In 2015 Graham Fletcher had a beef with the State Superintendent of Education in Georgia. To paraphrase, Superintendent Woods wrote a column where he stated his disapproval of the Common Core Standards. Woods is a proponent of memorized procedures and algorithms and referred to the Common Core standards as "funny math". Graham communicated his concerns in a well-crafted letter. While none of us educators expect our educational leaders to be experts in all subject matters taught pre-K through 12, we absolutely do expect them to consult EXPERTS in content AND pedagogy in each subject and grade level before making unilateral decision. Superintendent Woods was at it again when he was recorded sharing his beliefs about our youngest learners. While he states that he is no expert in math education, he uses his stage to renounce the efforts of math educators and experts across the country who are working to provide students with a high quality mathematics education where thinking and sense making are central.
Visit Graham Fletcher's blog to read his post by clicking HERE.
Watch an excerpt from Superintendent Woods shared in an Oct. 22nd @gfletchy tweet.
Graham Fletcher articulated his concerns to his superintendent. No response.
This isn't unique to Georgia. Too often, educational leaders who are not experts in math or elementary education or reading, work with disgruntled staff with little training or affection for their subject matter and make unilateral decisions that impact all educators.
Graham is right - Welcome Back 2001! I say, Welcome Back 1985!
I wish we, as a nation, had more respect for teachers and student learning. I wish our progress was more forward and less regressive. We have learned so much about how children learn, particularly in the area of mathematics, yet you wouldn't know it by scrutinizing our curriculum choices.
Our Assistant Superintendent has asked us to reflect on Self-Awareness this week. She has shared the following article: Self Awareness (Social Emotional Learning) and asked us to focus in on the section titled, "When to Teach Self-Awareness". This section of the article reports that teachers must attend to their own self-awareness before teaching self-awareness in the classroom. I pride myself on being a reflective educator. I think that 140 blog posts are decent evidence that I value self-reflection.
Nonetheless, I'm wondering about my own self-awareness. I can certainly identify emotions. But what I'm wondering about is whether or not my self-perception is based in reality. I am very open to feedback. I wish I received more critical feedback to be honest. I have been told that I intimidate people. This is not a compliment. I think of people who intimidate as being people who are arrogant and lack empathy. Unfortunately, when I've received this feedback, it didn't come from a person who was invested in my growth. I do have a few mentors. None are people I confer with on a regular basis though. One of my mentors has told me that he feels that my commitment, work ethic, and positive experiences, can cause some people to feel threatened by me. This feedback did come from a place of care. Yet, I don't know what to do with that information. I do work hard. My whole team does. We take our very important work quite seriously. I don't think I can do anything about others feeling threatened by me or my team. I'll think about this more though.
I do have a very good understanding of my strengths. I'm painfully aware of my weaknesses. I compensate for those weaknesses the best I can. Regardless of my weaknesses, I possess self-confidence. However, I do struggle with esteem when it comes to certain skills or knowledge. I am committed to constant self-improvement. When I set a goal, it is usually because achieving it is very important to me. I will do what it takes to achieve the goals I set for myself. I believe in my own ability to set and achieve lofty goals. I feel like I am well-equipped to teach students self-awareness.
I am currently doing two really important things to teach self-awareness. The first thing I do is check in with students and ask them to reflect on how their year is going. At times, these are verbal reflections. Oftentimes, I ask the students to reflect through writing. The second thing I do is help students to lead their own conferences. Preparation for these conferences does a lot to raise students' self-awareness.
I've shared it before, but do check out the student-preparation sheet used to help students prepare to lead their own conferences.
I can't tell you how many educational leaders have made speeches on the days leading up to the beginning of a new school year about students getting a fresh start. Teachers believe that all kids deserve a fresh start each year. There is no wriggle room here. It is kind of an unchallenged belief. It is cast in stone. It just is. And you know what? They do! Every single one of them deserves a fresh start.
Here's where I struggle a little. Parents don't get a fresh start. On MANY occasions, teachers who have worked with a difficult parent of mine, in the past, will eventually ask how it is going this year. When I'm able to report that everything is going okay so far, I'm given a "just wait." I can think of numerous occasions over many years when administrators have done a similar thing. They've explained that certain parents were "difficult" and that I needed to be careful or worse yet, they've completely discounted the progress that the parent and I were making together. They devalued my effort and criticized me for not seeing the parent's true colors.
I've worked with lots of difficult parents over the years. I remind myself of one thing again and again. Parents reach out to communicate with educators when they are sincerely concerned about their child and his or her learning. Some parents are well-equipped to advocate for their kids. Other parents are extremely lacking when it comes to advocating for their kids. Most fall somewhere in between. All parents, who take the time to communicate with educators at their child's school, care deeply about their kids. They're not out to get us. They're not out to ruin our day. They're not out to "tell us off." Some parents connect with us better than they have connected with previous educators. Some don't. Sometimes the relationship between parent and teacher is worse than it has been in previous years. However, sometimes gains are made, trust is built, and the relationship becomes healthy and productive. Regardless, parents deserve a fresh start too!
On Sunday, November fourth and again on Monday morning, November fifth, I received an email from a very concerned parent. Actually, the email was also sent to my principal and our school guidance counselor as well as our special educator. This parent communicated concerns around her child's emotional well-being. She also communicated concerns around bullying. I responded to the parent's emails on Monday morning around 7:00 AM. I wanted to give the parent some feedback and I didn't want to begin my school week with this email hanging over my head. I responded to her concerns the best that I could. At the time of my response I did not have answers to her questions. I still don't. I shared my observations.
The parent wrote back, conveying her frustration but thanking me for my thoughtful response. I got the sense that she was truly thankful but frustrated by the situation. I get it.
No one else responded.
We received another email yesterday. This one was brimming over with frustration because the principal and guidance counselor didn't respond. I can see both sides. When I responded, I included everyone in my response. The team has discussed this child and her struggles continuously over that last handful of weeks. When I sent my response to all, I am sure that they inferred that I had responded on behalf of the team. I see the mom's point too. She had specific concerns around social-emotional health and bullying. She expected that the guidance counselor would weigh in on the social-emotional piece and the principal would weigh in on the bullying piece. It is not entirely unreasonable for her to feel this way. She emailed us all. No one was cc'd. The email was sent to all.
I've been that parent once. I wrote an email after a very difficult IEP meeting for my son. My email shared my very real concerns about the limited safeguards put into place for tier two students at the middle school. I hit send and waited. The email was addressed to the director of special ed, the team chair at our middle school and the principal of the middle school. I cc'd the superintendent. Nothing. Nothing for over two weeks. I couldn't believe it. Being that I'm an employee and colleague in the district where my son was being educated I thought I'd get a response. I remember feeling like a crazy person when I didn't. There was a very big part of me that wanted to follow up with a rage-filled email. I didn't. I work for the district. I stayed professional. I was let down though. I was big time disappointed in my district. In my opinion, people just weren't doing their jobs.
There is zero part of me that wants to respond to emails from angry parents. Thankfully I don't get all that many. I've gotten some though. I respond. It is my job. It doesn't matter what the parent writes. I work to ensure that each child has the best year possible. That means partnering with their parents. I have to partner with them even when they write angry emails. It is my job.
I'm teaching science for the first time in a handful of years. I didn't know how much I missed it until I started teaching it once again. This year, I'm using Mystery Science as one of my major resources. I love the materials. I love how teacher friendly the site is and I love how visual and hands-on the resources are for my students.
Today's lesson really was amazing. It asked students to consider whether a volcano could pop up in their backyards. This essential question was supported by some pretty engaging video. The students watched a video that showed flowing magna up close. Students learned that magna is actually rock that has become so hot it is melted. The videos differentiated this disaster from flooding because waters recedes while the magma cools and hardens leaving the affected area forever changed. The students then used coordinates to map the locations of roughly four dozen previously active volcanoes around the globe. Students worked with a partner to map the volcanoes from one continent. At the end of the lesson, the maps are pieced together and the students see not only the pattern of volcanoes on their map but begin to see the pattern worldwide. The students discover the "Ring of Fire".
Big picture: the lesson was a huge success. Students learned how volcanoes are formed and they learned that they spring up in patterns. They learned about the devastating and lasting impact of volcanoes. It was a success but this is not to say that I'm not wishing for a do-over. Right now, I'm teaching science to a class that is not my own. They are great kids. However, I have not established the same kind of classroom culture with them that I've established with my own students. I have them for 16 lessons. I'll teach them for 45 minutes a day, four days a week for approximately four weeks. Given this limited teaching time, it didn't seem like I could afford to dedicate precious minutes to practicing routines, establishing norms and building that culture that is so important. I had it in my head that my colleague had done this with them and that the culture would just travel with them. She has done a ton to establish a positive culture but I have to earn my stripes with these kids. Despite the fact that I waited for their attention and clearly delivered instructions, the directions were not received. Completing the task was a challenge for quite of a few students in the class.
I definitely need to pump the brakes a little and focus on culture. Otherwise, these great resources will go wasted. These kids are smart. They're good kids. Given some focused attention on culture and these really great resources, I know they'll have a meaningful science learning experience.
Mystery Science offers science education materials aligned to the NGSS. Units are available from Kindergarten through grades 5. It really is an engaging resource. Check it out for yourself!
We're not where we need to be. Not yet. But, we're getting closer every day. I am straining my brain but try as I may, I can't remember dealing with a single disciplinary issue today.
My student who is EXTRAORDINARILY sensitive did not tattle today. Either her feelings were not hurt by any of her classmates today or she is beginning to become a little more tolerant of their missteps.
The student who struggles with social learning brought me a tissue today when I was reading the #classroombookaday and couldn't help but tear up.
The student who I affectionately refer to (in my head) as dancing bear seemed to be able to control his impulsivity today. He didn't have any unkind words for his peers as far as I know.
Little by little, negative behaviors are decreasing and are being replaced by positive behaviors. Or, at least that is how it seemed today. Maybe it is just because we were coming off a long weekend and my outlook is just a bit more positive now that I'm well rested. Maybe.
But just as I was celebrating these small successes, I remembered that one of my students was missing today. He was absent again. He has been absent 8 times now. He is often absent on Mondays or on the first day of the school week as was the case today. He is sometimes out on Fridays. No adult called him in sick until the school left a voicemail for the parents. It is concerning. Today was the 50th day of school. This kiddo has missed nearly a sixth of the school year. He is bright. He gets caught up. He is just missing out on so many experiences. His classmates miss him when he is out. I'm not sure what he is up to when he is not at school and that worries me too.
Our classroom culture is just about where I need it to be. Students are invested in one another's learning. Our community is one where kids respect one another. Despite the gains we've made, we need to keep working until every child is happy to come to school to learn. The goal is 100% of my 22 students thriving. We are not there YET.
This week, in her Curriculum Update, our Assistant Superintendent shared a little background information about Marc Brackett, The Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. He asserts that educators do not ask students how they are feeling often enough. After some reflection, I'm not so sure I do.
I check in with my students a ton. I ask them open-ended questions when I have them one-on-one. For example, I might ask something as silly sounding as, "How's your life going?" At times, I have to ask students to, "say more about that" but overall, I'm shocked at how much information such a simple question yields.
I also ask students to reflect in writing every few weeks. The questions are simple here too. In a recent prompt, I asked, "How is fourth-grade going? Can you give me details to backup your thinking?" Again, this question helped me to understand how my students are doing.
What I don't ask is "How are you feeling?" I'm very curious about my students' responses. I'm wondering if I'll get different information given that this question asks them to focus in on their feelings. I will likely ask them to back up their thinking with some reasons. I'm a little worried that many of my students will write about their physical health or whether or not they are warm/cold, tired/alert. I'm concerned that I won't get a ton of insight into their emotional well-being. I won't know until I ask. Tune in in a few days when I'll share what I learned when I asked: "How are you feeling?"
In the meantime, check out some of the reflections I received when I asked students to reflect on how fourth-grade was going.
Today is Veterans Day. Despite what many people post on FaceBook, we teachers are actually hard at work teaching civics everyday. For example, even though people don't believe it, we begin EVERY SINGLE DAY with the the Pledge of Allegiance. During this sacred time, our ENTIRE school pauses. Every adult and child stands and places hand over heart while we pledge along with a student who recites the pledge over the intercom system. After the pledge is over, my students and I sing a patriotic song. We change the song every month. Popular choices include: the Star Spangled Banner, My Country Tis of Thee, You're a Grand Ole Flag and America the Beautiful. I set the behavior expectations for this time on the first day of school. While I have a high threshold for chattiness and busy bodies, during the pledge and patriotic song I expect nothing but the best behavior. I'm explicit in explaining that soldiers have been willing to lay down their lives for our freedom and liberties. The least we can do to repay their sacrifices is to hold sacred these few moments each day.
Today is Veterans Day and tomorrow, the students will have no school to observe the holiday. It is important to me that students know why they're getting a day off. Each day we pause to read a #classroombookaday. On Friday, we read Patricia Polacco's, Pink and Say. Our Tuesday selection will be The Wall by Eve Bunting. Literature will help my students to learn about the sacrifice that our veterans have made and will teach them the importance of the holiday. Through these shared experiences my students will learn to NEVER FORGET our veterans.
Today is Veterans Day and I couldn't be more proud of the little things that my school does to show veterans that we will NEVER FORGET. We line the halls with flags from each division of the service and we line the outside of our school with the American flag. In addition, come Memorial Day, our entire school will pause to recognize members of our community, past and present, who have served in the military. We hold two school-wide concerts where each grade will sing patriotic songs. Each branch of the military will be recognized and members of our school community will be recognized for their service.
Regardless of what you may read in your social media feed, civics instruction IS happening in our public schools. Teachers are doing their part to ensure that the students we teach will become outstanding citizens who will dedicate themselves to creating a nation where everyone can thrive and live as proud citizens while always taking time to honor those whose sacrifice had provided for the freedoms and liberties we are blessed to enjoy today.
#MURSDInspries Nov. 4
Flexible learning places and offering students flexible seating is something that elementary teachers have been accustomed to doing for a long time. I remember back to my own Kindergarten classroom where we had a treehouse! My third grade teacher, Jane Jackson, was even more innovative. She had designed a "bubble' out of a thicker plastic material. It was weighted at the bottom and was hooked up to a fan. When the fan was running, the bubble would inflate and students could climb into the bubble and read or do other school work. I remember having to close that door flap fairly quick or the bubble would start to deflate. It was large and could hold approximately half a dozen third-graders. Thinking back, it was probably a huge suffocation risk but I do remember loving it and being very motivated to read inside that bubble.
My beautiful classroom is well equipped with a desk for each child, a handicapped desk, a table and a bookcase. There is also a HUGE desk for me. This summer, I spent a ton of $$$ refreshing the flexible seating in my classroom (don't tell my husband!). It was time. Some of the cozy bucket seats I had previously had in the room were getting old and tired. I replaced them with 4 Big Joe bean bag chairs, 2 inflatable chairs that look like bean bag chairs and one circular bucket seat. We also have a number of stools and a couple of director's chairs in the classroom. Most students gravitate to the the alternative seating. When they're not camped out in one of these seats, they seek out a little nook. Kids seem to love to crawl into small spaces. They enjoy sitting under tables and against bookcases. Still, some will still choose to sit at traditional desks. I love the new additions to my classroom but when I look at pictures of our space, it doesn't look Pinterest worthy as some of the classrooms I've seen online.
I think I know why. I still have a ton of traditional furniture in my classroom. I don't want to part with all of it. I wouldn't mind parting with some of it though. For example, I'd love to get rid of about 8 student desks in favor of a couple of tables. I'd also love to get rid of my desk. It is massive and I NEVER sit at it. More than anything, I would miss the storage. I'm fairly certain that I could find a work-around for that problem though. The problem I can't seem to work around is student storage. Where does all their STUFF go when the desks are removed? I had a classroom eons ago with only tables. The district bought me milk crates to store student belongings. It was a nightmare. Their stuff seemed to be everywhere in plain sight. I hated it.
So, I guess I'm feeling a little stuck in the middle. I definitely offer kids a variety of seating choices. They seldom have to work at desks. However, my room does not bubble over with warmth. It doesn't say, "enter, and curl up with a book, you can't help but be happy here." That is my goal. I'm part way there. I'm hesitant to commit 100% because I have a few unanswered questions about storage but also because I'm not ready to permanently commit to parting with my furniture. Our building has NO storage. So, if I was to part with it, there is zero guarantee I'd get it back should I change my mind down the road.
I did find the above video inspiring. I love how at home the children seem. The space belongs to them. It is easy to tell that from the video. While I'm sure that the flexible learning spaces do foster greater engagement, and engagement certainly lends itself to achievement, I'm sure there is lots of eye-rolling when teachers from neighboring communities watch the video and see so much of their success (drop out rate, etc.) attributed to flexible seating. Don't get me wrong, because I really do love the idea. I'm willing to say that I'm sure flexible learning spaces are great for student learning. I just think that maybe we shouldn't go quite so overboard with our claims concerning achievement and its direct relationship to flexible learning spaces. It just seems like a big leap.
Here is what the flexible learning spaces look like in my room currently.
Here's what I want to add. I have a couple of friends who think they won't be a good fit for our fourth-grade classroom. Anyone use these? I can see adding three or four to my classroom. They're on sale for 10 @ $189. Anyone think they might be worth it.
I know that the learning spaces in my classroom have become a lot more inviting but I also know that there are still small things that I can do to meet the needs of all kids. I'm definitely open to trying new options.
My students are really good writers. So, let me qualify this statement. This year, I have a room full of writers who do not struggle to generate ideas and to then move those ideas from their heads to paper. There is, however, lots of work to do. The greatest opportunity seems to be in helping my students grow in their craft. While my students are fairly fluent when it comes to writing, they are not particularly thoughtful writers. They don't take time to consider word choice or author's purpose.
Currently, my students are working on an open response question related to Charlotte's Web. The question is; Consider Fern's character in E.B. White's novel, Charlotte's Web. How does her character change over the course of the novel? Use evidence from the text to support your thinking. We began this writing lesson by looking closely at the prompt. After asking the students to read the prompt to themselves and then reading it aloud, I asked them to tell me what the prompt was asking them to write about. Just as I feared, some students were not comprehending the prompt or, at the very least, were taking the time to thoughtfully consider what the prompt was asking. One student offered that the prompt asked them to write about what happened in the story while another thought that he should write about the novel's setting. EEEKKK! This is not at all unusual for fourth graders. All too often, given an open-response prompt like this, fourth graders tend to read the prompt and then write about whatever they want to write about connected to the novel. The first part of my lesson had to focus on attending to the prompt. There will be many other lessons that will address the need to comprehend the prompt and attend to it thoughtfully as they write.
The next part of our lesson addressed constructing a solid topic sentence and then supplying convincing evidence from the text to support the reader's thinking. Finally, the lesson addressed closings. Once the lesson objectives were outlined, writers had an opportunity to draft a response. I reviewed the prompt and asked the students to be sure that they had addressed all aspects of the prompt. When most students had taken adequate time to craft a first draft, I asked the students to consider sharing their writing for class critique. Many students were willing to share. Selecting the right student-writing for the first share was important. I wanted the first share to be rough so that the students can see that a draft can be developed into a high quality piece of writing.
The piece of student writing that I selected was projected at the SmartBoard. This particular piece had a simple but effective topic sentence. What it lacked was any real text evidence to back up the readers thinking. It also lacked a concluding sentence. Writers in our room suggested different pieces of evidence that this writer could include in his piece. We thanked the writer and the classroom got back to work. The second share was important too! The writer I'd select for class critique next would have to be a writer who had already made changes to his or her piece based on the feedback that the first writer had received. This piece would be more polished but would also require a fair amount of revision in order to meet the standards. The first thing I did was praise the writer for the revision that he or she had already done. I pointed out how the changes made were possible because our first student was willing to share his or her work. Then, we read this new piece aloud. I followed up the reading by asking the students to give feedback. This piece had some pretty convincing evidence however, the topic sentence was lacking. The class ended up guiding this writer toward more thoughtful word choice in the topic sentence and because this writer hadn't included a concluding sentence, we helped with that too.
I want my students to be motivated by their peers. I don't want my students to be motivated to earn grades that measure up to their peers' grades. Instead, I want to share examples of student work so that my students can see how writing is developed. I want my writers to aspire to produce writing that measures up to the best writing produced by their peers.
Finally, after the share, I make sure to pull the writers aside who were willing to share their work. I thank each for being brave. I remind them that many writers in our room will improve because of their willingness to take a risk and share their developing writing.
It is about building a culture in the room where students invest in one another. It is about sharing feedback with one another and it is about stepping out of the comfort zone so that we can all improve. This lesson was another step toward building this culture and improving student writing.