March 31, 2015 Day 31 Slice of Life Challenge

“God will put you in situations that make you stretch, make you grow, and make you spread your wings. You have too much potential, too much talent, too much more in you to get stuck where you are.” – Joel Osteen.

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As I write this last post from the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge, I find myself reflecting on several ideas. I came across this quote yesterday and it seemed to appear to me at just the right time.  This month long challenge has made me stretch, grow and spread my wings.  Thank you toTara, Stacey, Dana, Betsy, Beth, Anna and all my fellow slicers for reading and commenting on my posts over the last month.  Additionally, there are many family members, friends and colleagues who read my posts as I worked toward this challenge and spread my wings over the last month.  Thank you, just hearing “I read your post…” that made so many of my days and helped to push me along on this challenge.

In addition to this learning experience there were several professional development opportunities I was involved in last week that have also made me stretch grow and spread my wings.  I do believe it is important to give credit and a blog post to each event, because each one elevated my skills and thinking in different ways. I listed out these events in my day 29 post and I plan to write about each one beyond the March Challenge after which I will move to a weekly blogging practice.

I attended the Google Leadership Symposium at Comsewogue School District.  This school implemented one to one devices (Chromebooks) for all high school students in the previous school year.  In this school year they began using Google Classroom, this is being used in various ways from grade 3-12.  The day was organized especially well, it began with a keynote featuring Superintendent Dr. Rella, building administrators and district administrators, teachers and a Google representative, but the most amazing presenters were the students who were involved in the collaborative work around this initiative.  The collaborative nature that was built on trust and ownership was evident throughout the day. Everyone was a learner, and everyone was a teacher.  The collaborative nature of learning was evident, as was the safe learning environment that was established by the trust and the space that was made for practice for students, teachers and administrators.

In the opening keynote, a student shared this “Everyone you will ever meet will know something that you will not.”  The weight of this statement speaks to the learning experiences that I am reflecting on both as a learner and as a facilitator of learning.  This is a quite humbling statement and one that we all should keep in our minds.  We can learn something from everyone, when we open our minds to learning and growth.

We rotated through three different areas, each with different stations and learned from students and teachers as they showed us how they are using chrome books and GAFE (Google Apps for Education).  Students from grades 5-12 demonstrated for us ways that they are learning and using GAFE.  Below are some examples of the stations that we explored and learned from:

  • 5th grade students presented how they use Google classroom for writing while the other half of the class used Google Hang Outs on Air to answer our questions
  • 6th grade students demonstrated to us how they were learning to code Java Script on their Chromebooks
  • Middle School English language learners share how their Chromebooks assist them in their English language learning in an ESL class as well as content area classrooms
  • High School students demonstrated several more examples of how this initiative included collaboration
  • Student Help Desk
  • Workshops for the board/public
  • Technology roadshow
  • Clubs (Chromebook repairs- 7 Chromebooks repaired in 7 minutes)
  • Digital literacy
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Coding
  • Computer Science

Check out the website that the students created along with their teacher to provide support as well as create their own digital footprint and portfolios.  Students, teachers, administrator as well as anyone else can choose topics from the help desk to learn.  Here a student has created a You Tube Video to demonstrate how to organize Google Drive folders.

These students and educators truly inspired me with their collaborative nature and quest for learning.

Student Centered Classroom

March 20, 2015 Day 20 Slice of Life Challenge

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Genuine is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as sincerely and honestly felt or experienced. 

Just as Justin Timberlake proclaimed to bring sexy back I am on a mission to bring the word genuine back.  I am not even sure it went anywhere, but the point is the word genuine does not get enough play these days, especially in education.

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Here is an excerpt from the #G2Great where this first occurred to me.  Dr. Mary Howard, who always has a way of inspiring me with just the most eloquent words used the word genuine in our discussion around Engaging All Stakeholders in Deeper and More Meaningful Ways.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 10.15.16 PMThen as things that seem to be calling for attention often do, I came across this word again today.  I was reading Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo when the word popped out to me again.  This word genuine, which really does not get enough play indeed needs to be brought back, was in Gallo’s first chapter.  How serendipitous that I came across this today, just after the word called itself to me from Dr. Howard’s tweet.

Gallo shares the research of Melissa Cardon who has spent ten years at Pace University studying passion.  Carson completed a study called “The Nature and Experience of Entrepreneurial Passion,”  This type of passion has been defined by Cardon as “A positive, intense feeling that you experience for something that is profoundly meaningful for you as an individual.”

If I was to consider this passion for me along with what Gallo suggests to answer the question “What makes your heart sing?” I would have to say that learning is what makes my heart sing. This can take many forms; it could be me learning, it could be me learning about how people learn, it could be me learning with someone else or just watching as others learn.  Of course now I have to realize then that I am currently in a great field to explore my passion.  As a literacy coach everyday I learn, I learn more about learning and I witness learning as students and teachers learn alongside me.

How does genuine relate to this?  It turns out that according to Cardon, people who are genuinely passionate about their topic are better speakers and audiences can recognize if someone is not genuine in their passion.  If a speaker is faking their passion they will fail to make a meaningful connection to their presentation and their audience.  People see genuine. People understand genuine.  People believe and become passionate when others speak passionately and genuinely about a topic.

So join in with me and bring genuine back!  Even if it did not really go anywhere let’s be genuine and let’s use that word.  Let’s make sure we bring genuine back to all our interactions with our students first and foremost but all stakeholders in education.  Especially in these times when education is at the center of much debate, let’s bring genuine back!

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March 18, 2015 Day 18 Slice of Life Challenge

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Celebrations Big or Small, They are all Important

Today I attended a writing workshop celebration that brought three 5th grade classrooms together. I watched as the teachers collaborated and the students collaborated.  Student writing was everywhere, checklists were available and students were referring to the checklists as they left two stars and a wish for each piece of writing they read. I celebrate this today because this year we are trying out some new ideas in our building writing celebrations and being a witness to the beginning of new collaborations and the growing of ideas is amazing. It amazes me to witness growth in students and adults alike.  I can be a bit of a geek that way.

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Earlier in the day I attended a smaller celebration in a 6th grade social studies class.  The 6th graders were presenting their social studies research and students were engaged in “Power Note Taking” that they learned in their information writing unit in writing workshop. Although the size of this celebration may be less in numbers of students involved, this celebration was big for me!  This class had transferred skills from writing workshop into social studies.  This class was teaching others about the topics they researched.  This class was sharing projects that they created in collaboration with peers as a culmination of their research.  This teacher and this class is beginning to transform their social studies classroom. I also attended the writing celebration for this class the week before, and it was powerful to see the skills being practiced across the content areas.  I celebrate this today because I am a witness again to amazing growth in students and adults alike.

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Last week I attended another 6th grade social studies class as they celebrated their research and learning in the content area.  I listened to presentations in small groups, I listened to whole class presentations that utilized technology, I spoke with students who learned so much about their topics while applying skills that are transferring from their literacy lessons in reading and writing workshop.  These students taught me about Anubis, Egyptian pyramids, the mummification process, the Nile River and the so much more.  One student after he taught the class, checked for understanding in his presentation and offered pencils to all participants.  The energy and excitement of learning through inquiry amazes me.  I celebrate this today because I am once again a witness to an amazing teacher and amazing 6th graders who allow me to watch and learn alongside them as they grow in amazing ways.

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Tomorrow I will be attending a literacy celebration in 6th grade on Information Writing around the topic of teen activism. This will be shared among 4 classrooms, and I am especially looking forward to this celebration because this unit is close to my heart.  Last year I was part of an awesome celebration in one classroom in my school around this unit.  I am looking forward to this celebration because like the 5th grade writing celebration today, this is another one that involved collaboration by several teachers and their students.  I celebrate this today because I am so fortunate to be a part of all these celebrations where I take in all the wonder of learning that happens for us as human beings, not just students, not just teachers but as human beings.  Humans grow in amazing ways.

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March 15, 2015 Day 15 Slice of Life Challenge

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h Practice in Literacy, in Teaching and in Life 

Yesterday in my blog I wrote about my daughter and her puppy Ezra, and how we attempted to make him a shirt. Yesterday we ended up with a scarf. Today my daughter, independently with just a bit of lean coaching in from me completed a shirt for Ezra. In fact I only coached in at the beginning and at the end just nudging her along with a tip and answering a question or two. The bulk of her practice was independent while I was out shopping and taking my son out to practice driving.

Ezra with Shirt

Practice

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary the word practice means to do something again and again in order to become better at it.  As a literacy coach I often talk about how students need to practice repeatedly in order to improve.  For instance, in the mini lesson of reading or writing workshop we ensure students have guided practice in the gradual release of responsibility model that we follow.  Here students have an opportunity to practice with a partner, with the teacher close by, listening in to assess for the next steps.  Once students go back to independent workshop time students will need to practice the skills or strategies that they are working on.  This works well for habits, skills or content that most of the class will need to practice.

If we meet with students, set individual goals related to either habits, skills or content students will then need to practice that skill for sometime. They will need to repeat it many times until they become better at it.  I believe this is where the most important practice happens.  It is especially important to carry these goals for a long enough time that they do improve and maintain the habit, skill or content understanding.

This also made me think a bit deeper about practice in all learning experiences, as adult learners do we allow enough time for our own practice? It seems to me that teachers and other adults in the education community forget that teaching is a practice, and as such when we are learning something new would then need to engage in practice along with approximations along the way.  I usually refer to the process of learning as a messy process and we often say embrace the mess when you enter my office which is also our professional learning community room.  I wonder though, if teachers really are allowed enough time to practice new instructional practices and are they allowed approximations in that practice.  I wonder if we as teachers allow ourselves that time to learn.  So many times I see teachers who are hard on themselves, often not allowing for practice time or any sort of approximations.  Sometimes this turns into resistance to any sort of change, because it is really fear of failure.  If we believe that as research shows we have learned more about the brain in the last 10 years than any other time period in our history it seems imperative that we embrace teaching as a practice and that we seek to continually improve our practice.  To do this we have to allow time for practice, space for mistakes, trials or approximations.  We need time to practice, to do something again and again in order to become better at it.

March 12, 2015 SOL Day 12 Challenge

“Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on…”11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

As I watched a TEDTalk from Bryan Stevenson it occurred to me that something his grandmother told him was perhaps the most important key to achieving a large goal.  He grandmother told him, “Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.”  This is truly an important idea to always keep in our minds. Working towards a larger goal can be difficult, often we get distracted, tired, frustrated and we lose sight of the prize.  The journey is long, sometimes too long for a big goal, it requires many little goals.  These little goals can trick us up, if we let just them.  If one small goal can stop us, that larger goal does not have a chance!  At the same time if we only see the bigger goal and we do not celebrate the smaller accomplishments we will never be motivated to forge ahead through the distractions, exhaustion, and frustration.

As I think of students who have very large goals, I have to remember that I need to show them that they have to keep their eyes on the prize.  They will have to set small goals, recognize the accomplishments of these small goals and keep their eyes on the prize.  Struggling readers are the victim to the causal factors that lead to a weakness in reading comprehension.  These readers need precision in their diagnosis and goal setting.  They need us to find the one thing that will make the greatest impact first. Then they need to see that success and move forward to the next small goal on the way to the greater goal, making sense of reading or reading comprehension.  Being able to keep their eye on the prize will carry them through the distraction, exhaustion and frustration that comes with learning when it is hard.  And make no mistake, true learning is hard.

Professionally, I too have to keep my eye on the prize.  This is a long journey I am on, and at time I face distractions.  At times I am exhausted.  At times I am frustrated.  I know if I keep my eyes on the prize and hold on I will reach my greater goal.

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March 11, 2015 Day 11 Slice of Life Challenge

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Yesterday I met with a student for a reading assessment, a quick running record and a comprehension check to see if she was moving along in her reading. Before we started the assessment I started the typical conversation I have with a student about reading.  This conversation is full of open ended questions related to reading and writing.  Typical questions include:

  • What book are you reading right now? How long have you been reading it? How long will it take you to finish it?
  • What books do you want to read?
  • What are you working on in reading, what goals do you have for yourself?
  • How are you working toward that goal?
  • How long do you read (or how many pages) at school//home?
  • What do you like about reading?
  • What is hard about reading?
  • What do you want to improve in reading?

During this conversation it became clear that this otherwise outspoken, silly firecracker of a girl had an entirely different identity when it came to her reading.  Her answers were quiet and lacking any of the energy she has in her interactions with her peers.  Right now reading is not an area of confidence for her.  This was clear.  She answered the questions and had a conversation with me about how her reading level probably went down, she does not like to read and how she does not really read. Overall it was a downer of a conversation, sort of apathetic to the whole reading thing.  She was acting as if she did not care, but she reminded me of someone who was lacking a bit of confidence at that moment.  She was a bit like Violet from the Incredibles.  She was a bit like me at times. She just needed a little push.  Regardless of the reason, I was about to assess her and I wanted her affect to be positive toward the reading so I would see her strengths and the areas where we could create her next goals.

I told her about the power pose or super hero pose that I was practicing.  I shared with her the research from Amy Cuddy and explained that just by taking 5 minutes in this pose it would improve her performance.  Of course this brought her into a silly laugh, but there was the smile.  We stood up together and both took on a super hero pose for 5 minutes.  I am sure she thinks that I am a crazy loon but that is ok, she smiled, laughed and then we got down to business.

I am sure you could predict the end, she did improve in reading since the last assessment, and while I know it was not just the power pose, I know that gave her the confidence to do her best at that moment.  I hope that when she feels a bit under-confident again that she will remember our 5 minutes in the super hero pose and that will be enough to push her in the right direction.

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March 10, 2015 Day 10 Slice of Life Challenge

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One morning before school started I had plans to work on a bulletin board. I searched the building for the ladder, the one with the tall side bars and the wheels and side legs that often got  stuck.

ps rolling ladders_0 As I was pushing the ladder, there were times going down the hall that I had to push the ladder and other times I had to pull the ladder.  It was a bit frustrating to say the least.  I am also pretty sure there are people in my building with more expertise with this ladder, but no one was around to help, so I tried to figure it out myself. How I wished there was an expert around at that moment to give me advice.  I was moving pretty quickly down the hall, pulling the ladder behind me with one hand.  Feeling satisfied until the ladder stopped with a sudden halt.  At that moment I could not pull the ladder any more, the only way to move it now was to push the ladder.  And again, I found a rhythm this time pushing the ladder.  I could see the bulletin board ahead, I was almost there.  I was grateful for this sight ahead since I spent more time looking for the ladder and pushing or pulling it to the bulletin board than it might take me to decorate the bulletin board.  Lost in this thought as I am pushing the ladder, I smack into the ladder when it stopped once more.

At that moment I could have become frustrated with this situation, but it occurred to me that instead I could appreciate this moment as a moment of understanding and growth.  There was a metaphor here that I could learn from.  Sometimes in life we can be pulled along, while other times we have to be pushed ahead. bulletin board

As educators it is easy to put the brakes on and stop when we are being pushed or pulled in a certain direction.  Currently in education we are at a time that some find frustrating and trying, and others find to be exciting. There is so much information that is readily available to us and we can connect with experts from all over the world through the internet and various forms of social media. There are so many ways to think about a situation, just because it was always done this way, or it works for “me” does not mean this is right for students — the learners we proudly serve.  What we may need at that time is either a gentle pull or a gentle push to bring us along.

This is something I will try to remember as I continue to work with adult and student learners.  It seems that sometimes in order to grow we all need a gentle pull or push to bring us along.

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