Posts Tagged ‘class tone’

Left Behind

Photo by Angella Mueller. Used under creative commons license.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about students leaving a legacy recently. Alan November uses this terminology frequently. (Side note, if he is speaking at a conference or event you are attending, I recommend going to hear him. He is enthusiastic, supportive of teachers, and you will leave with ideas in your head.) In a world where it is so easy to share work and have others, maybe only just a few, but still others, get something out of it, why wouldn’t we want this for our students? I know that whenever I have suggested to my students that the work they are creating will be used by me next year to show others, or shared beyond school, I get more buy-in and better work. Everyone wins with that combination. (I’ll write about a particular example of this next.)

Last week on the first day of school, I found this article on called “Have Students Create Their End of Year Legacy Now” by Maurice Elias. In it Professor Elias suggests starting the year with this goal in mind:

Ask your students to imagine themselves at an assembly in June. All of their classmates, teachers, staff, even parents are there. Every student is called up to the podium at the center of the stage, and the principal reads a statement of what they accomplished in the past year.

I think this is a great idea and one that allows for frequent checking in and monitoring. Professor Elias goes on to say,

Next, you can review the legacy statements at the end of each grading period, which can lead to a discussion, using these questions:

  • How are you doing in working toward your legacy?
  • What can help you make (more, better) progress in the next marking period?

I would go a few digital steps farther, adding the following:

  • How will you share your legacy with others?
  • Who else might benefit from what you have created?
  • How will this add to your positive digital footprint?

I know that not all work needs to be shared. Some really doesn’t deserve to go farther than the recycling bin, honestly. However, if we begin with the notion that creating real content that is of value to others is a goal, then I think it can be something towards which to work. And, there is a huge range of what “of value” means. Curing cancer would certainly qualify. However so would a screencast by an elementary student that explained how to regroup when subtracting.

So, I guess my point here is: what a great way to start the year.

Is there something that you think would really set a great tone or expectation?

So, I’m still thinking about 5E Day. (see earlier posts here and here).

I followed the same format as before. I showed the Daniel Pink book trailer video for Drive which asks “what is your sentence?”. I gave some examples. I allowed about a week of think time. I waited.

Once again, great success. This time I even had time to make an animoto video with a picture of each child and his or her sentence before back to school night so that I could show it to parents. I don’t know what is going on with my photography skills, but they need work.

There is nothing like hearing about your students’ interests, on day 8 of school, in a real, in-depth, but not heavy, way with props included. This year we even had someone bring in a short video clip. I have three new students and for them it was a great way to catch up on common knowledge about returning students, become known themselves, and become part our shared story right away. And, I think that is the key. For a classroom or any learning community to become a real community there has to be some shared story to connect all those spinning parts into something.

Here are we are in all our 1 sentence glory:

  • She’s a swimmer.
  • I am interested in all things mechanical and finding out how things work.
  • He loves to play sports and math.
  • She likes to make cookies with her mom.
  • I like rocks.
  • She loves the Phillies and sports.
  • He likes reading.
  • I am creative.
  • I love reading.
  • Violin is my specialty.
  • The more eggs the merrier.
  • She likes to read, laugh, act, and play soccer.
  • I love baseball.
  • She likes sports.
  • I love horseback riding.
  • I love skiing.
  • I like activities.
  • I like karate.
  • I love baseball.
Some highlights of the discussion:
Q: What made you get into the Phillies?
A: Well, you can’t just sit there and just eat the food. You have to get interested.
After lots of oohs and aahs over the rock collection:
Q: Which ones did you find?
A This one’s a good skipping rock. I found this one in my creek.
Q: What made you start to get into it?
A: Well, I like archaeology so I started collecting rocks.
Student sharing an egg-head pin, “I would share this everyday if I could.”
Q: When did you start liking eggs?
A: 2 years ago. I didn’t really show if off last year.
Student who likes riding, “this is my helmet. It has all these dents from falling off. Don’t be scared. If you’re going to do it, it will happen.”
“What got me hooked on reading was Harry Potter.”
“I’ve been making things around the house.”
Q: What was the first thing you built?
A: A Lego ferris wheel. Then I had a remote-controlled car and took apart the weed whacker and put the engine in the car. I got in trouble and had to put it back.” (Lots of appreciative oohs and aahs here!)
“I have lots of medals (for swimming) at home, but I don’t like to take them out of the house because they’re so special to me.”
“Good luck for testing on your black belt in April.”
“I think it’s really cool that you do so much creative stuff. I didn’t realize you had so much talent.”
“I like making cookies with my mom. She’s the only one I really do it with. I love chocolate chips and I just go in the closet and eat them sometimes.”
We are individuals. We are 5E.

So, I’ve been thinking about what kind of teacher I am. There are lots of option here. Some folks go for the grandmother or avuncular role. Others do the absent-minded professor thing. There are the mean/scary teachers and the cool teachers.

The thing is, what if the way you see yourself is different from the way others see you or at least the way you are used to seeing yourself? Because, really, who isn’t a little of all of those things, depending on the day?

I’m not old enough, yet, to do the grandmotherly thing. And even though I’m getting more white hair all the time, I’m keeping it covered in purple for now. My personal kids are too young for me to go that route yet. It’s just not me. Next. I’m too convinced that organization and structure are important for learning to commit to the absent-minded professor deal. Well, that and I think teaching 10 and 11 year olds is best done when not absent-minded. The mean option is not really for me either, although there are those rumors out there that suggest otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, I can get mad, but I just have no desire to be that way all the time, nor do I think it is necessary. Even when I taught in the Chicago Public School system at a school that had a hard time getting substitutes to come there, I didn’t find it effective to attempt to be mean all the time.

Sunglasses That leaves me with cool. The problem is I have never, ever been cool. As soon as there was cool and uncool, I was uncool. When I was in school I was sure I was the most uncool. Upon further reflection, I think there was one person were a few people who were even less cool than I was. Even so, I certainly was not in the cool crowd. Yet I have heard from more than a few parents that their students think I am cool. (I guess if you stay in the grade long enough you get to be cool?) Sometimes it’s the shoes that get me the votes. I have a problem, ok I admit it. Sometimes it’s that I know what happened in the Phillies (or whoever) game last night. (I do like baseball, can keep up with the major football highlights, used to really like hockey, can be convinced to watch a little soccer, and have no interest whatsoever in basketball.) The fact that I really like to use technology and try new things on the computers goes over well with others. It might be the book suggestion or shared favorite, maybe even a comment about a very fluffy TV show. For some it’s that I use examples from my life as a kid, student, parent, and person to help illustrate my points. Ant then there are those for whom I’m just not their cup of tea. I have been teaching too long to think everyone will like me.

What all of this means, I think, is not that I am cool. That’s just a catch-all word. What it means, I hope, is that my students feel that I have interests that might intersect with theirs. (I’m a decent faker about a lot of interests. All those trivia facts that are cluttering my head come in handy sometimes. I am not at all above pretending to have more interest in a topic than I actually have.) It means that they feel that I am sharing who I am as a person with them and speaking and interacting with them in a respectful way. I think it is important for it to be clear who the adult in the room is; so,it does not mean that we are peers, but we are colleagues.

In the end, whatever cool factor I might have attributed to me,whether I believe it or not, needs to be reflected back on each student individually so that every person in the room believes that I think he or she is interesting and that I am interested, cool or not.

(photo by Dottie Mae, used under creative commons license)

Class Visitors

Posted: September 18, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about what happens when visitors are in the classroom. On Wednesday I had visitors from outside the school.

Dr. Thomas Lickona from SUNY  Cortland’s Center for the 4th and 5th Rs came with a student of his from Japan. They were coming to look at the character education program at our school. Several years ago I wrote an article (it’s towards the end of the issue, you have to scroll down a few pages) for the newsletter that The Center puts out. What he was coming to see our class work on our class compact. This is a document that we create together that guides our actions. It is divided into two big categories: things we do so that students can to their best, most creative work, and things we do so that students can feel welcome, safe, and respected. Under each of these categories we have the following sub-categories: students will, students will not, teacher will, teachers will not. For the visual learners out there, this is what the blank document looks like:

Our visitors watched and listened while we reviewed some general behavior type stuff that we had already talked about and then as we worked on our compact. Our work was divided into two parts: the brainstorming part and the editing or trimming part.

I set up 8 stations around the room with one of the 8 sections of our compact at each station. Students worked in pairs or threes for 3-5 minutes. Then each group rotated to the next table, adding ideas to each list. We did this 3 or 4 times. Then we talked about how to edit down to a short, manageable, reasonable list. (Easier said than done, as it turned out.) Students rotated another few times working to edit each list. Finally we came together to write a draft of our shared document.

The point here is that it was not exactly a quiet activity. There was talking and moving and debating. This was all part of my plan. I am not really about passivity. I have no interest in standing in front of a bunch of people of any age whose brain waves are flat-lining. I am never sure if others will appreciate the liveliness of the discussion, the inside jokes that we are making, or the fact that students are not really still.

What I hope visitors see is students who are talking with each other about ideas, sharing opinions, disagreeing respectfully, changing their minds, keeping with a lesson for an extended period of time, and having a decent time in the process. Even though I spent some time giving Tom the background on what he would be seeing, it’s really hard to condense even a few days of preparation into a few minutes. He’s a pro, so I am fairly confident he got it.

I guess I have a somewhat biased opinion, but I like other people to be as impressed by my students as I am.

So, I’ve been thinking about how I haven’t posted anything here in a really long time. I’ll try to write about that later. But, today was the first day of school. Besides going over the boring basic stuff, we made labels for our cubbies, listened to this Yoyo Ma tune for a little dancing, and watched two video clips.

One clip was Daniel Pink’s book trailer for Drive. I showed it last year too. This will connect to our “5E Day” celebration on a week from Friday. I wrote all about it last year. It worked out so well, I’m doing it again.

The new clip was from the group Improv Everywhere. Here is how they describe themselves of their website:

Improv Everywhere is a New York City-based prank collective that causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places. Created in August of 2001 by Charlie Todd, Improv Everywhere has executed over 100 missions involving tens of thousands of undercover agents.

The clip we watched was their latest mission called “Say Something Nice.” (Click and watch it quick, quick and then come back and read about what I did. It’s short.) I showed the clip and then suggested that we should try to do this regularly, in a way that would work for school.

So, I made a bucket with a “say something nice” label on it. I put some pieces of paper there and pencils. All colleagues are welcome to add things to the bucket over the course of the week. On Friday we will pull them out and read them.

I feel like standing at the podium makes it more official, but it is a hassle to drag one in here every week. I think a music stand will do the trick. My plan is to have students come up, pull a random “something nice” out of the bucket and read it. I think it will be a great way to end the week. Maybe it should be the first thing on Monday instead?

What do you think? Interesting idea? Silly cutesy idea? Monday? Friday?

So, I’ve been thinking about our class climate. In the beginning of the year I had what I called “5E Day” with my class, which was loosely based on George Couros’ Identity day. (Read about it here and about its impact here.)

One of the comments to my description of the resulting class tone wondered if we would need “booster shots” or any sort of redo. So far, I have to say that I think my class this year is a very supportive and cohesive group. Yet, I felt like this idea of a periodic booster might be worth remembering. And now I think I have a booster activity.

We are switching the book we read before winter break this year and it turns out that my new plan is in many ways a 5E Day booster. So here’s the plan:

  • We have listened to, read, and discussed in some detail both Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and President Kennedy’s “Inaugural Address” (ask not what your country can do for you).
  • We have been reading and listening to a selection of “This I Believe” podcasts from NPR (chosen by me with a wide variety of themes that are not too heavy).
  • We have been collecting “I believe. . .” statements in a jar in the room.
  • We are about to write a “This I Believe” essay as a book character.
  • I will collect, write-up, and the put into wordle our 5E beliefs.
  • I will make a podcast or Animoto video of our beliefs before winter break, no promises on this one, but it would be super.
  • Everyone, me included, will write a “This I Believe” essay (or poem or song) and create a podcast.
  • We will all listen to or read each other’s essays.
  • And, we’ve also read some short pieces that are somewhat related and totally entertaining.

I have to say I did not set out to create a 5E Day booster unit. I set out to plan a new unit that had some good pieces of what I have done in the past (King and Kennedy’s speeches) and some things I have been meaning to do (“This I Believe” essays). But, oh happy day, I have a feeling it’s going to be both a decent unit and act as a 5E Day refresher.

How many days are there until break?

So, I’ve been thinking about the great conversation I had with my class yesterday. It was the kind of conversation we don’t usually have until a lot later in the year. I’ve been thinking about why it went so well.

First let me tell you what my definition of “going well” is. In 5th grade I think a good conversation about a book means a number of thing:

  • Many people (everyone) participate.
  • Solid information from the story is shared.
  • People are not just summarizing, but collecting appropriate examples for the topic.
  • There is back and forth among students.
  • New ideas emerge.

That may sound like a lot for 5th graders, who incase you don’t recall, are mostly 10. But,I have found that is exactly what they are capable of: a lot.

So, here are some of the reasons I think this, our first real discussion about our first book of the year, went so well:

  • We were sitting in our circle arrangement (see my post about it here and here) and I was just part of the circle. Everyone was facing each other and conversation was naturally flowing.
  • I adjusted the plan of what to talk about when a student brought up an idea that clearly got many students’ attention. I told the students we could discuss this idea further once we finished a few housekeeping review items and that my goal was to learn and improve our ability to discuss what we read. I said that often it would not matter what in particular we discussed, so I was open to new topics.
  • I tried to keep things somewhat free-flowing and insist on some being-called-on-taking-turns.
  • At a few different times I said I needed to hear from anyone I hadn’t heard from soon. Students responded appropriately and raised hands ready to join in.
  • And, finally we had already had our “5E Day” (Identity Day-read about it here) project and started on the path to a really great class tone.

I am going to have to up my game if my students are going to be leaping into this kind of discussion in September.

I’m in.

So, I’ve been thinking about my class version of George Couros’ “Identity Day.” I heard him describe it at part of the Reform Symposium. (Catch the archived version here.)

Let me give a little background. I showed this video as a start to our conversation about ourselves. The video is a book trailer for Daniel Pink’s newest book Drive. The key thing for our discussion is that it asks the question: What is your sentence. This is what we used to begin.

After some discussion I gave some possible examples for myself and these directions:

On Friday we will each share a little something about ourselves. You should begin by coming up with your sentence. Remember the video we watched? What is your sentence right now? It doesn’t have to be your sentence for life, just your life at the moment.

On Friday each person will have his or her sentence on a sentence strip (I will give you a strip) and a small display on his or her desk. This display could be pictures, small items, a poster, books, whatever you want that helps us understand your sentence. I will share my sentence and make a small display as well.

Each of you will get a few minutes to share this special interest or with our class.

I can’t wait to hear about each of you!

Then, I waited.

To say that I was unprepared for the response does not even begin to describe the day. This was the last thing we did on a Friday, the second week of school. Not prime time. It was the only time I had what I thought was a long enough block of time.

Here are our sentences:

  • She likes to make all kinds of things.
  • She loves Paris, France.
  • You can call me crazy, because it’s true.
  • I have many bright ideas for our armed forces.
  • I like baseball, basketball and long multiplication.
  • Lax is my thing and I like to sing.
  • I love to swim.
  • She loves to be creative and likes to be herself.
  • I live and breathe tennis.
  • I enjoy doing puzzles with my brother.
  • I want to be in the Olympics, a lot.
  • (Name) is about soccer, math, and a laugh.
  • I like to compete in math and sports.
  • I like doing fun stuff.
  • (Name) likes to play soccer, cook and have fun. (a boy)
  • I like to make cool projects.
  • All day I think about soccer.

The sentences were interesting. They brought little displays to share.

I live and breathe tennis.

I like to make cool projects.

But what was the most amazing was how much attention, interest, and care they showed. Each person shared his or her interest and collection of items. Students asked questions of everyone. They were respectful of all interests and genuinely interested in what others were doing. There was no wiggling, giggling (except at jokes), eye rolling, sighing, or wandering. For a few students I had to cut off questions so that we wouldn’t run out of time. All told, it was easily 75+ minutes of just sharing. That doesn’t include the time we spent walking around looking at things up close before beginning.

I was blown away.

I want to be in the Olympics, a lot. have many bright ideas for our armed forces.

Here are a few of the things I heard:

  • Q: Do you feel you have pushed the boundary of crazy? (totally serious question)
  • A: I haven’t yet, but I feel I may soon. (also serious)
  • Q: What is the hardest thing you ever made (cooking)?
  • A: That would have to be when I tried putting chocolate then cheese over bacon.
  • Q: You must have a lot of patience (to student talking about 1,000 piece puzzles)
  • A: My mom can’t take it. If she doesn’t get a piece in like a minute, she quits. My brother and I, we have a lot of strategies.
  • I love to laugh, I do it a lot. They say I’ll live longer, so that’s a good thing.
  • I know that’s really hard because I tried it and kept falling into
    walls and stuff.
  • I personally love Snoopy, but that’s just me.
  • I got into it when I was really little and I’ve liked it ever since.

I cannot adequately express what a great afternoon this was. Not only was it a fantastic event, I think it will set a tone for the rest of the year.