Friday, March 20, 2015

March - PARCC Experience

     I made a poster for my students that says that PARCC stands for "Please Always Remember to be Calm and Cool." Now if only I could follow my own advice...
     Overall, it went well. My students worked incredibly hard, they used time effectively, they used their tools effectively, and their ability to navigate an online assessment was strong. I was incredibly proud of them in so many ways. I think as an educator none of us will ever be in love with "standardized testing" (no matter what test or format it might come in) because we know our students aren't standard. We know the purpose, we understand the intention, but when has testing become the definition of our third trimester. I will never be against assessment, but I am against the fact that it is eating into my time instructing and my time enjoying my students and our classroom community. 
    This frustration actually set in when I fully understood our remaining testing schedule. We have taken 5 tests so far (which timing wise sucked up my entire afternoon on those days), and we still have 8 sessions remaining between MAPS, CMASS, and EOY PARCC (on top of that, I have my own end of year assessments along with a District Writing Assessment as well). It may not sound like a lot, but when you look at the calendar after Spring Break it will eat up a considerable amount of days. My fear is not that my students will not rise to the occasion, because I know they will, my fear is that I won't be able to complete my instruction with all the interruptions. I still need to teach my entire Informational Writing Unit. I have two separate Book Clubs for reading, I still have plenty of math concepts to cover, and yet on 8 days over the next two months my time will be spent elsewhere. This is stuff I want to be spending my time on, this is my JOB as a teacher, giving my students genuine learning opportunities. My frustration is that it seems like my job title has changed from teacher or guide to proctor this trimester. 
    Moving forward, I know I will make the best of it, we always do, but I can only hope the quality becomes the goal instead of the quantity we are facing. I want to get back to my real job doing what I love so I can finish the year with my students the same way I started it, learning together and expanding our minds through hard work, success, and failures. 

"February" - Working on RAD Responses

     RAD Responses is the acronym we use 3-5 in our building for complete, short-constructed responses. The R represents 'restate,' the A represents 'answer,' and the D represents 'details.' We use this in every subject area for every question they need to answer. We are also using this work for our SLO and team goal too.
     When working with something everyday, you begin to become challenged on how to elevate your students work and get it to where it needs to be. Through a lot of brainstorming and discovering different tools, our team has come up with a way to track their work/growth and make sure we can compare our students work teacher by teacher. This has been invaluable in many ways. Not only are we able to help elevate each other's work and instruction, but we are able to find common problems and work together to solve them.
     One tool that has become very useful to us is Google Forms. We are able to have all of our students submit answers on a common form and then use the 'response' page to track their answers and compare them class by class. This has allowed us to not only grade them right on the response page, but we can then align our grading practices by seeing how each of us is grading a response. We can also use the response spreadsheet to keep track of data/scores as they progress throughout the year. Transparency is awesome on a team because we can all benefit from seeing each others work and each others student work.
     We have also given the students scaffolds to help with this work. As mentioned in a previous post, this is a scaffold necessary group! Having a clear 'layout' of what  the expectations are and how to achieve the end goal has been invaluable to them. It also helps submitting work electronically because we can look at responses whole group on the document camera and comment on them accordingly.
     Technology has really enhanced out ability to work on this skill and I am very grateful that new pathways keep opening.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Seeing Growth in Writing - Baby Steps

     I think one of the hardest things about teaching writing is that "head-wall-bang" feeling you get when you have taught a concept whole group, instructed on it again in small group, and they still look at you like "What is indenting?" With many areas of teaching there are ways to see immediately if a student is making growth, but in writing it can feel like a slow going process with lots of hurdles along the way.
    To help myself get less frustrated, I decided to use their very first piece of writing from the beginning of the year to be my guiding light. Instead of focusing on the little details they aren't getting in the moment, I compare the piece overall to what they did at the beginning of the year - this keeps me hopeful. They may still have no clue how to write a great introduction, or the purpose of paragraphing, but man are there more details in their work than ever before, and woohoo they are finally ending with a conclusion that is not just "I stopped writing because I was done, is that not a conclusion?"
     The endless challenge that accompanies writing instruction for me is the intense amount of pieces they need to get right all the time. Sometimes it feels like a lot to ask of them, but then I remember what a foundational skill this is for them - it's how they communicate with the world. There are a lot of things to look for, but sometimes I need to narrow my gaze and focus on just their details or just their conventions so I see growth and feel some success with the direction they are heading.

"November" - Scaffold, Scaffold, Scaffold

     My realization this month as we step into multi-paragraph Compare and Contrast essays is that my group this year needs endless amounts of very structured scaffolds. It is amazing how much your dynamics can change from year to year - some groups are independent and require less hand-holding and some groups need constant hand-holding and repetition. While this shift can be difficult at first, I am definitely willing to do whatever it takes to encourage my students and push them towards success in writing.
     The best thing to have on my side through this transition is Google - Google Classroom, Google Docs, Google Drawing, etc. In 5 minutes I can scaffold a lesson onto a template that I can then send to all of my students through Classroom so they have their own copy. Many times I do this work before a lesson because I can anticipate what they will need, but I also like that I can create one in real time if I am sensing a need. By using tools that are all interconnected and easy to navigate I am not stuck saying "I wish I would have made a template for that," or "I will get you a template for that tomorrow." While no tool is perfect, I appreciate, and my students do too, that I can get them what they need in a timely fashion.
     I created a document that breaks down the parts of a introduction so they are typing it one sentence at a time and then cutting and pasting it together into a logical paragraph. I have created thinking maps for planning purposes. I have created tables to collect all of their topics so I know what they are writing about. All of these things, along with countless others, allow me to meet my students needs. Yes it is a year of scaffolds, but at least I have the tools to do it and it is helping my writers to better understand to format and structure of multi-paragraph writing.      

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Quality Writing and Feedback

     I am definitely once again navigating the waters of discovering what "quality" looks like in my current group of writers. We ask our students to do writing in all subject areas and yet for some reason they struggle to put in as much effort when it isn't during writing time. They are improving, overall, they are starting to put in more consistent effort, overall, but I am still trying to figure out why that effort changes depending upon the assignment and the subject matter.

One of the things that is helping me with this, is being able to provide my students with feedback in a variety of different ways. I am doing handwritten comments on worksheets and handing papers back that are lacking in a variety of areas - some may call this “old school” feedback, but it is still very effective. When I have Google Docs (which is now more common with constant EEE use and Google Classroom), I now have a lot of avenues. I can use the comment feature on Google Docs, I can record audio comments on JING and Movenote, and I can also use audio/visual comments on Kaizena as well. All of these tools allow me to provide feedback whether I am in front of my school computer or at home. This accessibility has really opened doors. It has also allowed me to differentiate more for my students. If a student is ready to move on, I can challenge them and extend their thinking with my comments. If they are struggling with a concept, I can provide feedback on that specific area for them to go back and work on. Not only does this allow me to be “multiple places at once” in my classroom, but they really enjoy the personalized feedback as well. They actually hound me about giving it, which holds me accountable!

I am also excited because this will be a topic I am submitting to InnEdCo for my first presentation (hopefully) this summer with Erin Gonshor. My eyes have been opened to these tools over the past few years by Erin and Dana and I am finally beginning to use them and find my groove with them. My hope is to put others on this road as well. Ultimately, I hope that the more continuous, various forms of feedback will help them to move to more consistent quality work as well. Fingers crossed...

Friday, September 12, 2014

And So It Begins...

     Well another new school year is upon us and I for one am beginning the year terrified. After attending a PARCC training a few weeks ago, I feel like I am already starting twenty steps behind. I look at those test questions and I think how can I ever get these kids ready? While everyone is assuring me, "Teach how you teach, they will be fine," the perfectionist educator in me is wanting to scream.
     I know I have come a long way professionally over the last few years in Littleton. With all of the professional development and new materials that have been given to us I am more focused and am pushing my students to higher limits than ever before, so why am I still scared? The reality I am facing is this, I have a very impacted group this year (and the groups seem to be more and more impacted every year) and I can already tell that motivating them to write, getting them to believe in themselves, and increasing their perseverance will be my greatest challenge to date. There doesn't seem to be an average student anymore, which I am not saying is a bad thing. Our students need more from us than ever before and we are being asked and slightly pushed to step up to that challenge.
     The only thing keeping me sane currently is the plethora of information I am privy to. Between my PLN on Twitter, my unending idea finder through Pinterest, the endless new additions to Google, and the PLN I have developed in this district, I know that with a few keystrokes I can access any topic I desire, I can get the help I desire, and I can be reminded that I am NOT in this ship alone. What sometimes feels like a one man kayak, is really endless battleships of teachers feeling the exact same way that I do and there is comfort in that.
     While the terror still rears its ugly head from time to time, I find myself reaching out more than ever before and that will not only benefit me but my students as well. Here is to another year of expanding my circle in incredible ways!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Holy Co-Leadership Batman!

I hardly slept last night knowing today was coming. For some reason teaching your peers is way more daunting than teaching your students. I still feel so unskilled and know how much I still have to and want to learn, that I didn’t trust Dana completely when she came to Erin and I with this task.

Once we began, I realized that while still nervous, this group would get me through it. I always forget how amazing it is to be in a room surrounded by other life-long learners. I love watching their excitement when they see a new tool, their panic (that I had and STILL have all the time) when they fall behind or miss a step, and their genuine enthusiasm despite giving up two final days of their summer vacation. I remembered how awesome I feel knowing that I will learn just as much from them as we go through this new cohort together. I am also reminded what an incredible district we work in because everyone is excited to learn how to be more effective teachers for our students.

Today I loved getting to meet even more people and getting to reconnect with some old friends. Thank you to everyone for getting me through my Blogger presentation and being so receptive - you all are the best! I’m the Little Engine That Could, “I think I can, I think I can.”