Why I Blog…

“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” By Voltaire

I often get asked, “Why do you blog?” and my answer is because I like to help other educators while also reflecting on my own learning.  I started blogging in 2011 and over the last few months I have been starting to wonder, ‘should I keep blogging?’

Blogging takes a lot of time, dedication and I have been doing it for over five years. I started wondered if I should be putting that time into something else. I decided to go back to my roots, look at my vision and think about what have I gained through my blogging experience.

Original Vision: To collaborate with educators to make a difference in education through improving methods and reflecting. I want to seek new perspectives, take risks and continue to pursue my passions of curriculum and instruction, technology and 21st century learning.

Upon reflection I decided I have met my vision and I have also gained:

  1. Meeting amazing people that I have collaborated with on projects such as with Dr. Will, along with other guest bloggers like Kenny McKee.
  2. Gained new ideas from readers through the comments
  3. It has made me a more creative thinker
  4. It has also held me accountable to practice what I preach: Share your knowledge, don’t keep it to yourself, help better others!
  5. It has been a “professional learning” experience for myself. When I don’t have a topic in mind, I find myself reading other blogs, tweets etc that spark my thinking or force me to learn something new that I might have put off with ‘I don’t have time for that’.
  6. I have over 6,750 followers and my thought process was, even if one of my readers changes their teaching craft, that is making a difference in education, right? Then last week I received an email from a friend that said: “You continue to have such an influence. This is from an elementary school principal who used your blog post to generate conversation. Thought you would like to read their comments.”

The Principal wrote:

I shared another blog post (Getting Started with Personalized Learning by Jill Thompson) with my staff to spark an electronic reflective conversation.
Here are some of their thoughts and my insights on where we are in our journey.
My take: nervous but realizing they are doing it and generating more excitement/momentum!

I read each and every one of the teachers responses, which were all very thought provoking. I believe everything happens for a reason and this email solidified that I need to keep blogging, not only for myself, but to help inspire others!

 

“The essence of mathematics lies in its freedom.” by Georg Cantor

Math.jpg

A few weeks ago I wrote, Five Must Have Literacy Books to Add to Your Shelf and was asked by many educators what do I like for Math. Below are five of my favorite books (in no particular order) to help improve math instruction.

  1. Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching by Jo Boaler

  2. Visible Learning for Mathematics, Grades K-12: What Works Best to Optimize Student Learning  by John A. Hattie, Douglas B. Fisher, Nancy Frey 

  3. Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All by NCTM

  4. What’s Math Got to Do with It?: How Teachers and Parents Can Transform Mathematics Learning and Inspire Success by Jo Boaler

  5. Making Number Talks Matter: Developing Mathematical Practices and Deepening Understanding by Cathy Humphreys, Ruth Parker

If there is a math book you think that should be added to this list, please add it in the comments section, as I am always wanting to build my toolkit and book list.

“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun” Mary Lou Cook

NCTIES is one of my favorite conference each year. I love learning new things and sparking new ideas to share with others. Here are 10 new tools I learned about that I have not used before but will be using in the classroom: (These are in no particular order)

  1. Quick, Draw:  This is a game built with machine learning. You draw, and a neural network tries to guess what you’re drawing. The machine guessed 4/6 of my drawings.
  2. Bloxels for Kids: This is an innovative video game development platform that allows you to create your own video games. I love that it is created by kids for kids.
  3. Sutori:  This is a place students can create their own digital story timelines.
  4. Post it Plus App: Take a picture of the post-its that you were using to brainstorm/collaborate and save it as a picture. You can then later rearrange or add to it.
  5. Phonto: Add text to photo’s…so many great ways to use this in the classroom.
  6. Quizalize: Similar to Kahoot but what I like about more is students can take it at their own pace. 
  7. Vizia: This site makes a quiz from any video, sends answers to a spreadsheet!
  8. Inklewriter: Create your own choose your adventure story. 
  9. OpeneBooks: This site, once you create an account, offers free ebooks for students.
  10. Teach Your Monster to Read: This site is great for the younger students and ESL students.

*Bonus: Richard Byrne shared all his presentation slides here from the conference as well.

Today I have for you an amazing guest blogger….the fantastic Danielle Springs, an outstanding educator and a life long learner! 

In this blog post I am going to share with you the importance of the awareness of our words when interacting with our students, and the significance of strong teacher and student relationships.

Let’s start with strong relationships. When I reflect on my years as a student in the public education system, I notice one common trend: my life was positively impacted by the teachers who took the time to build genuine relationships with me and my peers. These teachers were the same ones who used their words in a positive manner and encouraged me and made me want to come to school. Initially, this is the exact reason why I became a teacher; I’m in it for the children. They matter. Their voices matter, their choices matter, and their feelings matter. If you are familiar with Personalized Learning, then you know that my advocacy of strong relationships directly aligns.

As an educator, I make it my priority to intentionally build strong relationships. I am fortunate to teach at a school and in a school district that places relationships and students above all. I make a point to build relationships and not force them.  Eventually,  it  becomes to natural and second nature that I build them without even knowing.  I am going to talk with you today about some of the ways, big and small, that I strengthen the relationships I have with my students.

First and foremost, I stand outside of my classroom door each and every morning greeting my students. You will not find me sitting at my desk preparing for the day ahead or grading papers. I greet each student with a hug, a warm smile, and cheerful “good morning!”. I also take this time to greet their siblings if they are walking past my room to their classes, greet students in other grade levels, and participate in secret handshakes that the student create with and for me. I ask them if they had a good morning preparing for school… and sometimes, the answers surprise me. For example, most of the time, their mornings are routine and the same. Other times, they wake up late, forget to eat breakfast, or feel frazzled, sometimes they are simply “still tired!”. Knowing this is very important to me. I can take it into consideration if I notice any changes in their usual behaviors throughout the day. This is one small step in building relationships that any teacher can easily implement.

When the bell rings every morning at 8:15, we begin our morning meeting. I cannot stress the importance of this opportunity to build your classroom culture, which directly relates to your relationships with students.  I allow students to choose topics that we discuss, share their personal lives, and express their interests or concerns. I encourage collaboration and stake my claim for the importance of taking academic risks. We participate in team building activities and set goals as a class and as individuals.. We do all of this together, and learn how to encourage one another along the way. I encourage you to listen to Podcast number 17 for more information on building classroom culture through morning meetings.

Another simple way to build your relationships is to spend time with your students at recess.  I rotate throughout the week the areas in which I spend my recess time. Not only am I observing and actively watching the students play, I am also a participant. I engage in games of kickball either as a player or the referee, I play four square and make my way around the court from joker to king, I take nature walks to our big Oak Tree, I play gaga ball, and other times I simply walk around and students crowd around me asking me to either talk or play a game. I have students who walk up to me at the beginning of the school day and say “will you please play with me at recess this afternoon??” I see this carry over into the classroom and my bond with each student as an individual grow and strengthen.

Another subtle way to build relationships is to encourage and seek out my students so that their voices are heard. I do not create a pathway without student input. I make it a point to incorporate choices, videos, activities, and assignments that the students ask for. I intentionally place topics on pathways or embed them into my lessons that I know students are interested in and can relate to. I want my students to know our classroom is a community and is truly their room- not mine.  I also stay true to my word. If I tell a student I will have something ready for them tomorrow, then I do it, even if I remember just as a place my head down in bed at night to go to sleep. It is important to not make empty statements, even if they are trivial in our minds. This builds trust and stability.

I also want to encourage each and every educator who is listening to not be afraid to share with students about your personal life and your feelings. If I forget to do something or make a mistake, I tell them right away. I am open and I am honest. I share stories about my personal life all the time. My students feel as if they know my family on a first name basis, because I make it a point to be an open book.  This trust and vulnerability will allow for a two way street of communication and thus building your relationships.

I mentioned previously that we can build relationships in subtle ways at school, but I also want to mention about one way that I have strengthened my relationships with my students outside of school. I intentionally send out surveys to my parents and students at the beginning and end of each school year. I use surveys provided by the author of one of my favorite books, “Passionate Learners” by Pernille Ripp. I highly recommend every teacher to read it, especially if you are implementing Personalized Learning. The beginning of year school survey is beneficial for many reasons, one which includes the parents and students speaking on behalf of student interests and out of school activities. As a teacher I have attended soccer games, basketball games, baseball games, swim meets, and gymnastics competitions. One of my favorite moments this school year was at a baseball game I attended for one of my boys. He stepped up to bat and on the first pitch, he hit the ball to the fence. This led to a home run! Instead of heading straight to the dugout as he waited for the next batter, he sprinted through the dugout and headed straight for me. He gave me the biggest hug and told me that it meant the world to him that I was at the game and was able to witness this moment. Our relationship has been exceptional ever since. He knows I care about him and love him, and this is so much more impactful than solely focusing on academics.

The last point I want to make is that as educators we need to be intentional of the way in which we speak to our students. In the book, “Choice Words”,  by Peter H. Johnston writes this: “To me, the most humbling parts of observing accomplished teachers is seeing the ways in which they build emotionally and relationally healthy learning communities- intellectual environments that produce not mere technical competence, but caring, secure, actively literate human beings.”

Our words matter. I encourage all educators to pick up a copy of “Choice Words” by Peter H. Johnston. It reminds us that our language affects children’s learning. If a student is struggling with a concept, we need to be careful of the way in which we approach our corrections. If we address the area of their needs in a positive light, there is a greater chance that the student will not be discouraged, thus continuing to build on our relationships and their progress academically. For example, I am thinking of a student I previously taught that was reading several grade levels below proficiency. During a research reading conference, I asked her to read her book out loud for me to hear. She read a sentence and replaced a key word with an incorrect word. When she was finished, she looked up at me. She expressed that it did not sound right, but that she could not figure out what the sentence said. There are several ways that I could have approached this. I could have told her the answer. I could have made her try again. I could have asked her to keep going. But, instead, I asked her this- “Why do you think that the sentence doesn’t make sense?” and “What can you do to help you figure out the meaning of this word?” Once we went through strategies together,  I told her that I was proud of the way SHE figured that out. If you notice- I did not take credit for giving her the answer. I let her work through it, only providing her tools. I celebrated her ability to figure out the unknown word. I celebrated her ability to read. I chose my words wisely and I allowed this teaching moment to build on our relationship while encouraging her to be a reader. Peter H. Johnston writes about a similar scenario that occurred and I encourage you to read “Choice Words” for more.  In reading conferences and in other situations throughout the school day, we find ourselves with opportunities to correct students and choosing our words is vital in all situations.

Let’s think about a time when a student may have become quickly frustrated in the classroom and acted upon his or her frustrations, I might say “What can I do to help?” or “What are your next steps?” rather than immediately correcting the behaviors and actions. This shows that I am going to support him or her in making a decision, rather than being a dictator. It is important for students to know that they are able to have feelings- and this includes frustrated feelings as well. We must celebrate their ability to express their frustrations and help them find solutions and ways to move forward.

The last thing I want to leave you with is this: there will never be a student of mine who goes home at the end of the day without knowing he or she is loved by me. I tell each and every student daily that I love them and care for them- and then I prove my words through my actions. I encourage all educators to do the same. Build your relationships. Love your students endlessly. Watch them grow both emotionally and as a result, academically.

 

“A child who can read will be an adult who thinks.” By Sasha Salmina

The goal of literacy instruction is to build students confidence, ability and skills in reading and writing. There are numerous engaging, effective strategies to get students to think about, write about, read about, and talk about content. Below are five of my favorite books (in no particular order) to help improve literacy instruction.

reading.jpg

  1. Mindsets and Moves: Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge, Grades 1-8 by Gravity Goldberg
  2. Who’s Doing the Work?: How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris 
  3. Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration by Pernille Ripp
  4. The Reading Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers by Jennifer Serravallo – She also recently came out with

    The Writing Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Writers and I have heard great reviews but have not personally read it yet.

  5. From Pencils to Podcasts: Digital Tools for Tansforming K-6 Literacy Practices- A Teachers Guide for Embedding Technology Into Curriculum by Katie Stover Kelly and Lindsey Yearta

If there is a literacy book you think that should be added to this list, please add it in the comments section, as I am always wanting to build my toolkit and book list.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” By Aesop

Random Acts of Kindness Week, February 12-18, is a week-long celebration dedicated to encouraging people to do one thing: be kind. You can follow the thread at #RAKweek2017.

kindnessThe Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Foundation is a great site to help you integrate RAK in your classroom. RAK goal is to “ultimately striving to make kindness the standard in every aspect of life. Whether it’s helping a stranger in need on your way to work, instilling the importance of kindness in students in a classroom, or a mutual demonstration of appreciation of those closest to us, our end-goal is to make kindness not an act at all, but a reflex. And to make the need for kindness obsolete by the overwhelming and undeniable presence of it everywhere.”

RAK is apart of the hidden curriculum in schools but there are lots of ways to integrate it seamlessly so that it is apart of your classroom culture. Below are five ways you can integrate RAK:

  1. Talk about RAK during morning meetings and/or advisory time.
  2. Start a bucket filling program in your classroom or school
  3. Make it apart of your Interactive Read Aloud. Here are some book titles to get you started:
    1. Have You Filled A Bucket Today? A Guide To Daily Happiness For Kids by Carol McCloud

    2. Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson, Fumi Kosaka

    3. We All Sing With The Same Voice by J. Philip Miller and Sheppard M. Greene

    4. Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

    5. A Sick Day For Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead

    6. Last Stop On Market Street by Matt de la Pena

    7. Horton Hears A Who by Dr. Seuss

    8. Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

    9. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

    10. The Three Questions by Jon J Muth

  4. Show video’s demonstrating RAK. You can use the RAK Video Library as a resource!
  5. Ripil App is a free “kindness tracker” where you can post daily RAK goals.

You can start integrating RAK by also becoming a RAKtivists = Random Acts of Kindness activist! You can apply to be a RAKtivist here.

More Articles and Information about RAK:

Random Acts of Kindness Week: Encouraging Empathy and Appreciation of Diversity in Your Classroom

RAK Blog

102 Random Acts of Kindness – Ideas to Inspire Kindness

9 Ways to Introduce Students to Random Acts of Kindness

Discover Educations: Discover Kindness in the Classroom

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” By Walt Disney

I am so excited to have Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda be guest bloggers this week! I met Allison a few years ago at an ASCD conference and we instantly bounded over trying to figure out what Personalized Learning meant for schools and classrooms, while on the floor waiting for the keynote doors to open! This encounter turned into a partnership and friendship and I am so glad to have met her not only because she is an amazing thought partner but she has introduced me to so many amazing educators including Bena.

Guest Post by Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda

How can we encourage student reflection and growth in each of the four attributes? We have found that it is helpful to pay attention to key Habits of Mind associated with voice, co-creation, social construction, and self-discovery. If you want to take a look back at each habit, take a look at Bena and Art Costa’s page on Learning Personalized.

This post explores how modeling and growing certain habits in conjunction with the attributes nurtures the learning partnership between teacher and student: one grounded on trust, increased autonomy, shared responsibility, and thoughtful actions.

screen-shot-2017-01-25-at-5-48-24-pm

Voice

Habits of Mind to Pay Attention To: listening with understanding and empathy; thinking and communicating with clarity and precision, questioning and problem posing.

Typically, students are driven by the school’s curriculum agenda. They become passengers in the journey adults have mapped out. As a result, students have grown accustomed to being told what to do; what to read, what to think, etc.

In personalized learning, every student is seen as a respected and valued participant. Empowerment comes from an environment in which students recognize the power of their own ideas and recognize the shift that can happen by being exposed to others’ ideas.

When developing voice, it is as important to listen to what others have to say as it is to learn how to voice your own thoughts. Often, when we are listening closely to another, we begin to seek greater clarity about what the other is trying to express.

We raise questions that help to clarify our understanding and we pay attention to what the other person is thinking and feeling. At the same time, as we establish our own voice, we try hard to choose words that help express our thoughts with specificity. So, for example, instead of saying “everyone thinks that is the case,” we might say, “when I was at the meeting the other day, I heard at least three people say that this is the case.”

Growing student voice through building the habits that focus on both expressing yourself and thinking clearly about what it is you really are trying to say is an essential key to the sense of empowerment we want all students to experience as they engage with the world.

screen-shot-2017-01-25-at-5-49-21-pm

Co-Creation

Habits of Mind to Pay Attention To: creating, imagining and innovating; thinking flexibly; persisting.

Students assume a significant design role in the development of the idea, challenge, problem, or inquiry. They are being invited to the design table to co-create a personalized plan using “backward design” principles.

The student works with the teacher to:

  • develop a challenge, problem, or idea
  • clarify what is being measured (learning goals)
  • envision the product or performance (assessment)
  • outline an action plan to be successful on that performance to achieve the desired results (learning actions)

When we invite students to become co-creators of their own learning, we want them to persist as they consider many new and innovative possibilities for learning. We want students to realize that the first idea may not be the best idea.

They need to be willing to let go of ideas that they predict may not work and to come up with another idea that leads them in a new direction. They must open their minds to what others think and say as they shape the actions they might take. They need to learn that creativity is often an interactive process of thinking collaboratively as well as individually.

Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 5.50.01 PM.png

Social Construction

Habits of Mind to Pay Attention To: thinking interdependently, taking responsible risks, gathering data.

Students build ideas through relationships with others as they theorize, investigate, and develop in pursuit of a common goal. There is real power in feeling that you are not alone, a sense of camaraderie when you are working to cause a change, create a performance, or build a prototype.

As Riley indicated based on his own observations of many schools:

“The experiences that have most inspired me have shared one singular feature: They have involved rich conversations among a community of scholars. The most compelling classrooms are ones in which learning goals are shared, and knowledge is fostered through social interactions.”

When students are in a conversation with others, they need to be open to the influence of other people’s thinking. They must be able to hear what others are saying and remain open to the continuous refinement of ideas as they deepen their understanding of what is at hand. They might need to reach out to experts in the field they are studying.

Although this is taking a risk, it also often leads to enormous rewards. Students learn which risks are most likely to give them greater clarity in their thinking. Developing the habits for social construction broaden the students’ experiences beyond the walls of the classroom or school.

screen-shot-2017-01-25-at-5-50-34-pm

Self Discovery

Habits of Mind to Pay Attention To: thinking about your thinking, responding with wonderment and awe, applying past knowledge to new situations.

Students need to know enough about themselves to be able to make wise decisions as they navigate through the turbulence of a rapidly changing environment. Being educated is more than being knowledgeable about a series of topics and fluent in key skills; it also is having students come to understand themselves as learners and know more about what they want to do both in the world as well as in future learning.

Our ultimate aim is for students to become self-directed learners who know how to manage themselves in a variety of situations.

When students build the habit of reflecting on their learning, they are becoming more self-directed. They are able to consider what they learned from a given study and celebrate their successes as well as paying attention to what did not work. They are able to distinguish what is important so that they can transfer that learning to new situations.

They begin to discover their passions, interests, dreams as they experience the adrenaline that flows from what they have accomplished. They stand back and gaze with wonderment and awe!

%d bloggers like this: