Yesterday I was out of the building. Like many teachers, I hate missing school because we lose the day of instruction; and with a block schedule, that can lead to large gaps in the learning process. After being out of the building yesterday, I returned this morning to a simple two sentence note from a substitute. It read, "Students worked the whole block. They are really into their projects."
I know this class well and it isn't a stretch to say they are among the best music appreciation classes I have ever taught. They are insightful, committed to their work, and they continue to demonstrate a vested interest in the art of music. What is interesting to me is the contrast between who this class is today and who this class is on day 1 each year.
Every Year Starts the same
My first activity each year is called "State Your Purpose." In this activity, students explain their reason for signing up for Music Appreciation in 1 tweet, about 280 characters. Many don't even use 100 to get their point across. I tend to get a few outliers, but the common thread of answers essentially read something like "I don't sing, I don't play an instrument, and I can't draw but I need to graduate high school."
While I have come to expect this answer over the years, I must say it always stings a bit to have students who are just not that interested in my subject area. I know that every teacher in the building can relate to that. However, we are still charged with the task of maintaining an orderly class, progressing every student through a curricular program and assessing their progress.
So who are these self-motivated learners?
Why do i care?
So the sub left a good note; the class did what they were supposed to do; why does that matter? It matters because I am watching the effects of positive learning experiences play out each day in my class. I am watching the development of student efficacy and executive functioning skills as students navigate a classroom environment that relies on them, not me.
What do I do with my time if I'm not running the show? I talk to kids, I evaluate their work individually, and I provide targeted feedback on their performance to help move them forward. I know that this isn't a brand new concept. Problem-based learning has been around for decades, but the LATIC framework gave me a structure to employ tools, strategies, and ideas that I have been reading about for years.
In short, learning took place in my absence and I can't wait to facilitate my next block and see what the students have built. It's fun changing the perception of my content area in this class because many of the students thought it was "going to be boring." In the long run, by creating challenging and relevant educational exercises, I am ensuring that my job as a teacher is necessary and essential. No modern machine can target feedback to an individual the way I can. I know my learners and how to meet their needs because putting the students in charge has freed me up to know them better.
Reading is a must!
When it comes to applicable cross-curricular skills, reading is at the top of the list. Beyond the walls of the school, reading is an absolute necessity for leading a healthy and productive life. While reading and literacy are regularly represented as ELA skills, they permeate every discipline in an important way.
Literacy simply defines the ability to read and write.As content specialists, much of our time is spent trying to make students literate in our area of expertise. Many of us are presenting daily tasks that require students to write about the content area. Math uses practice exercises that require one to read an expression and follow a series of written steps to solve the equation. Thus, a student must be able to read and write using math specific language; this is math literacy. Science is based on research and a desire to investigate the world around us. This research is published and built upon through decades and centuries. Students read and engage in experiments that will prove or disprove a hypothesis; then, students will reflect upon their findings using science terminology. Once again, this is literacy.
The same arguments can be made for every subject area in the building and this is why it is important to consider how teachers are implementing opportunities to read in every content area.
Creating a Meaningful class reading experience
Many classes use current events as a basic reading assignment. Maybe it is time to think about how we can make them more meaningful to students. Reciprocal Teaching is a tried and true group reading strategy to ensure students are reading for understanding and depth.
Teaching these skills can give you A 2:1 effect
It is very possible that a student could define their assigned role and be unable to facilitate the role correctly in this practice. Before you complete a full reciprocal teaching exercise, I would advise the teacher to complete at least one reading through each of the four lenses. In other words, take a class reading and practice summarizing as a group. For the next reading, everyone in the class is going to play the role of the questioner and progress through the reading sections with that mindset. In theory, that would prepare your class to attempt a reciprocal teaching reading for the fifth in class reading.
Why does this matter? Research concludes that Reciprocal Teaching can have a 2:1 effect on student achievement. That is reason enough to try for me. As always, the iCoaches are here to help if you want to learn more about this or other literacy strategies. Email icoachMK@mhrd.org to set up an appointment!
Our First student perspective
Episode #5 of the Morris Knolls Minute features Mrs. Emma Jean Evans and five of our terrific students from the Gifted and Talented program. While I have taught a handful of GT students in my time at Knolls, it was wonderful to gain a new perspective on this unique program.
This is also our first episode to feature a student perspective. So far this year, I have tried to keep the episodes to around 15 minutes, but I felt each of the students had a unique take on the program and I wanted to make sure to showcase their insightful view on what it means to be a Gifted and Talented student. For this reason, Episode five runs about 10 minutes longer, but I think you will enjoy it.
Whether you are considering becoming a GT mentor for the first time or this is a regular part of your educational practice, I encourage you to really listen to what these students have to say about their projects. It is a meaningful experience to take control of one's own learning and many of these students are doing it for the first time in this program.
If you have any questions about the GT program or the mentor/application process, please reach out to Mrs. Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy New Year Morris Knolls!
Every new year brings a season of contemplation about last year's successes and failures. While it is easy to zero in on our faults, we should always spend time reflecting on all of the positive impacts we have made as teachers. With the new year upon us, goal setting is in full swing throughout our society. Whether you are focused on personal goals or career goals, there are a number of ways to put your goals into action.
One of the more common strategies for student goals is the SMART goals process. This method has caught traction in schools all over the country and a number of our programs use the SMART framework to set achievement goals with students. I have found a couple different formats for SMART, but they all follow a similar line of thinking.
Why set achievement goals?
Implementing learning goals has shown to increase student achievement by an average of 75%. When students set relevant and achievable goals for themselves, opportunities are created to increase buy-in and participation. Goals set a destination for students to work towards and our teacher-created learning tasks will be the guide.
The following document is one template you could use to set a SMART goal in your classroom. The pdf version is printable, but not editable. If you would like to create your own prompts or edit the file, you will need to make a copy of this Google Doc.
Smart goals - pdf template
sleep and student performance
Topics of student health continue to come up in meetings, articles, and other discussions for both teachers and administrators. As we continue the dialogue, I would like to share an article I read this week pertaining to sleep and adolescent performance in school.
The school schedule is, and has been, fighting the internal clock of adolescents for decades. As the article below explains, a teen has a natural desire to stay up later and sleep into the morning. Our school start time of 7:30am is 20-30 minutes earlier than the national average and an hour earlier than researchers recommend school to start for students at this age. The NPR article highlights a fairly small study with some telling results. In short, pushing the school day back one hour was a large task for the adult leadership of the school district, but it has led to positive outcomes in attendance, performance, and most importantly, student health. The article it is definitely worth a read.
Considerations for teachers
While modifying the school schedule is not within our mandate, we do have power over the daily structure of our classes. If students are short-slept and not biologically awake at 7:30, it would be smart of us to structure the first half hour to 45 minutes of the block 1 class differently. Beginning with lecture-based direct instruction or homework review might be counterproductive if our population is not altogether ready for that at 7:30. Perhaps we should consider periodically infusing the following structures or strategies to get block 1 started off on the right foot.
In-School Flipped Classroom: Flipping the classroom has been a buzzword for awhile now, but maybe it doesn't need to happen at home. With the wealth of online videos, articles, and other tutorial materials, a 10-15 minute flipped model to start the day might get you closer to that standard 8am start time and prep the learner for the day's instruction.
Self-Assessment and Peer Review: These strategies have proven to statistically improve achievement for learners. By beginning the block with a student assessment of performance, we can refocus the learners to the content and skills that we were building last block. A think-pair-share is a great class starter already; add the assessment piece to get the learners engaged in the revision process at the beginning of class.
Class Discussion: A well-structured class discussion provides a 2 to 1 effect on student achievement. Students might be slow to get started early in the morning, so providing prompts, topics, or videos could be useful.
Facilitate and Provide Feedback: In a more standard class schedule, the teacher may check homework or begin the class by diving right into content. If we take 10-15 minutes at the beginning of class to review, reflect, discuss, assess, and provide feedback to our students, we will have a higher chance of activating prior knowledge, which is very important to the learning process. While the ability to grade and provide feedback for every student's homework is not necessarily feasible, we can zero in on those we know need our input and support. A two-minute conversation with formative feedback about a performance task is engaging for students and should be utilized whenever possible, especially at the beginning of the class.
Hybrid Learning Stations: Learning stations get students up and moving through a variety of tasks and learning groups. I like utilizing this early in the day because sometimes students just need to get the blood moving a bit. Creating a Hybrid Stations Agenda requires preparation, but the teacher gets to facilitate learning in a more individualized manner when students are progressing through the block in smaller groups or pods.
As the video below outlines, teachers can search for these materials by book, genre, grade level, literary device, text set, and theme. CommonLit also offers read aloud mode, guided reading questions, annotation tools, and free in-site translation to Spanish features to assist ELL students and teachers. These tools are clearly applicable for English and Social Studies teachers, but I quickly found full sets of Spanish texts, health topics, and readings for Science and Technology courses.
Building DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP is important!
The internet has grown into an incredible resource catalog for teachers and students, but as the internet continues to grow and develop, so does the need to train young learners how to navigate the digital world safely and securely.
Created by Google, Be Internet Awesome is a digital citizenship platform and curriculum. This program is designed to help build responsible young users of the internet and provides some terrific resources for teachers and parents.
"To make the most of the Internet, kids need to be prepared to make smart decisions. Be Internet Awesome teaches kids the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety so they can explore the online world with confidence."
This digital curriculum contains over 60 pages of activities, educator notes, student goals, scenarios, and discussion topics. It is available for free download HERE. The website also contains an interactive platform/puzzle game called Interland. This game uses puzzles to teach skills and thought processes that should be employed when using the internet safely. I only got to play a few levels, but I was rather impressed with the game. It was far beyond a simple internet game.
If you are interested in learning more ways to integrate digital safety into your curriculum, please feel free to email us at email@example.com.
A folder containing the digital materials from today's workshop is listed below. Paper copies are provided for each of the documents, but you can access our Hybrid Agenda and other reference documents through the attached Google Drive folder.
Rockaway PBL Docs Folder
Thank you for a wonderful session. I would appreciate if you could take 5 minutes to fill out the following feedback form.
PBL Session Feedback Form
real-world experience in the classroom
For the second edition of the Morris Knolls Minute, Joy Mazur came down to A-31 to share details about an exciting new course offering at Morris Knolls. We have a strong tradition of community service with programs like FCCLA and Joy is now bringing those opportunities into a daily curricular environment. We also had a chance to preview the upcoming fall play, She Kills Monsters.
As we wrap up quarter 1, I want to personally thank everyone for the support of our new iCoach offerings. Our first podcast had over 150 listeners and I look forward to continuing to showcase the talented veterans at Morris Knolls.
Passion, community, and commitment
The Morris Knolls Minute is a new podcast series dedicated to sharing the stories and expertise of our great teachers at Morris Knolls. For this debut episode, I sat down with Barbara Seaman to talk all things education.
As one of our strongest veterans, Barbara continues to exemplify what it means to be a master teacher. After completing a workshop together last summer, I became her biggest fan and I deeply admire what she contributes to our community, our school, and the students each year. I am so grateful she accepted my invitation to kick off this new offering from the instructional coaching program.
You can listen to this podcast, and all future editions, at https://www.icoachmk.com/icoach-blog. We will also offer an mp3 download so you may listen via another device. I hope you enjoy the program and I look forward to sitting down with more of our teachers and sharing the great ideas, strategies, and opportunities we can offer the students at Morris Knolls!
The iCoach MK workshop blog catalogs all of our workshop materials and new resources in one location.