Ellin Oliver Keene - WLI Day 2

Keene presented to the whole group and to smaller groups during day two of the the Wayland Literacy Institute (WLI). Reading Keene's books provide greater understanding of the concepts I discuss below. Her stories and research will impact my teaching in the fall in the following ways:
  1. RTI
    • Focus on our most struggling readers and Keene's research -- what do they need?
    • Focus on the rest of the students w/respect to the resources available and how we'll run a program that provides a 20/80 surface structure/deep structure approach to developing comprehension.
  2. Classroom Program
    • Increased time for readers' workshop and interactive read aloud.
    • Increased meaningful print throughout the classroom.
    • Intentional vocabulary. Integration of content goals w/reading instruction.
    • Relook at signature projects and how they can be better integrated with optimal reading instruction, efforts.
    • Relook at chosen texts -- are we choosing the best texts for instruction, texts that will nurture optimal learning, understanding and growth?
    • Time on task -- Is student's time on task spent focused on researched, beneficial learning activities? What can we leave out? What do we need to increase and/or deepen?
  3. Book Talk/Continued Professional Development
    • Teachers need to engage in book talk as a way of making the best print decisions for students' independent reading, interactive read alouds and content reading. Some teachers have greater knowledge in this area than others, we might profit as a school system from their expertise.
    • Teachers need to continue to share their expertise, efforts and ideas related to this topic. This collaboration will benefit both teachers and students.
  4. Writing Book "Explore Copy"
    • Try out Keene's suggested strategies as I read this summer in my online writing book.
    • Read more children's books and apply strategies.
    • Read books related to my interests and passions, apply strategies.
    • Use book as a guide as I engage students in creating their own writing books and written responses.
During the morning whole group session she discussed the behavioral markers of deep understanding. When readers are comprehending text on a deep level, you will notice one or more of these markers. I will look for and try to develop these behaviors as I engage, teach and assess student readers and writers.
  1. "Fervent attention" and "deep engagement."
  2. A desire to take "action" in the world through writing, artistic creations, discussion and other contributions.
  3. "Willingness to struggle" to solve complex problems.
  4. "Describe our progress as readers" and "describe how our thinking has changed."
  5. "Engage in rigorous discourse." "Argue and defend" ideas, beliefs using evidence from text and schema.
  6. "Renaissance learners" satisfying curiosity, pursuing a "compelling question" while meandering among a wide range of topics, interests, genres, authors.
Later in the day she talked to a group of intermediate elementary educators. She focused on the information below.
  1. Teach what's essential. Foster independent work and learning.
  2. Focus on few key concepts of great import taught in great depth over long period of time, applied in variety texts and contexts.
  3. Explicitly teach comprehension strategies and text/genre structure.
  4. Begin the year with an integrated review/teaching of all comprehension strategies, then move on to units that focus on singular strategies with greater depth, and finally end the year with a final review of all strategies.
  5. Teach the three dimensions of surface structure systems - identifying words, fluency:
    • Phonics
      • Older students who can benefit from phonics are ELL students or native English speaking students who have never had phonics instruction before. Some students will not be able to gain mastery in phonics.
    • Lexical System: visual exposure/memory of all words. Visualizing words in the "mind's eye" until you can retain and apply. Cover your classroom with meaningful print.
    • Syntactic System: Understanding language structures of words, sentences, paragraphs and whole texts. Make this teaching an object of focus lessons, pointing out structures in text and utilizing these structures in writing. Immediate feedback to teach students correct structures -- let students see it, say it, hear it.
  6. Teach the three dimensions of deep structure systems - literal and deep comprehension, focal to global understanding.
    • Semantic System: Making meaning with words, vocabulary. Number of new vocabulary words per week should be about equal to the child's age. Focus on the most important words for intentional vocabulary instruction.
    • Schematic System: Understanding the big ideas, making meaning of text. Teachers impact this by teaching comprehension strategies and text/genre structures.
    • Pragmatic System: How we use the ideas learned in text including repeated readings, reader's theater, class discussions, multimedia composition, writing about reading. The more a child has the opportunity to work with a text, the better he/she will understand it.
I welcome your feedback and ideas as I continue to review Keene's work. Her discussions at the Wayland Literacy Institute will lift instruction in our system and foster greater depth and breadth related to students' comprehension across all genres and subjects.

Note: Take a look at Day 1's Notes if interested.
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Wayland Literacy Institute: Ellin Oliver Keene - Day #1

Yesterday's Wayland Literacy Institute helped me to think deeply about the teaching I do.  Through storytelling and research reported, Keene led us through a process of thinking about how we comprehend text and build understanding.  She shared with us the cognitive markers of deep understanding -- essentially, what we can look for, name and develop with students in our efforts to develop deep, broad comprehension.

As part of my own comprehension process, it's good for me to think deeply about an expert's words after a conference.  It's important for me to make decisions about how I'll put those words into action in the new school year to better teach my students.  Below I've quoted essential elements from Keene's talk and handouts as I plan the new year ahead.

Classroom Program:
  1. Return to the essentials of an optimal reading workshop model.  Make time to teach children reading workshop behaviors and routines.  Model those behaviors, establish and practice routines until the class has a steady reading workshop flow of "lengthy times for children to read" and "daily time to confer."

  2. Make time for daily interactive read aloud.  This is a good time to model and engage children in "thinking aloud to reveal their own thinking," "a wide variety of texts," "scholarly oral interactions," and "long term study of comprehension strategies." It's also a good time to introduce and read "a wide variety of texts," and "teach text elements and text structure."

  3. I will continue to focus on the essential cognitive strategies as outlined in Keene and Zimmerman's book, Mosaic of Thought: retelling, visualizing, monitor for meaning, making connections, asking questions, determining importance, inferencing and synthesis.  These strategies provide wonderful paths for understanding text.  They actually revolutionized my own reading process and comprehension (at a late age), and for that I'm thankful.

Professional Development
Keene expects teacher to be "readers and avid learners, constantly scrutinizing their own reading and understanding processes in order to provide the most precise and responsive instruction."  This notion supports once again the need for teacher prep and differentiated professional development.  An elementary school teacher's day is a highly task-oriented day.  As we move toward deeper, more meaningful learning for children in all subject areas, it's imperative that teachers have the time to read, reflect, collaborate and learn thus developing their own repertoire.  The flipped classroom approach supports this process for both student and teacher development.

Good learning begins with good questions.  I've created a list of questions I will use for my own reading responses, my discussions with students about reading, and for anchor charts and posters throughout the classroom.  The questions are based on the cognitive markers of deep understanding explained by Keene.
  • "Readers experience empathy: We sense that we are somehow in the book." 

    • Which character did you relate most with in the book?  Why?  What would you have done in his/her situation?

    • Was there a particular place in the book that you related to?  Why?  How did you know that place?

    • Was there a conflict in the book you could relate to?  Why?  How would you have solved that conflict?

  • "Experience the Aesthetic"

    • Was there a section of the book you wanted to reread or stop and linger?  Did you find that section "beautiful, well-written, surprising, humorous or moving."

  • "Ponder"

    • Was there a place in the book that made you "pause and dwell in new twists in the text?"

  • "New ideas and new possibilities"

    • Did this book make you "generate new ideas and new possibilities?"  If so, what were they?  How did the book help you to create?

  • "Advocate and Evaluate"

    • Were you cheering on one character in the book over another?  Did you hope for a particular outcome, event or series of events in the book?

  • "Patterns and Symbols"

    • What patterns and symbols did you recognize in the book?  How did that help you to understand the plot, characters, theme or author's voice with greater depth?

  • "Global Conclusions"

    • Did this story help you to create, develop or change a big idea you have about the world, people or life in general?  Did this book change your beliefs, actions or thoughts in any way?

  • "Author's Intentions, Values and Claims"

    • How would you describe the author of this book?  What kind of a person do you think he or she is?  Why do you think that?  

    • Did the author of this book impact your "beliefs, values and opinions?"

    • How would you describe this author's style?  What tools does he/she use to "manipulate" our thinking?"  Do you want to, or will you, replicate this author's style?

    • Did you "argue with the author" as you read this book?

  • "Readers Remember"

    • Are there parts of this story that you'll never forget?  

    • How might this story impact your decisions and actions as you move on in life?

Keene brought us back to what's most important as we teach children the essential skills of reading and understanding text.  She also prompts us to think more deeply about the ways we develop and assess students' comprehension related to text in a myriad of contexts.  Finally, her talk once again illustrated to me the need for well-researched, responsive professional development that moves educators toward deeper, more reflective, responsive teaching to best benefit all students.

I've also blogged about Day 2; please take a look if interested.  As always, your thoughts are welcome.
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Favorites Gone Wild

I like it!
I'll favor it.

That's been my Twitter reaction since I joined Twitter only eight months ago.  It's about time I organized those favorites I thought to myself.  Great coffee work!  That was about four hours ago and I've only sorted May and June.

Beware Twitter Fans!  Create a Favorites System now or you'll be like me with Favorites Gone Wild.  I suggest you take a few minutes to create a chart or spread sheet of your main question/research areas.  Then, when you like a Tweet Link, simply copy and paste it into that category.  Thus providing you with a useful list to revisit.

What did I learn today as I weeded this Twitter Garden of wonderful education seeds and plants?  I learned that many minds are greater than one -- the ideas I culled from so many educators are tremendous and will result in more fruitful, inspirational teaching. I learned that there are definitely some areas that I'm more interested in than others as you'll notice in my Twitter Chart.  Finally I learned that we tweet a lot about tools, but not enough about essential questions.  That's an area I want to think more deeply about.

If you've got a quicker, more efficient, fruitful Twitter Favorite sort process, let me know.  Until then I'll continue my gardening.  Tending the way I favor with greater care.  Thanks for all the ideas!
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ISTE wannabe!

It was a dynamic school year.  Thanks in part to my PLN that inspired me from my first tweet in late October to my first blog post in December to my first unconference - Not!, and that's why I'm sitting here in the comfort of my home on a rainy day as an ISTE wannabe!

Since October, tweeting and blogging have offered me a dynamic interchange of ideas that fueled my classroom teaching and inspired my fourth graders to learning endeavors I never thought possible.  I am so grateful to so many educators who so freely shared their viewpoints, lesson plans, advice and questions on a daily basis.  So today, I'll check in now and then to see what's happening at ISTE11.  Next year, I may be there with you.  Thanks for all the inspiration!
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Learning to Learn: Active Listening

As I begin to think about my focus for next fall, I realize that I want to start the year with many lessons related to what it takes to be an effective learner.  Hence, I'll probably blog about that all summer as I explore the essential components of learning. Teaching children how to learn is a primary responsibility in this age of abounding information.

One essential ingredient to learning is active listening.  What does this look like in the classroom?  How do you promote it?  When is it essential?  As we flip classrooms, whole class listening lessons will decrease, but the importance of those whole class shares will increase.  Thus the critical need to teach children how to actively listen.

Next week at the Wayland Literacy Institute, I will present a tech-ed workshop.  At the start of the workshop I'll introduce teachers to the tweet sheet and Twitter back channeling.  I'll also engage teachers in a short discussion related to active listening.  I look forward to their comments and thoughts as I know that my workshop attendees represent dedicated educators from many school systems and positions.

If you teach active listening to your students, let me know what you think is important?  How do you teach active listening, and encourage its use throughout the year?  What are the essential components of active listening?  I welcome your feedback, and I'll let you know what the workshop participants have to add next week in the comment section below.
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Data Driven?

Last night, when I arrived home and checked the computer for updates, I found that data related to some of our year's efforts had been reported.  The data is based on standards we strive for during the year.  I've worked with these standards for years and know them well.  Collectively, teachers in my system have tried many, many strategies to teach the standards well using multiple instructional methods.  I analyzed the initial data carefully looking for areas where students had done well, and areas where students and teachers were still challenged. These were some of my initial findings.
  1. Overall, it appears that ELA intervention programs are working in my system.  Many at-risk readers and writers made significant progress.  We have a team that works closely with many of these students using a researched, responsive, regular program to "grow" their skills and knowledge.  Kudos to that group for tremendous work.
  2. There are still some students we have to think more deeply about.  They tend to be our most complex students.  Some of the strategies I'm wondering about with respect to these students include the following:
    • Social/Emotional Support:  Smaller homerooms for some to get the day off to a good start.  A mentor would lead that homeroom period to make sure students have snacks, appropriate clothing, completed homework, and time to talk and plan for the day ahead.  Some of these students need extra social/emotional support. We all know that if a child isn't ready emotionally to learn, then the learning is challenged.
    • Targeted Instruction:  More time for targeted, small group or individual instruction away from the busy, sometimes noisy, classroom atmosphere.  Regular, small group or individual targeted help with skilled instructors for challenging learning goals can make a big difference.
    • Double Dosing:  Rather than moving with the the large class group to a project block, perhaps students that struggle with essential skill development could move to a more targeted project block that teaches the project within the context of reading and/or math development. Again, it's essential that the leader of such a group is a skilled instructor.
    • Passion:  It's very important for challenged students to work within their arena of interests and passions; that's motivating and keeps the learning meaningful and fun.  It's essential to consider this as we try to meet their essential skill needs.
    • Time for Professional Collaboration:  This summer many teachers in our system are meeting to discuss RTI and how we can improve instruction for all students.  It's great that we have some valuable essential skill scores prior to this meeting.
    • Assistive Technology:  As I think about the idea of print disabilities, I wonder what technology can assist our most challenged students. It looks like blogging, online journals, books on iPods, and Lexia, tools currently in place, have helped.  How can we use these tools best, and what other tools are available to help our learners?
While I'm very excited about data based on solid academic standards, I recognize that this is one piece of the school puzzle.  I am a fan of streamlined, targeted testing that occurs a couple times a year for most students, and more, but not too often, targeted, individualized or small group testing for students that are challenging to teach in an effort to inform our instruction with respect to essential skill development.

I've written earlier about my vision for school change,  Restructuring Schools for Student Success, and with that in mind, I believe that testing/data fits into the essential skill section of that vision.  What do you think about data?  How does it inform your instruction?  Where does it fit into your school program?  What's the right ratio of data/testing to instruction/development?  I'm listening.
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Teacher Evaluation

Someone asked me today what I thought about teacher evaluation.  I decided to blog about it.  Here's what I think.

1.  Teachers are hired to serve children well.
2.  School systems establish vision, goals and protocol.
3.  Teachers are educated to teach well.  Teaching well includes the following:
  • Knowing your students well.
  • Knowing your content well.
  • Creating structures that facilitate optimal learning for all.
  • Communication.  Response.
4.  Optimal teacher evaluation systems include the following:
  • System vision, goals.
  • Teacher strengths.
  • Teacher/system growth goals.
  • Plan for achieving goals.
  • Assessment related to plan's success.
  • Future goals, efforts.
In summary, the evaluation process for teachers should be a process that helps teachers continue to grow as professionals in line with an educational system's vision and goals.  The evaluation system should include acknowledgement of a teacher's strengths as well as focus on a combined teacher/system area of desired growth and goals as well as a plan for achieving those goals.  Finally, the evaluation should acknowledge the teacher's growth, plan success, and future desired areas of study and development.

It should be a fluid, developmental process based on what's best for student achievement and education.

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Effective School Systems

What makes a school system effective?  I'm a critical thinker who is always looking for ways to improve my craft.  As a classroom teacher, I rely on so many others to do my job well.  When the system is working well, the work I'm able to do is fluid, up-to-date, responsive, creative and effective.  When systems don't work, my work is hindered.  From my vantage point, as a classroom teacher, these are the components I desire in order to do my work well.

Vision:  I like being part of the team.  I work well when we have a shared vision based on our collective thoughts, goals and needs.  Vision for the classroom, grade-level, school, and district are all important for effective work.

Time for Collaboration:  Vision takes time.  Planning takes time.  Many view points are essential.  Hence, collaborative time to plan, reflect, create, review and revise is essential.

Communication:  When communication is steady and informative, everyone stays on the same page.  They know what's happening.  They understand the resources that are available, and they are able to line their work up with the work of others.  When effective communication systems are in place, there's less here-say, conjecture, and time spent looking for information -- instead, it's readily available for the taking.  Effective communication systems create cohesive teams with shared vision and enhanced collegiality and collaboration.

Life Long Learning:  The business of education is the business of evolution and change.  Effective educators respond to change by creating timely, responsive avenues for student learning.  Hence, every educator at every level should engage in a learning plan that matches his/her needs, goals and schedule each year.  Continued learning fosters optimal schools that respond to the ever changing landscape of the world.

Leadership:  Like any team, educators need leaders who manage the course and cheer us on.  Effective leaders steer the school system ship toward optimal learning experiences and results for all students.

Idea Management Systems:  School systems that embrace the ideas of all participants are more likely to succeed.  Systems that create idea management systems provide avenues for any and all participants to voice their ideas.  Often the best ideas come from those on the front-line, the ones who work directly with students or by their sides each day -- they know what's missing, and what's possible.  Creating avenues for idea sharing and consideration strengthens the foundation of a school system and fosters greater investment and collaboration.

Scheduling:  The best schools systems are multi-dimensional, dynamic learning environments.  Multiple efforts are occurring at once to best meet the needs of all students.  It's a complex human machine.  That's why detailed planning, prioritizing and scheduling are essential.  A streamlined scheduling process beginning with the events, big and small, that most impact learners should occur each year.  Time for learning and time for the signature events should be given priority.  Consideration of students' developmental levels, outside activities, and learning goals should impact the scheduling process.  The schedule should be posted about a month prior to the school year, so teacher teams and others can then layer their professional schedules and goals on top of the master schedule.  Effective scheduling creates less confusion, conflict and and rescheduling throughout the year.  It also provides focal points for instruction and learning endeavors.

Roles and Responsibilities:  As much as possible, roles and responsibilities should be defined.  As we move toward greater personalization in education, we find that school buildings are filled with many, many educators with all kinds of expertise.  When roles and responsibilities are well defined, then collaborative time is better used and effective time with students increases.  There's greater focus and target with respect to students' needs.

Technology Infrastructure:  I take it for granted sometimes, but the tech infrastructure at our school system is terrific. That allows us to link to experts, information and other resources far and near.  It broadens our ability to teach well with meaning.  Investment in this area is an investment in the future.

I've written about this before in a February blog post.  I'm sure I will write about it again.  I also recognize that I see the picture from my lens as a classroom teacher and parent.  What am I missing?  What would you change?

Optimal school systems create an atmosphere where teachers are able to do their best work so that students can have the best possible learning experiences.  I want to do the best possible job, and that's why I care about the systems that support my work.
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Signature Projects: Biography Time Line

Many years ago, John Koch wrote The Interview each week in the Boston Globe.  At that time, teachers in the Wayland Public Schools were looking for a new venue for biographies.  We decided to copy Koch's model with a twist.  Instead of interviewing living people, we'd have students become experts of inspirational people in American history and create a Koch-like interview with those people.

A fifth grade colleague at the time piloted the project.  Students read and read and read about a person of interest in American history.  Then they created an interview modeled after Koch's Boston Globe The Interview.  We even had Koch come in to talk about his work which was helpful to both teachers and students.  After that, students dressed in character, lined the school auditorium creating a human time line and welcomed visitors and their questions.  The project was a success.

Now, a good 12 years or so later, the project still exists.  Many teachers over the years have put their own stamp on the project, and Koch's Boston Globe The Interview no longer exists.  This year's teachers connected the interview process to the popular news show, 60 Minutes.

I attended the event as a parent today.  Since I knew the project well and had worked with many fifth graders over the years to complete the task, many of the famous people in history's names were familiar to me, but others were new.  Visually, I once again enjoyed looking at the clothing changes from the early 1600's to the twentieth century.  I spied the mix of scientists, inventors, artists, writers, politicians, presidents, explorers, entertainers, sports stars and others.  Again, I was amazed at the fact that most of those famous people in history got their first inspiration in the early years of life.  For example, Wilbur and Orville Wright's fascination with flying began with a toy helicopter their father gave them when they were young, and Robert Goodard's inventions began with his love of science and experiments when he was young too.  I enjoyed asking the young experts questions about the people they portrayed, and learned facts and information I never knew before.

I was amazed at how knowledgeable each fifth grader was about the famous person he or she studied.  I also thought it was interesting to see how students chose historic figures that resembled their own passions, interests and challenges.  I admired the care and thought that went into each child's costume, and most of all the pride each child exhibited as they answered the questions I asked.  I marveled at the bravery and courage of the persons portrayed, and wondered how the study of these champions in history would influence our fifth graders.

I was very grateful for the diligent and thoughtful work the teachers had done to prepare these students.  The fifth grade students were experts!  They knew their characters well.  Several had even rehearsed the accent and speaking style of the character they portrayed.  I'm sure that the students will never forget this signature project.  I also know that this project will evolve over the years.  It's important that the project continue to resemble a familiar, timely venue as it helps children access that venue for greater learning on their own time.

What signature projects do you support and encourage at your school?  What learning takes place during these signature projects? During the biography project students learn about history, reading, writing, presentation, effort and passion.  They are asked to think critically, collaborate, create and communicate. It's an awesome project -- a reason why we teach, and a memorable event that will help to propel our students toward their future goals and learning.  If one of this year's teachers chooses to blog about the details related to this project, I'll connect the link.
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Making Decisions: Framework?

We all operate with a lens or framework as to how we make decisions.  Usually at the core of our individual or collective decision process there are specific tenets and methods we believe are critical.  When working with others, it's important, if possible, to understand their lens, framework, beliefs and methods.

At the core of all of my decisions is what I refer to as energy management.  I always think about the amount of energy available and the desired goal.

For example, each school day, I know I have about 7 possible hours with students.  I know the kind of energy each teaching task takes for me, and for the students.  Hence I plan the day accordingly so that we maximize our efforts to reach specific learning and classroom goals.  It's the same way with collective goals -- I think about the energy available in the building, and how that energy can be maximized to serve all children best.  Sometimes, it's essential that one's energy is employed for greater research and understanding, and at other times it's best to use that energy for direct service to a child -- the important acts of listening, responding and guiding a child to the next step.

In addition to energy management, I also think about skills and passion.  I know which skills are my strengths and which are my passions.  I also have a fairly good understanding of my challenges.  I am constantly noticing the same with my students and colleagues, and will often consult with a colleague whose skill and passion is different from mine to gain insight about a child or to improve a curriculum piece.

So when it comes to decision making, at my framework is an effort to maximize my personal skill, passion and energy as well as the group's collective energy, passion and skill for the greater good to meet the goals/vision we've created.  This framework impacts all of my decision making, and it is the lens with which I look at organizations and their potential for change and growth.

What's your framework?  How do you make a decision?  What do you think about first?  How do you proceed?  What's the best decision making framework for schools, and is that framework much different than one for private enterprise?  I'm curious about this, and look forward to your thoughts.
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"Everthing that is, exists as potential before it becomes actual." - Deepak Chopra

I love and despise a challenge at the same time.  When I woke up this morning, I expected to quickly complete my to do list: clean-up, laundry, errands, parent visit, evening event.  Then I hopped onto my computer to check updates only to find a challenge.  I could have ignored it; I didn't have to read it; and I simply could have pretended it wasn't there.  However, it was there, and I had to take a look.  I read it. Thought about it.  Tweeted.  Made a few phone calls to consult, and then responded.

I like to deal with challenges right away by making a plan.  It helps me to gain some control over the challenge and understand it better.  Usually the challenge sends me right back to my priorities, ideals, goals and vision.  What's most important?  What's at the core of the issue?

What I'm realizing is that at the core of many of my challenges is potential.  I don't like lost potential; I like potential gained.  It looks like this.  Lost potential is like a track race with hurdles that are too high thus hindering the potential fluidity of the race.  Potential gained is when the track is just right for a fluid, smooth run.  Now we all know life is full of too-high hurdles, obstacles that take time to maneuver.  But whenever possible, I believe we need to work towards making the track fluid and accessible thus increasing one's chance of a successful endeavor.

So, rather than playing politics, which is definitely not my forte (it's my nemesis),  I simply communicated my questions and thoughts.  I expressed my quandary, and explained why it was potential lost for me with respect to my work with children.  At the core is my desire to do a terrific job in conjunction with the people and programs I work with.  I want to understand systems well, and be prepared for upcoming change and challenge.

So with that in mind, it's back to business - running my day in an effort to live out my ideals and priorities leaving time for flexible thinking and redirection as I walk down this road of life.

Thanks for listening.  Don't hesitate to share your challenge insights.  Growth is my goal.
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Field Trip!

There's a field trip coming up.  On the first day of school students ask, "When are we going on a field trip?"  It's a treat; a day away from the typical routine.  It's also a lot more responsibility for the teacher.  When there's a field trip, there's no lunch break or planning period or a quiet moment to gather your thoughts.  Instead, it's go, go, go!

I have a great team.  We all think differently, and bring a diversity of ideas to our planning meetings.  That results in optimal planning.  So we're ready for this field trip.  We collected the money, wrote and received signed permission slips (even translated a few), sent out reminders, ordered the busses, reserved the field trip venue, enlisted the help of chaperones, created chaperone lists and reminders, made a schedule and taught the units that match the trip.  Soon we'll be off.

We'll gather the children, answer questions, and remind them about behavior and safety rules.  We'll pick up the health kits, board the fancy busses we reserved, watch an entertaining, curriculum related film on the way, and then attend the program.  We've invited any and all family members to join us as long as they pay the fee and provide their own transportation.  After the event, we'll have a picnic (weather permitting) at a local park to celebrate the end of the year.  Then we'll board the busses, watch the end of the first movie or a new film, and return to school.

I'll wake up early tomorrow and prep the necessary items for the trip.  Most of all, I'll remind myself that this is chance to relax and enjoy my students before the year's end.

Does your school provide field studies for students?  How often?  Where do you go?  How do you integrate your field studies with the work you do in the classroom?  Field studies are an important part of the curriculum process; one, like other important components, that requires yearly revision and review.
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Multimedia Compositions: Endangered Species

Our school system's fourth graders have a long history of completing endangered species projects.  The original project was crafted by an extraordinary veteran teacher.  It's one of our schools' signature projects -- a project that students look forward to, and eagerly await as they approach fourth grade.

Each year the project's shape and scope evolves to meet the changing needs and interests of learners.  Most of my students have completed the project, and we're currently in the midst of project presentations.  This year's projects evolved to include 21st century skills, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity with greater strength.  We were also able to use many new tech tools to broaden the project's scope and interest.  

I like to sit down at the end of a project to reflect.  To think about what worked well and what I'd like to research and possibly change for next year.  I've listed my reflections below for your review and response.  I'll return to this document next spring when we begin our project planning and implementation once again.  Also, I recently read this article about project based learning which provides a solid rationale for our endangered species project.

  1. Project Planning: 
    • Animal Adaptation Unit:  This unit is a good precursor to the endangered species study.  Next year I will have students create a number of charts and vocabulary lists/mini-projects that they'll be able to use later on when they study endangered species.
    • Animal Adaptation Presentation:  The fourth grade teachers, thanks to funding from our PTO, hosted an animal expert from The Museum of Science in Boston for a grade-wide animal adaptation presentation with live animals.
    • Topic Overview:  I coupled this with a review of nonfiction strategies and "reading to find out" skills.  The one-two page articles we reviewed together were helpful, and provided the entire class with a solid content foundation.  I showed a number of films to strengthen the foundation as well.
    • Slide Show Template:  This gave students a note-taking guide to use online or offline as they researched their topic.
    • Classroom Library:  The classroom library exhibited related books as well as books written by students in past classes.  Our librarian has researched and collected a wonderful array of books to support this project.
    • Tech/Library/Art Integration:  Technology integration specialists, the librarian and the art teacher helped out with the project.
    • It's Learning Course:  An online course was created to guide students' research and presentation efforts with links and other information. 
    • Social Network Discussions:  Several ongoing discussion threads related to the project were posed on our closed classroom social network.
    • Next Year:  I'd like to add a list of essential questions to the unit plan to guide our overall study and work. We're also going to explore a local zoo connection for the project, and look for additional up-to-date overview materials.
  2. Project Work
    • The first week was devoted mainly to reading books about the topic to understand endangered species, and to think about the animals each student wanted to study.
    • A Google form was created and students completed the form, listing the animals they wanted to study.
    • Animal selections were made -- everyone got their first choice.  Typically only one child studies each animal, but this year some students were comfortable with studying the same animal.
    • Once students had selected their animals, they read about their animals online and off using Internet articles, classroom resources and library books.  Students took notes as they read.
    • As students began to collect their resources, they crafted their presentations.  Teachers worked with students on an as needed basis highlighting student work exemplars along the way to guide.
    • Students helped each other create iMovies using a public service message guide.
    • checklist was created for students to follow.  Students edited with teachers when they were finished or close to finishing. (See recent related blog, The Edit)
  3. Student Presentations
    • Students presented in front of the room to classmates and family members.  They engaged the class with a multimedia mix of videos, comics, public service messages, quizzes, and information slides. (Presentation Example and Examples of Specific Slide Types)
    • The audience used Tweet Sheets to build their active listening/learning during the presentations.
    • Students answered questions and listened to comments at the end of the presentations.
  4. Assessment
    • Assessment was ongoing since most of the work was done in a workshop style.  Teachers were meeting with students continually to help out, edit and review.
    • Through conferencing, all students brought their projects to a high level of completion.  All students were expected to complete the basic slide presentation, then there was room for more creativity and enrichment.
    • Rather than a grade, students received a final assessment by way of a teacher letter highlighting the project's unique strengths.  Students will also receive compliments/connections comments from classmates as part of homework on our classroom It's Learning site.
  5. Reflections
    • The project process was engaging from start to finish.
    • The project employed 21st century skills: collaboration, creativity, critical thinking skills, and creativity.
    • Students developed reading, writing skills.
    • Students learned about animal biology, geography, sociology and the environment.
    • Students learned and strengthened their technology skills specifically skills with iMovie, Google Presentation and Internet research.
    • Students practiced their public speaking and teaching skills.
Once again this has been a vigorous, engaging and profitable learning experience for all.  I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions as my colleagues and I continue to "grow" this project for student success.  

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    Dream School

    Dream School:

    • "All hands on desk" most of the time, with educators working directly with children.
    • Collaboration:  educators w/time to meet, collaborate, learn and plot the course for optimal learning.
    • Communication: a steady stream of communication so people know what's happening.
    • Lead Time: time to plan, think, prepare -- w/flexibility for necessary last minute changes.
    • Optimal Differentiated Professional Development -- targeted pd for staff to help schools/teachers meet their goals with children.
    • Tools:  Optimal, up-to-date tools to promote success for all students.
    • Voice:  A chance for all educators in the building to be part of the decision making process.
    • Honesty:  Clear, honest communication always with the lens of what's best for children.
    • Scheduling:  Clear, targeted scheduling to best meet the needs of all children.
    • Protocols and Ethics:  Ethical decision making related to hiring, evaluations, vision.
    • Role Definition:  It's important for educators in all areas of school life to understand their roles as well as the roles of their colleagues. That builds respect and camaraderie.
    Educators generally want what's best for children.  They look forward to working hard to promote success for every learner.  A thoughtful, collaborative environment where mission trumps ambition is my dream school.
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    Tech Selection - 6/10 Update

    How do you select the best tech tools for students?  I start with the learning goals.  What do I want students to achieve? How do I facilitate that achievement?  What does my students' tech diet look like each day, week, month and year?

    Teachers who will be attending my tech workshop prompted me to think about this question.  Many wrote that they were looking for optimal technology tools for their students, but they didn't know where to start.  Below I've listed some of the goals and tech tools I use to engage, empower and teach students. Note that this is a work in progress, a document that I'll revisit again and again in the weeks to come as I prepare for the workshop.  Please let me know what you think is missing?  Also note that this is written with my school system's infrastructure and the elementary school focus in mind.

    Goal:  Independent Learning Skills:  Now that information is only a click away, it's important that students understand how to access information in meaningful, productive ways.
    Tech Tool:  Ning Network and It's Learning:  The closed social network provides students with a 24-7 vehicle for asking questions, posting information and sharing what they're learning.  Through this venue, I can guide and support independent learning.  It's Learning, Wayland's learning management platform, also prompts independent learning.  It's Learning hosts all the links and materials related to a specific project or unit of study (course).  Students easily choose the learning topic, then access learning venues.
    Student Example:  NING 4th Grade Discussion Thread

    Goal:  Writing Skill:  Writing remains an essential skill. To be successful in our world, students need to know how to write well.
    Tech Tool:  Google Docs/Presentation/Sites Tools, KidPix:  Google docs/presentation is an excellent tool for writing development.  Students can easily draft, share and edit (w/classmates and/or teachers) their stories.  Google docs also lends itself to publishing with ease.
    Student Example:  Second-Fourth Grade Buddies Digital Story, The Homework Excuse Book

    Goal:  Multimedia Composition:  Today most information is presented through multimedia composition.  Multimedia composition blends images, videos, music, text and other information types to communicate ideas, information and narratives.  Students are better able to access information from multimedia compositions if they have the chance to create similar compositions as that process creates familiarity and understanding of the venue.
    Tech Tools: GarageBand, iMovie, iPhoto, Google Presentation, KidPix, YouTube, VoiceThread, Animoto:  These tech tools create a wonderful multimedia tech palette for multimedia composition.
    Student Example:  Save the Arctic Fox Public Service Message

    Goal: Global Connections:  Our students will live and work in a global community.  It's essential that they begin to collaborate with children, teachers and experts throughout the world in developmentally-appropriate ways.  
    Tech Tools:  ePals, Skype, Edmodo, NING, Twitter, Discovery Education, National Geographic:  We have started to explore this area through ePals.  Next year I'd like to explore this area with greater depth using some or all of the tools above.  I want to engage my students in a global project related to one of our curriculum areas.  There are many projects available.

    Goal:  Knowledge:  There are many, many venues for knowledge development on the web.  It's both important to determine useful resources and to teach children how to evaluate and choose the best resources.
    Tech Tools:  Discovery Education, Enchanted Learning, YouTube, expert websites, and national and international organizations related to the content areas such as World Wildlife Fund, National Geographic:  Educators should continue to investigate and research the best sites for their content areas.  Wayland teachers are able to link those sites to content courses/projects on It's Learning.

    Goal:  Professional Development:  Excellence in instruction depends on a teacher's continued, focused professional development.
    Tech Tools:  Twitter, EdCamps, Blogs and PD websites, Online communities and conferences:  Twitter is an exceptional idea-exchange for educators.  By developing a Twitter PLN (professional learning network), educators can link to numerous professional articles, activities and connections. 
    Educator Example:  Join Twitter #edchat on Tuesday nights at 7pm for a good start.

    Goal:  Math and Science Education
    Tech Tools:  That Quiz, expert websites, Google forms, statistics/graph sites, interactive models:  The web offers numerous sites to support math and science engagement and learning.  Educators should seek interactive models that demonstrate math and science concepts, knowledge and information.  While there are many programs to boost computational skill and knowledge, technology more importantly supports project/inquiry-based learning which is the best way to develop meaningful math, science development.
    Student Project:  Student Fraction Models and Problem Solving Project Snapshot

    Goal:  Reading
    Tech Tools:  Lexia, reading related search engines, author sites, online books.  All tech venues require reading skills and comprehension.  Technology tools are motivating for children, and therefore promote reading.  Use of noteworthy literature is essential to the development of successful readers.  There are many tech tools available which can help students with comprehension as well as connecting students to authors' websites and optimal search engines for finding just right books.  Online books will eventually replace most hand-held books since online books are current and will offer comprehension assistance (images, definitions, synonyms, translation, links and more).
    Student Example:  Poetry Podcast

    Goal:  Infographics
    Tech Tools:  Data/Image Research, Publishing Software. Infographics are becoming a meaningful and valuable medium for demonstrating data and information related to a specific topic.  Students will face infographics increasingly in text.  Creation of infographics should be integrated into our curriculum programs from 4th/5th grade and up.

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    PLN Challenges

    The information and questions posed by my Twitter PLN challenge me.  There is so much to learn, and so many approaches to education to consider.  I have to take pause now and then to focus.  Currently, these are the issues I hope to explore in the months to come in addition to my earlier summer short list.

    1. Learning how to learn.  I want to engage students in many lessons related to learning how to learn.  We will discuss topics such as active listening, asking questions, effective effort, collaboration, and utilizing the best tools.  We'll create anchor charts and refer to our discussion findings often as we explore topics.
    2. Reading:  How can we best promote reading with all students in a class.  I believe book groups are the way to go in addition to specific skill development.  I hope that our collective summer RTI study will serve to develop our reading workshop model into an even more personalized, responsive approach to reading/literature study.
    3. Project based learning:  Projects based on authentic, meaningful, worthy questions promote the best of 21stC skill development (communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity).  Projects present students with many levels of achievement and possibility.  I want to assess and refine our current grade level projects.
    4. Building my own background knowledge.  As my PLN challenges me, I realize that the more I know about a specific topic, the better I am able to teach it.  I will follow their lead and read books and articles related to education in general, and the specific topics I teach throughout the year.
    5. Optimal field studies.  During the summer months, I'll make the time to explore possible field study venues such as museums, zoos, parks, and others to find the best places to help our students understand the primary concepts of our grade level program.
    It's an exciting time in education.  Please let me know if I've missed an important topic.
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    Know Your Audience: Survey Prior to Teaching

    I'm presenting a couple of tech workshops to two dozen teachers in June at Wayland's Literacy Institute.  As I started preparing for the workshop, I wondered about what the teachers were most interested in.  What did they want to learn?  What tech were they already familiar with?  That's why I decided to send out a survey prior to the workshop.

    Thanks to Google forms, I was able to create a survey in minutes.  I was also able to pick a template that matched the mood of the workshop - a bright, spirited, beautiful pattern.  Then I sent the survey out.  Within a half hour, I had my first response. The teacher asked so many wonderful questions, and demonstrated a desire to learn specific tech skills to help her students.  Then today I received many more responses.  Each response once again reflected the educator's desire to motivate, facilitate and create optimal learning events for students.  Now, I'll tailor my presentation to the needs and desires of the workshop participants.

    Next year, I want to use Google forms more often as I teach.  I'll begin by sending out a Google survey to parents in my class in late August.  That will give me a great snapshot of the incoming families.  Later, I'll use surveys to query students prior to unit study and class endeavors.  I'll check in with parents throughout the year too.  That will help me to make my teaching more meaningful and responsive.

    The challenge now is to create a couple of one-hour workshops that will meet a diversity of educator needs and interests.  I'll let you know how it goes in a future blog.  Thanks for listening.
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    Fabulous Field Day

    Today our intelligent and committed physical education teacher orchestrated field day.  He coordinated numerous creative, cooperative and competitive games for approximately 300 third, fourth and fifth graders.

    He prepared for the event by communicating with staff and preparing students during their weekly physical education classes.  He split students into four teams: red, green, yellow and blue.  Third and fourth graders started the day by moving with their classes from one event to another.  My class started with jump roping then moved to basketball toss, tennis baseball, pizza box relay, long jump, softball, 50 yard dash and the 300-yard run.  Fifth graders were busy working on cooperative games in the gym.  It was wonderful to watch the fifth graders collaborate to earn points and complete tasks.  Later the fifth graders competed in the tasks we completed earlier.

    After a needed rest period and lunch, students returned to the field for a 300-yard run relay, 50-yard dash relay, and tug of war.  At the end of the day, fifth graders competed against the teachers in the annual student-teacher tug-of-war.  Then they all enjoyed a popsicle and free play.

    Throughout the day students earned extra points for cheering on their classmates, helping each other out and cooperation.  A spirit of community, cooperation and fun marked the day.  We also had the bonus of terrific weather.

    It was such a joy to be part of this event, and it was a great learning experience to watch a colleague create, facilitate and manage a healthy, collaborative and enjoyable day for our school community.  Student success depends on the dedication and skill of so many wonderful teachers in a school.  Today our physical education teacher shined!
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    Magnificent Music

    Yesterday, more than 50% of our third, fourth and fifth graders performed in either the band or orchestra performance.  The event was magnificent.

    It was amazing to see our young musicians play a wide variety of instruments and music to entertain their classmates, friends and family members.  The children returned during the evening to perform again for more friends and family members.

    Our music department is sensational.  That's due to the incredible commitment of so many talented teachers, parents and students.  Each week children practice twice at school as well as at home.  The music staff communicates with parents, teachers and students via websites and emails.  They continually encourage the students.  They also match interested students with high school mentors, and provide links to camps and other instructional venues.

    Twice a year, our young third, fourth and fifth graders perform with middle school and high school musicians in the high school gymnasium.  It's an astounding event.  The organization is awesome, and the music inspiring.

    Our students are wonderful musicians. Their discipline and musical experience also strengthen their overall academic commitment and success.  In two weeks, our chorus will sing.  They practice once a week in the mornings.  That event always brings a smile to my face.  It's just one more way that our system promotes music.

    As I think about restructuring schools, I realize that our music program is one component we want to keep.  It's exceptional.
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    The Edit

    How do you edit a child's story, presentation or project?  How much time do you take?  What do you prioritize?  What's your process?

    For me, editing is intense.  I sit down with a child, and he or she shows me their work.  I think a lot about that child and the piece before even starting.  I think about where that child is in the learning progression, what he/she has accomplished thus far, and the next steps for growth.

    I usually start with a few questions:  Do you consider this project complete?  Were there any parts that you got stuck on?  What do you really like about your project?  Did you follow the check-list?  Then the child or I will slowly begin to read the presentation aloud. As we listen together to the words and view the images, the child or I will stop now and then to highlight grammatical errors, a research question, a format possibility or an area for growth. When we read, we'll think about our audience, the readers, and wonder:  Will they understand the piece?  Will they learn from the process?  How can we format for greater meaning and enjoyment? Are the facts correct and clearly presented? We'll correct errors and make revisions as we edit.  We'll also create an after-edit to-do list.

    The edit usually lasts about 15-20 minutes.  That's a long time when you consider that the other 20plus children are working independently.  If you're lucky, some or all of the students will be under the guidance of an assistant or specialist teacher.  It's also challenging because the room is rarely quiet enough for full concentration, so you have to continue to remind the others to stay on task with whisper voices.  Solid training at the start of the year helps with that. Then there's the fact that most teachers have 20plus students, and 20 X 20 = 400 minutes or almost 7 hours of editing.

    Coaches have visited my class and recommended that I cut those edits down to two or three minute meetings.  "Pick one strategy, and edit for that.  Then leave the other goals for a future piece," they've instructed.  Sometimes colleagues choose to edit the pieces at home without the one-to-one conference.  I've done that for some pieces too, but when the goals are high and the editing sensitive, I like the thoughtful, lengthy one-to-one meeting.

    During my education, those one-to-one meetings with professors and teachers were invaluable.  I can count on one hand the number of those meetings I had from kindergarten to graduate school, yet when I had the chance to sit down with an educator to discuss and improve a craft, it was a memorable, productive and unforgettable experience.  Also, as a teacher, I look forward to those one-to-one editing meetings with every student.  I really get to know the student.  I also get to encourage the child, and help him or her move forward with specific skills, content and knowledge in their unique and personal learning ways.  Furthermore I'm able to model editing, spelling, research, writing and presentation skills  and strategies with the child by my side.

    With a dozen or more endangered species presentations left to edit, and about 20 fiction Google presentation story books to review, I'm feeling the editing challenge in the last few weeks of school.  Yet, as I focus on the purpose and strength of one-to-one editing, I am excited about the learning these conferences offer my students.

    Editing and one-to-one student conferences are a large part of the teaching process. It's a challenging, but enriching curriculum piece.  How do you fit edits into your day, year and program?  What kind of time do you give to this task?  What's your focus?  What do you deem to be the benefits?  How does this process change throughout the grades?  As we rethink schools, the one-to-one conference and/or edit, may become a regular, valuable part of every school program and schedule.  Ideally it will take place in a quiet, welcoming space without distractions.  I look forward to your thoughts and comments about editing and one-to-one conferences.  This might also be a great topic for Twitter #engchat, #elemchat, #edchat or #4thchat in the weeks to come.

    Note:  The "Get Schooled" video shows President Obama editing a speech with Sarah Hurwitz, a Wayland High graduate and speechwriter.

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