Tag Archives: Teaching

Teachers are Busy Bees: #HiveSummit

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#HiveSummit is a free, 14 day virtual educational conference that started on August 1st. Organized by author and Gamification guru, Michael Matera @mrmatera,  the Hive Summit brings some of the best and the brightest minds together to do what bees do best… work hard for something sweet! The objective of this virtual conference is to help teachers jumpstart the school year with successful practices and positive energy. All the Presenter Bees” talk about ways to design learning experiences that promote engagement and student learning.

The nine presenters and their key ideas are posted below. If you are reading this before 8/14/18, register for The Hive Summit to view the videos and learn more.

Rabbi Michael Cohen @TheTechRabbi – Designer Educator, Creativity Instigator, and Director of Innovation

Rabbi Michael Cohen, a keynote presenter at #ISTE18, speaks passionately about design thinking and the need for creativity in the classroom. He was keen to say that creativity needs to be cultivated in the classroom; creativity is not something you have or get. In our world today students need to have the time and space to tinker, make, and create in order to figure things out, explore, and experiment. The Tech Rabbi shared one activity to ignite creative thinking and problem solving in the classroom: 30 Circle Challenge. For the 30 Circle Challenge give students 3 minutes to turn as many circles into recognizable objects as you can. This isn’t about: your artistic ability or filling 30 circles. This activity is about fostering meaningful conversation and a discussion about our awareness of creativity. This is a concrete way to model thinking outside the box.

Carrie Baughcum @HeckAwesome – Doodler, Teacher, YouTuber

Carrie is awesome and I am not only saying that because she was a contributor in in my book Gamify Literacy. Carrie is a special education teacher and sketch note advocate. In her talk she shares the learning experiences that sketch noting promotes for ALL student learners. Below is a video from Carrie’s youtube channel that introduces sketch noting as a learning tool.

 

Rick Wormeli @rickwormeli2 – Teacher, Author, Education Consultant

“A teacher’s job is to ensure students learn,” so begins Rick Wormeli’s presentation. And there is no where in research or life where someone has said that grading motivates learning. Rick talks about standards based grading and having teachers look closely at their own grading practices. We need to teach what we need students to learn and
create tasks that answer the critical question: “Do you have evidence you’ve mastered the stuff?” Standards based grading is more effective than percentages and extra credit. The key questions to ask are: Have students hit the learning targets or not yet? “How do I get students to learn this…” and Does every student need to demonstrate mastery at the same time? 

Tara Martin @TaraMartinEDU – Curriculum Coordinator, Lead Instructional Coach, Author

This week I finished reading Tara’s new book Be Real: Teaching From the Heart which was honest and insightful about teaching. The reality is that technology can never truly replace teachers because it is a teacher’s compassion, energy, and passions who make them memorable. Tara believes in being REAL:

 

  • R Be Relatable
  • E Expose Vulnerability
  • A Always be approachable
  • L Constantly Learn through real-life experiences

When you bring your realness to the table (and it’s enough), you make the world a better

 place. Tara is all about becoming the best version of yourself. No one else has exactly your talents and your experiences that you draw from. You’re the only “expert” at being you. Everyone has a purpose.

 

Matt Miller @jmattmiller – Teacher, Author, Speaker

It is important to be a maverick teacher– take risks. If you model taking risks (and potentially failing) for your students, you empower them to have a voice and choice. Don’t focus on technology, rather focus more on how it can be used to effectively reshape instruction. How can we leverage technology to make the most out of every class moment? Assemble a toolbox of a wide variety of tools and ask, “What tools do I need to do…” Technology is an opportunity, not a thousand dollar pencil. Think how you can remix apps and utilize technology in ways that are relevant to your students’ learning from global collaboration to rethinking the way you use Google Slides.

 

 

 

Michael Matera @mrmatera – Teacher, Author, Speaker

Most of what I know about gamification, I learned from Michael Matera. “Gamification entails applying the elements of a game, or mechanics, to non-game situations.” It’s a way teachers can overlay a game on top of already well-developed content and instruction. If you’re willing to give gamification a try, start small: gamify a lesson– then a unit– then a course. Use board games, television game shows and video games as models and mentors for building your own games. Gamification is about building on different game elements – many teachers allow the game to unfold as the school year blossoms. Three key things to think about when implementing gamification: Theme, Teams, and Tasks. As Michael states, “Play isn’t a pedagogy, it’s a way of life.” Bring play into your classroom to boost learning and have fun.

 

Sarah Thomas @sarahdateechur – Regional Technology Coordinator

Sarah talked about building a professional learning network. This is key for teachers since teaching can be an isolating job. Social Media like Twitter, Facebook, and Voxer have allowed teachers to connect with like minded people to share, collaborate, connect, and learn from one another. I know personally how twitter has become a game-changer for my teacher and professional learning. There are endless ways to connect with other professionals globally. Authentic connections can change your life trajectory.

Joe Sanfelippo @Joe_Sanfelippo – Superintendent, Speaker, and Author

Joe has amazing positive energy as an administrator that I wish I was around him more to experience his ideas and passion for his school community. Based on his book, Hacking Leadership, Joe talked about the three main components he practices to cultivate a positive school community:

 

  • Be Intentional About Your WHAT & WHY – Share out about the good things that are happening in your school or classroom– there is power in sharing the good intentionally
  • Open Doors – By “sharing the good,” you have the opportunity to change the school narrative and create a culture of sharing instead of a culture of competition
  • Build Staff – Place value on all parties trying things outside of their comfort zones– value on the journey and the growth will reshape school culture. Joe shared that every day he writes 2 positive notes to share. He said that teaching is a thankless job but when someone stops and says thank you it means so much more. Administrators needs to recognize and thank their teachers more often.

 

Dave Burgess @Burgessdave – Author, Speaker, Game Changer

I have to say that I have been a Dave Burgess fan for many years and use his book Teach Like A Pirate with my graduate students as a required reading for Literacy in the Content Areas. I want my students to remember to infuse passion in all of their lessons. Dave promotes doing awesome stuff in your classroom. Teach like a pirate isn’t about choosing one method– it’s about incorporating others’ great ideas into your method. How will you make a first impression with your students? How are you going to get them excited about your content area and school? Be bold and take the best of everything to create a classroom where students cannot wait to return. “We want to educate makers not memorizers.” 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mythology is Everywhere: 5 Ways to Utilize Myths for Teaching & Learning

Words like alma mater, atlas, labyrinth, lunatic  and narcissistic derive from mythology. References to mythology are apparent in many movies and books from Star Wars to Harry Potter and even Percy Jackson.  The mythic hero is not only a Western or popular culture phenomena. Heroes from the Ancient Near East include Gilgamesh, Hippopotamus from the Middle Kingdom in Ancient Egypt. Classical mythological heroes include Achilles, Apollo, Athena, Hercules, and Prometheus. King Arthur and his Knights are considered heroes of the Middle Ages. Every country and region has their own heroes. In fact, mythological themes are timeless.

Hero in mythology is a person who is endowed with great courage and strength, celebrated for bold exploits, and favored by the gods. A hero is also one noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life.

What do you think makes a hero, a “hero”? What qualities do we tend to look for in this person? Should heroes be strong, courageous, selfless and charismatic? Could someone still be considered “heroic” without these qualities?  Who are some of your “real life” heroes and how do they stack up against the heroes presented to us by Hollywood and or classic mythology? And what about the Antagonist – can the “bad guy” also be the hero, and if so, why?

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Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey

The topic of mythology and heroes can be brought into the humanities classroom in different ways that allow students to critically read and reflect on this genre. Here are five different literacy assignments that showcase mythology.

  1. Create a Heroic Myth – After reading and examining the hero’s journey across texts, students create their own futuristic hero/heroine whose story addresses a global issue. Students write a short story describing this new hero/heroine. The story should include at least one intervention of the hero/heroine dealing with a major global use he or she was developed to counteract. The hero/heroine can be comprised of the following four components: part human, part animal, part machine, part supernatural. Additionally, students can create a superhero picture depicting the hero in action; fighting against the force the hero was created to fight.
  2. Mythology Collage Box – Students create collages or collage boxes along the lines of Joseph Cornell’s work that includes personal adaptations of mythological subjects. In preparation for their work, students would need to become familiar with Greco-Roman myths and examine how artists throughout history have been inspired by mythology. The collage will represent an event or a character from mythology or can even depict an abstract idea (for example: jealousy, ambition, war, music, love).
  3. Dramatize the Story – Become one of your favorite mythological paintings or sculpture. Speak in its voice, or the voice of one of its characters or objects. What does it feel like to be that person or object? Speak in first person and describe the experience, feelings, and character.
  4. Critical Analysis of Mythology Represented in Art – Students examine paintings, sculpture, poetry, and art that represents mythology. Ask students to think, discuss, and write about why has the artist chosen to paint this part of the myth? How is color used in the painting? What symbols or allegory are presented in the art work? How has mythology been appropriated and inflected with new meaning?
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Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) Ceres c. 1715

5. Deconstructing Mythology in Popular Films – With movies like Thor, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Wonder Woman, mythology is alive in popular films today. Have students view the films and categorize the mythology references in each or one of the movies. Students can present an analysis how the film pulls from different mythological sources and evaluate the accuracy of the mythological references.

For example, thinking of Diana and Wonder Woman. In previous myths, the Amazons were a fierce tribe of warrior women; they scorned men, except once a year when they would seek out men from neighboring tribes in order to procreate. Any male children that resulted from these unions were either murdered or sent to live with their fathers. In some myths, Amazons would cut off one of their breasts so that they could better shoot their bow and arrow. Their brutal and uncompromising toughness frames Wonder Woman in a different light than how she is often portrayed, and how this influence is utilized makes for an exciting film.

 

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180 Days Book Review

Many moons ago I had the opportunity to take a workshop with Kelly Gallagher, the author of countless books on teaching reading and writing like Write Like Us (Stenhouse, 2011) and Readicide (Stenhouse, 2009). He is a mentor to me and all of his books are filled with teaching ideas that help build students’ reading and writing skills. Penny Kittle is another trustworthy teacher author with strategies for student success teaching. Together, these two publishing dynamos have written 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents (Heinemann, 2018).

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As the school year winds down, many teachers – including myself – are reflecting and reimagining what next school year will look like: What might we do differently? What should stay the same? Where do the students need to dive more deeply in order to help build on their literacy and critical thinking skills? Gallagher and Kittle’s book effectively takes readers on a journey into their classrooms and experience the planning and execution of a school year in a way that helps match students with the right books while at the same time, “creating a classroom conducive to raising engaged readers writers, listeners, speakers, and thinkers” (pg. xvii). Throughout the book they expose the process that goes into planning and doing, as well as what they wish they got to but ran out of time.

Teaching in different schools across the country provides parallels as well as distentions that arose throughout the year based on the personal needs of their particular students and school community. The focus was always on their students with the intention of “crafting engaging and relevant learning experiences” because instruction should be designed around people – not the standards or state requirements. Additionally, Kittle and Gallagher’s objectives include “developing reading and writing habits needed for success outside of school: in college, work, and in their personal lives.” Whether students are going to attend post secondary schooling or not, If students are considering college, this infographic in the beginning of the introduction is telling.

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Gallagher and Kittle are upfront about their own teaching values and how these values shape their planning and teaching:

Each academic year is a unique, living mosaic. Curriculum is rewritten yearly based on the changing students and changing world. As they state, “we teach students, not curriculum.”

There is beauty in our content. Reading and writing is essential and the authors state, “we personalize reading and writing, seeking the deep connections that happen when you trust students to choose what they read and write and then teaching into their developing understanding.”

Models. The teacher is a model and as models we must be active readers and writers, modeling for our students the same expectations we have for them.

Choice drives engagement. “Students should have choice in what they read 75% of the time.” And writing is not different. Students should have choices what to write throughout the school year.

Reading Identity Matters. Time for reading is dedicated in every class so that “students can increase the volume of their reading, the complexity of their reading, and students will develop allegiances to authors and genres.”

Writing Identity Matters. “Writing is for life, not just for school.” – I love this quote because it centers around our students thinking and lives. Teachers need to honor students as writers in order to discover and seek answers to bigger questions (than those posed in a 5 paragraph essay).

Talk deepens thinking and learning. Verbal, as well as written communication is essential for learning. Listening and speaking are just as important as reading and writing. This includes small group, large class, conferences with peers as well as the teacher. Talk allows students to connect with one another and articulate thinking and understanding.

Be fearless. If we expect students to take risks, we must also take risks as teachers and writers. By taking risks, we are talking about willingness to try things that are new and challenging,

Grade Less and Assess More. Not everything that students complete needs to be graded. Assessment is on-going and should drive feedback and coaching – not one and done.

Collaboration is Essential for Professional Growth. Teaching shouldn’t be an island and when we work with others, we grow professionally in order to teach and respond to students effectively.

The book maps out the year with the different units of study that both Kittle and Gallagher teach. The tone of their classroom is set the first day and students are reading and writing daily. Each day also begins with a book talk to help generate interest in reading and help students make plans for reading. Prompts for conferences and mini lessons are throughout the book with additional considerations to help teachers map out their own year of reading and writing. Both have a balance of free choice/independent reading along with two core texts and three book clubs units. Students maintain Thought Logs or Writing Notebooks. Writing is a balance between tasks, assignments, and free writing. There are ten writing units that include traditional writing assignments/essays to digital storytelling and portfolios. Students read a variety of texts from To Kill a Mockingbird to infographics, and Ted Talks.

This book is filled with engaging teaching ideas and lessons, thoughtful reflections and considerations necessary to personalize learning ALL students. Together, our mission is to help students succeed as readers and writers inside and outside of school. Gallagher and Kittle show their readers a balanced a approach.

 

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Is All Evidence Equal: Weighing Textual Evidence

This week I gave my students a short response prompt based on the propaganda presented in their dystopian texts. Students are reading Animal Farm, The Giver and Unwind. The prompt was as follows:

A variety of propaganda techniques are used throughout the fable in small and incremental measures to confuse, influence, and keep the other animals on the farm under control, as well as to make outsiders think that Animal Farm was successful.

There are six types of propaganda that are commonly recognized: 1) Bandwagon, 2) Scapegoating, 3) Unapproved Assertions, 4) Slogans, and 5) Fear.

Which type of propaganda did those in control use to their advantage most effectively?

Why did that type of propaganda work so well on the members of the community?

In your short response be sure to identify the type of propaganda used effectively with two or more examples textual support. Also include why this type of propaganda worked so well on the others.

Whereas my students know to include direct textual evidence in their writing, the question remains: Is the evidence students are selecting the strongest evidence to support their claim? 

This year I am requiring students to organize textual evidence using graphic organizers I create to use in tandem with the foldables that go in their Interactive English Notebooks. But is not just about students mastering the ability to pull any evidence from the text, it is necessary  students also weigh and debate the evidence selected so that it is the strongest in supporting their claims.

Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen address this same topic in their book Teaching Interpretation Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning (Heinemann, 2014).

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Based on the ideas presented in their text, I have created a foldable for my students to remember that not all evidence is equal. To reiterate this idea about evidence, I have taken various quotes about fear from each of the three dystopian texts for students to work in small groups and rank the evidence for use in the short response prompt above: Which is the strongest evidence? Why? Which is the weakest evidence? Why? What makes the strongest evidence the strongest? What makes the weakest evidence the weakest? Which evidence tells? Which evidence shows?

 

 

 

 

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20 Things I’ve Learned From Teaching 20 Years

It is hard to believe that as of September I will have been teaching twenty years. My experiences have led me from middle school to elementary school, and college level teaching across the Northeast. For the past ten years I have been grounded in Westchester County, New York. Just like the posters that highlight “All You Ever Need to Know, You Learned in Kindergarten,” I have reflected in this post twenty key ideas that shape my teaching philosophies.

1. Smile and Greet Your Students at the Door EVERYDAY

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Research reports that positive interactions with students lead to increased engagement. Teachers can interact with students by verbally greeting them or offer nonverbal positive interactions like a High 5 or head nod with eye contact.

2. It’s not about the content, rather building skills

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Everything is Googleable in this day and age. No matter what content you teach, you are a literacy teacher. All that you teach requires students to be better readers, writers, speakers, listeners, and critical thinkers.  

3. It’s got to be relevant and authentic

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Students need to know why what they are learning matters and how it will help them beyond a test score. Students can detect fake as fast as you can detect BS. If it’s not relevant leave it out.

4. Technology doesn’t make everything better

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There are so many great tech tools available and new ones added daily. Integrating and utilizing technology is a thoughtful application. It’s not about using technology for the sake of using technology. Decide what you want students to learn and what the outcomes should be. Then, choose the tool that suits the desired objectives.

5. No matter how you dress it up, a worksheet is still a worksheet

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At the end of the year it’s going in the garbage if not before than. Think about the paper you distribute to your students. Decide what is truly necessary. Utilize Google Classroom and digital tools to help communicate the same ideas and activities. Be earth friendly.

6. Teaching is 24/7  

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I get so tired of non educators telling me how great my job is because I have my “summers off” and am finished working by 3. In fact, I know little to none who don’t work throughout the summer or take their work home daily. Just look at the amazing professional developing happening on Twitter every second of the day, there are millions of teachers online looking and discussing self improvement in education. So, let’s get the record straight, teachers bring their work home – sometimes 100 essays to read and evaluate in one weekend — and work throughout their summer.

7. You learn something everyday and never stop learning

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I love learning. I think a part of me became a teacher so I could never stop learning.  I have grown into the teacher I am today because of the countless professional development opportunities I have participated in. Twitter has only made it cost friendly and easily accessible. Attending conferences and reading professional books expands my knowledge, resources, and inspires my teaching.   As much as I learn from other educators, my students teach me as well. My students have given me great ideas for activities and even remind me to teach in a way that supports all the learners in my class.

8. Students Acting Out are Actually Reaching Out

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If a student is acting out or withdrawn then something is going on. I ask parents to email me when work is difficult or something is going on at home so that I more aware their whole situation. All of our students have baggage and it impacts their behavior and actions in school. Be considerate of this and know that your class is not the center of their world. Also, the support staff at schools are great resources to help with these matters.

9. Students need routines, but tedious repetitive work is just boring

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Scholastic.com states, “When routines and procedures are carefully taught, modeled, and established in the classroom, children know what’s expected of them and how to do certain things on their own. Having these predictable patterns in place allows teachers to spend more time in meaningful instruction.” Be careful, though. Ending every class with an exit ticket becomes rote and boring for our students.

10. Play nice with your colleagues. In life, we often have to deal with difficult people

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My grandmother used to tell me, “Kill them with kindness.” Be nice to everyone, even if they are rude to you. That has been my adopted motto for my entire teaching career. Kindness matters and gets you a lot further than meanness, anger, and rage.

11. Take care of yourself.

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Carve out a little time for yourself every day to do what you love – mediate, cook, exercise, spend time with your family, read. Your health and well being is vital to your success as a teacher.  Stress is harmful and eats away at your health. You must take care of yourself, eat right, exercise, and get a good night’s sleep to be a productive person.

  1. Continuously Build Your PLN – Professional Learning Network

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Who are your cheerleaders? Who are your mentors? Who are the people who inspire you and encourage you to do and be your best? Surround yourself with those people. Use social media to continuously build a professional learning network to help you reach your professional goals and push you to be a better person/teacher.

  1. Classroom Aesthetics Matter

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How you set up your classroom is a reflection of who you are and what you value. Think about what you put on your walls and the arrangement of student desks. If you haven’t changed up the materials on the walls in more than a year, change it up. Color, lighting, air quality, pictures, decorations matter. I am a proponent of brain compatible learning and know that the classroom environment affects learning 100%. It is important to create a classroom environment that is inviting, calm and without clutter for all the learners in your classroom. Bring in furniture, plants, and calming colors that are comfortable and promote learning.

  1.  Tap into Multiple Intelligences

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Ask students to sing, dance, act, build, and illustrate in addition to the reading and writing everyday. Movement is important and helpful to students. Allow students to show what they know in ways that highlight their strengths. Encourage students to act out a scene from a text or create videos that explain how to solve a problem. Students can put into song their understanding of a historical event and even create a dance about cell mitosis. When conducting a survey, poll students by asking them to stand up if they agree. Sitting and listening can be torturous for and at school students are sitting for more than 4.5 hours a day!

  1.   Families can do Without Homework

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As a parent of a middle school student and an elementary school student I see how homework can bring added stress, competition, and anger among families. As a teacher I have removed homework knowing my students are over scheduled outside of school with extra curriculars and family time. My only request is that my students read for 30 minutes or more every night. All my student’s writing and work is done in class. There is less stress on students and parents when homework is eliminated. I know what my students are capable of and what skills I need to address to make them better readers and writers. I see their actual work, not the work of mom, dad, or the tutor.

  1. Would You Want to Be A Student in Your Classroom?

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In everything you plan and everything you do in your classroom ask yourself, “How would I feel if I was a student in my own classroom?” If you are bored with any aspect of your lesson, then so will your students. Now, every lesson does not have to be edutainment. But, think about all those young people looking and listening to you – in addition to tapping into multiple intelligences, make sure your lessons are authentic, engaging, hands-on and minds-on so that your students are actively engaged with the lesson.

  1. Keep a Hugs & Kisses File

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Keep a file for the cards, thank yous, positive notes and warm fuzzies that you collect while teaching. At the same time, I also have an “Asshole File” with emails of parents telling me off because of a grade or score on their child’s assignment – this might make a great book one day!. It is always great to go back to these artifacts every now and again to read the messages that parents, students, and administrators in honor of you.

  1. Learning Happens Beyond the Walls of the Classroom

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Learning is not only confined to the walls of school. Learning happens everywhere and anywhere. In fact, I would say one place I learn the most is when I am driving in my car to and from work listening to NPR (National Public Radio). Listening to the radio shows and podcasts has inspired my thinking and teaching. I have listened to RadioLab so much to deconstruct the format as a five paragraph essay that I wrote about in Teaching Literacy in the Digital Age: Inspiration for All Levels and Literacies (ISTE, 2014).  I am also a huge proponent of field trips and leaving the classroom to learn about the world around us. Visit art and science museums, farms, parks, and research labs with your students. Can’t get out, then virtual field trips or bring the field trip into your classroom.

  1. It’s Gotta Be Fun (at least) 80% of the Time

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If you are not having fun, if you don’t love your job, if you are photocopying the same packets and worksheets year after year, it’s time for a sabbatical or maybe a new career. Amazing teachers I know are passionate, caring, have incredible energy, and their students always look like they are having fun learning. Your attitude is everything. As Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate states, “Teaching in a way that empowers students, develops a love of learning, sparks curiosity, encourages an Innovator’s Mindset, embraces risk-taking, and encourages persistence in the face of obstacles has a LIFE-CHANGING impact on our students.” This is the teacher I strive to be and want to be known for.

  1.  laugh-thi3

At least once a day have a good laugh – not at the spite of others. Have fun. Laugh often. From the scientific perspective, laughter is an elegant mind-body phenomenon that reduces the production of stress hormones and boosts the immune system.

 

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Genius Hour Wrap-Up, Reflections, & Revisions

This is the second year that I have instituted Genius Hour in my classroom. Every Friday students have one period to explore, learn, create, discover, research a topic that interests them. The only conditions are that student’s choose a topic that is researchable and will “make an impact on the community” with their topic of choice, no matter how small the impact.

Genius Hour stems from Google’s 20% time. One of the perks employees at the Googleplex get is 20% of their time to work on a special project.  One well known product that has come out of this incentive program is Gmail.

To end Genius Hour this June I held a Genius Hour and Passion Project Expo inviting students and parents to view all the great projects students worked on during the 20 week spring semester. There are so many ways students can share what they learned: a Presentation, Prezi, Video, TED Talk, and or Booklet. I was so impressed that more than a dozen parents attended the Expo and were inspired and impressed by all the projects.

Genius Hour has inspired by students in so many ways. Some students created blogs, others started a book drive or helped those who are less fortunate, students created products and some even are pursuing trademarking their Genius Hour idea. Topics addressed music, art, writing, science, the environment, fashion, animation, and people’s prejudices. I am amazed by the hard work that my students put into their projects and yet, there are some students who did not use the time to their benefit.

I am still thinking up ways to hold students accountable to our weekly genius hour class time. Asking students to write weekly reflections, when I have 95 students is too much. I am thinking of creating a Genius Hour classroom blog and each student writes a monthly blog post reflecting on their process at that moment.

Grading is a challenge too, I do not want to grade the product, rather evaluate the process. I am rethinking the rubric to include a section on “use of class time.” 20% of student’s evaluation will focus on the use of class time. For students who use class time for socializing and do the majority of their presentation preparation at home, they could not get higher than an 80 out of 100.  But then should I be grading genius hour at all?

I did ask students to grade themselves in a written reflection on their work and successes in Genius Hour, I was so surprised how many of my students who I felt worked diligently and successfully gave themselves grades of B or lower and students who I observed doing little work during Genius Hour class time game themselves an A.

Teaching is a reflective process. From one semester to the other, one year to the next, I am always rethinking and re-examining my practices, tools, and techniques to better support my students as learners.

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25 Ways to Tell Your Students They Are Great

As another school year begins, I continue to brainstorm ways to give my students positive reinforcement. Below is a list of 25 ways to tell my students they are awesome and what they did is great. If you have additional ideas please post them in the comment section of this blog.

1. Super job!

2. Gold metal performance!

3. WOW!

4. Keep up the terrific work!

5. Intelligence strikes again!

6. Splendid Success!

7. You’re amazing!

8. First class all the way!

9. Unforgettable!

10. Unbelievably well done!

11. I admire what you’ve done!

12. You’re destined for greatness!

13. You always do your best!

14. You’ve exceeded my expectations!

15. Exemplary!

16. You really met the challenge!

17. Nothing is impossible for you!

18. Do it again!

19. Positively peak performance!

20. Your brilliance never ceases to amaze me!

21. Marvelous contribution!

22. Nice going!

23. You just keep getting better!

24. Exceptional!

25. You’re an inspiration to others!

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Asking the Right Questions to Promote Learning & Understanding

There are two types of questioning that teachers employ in the classroom:

Low-level questions tap students’ knowledge. These are the recall questions that address basic knowledge and comprehension of terms, facts, names, and events.

High-level questions require students to expand their thinking and relate to comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. These questions typically begin with How and Why. 

Both types of questions are necessary and important. Professor of Education, Dr. R. Ouyang states, “The primary issue is not to be rigid in defining question levels but rather to ask questions at a level appropriate for the learner and learning activities.”

To be effective in the classroom, the questions teachers ask students must be adjusted to fit the needs of the students. 

Prompting is one technique when a student does not answer a question or gives an incorrect response. Prompting questions use hints and clues to aid students in answering questions or to assist them in correcting an initial original question with clues or hints.

When a student’s reply is correct but insufficient because it lacks depth, the teacher can ask Probing questions to initiate the student to think more thoroughly about the initial response. Probing can ask follow up questions such as, “What do you mean by that?” or “Can you tell us more about . . ” or “How does this connect?”

Wait time is always something teachers ponder and can be a powerful question technique. Students need time to think. If teachers wait 3 seconds or longer for the answer to a question, the quality of students’ responses increases.

Here are some other questioning guidelines:

1. Ask clear questions. Ask something in simple, clear language that students can understand. 

2. Ask your questions before designating a respondent. Ask a question. Wait for the class to think about it, and then ask someone for an answer. 

3. Ask questions that match your lesson objectives

4. Distribute questions about the class fairly.

5. Ask one question at a time

As teachers we need to set the stage for meaningful discussions and model our questions so that students can exchange information and ideas with one another, not just for the sake of the teacher or a grade. 

 

 

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Who’s Who? A Detective’s Interactive File & Close Reading

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My students have just started reading Agatha Christie’s murder mystery And Then There Were None.  In the first chapter the reader is introduced to eleven different and central characters. This can be confusion for some. So, in order to help my students to learn and understand each of the characters I created an interactive detective’s file foldable for their English Journal.  Students created the detective’s file and then received a small file card on each of the characters to fill out while reading of the text.  Like a detective seen on television and in movies, students are required to keep a file on each of the characters based on their reading and understanding of the text. The detective’s files needed to contain the following information:

Front Side (To be completed during after reading Chapters 1 & 2) :

Physical Traits

Character Traits

Reason for going to Solider Island

Mode of Transportation to the Island

Inferences that can be made about the character

Back Side (To be completed during reading chapters 3-15):

Crime Accused of

Reactions

Cause of Death

Time & Place of Death

 

After students made the detective file foldable and glued it into their notebooks they were assigned a specific character to study and examine closely.  Working in small groups, students reread specific sections about their character gathering evidence, then developing ideas and making inferences about the character. Using the information from the selected text students were to uncover the following: (1) the character’s physical appearance and age; (2) the mode of transportation the character used to arrive on Solider Island; (3) a direct quote about the character describing the character’s personality; (4) an inference about the character’s personality based on the quote; and (5) how the character was invited to the island and what he/she expects to do on Solider Island. Students created posters to communicate all the above information. 

This activity directly links to the CCLS and close reading for text evidence: “Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it” (CCLS R.1). 

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Students presented their finished posters and their classmates filled in their detective files on each of the characters of the text.

Christopher Lehman & Kate Roberts’ book Falling in Love with Close Reading (2014) describes close reading as “following the unfolding of an idea, to hear a text, to attend to language, to question, to visualize scenes, to mentally construct characters can only come from closely paying attention” [to the text] (p.10).  This year I am slowing down my students reading so they practice the skill of reading closely, paying attention to the details, and see the complexity of ideas that are presented in texts and in our own lives. 

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Alternatives to Traditional Vocabulary Instruction

Imagine that you are teaching “Use of Force” by WIlliam Carlos Williams.  As the teacher, your task is to devise a way of teaching vocabulary for this story in a way that does not interfere with students’ enjoyment and interest of the text.  

What ever text that you are teaching the old school concept of vocabulary lists on Monday, definitions on Tuesday, sentences on Thursday, and quiz on Friday are not effective in terms of student retention or usage.

When designing vocabulary “lessons,” keep in mind the following:

1. Avoid presenting a long list of vocabulary words to be learned before students are able to read the text.

2. Choose only those words that are important to the meaning and/or will be likely to actually enter your students’ vocabulary.

3. Consider a way of involving students in identifying their own vocabulary words.

4. Try to give your students experiences in figuring out words in context, rather than simply memorizing them.

5. If possible, devise a way for students to locate and define their own words, rather than relying on your choices and definitions.

6. Consider alternatives to students’ learning definitions of words individually. Think about creating collaborative learning experiences, if possible.

7. Find a way to evaluate what your students have learned without relying on a traditional vocabulary test (multiple choice or fill in the blank).

For more ideas about teaching vocabulary, Janet Allen’s Words, Words, Words and Word Savvy by Max Brand are fantastic resources. 

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