Teacher Modeling

I assigned the endangered species research project.  When I started editing students' final projects, I was amazed with the breadth and depth of their presentations.  Where did they come up with all these presentation ideas? I wondered.  I imagined that some of the ideas came from their experiences viewing current nature-related animal shows on television.  I also knew that we employed many, varied technologies in class this year, and children demonstrated a variety of ways to teach and illustrate concepts, information and ideas with those venues.  Thus, I credited their wonderful endangered species presentation work to innovative nature shows and our classroom tech experiences.

Then I attended the last session of our IWB (interactive white board) professional development course, and watched my colleagues present their final projects.  One of my fourth grade colleagues presented her IWB Midwest Regions introduction.  I noticed that the creativity she employed in her presentation had been replicated by my students in their endangered species' presentations.  She used ActiveInspire, and they figured out how to create similar show-stopping details using Google docs.  Since my students attended her four-session Midwest Regions Tour, I realized that her modeling of a terrific presentation resulted in the wonderful creativity I noticed in their endangered species projects.

Hence, we can't underestimate the value of teacher modeling.  When we make the time to research, create and present high level lessons, our students will then do the same.  We also can't forget the value of shared teaching.  We all bring different lenses and voices to our students, and when students have the opportunity to interact with more teachers, they have a greater breadth of models to follow.  Finally, the fact that my team does break up the responsibility to teach regions amongst all four members of the team allows us to have more time to create deeper, more meaningful, multi-modal rotations, thus resulting in high level modeling for students.

This is a topic I want to investigate more.  I look forward to your feedback and suggestions.
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Summer iPad Exploration

Our school's tech staff and administration decided to buy iPads for many teachers this spring.  The iPads will be distributed prior to summer vacation so that teachers can explore this mobile learning device (MLD) during the summer months.  Yesterday I discussed this exploration process with one of our tech integration specialists.  We wondered about the best exploration process.  Here's what we've come up with so far.

  1. The tech integration specialist will give a quick intro to iPad before teachers leave for the summer.
  2. We'll share a list of exploration ideas:  photograph/video special places/events for multimedia composition or projects/class share, quick check of email/news, explore free aps, think about the learning needs of your students,  explore related aps.
  3. Creation of an iPad Exploration Chart - one for our staff, and a public one for our Twitter PLNs to collect ideas related to specific subjects/grades. 
  4. Our tech specialist(s) will attend ISTE to collect more ideas.
  5. Great links share (more to be added):  
If you have further ideas for our summer iPad exploration, please let me know.  Thanks for sharing in this endeavor.  I look forward to your comments.

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Tweet Sheet: Active Listening for Deeper Learning

Twitter optimizes my learning. During conferences and lectures, I'm able to tweet my connections, questions and suggestions/reflections to my PLN.  This rapid synthesis helps me to make meaning from the presenters' words and research.  My interactions with other listeners via Twitter helps me to understand the speakers' viewpoints from many different angles.  The learning becomes active, broad and deep, rather than passive listening.  Also the learning continues as others tweet back during the lecture or conference and afterwards.  Finally, a solid blog post helps me to solidify my learning and questions for future inquiry.  It's a dynamic process.

When I teach, students are always raising their hands and calling out.  They want to be part of the action.  They don't want the learning to be a passive event.  I understand that.  I'm not ready to let them tweet throughout lessons because at their age they simply would become too distracted.  Instead, I created the Tweet Sheet.  The tweet sheet allows students to take "question, connection, suggestion/reflection" notes while a presenter is giving a talk or a student/teacher is explaining a concept.  Then when the presenter has a "stopping point" for comments, the students can refer back to their notes to offer a connecting comment, question, suggestion or reflection.  The "tweet sheet" prompts students to become active listeners and learners during presentations.

Today, I'll employ the Tweet Sheet during our researchers' meeting.  During the meeting, students will share their questions, comments and suggestions regarding our current endangered species research and multimedia composition project.  As I answer questions, others will want to call out their connections, questions and suggestions, but instead I'll ask them to write down thoughts and wait for their turn instead.  Then, as quickly and thoughtfully as I can, I'll get around to the questions, suggestions and connections of my 24 researchers.

Take a look at the  Tweet Sheet.  If you use it, let me know how it goes Please comment if you have any suggestions for improvement.  It's a bit of "back channeling" for an elementary school classroom.  
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Twenty Days Left

There are approximately twenty days left in the school year.  There's still a lot I want to accomplish with my students, but I have to be more flexible than ever because the end of the school year brings multiple schedule changes, emotions and special events.

With that in mind, I'm going to take a few minutes to prioritize.
  1. Keep a smile on your face:  It's been a wonderful year.  The children have accomplished so much.  There has been substantial learning and a terrific community.  There's reason to smile.
  2. Focus on optimal completion of our two main final projects: endangered species research/presentation and fiction story books.
  3. Edit, edit, edit, read, read, read, compose, compose, compose.
  4. Keep the peace:  More than ever this is the time to keep the classroom peaceful and productive.  That's a great complement to all the excitement that goes along with end-of-the-year special events, move-up day and upcoming summer plans.
  5. Save the curriculum challenges and big ideas for summer study and reflection:  Make a list, and after an end-of-the-year reprieve, take a fresh look at it as you start to study and reflect.
Like the writer or playwright, much attention should be given to a well-developed, thoughtful, leave-the-audience-with-something-to-think about end of the year.  Onward.
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What is the message strangers get when they come into your room?

Lisa Parisi, an elementary school teacher from Long Island, New York, posed this question on Twitter.  The question filled me with emotion.  Why?

Every person that enters a classroom comes in with their lens -- their point of view, so what each one sees and perceives is different.  Usually when visiting parents come into my classroom, they smile.  They're happy to see so many wonderful learning materials available, engaged students and multi-modal lessons/learning events happening.  My administrators usually react the same -- they know me, they understand what I'm doing and we share similar goals.  The most difficult visitors I've hosted have been coaches who don't take the time to sit down and talk with me.  It seems like they already have a preconceived notion of what exactly should be happening in a classroom and they want to see it in action.  Rather than open minded, these coaches appear to be narrow minded with a set agenda.  They have been educators with little classroom experience and less experience with the wide range of learners a classroom hosts.

So, when the question is posed, what is the message strangers get when they come into your room, my answer is that depends on who the stranger is and what his/her agenda/educational experience is.

The question, what message do I want strangers to get when they come into my classroom, is a good one.  It's a great question to think about.  Here's my answer.

1.  I want visitors to see me as a warm, caring teacher who takes the time to listen to, and respond to each student.  Now all teachers know this is easier said than done, but similar to my goals as a parent, this is a #1 goal for me.

2.  I want visitors to see students who are excited and engaged with their learning.  I want them to witness that spark.  Again, every classroom teacher knows that not everyday for every child is an engaging day.  Sometimes due to a myriad of personal/environmental issues, a child may feel less than engaged and empowered - that's when a teacher's warmth and care come in.

3.  I want visitors to see wonderful, rich student projects on display.  You will see these in my room unless it is MCAS time when most work has to be taken off the walls because it relates to the test content.

4.  I want visitors to see an active teacher who is working with individuals, small groups and the entire class in high-level, multi-modal ways.  Again, you will see that in my room, but sometimes you'll see me in the corner on the computer, and what you won't realize is that I'm quickly typing up an email to a parent about a child's mix-up with a play date, behavior question or need for clarification -- information that will impact a child's day.

5.  I would like visitors to see a really organized, clean room, but you won't always see that because teachers know that we are on-task with children the large majority of the day so when it comes down to  after-hours work, sometimes planning for the next day's lessons or student work review takes precedence over organizing materials.

Like teachers everywhere, I want everyone to see my room as a vital, engaging, multi-modal, student-centered, standards-based, tech-savvy environment.  However, I recognize that classrooms differ day to day dependent on the student needs at hand.  That's why I don't like the idea of "walk throughs" similar to the medical model.  "Walk throughs" in a hospital are usually one doctor-one patient, in a classroom there's a complex number of events happening at all times.  Hence, I feel that the best way for a stranger or visitor to understand a teacher's classroom is a series of events beginning with a discussion with the teacher.

When it comes to coaches, I believe the best coaches are teachers with vast classroom experience.  The best coaches have the attitude that teachers are caring, invested professionals, not robots who can be programmed.  The best coaches see classrooms as complex arenas, not one-size-fits-all environments.  The best coaches care more about teachers and students than their own ambition or agenda.  The best coaches are invested in the growth of students, teachers and schools -- they understand that no one teacher can be all things, and that there are many ways to do the job well.  And finally, the best coaches are experts in their subject matter and how to teach that subject.

So in summary, I hope that strangers see what I value: a caring, creative, child-centered learning environment.  I also hope that visitors, particularly those assigned to help teachers, will take the time to know the teachers they work with, and to listen to their values, goals and needs.

I'm really curious what other teachers have to say about this question.  Unfortunately I'm unable to follow Parisi's* discussion on this topic today.  I'm open to your thoughts about this subject as I continue to think about it.  Thanks for listening.

*Lisa Parisi :  Conversations in 3 hours (5/22 - 12 pm EST).Topic:What is the message/story your classroom tells? What kind of branding have you created? edtechtalk.com/live
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Weight Challenged in the Classroom

     Yesterday I edited a terrific fiction story by a fourth grade student.  The story included the word "fat" to describe a character in the story.  Right away, I was struck by that word.  As a big kid, I was called "fat" more often than I cared for.  It really left me feeling bad and sad.  So I debated the girl's use of the word as a descriptor.  She used it in an authentic way in dialogue.  It made the story realistic.  Also, she was portraying an issue we deal with in our culture.  I decided to let it stay -- it was her voice and it added to the story.  I also decided to have a "weight challenge" discussion prior to the story presentation.

     I started the discussion with the fact that all people face challenges, and that some challenges are hidden and others are obvious.  I mentioned that our school community helps children with their challenges in many ways with many teachers and activities.  I also stated that "when one student works on his or her challenge it makes that person stronger, but when we help each other with our challenges, it makes the whole community stronger."  Then we specifically talked about weight challenge.  I noted many reasons why people might be bigger including genetics (if your family members are big, you're likely to be big), cost and access to healthy food, and education.  I talked about my own experiences as a weight challenged individual.  I also mentioned that while the word "fat" makes me feel powerless and stigmatized, the words "weight challenge" help me to recognize that this is one of the challenges I face as an individual, and like climbing any personal mountain, I can climb this one too.

    I encourage all educators to think about their weight challenged students.  First, it's important that your schools are places where only healthy food is served and shared, not junk food.  Usually, it's the weight challenged students that gravitate towards the junk food and it's unfair to them to have it around.  Secondly, please don't accept put-down comments towards your weight challenged students.  The prejudice towards overweight individuals should not be tolerated in schools.  Instead, schools should work to institute healthy activities and health education.  Thanks for listening.  I'll continue to think on this topic.  I welcome your feedback.

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