book that you think I should add to this list. I’d love to do so! Once I’ve gotten some feedback (and made my way through my own summer picks) I’ll add worthy books to the “Must Reads” tab for you to refer to easily.
I look forward to some comments (good or bad) and some discussion about the books above and any others that you’re reading or want to read. One last thing, if you know of a great book on ”content literacy strategies” (grade 5/6 level) a Lessons From The Middle reader, Shannon, would love for you to share!
I hope you’re all enjoying your summer so far! I’m looking forward to mine…(We’re still in school here until June 29th.)
Happy reading everyone!
I posted a challenge for you a while back. In case you missed it, I suggested that you ask your students to give you some feedback on your teaching before the end of the year. This is the original blog post: End of the Year Challenge for the Teacher.
There are lots of different ways to do this, however, I like to keep it simple. I ask my students to give me three things that I did a good job of, or generally positive comments about me and/or my teaching AND one thing that I could try to improve on for next year.
Well, I would never ask you to do something that I wasn’t going to do myself. So, just the other day, I had my students assess me and my teaching. As always, it was VERY worthwhile and I got lots of helpful feedback for next year. I thought I’d share just a few of these comments with you and remind you to take up the challenge to have your student assess you, if you haven’t done so already. As I said in the original post, you will be putting yourself “out there” when you take on this challenge. Students could try to hurt your feelings, however, I have found that they do take the task seriously for the most part, because I stress that it’s really about me being able to do a better job next year.
I gave my students some ideas to start off with about comments that would be helpful and those that would just be hurtful OR simply not helpful. “Too much homework” would not necessarily be helpful. I asked students to give a possible solution if they had a problem with how things were done this year, rather than just complaining about what they may not have liked. This way, they had to really think about what they were going to write before they wrote it. If they had a problem with how something was taught, this was the time and place to say so, however, I also was asking for a suggestion for how I could have done it differently – again focussing on me trying to improve things for next year.
Here’s what some of my students had to say. You’ll see from some of the comments, why I keep putting myself out there, year after year. It’s always worth it.
Of course I love the comments that give me the warm fuzzies – especially at this grade level and after a very challenge-filled year. Some students put that there wasn’t anything that they could think of for me to improve – not true…but nice to hear:)
I also got some great suggestions from my students: More in-class breaks, offering scheduled after school help for all subjects – not just Math, providing more time to rehearse presentations and giving more options for students who don’t like to talk in front of the class, switch from binders to scribblers to be more organized…etc… It was also quite clear that they appreciated the Social Studies and Math projects and games that I worked so hard on this year. I’ll definitely continue with those next year.
So, it’s time. Take on the challenge. As long as your students are still in front of you, it’s not too late. Be brave. Keep an open mind. And of course, let me know how it goes!
It was such a beautiful day here today – just felt like summer! We’re so close to the end now…I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve had quite a year! I won’t get into all of the gory details, but I am definitely looking forward to a bit of a break. We were in the paper quite a bit this year for different reasons and that will continue on for the next while. This is the most recent news story about my school, but it really is just the tip of the iceberg as far as what’s been going on this year. More details about that later, perhaps.
So believe me when I say, I know how busy and stressed everyone can be – especially at this time of year. We’re all looking at our curriculum documents, making sure (perhaps hoping) that we’ve covered everything…We’re looking at our students – wondering where they will finally finish in terms of placement or promotion into the next grade. It’s a hectic time, I realize. That being said, I have a challenge for you, because I know you’re up for it!
I believe in being a life-long learner. So, every summer, I find the time to read at least one professional book. I’m still on the lookout for what I’ll read this summer, so if you have any suggestions – please let me know! I find, that I have NO time to read much in the way of professional resources during the school year. However, over the summer, I can always find some time at the beach or on a lazy, rainy afternoon to do some reading to improve my practice. I always find lots of strategies, ideas and suggestions that I highlight and make mental notes of that I can use in my classroom the following year. Yes, it is the summer and we all need time off. But I find that when I don’t have the usual stresses of the classroom, picking up a professional resource is more of a pleasure than a pain, because I’m choosing to read it!
My challenge to you, is to find a professional book to read this summer. Before you run out and buy anything, I suggest checking with the resource department at your school. Chances are, that your resource teachers will have some professional books available that might be right up your alley. Maybe you even have a book in mind right now, something that you’ve been wanting to read, but haven’t gotten around to.
Of course, you need to take the beginning of your summer break to just breathe! Once you’ve gotten some relaxation in – mid-break…let’s say…I challenge you to pick up that professional resource and be one of the “life-long learners” that we encourage our students to be.
Below are some of the books that I’ve read in the last couple of years. If you have no idea what to read – any of these would be good places to start. It really depends on where you are in your career and what you’d like to know more about, or personally work on.
I LOVED each of these books for different reasons. Good luck with finding a book that you’re excited to read this summer and accepting my “challenge”. I bet a lot of you already do this anyway…not much of a challenge for you folks;)
“Motivating Students Who Don’t Care”
This is a quick read, at only 65 pages. It offers 5 main processes for motivating students and reasons why they may be unmotivated in the first place. A great read for those of us who teach middle school especially, where motivation can be a real issue.
“Start Where They Are”
This is a book that I’ve read MULTIPLE times and plan to pick up again this summer. It is the go-to book for doable, differentiation strategies for middle school.
“The First Days of School”
This is a classic for teachers, new and seasoned. It’s full of strategies and ideas to get organized for those first days of the school year, which makes it the perfect summer read.
So, once your year is officially done, take some time for yourself and when you’re ready, pull out that book and enjoy! Please let me know what books you plan to read or are reading, and what you think of them!