As an educator I have always enjoyed the fresh start of a new year. I’d spend time highlighting things that worked and I’d make notes on what I’d like to change. One great resource to support you in this is your building instructional coach(es).
Below are five ways teachers in the Rochester Public Schools are using instructional coaches to support their own professional development and growth.
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You Pick 2
We all have those students that we haven’t connected with yet. These may be students who need an additional challenge that you want to provide or students who are not yet engaged. They could also be students whose behavior may be getting in the way of their learning. Ask your coach to observe them in your room and in another setting and share the data they observed with you. They can also support you in creating a plan for how to get to know these students better or do some research on the supports other teachers may already have in place.
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Choose a lesson you want to revamp or remodel because it hasn’t gone the way you’ve wanted it to in the past. This may be a lesson that students always struggle with or a project where you’d like students to take more ownership. Meet with your coach to share what you’ve done in the past and what you are hoping to change. They can assist you in planning, resource gathering, and carrying the lesson out. For example, one teacher wanted to give students more ownership in her implementation of literature circles. She worked with her coach to create a plan that included more student voice and dialogue. Her coach helped in her planning and also supported her implementation of this model in the classroom.
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Culturally & Linguistically Responsive Teaching (CLRT) Strategies
As we are studying CLRT strategies your coach is a great resource for support with trying some new teaching techniques. Teachers at one of our schools are trying to implement discussion protocols in their classrooms to improve student voice, engagement and achievement. They are working with their coach to choose a discussion protocol, plan for implementing it, and then reflect on what worked and what they might change the next time they use the protocol in the classroom. An additional conversation is reflection on which students are being validated and affirmed with the various protocols.
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If you are being formally observed by an administrator this year your coaches can support you with a practice observation. Although coaches are not trained to score you on the CLASS tool like your administrators are, they can help you see where your strength and growth areas are. Conversation with your coach around the CLASS tool can also help strengthen your reflective conversation with your principal.
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The beginning of the new year is a great time to lay out a rough outline of what you’d like to accomplish in the upcoming months. Your coach could help you do some long-range planning and could assist you with the development of formative assessments or resource gathering. More lesson planning templates can be found on the Curriculum and Instruction website under teacher planning.
If you are interested in any of these options, reach out to your building's instructional coach(es) or special education coach. If you are not sure who this is, feel free to email me and I can connect you with the appropriate coach.
This post brought to you by Heather Willman, POSA overseeing Secondary Curriculum, Instructional Coaching, & Staff Development
When I was 15 years old, Drivers’ Education, for me, took place in a classroom and the parking lot of John Marshall High School. As I recall, we spent many class periods reading and talking about the act of driving a car. We had a simulator that arrived by truck and was parked in the parking lot for us to practice in before we were ready to take to the road.
Mr. Knipshield, Nipper as we called him, showed us movies, told us stories and had us read articles about driving. Along the way, he would give us quizzes to ensure that we were ready to pass our permit test so that we could graduate from the parking lot driving to the open road. My guess is that he would adjust his lessons based on what we still needed to know.For this portion of our learning, the permit test was the summative assessment. If we did not pass, we would be stuck in the parking lot.
As we were driving back and forth or in an oval in the parking lot, Nipper was talking to us over the radio in our cars. “Slow down, speed up, car #6-leave more space between you and the car in front of you.”
On the road, he was continually giving feedback and was even equipped with a brake in case of an emergency. We had to do our part, but we knew exactly what we needed to work on at all times.
So, what does this reminiscing have to do with classroom teaching? Everything. When we think of the power of formative assessment, it is incredible. Many educators argue that this is the most integral part of effective teaching. With regular formative assessments, both the student and the teacher know the next steps for teaching and learning. The student knows what they know and don’t know, and the teacher knows what to do next. By gathering this information, classrooms become less of a “string of activities” and more of a direction on a clear path.
As an assessment expert, Paul Black put it, “When the cook tastes the soup, that’s the formative assessment. When the customer tastes the soup, that’s a summative assessment.” One definition of formative assessment can be found here.
When I think of Nipper, he was continually individualizing our learning based on what we were doing at any given time. He would adjust our classroom lessons based on our quizzes, questions, and answer during class. He would adjust and give feedback on our behind-the-wheel lessons based on our driving performance. Depending on our need, he interacted with us differently. We all had the same goal in mind-passing the driving test! We just may have needed a different way of getting there.
In this article , there are 10 examples of formative assessments. By choosing the appropriate one for the situation, a teacher will be able to adjust instruction or practice to fit the needs of a learner or group of learners.
One conversation I have been a part of many times has to do with the time that it takes to give and analyze formative assessments. One thing I think about is the amount of time that may be spent preparing lessons that may or may not address the needs of the students. With formative assessments, our lesson planning time will be targeted and more efficient. When our goal is learning for all, knowing where my students are will help me know where to take them next.
As I think back to Mr. Knipshield and his many classes of 15-year-old adolescents, I am thankful that he gave us all the feedback that we needed along the way. We needed to learn and practice in many different ways in order to become road-worthy. I am also aware that my learning is ever present. I am now the one that is formally assessing my driving. After 37 years of driving, I still need to check myself to ensure that my practice is up to par. This is the highest level that we can hope for our students to attain; to internalize the process and using it through life. Check out this blog for a peek at how formative assessment and self-assessment go hand in hand. This topic just may appear in a future blog!
This post brought to you by Ann Miller, K-8 Math Specialist
Earlier this year I was asked to be a part of the Fine Arts Articulation Committee for the Rochester Public Schools. While I was intrigued by this opportunity, I was also very nervous as I didn’t feel very versed in this content area. The Fine Arts Articulation committee is assigned the task of looking at the current reality of the intended, implemented and attained curriculum in fine arts and to make recommendations for improvements for the future. This committee has subdivided to look more closely into the areas of music and art. I was assigned to the art committee.
During my years as a primary teacher in the classroom, I had always taken my students down the hall one day out of every six-day cycle to get their 40 minutes of art instruction from their certified art teacher. Then I happily went back to my classroom, so glad it was an art day because prep-time was ten minutes longer on art days than any of the other specials’ classes. (Just as a side note, I have learned from talking to my art teacher friends not to say to the art teacher, “Yeah, its art day!” Because they know it’s not that you are excited about art, or that you are happy to see them, it is really about the extra prep minutes.) They are understanding, but it’s better to say, “It’s so great to see you today.” Many of our art teachers travel between buildings and a friendly greeting at the different sites goes a long way in making them feel valued and appreciated. (It is still ok to be happy about extra prep time though.)
In my own classroom, there was a little of what I thought was art taking place. Now I would categorize it seasonal stuff to decorate the walls in and outside the classroom. While at the time, I thought these Pinterest variety snowmen, penguins, pumpkin vines and floral faces were adorable, looking back I realize they all kind of looked alike and did not allow for much individualization or creativity. As I am now coming to better understand, it is allowing the space for individuality and creativity, not the ability to follow step-by-step directions that has an enormous impact on our students in a multitude of ways. By watching the video below, you will see what I mean.
The December2018/January 2019 Educational Leadership publication is dedicated to the Arts and Creativity in Schools. In his opening article Arts Education Today: Mission Critical, EL Editor & Chief Anthony Rebora makes a case that arts and related practices in schools can deepen and humanize learning and give students new ways of thinking and processing information. Many of the articles stress that art is not just for the art classroom. There are many reasons why it is important to foster creativity through the arts by integrating it into all subject areas. The creative process helps with developing problem-solving skills, critical thinking and gives students new ways of thinking and processing information. The study and participation in artistic endeavors also foster connections to communities and cultures, self-awareness and expression, deeper learning and stress relief.
Sylvia Duckworth, author of Sketchnotes for Educators, created the followingsketchnote listing 12 benefits of creativity. Sir Ken Robinson, in his TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?,” added his thoughts on the subjects.
Knowing how critical these skills are, here are some ways to integrate art and creativity into your classroom.
1. Collaborate with your art teachers.
Take some time to collaborate with your art teachers. Talk with them about your upcoming units of study. They have a wealth of information and can offer great ideas for ways that students can express their learning artistically. If they have the time and flexibility they may even partner with you on an integrated project.
2. Allow students to explain their thoughts, ideas, and feelings through different artistic mediums.
Art can be so powerful when it allows students to communicate their learning if writing is challenging for them. Especially beneficial for those learning English and students with special needs, but also valuable for all students. Students will be able to develop vocabulary, grammar, and writing based on their art. Visuals also help students better understand written words by providing more context, thus helping them connect meaningful input to a particular topic or text. The work provides evidence of learning in a more fun and engaging way.
3. Create time and space in your classroom for free creative expression.Time and space are always at a premium in educational classrooms, but allowing even a small amount of both to provide students with the opportunity to design, engineer, follow their own imaginations and create what they think is beautiful will have large returns. Creating a classroom or school-wide Makerspaces is one way to provide students with space and materials to experiment in what interests them. Curious about Classroom Makerspaces? Here’s how to get started as taught by Angela Watson.
4. Be purposeful in teaching how art relates to other subjects.When teaching other content areas to be explicit in pointing out how art is interconnected. Examples include: math (geometry, shapes, measuring), life science (the changing colors, shapes, patterns, designs in the living organisms around us) social studies (history and cultures explored through paintings, photographs and artifacts) English Language Arts (read and write about famous artists, works of art, and history of art, study the meaning in illustrations as well as text)
5. Take a risk in allowing your own creativity and artistic expression to shine through. In his article Taking Beautiful Risks in Education Ronald A. Geghetto says, “The greatest barrier to fostering creativity in the classroom is often ourselves.” Don’t be afraid to explore new territories, take risks, and make mistakes. The possibilities for you and your students are only limited to your own imagination. When we model creativity, innovation, and vulnerability our students are more willing to take risks as well.
Reflecting on where my art journey has taken me, I now know it is so important to see art as more than just a forty-minute class students go to on art day, but rather a way teachers can empower students to be innovators, risk takers, and global citizens every day. I would like to thank all the artistic educators who have known this all along and are helping others along this path.
Resources to Inspire the Arts and Creativity
This post brought to you by Julie Ace, Elementary Implementation Associate
Educational Leadership December 2018/January 2019 Vol. 76 No 4 www.ascd.org
Originally posted on the Secondary C&I website on 9/28/2018
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
It is this understanding that I wish for my son, a seventh-grade student, as he embarks on his first U.S. History learning-journey this year. I envision for him, a twelve-year-old who loves social studies, a deeper and more meaningful understanding of our country and how and why it was formed. I never dreamed, however, that I would spend two nights and two mornings using note cards to help my son memorize the Preamble. Furthermore, I’ve been struggling to understand the purpose of this requirement.
Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, in their book The Purposeful Classroom: How to Structure Lessons with Learning Goals in Mind talk at length about the importance of establishing a purpose for yourself as the teacher and for your students, and that instruction and learning should be focused on learning targets rather than tasks. Memorizing the Preamble, to me, seems like a task; whereas, understanding what the Preamble represents and means to us as Americans seems more like a learning target.
My fear, for my son, is that the task of memorizing the Preamble will lead only to a surface-level understanding and it runs the risk of disengaging kids like my son who thrives on learning through understanding. Yana Weinstein, in her blog entry “Memorizing versus Understanding” points out, “using a deep [learning] approach, a student has the intention to understand. Information may be remembered, but this is viewed as an almost unintentional by-product.” This is the type of learning I wish for both of my children: learning through understanding, rather than by memory.
In just under two years my son will have the opportunity to visit Washington D.C. and I hope that when he does he is able to take the values and ideas presented in the Preamble (and the entire Constitution for that matter) and make them come to life as he experiences our nation’s capital. And, when that time comes and he’s touring a national monument or walking down the national mall, should there be a sudden need for the exact wording of the Preamble, I hope he is able to successfully search the internet for this:
Please, know I do not intend to minimize the importance of memory in the learning process, but we must recognize there is a fundamental difference between memorizing something and learning it. Where memorization limits student learning to word-for-word recall and limits the ability to generate insight or see the relevance, targeting understanding in our teaching and learning leads to unique and individual insights, deduction and induction, application, comparison, and connections (all things we can find embedded into the RPS Graduate Profile!).
If you would like specific ideas for how to increase student understanding, replacing memorization-focused activities with those that increase students' learning-by-understanding, please reach out to your instructional coach or one of us here at C&I.
This post brought to you by Brandon Macrafic, POSA focusing on Career & College Readiness and administrator at CTECH
One of my husband’s all-time favorite movies is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. This is an iconic movie from the 1980s in which a teenager skips school for the day and the audience is treated to watching his escapades all around the city of Chicago. If you have never had the privilege of watching this movie, I highly recommend taking the time to do so. In this film, there is an economics teacher, played by Ben Stein, who delivers a hilariously painful lesson to a class of students. The clip is below for your reference.
Although hilarious, it is also a painful reminder to me of some of the less than fantastic teaching I myself have delivered to students. Lessons that were all me, and no them. My voice and only my voice. The expectation that students were learning just because I was teaching. While I’d like to believe that at no point I was EVER as bad as the teacher in this clip, it always reminds me what students experience when a lesson is teacher driven.
Three components of student achievement in the Rochester Public Schools Graduate Profile are critical thinkers, skilled communicators, and effective collaborators. In teacher driven lessons, these components can be hard to come by. So how can we adapt our lessons to be a lot more of them, and lot less of us? Here are some ways to bring more student voice into the classroom.
Ask More Questions
There are many components to asking questions that will bring about a great deal of student talk. These are just a few of the ways that questions can transform a lesson.
1. Ask Authentic questions - Are we asking questions that simply “test” whether our students can produce an answer we already have in mind? Or are we asking questions meant to gain access to our students’ thinking or perspective? Ask students “authentic” questions where you as the teacher are truly curious how the student will respond. Typically these types of questions open-ended, and empower students to join their classmates in a line of inquiry in which the answer is not already known or owned by the teacher.
2. Play a little volleyball - Are you responding to every student comment, or are students responding to and interacting with their peers’ contributions to the conversation? Students are used to seeing their teachers as the experts in the room and are in the habit of trying to guess what the teacher wants in a response. Instead of responding yourself to student questions, volley the questions back and encourage them to evaluate, respond to, and extend their classmates’ contributions. Offering a range of sentence starters (“I heard my classmate say…”, “I agree because…”) on a poster or cheat-sheet can help students build this habit.
3. Try not to ask rhetorical questions – The same can be said for “yes/no” and “agree/disagree” questions. Students are often unmotivated to answer such questions for a couple of reasons; a) they know that we know the answers to the questions we ask so there is no reason to tell us what we already know, and b) they realize that we are in search of the one and only one correct response so there is a high probability that they may give the “wrong” answer.
4. Pose either/or questions - “Should we use additional or multiplication to solve this problem?” “Is a square or a rectangle a better base to support a structure?” “Would it be better to be a farmer in Minnesota or Wisconsin?” By posing questions that have no right or wrong answer but instead can be decided based on knowledge of the question, students are engaged in sharing what they know about a particular topic but may also have their thinking challenged by what another student knows and shares.
Turn Over the Learning
This can be a challenge because it involves letting go of always being in strict control over what is happening during a lesson. If this type of thinking challenges you, here are some baby steps to take towards making this happen.
1. Don’t Steal the Struggle - It can be uncomfortable to watch kids struggle, but they need time and silence to work through it. Resist the urge to talk students through every step of a problem and instead just observe. Letting kids think instead of rushing in to narrate or question builds anticipation around what’s going to be said next and increases participation as more kids are prepared to move into the conversation.
2. Move from the Front of the Classroom - Try occasionally sitting on the side of the classroom or in an absent student’s desk and say, “I need someone to go up and demonstrate ___ for us.” Because students are used to the person at the front facilitating the lesson, they are likely to talk for much longer than if you stay at the front and they’re in their seats answering you. You can even remain sitting among the class once the student is done demonstrating and ask follow up questions from other students instead of commenting on the students’ demo yourself.
3. Get Student Input – Take notice of moments when you summarize or review for students and instead practice making those moments a chance for kids to share: What’s the rule about this? Who can sum this section up for us? Who remembers the way to determine ___? Some teachers even turn these moments into interactive activities, where the whole class does a hand motion, body movement, sound, or chant to indicate that they’re summarizing an idea or reviewing directions before getting started.
Differ Your Discussion Formats
Small group discussion is a way for teachers can facilitate quick small group collaborative conversation during class and provide immediate opportunities for students to verbally process their learning. Here are two different small groups discussion strategies to try.
1. Idea interchange – Designate “idea interchange” locations around the room that kids will be able to break into groups of three to five students each. In each location, post a different question or discussion topic related to the lesson. Assign students to groups, and have the groups move around the room together to discuss each question, jotting down notes individually or as a group as they rotate. Set a time limit for each idea interchange location depending on the age of the students and the topic. Students can move through all the locations on the same day or over multiple days.
2. Revolving discussion - Students form two circles, with one inside the other—the students in the inner circle face a partner in the outer circle. Then, pose a question that is open-ended and requires critical thinking. Students spend one to three minutes (depending on topic and age) discussing the question with their partner. When you call time, students rotate so that they are facing a new partner, and they discuss the same question. At this point, depending on the complexity of the question and the age of the students, students can rotate to another partner and continue discussing the same question or be given a new question to discuss.
Whole class discussion is a great way to get everyone involved in one topic at one time. There are numerous different ways to conduct these kinds of interactions. Here are three to get you started.
1. Seminar - This discussion is designed to allow students the freedom to share ideas and questions with each other by discussing without raising their hands. In practice, when students are learning the strategy it is helpful to begin by having them raise their hands and transition over time to free discussion.
2. Summit - This discussion is designed to encourage collaboration and problem solving as students generate ideas and come to a consensus. Students are given an open-ended question or problem to solve. They share out ideas and, through critical discussion in a seminar format, decide together which ideas are best supported by evidence and agreed upon by the majority of their classmates. They then come to a consensus to present to the teacher. This strategy works best after students have some experience participating in the seminar format. If more scaffolding is needed, students can practice in smaller groups before working as an entire class.
3. Debate - This discussion is designed to have students use facts to support their opinions and engage in civil discourse with their peers. Before a debate, students are assigned a side to argue for, and they research both sides and gather facts to support their ideas. A debate can be structured so that students freely share their arguments and counterarguments and then ask questions, or it can be structured as a round robin, in which each member of the class is given two minutes to talk. Alternate between the two sides until everyone in the class has spoken. During their turn, students can choose to bring up their own point or provide a counterargument to the person who went before them.
These are the types of strategies that turn our students into critical thinkers, skilled communicators, and effective collaborators. By turning off our own voices, we raise up those of our students. By implementing these ideas into our teaching, we can save ourselves from being and our students from listening to the Ferris Bueller teachers of the world.
This post brought to you by Rebecca Mecikalski, Elementary Implementation Associate
Earlier this week, an article from EdWeek came across my desktop, titled “Learning Styles Aren’t a Reliable Way to Categorize Students, Study Says.” As someone who has lived in the world of education research, I giggled a little to myself and mumbled something along the lines of, File that in the ‘old news’ folder. Researchers have long suspected that grouping students into “learning styles” and tailoring our instruction to their particular strengths is not as effective as we once believed. I mused on how I used to survey my students and their parents to get an idea of how I should group my young learners into Gardner’s multiple intelligences and how I planned all sorts of learning activities so each group of students could shine in their particular “intelligence.” I smiled and felt a wave of nostalgia for early-career-Kim and prepared to move on to the next thing on my to do list for the day.
And then I had an AHA! moment: perhaps learning styles are not completely bogus, but more likely, we haven’t looked at them through a cultural lens.
When it comes to students like Fazia, how often do we ask ourselves why a particular student is a verbal learner?
Furthermore, critiques of a hyper-focus on learning styles point out that we tend to focus on what a student is good at and rarely push them to develop other skills. How do we, instead, intentionally teach students to practice those styles that are perhaps out of their comfort zone, but necessary for academic and real-world success? In the case of Fazia, what skills does she need to grow to be successful in settings where verbality isn’t appreciated, like in her second hour class?
As I wandered into the rabbit hole of research on this topic, I found so many articles and studies. (If you want to have a few cups of coffee and talk about it all, give me a call! This stuff is my jam!) But, then I came back to the foundations of the work we are doing with Dr. Hollie. He explains, “Notably, the teacher has to know what is cultural and what is not. Fortunately, research provides ample data…about the commonly accepted cultural behaviors of many underserved students” (103). The chart below helps illustrate those particular behaviors.**
The roots of Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching (CLR) lie in the recognition and validation of our cultural behaviors and how they impact our learning and teaching. Sure, we are learning all sorts of protocols and skills so we can be intentional and proactive in our responsiveness. But, as Hollie states in the intro to his book, Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning (2018), “CLR is not something you do but something that you have in all that you do.” CLR calls on us to recognize our students as cultural beings and to provide instructional strategies that meet those cultural needs.
Yet, we don’t stop there. This work recognizes the importance of teaching all students in all styles so they can practice modes of learning that may not be as comfortable for them, but that they will need to be successful in both the classroom and the world beyond the classroom walls. The power of this work lies in our intentionality and the moments when we see our students as bearers of cultures that may not be validated in traditional school culture. When we come up against those moments of struggles and can say to our students, “I see you and I honor you, and I care about you enough to give you the tools you need to be successful.”
And so, as we continue on our CLR journey, we continue to ask ourselves the following questions:
If you have any questions or want to talk more about how culture impacts students’ learning, give me call or email me!
This post brought to you by Kim Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
* This student is a fictionalized version of students we might see in our classrooms each day.
** I want to acknowledge that culture is much more fluid than this particular chart shows, and there is a mountain of research on various ways to consider this fluidity, but for our purposes here, it is helpful to consider cultural behavior in this simplified way.
Let’s talk about worksheets. Before we get started let’s quickly talk about the definition of a worksheet. For some teachers, a worksheet can mean any piece of paper that we put in front our students and for others, it might be something to keep our students “busy” like a crossword puzzle or coloring and labeling sheet. Not all paper that we give our students is “bad”. We might print off a graphic organizer to help our students organize their thoughts as they read through a book or as they organize their thoughts before writing. You might need your students to record their observations through scientific observation. There are definitely times in the day when our students need independent practice and when we need to give a quick assessment of what our students know. Not all worksheets are created equal. However, here as some things that we know about giving too many worksheets to our students.
First, worksheets do not teach. You may decide to give students a short formative assessment to check their understanding but remember that a worksheet is not the teaching, it is the practice. Second, many of our students are hands-on learners and although they also need practice there are many other ways for students to show us what they know without filling out a worksheet. We know that many students show us what they know better through collaboration, discussion, and sharing. Thirdly, worksheets most of the time do not push our students to higher levels of thinking because most of them tend to lack the creativity and openness that requires our students to think outside of the box. And last but not least, over time the use of too many worksheets causes many of our students to lose interest and disengage.
So why do we give our students worksheets? One reason is that we need our students to have that independent practice. It could also be that we simply need our students to be doing something to fill the time while we are meeting in small groups or one on one. It can be a challenge for us to find meaningful work for our students during small group times of the day. So what do we do? Let’s start to think more about the purpose of the work and incorporate some simple ideas in classrooms to make this work time and practice time more meaningful for our students.
As you get started in thinking about the worksheets that you use. Here is a suggestion on where to start. Start with the “why”. Ask yourself “Why am I giving this worksheet?” Here are some things to consider when determining whether or not to use the worksheet:
If after you answer these questions, you determine that the work is, in fact, meaningful and purposeful then, by all means, continue on. If however, you determine that the work is not meaningful for your students, here are some alternative options for you as you move forward:
Jigsaw the Problems
There are times when a worksheet or practice sheet might be appropriate but students are not engaged. Consider breaking the worksheet apart among a group of students. It might look something like this: Take the worksheet or problems ahead of time and cut each problem into a separate slip of paper. Allow students to either self-select groups of five or place students into groups of five. Students would then take turns on each role below as each problem is solved.
Person 1: read the question or problem
Person 2: Rephrases the question or problem
Person 3: Responds with the answer or solution and explains their thought process
Person 4: Responds to person 3 by agreeing or disagreeing and explaining why
Person 5: Place the problems into an “agree” or “disagree” pile and pull the next problem to solve. This person becomes person 1 for the next problem.
Continue to shift the roles until the questions have been fully answered. The final step is to take all of the “disagree” problems/questions and to decide as a team how to best find the answer and/or come to a consensus on the correct answer.
This is a strategy that many of us have used in our own professional development. Why not use it with our students? Try covering your table with large butcher paper of any color and put markers on the middle of the table. Project the math problem or literacy topic up on the board in your classroom and have students complete the problems on butcher paper graffiti style. Encourage students to share their thinking and discuss the multiple ways that they have arrived at a solution. This allows students to write large if they need to and allows you to be able to check the students work easily by moving around the room. Just think about how changing out a worksheet for an activity like this will increase your students’ engagement.
Lines of Communication
Think speed-dating! Have your students stand/sit in two rows facing each other. Choose a question or problem from a worksheet and read it aloud or display it to the class. Giver your students time to answer and discuss their responses and reasoning with the person across from them. When their time is up, signal them to move one position to the right. Continue playing until students have discussed all the questions.
If you need your students to practice a specific skill or to show you what they have learned, try using technology to allow those students who would rather blog or vlog to explain and share their learning in different ways. Many of our classroom teachers have started using SeeSaw. If you are looking for other ways to incorporate technology into your lessons consider checking out these other platforms!
Remember, not all worksheets are created equal! If you are finding that your students are disengaged during their independent practice or during small group time, consider implementing a strategy above or perhaps you have some other great resources that weren’t listed above.
This post brought to you by Kate Palmquist, POSA overseeing Elementary Curriculum and Instructional Coaching
I have to admit, winter is not my favorite time of year. I love summer! I love being out on the water fishing, sitting on a deck, or basking in the glow of the warm sun. Those enjoyable moments are not as easy to do in the winter (by the way, even though I am from northern Minnesota, I am not a fan of ice fishing!).
On a brisk walk one abnormally cold, Sunday, November afternoon, I realized I don’t just like summer because of those lovely activities, but because I find myself able to stop, breathe, and take a few moments for myself away from school and teaching. Then I began to wonder, why don’t I stop, breathe, and take a few moments for myself during the school year? A recent conversation with a fellow teacher reminded me that as education speeds up, we keep trying to keep up. Why don’t we try to slow it down? How can we slow down during the school year? Here are some ideas that I am going to try in the next few months. I know that life is just going to get busier, so hopefully these will help me to stop, breathe, and slow things down.
Take a calming breath
According to the website The Best Brain Possible by Debbie Hampton, “your breath is your remote control to calm your brain and body”. Here is an effective breathing technique that slows oneself down.
Here is a 30-second video that is a great guide to a breathing technique.
Visualizing, sometimes known as guided imagery, is a great tool to add to the calming breath. Visualizing a place that brings you peace, even for a few moments, can help to re-center a person. According to MentalHealth.net, visualizing creates “an element of distraction which serves to redirect people’s attention away from what is stressing them and towards an alternative focus”. This can be especially helpful for assisting one’s sleep, so it is a well-spent five to 15 minutes prior to bedtime. My favorite imagery is sitting on my Dad’s boat, hearing a loon call, seeing the calm blue-green water and smelling the fresh scent of pine trees in the air. This image, along with the calming breaths, is a great way to slow down after a busy day.
If you need a place to start, you can try this video which is a guided imagery tour in a mountain forest.
Ask for Help
Anyone who knows me knows that asking for help is not one of my strong suits. I have found that it stems from expecting perfection of myself. However, this desire for perfection and lack of asking for help actually increases my stress. Asking for help and dividing large tasks between colleagues can make those stressful, large tasks seem much more manageable. Then it doesn’t just fall on one person to complete. Seek out colleagues with whom you feel comfortable asking for help and let them know you appreciate their assistance.
Know your limits
The old phrase of “just say no” applies here. As educators, we are dedicated to doing everything for our students and families. However, there comes a time when you need to know your limits and just say no to a new task or project. This simple word can be a huge stress-saver. Obviously, there are some tasks we must do, but there are other times I find myself adding things to my plate without realizing it. I have to remind myself that I can do a few things well, or many things poorly. Let something go, for now, and come back to it when you have more time to dedicate to it. Sometimes it isn’t “no”, but rather “just not now”.
Reflect on what makes you laugh or smile
According to the websiteThe Science Alert, researchers at the University of Maryland “have linked laughter to the healthy function of blood vessels – something that can lower your chance of heart attack”. Furthermore, the same researchers found that laughter could boost ones’ heart rate and the production of certain antibodies, which can strengthen ones’ immune system. Considering how it is quite easy to get run-down and sick in education (especially since those of us in the education field are exposed daily to many illnesses), couldn’t we all use a few more antibodies? Each day, I try to find one thing that a student does that will make me laugh and remind me why I love teaching. I sometimes even jot down the funny statements students say on a post-it note and stick it on my computer. That way, when I am stressed and feeling overwhelmed, I read that little statement, smile and remember why I love what I do!
In the next few months, as the winds blow colder, the snow falls heavier, the workload gets crazier, and my stress is high, I hope that these five simple stress-relieving techniques will help me to slow down and enjoy life more.
This post brought to you by Katie Miller, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
Originally posted on the Secondary C&I website on 10/11/2018
Has the cost of materials ever stopped you from doing what would otherwise be a great lesson? One that likely is interactive and incorporates problem-solving, critical thinking, and/or instructional dialogue skills?
According to an article in the New York Times (May 2018), “94% of public school teachers in the United States reported paying for supplies without reimbursement in the school year that straddled 2014 and 2015. The teachers who reported spending their own money on supplies shelled out $479 each on average, according to the survey. Seven percent reported spending more than $1,000.” Additionally, this National Public Radio (Dec. 2017) report echoed the findings, noting that this trend occurs in Minnesota as well, although here in our home state teachers reported topping out around $2,000--almost double NYT's findings.
There are a few ways teachers are creatively getting their hands on the supplies they need for their classrooms. One solution: teachers are using is Donors Choose. Another solution: teachers are applying for grants. While these are both great avenues to pursue, they can take a lot of time to get up and running and/or written, and once funds are maintained it can take a lot of time before the materials make it into the classroom. So, don’t let cost become a stumbling block in your teaching, especially since you have a resource right here in town that can help: STEM Village.
STEM Village is a free resource that allows any RPS teacher to check out thousands of dollars worth of materials that help promote critical thinking, instructional dialogue, and hands-on problem solving--just to name a few.
This resource, located at the Heinz Center, contains available materials that can provide you with hands-on, problem solving materials at no cost to you. STEM Village is Winona State University’s premier STEM related resource library, and it is stocked full with K-12 instructional and learning materials for use to schools and individual teachers. Comprehensive sets of the most current STEM learning modules that enhances STEM instruction, secures STEM inquiry, and promotes students' interconnectedness to science, technology, engineering, and math: these are all available to checkout. Plus, there is also a lending library of books for teachers to use.
If you're not a teacher of science or math, know that there are resources for you as well. Below, check out how even ELA and social studies teachers are utilizing such materials:
See what is available for checkout via one of these three options:
Additionally, we've some features coming soon to STEM Village that will make it even more convenient for teachers:
If you have any questions or would like to brainstorm ways to utilize these materials available at STEM Village, please contact me.
We can not wait to see you at STEM Village! And, more importantly, we can’t wait to see your students problem-solving, collaborating, and growing their Twenty-First Century Skills!
This post brought to you by Jen Coenen, Secondary Implementation Associate and STEM Village Director
As I am writing this, there is a new blanket of fresh snow on the ground. This can only mean one thing: winter is coming and with it, all the warm and fuzzy feelings I hold about the upcoming holidays are coming. I take time to reflect on what I am thankful for, make space to gather my enormous family, and look forward to the new year ahead.
As an educator I also feel the weight of the holidays and the responsibility I have to consider that others around me may not celebrate the same ways I do.
It's probably not a surprise to those who know me that I have always been interested in world cultures. I wanted to learn all the languages and travel all the places and meet all the people. That’s probably one of the reasons why I became a teacher. When I began my journey as an educator, I was ravenous for information about the different cultures of my students. I believed that if I knew all I could know about their home cultures, I could be the best teacher I could be for them.
However, the more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew! I don’t have to tell you how quickly I became overwhelmed and hopeless. I was convinced that I would offend someone if I said or did the wrong thing because I couldn’t possibly know it all. This fear led me to nervously gloss over questions students would ask or cobble together some half-truth from the bits of knowledge I had. The fear I had that I would be thought incompetent kept me from truly honoring the curiosity of my students. It certainly wasn’t that I didn’t care--I was simply not equipped. That is, until I encountered the notion of cultural humility.
Cultural Humility is a philosophical approach that pushes us to continually challenge our own biases or previously held beliefs, knowing we can not possibly ever know all there is to know about cultures other than our own. It is different from the notion of Cultural Competency, which suggests that by studying a culture we can know all we need to know in order to provide support to our marginalized students. Cultural Humility rather calls on us to examine power imbalances and work to fix them while developing partnerships with those who can advocate for greater systemic change. In other words, it is about lifelong learning and being comfortable with saying, “I don’t know, but I will find out!” It’s considering new understandings, not wallowing in the embarrassment of, “I never knew that,” and striving to rethink the old ways of doing things.
Cultural humility is a motivating force behind the work we are doing in Curriculum and Instruction here in RPS. We know that the myths we’ve been told are not accurate and we know our students--all of our students--deserve better. It is our desire to do better that guides us as we work closely with our American Indian Liaison, Dawn Bjoraker, and our American Indian Parent Committee to improve the way we teach about those who are Indigenous to this land. We have much work to do, but it is with a sense of cultural humility, that we move forward, striving to honor the experiences of our American Indian students and families.
As the snow continues to fall and Thanksgiving approaches, many may be wondering how to best approach the holiday with our students. Luckily, we have some wonderful resources available through our media specialists. I’ve included some links to check out. Also, below is a short video that highlights some ways we can begin to take a new look at the way we teach the upcoming holiday.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to say I don’t know, but then don’t stop there--work with your students to find the answers. Ask questions, reach out to families, call on the expertise of others, and never stop learning!
This post brought to you by Kim Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
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