Saturday, June 1, 2019

Just Showing Up. . .

When I was feeling a bit cranky about this topic, I wanted to call this piece "Yet Another Reason to Insist that Your Child Participate in Whole-school Activity Days," but I decided to spin this in a more positive direction.

Friday, May 31 was one of those big deal days that require a huge amount of organization, go by fast, and leave all the adults involved feeling like they've been hit by a train. Juniors and seniors had a day of activities designed to help them understand and deal well with the big world that awaits them--a play and discussion groups about consent, and a variety of choice activities. The day had been planned and organized by a group of 15 students in response to community, faculty, and student input. It's a great example of our school's willingness to innovate, take risks, and be flexible.

The ninth and tenth graders had an advisory community service day: nearly 20 advisory groups were heading out into the community to do work for various non-profits like free meal sites, food pantries, day cares, senior housing, Acadia National Park, the SPCA, and others.

I have sophomore advisees, and I was not looking forward to the day. The weather forecast was grim, the black flies had managed, despite the chill, to be terrible, and this kind of day requires an unyielding cheeriness before and during the actual day that is exhausting. I was not filled with excitement as May 31 approached.

However, I knew I (along with many of my stalwart colleagues) would do it: I knew I'd stuff hats and bug spray and work gloves and sunglasses and a few spare bandaids and extra water bottles and several kinds of sun screen and granola bars and every spare sweatshirt I could find into a bag and schlep it into school. And as I was putting that bag into the car, I'd turn around and add extra trowels and four bandanas and a few hair elastics and three pairs of gardening shears and two rubber balls and a Frisbee into another bag, too. Because, deep down, I knew what would happen--and it did.

We gathered in the gym, played catch while we waited for our bus, then rode the bus to our garden worksite, where we worked our tails off. We filled wheelbarrows, pushed wheelbarrows, emptied wheelbarrows into raised beds, learned not to fill wheelbarrows too full, raked dirt, pulled weeds, dead-headed flowers, emptied weed buckets, swatted flies, ate approximately 5000 granola bars, got blisters, took turns, entertained several elderly residents with our antics, and astounded the staff with what we got done. We left behind six filled raised beds ready for planting and an existing garden tidied, weeded, raked, and refreshed for the growing season to come.

And we did it together. We amazed each other and ourselves with our ability to work, and we chatted and laughed and groaned and ate together. Tired, sweaty, and bug-bitten as we were on our return, we were a closer, prouder, stronger group than before. I am proud of my students, they're proud of themselves, and the people we worked for were blown away by the work we accomplished. The magic that happens every year from hard work and engagement happened once again.

But not everyone was there. Some of the students who asked, "Why do we have to do this?" or "Why don't we get paid for our work?" or "Why should I work for that library? I never use it," didn't come, and while they maybe got to sleep in, or avoid some blisters, or work a few hours for more money, they sure missed out on some important lessons. Likewise, many of the seniors and juniors didn't come. Many of all those students were dismissed by their parents since this "wasn't a school day," or "it's just pointless."

However, the spirit in the school when the advisories were back and discussing their work and the upperclassmen were talking about the fun they had in their workshops made it clear that this had been an important day in the life of our school community. Some of us had worked hard physically, some had gone outside their comfort zones to do work they weren't used to with people they normally wouldn't hang out with, and some had simply shown up to participate in a new activity. We had all acknowledged our shared community: ninth and tenth graders working as advisories, and giving back to various aspects of our community as a thank you for all our community does for us; upperclass students trusting the effort their peers had put into the Healthy Trojans Festival and engaging in the experiences offered them. If "showing up is 80% of success," those students succeeded. Our school, our advisories, our community, and our students are stronger because of that fact. We are better together.



(Advisory pictures added as I get them!)




Thursday, February 28, 2019

Well Lookit This!

So now I'm working as an instructional coach and as a writing interventionist at my same school. Some less stress, some more stress. But: today especially I wanted to share a victory:

one of my teaching partners just told me that she tried something this week w/ a tricky class, and "it worked really well!" She had a check-in or entry ticket that she used to sort the students into "got it," "almost got it," and "ain't got it" (essentially) groups, and she differentiated the entire day's plan based on those groups. The first group moved on to new material, the second one she provided with some clarifying materials and more practice opportunities, and then she worked intensively to help the third group learn the material they didn't understand (or had missed). She was really happy about how well it had worked, and I am over the moon!

While we were talking about it (and I was celebrating her willingness to do something different that would work for all kids as "just right instruction"!), we both remembered the video that we watched w/ Freshman team about differentiated instruction, and she mentioned that it had helped her figure out this approach. We are hoping that this model can become a routine in her class and that she can use our math/science support lab to gain more support: sometimes the first group can head down to do their work; sometimes maybe the third group could go there for intensive support, leaving her able to work with the other groups. However, the goal is to have the check/plan/organize/teach structure become a common Tues/Wed. work structure in her classroom.

CLASSIC example of differentiation.
CLASSIC proof that helping kids access the curriculum improves engagement (a problem w/ this class).
CLASSIC example of teacher growth and willingness to try.
CLASSIC example of how models and sharing/collaboration make a difference.
CLASSIC example of a learning routine.

I'd like to link the Teaching Channel video into this post, AND I FOUND IT!

Anyway: how nice to see such measurable and successful teacher growth!


Sunday, December 4, 2016

12/4: Tech Review #1: Kiddom

Description from site: “We just connected your favorite resources to the gradebook you love. Search from a comprehensive library of free resources provided by our content partners. Assign them directly to your students and our gradebook automatically updates with their achievement data.”

Charge or free: free to register.

Notes on first messing around (and trying not to have to enroll an entire class. . . ): They seem to draw content from a list of reputable on-line partners: CK12, IXL, Khan Academy, and Commonlit. I can “assign content with one click,” but I’m not yet sure if I can assign original content/tasks of my own. I searched for E/LA content, and when I input “English grammar” I got one hit on “using prepositions,” and then “no results” for grade 10 content. Switching gears, I input “Shakespeare,” and found a range of lessons on a variety of topics, not all related to Shakespeare specifically. Some dealt with poetry or poetic language: on Commonlit, everything seems to be classic lit., probably because it has to be out of copyright to allow its free use. I followed a link on Emily Dickinson’s poem “I’m Nobody” and was impressed by the related media links (a variety of videos and lectures from Youtube); there was also a “parent link” that I could access which provided a (very general) overview of the topics “we” were studying.

As far as gradebook alignment goes, the site says, “Attempts and scores sync to your gradebook so you can easily and accurately analyze achievement with Kiddom’s analytics.” However, I am not sure if this requires that all my reporting be done through Kiddom’s “analytics”: my district requires that we use MasteryConnect and report out through Powerteacher, so if Kiddom requires wholesale adoption of their “suite,” then marketing to an individual teacher is not very realistic, as I’d still have to do a great deal of clerical work to report out on individual student achievement.   

Big and thorough review on Cult of Pedagogy, which is over-the-top positive about it: http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/kiddom-standards-based-grading/ and answers a lot of my questions. I am most excited about its ability to link to (and simplify aspects of) Google classroom complexity. Reports are also pretty accessible for printing or sharing. Thanks to this further info, Kiddom is moving up my list of ideal communication tools.

However, (without requesting info and allowing two weeks for its arrival as suggested), the Kiddom teacher page suggests that the platform’s goal is to “Sync with many learning management and student information systems you already use. Set-up is super simple to help you save valuable time.” The system also, interestingly enough, allows me to import and use a variety of standards, including customized ones and/or behavioral/social development standards like habits of work.

While Kiddom is still “young” (founded in 2012) and thus developing, it seems a potentially interesting suite that draws from some of the early, bumpy experiences of early PBE classroom software. Keeping an eye on its growth would be wise.





12/4 Tech Review #2: Classloom

Classloom Invented ‎August 12, 2014
Published on Jun 5, 2015
Description from site: “Classloom is a 100% free social platform dedicated to help parents and teachers to have better and more qualified communication. In Classloom, parents and teachers can open classroom-specific groups and share events, homework, exams, pictures and documents and easily communicate with others.”

Charge or free: free to register. Many mentions of it emphasize “100% free.”

Edshelf says 19 people are using it, but there are no reviews. The Classloom site mentions that it won a “Stevie” Award (designed to recognize American businesses) in 2015 for “Women in Business.”

In my research, Classloom looks like a Facebook-knockoff designed to help very involved parents be even more involved in their children’s classrooms. A “class parent” can be designated to approve members and posts; there’s considerable emphasis on parents being able to share pictures of class activities and information on trips, etc. The scale of the communication--it does look like a Facebook page!--and the marketing tone of “keeping parents in the loop and in communication with each other as well as the teacher,” but with no mention of the students as a key participant,  all suggest that it is aimed towards elementary schools and parents, especially schools that have populations of involved parents who either are self-employed or don’t work outside their homes for pay.  

As a teacher, and as a past parent who worked fulltime and whose children didn’t relish my complete involvement in their education, I see Classloom as meaning well but as missing the mark for clear, simple, targeted information. My sense is that a working parent would be frustrated by the many layers of general information presented to him/her before being able to access his/her invidivual student’s work; as my rubric indicates, a tool that can draw a parent’s attention to what needs to be noted is hugely valuable when time is in short supply. I would say that for schools with populations of working families and/or classes of above grade 5 or 6, when students begin to desire a bit more distance from Mummy and Daddy, Classloom would be another underutilized communication tool that looks lovely but doesn’t fill the bill.

12/4 Tech Review #3: NoRedInk

NoRedInk is an on-line, personalizable program that provides grammar lessons and encourages differentiation based on student readiness and skill. I have used it for several years, and my entire department piloted it last year with the idea of adopting its Premium package last semester.

Charge/free: free enrollment allows limited access to certain lessons, but in order to gain access to the entire suite and the complete, comprehensive lessons (ie., all lessons on apostrophe use from most basic right up to the advanced level, each building on the other), the district must buy a license for each student. Last year, the price of a license for 200 students was about $15/student.  Premium is *not* cheap! However, it does provide one of the best approaches to teaching sizeable groups of students grammar in a differentiated way that I’ve seen!

NoRedInk uses information that students enter to provide sentences that mix silly situations with students’ favorite musicians or characters. A teacher can set up an area of study--say, apostrophe use. Students take a pretest, and then will start doing activities keyed toward their current level of knowledge. As they complete quizzes, the difficulty of their lessons and quizzes will increase until they have mastered the subject as whole. I can check their progress easily, and they are aware of it as well.

Drawbacks: 1. Cost: if you don’t enroll your class and pay for Premium, only certain lessons are available, which leaves gaps in the spiral of skills.
2. The personalization is a bit rough (or was, last year!): students frequently got the same sentence, simply with different mistakes in it, so Justin Bieber’s appearance in that sentence became less interesting to them.
3. The “you got it wrong so here’s a lesson”  aspect is pretty cognitively demanding: wordy and quite detailed. Many of my students didn’t interact with the whole lesson and simply re-guessed on their retest. As usual, excellent teaching is required around this material to make it functional and valuable!

NoRedInk is a different kind of classroom tool from many of the others I’ve evaluated, and it will be interesting to see how my rubric deals with it. Like Google Classroom, it makes no pretensions to being a gradebook or to communicating  to an outside audience, but it does have value, and the staff was extremely interested in my questions and suggestions, offering an on-line training (which was great fun) and personal contact.



12/4 Tech Review #4: Remind


Cost: free.

A few weeks ago, I started getting emails from a student (who’s not in any of my classes), asking me to join “Remind.” When this assignment came up, I decided to investigate and see why I might want to!

It looks to me that Remind might be very useful for me and for my Freshman English team. Here’s what Edsurge says about it: ‘Remind (formerly Remind101) is a communications tool that lets teachers text-message students (and their parents) without exchanging actual telephone numbers. The texting is only one-way: Messages go directly from the teacher to classes of students or parents; teachers cannot message individual students.”  It offers updated options that include voice messages as well as email or texting. Since I don’t have a smartphone, the variety of platforms is key.

It seems that Remind, though very much a single function tool, could be useful because it is very directed and also very secure. Without the inherent risk of Twitter, Remind can contact both students and parents to . .  . remind (sorry) them of key dates, expectations, and assignments. I also think it would be useful for other student groups such as the Readers&Writers Group I lead at MDIHS.

Although my district does not have a large ELL population (yet), there is pressure for Remind and a similar program, ClassDojo, to develop the ability to send messages in other languages for students whose parents aren’t fluent in English. Remind Translate, backed by Google Translate, provides six language options. What a great way to reach out to ELL families!



12/4 Tech Review #5: Google Sites/Teacher Webpage

Google Sites: my personal teacher webpage

Cost: free. Hosted by Google.

Back in the day (four years ago), the teachers in my district were expected to have an updated, informative webpage that offered syllabi, our contact information, and other key announcements.  My school webpage used to be my prime method of communicating with my students. We still have a link on our Staff page to all our teachers’ webpages; when I click on many of them, they are no longer “live” or have not been updated for quite a while, probably due to our switch to Google Classroom. I think we’re supposed to have pages still, but they are clearly no longer in the forefront of our communication.

Benefits: my page is very personal: I chose the banner, font, arrangement, etc. Any vistor--parent, student, or support staff--can access the links to my syllabus or various assignments. Thanks to the interface with Google, when I update my syllabus document in my classroom, it automatically updates in all the other places it’s linked (thank you, inserted google docs!). The general information about my class is there. I’m also able to share considerable personal detail: I can load up the page with silly cat videos or great poems. In the past, I’ve linked “flipped” videos to remind students how to structure an essay or about the importance of reading.

Drawbacks: The page is not personalized to a student (“Damien has not turned in X or Y”) and a visitor has to have the skill to access the various links--sidebar vs. main page, etc. If someone is not “webpage savvy,” s/he might feel overwhelmed and not be able to find anything applicable to the question of what a student’s homework is, let alone if s/he has completed it yet!
The page is passive. Unless it’s on a visitor’s RSS feed, no one knows if I’ve updated. The link to what parents or support staff (or even, really, students) want to know is probably quite faint, so the likelihood of their using it is pretty weak. It’s a communication tool, but it’s not an active communication tool, really--it’s more like a story of my identity as a teacher for people who are interested!