Category Archives: Reflecting About Teaching
I think you’re going to love this guest blog post, written by expert teacher, Julie Faulkner. Julie has been teaching English in TN for over 10 years. She has taught 7-12 English as well as composition and literature at the college level. Julie has worked this past year as a common core trainer in ELA for TN to train teachers to implement common core.
Take it away , Julie!
Do you ever wonder why some students are so quiet during classroom discussions? Could it be because…They don’t have a clue what to say? Maybe they don’t want to be judged by their peers? Or maybe they don’t see the point? This summer I spent hours training and preparing for common core. In doing so, I realized effective speaking and listening are hugely significant and tied directly to everything else. It became very apparent that effective communication, though, goes way beyond common core and the classroom – it is critical for college and career readiness.
To elaborate a little there – a short story – my husband works for a major business corporation in the US and takes conference calls daily. Never did I realize until I was thinking about how to incorporate talk into my classroom, how this practice actually does fit the mold for “college and career readiness.” I will also say here, that up until this point, I was actually struggling for rationale as to why I should even “waste” my precious class time with discussions. So, this summer I overhead my husband using what we call in the academic world “accountable talk stems.” After I asked him about it, he elaborated that effective communication was critical – maybe even one of the most important things his job requires. Thus was born my entire pedagogical approach and rationale for implementing thoughtful and structured academic talk.
To me accountable talk occurs two ways in the classroom – what the teacher says and what the students say. Teachers usually talk a lot in the classroom setting. After all, we are responsible for covering material, questioning, checking for understanding, and managing class time, right? While the former is true, I realized quickly that what I said and how I said it in my classroom could actually make or break student growth. As a result, I began to change my questioning patterns to use “smart talk stems” myself. But that wasn’t all – WARNING – this next part might be painful. I began to wait on students to answer me. Yes, crickets and all. And in the beginning there were lots of crickets. I was so used to throwing out a question, and if the student couldn’t answer right away, I’d answer for him/her for the sake of time or fear of it looking like I hadn’t explained the topic clearly enough. I might even let another student bail him/her out. Students are used to be nurtured in that way, and it became very apparent to me that I was guilty of giving students an easy way out to the point of actually crippling them from being able to struggle and articulate their own thoughts. Secondly, I realized that I had been allowing students to only answer half-way or maybe even incorrectly. If they answered with a correct one-word response, I would drop it and move on. If they answered partially wrong, I would reword it for them to make it correct. Suddenly, I realized I was doing all of the questioning and answering. In that regard, sadly I had no true measurement of their understanding. I began to slow down- to ask students to explain in their own words. I asked other more eager students to wait and then elaborate on the prior student to teach listening and feedback skills.
Additionally, to truly be able to express a thought and to be productive, there must be justification. Students must be able to say why or how they know with credible reasoning. In my ELA classroom, it is easy to correct a comma in daily oral language and move on. Or, we can fix a subject-verb error “because it just didn’t sound right.” That type of justification doesn’t truly do students any good the next time they encounter that same mistake. I wanted my students to learn how to not only have the answer, but to have the answer and be able to say why.
Once I began to model accountable talk practices with my students, speaking and listening came more naturally to them when it came time for them to host their own talk time. I didn’t start out eating the whole elephant here, either, with this second leg of accountable talk. This type of practices takes a long time to develop. I began to put students in pairs for a “turn and talk” or “pair/share” type activity. We practiced with topics that were easy to discuss. Then we moved to whole group discussions. Each time, though, students come prepared to talk with something they have written first. Afterwards, we also write again to sum up the discussion or for reflection. The talking portion of class is tied to the text and the task. Ultimately, we have a triangle of talk-text-task (and not necessarily in that order every time).
I am reminded of a country music song lyric (not surprising given my TN home) that says, “It’s all talk, talk, talk- talking in the wind.” Unfortunately, a lot of times that can be true. We talk in circles; some talk too much, and others don’t speak up at all. Some comments are useful and some derail the main point. I think having a goal and modeling is crucial for the success of the discussion. Students must be learning not only what is an effective way to listen and speak to each other, but they also must be gaining subject-area content knowledge. And, I think that’s the ticket – this is just yet another tool in our deep and wide toolbox to help us prepare our students for the world in which they must eventually enter and be productive citizens.
My first day with students will be tomorrow. There is so much build up to the first day of school! I always look forward to it, but I am also happy when it’s over. The ice is broken, introductions have been made and I can start to get to know the young people in front of me.
I am just about ready to go, but still have a few preparations left to make. It’s an exciting year for me, for a few reasons. This will be the first year that all teachers have SMART Boards in our rooms. Also, my school is in transition. We will be coming together with our high school in the fall of 2014, and become a K-12 facility. Construction is well underway, as they are renovating the high school and it will become our new home. Lots of changes! A new administrator at our school, being another. She actually began our day on Tuesday with this funny little video and so I thought I’d share it with you!
We all know that teaching can be hard (as you’ll see in the video). You may get stressed, feel over worked and isolated… At those times, when you’re not sure if you can go on, just remember that at least you’re doing a better job than the teacher in the video! On that note, wish me luck tomorrow! I hope that they like the Banana Chocolate Chip cake that I made for their break time! (Hard not to respect someone who feeds you cake, fruit and juice on the first day - wouldn’t you agree? Well – it can’t hurt!)
I have decided to make this my last post on Accessible Mathematics: Ten Instructional Shifts That Raise Student Achievement. I have 2 other math books that I am reading (What’s Your Math Problem? Getting to the Heart of Teaching Problem Solving and Minds on Mathematics: Using Math Workshop to Develop Deep Understanding in Grades 4-8) and would like to make some comments on those as well! SO much to say – so little time! Anyhow, I am going to chat for just a bit on shift #9, which is one that is important to me, but that I struggle with at times:
It is extremely important to me to try my best to find connections to the real world and have answers ready when students ask the question, “Why do we have to know this?” And teaching grade seven, there is no shortage of students asking this question. It’s a good question, though and it’s my job to have an answer ready which is more than just, “Because you’ll need to know it for grade 8.”
Some concepts are much easier for me to find realistic connections to than others. I struggle with the first unit that we do, which is coordinate geometry. I know that reading a map (longitude and latitude) is an obvious example, but what about GPS? Realistically, can’t many people use the GPS in their vehicle or on their iPhones to get where they want to go? How many people on a daily basis need to use longitude and latitude? A yearly basis? I know that certain professions do for sure, but is it something that people outside of those professions NEED to know? I’m talking about the average person. I’m not saying for a moment that map skills like understanding longitude and latitude are unimportant. However, I personally have never needed that skill in my own life. Ever. (Outside of my profession, of course). I did find a video of an archaeological dig (it’s a little pixelated though) which somewhat shows people using coordinate geometry in a different sense – but what if you’re not in one of those jobs either? Hmmm…
Switching gears, what about teaching students the formula for area of a circle – when will they USE that formula in real life? Of course, if they’re making a table-cloth and need to know how much material to buy…but wait a second…how many people are at home making their own table cloths? And in real life, if we need to know something, like a formula, what do we do? Google it, of course. Within seconds we’d have that formula at our fingertips. So again, when was the last time you used the formula for area of a circle? I’d honest to goodness LOVE to know, because again – I personally never have (and am searching for more real life examples).
Probability? You bet!
These are things that I can easily relate to with examples from my own life. For instance, I brought in my bills one year when we were doing integers and my students weren’t grasping addition and subtraction. When I showed then my debt and then my payments – it started to make a bit more sense. Real life! I just wish that every unit was as easy to find examples for as integers!
I guess what I’m saying is that this shift has made me reconsider something that I’ve thought of often: How can I make math more “real-life” for kids? You may say it doesn’t matter – solving problems is solving problems. Who cares what the actual problem is about? Well, they do, actually. Our students. They want to solve problems that may actually exist for them some day. Think about it. How much time would you care to devote to solving a problem of any sort if it had no context, or importance to you? I’m guessing not much. Why? Because it doesn’t matter, so why would we care?
Coming up with “real-world” examples and problems for my students is something that I’m working on and will continue to work on, as I know it’s at the heart of student engagement and understanding of math.
How do you try to bring the “real world” into your math classes? I’d love to hear what you have to say!
Have you ever had one of those moments when you’ve just savored the simplicity of what was going on around you? I had one of those moments just the other day…
I have lived on this Island my whole life and my mother has lived on the same lot of land her whole life, which is where I grew up. My husband, the boys and I popped in to visit my mom and dad just the other day and they told us that we had to come down to the shore to see something. Mother Nature had quite a little surprise – something none of us had ever seen before. There were thousands and thousands – maybe even millions of silver-sides which are little fish – like minnows. It was almost biblical, if that makes sense! What was cooler though, were the thousands of mackerel fish who were following and feeding on the silver-sides. These fish were schooled in the water where I grew up swimming and still do swim sometimes. The water was absolutely black with them – it was amazing! And you know the saying, “When life gives you mackerel, get the fishing pole!” Well, at least I think that’s the saying Regardless, we grabbed the fishing poles and my boys (Hubby most of all, I think) had a fantastic time reeling those fish in one after another, releasing and catching again within seconds.
Now my brother and I, we like a challenge. He had already caught quite a few mackerel with the pole, and so we decided that there were so many fish we could catch them bare handed. Now, I’ll spare you from the long and drawn out hour that followed, in which many different strategies were tried, re-vamped and tried again. The story ends, though, with each of us catching two mackerel – without using a fishing pole. I could totally survive in the wild…ya probably not. Nowhere to plug in my hair straightener! But it sure was fun. The reason I’m sharing this, is because at one point I just looked around and observed the fun that my family was having. It was a perfect Island evening; a small, yet memorable moment. If we had decided it wasn’t worth the effort to head down to the shore when my parents suggested, none of it would have happened. It would have been a completely missed opportunity. Fish, literally jumping out of the water and no one there to catch them. Make sure to grab some of those moments for yourself this summer (and of course in the classroom next fall)!
So, while we’re on the topic of seizing opportunities, it’s crucial to grab those teachable moments in the classroom, as well. In Accessible Mathematics: Ten Instructional Shifts That Raise Student Achievement, Shift #6 is to build from graphs, charts and tables. It may seem like a small thing, a simple thing. I know it does to me. However, I also know that I’ve missed tons of “moments” by not really delving into all of the data in a table, only using the information that was most pertinent to the problem and essentially ignoring the rest. I’m embarrassed to even type that, but in a 38 minute block there isn’t always time to answer questions that haven’t even been asked.
Leinwand’s suggestion for building from given data, is to ask the question, “So?” and see what happens. Rather than just answering one or two straightforward questions, ask your students ”So?” Of course it depends on your data, but the example that is given has to do with ticket sales for a concert. A typical question in a text book could be, “Which musician sold the most tickets?” At this point, I would let my students independently answer this simple question and they’d move on to the next problem. Well, now I’m beginning to see that would be like looking at all of those mackerel swimming around and saying, “Cool!” without actually trying to catch one – missed opportunity! A simpler experience, for sure, and MUCH less satisfying.
In this author’s opinion, when teachers begin to ask, “So?” and their students get used to that questioning, crazy things happen! Crazy-good things. Thinking, questioning, and deeper understanding and appreciation of mathematics. So, with a problem about ticket sales, questions that they could come up with could be:
-How many tickets were sold altogether?
-Why is So-and-So the most popular?
-Which concert would be the least popular?
-How many more tickets did Concert 3 sell than Concert 6?
-Which concert sold the closest to 300 000 tickets?
-What percent more tickets did the most popular concert sell, than the least?
I could go on. The point is, if you’re going to require students to refer to a table, chart or graph for answers, that should be only the beginning of a line of questions (that should come from them, ultimately) about the data so that they care more, engage more and so that you can build in every opportunity to extend number sense (which is Shift #5).
I teach grade 7 and there’s always at least one student who wants to know why they should care about what we’re doing. Why does is matter? So what? These students will be the strongest, I believe, in answering the, “So?” question. I know that I’ve often chosen to have students answer more problems rather than really extend a problem in the way Leinwand suggests. I have my reasons and I don’t think that it’s a bad thing at all. What I can clearly see now, though, is missed opportunities. I have been guilty of getting wrapped up in the three IEPs, two behavior issues and other multiple needs within my typical classroom, trying to meet a vast range of needs, at both ends of the spectrum. Honestly, extending data rich problems has not been at the top of my priority list for teaching math. That’s exactly why I read professionally in the summer. I don’t have students in front of me. It’s NOT overwhelming to think about, “How could I do this?” At the moment, I can think clearly and objectively and see the value in what Leinwand is arguing.
This shift (and a few others, actually) have catapulted me into deciding to make a much more significant change in my math classroom for next year. I have started reading Minds on Mathematics: Using Math Workshop to Develop Deep Understanding in Grades 4-8 and the content supports the shifts in Leinwand’s book, but it actually offers a workshop format for teaching math. I’m loving what I’m reading so far and I know what better problem solvers my students will become if I can make this shift. Anyway, I don’t want to put the fish before the pole…so more to come on this later…
Are there any teachers out there who routinely ask their students, “So?” Please let us know how that works and what it looks like?
Teachers, the really good ones, are such passionate and hard-working professionals. They go above and beyond in so many ways for their students. They try their best to differentiate lessons, to try to get the most from each student. They put in extra hours on the weekends and the evenings, without a second thought, to find materials, activities and resources that will make their students more engaged in their learning. Even when they are not in the classroom or “on the clock” (as if there was such a thing) students are on their minds, as they try to think about ways to help students live up to their full potential. To put it simply, teachers go flat out for 10 months of the year, each and every day.
It is a blessing and a privilege of our profession to have the summer time off and I do not take it for granted for one moment. The summer time needs to be a time to recharge our batteries after a year of learning, teaching and growing with our students.
This is my last week at school, the students being done on Tuesday and the teachers on Friday. Our grade 7 graduation will be tomorrow evening and so I’ll be working hard tomorrow to get everything set for the ceremony (our school is a K-7). I was lucky though, to start recharging my batteries a little early this summer by heading with Hubby (sans kiddos) for a weekend get-a-way. Even though I was a little under the weather with a summer head cold and a touch of motion sickness, we had a lovely two days together. Looking at the pictures, it was just a reminder that we need to remember to take more time for ourselves, our relationships and suck every single second out of the summer we can. It goes by so fast and it’s the fall again before we know it. Of course, I also do “work” in the summer by way of planning for the next school year. This summer for instance, I’ll be looking over some new curriculum as I take on a course I’ve never taught before, in the fall.
Anyhow, my stress-free weekend just got me thinking about how important it is for us to take some well deserved ME time – especially in the summer. I have more energy right now than I’ve had in a month!
I hope that you all had an amazing school year and have some fun plans to regain some energy that may have been lost during the last 10 months!
Some pics of my “pre-summer weekend get-away” to the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick.
So fill me in! What are your summer plans?
I had mentioned this book Accessible Mathematics: Ten Instructional Shifts That Raise Student Achievement
in a previous post and I had also mentioned that I would be following up with my insights as I read the book, throughout the summer. (Thanks for the inspiration Andrea @ For The Love of Teaching Math.)
I just read the introduction, which was quickly curtailed with, “Mommy…Mommy…Mommy…you play Legos with me?” How can I say, “No” to that?
So, I’m only three pages in, but I’m loving the common sense feel so far. This is what I have surmised. It really is the instruction of each teacher in the classroom, that will determine much of the success of the students in the room. If we engage them, or bore them; teach at them or to them; consider their learning needs and our delivery of the material. It’s our job and it truly is all up to us! No pressure…
When you stop and think about it, a teacher really could mess up a class of students, without too much trouble! I know, it’s a scary thought – but stay with me. Just imagine for a moment, that you are not the forward-thinking, best practice seeking professional that you are. What if you made your class copy out each problem, word for word, from the book before answering it? Think about all of the time wasted with this “instructional choice”. How much more success would your students potentially have if more time was spent on instruction, rather than copying? It’s a simple example, but I think that you catch my drift! So, I’ve come up with an “instructional mantra” if you will, to remind teachers of their part in determining the success of their students, “I Got The Power!”
Okay, I can’t just drop a line like that without a musical interlude – so here you go… Let’s meet back here in 5!
Seriously though, we do have the power! I know, that so much of our students’ success lies with them – their efforts, their attitudes and their aptitudes. However, you can’t downplay, the fact that we set the stage for learning and it is up to us how each and every minute in our classrooms is spent. Personally, I do think that I make the most of my instructional time – to the best of my ability. I am human, of course, but I always try my best. That being said, I also know what I need to work on. I need to focus more on problem solving strategies and giving time for students to actually struggle through problems. I find it frustrating, because they get frustrated so easily and shut down at the drop of a hat. I need to figure out a way to instill some perseverance in to the youth of today! I also know, that I need more time built in to my lessons for review.
So, what do you think?
Are you using the most of your time, each and every day, to the best of your ability? Do you feel as though you are using adequate time for instruction? How much weight do you believe should be put on to teachers’ instruction, in determining the success of their students? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
I was pleasantly surprised just the other day when I went to collect my mail at the post office, and found that my prize from a blog contest that I entered had arrived! You know that I love PD and professional books. Well, I won a book called Accessible Mathematics: Ten Instructional Shifts That Raise Student Achievement, from Andrea, over at For The Love of Teaching Math. (Thanks again, Andrea.) I haven’t even gotten to sit down and have a really good look yet, but I’m dying to find some time to delve in. The ideas in this book are not about completely revamping your program, but making small shifts in what you already do. Some phrases that jumped out to me in reading the book’s description: ”practical” “common-sense ideas” and “streamline your teaching”. Yes, please! I’ll take one of each!
I always read at least one or two professional books over the summer – and it looks like this is going to be one of them! I know, I know. Summer time is a time of rest and relaxation, but for me a big part of the summer is also working on improving my craft and finding at least a few new ideas that I may incorporate into the next school year. (I think it’s because I still feel so lucky to have a job, with the current state of education in my area, even though I’m almost seven years in.)
Anyhow, I’m not going to commit to a “book study” on the book. I’d love to, but I think that it’s just more than I’d like to sign up for – I’m running low on energy! I know that many of you may be in the same boat. However, this is a slim, little read at under 90 pages (there are multiple Appendices in addition to that, though). Very do-able if you are looking for a professional math read this summer. It also has examples from across the grade levels, so if you teach math – you’ll find something useful to take away, I’m sure!
I’m excited to start reading and seeing what common-sense ideas it has to offer me! I’ll be sure to share my main takeaways from the book in future blog posts this summer. If you have read the book, or would like to – please be sure to comment from time to time to tell me your thoughts. A conversation about these 10 shifts would be great.
Thanks again, Andrea. You’ve made choosing a summer reading focus pretty simple this year! I hope that all is well in your state of Oklahoma.
Do you read professional resources in the summer? Do you have a book that you could recommend? Please leave a comment with the title and I’ll add the links to the bottom of this post as they come in!
Some of your favorite professional reads:
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:)