Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Quality #finishstrong

There are only a couple weeks left in the school year.  The weather is AWESOME, which leads to the inevitable:  thoughts of SUMMER VACATION!  Kids are more interested in recess this time of year rather than producing quality work.  I hear many teachers talk about students who are rushing through assignments with an urgency for completion, rather than quality.  
When I was a fourth grade teacher, I would talk to my students about the importance of being responsible, and when they didn't meet expectations, I would keep them in for recess or after school to complete and/or improve their work.  The result was students who resented the assignment and even me at times… can you believe it?!   Not to mention, parents didn’t appreciate the generic letter that I would send home asking for help.  I didn’t know any better… I was young and many of my colleagues were using similar strategies with limited success.   I thought I was providing my class with a lesson in responsibility, but my students were still uninspired when the weather was hot, and it was a struggle for them to complete assignments or produce quality work late in the school year.  Who wants to work when the weather is so beautiful?  

There is a positive from this; I did learn!   A wise mentor asked me a question, "Do you know what it means to do quality work?"  Naturally, my response was, "Of course I do!"  She then asked me if my students knew.  I could tell she was setting me up for a professional growth experience.  She asked if I ever taught my students about the simple definition of "quality".  She explained four activities to put students in charge of their learning.
1. Teach a mini-vocabulary-lesson on “quality,” and help students understand the simple definition according to Merriam-Webster dictionary:  

Simple Definition of Quality:
  • how good or bad something is.
  • a characteristic or feature that someone or something has
  • a high level of value or excellence
2.  Create classroom anchor charts together on the following:
  • What does high quality look like?
  • What strategies can you use to improve the quality of your work?
  • Why is it important to produce quality work?

Anchor charts are a great way to record student thinking and highlight important parts of the lesson. The classroom created charts will help “anchor” student thinking, and students can revisit that thinking as the charts hang on the walls.  This helps validate their ideas, and in this case, allow students to increase ownership and move towards producing quality work.  Creating anchor charts on the concept of quality will help your students understand the "why" behind doing their personal best.  Children need to know their purpose.  They do not need rewards or even consequences, they need to feel empowered to do an assignment.  
3.  Revisit and sustain student understanding through journal writing.  You can even have students blog about their position on the word “quality” through a student blogging site such as Kidblog.  Blogging can give students a meaningful purpose and an authentic audience.  Students can be motivated to write for their peers and parents though a safe blogging space where teachers monitor all content before it goes live.  Some example journal or blogging prompts:   

  • What does quality mean to you?  
  • How will you showcase your best quality on your assignments?
  • What do you think quality will look like when you are in (next grade) starting the 2016-17 school year?
  • What is quality digital citizenship?  
  • What does it mean to be a quality friend?  
4.  Lastly, encourage students to place the letter "Q" at the top of all completed assignments to represent their quality work.  This reinforces their understanding of quality and gives them a reason to be proud of their efforts.
Wow!  Empowering students rather than giving consequences worked!  I quickly noticed a difference.  Students took ownership for their assignments, quality increased, and missing/incomplete assignments decreased.  I received some great advice from a quality educator! Early in my career, I was very fortunate to be surrounded by some amazing teachers.  They shaped many of my current educational beliefs and practices.  Twenty years later, that trend has continued.  I am still surrounded by many great educators who are always sharing and creating opportunities for students to feel empowered to learn.  
Let's keep the synergy and sustain learning together.  Please share a positive way to empower students to do their best in the comments.

Enjoy teaching, engaging, and empowering your students to do “quality” work!  

#finishstrong and enjoy the summer!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Modern Learning Questions

I was recently asked, "How would you design a classroom for today?" Great question!  I would take it a step further; how should we design our classrooms for tomorrow?  We need to think creatively as budgets continue to shrink and learning expectations (along with technology needing to be an "accelerator" to learning) increases.  

Last year I attended the MACUL15 conference where I had the good fortune to attend a session hosted by  @KleinErin @ShawnCRubin @thomascmurray on Personalized Instruction for ALL Learners and Create a Brain-Friendly, Blended Learning Space. The information provided by the presenters inspired many and generated great questions that we should use to guide our actions regarding modern learning. Some questions to consider:

  • How much has changed in past 100 years?  Why do classrooms still look the same today as they did 100 years ago?  
  • Where do you want to go to school?  
  • In what type of world will our kids live?  
  • How can we enhance what we already do well?  
  • What motivates our students?  
  • Can we make learning memorable?  
  • “Kids are instant!”  How can we prepare curriculum and instruction that matches their learning style?   
  • How can we personalize instruction?
  • What digital learning tools are needed to enhance personalized instruction and student collaboration?
  • How can we restructure our day?  
  • What are the learning outcomes we want for our students?  What technology is to be the “accelerator” to those learning outcomes?  
  • What should we “put up” in our classrooms?  Should we ditch the desks?  
  • How should we arrange the layout in the classroom?  What does good design look like?  
  • Should we create “Maker Spaces” within our classrooms and schools?  
  • Are we Future Ready?  
  • What is best for kids?  

What will education look like in the near and extended future? My hope is that these questions will continue to drive our educational beliefs and decision-making about modern learning.  I look forward to using these questions as a guide to enhance personalized instruction for all learners while creating a blended learning space that is brain-friendly.  What exciting times in education!

Please share how you would design a classroom for tomorrow!
Enjoy teaching and learning together!

“We should strive to be the teacher that we want our own children to have!”  @KleinErin

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Reading Month---What can parents do to help?

During March, Reading Month in Michigan is celebrated! Schools all over the state, along with State Superintendent, Brian Whiston, and our very own @GPSchools will be focused on planning literacy-related activities to motivate children and sustain positive habits of lifelong reading. What can parents do to help cultivate good reading habits at home?  My suggestion would be family reading!  

Family reading is one of the most important things we can do for early learners.  Reading to your children will build listening skills. Asking questions about stories your children are reading will increase comprehension and retelling skills.  Taking turns reading aloud together; this will enhance oral language, phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, background knowledge, comprehension, story organization, problem solving, and listening comprehension…  wow!  Not only is family reading a nice way to spend time as a family, but it also helps cement great reading skills that will be used in school! 

As you know, reading is the “foundation to success” and is essential in all subjects.  Good readers activate background knowledge and are able to predict, infer, and question while reading.  Fluent readers can put themselves into the text, making self-to-text-connections.  When reading stories together, stop and ask questions, predict, put yourself into the story, and ask, "what would you do?"

Sample Questions:

· Describe the main character.  Where does the story take place?  When does it take place?
· Name the supporting characters.
· What do you think the characters are feeling?  Why do they feel that way?
·  What is the problem in the story?  How does the character deal w/problem?
· Could the character do something different to solve the problem?
· What is your favorite part of the story?  Why?
· Have you ever read a story that is similar to this story?
· Does this story remind you of anything in your life?
· If you could come up with a new title for the story then what would it be?
· How did the story end?  Would you change the ending?  Why/How?
· What is the most interesting part of the story?  Why?
· Did you learn something new?  Give three new facts?  How can you apply this lesson to your life?
· What are the main character's traits?  How is the character like you/different from you?
· What do you think will happen next?  Why do you think that?  
· Tell an opinion you have about the story.  Tell a fact from the story.

Set a purpose or objective for reading, and allow time to make connections, such as:  text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world.   It is important to have conversations to enhance comprehension skills and understanding of the material being read.  Simple “making connection starters” could include:

· This story reminds me when I went swimming because…
· This story reminds me of when (character from different story/chapter/etc.) made a new friend  because…
· This story reminds me when my teacher did ______ because…
· This story reminds me of when we went on vacation because…
· This character reminds me of my neighbor because…

I am sure you can think of additional questions or connection starters.  Understand that it is not necessary to use every question or connection starter during your family reading.  Pick a couple that will enhance your reading experience.  The goal for family reading, besides great family bonding, is to support a natural transfer of skills into the child’s independent reading activities, enhancing comprehension, reading fluency and fostering a love of books. 

Enjoy reading!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!!! I hope everyone enjoyed a well deserved holiday break with family and friends.  As educators return to school it is always good to review our intentional plans for sustaining a positive learning environment.  

“A quality teacher-student relationship means more than the combined power of all teaching and discipline techniques known to humankind.”
Love and logic Teacher-ism

I love this quote!  Establishing positive relationships with your students, while creating an atmosphere where children have positive relationships with each other, will truly benefit any classroom, family, or community.  Quality teacher-student and student-student relationships will support and increase a positive community where children want to thrive. It also makes everyone’s experience more enjoyable!  

As we start a new year it is always important to reestablish classroom expectations or learning missions that will empower students to be their best in 2016.  The best managed classrooms and positive learning environments do not happen by accident.  Talented educators are intentional in their planning.  

Children, in general, will exhibit some type of minor or major behavior challenge during their childhood.  The key is to keep minor behaviors just that… minor.  As a teacher, administrator, and parent I have experienced a variety of behavior challenges that can be supported with simple Tier 1 redirection and distraction techniques.  Below are two posts that highlight the importance of intentional planning surrounding relationships and distraction, time, and Love and Logic techniques to support learning.  

I hope you find this helpful.  I appreciate everything you do each day to sustain a welcoming environment at our schools and in your classrooms!  Teachers are great!!!!

I will leave you with this Love and Logic Quote:

Rules provided without relationship result in rebellion.
Consequences given without relationship lead to resentment.
Rewards without relationship feel like bribes.
Love and Logic Teacher-isms

Enjoy teaching and Happy New Year!