Friday, July 30, 2010

Do You Dare Look in the Mirror?

I am a loud mouth, I have opinions, I try to hide them sometimes successfully, most of the time unsuccessfully.  My school has undergone a lot of changes in the last couple of years and many new staff members have joined, myself included.  When you are new it is hard to not be excited to be there; after all you have just begun your journey.  It is hard to not be enthusiastic.  It is hard to not embrace any new idea that comes your way and then share it with everyone you meet.  While this can be a great quality, in large doses it becomes a nuisance.  We sometimes forget that even though an idea is packaged as a new thing, it is often something that came through the school 20 years earlier.  We are seen as one-track people, closed off to other ideas, too focused on our path and we blame others for being the same way, too ignorant to see ourselves in the reflection.

It is true that we lead by example, so every day this year, I want to be positive.  I want to be a multiplier, as Liz Wiseman calls us in her book "Multipliers."  People of this nature are leaders that instead of taking all credit, pass it on and enable others to grow.  Ideas are thought of around these people, discussion is lively, other people's voices are heard.  When you run into a multiplier, you know it; your head is full of new ideas and enthusiasm for whatever you spoke about.  I can point to many of such leaders in my school and in my district and not many of them are in official leadership positions.  

You also know when you meet the other type of person; the divisor.  These people lead from the top, they do not listen to ideas or invite discussion.  They are so focused on their goal, that even though what you say may benefit that goal, they cannot process or implement it. Divisors leave you feeling flat, demotivated, unappreciated, and ignored.  Many times, I have run into these people as well. 

So ask yourself much as I have; this new year do you plan on being a divisor or a multiplier?  Will you open your door to new inspiration, or at the very least leave it open a crack so that a couple of ideas may sneak in?  Will people want to come to you to participate in discussions, or will they be afraid to voice their opinion?  I have been a divisor, and I promise, never again.  However, to start this journey, I had to look at myself and really see myself to discover my effect on others.  Do you have the guts to look at who you are and then be honest enough to see if it needs change?  That is my hope for all the leaders in my school; whether leaders by title or leaders by nature.  Understand yourself so that you may understand the role you play.  Be positive, be eager, but know when to be quiet and listen.  The silence can be just as inspiring as the discussion.

While I cannot change people, I can change myself.  I want to become a full-time multiplier.  I want to spark other people's intelligence and inspiration.  I want to get out of the way of new innovation, changes, and random exploration.  Not only do I want to be a positive force among my staff, but also min my classroom.  Kids can also be divided into these tow categories but are often not aware of how they affect others.  We must therefore lead by example and point out why some people make us feel better about ourselves.

This is my reflection and thoughts on school leadership as prompted by Scott McLeod's call for edubloggers to speak about leadership today for Leadership Day 2010.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

So You Keep Saying Authentic Learning...

In my last posts, I have thrown out the term "authentic learning" as if it is the new buzzword.  Well, for me it is!  I am sure others have coined this term before me but this is my definition, my revolution in my classroom, my new mantra for the year.

Authentic learning is what I plan on doing in my room this year.  One can argue that all learning is authentic if only applied to the right situation.  My problem therefore lies within my own style of teaching that seems to lack moments of relatability.  Few are those times when I was able to truthfully tell my students that "this skill you will use one day." Why is that?  We are supposed to be the shapers of the future, right?  Everything we do or say in our classrooms should have a bigger purpose.  I agree that there are certain building blocks that do not lend themselves easily to authentic learning, but how do we go from that type of knowledge to packets, dioramas (I really hate dioramas) and longwinded spelling sorts?

I am about to start my 3rd year in my room and I finally feel like I know a little bit about the curriculum.  I know what the goals are and where the students should be at the end of 4th grade.  That allows me to change the journey and the tools we use to get to that point.  So here is what I propose to myself:  Study the goals and then base learning on getting to that goal, not digging up more worksheets to really make it stick.  So, if you want your students to know the difference between a verb and a noun - send them on a scavenger hunt and tell them to film the nouns and verbs they come across.  Students need to learn how to research - research something that they would be interested in.  You need to teach geometric shapes - find them in your school, count their angles, build your own.  Most of all, make it relevant!

I know there will be days where this will simply not be possible, I will hate those days, but recognize them as a necessary evil.  There are certain curriculum areas that I cannot create authentic learning experiences for; difference between a linking and helping verb - still thinking about that one.  The important thing is that I can still fulfill all of my duties as a teacher but do it in a way that I would have loved to have been taught in, and that I hope my students will remember.  I hope to make it meaningful, to help them connect it to their own lives, to help them see what the purpose is and that school is not boring or something to dread.  Am I a fool?  Probably, but at least I am fool with great aspirations for all.

Do you believe in this type of learning?  Can it be done under our standards and requirements?  Will my students benefit or will my parents revolt?   I will spare no details this fall.

But We Worked So Hard On It...

Those words, uttered by a parent disagreeing with their child's grade has made my hair bristle more than once. You worked hard on it, meaning you and your child? Wait a minute, this was not meant to be a parent and child homework assignment but rather a well thought out learning experience for your 4th grader. And yet, parents decide to help. At first, I thought it was because they were helicopter parents, obviously not having severed the proverbial umbilical chord, marching their child toward a successful life always monitored by the parent like a shadow. Then I thought the parents were suckers, after all, nothing can ruin a weekend more than a child whining that they don't want to do their homework. Maybe these parents lacked self-control, discipline, dreams, a life? Maybe they just really wanted to re-do 4th grade curriculum because it was so much fun. Oh, those illusions kept me and my irritation going for two years.

This summer, on my Twitter revolution I started reading more about parent involvement, grades and their effect on classrooms, all posted by the formidable force that is Alfie Kohn. And yes, I had an epiphany, an ugly one; one that I hoped not to have, and yet it was so necessary. These parents, who obviously had to do the work with their children, did it because my assignment was too hard, too all-involving, too removed from learning and not based in real-life. So all that frustration should have been directed toward another source; myself. After all, the puppet-master of the homework strings is me.  So this year I am making a change:

  • I will not assign homework because I need something to add to my grades so that I can do a bigger average.
  • I will not assign homework because I was long winded and didn't get to the point, leaving no work time.
  • I will not assign homework just because the book tells me that I should.
  • I will not assign homework because my team members assign this piece or someone else who has taught the same unit.
  • I will not assign homework because it is a long vacation and who knows what sort of trouble student's need to be kept out of.
  • I will not assign homework because the learning did not happen in my classroom.
Instead, homework will be limited.  It will be re-evaluated and contained within my room as much as possible.  I am changing my grading system, more on that in another blog, and no longer feel the burden of needing enough things to grade so that I can fall back on it for my report cards.  My mantra for the year is "Authentic Learning" and with that comes the responsibility of teaching students within my room, within my time, within the standards, but also within their capabilities.  Learning has to be relatable for them for it to stick.  No more dull repetitious packets, no more book report dioramas, but rather conversation, blogging, hands on experience.  Maybe then those parents will find something else to do, something that they want to spend time on, and maybe I will finally get a clue.

So why do you assign homework?  How do you not assign homework?  

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

If You Have One Hour with a New Teacher...

We've all been there; arms full of papers, books falling out of our bags, and so many questions that we hardly know what to ask - ahh, the plight of being a new teacher.  Or at the very least, a teacher switching schools, or jobs, or grades.  So who do you turn to, where do you find those elusive answers that will make you sleep more easily at night before the big show?  And mostly, which answers do you really need?

Today I had the pleasure of meeting with a great friend from college who just landed her dream job in a 5th grade classroom.  Previously she has taught as an ELL teacher but had the opportunity to switch jobs and switch schools.  Prior to our meeting, I asked my PLN what I should share with her and had some fantastic responses.  So here is what I thought was important.

  1. Sign up for Twitter!  If you need to know why, read this post or read the Innovative Educator's fantastic blog on how to use Twitter.
  2. Start a classroom blog; Tumblr or Blogspot are just fine - my classroom blog is is well visited by parents and they love how everything is accessible to them.
  3. Start a professional blog for your own reflections, this can even be tied in with your PDP and you will be amazed at the thinking you end up doing.
  4. Meet with teammates, ask questions but don't forget yourself, after all, you will be teaching your own class and must be able to stand behind what you teach.
  5. Think about a morning and afternoon routine, or coming and going routine if you are non-elementary.  I explain and establish this on the 1st day of school and it sets the tone for the rest of the year's expectations.
  6. Reflect on your hidden rules of your classroom.  We all have pet peeves, figure your out and then share them with your students!
  7. Come up with community building projects.  Although curriculum will need to get started quickly, make sure you have opportunities where the kids are engaged in something creative to establish trust and excitement in your room.
  8. Send home an introduction letter to students and parents.  Give them insight into you and your classroom.
  9. Don't waste too much time on your hallway bulletin boards.  Spend the time in your classroom instead, setting it up for great learning and collaboration.  Cybraryman has a wonderful webpage with great resources for how to set up your room to boost learning. 
  10. Laugh, joke, smile, and most importantly be yourself!  You were hired because you were a great candidate, so go in there and show it.  Curriculum will be taken care of but those first few days set the tone for the year so have fun with it!
I know there are many more important ideas to add, so what would you tell a new teacher they should focus on?  What did I miss?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Stand Up if You are Average...Anyone?

We just finished a fantastic #edchat on the topic of whether students in the "middle" get enough attention.  Once again, this #edchat really started some thoughts for me, mainly, as asked by @web20classroom if there are even students in the middle?

We label students to make it easier for us to teach them.  Administration likes the labels because they can show how we improve, newspapers like labels because it shows people what their tax dollar is spent on.  Unfortunately, we assume a lot of the time that if a student is "low" in math then that carries over to other subjects as well.  (See my previous post on how I feel about assumptions).  So just as we place kids in the high group, we also place kids as average learners.  Think about the implication of that though; by labeling someone average, which has practically become a swear word, we are closing off our view of them as a learner.  No longer allowed to evolve, that child is just average.  Imagine saying that in a parent-teacher conference.

And yet, our students amaze us.  The biggest hallelujah moments I have had have been when those "low" or "average" learners all of a sudden understood complicated concepts or excelled at a task.  I don't have those same hallelujah moments when my "high" learners figure something out, after all, they are supposed to figure it out.  Have you ever seen gifted students struggle?  It is the same struggle that all students go through and yet we tend to gloss over it because we have more confidence in them as learners because of their label.  And yet, once we have labeled someone as gifted we don't reevaluate that label.  Sure, Suzy may be gifted in math but does that mean she is gifted in everything else, not just subjects, but life?  No, it means she is really good at math.

So if someone is "average" we assume they are always "average" except for those few moments where they shine.  This is a debilitating view of your classroom and something I wish to combat next year.  Truth is, all of our students are low, average, and high learners.  The categories and labels change depending on the topic, the subject, the style of learning, the assignment, the day, the weather - so many factors change it.  If we are too set in our ways as educators, we will fail to notice how these labels are suffocating our students, if we do not make the labels or groupings flexible.

So promise yourself to not label your students, or at least label them for that task at that moment and then go back and revisit that label for the next task.  It may seem like a lot of work but your learning experience as a classroom will be much improved.  And you may even raise the confidence level of a couple of students in the process.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

So What is Your Assumption?

We do it all the time, assume...  We assume people are a certain way, or they like certain things, or that they will answer in a certain way, just because we know better.   I do it on a daily basis, whether I like it or not.  This weekend was no different as I attended a pageant for the first time to watch a dear friend's daughter pass her crown on.  I sat through talent and all i did was assume; that girl looks like she is easy, that girl has no chance of winning, that girl was obviously told she is a good singer but my lord someone needs to tell her the truth.  And I felt good about my assumptions, after all, I am always right.

Well, as I went back to hotel room I thought more about these assumption and just how closed off they make me.  And even more so, how these assumptions hurt me more in the long run than anyone else.   It also made me realize how on a daily basis in my classroom I assume many things.

Home Life:
All the time, we assume that students have a certain type of home life depending on their socioeconomic status, their skin color, their language, their homework completion etc.  Often these assumptions lead to how we "deal" with the students in terms of giving another chance to do homework or extended time on a test.  Even more often we don't have the time or chance to find out what really is going on in their home life and in turn affecting them greatly at school.  How many times do you assume that the smart student who is always happy is actually experiencing her parents fighting all the time? We are good at assuming that our poor students come from broken homes and good at assuming that our white kids have both mom and a dad.  It is time we stopped thinking we know "those kids" and really get to know our students.

We always know which child will be the difficult one after orientation day, you can just see it on them, right?  Wrong.  That child may have a bad case of the nerves, I know I do, or just wake up super grumpy; guilty of that as well.  I will not believe anyone that says they can judge a person within the first 5 minutes.  If you think you can, maybe you should look at how often you were wrong.  I can tell you countless times those first day perceptions were dead wrong.

This is something we all partake in whether we are willing to admit it or not.  We base our misconceptions on things such as hair color, height, weight, skin color, accent or dialect, clothing and the list goes on.  How many times have you heard someone describe someone's intelligence level with a knowing look and a hint to where they come from, because that explains it all?   Well, it doesn't.  Being both blond and foreign I have two things stacked against me.  People either assume I am Swedish or stupid, I disagree with both when needed and get offended when I have to. 

Basic Knowledge:
As a teacher, I hope that all of my students have learned all of the curriculum they are supposed to have learned by the time they get to my room.  I certainly know that my co-workers do their very best in teaching them.  And yet, how many times have I been proven wrong when I think I know exactly what my students know or don't know?.  That kid that struggles in math might be really good at math facts, or that kid that writes 3 grade levels below might be a strong reader.  And it even goes the other way; strong readers may be terrible writers.  Just because we think we know does not mean we really know it all. 

    So, I am not a saint; I will go on assuming as I always do.  And yet, I do promise to try to assume less or at least check out my assumptions after I have made them.  I feel that we assume because it provides us with a sense of security; when we can label a person then we know how to handle them.  I wish I could tell you that at the beauty pageant I had many "hallelujah moments" where I was shamed out of my assumptions; I didn't.  However, it wasn't because my assumptions were right, I just thought it was much more fun to think I knew everything instead of being proven wrong.  I am after all just a human being.

Friday, July 9, 2010

So Instead of a Book Report...

How many of us read a book and then create a craft project to show our friends all about what we read? I don't, and I have yet to find anyone that does. Maybe those adults do exist but still why is it that I was under the impression that book report meant diorama or a puppet show?

So this year I am taking a leap of faith; having students read for the fun of it and share their opinion of the book - novel idea I know. So instead of a craft project, how about...

  1. Create a genre bulletin board where students can add a review about their book
  2. Have students read two books within a genre and do a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the two books? Or read two books by the same author?
  3. Blog about your book; reflect, ask questions, see if others have read it
  4. Create a wordle about the word associations you had with the book
  5. Write a Haiku about the book
  6. Use glogster to create a collage about the book and references in it
  7. Read aloud the most interesting part, trying to get others to read it and then explain why you chose that part
  8. Do a book talk with a partner or the teacher
  9. Prove to the class in 5 minutes or less that you really read the book
  10. Sell the book to your classmates, how can you get them to read it - written or oral - try this even if you did not like the book, can you still convince others?
  11. Act out your character
  12. Write a letter/email to the author (even if no longer alive). Tell them what you thought of their book.
  13. Blog about what you learned from the book.
  14. Surf the net looking for pictures of references made in your book
  15. Do a book review in the style of a movie critic - thumbs up or thumbs down
  16. Venn Diagram characters in your book
  17. Do an author study alone or with a partner
  18. Create a VoiceThread discussing your book's message
  19. Pretend you are the author on a Voki and tell us about your newest project
  20. Search for reviews of the book on the internet and add your own review
  21. Write to a penpal about your book and why you chose it
  22. Participate in the Global Read Aloud Project
  23. Create a book trailer
  24. Video tape the book talk
  25. Use Shelfari to post the book and then explain why you chose to post it
  26. This idea comes from Mrs. Pilver - use a Voki Book Hook , so cool 

Anymore ideas?  My students will greatly appreciate them...


Monday, July 5, 2010

A Global Read Aloud

I have been thinking about the read aloud.  Every day I read a part of a book aloud to my students, usually a book that they would not pick themselves to read and then we discuss what is happening.  Sometimes the book is tied in with curriculum, often times not.  My favorite author happens to be Neil Gaiman, both for children and adult books and so when I saw that his book, American Gods, had been chosen as the first One Book, One Twitter book club I was excited.  What a great concept; read a chapter a week and then discuss it via Twitter.  That made me think; why not do that with a read aloud book and connect classrooms across the world?

So here is what I propose:  Choose a book, we can set up a poll and take suggestions,  and read a chapter aloud a week.  Students will then have to blog about the chapter or a wiki could be set up for them to share the experiences as they read the book.  How phenomenal would it be to know that your class is reading a book that another class across the world is also reading?

We strive to make connections on a global scale and so the intimacy of a book can do just that for us.  I am hoping others will agree to this because this certainly excites me as an educator.

Amazing feedback already on this, so here is the link to fill out the Google Form for the Global Read Aloud 

If you would like to contact me with questions please do so at either Psripp@gmail.com or Pripp@mcpasd.k12.wi.us

A Promise to Me

Yes, summer has just started and yet I am already thinking ahead to the coming year, perhaps because I am unable to enter my classroom at the moment due to its newly waxed floors. So I plan and prep from home and meanwhile get more and more anxious/excited about the new year. This year is my 3rd year teaching and I am ready to shake things up so these are my promises to me.

I promise to not be bored. The last 2 years I have stuck to what my team members have taught and developed and it honestly made me complacent. The lessons are solid but not my style, so this year, I am doing it on my own; out with the old and in with the new. After all, if I am not excited about the lesson, how can I expect the students to be?

I promise to not be scared. I have many ideas screaming for attention and every year I take a cautious step with one or two of them. This year because of my PLN and its support I have 100's of ideas that all want to be tried. So I am going to try as many as I can without freaking out about the loss of control. So what if the lesson fails, at least I tried it.

I promise to be true to myself and reveal the techy geek I am. Sure, my students know that I like technology but not just how deep that love runs. So this year, we will make technology work for us. No more using computers just to type on, I am ready to get them sucked into the world of innovation just as I have been.

I promise to be quiet and listen, well sometimes anyway. When you have a lot of ideas like I do it can be hard to not want to share them.In fact, I can be like that annoying lapdog that barks and barks until you pet it. I have learned the hard way that sometimes people don't want to hear about new ideas, and although confounding to me, I have to accept it. So I am not going to throw my ideas in someone's face but try to entice them to come to me instead.

I promise to have more fun. Being a new mom and a new teacher can feel like you are carrying the weight of the world. But you’re not, you just feel like it. So I promise to loosen up a bit, not get so freaked out by deadlines, and continue to joke around with my students. After all, it is your personality that might just make them listen to you.

I promise to embrace the year no matter what it brings. I love to control everything; maybe that is why I am a teacher. So this will be the year that I learn to trust my students more and let them take some of the control. This is supposed to be a learning journey that we embark on, not a down-to-the-minute planned march.

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