Friday, June 20, 2014

Reflection is Important - What you do after you reflect is professional growth!

Summer is a great time to reflect on the year.  Many of us just completed the evaluation process, showcasing the amazing things that took place throughout the year, along with setting professional growth goals for the future.  I know… the “evaluation process” does have some negative feeling tones due to the political uncertainties regarding the process.  We should change the name!  Let’s call it the “professional growth process.”  Seems a bit more positive and reflective (especially, when discussing effectiveness – maybe a future post).  For the purposes of this post, we will call it the professional growth process. 

Our district utilizes the Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching Proficiency to generate conversations, while establishing effectiveness and goal setting.  We also utilize lesson reflection questions, for our instructional conferences, after announced and unannounced observations.  Examples of questions are as follows:

-          In general, how successful was the lesson?  Did the students learn what you intended for them to learn?  How do you know?
-          If you were able to bring samples of student work, what do those samples reveal about those students’ levels of engagement and understanding?
-          Comment on your classroom procedures, student conduct, and your use of physical space.  To what extent did these contribute to student learning?
-          Did you depart from your plan?  If so, how, and why?
-          Comment of different aspects of your instructional delivery (e.g. activities, grouping of students, materials, and resources).  To what extent were they successful?
-          If you had a chance to teach this lesson again to the same group of students, what would you do differently? 
Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching Proficiency and lesson reflection questions are extremely important, and can truly enhance professional growth during an instruction conference.  With that said, true self-reflection should go deeper than lesson effectiveness.    

Any job needs honest self-reflection.  Asking profound self-reflection questions, while understanding yourself and how stakeholders might view you, will truly improve your performance and maybe even the quality of your work experience. 

Examples of profound self-reflection questions:

·         Do my students like me?  Do I like my students?  Do I connect with them by creating positive relationships
·         Do I create a collaborative culture of safety and empowerment within the learning process, where students can be risk-takers? 
·         Do my parents like me?  Do they know how much I care for their children and enjoy teaching? What would they say about my ability to communicate with them? 
·         Do I surround myself with positive people?
·         Do I like my job?  Can I do better?
·         Do my colleagues like me?  Do they feel supported by me, or do I create anxiety for them?
·         How do I respond to others that are negative?
·         Do I create my own stress?
·         Are my greatest strengths creating weakness?  Am I blinded by my own ambition? 
·         If everyone at my place of work had my attitude, what kind of work environment would it be?
·         Do I have a growth or fixed mindset?
·         Do I let disappointment in educational politics and uncertainties creep into the classroom?
·         Do I find the professional growth process (evaluation) as a nuisance or a chance to grow and develop my craft?
·         Am I defensive when receiving constructive criticism?  Do I make excuses, or use constructive criticism as a chance to grow professionally?
·         Do I take instructional conferencing with my principal seriously?
·         Do I create opportunities to grow professionally (through professional development, twitter chats, professional reading, etc.), or do I think it is someone else’s job to seek out opportunities for me?
·         Am I the voice of “all good things” in education or the echo of what is bad?

I feel extremely fortunate to work in a positive building, with an amazing staff; however, even the most positive educators should ask these questions from time to time.  These are questions that I utilize when reflecting, which sustains my focus, being the best that I can be, for our school community and ultimately our students.  I look at self-reflection questions as an opportunity to be the positive voice in education, while growing as a professional.  If you truly want to grow, I believe that you need to think deeper than lesson reflection.  One must self-reflect, knowing that they are the only one who can truly answer these questions.

As you reflect over the summer, start thinking about these deeper self-reflection questions, supporting your motivation to carry you into the next school year.  Always remember the importance of being the Positive Voice in education!  Continue to grow and embrace change, creating opportunities for professional growth, while enjoying the best job in the world… teaching children!

Thanks for reading and make this summer a time for relaxation and reflection.


Friday, June 6, 2014

Fighting the “Summer Slide!”

It is finally here!  The last week of school and on to summer vacation.  Summer is a time to relax and enjoy some lazy days filled with swimming, family trips, backyard barbecues, and pool parties!  Unfortunately, summer can also be a time when learning decreases for many students and the proverbial “summer slide” can take place. 

How can you tell if your child experiences a “summer slide?”  In our district we provide NWEA assessment graphs with end of the year report cards, which plots scores on an “x” axis on the graph using time intervals between test events.  If there is a drop between the Spring score and the following Fall score, then your child may have fallen victim to the “summer slide,” which is common for many students.   

I have included a variety of ideas to support your children in a fun and empowering manner.  Enjoy the many suggestions that may prevent the dreaded “summer slide!”  I hope you all have a happy summer! 

Summer Reading 

Family Reading – Family reading is one of the most important things we can do for early learners.  Take time to read to your children, which will build listening skills. Ask questions about stories your children are reading, which will increase comprehension and retelling skills.  Take turns reading aloud together, which will enhance oral language, phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, background knowledge, comprehension, story organization, problem solving, listening comprehension, and writing skills…  Wow!  Not only does family reading create bonding time, but it also helps cement great reading skills that will be used in school! 
As you know, reading is the “foundation of success” and is essential for 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/ the 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 rename the story… what would it be?
-          How did the story end?  Would you change the ending?  How?
-          What is the most interesting part of the story?  Why?
-          Did you learn something new?  Give three new facts?  How can you use those facts in 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?
-          Tell an opinion you have about the story.  Tell a fact from the story.

Purpose for reading - Choose why you are reading… for information, enjoyment, etc. allowing time to make connections.

Making Connections - Text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-others – It is important to have conversations to enhance comprehension skills and understanding of the material being read – examples:
-          This story reminds me of 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 ideas.  Also, it is not necessary to use every question during your family reading.  Pick three to five questions that will support the particular story and one or two connections.  The goal and hope for family reading, besides great family bonding, is that it will support a natural transfer of skills to the child’s independent reading activities, enhancing comprehension and reading fluency.

Create a Reading Community – Have your child join the local library’s summer reading program or have them start a book club.  Let you children set goals for reading,  while keeping track on a book ‘growth’ chart.  Schedule once a week meetings with friends to discuss the book, enjoying rich conversation during the summer.  You might even want to have a fun summer treat while discussing their favorite part of the book. 


Driving vocabulary – Attach three to five vocabulary words on the back of the driver/passenger seat in your car.  While driving, have your child read, spell, and tell the meaning of each word, using them in a sentence.  Change the words every week or two but don’t tell your children when the words will change… anticipation will increase excitement for new vocabulary words. Have children keep a driving journal, keeping track of the new words they are learning.  Make sure the words are grade level appropriate and keep it fun.  You can also use this strategy to practice new spelling words.

Vocabulary practice/sentence building – Place words on index cards in two different piles – mix them up and see who can make a sentence.  Make a game out of this activity, creating a point system and the first one to 50 points wins! 

Label the house – Label some items in your house with index cards.  Environmental print supports immediate recall and enhances reading fluency.

Word of the week – Take a higher level vocabulary word and make it the “word of the week” in your house.  Use it in sentences, post it in the house, spell it together, and encourage them to incorporate the word into their writing at school.  Try to make it fun!

Personal Word Bank – Create a personal or family word bank in a journal or notebook, generating vocabulary words for future writing activities.  You can even add your “word of the week” to your journal, making your own personal thesaurus.

Writing ideas:

Students need practice to support good writing – try to keep it fun!

Sports journal – While watching a game, keep a journal of favorite plays so that you can go back and try it on the field.  Summer baseball is heating up(Go Tigers!) and the NFL season is right around the corner (Go Lions!), which can provid many writing opportunities, listing exciting plays or favorite players. 

Family time capsule journal – Keep track of movies/family vacations/major news happenings/special sporting events/birthdays, etc. in a family journal.  You can add pictures and make it into a scrap book of memories and thoughts that can be remembered for years to come.

Writing for a purpose – Write a letter to a company that makes the best chocolate, game, toy, golf club, etc.  Maybe they will send you some free goodies as a thank you!  Write a letter if you are not impressed with a product.  I wonder if the CEO of the company will respond?

Popplet – Used as a mind-map, Popplet helps students think and learn visually.  Students can capture facts, thoughts, and images while learning to create relationships between them.  Check out my previous post – Popplet:Supporting son's writing homework - he loves to build!


When teaching 4th and 5th grade, I focused on the students’ ability to understand math concepts and think mathematically. Unfortunately, some of my students had a difficult time because they lacked the ability to recall basic facts. They understood the process; however, they scored low on assessments due to simple computation mistakes throughout the problem.  I always encouraged my students to practice math facts for five minutes a day when they were at home.  Five extra minutes of intense practice per day might not seem like much, but it adds up quickly. By the end of the summer, they will do over 400 minutes of extra basic facts practice!  For additional strategies, check out edutopia- 10 apps for math fluencyFree Apps:

It is amazing how many free (and very reasonably priced) apps are out there to support learning.  My kids are using a variety of apps to practice reading and math concepts along with basic facts.  I like ABC Mouse and Grasshopper Apps for reading and there are many different basic facts apps that engage and reward students for their efforts.  I will usually have them “play” an educational app for 15 minutes before they start playing one of their iPad games; Minecraft is usually their game of choice right now!  Take time to visit the app store or Google top educational apps for reading/math/etc.  You will find many that could fit your child’s educational interests and needs.


The creative and building aspect of Minecraft allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world.  Not only is it exciting to children (both of mine would play for hours if we let them), it provides them with collaboration and problem solving skills.  They are learning skills such as reading, math, inventorying, geometry, social skills, and the interactive environment supports children’s ability to understand cause and effect.  Children can even select various languages.  So, the next time your child wants to play Minecraft, you might just see it as a learning opportunity.

These are some of the additional learning opportunities I have used with my children to decrease the “summer slide” or have suggested to parents.  Please remember the importance of keeping things fun and enjoyable while empowering children’s intrinsic beliefs to be life-long learners.  Most importantly, don’t forget the need for family time, playing board games, enjoying a bike ride, putting together a puzzle and having rich conversations with your children, enhancing family relationships.

Enjoy learning throughout the summer