Tuesday, July 29, 2014

DIY and Some Tunes Tuesday Fun!

So, I wrapped up my weeklong conference at the University of Virginia, drove the four and a half hours home...had dinner, and then got immediately to work on my basement renovation. For those who aren't aware, my finished basement (which we use as our living room) has flooded really badly a few times (up to 16" deep a couple months ago) and it has ended up costing me $6,000 to get the thing waterproofed to prevent it from happening again. Actually, even more than that when you throw in the fact that all my furniture was destroyed and all the tools and materials I've had to buy.

What a wreck!
Now that the water proofing system is installed, I have to actually make the room something less than a complete safety hazard. Luckily, my dad offered to use his last week before going back to work (he teaches also) to drive up here from GA on his motorcycle to help me put the mess back together. It would be beyond our finances to have someone come in and fix it for me. I have a really good reason that I need this done pronto and cheap (maybe I'll share about that soon)...so I'm super grateful that he can help. The materials aren't cheap, but the labor is free at least! The catch? We have to get it done THIS week! That means seven 14 hour days in a row...I've finished the first 3 days and it has been rough!

So basically, I have been trying to not lose my mind with all the sawing, banging of hammers, insulation itch, etc. I am not cut out for manual labor...

In other news, I just had to take a moment on this fine Tuesday to share this funny video. If you're from anywhere close to my generation, then you're definitely familiar with Weird Al Yankovic. He recently came out with a parody of "Blurred Lines" called "Word Crimes." If you're into grammar like I am then you've got to give it a quick watch!

Have a great Tuesday!

Friday, July 25, 2014

UVA Conference - Day 4 Assessment and Feedback

I'm back again with some notes from the Summer Institute on Academic Diversity conference about assessment and feedback.

Just as a reminder, John Hattie conducted a meta-analysis involving 200+ million students and was able to determine that along with teacher-student relationships, one of the greatest indicators of growth in students was the quality of feedback they received!

Just in case you're a bit rusty, there are really three main forms assessment will take in classrooms. Pre-assessment, Formative Assessment, and Summative Assessment. 

All assessment should serve the purpose of informing the teacher (and student if it's really good) about a student's current level of understanding. In other words...Assessments should help the teacher teach better. If you're giving an assessment that won't help you teach better, then you shouldn't be giving it! (Ahem...state standardized tests!)

Pre-assessment and Formative Assessments shouldn't be graded. Pre-assessment obviously occurs before a concept has been taught to help the teacher assess the kids' readiness levels. If you're giving a multiple choice pre-assessment then it is time for you to assess the quality of your pre-test! 

We all know you shouldn't record grades from a pre-test, but I think it is easy to forget that Formative Assessment isn't really about grades either. Formative Assessment happens while the students are still learning. You wouldn't want someone to take the sum of all your actions in a given field and make claims about you based on that, would you? No way, you'd want them to look at where you were at the end!

Here's a great idea for a quick formative assessment you could try. It's a perfect way to inform your own teaching that only takes a minute. 

I think the best formative assessment happens naturally. Watching your kids play a math game, talking with them at a writing conference, reading their response journals, etc.

Grades (if they must exist at all), should reflect a child's readiness level AFTER the teaching and learning has taken place. What level of understanding has the child attained? NOT, how quickly did they attain the understanding. NOT, did they make mistakes along the way. That's why Summative Assessments are the only type of assessments that should be recorded as grades. I'm lucky enough to teach in district where a grading system at the elementary level is not really valued. If you're in a system that still requires you to keep a gradebook where you record and average a set of grades (especially if some of those grades are from formative assessments) I'd challenge you to challenge your superiors with some of the current research and understandings about effective grading.

I hope you're convinced by your own experiences and Hattie's research that giving feedback to students is worthwhile. Some things to note about feedback are:

Feedback should be specific! "Great job!" "Dig Deeper!" and "A+" are not specific or effective pieces of feedback! This video about Austin's Butterfly is an amazing example of how to give specific feedback. (If these kids can do it, we can too!)

Austin's Butterfly: Building Excellence in Student Work - Models, Critique, and Descriptive Feedback from Expeditionary Learning on Vimeo.

Feedback should be actionable! If your student can't take your feedback and use it to make changes, then what's the point? 

Feedback should be consistent! Whether it comes in the form of handwritten notes, voice recordings, face-to-face conferring, or even google doc comments...it's got to keep coming! ALL students need feedback, and they need it often.

Feedback should cause a cognitive response, not an emotional one. If your feedback hurts feelings then it isn't helping. If your feedback makes a kiddo think, you're doing it right! 

What about that kiddo that needs LOTS of feedback? Pick one or two things at a time to work on. Feedback is a great way to move kids along the scale and growing...but like anything it can be overdone.

What are some of your favorite ways to give (or get!) feedback? Personal podcasts, google comments, conferences? I'd love some new ideas!

I'll be back tomorrow to sum it all up, talk about KUDs, and answer the question, "So what's the point of all this?"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

UVA Conference - Day 3! Teacher Mindset

Yesterday morning and a portion of this morning we spent some time talking about Mindset. I've talked about mindset before, and I shared some of Carol Dweck's work with you in my last post, but I thought I'd highlight really quickly what I've learned about the advantages to having a growth mindset.
When a teacher has a growth mindset they:

-Shape student self-perception positively
-Build group trust
-Teach what they believe children can learn
-Do what it takes to make sure their kids are successful

Unfortunately, having a fixed mindset leads to the exact opposite. My principal pointed out today that it is just as important to make sure that parents know about this stuff. If you've ever caught a parent saying "Jenny just isn't good at spelling. Her dad is good at math, but she takes after me." That's cringe-worthy fixed mindset material! We've got to step in and teach parents sometimes. What you mean is, "Jenny isn't a good speller yet. We'll do what it takes to help her become one though!" "Her dad has always been good at math, she can be too if she puts her mind to it."

Here's a piece of food for thought. What if our rubrics only had two categories? Acceptable, and Above. Remember from yesterday? Sustained failure is not acceptable. If a student fails at something and isn't given the opportunity to try again and get better (with scaffolding) then that must mean that the task given wasn't important enough for them to need mastery. If that's the case, why was the task given at all? We should give our kids tasks that lead to understandings. We should do what it takes to make sure that they master those understandings. We know they can with the right help!

Another tidbit: Why do we have to be certain that our lessons are engaging? Because kids eat up knowledge when it's served as ice cream, and they ignore it when it's liver and onions! Engaging doesn't always mean fun, either! Sometimes you engage your kids by getting them angry. (Like when I showed my 5th graders last year the figure that represents the number of slaves still in today's modern world)  Sometimes you engage them with a mystery. Sometimes you give them a mission. If you truly connect the content to their lives and experiences, they'll be engaged.

Well, I know that was a quick check-in, but I'm a sleepy guy! We went out and toured Monticello this afternoon. It was super interesting...and super hot! Here's a picture of one of America's greatest geniuses ignoring me, much like he seemed to ignore the problem of slavery! It's hard to believe that Jefferson had such an amazing mind, yet owned over 600 slaves in his lifetime...some of which were actually his own children, nieces, and nephews. It was refreshing to see that the good people at Monticello have come to terms with his sordid past, and are portraying Jefferson as the complicated, enlightened, crazy-intelligent, and yet completely hypocritical man that he really was. 

If you're ever in Charlottesville, it's worth the trip! The house is truly intriguing, and the tour guides were both great! They definitely showed that passion for their content that is so important.

I'll check in tomorrow with a little about assessment and feedback!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

UVA Conference - Day 2! Shaping Environment

This morning's talk focused a lot on Shaping Environment. Yesterday, we watched this touching 60 Minutes clip about Gospel for Teens. We discussed in more detail this morning. Both parts of the show add up to 30 minutes, but I dare you to try and watch it and not get misty-eyed! This lady is with it! The teaching world is hurting because she isn't in it full time! Whether she's read the research or not, Vi has done what it takes to make sure that her classroom environment has what it takes for student success. 

So what does it take? Well, I've taken some of the concepts we talked about this morning and added in my own take, and some other resources (not from the conference) that I've come across over the years! 

-A love for your content (at least one subject area). Kids need to see passion in their teachers! This makes me think back to Teach Like a Pirate

-Understanding, but not accepting, failure. Kids will fail sometimes. Failure is part of the learning process sometimes. We get that. But failing forever is not okay. As Carol Dweck or Angela Lee Duckworth might say, you've got to have grit! Here's a great video about grit!

-Kids (and teachers) need to leave their baggage at the door. No one said this will be easy. But it's necessary! This is where some mindful practices, anchor breathing, or yoga might come in handy!

-Connecting the curriculum to kids' lives is key! It's age old teacher knowledge that you've got to have kids make connections, and see the content as relevant.

-Teachers have to believe in their kids. We have to have that growth mindset that says that all kids can become smarter. You read that right, not JUST "All kids can learn," but "All kids can become smarter!" Words like high-ability, low-ability, etc. just serve to perpetuate the idea in kids' minds that ability is a fixed thing. I really like the term "readiness levels" instead. If a kid is at a low readiness level, that just means he needs scaffolding to help him be at a higher readiness level. Imagine a kiddo thinking to themselves, "I have low ability." Now imagine that kiddo thinking, "I'm not ready, yet." That last word makes all the difference. Check out this short video of Carol Dweck talking about the Power of Yet!

-Teachers have to take every opportunity to understand their students. You need to study your students! Like I mentioned before, having a strong teacher-student relationship can have one of the hugest impacts on student growth! See what this thoughtful young teacher did in her school!

I'm still enjoying the conference! I really feel like there just won't be enough time to suck up all the knowledge that is being offered. I love the fact that research and decades of experience are backing up my beliefs on teaching. I'm looking forward to working even harder to make sure that I am doing everything possible to have a respectful, and effective learning environment. I'd love to hear your thoughts about the videos, and how you think they might go over at a back to school in-service day!

I'll check in again tomorrow!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Day 1 - UVA Differentiation Conference

I have the luck to be one of the few hundred teachers and administrators at the University of Virginia's Summer Institute on Academic Diversity, which is focusing on Differentiated Instruction. The conference is being led by the amazing Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson. 

Each day the conference begins with a talk given by Dr. Tomlinson, and let me tell you...she does a great job of making that 3 and a half hours fly by. I call it a "talk" and not a "lecture" because she really makes you feel like she is talking to you, and that you are free to contribute or ask questions at any time. 

Some things that stuck with me that I'd love to share are:

The idea that the connection between the student and the teacher has been proven over and over again to be a leading contributor to student growth.

We looked at some of the research done by John Hattie (a meta-analyses that involved 200+ million students!) that showed that in over 50,000 research studies that ability grouping actually led to less growth than would have happened in a classroom without it.

The same study showed that a good teacher student relationship often doubled growth. Giving effective feedback could also double or even triple growth!

I think one of the great things Dr. Tomlinson said was, "Give yourself permission to start (and grow slowly.)" She's referring to introducing differentiation practices. We all know that it can take time to put together and gather those resources. Sometimes we have to accept the fact that it will take us a few years to become experts. There will be some trial and error. I know personally I can drive myself crazy trying to implement everything all at once because I know it is what's best and I want what's best...but sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to take it slow!

The afternoon of each day is spent in break out sessions. I first went to a session about how to give effective feedback on students' writing in math. It was great to get a checklist of ideas for giving feedback that actually benefits the kids, especially those that are getting it. Sometimes, "Great Job!" just doesn't cut it! Asking them to explain their reasoning, provide alternate solutions, explain who they might do it next time, etc. will get them thinking about how to take the math to the next level. 

The second session was all about building community and classroom management. I have to admit...I feel like both of these areas are strengths of mine...so I didn't get as much new information out of this session as I hoped. But I did have a principal try to recruit me to her school! So I'll take that as a compliment! Haha.

I was already looking forward to the conference, but after today I'm extra excited for the rest of the week!

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Julian Chapter - MMI!

I am super excited to be sharing my Monday Made It from 4th Grade Frolics with all of you! 

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am obsessed with the book Wonder by RJ Palacio. It's amazing, and if you haven't taken the time to read it yet...what are you waiting for?!

If you're not obsessed like me, then you might not be aware that RJ Palacio has written a companion novel titled The Julian Chapter. It's available pretty cheaply and only as ebook or an audiobook. It is definitely worth the read. 

If you're familiar with Wonder, then you know that Julian's perspective was missing from the original storyline. Now Julian has his chance to tell his side of the story. Even better than that, Julian's story continues past the ending of Wonder and gives us a chance to see what happens next! I don't want to ruin anything, but I'll leave it at saying that you have to read this wonderful redemption story.

And...OF COURSE I had to make a novel unit for it too! I spent a lot of time giving this book my usual detailed treatment, and in the process fell back in love with all of the characters from Wonder...this time that includes Julian. The Julian Chapters Novel Study Unit includes my usual chapter by chapter break downs, and also 7 more activities to use with this book and Wonder. I just put the finishing touches on it, and I hope you'll grab it up in my store for just $3.00!  A steal, right?!

I also took this as an opportunity to freshen up my original Wonder by RJ Palacio Novel Study Unit. I added the Symbolism with Wonder Activity and my Picture Vocabulary Sheets, so now this 174 page unit is even more of a steal!

My lovely wife took lots of pictures
while we visited Sapelo Island.
So grabbing up my new unit would certainly help motivate me during my second Monday Made It. I guess this one would have to be considered a work in progress at the moment because I am currently doing it. Killer B and I have been in GA vacationing and visiting family for the summer. 
But it is finally time to make the long drive home. 14 hours to be exact! Visiting with family has been nice, but It'll be great to get home and start focusing on getting things ready for next school year, getting my home improvement projects done, etc. 

So, wish me luck on my long drive with a cranky-while-driving wife and two very restless German Shepherds! I'll be counting down the miles!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Back to the Archive - 7/23/13 - Advice for New Teachers

I'm popping in from the past again with another Back to the Archive post! This one is from last year! I'm giving out some sage advice to all the new teachers out there! ;)

So...let's go BACK!

I'm tripling up and linking up with the "Loving Wisdom for New Teachers" Linky from Fabulously First, the Let's Get Acquainted - Teacher Advice Linky from Flying into First Grade, and this linky from Miss Kindergarten:

To do a little linky alchemy, my ten things are in the form of advice, gleaned from my observations and personal experiences + mistakes + successes over the years. (Also, I've thrown in some photos to break up my wordiness.)

Me as a fresh-faced first year
teacher! Bwahaha! Look at that
cool guy...
Well, this next year will be my lucky 13th year of teaching and I have definitely noticed some trends, and learned quite a bit in that time. I'm going to try to not repeat too many of the great ideas I've already read in these linkies. If I do repeat a bit, sorry! I'm afraid some of these will come off as preachy or know-it-allish, please know that that's not my intention! I've definitely even been guilty of a couple of these. But that leads me to my first one...

#1 - Don't ever think you've mastered it. I once worked with a guy who told me that he was planning to move into a principal position because he had "completely mastered" teaching. He'd been teaching for all of 5 years. I refrained from punching his lights out, but I did imagine doing it. If there's one thing I've learned from teaching, it is that one can never master it. You should always be striving to become a better educator.

#2 - Don't let people or "things" steal your passion. Less than desirable trends, admin, parent interactions, curriculum programs, NCLB, etc will come and go. Close your door and do what's best for your kids. Easier said than done sometimes, I know!

#3 - Love what you teach, and if you don't...pretend or at least still love how you teach it. Like our friend Dave Burgess will attest, enthusiasm is key. If you have to teach American History up to the Civil War to 5th graders and couldn't care less about history... pretend. If asked, my students would say I'm crazy about history. In reality I didn't have any interest in it...until I started to act like I did and used full fledged, in depth simulations to teach it. Now it's actually interesting to me!

#4 - Share. Seems simple, but I've found that it's not. If you do something cool in your room, share it! I want to believe that the reason teachers don't share is because they are shy about their ideas. (But I know that some just don't like to share the limelight of a good idea. :(  ) The students always benefit when teachers share. So don't be shy, and don't wait for a colleague to ask you! If your colleagues don't like your ideas they won't use them. Afraid you'll look too proud of your own ideas? Who cares? You SHOULD be proud. The end.

Don't fall into the trap of
being a screamer.
#5 - Keep control. We've all had kids with behaviors that are...less than perfect. We've all known teachers who are screamers. (Or maybe you're lucky and haven't!) Don't be that teacher. If you're screaming, you've lost control...don't blame it on your kids. 

#6 - Have high expectations for learning and behavior...AND enforce them. If you don't back up your expectations then they're meaningless. I think a lot of teachers who struggle with classroom management tell their kids that they have high expectations but then when the kids don't meet them they just let it go. 

#7 - Plan. I know that many of you will read that and think, "duh!" But in my opinion planning is not just smart, it's our duty. Kids deserve their days/lessons to be well thought out and planned with them specifically in mind. Taught it 12 times before? Not to these kids you haven't. "But I want to be flexible in my teaching." Great! But being flexible is not NOT having a plan...I've heard that from teachers across my career and it's a pet peeve of mine.

#8 - Fair is not the same as equal. Our society stresses that everyone should be treated equally. And in many cases that is true. But I think when it comes to education it's more important that people are treated fairly. Everyone should have the equal opportunity to reach their full potential. Click my poster over there to download one for yourself for free! Check out my band-aid lesson post for more on this topic.

#9 - Remember your real job. I almost think the hidden curriculum is more important than the actual academic curriculum. Public education was created to make people into better citizens. If I help make my kids into good people, give them good life experiences, provide them with a place that they feel safe and loved, plan exciting and engaging lessons, and get to know them as people...the test scores and all that will work itself out.

I met Killer B when she was a resource teacher
and taught in the classroom next to mine. I
eventually tricked her into marrying me!
#10 - Keep an open mind. Whether you've heard rumors about a kid on your roster, think you can't learn anything from a professional development meeting, think your methods are already good enough, etc...chances are, you're wrong. Sometimes it's easy to go into something with a fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset. And when you do that, you're bound to miss out on some wonderful opportunities. 

My contribution to Let's Get Acquainted!
So I hope that didn't come off as too soapboxy. A lot of those served as great reminders to myself! Hopefully there are some new teachers and veterans out there that at least can read this and think, "Right on!" 

Didn't win? It's just $5! Click the image to get one!
So, Killer B picked a winner at random (she didn't even know what I was asking her about!) for my pin it to win it for the Book of Awesome Tasks, and it was Joanne M.! I've already e-mailed your prize to you, and I hope you love it as much as I do!

Don't forget to link up this summer!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Back to School Goals - Planning for 2014-15

Howdy all! As promised, I'm linking up again with I {heart} Recess for the Back to School Goals linky! Last time I reflected on last year's goals. This time I'm looking ahead!

My goals for the 2014-15 school year:

Killer B is my lovely wife, btw!
Personal: I'm definitely guilty of being one of those 24/7/365 teacher types. Killer B and I have no kids of our own, so I end up putting a lot of myself into my school kids. Oftentimes too much. Not to get all sappy but, I really need to learn how to shut down teacher-mode and take more time for myself. It's tough because I'm filling up that hole in my life (all those hours most people my age are spending with their kids) with teachery things. Still waiting to figure out what Killer B and I are going to do about that... But on a lighter note... I also want to be sure that I keep my blog up to date and relevant with handy tips and useful activities!

Organization: My desk is sometimes a wreck, and sometimes it's super clean and organized! The problem? When it is super clean it is usually because I've stacked up all the random stuff and papers and stuck them in a drawer! Then at the end of the year I have this drawer full of papers that need to be filed... I really just need to clean off my desk and file the stuff right away. I need to turn my hideaway drawer into something useful!

Planning: Since I teach a 3rd/4th grade looping multi-age, half of my kiddos will be coming back to me next year. So the unique challenge I face is that my new 4th graders have already seen all my tricks when they were my 3rd graders. This means I need all new read-alouds, all new word work activities, all new writing mini-lessons, all new math projects and games, all new mentor sentences, all new science and SS units, and so on. Keeping it fresh means planning this year almost as if it were my first year teaching... and I can't use some of my tried and true favorites! Aaagh!

I was even in their promotional video!
Professional: Penn State has an amazing PDS program. The interns (student teachers) we get from PSU spend the entire year with us, from before the first planning day all the way til the last day of school. They work the same hours I work. They end up getting an amazing pre-service teaching experience that prepares them for teaching better than any other system I've seen. I've been mentoring interns and working with the program for 4 years, and this will be my 5th! I am trying to become more involved with the program, and would love to be a professional development associate for them in the future.  

One way I try to motivate them is by using
read beads and brag tags!
Students: I feel like I do a good job of challenging my kiddos, but I want them to have more intrinsic motivation to challenge themselves. I want them to try and read challenging books, and write more interesting stories for the sake of the challenge and not just because they are supposed to do it!

Motto: The good news is that after I survive this year, the following year should be much easier because I'll be able to go back to "Year 1" and use some of the materials I've made and procured instead of having to reinvent the wheel AGAIN for every single subject, every single day...

Wish me luck this year! What are your goals for the year?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Final Two for Tuesday is a great one!

It's the last Two for Tuesday of the summer! Here's your chance to grab two of my products for 50% off for the rest of today!

First up is my Biography Writing Project. Grab that up for a measly $2.50! Check it out here: 

Next up is one of my all time favorite products! This is the Division version of my Monster Math Battles! Grab the whole tournament today for just $2.50! That's a steal!

So skip your latte for a day, and you'll have two great products for the rest of your career!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Back to School Goals - Reflection

I'm linking up with my BBB I {heart} Recess for her Back to School Goals linky! I love the idea of reflecting on last year's goals, so I'm going to start with that! I'll be back in a couple days with my new goals for this year!

Here were my goals for the 2013-14 school year:

Personal: I have to admit, Killer B and I started off really strong with this one...then it petered out. As the school year went by we'd come home tired and just feel like vegging out sometimes, or I'd have too much schoolwork to do. Before you knew it, it was a Tuesday and we really just wanted to relax in front of the TV...and then BAM...once you break a rule once it's easy to break it again.

Organization: I think I set up a pretty nice classroom this year! I was moving classrooms and took it as an opportunity to totally change my colors, theme, all the posters, etc. I think it turned out really well. I'll make a few changes this year, but not too many!

Planning: Since I was also totally new to the 3rd/4th multi-age I kind of had no choice BUT to plan like a pirate! I put a lot of effort into making several Math project-based learning simulations, and I really worked hard at making my Writer's Workshop interesting. 

I made this bookmark for myself to use while planning. Grab one up for yourself for free!

Professional: I've gone totally digital with my lesson planning now, and I think it has been great. I made a block planning sheet in Google Presentations that I can duplicate each week and then type into to plan. The bonus? I can SHARE my plans easily with my intern, and all of the special educators and paras I work with. No more, "I didn't know you were doing such and such at this time!" I've talked to other colleagues about this and they can't believe that I share my plans like that...I say, "Why not?!" I'm proud of my plans, I've got nothing to hide...I plan awesome stuff.

Just a fun throwback picture. We took these fun
photo booth pics at the beginning of the year. You
can get the props in my TpT store for $1.50!
Students: I worked really hard for this one too. I had a particular kiddo this year that usually hated school, and I feel like I made him like school. I think I succeeded at this one!

Motto: This past year was great! The move to 3/4 was definitely a good one for me! I am still loving what I do!

See you soon for my new goals!

09 10 11 12
Blogging tips