Posts Tagged ‘goals’

CCO public domain image from

CCO public domain image from

So, I’ve been thinking about our digital portfolio project. It started officially in 2014-15 with 6th grade and a few 9th grade courses. It continued this year in 7th grade, 9th and 10th grade, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades.

A quick review–our portfolios are process portfolios (rather than showcases) where students will reflect on their learning and habits. We are using google sites set up announcement style (like blog posts) made with a school template. There is a drop down menu for posts in each division. In the lower school, the posts will be organized by grade level; in middle and upper schools the posts will be on pages by subject. We went back and forth about the organizing structure. If When the portfolios take off, there may be too many posts per page, but we’ll figure that out when we get there.

So far, some grades certainly ended up with a lot more reflection than others. As one of the chief cheerleaders and salespeople for this work, I spoke with colleagues about our ongoing digital portfolio use. I stressed the power of the pile. I admit this is not an elegant phrase, but as anyone who reads this blog knows, I am not always an elegant sentence maker. However, it’s not a bad phrase.

I think the it’s worth talking about the pile and how its power will grow as the pile grow. First of all, counting on one reflection to be powerful enough to carry this new work seems to be asking a lot. One data point is just a point. Anything that is going to become a habit is powerful as a habit not as the individual act. Second, once the reflections start to pile up there is the potential to see patterns and to see change. Even though I can always draw a line connecting two points, I will see much more with a bigger group of points. Maybe one of those first two points is an outlier that is not even close to the best fit line I see with a bigger group? So, to some extent the early posts, while they might turn up some interesting ideas, as some have, are building the pile. They are now there to be looked back on, to be mined for metacognitive wisdom, etc. But the work, both of building the pile and building the habit of reflection, continues. When the new school year starts, students can go to back to the posts from the previous year to jump-start their thinking about their learning.

Another thing that I stressed in my comments to my colleagues is that each reflection should include commentary on work habits, process, or social/emotional skills that are not exclusive to the particular content. So, a department or grade level might choose several habits of mind or process skills that they want to ask about routinely. Again, this would help students build that pile and make the individual posts worth reviewing. Seeing incremental progress is good for the brain (which I learned a number of years ago from Judy Willis) and motivating. We all want students to be motivated to learn, and of course it is motivating to see your own progress.

In thinking about the coming year, I notice that my colleagues fall into a few categories in terms of how they approach using digital portfolios. The folks who tackle this independently are set. I check in with them, throw a little something their way, and they are off. Those who like to work collaboratively with me are also set. I make a point to meet with them, or they initiate working together either in or out of their class. We make it work together. One group I plan to work more closely are department chair people to help them develop a few go-to questions that speak to the behaviors/habits of mind/skills that are critical for success in their disciplines and grade level. Although I have rather extensive collections of potential prompts available for teachers (in easy to access locations), for those who are not in either of the first two groups, I think it will be helpful if I am more prescriptive in my support.

I am excited that next year (2016-17) students in grades 3-11 will be reflecting on their learning, saving it on a digital portfolio, adding to their pile.


They Fooled Me

Posted: January 18, 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,
public domain image from

public domain image from

So I’ve been thinking about what I learned about teaching this semester. There are plenty of things I worked hard to do that I can look to as successes. However, I can do better.

I have written about the fact that I found teaching seniors to feel strangely familiar, even though I had never taught this grade level before. I think the biggest take away I have should not be a surprise to me.

The seniors are kids. I know this; I believe this; I say this in other situations. But, did I teach with this in mind?

I wanted to be very aware of the fact that the young people in front of me were not 10 or even 14 years old anymore. When we had creative writing assignments, I set PG, maybe PG-13, as the upper rating for their work, because I knew where some of them might go otherwise. I paid attention to college application deadlines, when acceptances and rejections were delivered, the impact a breakup could have on productivity. I deliberately chose a book and tackled some topics in that book with particular attention given that these young people will, most likely, be living away from home next year. And yet, I also was swayed by their air of confidence and ease. I fell for it. So, when I gave a quick explanation of something, asked if everyone got it, I believed them when they said yes. I know better! I know to give the complete explanation, at least at the beginning, to ask for questions rather than comprehension. I didn’t let 5th graders or 9th graders get away with that, but …

I taught the people these seniors wanted to be seen as, rather than who they were. I assumed things at the beginning that meant I had to back track later. My 5th grade teacher self is yelling you know this, you worked so hard to do this clearly and effectively before. What have you forgotten in these few short years?

It’s easy to look at 10 and 11 year olds and see kids. Their very beings scream the words. Even the ones who are already becoming abstract thinkers, getting the jokes, engaging in real discussion about ideas give away their age in ways big and small. There is no mistaking them for adults.

The seniors tricked me, some of them, not just by their physical selves, but through the things they talked about before class began, the questions they wanted to ask me about my life (some of which I did not answer), by their boldness. And so, I did not clearly state some of the basics from the beginning. I assumed. I mistook the physical for the academic. I was overly cautious about not teaching them like the little kids they clearly are not, but should have taught them more like the big kids they clearly are.

So, this semester, I vow to see those big people sitting in front of me as big kids, without making anyone feel bad or condescended to. I’ve got a whole list of what that will mean, but I’ll spare you the class-specific details. Any suggestions?

Wish me luck.

Summer Reading

Posted: August 30, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about summer reading. I set myself a goal of 12 books this summer, I think. I can’t find the paper with my various goals on it…

I made it.

I thought I would just share what I read. Here they are,  in the order in which I read them.

Sweetness in the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce #1) by Alan Bradley

The Crossover by Kwamé Alexander. This is the 2015 Newbery Award winner and I plan to use it in my YA literature class. Told in verse.

Anagrams by Lorrie Moore

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital by Lorrie Moore.

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivit by Reif Larson

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne Valente

Paper Towns by John Green

Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Man Booker Prize winner 2002.

Fishing in the Sloe-Black River by Colum McCann

My favorite reads of the summer were Everything I Never Told You and The Art of Fielding, no question. (Life of Pi was a reread, but it was probably next.) A number of the YA books I read were only ok, with the notable exception of The Crossover, which was excellent.

In addition, I am part way through The Good Lord Bird by James McBride which I picked up after rereading The Color of Water in the spring. Also, I read part of The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories by Maggie Stiefvater , Brenna Yovanoff, and Tessa Gratton. I got it from a library while on vacation and didn’t have time to read it all before I had to return it, but I will be getting back to it.

I still have a few calling to me. They are getting kind of loud and pushy, but the new course I am teaching is also calling, and it sounds more nervous, like I might really need to pay some attention or things could get ugly fast.

With official faculty meetings starting tomorrow, it’s time to admit I will have to return The Luminaries  by Eleanor Catton, My Name is Red by Orphan Pamuk, and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald to the library unread.

Well, maybe I’ll renew one of them another time…

So, what was your favorite summer read?

The Friend speaks my mind

Posted: October 30, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about 2 things a Friend said at Meeting for Worship last week. Actually, it was after the official rise of meeting when the community was gathered for a celebration and saying farewell to a weighty Friend (not necessarily a heavy friend, just someone whose opinion is respected and whose ideas carry weight in the community) who is moving out of the area. The Friend who spoke shared these two quotations (I have linked to where I found the sources):

1. a Northwest Native American story that is an answer to the question of what to do when one is lost:

Here is the answer the elder gives:
Stand still. The trees ahead
and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here.
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger.
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers.
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it you may come back again.
saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you.
You art surely lost. Stand still.
The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

According to this site, Bert Hoff’s, it was translated by David Wagoner.

2. a quotation from Victor Hugo, “Be like the bird that, passing on her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing that she hath wings.” (source)

Both are thought-provoking and were such relevant ideas for the situation. And, both are so applicable to life in the classroom. These two ideas–of not really being lost if we can just alter our perspective and of being able to sing as the branch gives way beneath us–sum up exactly what I want for my students.

As the year progresses, I want them to feel lost in something new, to feel overwhelmed by an idea for in doing so they will learn (with guidance) to find reorient themselves. We will have to practice being lost lots of time so that when that feeling of being lost comes over them, their reaction can be to stand still and look around with the understanding they can be found.

Similarly, as my students find themselves on shaky ground (be it in math, social studies, language arts, or a playground drama) I want them to learn not to fall to the ground and cling to an old idea or habit, but rather to sing out confident in their wings. Perhaps that means asking for help, perhaps that means trying again without getting upset, or maybe it just means taking a deep and trusting oneself to have those wings.

I have much more thinking to do on these two ideas. This Friend has spoken his mind and in doing so has spoken mine. I just didn’t know it until now.