Posts Tagged ‘planning’

So, I have been thinking about how to help students write effective analytical essays for what seems like forever. Shouldn’t I be better at this by now? The goals are certainly different at different ages; what I expected in 5th grade was different from what I expected in 9th and what I look for in 12th. However, I still see the same old divide between those papers that are about the book (effective summaries) and papers that are about an idea that is discussed by way of the book. Really what it comes down to is how do I move the book report writers into the analytical writers’ camp. Is there a magic wand, pen, saying? Would bribing them with s’mores do the trick? Seriously, I would do whatever it takes.

I’ve been talking with colleagues about this, going to summer workshops, thinking of new and not new ideas. The more I think about it, the more I think that I need to go back to what I know worked in 5th grade. I don’t say this in a mean way or to be insulting. But, for the students who have not found their way to the analytical camp on their own, how can I check in earlier, before they head off down that long, boring summary road.

So what do I know?

In 5th grade I never let students start writing without an approved plan of some sort. As the year progressed, I knew who was ok without a detailed plan and who was not. So there might be students whom I let start writing with what was a very brief plan; however, they were students who had proven themselves to be on the analytical path, which in 5th grade is more like the “having an opinion” path.

In 5th grade I had students do physical things to identify different sentences in a paper. So, I might read aloud a paragraph. One side of the room would stand when the sentence was a retelling or summary sentence. One side would stand if it was the writer’s opinion (which is what analysis starts as in lower school). This turned out to be one of the most effective tactics in helping students even understand what I meant by summary or opinion sentence.

In 5th grade we sometimes wrote papers a paragraph at a time and “discovered” that this might actually be an essay with a bit of introduction and conclusion added to the paragraphs. Sneaking up on the essay was not a bad strategy. Everybody could write a paragraph on Karana’s friendship with Rontu (Island of the Blue Dolphins is still a winner), a paragraph on her friendship with the birds. Oh, look it seems like we are writing about her friendships. Hmmm. What could we say about the community she has or has created? Seems like that would be an interesting conclusion. While we’re adding things, let’s just introduce the book at the beginning. Tada, essay!

In 5th grade I learned that writing gets better writing. It’s like babies and sleep–good naps lead to good betimes, overly tired kids fight sleep. I learned, and was reminded of this fact at my summer workshop this past summer, that I did not need to edit everything, give extensive comments, and have students write many drafts of every assignment. We need to do some of that. We also just need to write. A lot. That is how my class’ blog was born, oh so many years ago

Now, how to take these lessons to some 12th graders.

Plans are totally doable. Shame on me for not making students be more intentional here. Some do a quick list of big point and sub-points and I can tell they are all set. No need to force the issue. However, for those who have proved that they are summarizers, I need to be more forceful. They may be 12th graders, but if I see they need the scaffolding, I should be providing more of it, even students don’t like it.

Standing up and sitting down in class to identify parts of the essay, probably not going to work with high schoolers. However, for those who are not getting to the analysis, insisting that their rough draft have analytical sentences highlighted, totally doable. Again, it is about me insisting.

Sneaky papers. This one I think I might be able to do next semester. I had forgotten about it, but I think it has potential. Again, there are going to be those who do not need this support, and I will need to think about whether everyone does it anyway or some folks do something else. I have time on this one since my current class ends mid-January and I won’t have time to do everything between now and then, but I’m definitely going to move this to a front burner item.

Just writing. I’ve been really trying to do this. My summer workshop reminded me of and reaffirmed my belief in this strategy in addition to convincing me that it would work in high school. My class has been doing a lot of short writing in online forums, in class, wherever. On the recent reflections that the students wrote, many commented on the amount of writing, not always in a complementary way, but many of those same students also said they felt more confident in their writing.

Now if I could just go back to not having to give letter grades, that would be great.

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So, I’ve been thinking about what makes for a productive visit for colleagues looking at 1:1 learning. I have visited four different schools this year with my colleagues. Each school has 1:1 laptop program yet there was wide variety not only in the schools but in the length of time they have been teaching and learning in this environment.

My conclusion: there is no perfect visit that fits everyone. Surprise. Just like Goldilocks, I was looking for the porridge that was “just right” for each person in my group. As the person bringing my colleagues, I was more anxious than I anticipated being. I wanted the school to look good, to show its best self, to reassure my colleagues if they needed reassuring, to inspire them if they needed inspiration, and to sing with them if they just needed a choir. Not too much, right?

Tourist Alert

Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Scazon

One high school we visited was honestly a mess. They do great things at this school, and I would be thrilled to have my kids there, yet neat and tidy are not words I would use to describe it. Also, we didn’t end up seeing a lot of tech use, which was why we were there. Turned out the colleague with me didn’t need that. He valued the experience of talking to the students and other teachers. He was taking a broad view. Phew.

We also visited a school that specializes in students with learning differences. Our visit there gave my colleagues some reassurance that the laptops did not need to be out all the time, that meaningful work was happening, and that management was doable. It also gave them the idea that class size of 10 would be great. Keep dreaming, my friends!

A day long visit to a very similar school where we got to talk to lots of teachers, administrators, and tech folks gave my colleagues some perspective on the journey of change and transition. It was helpful to hear from people in a very similar school. Plus, we got to see the students in action and talk with some of them about their experience. We lucked out in terms of seeing some classes that particularly resonated with my group.

Finally, a small group went to a local high school. We were in and out quickly, which meant that it wasn’t a huge time commitment, always helpful for teachers. As we walked around, there were computers in use here and there and it just seemed to be an easy integration. Plus, we got to visit 4 different classes where technology was being used very differently. What made it so useful was that several of the uses we saw were very reasonable for my colleagues. These were uses that made sense in the classroom and which did not present an intimidating model. They were doable now! And, given the super short drive, we could go again.

In all of these examples, one of the things that was valuable was the conversation during our travel time which ranged from 8 minutes to 2 hours. Each time it gave me a chance to put into perspective some of what we had seen, explain a technical thing or two, and listen as others imagined how something they saw might translate at our school. On each visit I also go a chance to observe what grabbed each colleague’s attention so that I can personalize my support for that colleague.

So, I’m thinking about all of these visits as I think about planning more experiences like this for other colleagues. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • If it’s not a big production with presentations etc, short and sweet is good.
  • Something needs to seem doable NOW to each person in the group.
  • Acknowledgment of teacher time and choice is important for folks to hear loud and clear.
  • The travel time can be important talking time for the group.
  • There is no perfect visit.
  • I would love it if everyone got to visit somewhere.

What do you find valuable when you visit other schools?

So, I’ve been thinking about this and that these past few days.

Hurricane Sandy blew through the area and not only flooded basements and roads, knocked out power, and downed tress, she canceled school for 2 days. I am so lucky that my family and I were not severely impacted. Therefore, I did not have any urgent, life threatening things to do. Instead, I made bread, read with my kids, wrote some real letters (I still do this because I love stationery and can’t justify buying it if I don’t use what I have), and generally stayed home with my husband and kids. And, I got a chance to think about some of the big things I need to figure out at school.

A bit of background: I am a firm believer in letting ideas roll around in my head, thinking about them in a sneaky way. I believe in and count on being inspired by disparate ideas. This has traditionally worked for me. I’m a collector of ideas, images, thoughts. All that raw material in there lets me generate ideas. They might not all be good ideas, but I count on coming up with a lot of them so that I can pick through and find the good ones. Again, it’s a strategy that has worked well for me in the past.

I say this because I think I have been having a hard time making time to do this “laid back thinking” now that I am not in the classroom. My day used to have a very set structure. I had a schedule that for the most part I could count on. During my non-teaching period(s) I could do work or not. I like to be ready in advance so I have to say I did not always use my “free” periods for preparation in the traditional sense. I used to feel a little guilty about that, but honestly, it just meant that I had to do things at other times, so it’s on me. Anyway, I am thinking differently about it now.

Now, I am thinking that I did exactly what I needed to do with those little bits of “free” time (I say “free” because it’s hardly free, but that’s a different post). What I did was change-up what I was doing to give myself that change or break or relief that I needed. That pause is what allows me to do my sneaky thinking. Just like the students, I need times of interaction and then times of reflection. Too much of either one does not work for me.

However, now I find that my schedule is not something that I can count on for structure. I may have long stretches of meetings or long stretches of me, myself, and I in my office. I have those horrible weird amounts of time between things that teachers hate. I have meetings I get “invited to” for later in the same day; so, I may come in with one plan of how the day will go only to have to shift entirely. Fine, I’m flexible. I like working with people and collaborating. The chance to work with adults was a one of the many appealing things about this job. But, when do I think?  What if I am invited to a meeting at a time that I had not blocked off, but had put aside to use for some quality ruminating? Can I say no to something? I am still trying to work this out. But after the weekend with my hurricane-imposed think time, I realize that I have to work harder to create a plan to the day that works for both the thinking and doing of my job.

At the moment, I am contemplating putting blocks on my calendar that are “walk and think” times. Now that I also do not have recess duty, I think I could probably use a little more outside time.

Any other ideas would be welcome.

TEDxNYED

Posted: June 6, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about how I haven’t been writing anything here. I don’t know what happened, except for a million things I had to do at home and school. Nothing out of the ordinary. Anyway, I have a bunch of posts partially written; a few more swimming around in my brain.

One of the things I’ve done recently is attend TEDxNYED. Here’s my photo to prove it. I took it from my seat in the auditorium of the Museum of the Moving Image. I went with a friend and colleague from school. We didn’t stay the whole time since we each had things we had to do later.

Anyway, it was exciting to be at a live event. And, it made me realize how much I appreciate time to think and process things. With one talk after another coming at you, it’s hard to take anything in. I took notes and on the ride back to PA my friend and I tried to review what each person talked about.

Even though it was too much to take in, I’m fascinated by the idea of doing something similar at my school. Wouldn’t it be great to hear from a range of teacher, students, staff in the community? I’m putting it on the list of things to do next year.

IMG_0150

Read down a little and then imagine this scene with teachers (so more women) and better snacks and some comfortable chairs

So, I’ve been thinking about EduCon and conferences. EduCon is always in Philadelphia at SLA. I live in the area and can get there easily. So, even if not every session I attend is earth shattering, and really that is a lot to expect, it’s worth it to me for a number of reasons: ideas, interesting people, good conversations with people I don’t see everyday, short travel time.

I’ve been trying to read what others have written about their experiences at EduCon. Shelly Krause (@butwait) keeps an unoffical collection of blogger reflections here. There is a real range. Some people can’t get enough of it. Other attendees found the conference not different or ground breaking enough. Personally, I was looking for great conversations around what to do better and I found that in many (not all) sessions. I don’t think it’s that I had low expectations. I expected to hear some new ideas. I also expected to have to bring something to the discussion myself. The attendees at this conference are generally not people who haven’t done a lot of thinking already. The low hanging fruit is gone. If even half of the several hundred people in attendance could be truly innovative on command, the last weekend in January, in the midst of whichever dramatic weather Philadelphia is featuring this year, then the world would be a very different place.

I think I might feel differently if I were traveling a long way and paying lots of money. Last year I went to ISTE, which was also in Philadelphia. It’s not free, but my school covered registration and a little more for train tickets. So again, a no-brainer for me. However, this spring ISTE is in San Diego. So, let’s see– registration $, flight $$, hotel $$, food $, extra childcare and babysitting while I am gone $$. That’s approximately $$$$$$$$, which I could ask my school to help cover. However, as I was talking with Hadley Ferguson (@hadleyjf) about it she made some good point. First, it’s a lot of money (well, this was not new information, but she got more thoughtful as she went on). Second, she said that she didn’t need more ideas so much as to implement the ones she already had. Isn’t that the truth!

Let me be clear: I am sure I would find new and more ideas at ISTE this June. And yet, I haven’t even made sense or sifted through all the ones I got last year or ideas from the many edcamps I have attended. I have some ideas that I have been meaning to implement for a while. I got to thinking about what kind of PD I really need. Here’s what I decided.

I need the following:

  • Dedicated time, duh, and not an hour here or there, but a whole day or days.
  • To do some pre-sifting of ideas before this dedicated time begins.
  • A group of colleagues who want to meet and collaborate. A lot.
  • A space with good wifi, power sources, and proximity to food, water, and bathrooms.

Here’s my idea:

  • I don’t go to ISTE.
  • I do meet with some amazing, interesting, and interested teachers during that time.
  • We come with ideas that we want to evaluate and/or work up into units/lessons/game changing events.
  • We meet in groups and work on whatever projects grab us.
  • We meet some more and revise what we did.
  • We share this with whoever cares to listen/read.
  • Some of those ideas that we have so many of, turn into action.

Who’s in?

I’m thinking Phila area around the time of ISTE. I can work on a location. I have ideas a plenty and energy to commit. What can you contribute?

 

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Johanna Kollmann)

Snow Day Antics

Posted: February 7, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about the snow day we had yesterday several weeks ago now. We even got the call pretty early in the evening so it was extra-super-duper nice. I put away all school stuff  and read a book.

On the actual snow day itself I was busy with my personal kids who also had the day off. They are in Kindergarten and 2nd grade and so there was a lot of LEGO, snow, popcorn making, and there might even have been a little cartoon watching. The other thing I did was meet with a colleague about 21st century learning and Project Based Learning. I know, it was a snow day, what was going on?

But the thing is, we had planned to meet at school and are working on planning a meeting for a teacher group for our school, so we had some things we needed to do. Since I was at home with my kids, she came over to my house during “quiet time” (which is what “nap time” has become now that there is very little napping going on. I really recommend this. Just because no one is napping doesn’t mean there is no need for a little time in our rooms). So, my colleague and I met.

She teaches in another division and I have only really gotten to know her very well this year. We talked about a project she already does in her class and brainstormed ways it could go from a really good unit to a great one. We talked about what might be added/changed this year and what might be another year out. It sounds great. I want to take the class.

Why am I writing about this? Because it’s so energizing to brainstorm and talk with other interested educators. I mean, it wasn’t even my unit we were talking about or anything I will ever be teaching in 5th grade, but I thought it was exciting. It’s common knowledge that I have been uncool for decades, but I know I wasn’t the only one who thought it was a worthwhile discussion.

In case this isn’t how I manage to spend any additional snow day we get (and it hasn’t been), I’m going to try to find ways to have more discussions like the one I had that snow day, even if they have to happen on a non-snowday. There are couches, snacks, and free periods at school too. All I need to do is walk away from the pile of papers on my desk and grab a colleague.

 

So, I’ve been thinking about another new school year idea. I know I already posted a list of new year ideas and plans. As I also mentioned just recently, my first thoughts aren’t always were I end up.

I’m definitely still on board with the digital portfolio business and the epals (I’ve made contact with a teacher on Crete), and I’m seriously making progress on how to work in some significant time for individual projects (maybe even blogging since I won a raffle for a ton of upgraded blogs with Edublogs-yet another reason to attend conferences).

My newest idea relates to this blog. I feel it is more part of a way I want to continue working and interacting than it was in the past. And, I know that once school starts, in a few short weeks, it’s more than likely that I will not have quite as much time as I do now. My thought is to have a “regular feature” as it were on the blog so that at least an idea for a post is ready on a regular basis. I’m thinking that a “things overheard in 5th grade” might be an interesting weekly-ish post.

For those of you who do not spend so many of your waking hours with 5th graders, it could be eye-opening, if not earth-shattering. For those more familiar with 5th graders, I’m sure you will recognize some of your students. For me, I think it will serve as an interesting way to think about who I am hearing, who I am listening to, and who is not being heard.

Of course, I try to make sure everyone gets a turn to be heard. I believe I am very aware of making sure boys’ and girls’ voices are equitably represented. I try to keep in mind racial, religious, etc differences in the voices of the room as well. But, how well do I actually do this? And what does all this talk add up to anyway?

My plan is this:

  • I will keep notes on interesting things I hear in class during the week
  • Once a week, or so, I’ll post some highlights or lowlights as the case may be.
  • I will of course not use names or any identifying information (beyond boy or girl).
  • Over the course of the year I collect data so that it’s almost like an action research project.

My hopes and dreams for this little project are these:

  • I have totally interesting students who give me vast amounts of scintillating material.
  • I manage to write some of it down on a somewhat regular basis.
  • I am able to think more about my own reactions to and interactions with my students.
  • I am able to analyze the development of our classroom culture.
  • I can keep up with this and have at the end of the year a picture in words of the year (wordle might be interesting here).

I’m excited already. Anyone else interested?