Thursday, July 2, 2015

Up Close and Personal!

Up Close and Personal!
Your students are telling you how to reach them.  Are you listening?


A Rookie Mistake...

Sure, I listened to my students, but I didn't really hear them...
 At the beginning of my teaching career, I remember finally getting into my groove as an educator---except that one class.  You know the one.  That class who complains about having to do an activity that all of the other classes loved.  That class who resists doing what the other classes beg you to do.  That class that just does not go as smoothly as the rest.  For me that class was my 6th period and it stood out in stark contrast to my 5th period class that always went so well.  In fact, one day, out of exasperation  from the resistance I was getting I exclaimed to them, "What is wrong with you guys!?!  Fifth period loved this activity!"

Their answer was simple, "We aren't fifth period."  I don't remember what I replied in return, and I wish that I can say that this is when the light bulb turned on for me and I used it as a teachable moment to talk to my 6th period and see them as individuals, to get to know that makes them tick, to respond to their needs, to design their lessons with those needs in mind.  Sadly, although I am a quick learner in most areas, that would not come yet.

Slowly and Surely...

For me the answer unfolded more slowly, in serendipitous ways across different classes with different students.  One memorable interaction was with a student who was a selective mute.  Due to family difficulties, he withdrew into himself and refused to speak--for several months.  One day I told him how reading was always my escape and safe--whenever things around me were hectic, I could turn to the trusty characters of my favorite books.  A few days later I noticed that he started the Series of Unfortunate Events books, so I purchased the next book for the class library, putting it where he would notice it the next day.  He found the book, and the next and next---it was our way of communicating.  To help bring him out further, after noticing that he liked to draw, I bought him a sketchbook/journal.  He loved it, so much so that he told me, "Thank you!"  Yes, he spoke, out loud and continued to speak, quietly at first and only to me, but eventually he came out of his shell.  Years later I would see him again as a young man--at the bookstore of course!  I overheard him telling his friend, "That is the teacher that got me to love reading!"

There was also the time that an energetic group of 6th graders couldn't stop tapping on their desks.  After learning that they loved music, I taught the next unit, poetry, though songs and we even had a ton of fun beating our pencils in unison to the rhythm of the different classic poems. 

Another class of struggling 8th graders, many of whom were reading at the 1st through 3rd reading level just didn't feel successful in school at all.  I found out from them that they did feel successful in other areas of their life--just not school.  That was when I instituted our first class Talent Show, on the last day of the quarter usually reserved for makeup work or reflecting on the quarter.  They all saw each other in a different light---they were able to be seen as successful in a school setting.  Several of those students ended up auditioning and making it at the school wide Talent Show at the end of the year! 

I finally got it---to truly teach every student, you need to reach each one--wherever their interests and needs are, and connect them to the instruction that I do with them on a daily basis.

Practicing What I Preach...

Now, as a staff developer, I facilitate teacher trainings.  Each time I do a training it is different.  The objectives and content remain the same, but my examples, the turns of the discussion, and the timing of the activities are all shaped by the individuals in the training room that day.  One of the first --and most important questions I ask is, "What do you want to get out of this workshop today?"  and as I review the objectives and agenda I make sure to weave in their needs and interests.  Essentially the learning experience is personalized for the learners in the room that day.

Lesson Learned:   To truly make the learning personalized, you must get up close, up from the teacher's desk, out from behind the podium, away from the lesson plan as it was written, and get up close and personal with your learners.

What have been your most memorable mistakes in the classroom that you learned from?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Do You Have Teacher Cred?

Teacher Cred:  What is it?  Why is it important?  How can you earn it?

What is Teacher Cred?
I grew up in the 90's, listening to artists like Dr. Dre, Tupac, and Eminem.   For these rappers, street cred was extremely important- being true to where you came from and representing the neighborhood accurately was at the heart of the lyrics. I won't pretend to know all the nuances of street cred or pretend that I have it, but I will borrow the term cred and show how Teacher Cred is necessary for teaching and reaching struggling adolescents.
The word part cred is Greek for belief and is in words like credit, credentials, and creed.  Having teacher cred means having your students' respect- they believe in you as a teacher. 
Why is Teacher Cred important?
It is well documented that students work harder for teachers they like, teachers they respect-- teachers that have Teacher Cred.  Struggling students in particular have had a history of failing at reading and have heard it all before.  Each year they hope things will be different, but by the time they are in late middle school they have lost faith in their teachers--you have to prove them wrong.  You need to earn Teacher Cred.

How Can you Earn Teacher Cred?
The older your students are, the more difficult and the longer it takes to develop.  Older struggling students often "test" their teachers to see if they really know their stuff and if they will keep their word.  Here are a few ways of earning your Teacher Cred.  Please excuse the use of slang, it is for effect!

1.  You need to "have their backs"
When you have someone's back, you are on their side through thick and thin.  Students need to know that even on the days that your patience is wearing thin, that you are still there for them.  A simple way to develop relationships with students is the two minute rule.  Talk to students for two minutes, as they enter the room, during Do Now time, during independent work.  Think of it as an investment.  Spending two minutes asking a student about her weekend now, will improve her attention in your class, her motivation, and her behavior in the future.

I remember a student from years ago...  He was often in trouble in his classes, kicked out from one class and in another.  Kevin just left my class where I reprimanded him several times for not being on task and he came back after class ended because his next teacher kicked him out.  When my class was working on their Do Now I walked over to him an asked what happened.  I talked with him about the misunderstanding he had with his other teacher and then he said, "Ms., how come you always still care even when you are mad at me?" 

Too often students aren't given a clean slate.  Kids are kids--they are going to get in trouble, mess up, disrespect, make poor decisions, make their parents and teachers lose their patience--and sometimes their tempers.  The adults in their world can't take it personal, these are teachable moments--and perfect opportunities to earn some Teacher Cred.

2. You need to "keep it real"
When you "keep it real" you are true to who you are and not "putting on a front", or being fake.  Students will see right through empty threats.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.  If you make a mistake, admit it and simply say sorry and move on. 

Another facet of "keeping it real" is transparency.  Letting students understand why they are doing something is incredibly important.  Too often struggling students are given busy work that is not important to their growth. 

I had a turning point with one of my students not too long ago...  He burst out "You are always picking on me!" and he put his head on his desk.  Instead of reprimanding him or ignoring it I told him, "You know, sometimes I feel like you are picking on me too."  He looked up, surprised.  "When I am talking it seems like you are being disruptive on purpose.   We really need a better way of getting along for us to work together."  I asked him to tell my why he though I was picking on him---basically he didn't like when I reprimanded him in from of the class--so I let him know that I would work on that and use signals instead, or talk to him personally.  I told him that I needed him to pay more attention and not talk when I am.  We came up with a rating system and "graded" each other at the end of class.  After this, his behavior improved dramatically--he appreciated the authenticity of the conversation and my sincere intention to improve, so he improved too.

3. You need to "give them props"
 When you "give someone props", you are giving them their proper respect, or acknowledgement.  Students need to be recognized for the positive things they do, not just criticized for the negative.  There was a study done on the differences between students in low and high socioeconomic settings.  One major difference was the type of feedback they received.  Children in low socioeconomic settings hear negative feedback nearly five times more than those in higher socioeconomic settings.

In addition to keeping things positive with our students, they also need be given respectful instruction.  I have seen teachers, with the best of intentions, give their struggling students much easier work than they give others.  On the surface, it seems like the best thing to do--they are struggling after all, so an easier task is in their best interest.  You don't want to frustrate them, right?  I have found the exact opposite to be true.  These kids are savvy, they know if they are being given dumbed down work.  The single best thing we can do for all of our students is to hold them to high expectations and build their strategies and skills to help them reach those lofty goals.

A few years ago, I talked to two men that I know who dropped out of high school when they were younger. They do not know each other and I spoke to them separately, on two different occasions.  I asked them why they dropped out--their answers were strikingly the same.  They dropped out because they didn't like being treated like they were "dumb" and "bad".  Both of them said that their teachers didn't teach them, just let them fail. 

Teachers often say "I taught it but they did not learn it!"  It was not truly taught is the students did not learn it.  Using formative assessment throughout the lesson and unit, breaking it down to smaller steps can help teachers make sure that the students are learning it.  When students have not mastered the material, teachers with Teacher Cred continue to revisit the material until everyone has learned it.  Interestingly, one of the top factors of dropping out of school is academic performance--specifically in Reading and Math. Helping students master these subjects just may keep them on the right track. 

It is said that teaching is all about relationships--having Teacher Cred is the pinnacle of building relationships with students, especially your struggling learners.  With that said, here is a list of what Teacher Cred IS and IS NOT:

Teacher Cred IS NOT...being friends with your students.

Teacher Cred IS...being a warm, demanding adult that provides your students with the guidance that they need.

Teacher Cred IS NOT...being the "fun" teacher who gives "easy" work.

Teacher Cred IS...  being the firm but fair teacher who gives students challenging and engaging work and puts in extra effort to help students when they need it.

Teacher Cred IS NOT... getting down to the students level and using slang and teaching only the things students can relate to.

Teacher Cred IS...being professional at all times (only using slang in the occasional blog post ;) )and raising the bar for students by helping them see the relevance of rigorous curriculum material to their lives.

So...have you earned Teacher Cred today?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Strategies to Scaffold Complex Text in the Age of Comon Core

One of the most bloody battles in the Common Core War is frontloading.  This is the method of choice by literacy teachers to scaffold complex text.   According to the authors of the Common Core, little to no frontloading should be done--instead, the text should be analyzed, or closely read by the students.  In the classroom trenches, however, teachers know that students simply do not have the skills or background knowledge to comprehend complex text--especially since what is grade level today was about two years higher BCC (Before Common Core).  So, what is a teacher to do?  One of the ways of ensuring that students are engaged with text, and are building the skills and knowledge to be able to comprehend independently is to scaffold text--with text!

Scaffolding Text With Text

Reading Ladders by Teri S. Lensene

Probably the best source for scaffolding text with text is Teri Lesense's book, Reading Ladders.  In her book, Lesense talks about creating text sets that lead student from where they are to where they need to be.  Lots of wonderful examples are given, mostly with rich children's and young adult's literature.  The same strategic grouping of texts can be done with anything that we ask our students to read--from poetry to nonfiction texts.  In fact, Common Core Reading Standards 7 and 9, and Writing Standards 7, 8, and 9  require students to analyze or write based on more than one text--including multi media texts.  The same step ladder scaffolding of texts also enriches student's understanding of a topic and enables them to think critically at higher levels that are required by these standards.

Interactive Quote Analysis

Narrative Text:  Select quotes from different characters (enough for every student for pair of students to have) that reveal each character's perspective on one of the key themes.  Students read and paraphrase their quote and then determine the perspective on the theme revealed. Next, students sort their quotes into the differing opinions.  This previews the themes and characters by exposing students to the text and really gets them talking. 

Informational Text: 
Select a topic students will be studying and look for quotes that represent various perspectives on the topic.  Examples:  The Effects of Technology, Gun Control, The American Revolution. is a great resource for quotes!

Next, select several categories that students will sort the quotes into.  Examples:  Technology is beneficial, Technology does more harm than good, or Technology is what we make of it;  For/Against concealed weapons laws; Americans should/should not revolt against the British

Pass out a strip with a different quote to each student or pair of students. Give students time to read and paraphrase the quote then have them discuss amongst each other which category their quote belongs in.  Finally, have students move to the corner of the room that represent their category.  Students must be ready to discuss their support.

This pairs nicely with other reading strategies like text coding, where students read and place a symbol in the margin where they read details that support one of the categories.  It is also a great segue to argumentative writing and debate!
A LieracyLightBulb! Lesson

Quote Analysis Activity for Gun Control is available here!
Quote Analysis Activity for Technology is available here!

Poetry Pairs
A LiteracyLightBulb! Lesson

One of my favorite lessons is showing students how they are already poetry lovers--music is simply poetry set to music, after all!  I tell them how rapper Tupac Shakur wrote poetry in a journal that was published under the title of one of his poems The Rose that Grew from Concrete.  I play his song Dear Momma as they read and discuss the lyrics, then I play a recording of the poem Mother to Son by Langston Hughes.  Students now have the tools--and most importantly the motivation to analyze the poem and make comparisons to Tupac's song. 

This lesson was so successful that I developed other Poetry Pairs:

In addition to Tupac's Dear Momma and Mother to Son by Langston Hughes...

Superwoman by Alicia Keys and Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou both about women's empowerment
A LiteracyLightBulb! Lesson

Firework by Katy Perry and George Grey by Edgar Lee Masters both about making the most of your life

A LiteracyLightBulb! Lesson

I Hope you Dance by Lee Ann Womack and If by Rudyard Kipling both advice to young people

A LiteracyLightBulb! Lesson

I even have students present their own Poetry Pair where they choose a topic along with a song and poem that explore the topic.  It is my tricky way of getting students to read a lot of poetry--and it works!  After presenting the song and poem in class and analyzing each and making comparisons students often say that they like the poem better than the song!

Paired Passages
I rarely teach a single text in isolation.  Instead, I teach a set of texts on the same topic--each exploring it from a different angle.  Often I use events that are ripped from the headlines that students care about that also have roots in literature. 

A LiteracyLightBulb! Lesson

One of my favorites is a lesson on Privacy Versus Security.  With laws regulating who has access to our smart phone data, this topic is both timely and of interest to teens.  I begin with a discussion on the topic:  Is it ever ok to invade someone's privacy.  All or nearly all students will say no, some will even refer to the Bill of Rights.  Sometimes I might need to provoke the discussion a bit by asking "well, what about at the airport?"  and the discussion takes a different turn as most students agree that our security is more important in this setting.  Now they are ready to look into the Bill of Rights where "unreasonable searches and seizures" is mentioned.  We read an editorial on the laws dealing with phone data---which refers to "Big Brother" and is a perfect segue to the first chapter of Orwell's 1984. 

Other Paired Passages include:

In addition to the Privacy vs Security Paired Passages lesson...

"A Piece of Wood" by Ray Bradbury and a passage on gun control
A LiteracyLightBulb! Lesson

"Their Bullet, My Life" and concealed weapons editorial

A LiteracyLightBulb! Lesson
"The Fan Club" and an article about cyberbullying

A LiteracyLightBulb! Lesson

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Resource to Teach Teens about the Events in Baltimore

A Resource to Teach Teens about the Events in Baltimore
A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

Developing Historic Perspective in Teens to Help Them Understand the Events in Baltimore and Current Events

Teenagers are quick to give their opinions on just about everything—from their favorite brands, music, sports, and hot news topics like the events that are now unfolding in Baltimore.  Teens have not fully developed their reasoning capacity and often do not have the background necessary to formulate an informed opinion, they are susceptible to biased media coverage often make snap judgments based on unverified facts.   They need guidance and practice in analyzing information and drawing conclusion based on valid sources.  They need to build their historic knowledge to give them perspective on current events.  They need opportunities to listen and speak about issues that are important to them. 


Knowing this about teens, I was inspired by the events in Baltimore to develop a unit of instruction.  Through a series of engaging activities, students are guided to build their understanding of the concepts Protest and Riot and analyze examples of each throughout history.  You can access the materials here!

Sequence of Activities

1. Historic Photograph Analysis: Students examine details from several historic photos of an event and make and support inferences then they read an article about the event and write an unbiased summary of the event.  The first event is the March on Washington.  Notice how the sequence of photos draws students into the event.  The same process is repeated with a series of photos from the Watts Riots.
A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

2. Concept definition Building: Students work together to build their understanding of the concepts of Protest and Riot.  Discussing examples and nonexamples in relation to the characteristics helps build critical thinking skills as students much justify their selections.
A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

3. Word Splash- Students learn and interact with words related to Protest and Riot.

A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

4. Voices Calling for Change through History: Students explore various text based, video, and audio sources bout carious calls for change through history. Students discuss these events and select one to learn more about. Here is a padlet with resources for students to refer to.

A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

5. Class Museum of Social Action: Students create a visual and report for their selected event and present to visiting classmates.

A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

6. In The News: Baltimore-A Socratic Discussion:  Students read several news articles and participate in an academic discussion, incorporating all they have learned.

A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

7. Take Action! Service Learning Project: Students select a problem in their school or community to raise awareness of and document their journey in a scrapbook or video and journal.


A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson



Monday, April 27, 2015

Are We Dumbing Down Our Girls?

Are We Dumbing Down Our Girls?



The following is an actual account of one of my students from the beginning of my teaching career.  Her name has been changed, but her story is true.  Rather than being prescriptive about what actions to take, I simply reflect on an event in my teaching career that had a big impact on me and questions that it raises. 


Jess was a cute, petite, blonde haired eighth grader, with bright blue eyes and suntanned skin.  All of the boys in her gifted class were enamored by her.  She, however, was not enamored with her classwork.  My team of teachers worked together to create a rigorous and engaging interdisciplinary curriculum and really pushed the gifted class to achieve.  Jess did just enough to get by, prompting one of the teachers on the team to suggest that we move her to one of the “lower” classes.  This, from a man who was an experienced gifted teacher and strove to see the potential in every student; he simply did not believe that this student had what it took to be in his gifted class.  He put it quite bluntly one day saying that, “she had no business being in a gifted class!”  Since Jess had qualified for gifted services in elementary school, she was required to continue in the program, much to his annoyance. 


Jess didn’t do much better in my class.  She seemed to like to read and write topics that interested her, but would produce less on topics that she was not interested in.  She didn’t participate in class, and when she was called on, she answered in a high falsetto voice, claiming that she did not “get it”.  She seemed to get a kick out of the exasperated reaction from her classmates.  I tried my best to encourage her and help her “get it”.  Then one day, I saw her in a completely different light…


The class was working on a challenging project.  Jess announced loudly “I don’t get it!”  All of a sudden there was a swarm boys surrounding her, all vying for her attention to explain it to her practically fighting over the change to help her.  Annoyed, I said, “Boys, sit down!  She doesn’t need your help, in fact, I bet she can teach all of you how to do it!” 

As they went back to their seats, I noticed the expression on Jess’s face change---there was a flash of surprise, then she appeared to size me up and a slight smirk appeared on her face.  From that day on, Jess did all of my assignments, earning among the highest grades, though she still did “average” in the rest of her classes.  I continued to hear her other teachers complain that she did not belong in the gifted program, and they were quite surprised to hear how well she was doing in my class.


At the end of the school year, the standardized test results came in.  The class as a whole did very well, but one student in particular earned a perfect 5 on each test.  Everyone-the students and teachers- were shocked at who it was, expect for me…


I call it the “Pretty, Dumb Girl Effect”.   It seems to happen around seventh or eighth grade when girls are starting to become interested in getting attention from boys.  They quickly see that raising their hands and asserting themselves in class is not the way to get the attention they crave.   Instead, they withdraw or, as Jess did, adopt a new persona.  Jess did not want her teachers to know how smart she really was.  She did not want to be “gifted” any more.   She wanted to fit in.  


Since I “caught on” to Jess, she rewarded me by performing in my class (but not enough to blow her “cover”).  It has been over a decade since Jess was in my class and I have met many more girls like her.  They hide their intelligence to fit in.  Their teachers are “tricked”.  Instead of being assigned to classes based on their actual ability, they get placed by their teacher recommendation into less rigorous classes because they “don’t have what it takes”.  


What can be done to “outsmart” the Pretty, Dumb Girl Effect?  While teachers do not have the power to change society’s expectations, we can change our own expectations. As an aside, I used to hate the character, Penny, on the television show, The Big Bang Theory, for perpetuating the Pretty Dumb Girl Effect, but over the years her character has become much more multifaceted. 


How do we recognize those students who may be hiding their intelligence?  It is not about recognizing those particular students, but having high expectations and encouraging ALL students.  In this post, I specified a gifted girl-a demographic that many believe is the highest risk of underperforming.  Minority gifted girls are considered even more at risk.  It is widely documented that there is a gender gap in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) classes and jobs. One could argue that there is not a gender gap, but perhaps an expectations gap.  In the book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg provides a vivid example of this as she tells of the store, Gymboree, selling baby clothing that read, “I am smart, like Daddy” for boys and, “I am pretty, like Mommy” for girls.   


I hope that the story of Jess will prompt teachers and parents to reflect on their interactions with their girls in effort to reduce the expectations gap.  Often it is just seeing the student in a new light that can make all the difference. 


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Poetry Pair: "I Hope You Dance" by Lee Ann Womack and "If" by Rudyard Kipling

I was just in the car listening to music and one of my favorites came on, "I Hope You Dance", by Lee Ann Womack. I am not usually into Country music, but her song transcends all genres. Such a lovely song and filled with advice for young people. As I pondered the lyrics I was reminded of another favorite: The poem "If", by Rudyard Kipling. A poem about advice to a young man growing into manhood. If I am ever lucky enough to have a son, this poem will be framed above his... bed. So, I am feeling another Poetry Pair Lesson coming on! Look for it soon at LiteracyLightbulb! Until then, enjoy my other best-selling poetry pairs!

Tupac's "Dear Momma" and "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes
"Superwoman" by Alicia Keys and "Phenomenal Woman" by Maya Angelou
"Firework" by Katie Perry and "George Gray" by Edgar Lee Masters

My lessons are frequently inspired by music and current events all around us.  I love to tie in something that is close to the lives of teenagers with something they normally think is not relevant to their lives.  The result:  I love hearing students say that they actually like the poem better than the song---usually from the students who were the loudest saying "I hate poetry!"  :)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Desk Warmers

Go into any school, walk down any hallway, and peer into the classrooms—you are sure to see at least a few of them:  The Desk Warmers.  Students curled up half awake or snoring on their desk doing nothing except warming desks.


Part of being a good teacher is developing your “teacher senses”.  As a master teacher conducts a lesson, his or her teacher senses start to tingle as they scan the room for students who don’t understand or are tuning out and Bam!  Pow! The master teacher jumps into action.  Desk Warmers are a red alert need immediate attention from teachers.  Exactly what needs to be done, however, is not immediately obvious.  There are at least four different reasons why ordinary students turn into Desk Warmers.


1.        Lack of Sleep:  Yes, this obvious cause is why some students become Desk Warmer.  Though, it too needs to be delved into.  Why, exactly is the student so sleepy?  Is there something going on at home that is keeping Johnny awake?  Is the student spending too much time at night playing video games or texting?  Or is the student overwhelmed with after school activities or work demands?  Each one needs to be addressed differently.

2.       Sickness:  The rare instance that I let a Desk Warmer do their thing is if he or she is evidently sick and has no means to go home.  Otherwise, off the nurse they go!  A gentle, “I know you aren’t feeling good, but try your best to participate” usually works wonders for those who have minor ailments that do not need medical attention.

3.       Boredom:    There are two sub varieties of this category.  One is boredom because the task is too easy and the other is boredom because of tedium or lack of activity.  The latter is in epidemic proportions in secondary schools, but it is also the easiest to address and can even be prevented.  By varying the activity every 15-20 minutes, teachers can ward off the Desk Warmers.  Pausing in the middle of a lecture for students to turn and talk to a neighbor about a salient point, engaging in a class discussion, or building a model—anything that gets the students doing something to engage with the content is vital. 

4.       Withdrawal:  This is by far the most complex and difficult to deal with and where even some of the most talented teachers give in.  These students have turned into Desk Warmers because they have given up.  These are usually found in upper middle school and high school, are struggling learners, and often behavior problems that teachers would rather just fall asleep instead of causing a disruption.  If a student is resistant to the strategies above that address boredom, then that student has become withdrawn.  Letting these Desk Warmers continue to warm their desk is the same as telling them that you have given up too and have lowered your expectations of them.  Take the long view with these students—it took years of low test scores, disappointing grades, and lack of attention to get them to this point and it will take a long time to develop their confidence and academic skills.  Don’t give up on them, they already gave up on themselves—they need you the most!


Desk Warmers are my biggest pet peeve as a teacher, I do not allow students to stay in my class just warming up their desks.  As soon as I get that red alert, I take action.  If multiple students start lowering in their seats with heavy eyelids I know that I need to change things up in the classroom and turn the activity into a group interaction or get them moving in some way.  It is one student in particular, I need to talk to that student to see what is going on.  It is important not to assume that the Desk Warmer is being defiant.  I always ask the student if they are ok first in a sincere tone of voice.  Often just having a person that is caring talk to them in enough.  Having strong relationships with your students is important, but they do not develop overnight.  If you ask a student “What is wrong?” they might not feel comfortable telling your, but the fact that you asked is helping to develop that relationship further.  Don’t stop asking in the future just because they didn’t want to talk today---eventually they may feel comfortable enough and started to trust you enough to let you in. 


So, the next time your teacher senses start tingling, before your jump into action (and possibly jump to conclusions) dig a little deeper so you can respond more effectively.  That Desk Warmer in front of you might need your guidance to adjust their schedule to get more sleep, might need to go to the nurse, might need to get more involved, or might need to be more encouraged.  In any case, the Desk Warmers need you.

Monday, March 30, 2015

My Two Cents on the Book From Staff Room to Classroom: A Guide for Planning and Coaching Professional Development

My Two Cents

A question that I had on my mind right now as I am getting settled in my new role of staff developer is how to impact professional development so that the teachers go back to their classrooms and implement the strategies that are taught.  The book, From Staff Room to Classroom:  A Guide for Planning and CoachingProfessional Development, by Robin Fogarty and Brian Pete, is a good start to delving into the depths of my question.  At times the information is a bit obvious, like many of the “revelations” about adult learners.  It is also a bit repetitive as it goes on to review several researchers who have similar conclusions.  Overall, there are some valuable ideas about planning and implementing professional development that can change what teachers do in the classroom and impact student achievement, written in very reader-friendly language and a very manageable length (155 pages).  Perhaps the most important idea is the necessity of on-site coaching to the professional development model.  Coaching is often thought of as an induction tool to train new teachers or as an intervention for struggling teachers, not as an integral step for transferring skills from the staff room to the classroom.  A tool I plan in using in my trainings to facilitate transfer is the “Transfer Window” coupled with the “Tiny Transfer Book”, both described briefly in the book.  I am also going to put my own spin on the Levels of Transfer as a way of helping demystify teachers of their own process of applying their learning to their  classrooms. I have summed up some the main ideas of the book below.

Nuggets of Wisdom from the Book

The book begins by describing the change process and why change is so hard.  Contrary to popular belief, a change in practice must come first, then a change in achievement, and finally a change in belief.  In other words, teachers must see the effectiveness of the strategy to change their beliefs and professional development must focus on a change in practice

Any learning that requires a complex process or shift in mindset needs longer term coaching.

There are three stages of changeInitiation (introducing the innovation) , Implementation (applying the innovation to practice), and Institutionalization (monitoring the continued use of the innovation)

Findings about the adult learner include the following:
Control of learning, Immediate utility, Focus on issues that concern them, Test learning as they go, Anticipate how they will use their learning, Expect performance improvement, Maximize available resources, Require collaborative, respectful, mutual, and informal climate, Information must be logically and appropriately organized and paced

The “Cast of Characters” in a professional development training often include the following:
Caretaker, Know-It-All, Hitchhiker, Devil’s Advocate, Omnivore, Inquisitor, Negotiator, Overachiever, Politician, Sage, Clown
Designing a workshop requires the individual to be a designer, organizer, artist, performer, and critic.
A presentation must capture the attention of the audience, keep them captivated, and have a strong closing.

A facilitator helps participants process the information cognitively by making good use of whole group interactions (Questions, Human Graph, People Search, Partner Interview), small group interactions (Turn to Your Partner, Think Pair Share, Trios, Quads), and individual endeavors (required participation on a clear product and reflection).

Participants must also engage in affective processing (Plus/Minus/Interesting Chart, I Appreciate.., and metacognitive processing (Ah Ha/Oh No, How does this connect with what you already know?  How can you use it in the future?)

There must be an emphasis on transfer to the classroom (Take Away Window, Tiny Transfer Book)
Coaching is necessary for full implementation of a strategy.  Coaches can be “expert” content area coaches or peer coaches.  Coaching should be a mandatory component of any professional development in which the expectation is transfer of the strategy to the classroom.

There are 7 transfer strategies:  1.  Learn about transfer theory 2.  Set expectation for transfer 3.  Model with authentic artifacts 4. Reflect on levels of transfer 5. Plan applications 6. Try something immediately 7. Dialogue about the process (here is where the coaching comes into play)

Transfer theory:  Two types of transfer-Simple transfer is very similar to the original learning while Complex transfer requires mindful consideration of how to use in a new context and needs “bridging”

Levels of transfer:  Ollie Head in the Sand Ostrich—overlooks the opportunity to use the new idea. Dan the Drilling Woodpecker—duplicates strategy exactly as it was learned (often these teachers ask for an extra copy of a handout), Laura the Look a Like Penguin—replicates the learning by tailoring it just slightly, Jonathan Livingston the Seagull—integrates the learning into existing bag of tricks, Cathy the Carrier Pigeon—maps (propagates) the idea intentionally, Sam the Soaring Eagle—innovates and invents applications for the idea.

There are four necessary components to a workshop that are of equal importance:  Theory, Demonstration, Practice, and Coaching

Professional Learning Communities are an essential structure by which professional development can occur.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Most Important Ingredient for Change in Education Part 2

The  Most Important Ingredient for Change in Education Part 2

In this post I discuss the facets of Dweck’s Mindset Theory as I explain it to my middle schoolers and share some resources that you can use to introduce it in your classroom!  You may want to read Part 1 explains the theory and rational  before you move on to Part 2. 

The facets of Mindset, according to Dweck’s theory are as follows: 

Intelligence and talent remain pretty much the same VS Intelligence and talent can be grown and developed

Challenges are to be avoided VS Challenges should be sought out

Effort is fruitless VS Effort is necessary for mastery

Criticism is ignored VS Criticism is used for improvement

Success of others is viewed as a threat VS Success of others are used as role models

You can see Dweck explaining her theory here.  

In my middle school classroom I follow up the lesson in Part 1 with the explanation below as students self assess each of the facets, analyze their “fail” that they discussed with the class,  and discover their strengths and weaknesses. 

Intelligence and talent remain pretty much the same VS Intelligence and talent can be grown and developed

How many of you have ever said “I am just not a math person” or “I am just horrible with directions”?  Those are examples of fixed mindset thinking where it is believed that your intelligence and talent remain pretty much the same throughout your lifetime.  If you don’t think you can change, you won’t and you really won’t ever be a “math person” or “good with directions”.  If you believe that you can grow and develop then you are more likely to reach your goals.  Oh, and those of you who still don’t think you can change you talent or intelligence, brain science has proved you wrong!  Researchers tell us that the synapses, the connections in our brain that help us to think better, grow throughout our lifetime.  The more do and learn, the more connections you make and the smarter you become.  So that means you can teach an old dog new tricks!

Challenges are to be avoided VS Challenges should be sought out

In high school I had a friend who told me that he was amazing at basketball and couldn’t wait for me to see him play.  I finally came to see him play in his community.  Instead of the regulation height hoops, these looked like the ones you would see at an elementary school.  I though that was strange, especially since he was 6’3!  It was even stranger when his opponents that he was playing with really did look like they were in elementary school!  I covered my eyes out of embarrassment for him when he dunked on one of the fifth graders and cheered himself on.  Clearly he didn’t have much of a challenge against these opponents. 

On the other hand, World Class soccer player, Mia Hamm did just the opposite.  She played with the older boys in her neighborhood and that helped her to become the star she is today.  Sometimes coaches have their players “play up” by going up to the next division to help them advance their game.  What does that have to do with school?  In high school you can “play up” by  taking  challenges in school like honors and advanced placement classes.  You can choose a more challenging science project instead of an easier one.  You can challenge yourself go for all A’s instead of being satisfied with C’s.

Effort is fruitless VS Effort is necessary for mastery

Let me know when you know this famous athlete.  When in the 9th grade, he was cut from the freshmen basketball team.  After that, he worked hard to make it on the team and eventually become an NBA player, probably the best ever.  He also tried his hand at baseball and dabbled as an actor.  In case you still don’t know, a lot of you are wearing his shoes.  Many people think that Michael Jordan could probably skip every practice and just show up at the games because, well, he is Michael Jordan!  Actually, Jordan had the reputation for being first in training sessions and last one out---his hard work is what MADE him the Michael Jordan we now today and not the reject from the freshman team. 

Scientists have a term for this illusion.  It is called the Floating Duck Syndrome and was coined by researchers at Harvard.  Imagine if you will, a duck floating on a lake.  It seems to float so peacefully and naturally on the water, but what we don’t see is all of the work that goes on underneath.  The duck is actually moving his flippers vigorously just to stay above water (readers miss seeing me make a fool of myself by moving my arms in a modified breast stroke).   So, what in the world does a duck have to do with school?  That’s right, that smart kid who just seems to know all of the answers does a lot of work to stay above the water, I mean stay at the head of the class.  You can be the “smart kid” too, if you are willing to do the work.

Criticism is ignored VS Criticism is used for improvement

Does this situation sound familiar?  You work hard on an essay in Language Arts class, get it back with a bunch of red, purple, or green words on it with a big C- (or worse!) on it, and toss it in the garbage.  Well, you just missed out on a valuable opportunity to learn.  Your teacher didn’t write on your paper to make you feel bad, but to help you improve.  Kind of like what Dad did when he pointed out the A-, he wanted me to improve to be the best I could be.  The students who have an 99% and want to know why they got that one question wrong, have the right idea.  Always listen closely when a teacher goes over a test so you understand how to do better next time. 

Success of others is viewed as a threat VS Success of others are used as role models

Ok, how many of you are secret “haters”?  Don’t look at me all crazy!  I know that some of you secretly get jealous when a friend does better than you on a test or makes the team while you got cut.  Some of you aren’t all that secret about it either, shouting our “Nerd!” or trying to sabotage someone.  Instead of focusing your energy on jealousy, focus it on your improvement.  Really look to the success of others to see what you can learn.  It is said that you learn a lot from mistakes, but you can also learn a lot from successes.  Make them your secret role models.  I have many people that I consider role models, from our principal, to other teachers, and of course my parents.  Surround yourself with positive role models.  You are who you hang out with—your momma is right!

Resources for teaching your students about Mindset

Larry Ferlazzo has an extensive list of resources on the internet for teaching students about Mindset here.  I highly recommend that you read his blog! Go there immediately!  
You can see the powerpoint that I use with this explanation here!

In the next post I will discuss the importance of teachers having a Growth Mindset and why it is an important leverage point for educational change.