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.”

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

April - Non-Fiction Books

     I am really excited about my current unit in writing - Informational Books. Our students had to create a few essays during the essay unit so we wanted to switch gears (for their sanity and ours) to informational writing with a twist. Our new Lucy Caulkins rubrics almost require us to move in this direction as it asks our students to include text features in their written work.
     Part of my excitement comes from the fact that I am able to implement so many amazing materials into this unit. We began yesterday by brainstorming in Padlet and I challenged the students to pick a topic that relates to a culture or a historical event. This decision on my part was two-fold: 1) They would all pick animal topics or Legos if I let them and I want to challenge their thinking and 2) We are reading books during reading that relate to different cultures and historical events so it was an easy way to tie all that work together (yeah Common Core). Today they will be placing their topic and title in a Google Doc so I have a class list of their topics. This will allow me to house them in one place and make sure their topic is appropriate without having to call each one of them up independently.
     I also created some templates in Google Docs that can house the research they find. This will allow them to use the research tool as well and type directly into the document to make their research easier to keep track of. I was able to link these to my website so it is all in one central location. I am able to use technology to support my students while incorporating curriculum like Lucy Caulkins as well - this to me is best practices - and that makes me feel like I am getting more comfortable with all of my teaching tools. I also know I am a better, more effective teacher when I am excited, and I am definitely excited by the possibilities of this unit!
     The one thing I am still pondering is how I want to publish their work. Google Docs is a great tool for so much of it, but I am wondering if there is another publishing device out there that could expose them to something new. Let me know if you have any ideas!


March - Authenticity of Blogger Work

    This month I had my students revisit blogging using our class read aloud and our class blog. I had them answer some questions about our book Hard Gold since we had just finished reading it aloud. The students used their "Blogging Docs" to create their responses and then posted them to the blog when complete. What I realized was what an authentic experience this was for them as writers. We have blogged before, but I don't think I realized how powerful this work really is.
     Before I publish anything on the blog, I call the students up to look through their pending response with me. I am able to give them immediate feedback before I send them back to their seats. If they have made convention errors I point them out, if they haven't used enough detail I point it out, and if they didn't answer all the questions (which was common in this post) I point it out. The best part about this is they go back and edit immediately while the comments are still fresh in their minds. Because they have it typed in their "Blogging Doc" the edits are easy to make as well so no one has to start from scratch. I also make sure my SMART Board screen is on so that other students can glimpse at the responses that are submitted. Many of them gauge their work by what they are seeing on that screen. I have had students add more to a response (more than they would have on their own) because of what they saw on the board. I also watch as many of them listen to my mini-conferences with students. Some of them take the information I give to others and use that advice in their own work before they publish. I am amazed that something so simple can create such wonderful editing experiences. I am also looking forward to April when we will have parents blogging with us as well because this will create a bigger audience and hopefully push them into creating their best work! Thank you Blogger :)


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Failure February - Teaching Writing is HARD!

     There are so many amazing quotes about "failure" and getting back up again, well sometimes it is hard to get back up again when it comes to teaching my students how to write. This past month we have been working on the all important five paragraph essay - an essential skill for young writers. Having taught this now for years you would think I would be an expert, that this would just be another piece of my year. Welp, not so much...all of us teachers know the struggle that how you taught one year might not work the next. I know my students have struggled with this in the past and I have learned from those struggles, but every group of learners is different and needs different things. Can I sit here and say they have made no progress or no growth, no. Can I sit here and say I am still struggling with how best to meet their needs, yes. I tell my students that failure is the path to success everyday in my classroom, so why am I struggling so much to take my own advice?
     I am constantly open to trying new things, I incorporate student choice whenever possible, and I take my students' lead whenever I can. You would think these would be the keys to success, but while they are leading me to the door it is not yet open. This month I needed this blog post to be a true reflection with where I am at as a writing teacher. I am using great tools, I am conferring with my writers as much as possible, and I am using mentor texts to support my lessons. I know I have done good work, but as I watch my students struggle with pieces of their essays or the essay as a whole it is hard not to feel deflated and let down. When I watch students with incredible potential hating on the process it is hard not to internalize that.
     There is an amazing quote that I was given last year that has guided me every since, "You can open the door for your students, but they have to actually walk through it." I am opening the door, but some of them are not walking through, or stumbling through, or barely tip-toeing through. To me this continuously challenges me to go back to the drawing board, which is the part of teaching that I do love, but sometimes it is hard to walk away feeling like I have a concrete answer. I know I am not the only one who struggles with this, I guess I am just looking to find some new resources to turn to when my other ones run dry. I need to get creative and step out of the box again! I know this month felt a little stale, but I know it can be good again, I still have the opportunity to positively shape my current essay writers. All this shows me is that 'Failure February' has the potential to turn into a more positive March. This doesn't mean that teaching writing won't continue to be hard, we all know that isn't possible, but it does mean that I can continue to challenge myself and my students to be better and want more from their instruction.

Monday, January 27, 2014

January - Beginning Work on Essays

     This time of year always brings about our Essay Unit in 4th grade. I have always had a love/hate relationship with this unit because it challenges my writers in so many ways. They have never been asked to write “this much” before and the structure of it can be a lot to take in. I love the challenge that is poses for them, but can also struggle with that as well. This year my goal for them and myself was structure, structure, structure. Lucy Caulkins starts her essay unit with a lesson called “Essay Bootcamp” and I think this is the perfect way to look at it. Each “exercise” is asking my students to tackle new material, while strengthening their skills at the same time.

     We started brainstorming again using their personal Padlet walls. Because they already had ideas stored here from other points in the year, I figured it could give them some ideas to start with if they needed. Many created new ones, but I like that it is a collection of ideas to always refer back to for inspiration. Padlet is not hugely structured though, and after getting on Twitter a few weeks ago I discovered a new tool that they could have used instead that was more structured for expanding their ideas (oh well there is always next year, or later on this year). The tool is called Popplet and it is a web creation tool that they could use to type more specific information for their plan. Really I could use Padlet for their brainstorm and then Popplet for their actual plan - two great tools to get them started!
    Today we actually started writing. They have been researching information on their chosen topics and now we need to put it all together. One element I have added to help with structure is color-coding (highlighting) on Google Docs. This way students can visually see if they are missing any pieces. For example, their introductory paragraph needs a hook, a thesis/topic sentence, and a list of their body paragraph topics. I assigned each of these a color: hook = blue, thesis = red, and topics = green. Once they typed their introduction paragraph they had to color-code each sentence. If they were missing a color they had to go back and add something they forgot. I want to carry this through the whole essay process using different colors along the way. Once they know they have every piece, they can remove the highlight from their writing. There is a lot of potential here for peer editing as well. Their peer might need to color code a paragraph and see if they got all the pieces they needed. It is amazing how something so simple can have such a great impact on how they view their writing.
    If there are any other helpful structure tools out there to help my students with essays PLEASE pass them along, I am always looking for new things to try! I do feel more on top of the unit this time and that has helped me to better guide my students!