Category Archives: #tlap

Let them own it

I got a glimpse into the true greatness of my students yesterday.

In my level 1 classes, we started with a meeting.  I had my students pull their chairs into a circle and let them know we had equity of voice.  I explained that overall things in class were going well, but we needed to make a few adjustments.  I could have easily just handed them the new way we were going to do things, but I decided to go a different route.  I decided to involve them in the decision making process.  No, I decided to give them the decision making process.  It is their learning – not mine, right?

I started by sharing a couple of observations…I had noticed that my students could improve at finding resources for practice.  I have many different ways for them to practice, but there are only a few that are being well utilized.  I also noticed that when independent work time is given that focus can be a problem.  We needed to change that.  We only spend 45 minutes together each day and time must be maximized.  My students agreed with me and shared some of their own observations, concerns, and comments.

Then I turned the floor over to the kids to figure out how to make it better.  I cannot tell you how proud I was of my kids.  They came up with a new, better model of independent work days.  Some of them asked for my opinion or suggestions, and I gave them.  They expressed that they would like more small group instruction rather than whole group and figured out how to make it happen.  They decided that each skill (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) would have its own place to practice.  There would also be a places to practice the skills together (integrated), to use technology, and to assess.

All I can say is that kids need to be in charge of their learning.  They are so capable and ready to take the reigns.  Their decisions may not be perfect, but I would love to find the teacher that makes perfect decisions.  I am sure we will have more tweaking to do as the year progresses, but you had better believe that when I see missteps, my students will be the ones to figure out how to get back on track.  It is their learning, it is their experience, it is their time.  It is not about me.

Kids and success

In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure. -Bill Cosby

Inherently kids want to be successful.  They don’t show up to school thinking about how wonderful it will be to fail at school.  No matter how tough they are on the outside, they all show up wanting to be themselves, grow, and achieve.

This has been very apparent at school in the past few days.  My students are getting to a milestone in Spanish class – the first round of summative assessments.  This week, they will show me what they can do in the four skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  They have been working for weeks, and it is show time.  There are nerves, excitement, and a lot of apprehension.  For many of my students, this is their first time taking an summative assessment in Spanish, and for all of my kids this is their first time taking one from me.  Little do they know just how prepared they are.  We have been working very diligently.  The students have been practicing all four skills, and they have been given tools to practice additionally at home.  Yet any time you take a risk and try something new, there is a possibility of failure.

I must be realistic.  Even though I feel that these kids are well prepared to assess, some will fail.  Some will fall below the line of proficiency.  Some will do it out of nerves (the wonderful test brain freeze, anyone?), some will not have done enough practice.  But standards based learning and grading will save the day.  It will swoop in to help these students find their way to proficiency.  More practice will take place, formative feedback will be given, and they will reassess.  Why? Because it is important that they learn it, not when they learn it.

Some of my students are arriving at the point of retakes and are finding success.  The smiles that light up their faces when they know they improved is one of my favorite parts of teaching.  They appreciate a second chance, and are ready to move on and learn more language.  Success breeds more success, and that is what I want to spread in my classroom.

Be a champion for your students.  Demand that they learn, show them how to get up after they fall down, and lead them to success.  We will create a class of students who are excited about learning, and who know how to seek and find knowledge.

Best self, best work

It is the mantra at my school this year – Best self, best work.  Our administrators started the year at our kick off assembly talking to the kids about this phrase and what it would mean for their school year.  Each day since, the morning announcements end with “Best self, best work.”  The kids have actually started to say it along with my principal each morning.  So, I began to reflect…

What does it mean for me?

My favorite thing about this mantra is the idea of best.  Best doesn’t mean perfect or flawless.  Best isn’t the same thing every day for every person.  Best challenges without insisting on the superhuman.  Best is never ending, there is always room for improvement.  I would hope that our best shows growth throughout the school year.  Our best will give us a redo the next day, and the day after that.

The next piece to the mantra is self.  We each bring our own individuality to our learning community.  We need a variety of passions and strengths to give our students what they need each day.  Each member of the community needs autonomy to learn in their own way, students, teachers, and administrators alike.  Learning is a personal, individual activity and schools provide a place where we all share the experience.  We form relationships that in the end better ourselves at least as much as the academic studies, if not more.

And finally, not to be left out is the concept of work.  Learning is full of vigor and hard work.  If we don’t bring our best self, the work may seem impossible and more difficult than it actually is.  Learning is a demanding process, not to be taken lightly.  Work is a key part of the mantra, it is the promise that it won’t always be easy, but if you bring your best self and persevere, you will succeed.

The expectation is clear – bring your excellence, bring your individuality, and bring an inquisitive persistence to seek knowledge.  I can’t help but smile when I imagine the greatness that will abound if everyone just subscribed to this simple request each day.

Best self, best work.

Challenge accepted

Don’t get me wrong, I have had the best start to a school year since the beginning of my teaching career 14 years ago.  I have been forming relationships and building trust with my students.  They are developing their skills and making me very proud to be their teacher.  I am taking risks, finding successes, and learning from failures.

But there is that little nagging voice in the back of my head as I go home each day…Have I done the best I could for them?  Is there something I could have done differently? Is my environment the most conducive for learning?  Am I giving them enough feedback?  Are my assessments truly measuring my students’ achievement?

I know deep down that I work very diligently to provide my students the best learning experiences possible.  I am always reading, learning, and practicing to grow and improve my craft of teaching.  At times, the nagging voice can eat away at my confidence a bit, and discourage risk taking.  I try to ignore this, and I am getting better at it.  There are other things that feed the nagging voice – colleagues, old systems, politicians, lack of time…the list goes on.  It is difficult to push the envelope when most everything around you is pushing back to maintain the status quo.  We cannot sacrifice what is best for our students because it makes our lives easier.  We cannot lose confidence because we forge new paths.

There are positives to this voice.  It keeps me centered and grounded in the fact that I cannot stagnate.  I cannot stop.  I must keep changing, innovating, and creating.  If I slow down, my students stop.  I need to make sure that I listen to the voice to a certain extent – always challenging myself to be better, learn something new, create a better experience.  It keeps me on a journey rather than at a destination.

Here’s to being a positive deviant for change.  Break away from the mold to do what is right for kids.  Learn from your experiences, colleagues, and environment.  Grow and take risks.  Dare to be the teacher you never had in school.  That is what my nagging voice has challenged me to do this year.

Challenge accepted.

9.5.13-outside-1

Let’s go outside!

I said the magic words today in class…the ones that make students’ faces light up and cause smiles to emerge.  “Let’s go outside!”

It was a beautiful day today, temperatures in the 70s and partly cloudy.  Why keep these kids inside all day wishing they could just get a moment or two outside?  It is not that the activity we were doing couldn’t be done inside – of course it could.  But the beauty lies within this question…could we go outside for that?  Could we take advantage of the nice weather before yet another harsh Chicago winter bears down on us?  One of my goals for this year is to move my kids outside the walls of our classroom more often.  We can not only go outside, but use the other spaces within the school to provide a change of pace and setting.

Too many of our students go through the monotonous motions of their day – every day.  A simple act like moving our class to a different locale will make today memorable.  It takes an activity that might be easily forgotten and turns it into a shared experience of something different and fun.

Here they are outside!

Here’s to making every day as unforgettable as possible! 

Be relentless

As I was looking for inspiration for my next blog post, I reflected on several conversations I have had with colleagues at work as well as with members of my PLN on twitter.  I realized I had been asked the same question several times in the past week – What do you do when students won’t do their work?

With a standards based, differentiated classroom, my students don’t always do the same work.  All I care about is that my students an interpret and produce language at the end of the day.  It doesn’t matter how they get there, just that they are always growing, learning, and improving.

Ok, so back to the question…what do I do in my classroom when students won’t do their work?  There are so many things to consider, but here are a few…

  • is the work too easy?
  • is the work too hard?
  • have I considered learning profiles?
  • is the work interesting and engaging?
  • is there something going on in this student’s life (safety threatened, basic physical needs, etc.) that must be addressed before they can focus on school?
  • have I effectively communicated the importance of the skill we are working on?
I believe there is one more way to answer to this question, and maybe it is the best one.  This has been the best solution for me, the answer that made a difference when I was frustrated, backed into a corner, and didn’t know what else to do.
Be relentless.  
Some of our students simply want to be left alone to fail.  This is completely unacceptable.  Form relationships with them.  Talk with them – every day.  Know that there will be good days and some that feel unproductive. These kids are persistent, but you must prevail.  When they see that they have someone on their side, fighting for their education, their future, their growth – they still may not respond.  These students may not feel the impact of your shared struggle until much later on, but it is still worth it.  Don’t give up.
Be relentless.  
Be positive, assure them that they can find success in your class, and show them how.  Seek evidence of achievement and explore areas for growth.  Don’t let their negativity impact other students.  Celebrate the positive and address any negatives in a firm but caring manner.  
Be relentless.
Allow everyone in your classroom (yourself included) to make mistakes and learn from them.  Showcase the learning that happens in response to a failure.  Admit the failures you make and model the behaviors you want to see in the aftermath.  Model perseverance in pursuit of learning goals.
Be relentless.
Show your students that learning happens everywhere, not just inside the walls of a school.  Often learning gets a bad reputation as being boring and something you just have to get through in childhood and adolescence.  Change this and show them how they learn all the time in every part of their lives.  Learning is a constant for us in a world where many things are inconsistent.
Be relentless.
Be prepared to change what you thought was appropriate work.  Keep trying different types of work until the student latches on to something and engages.  Ask the student what type of work they want to do, letting them know that doing nothing is not an option.  Don’t get angry when they don’t want to do what you suggest, work with them to find the best answer.  Let them see you are on the same team, not in opposition.
Be relentless.
pipe-cleaner-a

A glimpse into their world

Wow, what a day!

Today was my first day of the 2013-14 school year and it was a game changer for me.  I began today with my message clear.  I wanted to get to know a little about my students, let them know this class would be different than others, and tell them a bit about me in the process.

I opened by talking to them briefly about the class, but not in the traditional manner.  Here is what I said.

Get ready for the experience of a lifetime!  Welcome to your Spanish travel adventure.   I will be your tour guide and if you think this is going to be one of those boring, documentary style trips…think again!  We are going to have fun, get experiential, and hopefully learn along the way.  We will do everything in our power to make learning Spanish relevant, meaningful, fun, and easy.  Wait a minute…did she just say easy?  Yes, we will work with your brain, learning style and preferences to make learning Spanish as easy as possible this year.  You will work with your travel mates (take a look around…see the wonderful group we are travelling with?) to develop language, communicate in an entirely different way, and build a community of learners.

You will pursue your passions in this classroom through a concept called genius hour…To be continued next week.

We will focus on learning.  There are no points in this class, only standards, feedback (from me, your classmates, and yourselves), and assessment.  The word homework is not used here, only practice.

We will embark on  our journey soon, but there are some  housekeeping details we must attend to before departure.

_____

After this, we took attendance and took care of any misplaced students.  Our next activity was to figure out Spanish names.  I let my students decide what they would like to be called in my room, as long as it is in Spanish.  I know this is not reality when they step outside my room, but they really enjoy choosing an identity for class, and we always seem to learn some new words along the way! (I had a student today that chose Sacapuntas as his name – Pencil Sharpener)

The final activity for the day was to take pipe cleaners and create something that tells about them.  Here are a few examples:

Fish
Swimmer
Musical note

We closed by introducing ourselves and the pipe cleaner creations we made.

The moment of the day was when one student approached me on his way out the door. “It was nice to meet you.  I can tell I am really going to enjoy your class.”

Edu-Win.

beforeclassroom3

Ready, set…

The new school year is right around the corner, today is Friday and this coming Wednesday is opening day.  I am thrilled to welcome my new students, introduce them to my learning environment and start the journey.  I am working with my space a little differently this year; below are a couple before pictures of my classroom.  I always love to see the transition from plain walls and boards to a lively space ready to receive students, so this year I decided to take pictures and document a bit.

I am so fortunate to have a large room and tables to work with, and I want to make sure I arrange my room carefully for what I have planned.  I tend to move things around a lot depending on our needs, but to begin the year I need four groups, so that is my table configuration.  I also wanted to leave a lot of bulletin board space open for my students this year.  I moved all my other decorations (posters, etc.) to the walls to leave my largest board for student work and a smaller one for gamification stats.

When students arrive, they will get a ticket with two pipe cleaners attached as they walk in the door. The ticket is a glimpse of the adventure they are about to embark upon, and the pipe cleaners will soon let me know a bit more about them.  This year will be framed as one huge journey, with stops at each theme (unit), but the ultimate destination will be learning.  We will take different paths to the destination, but the expectation is that all will arrive in the end.  The pipe cleaners are mimicked off of Dave Burgess’ idea in his book Teach Like a Pirate, he uses play-doh the first day to have the kids mold an item that tells him something about themselves.  I will be doing the same thing with less messy pipe cleaners.  This gets all my learners engaged on the first day and helps me get to know them at the same time.  There is visual, auditory, and kinesthetic input, and a fun atmosphere on top of it all.

I look forward to seeing how the first day plays out and I am sure I will be blogging at some point during the first week to share my experiences.

Have you set up your learning environment yet?  Share and we will all benefit!

To open the year

The first few days of school are crucial to set the stage for the year. I have spent significant time thinking about how I want to open the year and what I would like my students to leave either saying or thinking about my class. Here are my thoughts…

  • This is going to be fun!
  • She actually knows my name and wants to learn about me.
  • I wonder what we are going to do tomorrow?
  • Is she that way everyday?
  • I will find success in this class.

Fun is first on the list because I want my kids to look forward to coming to class. We can absolutely accomplish our goals for the year while having a great time in the process. There will be smiles starting the first day and every day following (can you tell I am not one of those don’t smile until after Christmas people?). Not everything will be easy, but stress levels can be reduced for a difficult task by making the learning environment an enjoyable, fun place to be. Each day will start with music not only because I love it, but because music is such an important part of the adolescent life. I started this last year and my kids would tell me how it was like entering another world when they came in.

Relationships are of utmost importance  I get to know my kids names within the first couple of days but I must not stop there. The primary focus during the first week is to form those critical relationships. I need to get to know my students as fast as humanly possible and let them know that I am a person as well. I am not some entity that lives at school, but a mother, wife, reader, learner, runner, and more. If I can give them a window into my passions, hopefully they will give me a glimpse of theirs.

Keep ’em coming back for more! One thing I am trying for the first time this year is to leave them hanging a bit at the end of each day.  This has worked countless times in books, television shows, etc. Why not use a little anticipation in the classroom? I have seen my children in the days leading up to Christmas and the excitement is palpable. Now, I don’t expect that this will be to the same level, but the same principle applies.  I want my class to be engaging, interactive, and a little different each day. Do you remember from your school experiences the class that was the exact same each day? Was it your favorite?
  
I want my students to wonder if I can possibly keep my enthusiasm level up for 180 school days. I love teaching and this should be present in everything I do. I also love Spanish and can’t wait to introduce them to a new language, new cultures, and a more global perspective. Enthusiasm is contagious, and I am ready to let it spread and grow in my classroom  And on the days when my enthusiasm wanes? If I have worked this out correctly, my students will bring enough to share with me.

Success will need to be loosely defined in my class before we pursue it. I will give my students the standards and let them determine the path to achieve mastery. I say loosely because I don’t want to stifle my students creativity or achievement by setting the bar and just waiting for them to get there. I want to encourage them to go beyond, the possibilities are endless. There are only so many things that I can imagine for them, but they can go much farther.  I tell my students that we will find success no matter the struggle and that it is worth all their effort.

So, as I am planning the specific activities for the first few days of class, this is what I am going to keep in mind.

What do you want your students to say and think after your first week?

Finding passion

This week I attended Staff Development for Educator’s Extraordinary Educator Conference.  It was a wonderful experience where I got to meet some of my educational heroes like Rick Wormeli and Dave Burgess in person.

The conference experience was like many others, you feel such a rush of excitement when your opinions are validated and thinking challenged.  You want to run, no sprint back to your classroom and conquer the world!  You have ignited the fire, and rediscovered your passion for teaching.

The cool thing was that I had a colleague and administrator along for the ride to share my passion with.  We bounced ideas off each other as we travelled to and from the conference each day.  We shared perspective not only from the classroom view, but from an administrative one as well.  We did something fantastic…
(I know you want to know what we did, but I am learning to use some presentational hooks to keep you in anticipation!)

In a session with Dave Burgess, he talked about three ways we find passion as educators.

1. Passion within our content areas – what things can’t you wait to teach in your curriculum?
2. Passion within our profession, but outside our content area – why did you become a teacher?
3. Passion outside our profession – wait, what?  there is life besides teaching?

Later that day, we were reflecting on our experiences and my assistant principal tells me that in her role it is difficult to be a jack of all trades, and that she had, up until now, been passionate about what I was doing in my classroom because I was passionate about it.  She would come into my classes and feel the excitement through me and my students.  I know she trusts me and I am eternally grateful that she encourages me to take risks and try new things in my classroom (she also reminds me to slow down sometimes and smell the roses!).  But after going to this conference, she was able to learn more about why I am so passionate about what I do and the decisions I make.  Then the fantastic thing happened…
(Are you ready for it???)

The three of us ignited our passion together.  We had a brainstorming session on the way home our last day.  A social studies teacher, a Spanish teacher, and an assistant principal giving ideas, making them better, helping each other.  We used our passions from our areas, our reasons for being in the education business, and our interests outside school.  It was a fantastic collaborative learning experience.  One of those unforgettable times when we laughed, figured out some cool stuff, and were inspired by each other all at the same time.  We didn’t want the conversation to end so the discussion will go on via technology as the summer continues.  Our kids are in for quite an experience this school year.

We all found passion that day…how do you find yours?