Vol.#72: Data Happens (And What To Do Next)

I have  data about literacy – my students’ and own children’s – coming at me on a regular intervals; tidalwaves on the beach of what is otherwise a peaceful school experience.

For my own son, he camScreen Shot 2014-09-21 at 5.08.52 PMe home with an mClass report with all little running men at the top of their little green bars – save one – and a lexile level that corresponds with a 3.6 grade level early in his third grade year.  However, another letter says he’s been flagged as a “failing reader” based on the preliminary standardized test given in the beginning of third grade. This would have perplexed me if I didn’t already know how ludicrous it is to assess literacy of children with these frustrating bubble tests.

For my sixth-grade students, I have access to their standardized test data from the end of fifth grade – the ones with passages that are way too long assessing way too many standards and simply expecting way too much of the poor ten-year-old test takers.

We also give our middle schoolers quarterly timed tests on basic skills in reading and math. Based on these results, students are sorted into green, yellow, and red, with intervention plans written for those in the “danger zones”. Also, there are standardized benchmark tests at the end of each quarter to see if they are on track to attain a passing achievement level for the standardized state test at the end of the year.

demaNdingIf anyone counted, that’s seven tests during the year for students, including the “real” test. But not including any tests given by the teacher. (And that’s just for reading, don’t forget to then add in math. And science. And social studies… But I digress.)

I am not naive enough to think I am going to change the path we are going down right now, but I feel strongly that if we are going to make students do all this, I’d better find a way to make all the resulting data helpful to my instruction.

And therein lies another layer of my molten lava white-hot fury. What has been sorely missing from the dialogue in all these data-sessions is the next steps. Ok, Sally Sue is “red”.  What does she need now?  Or, even more frustrating, she passed one test, but is “red” on the other. So…now what? What do I DO for her? (You know, that I wasn’t going to do anyway? Like…teach her?)

Perhaps this oversight is because those who pushed this agenda only wanted to sell us all the screening tests so they don’t actually know what to do next? Or, maybe their answer is they want us to buy their scripted program to “fix it”, but we are all out of money?

At any rate, here’s where I am with this new normal.  I need pragmatic (*ahem* free) ways to address all this conflicting data. What follows is a list of  strategies I have to that end:

  • Offer the same article in several different lexile levels using Newsela. Some articles have leveled questions as well. (Newsela has a free version and a “pro” version.)
  • ReadWorks “The Solution to Reading Comprehension” offers both nonfiction and literary passages, questions, and units for free. It includes lexile leveling information.
  • You can also check the reading level of any text or website at  read-able.com for free.
  • Offer clear instructions for how you want students to complete a close reading of a text. Here’s mine. Sorry for the shameless plug. :)
  • Mr. Nussbaum’s webpage has reading comprehension passages and Maze passages that score themselves for free! It only goes up through grade 6, so it would only help students up through about a 960 lexile.
  • ReadTheory is free, and allows you to create classes and track reading comprehension progress.
  • There are several reading leveler apps you can pay for and they are probably fancier, but I’ve found this one handy, both as a mom and as a teacher. For example, I used to have long conversations with my students who kept picking up books during DEAR time, not an occasional graphic novel, but always a graphic novel, cartoon books, picture book …you know the type? Anyway, scanning their bar code and simply telling them it has a 2.4 grade level has been more effective than the long conversation. :)
  • One on my horizon to try: curriculet.com  It’s free and I’ve heard good things!
  • I have also found the following conversion chart handy, because of course the data does not always come in the same format:

4879716These have helped me in more than one “What are you doing for my child?” conference and to complete the required intervention plans based on all the data. I don’t know if they have revolutionized me as a literacy teacher, but I suppose time scores will tell.

Have a strategy, tool, or resource for helping your students as readers? Please share in the comments!

Vol.#71: #TeachingInNC, A Snapshot

Sure. My humble submission follows.

To be read in the slam poetry style of Marshall Davis Jones’s Touchscreen.

#TeachingInNC

Not enough copies
Not enough books
Teachers spending their own thin dime
It’s a crime.
Not enough time
Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 12.45.26 PMNot enough technology
There is simply not enough me…
to go around
to these 42 students in this one class
Because class size limits…are gone.
Education is a pawn
in their reelection game.
But the more they talk of change,
the more things stay the same.

Instead of the blame, they should find the funding instead.
But their friends get deep tax cuts so it puts our schools in the red.

They vilify those that they should empower.
But those making the choices refuse to hear the experienced voices.

IEP, PEP, ADHD, EBD, AIG
OMG

This student’s a “two”, this one’s a “four”
No. A child something more
than a score.

integrity, creativity, ingenuity, responsibility,
curiosity, humility, reliability, empathy…

These are not on their test
So teaching them is not part of my “effectiveness index”.

They tell us to individualize our instruction
But they standardize the tests.
It’s impossible. It’s a mess.
But NC kids are the state’s future…so as we wait for November we’ll  keep trying our best.

Vol.#70: PicCollage {‘Appy Hour}

Sometimes a simple App is the best place to start when learning to integrate technology in the classroom. PicCollage is a very straight-forward way to create digital collages. There are videos that show what it is in about 30 seconds.

But how can it be used in the classroom?

Other ideas on how to use PicCollage in the classroom? Please share in the comments!

Vol.#69: An Open Discussion on Race and Ethnicity in Teaching

A couple weeks ago, Bill Ferriter posted an interesting and heart-felt piece on race and teaching in America. It was poignant  due to its rarity as much as its honesty.  Considering this particular discussion’s prevalence in our nation’s dialogue on our culture at large, it should logically be occupy space in the landscape of our discussions about classroom culture.

And yet it doesn’t.

The #edchats on Tuesday nights at 7 pm cover many topics, but whenever race in the classroom was a choice in the weekly vote, it was never selected. That was, Tom Whitby says, until all five choices were on the topic and it forced the issue.

I discussed the resulting chat and topic with #edchat hostsTom Whitby and Nancy Blair further in the #edchat Radio episode:

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 9.43.31 AM

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We all came away with this question: How do we ensure we continue to have this important discussion, with both peers and students?

 

Vol.#68: Teachers Pay Teachers

At the beginning of the calendar year, I created a list of ten tech tools I planned to keep using, one I would not use again, and three I wanted to explore in 2014. One of those New Year’s goals was to open my own TeachersPayTeachers store. Both my PLT colleagues and some colleagues who are already TpT sellers have been continuously encouraging me to do so.

Also, as a buyer I am a huge fan. I have found that searching on TpT nine times out of ten yields more results for what I need for my classroom than googling. Many items are free, and any paid items have been worth much more than what I paid simply in the time that I saved.

So after much contemplation and effort, I have opened a small TeachersPayTeachers Store. I have a goal of adding an item weekly, and I have linked the store to my Teaching Speaks Volumes menu.

Revising your own materials for others’ use requires a level of reflection that is really different. I know what is useful to me…but how do I know it would be useful to someone else? Would other teachers be willing to pay their very hard-earned, very limited money for it? If so, how much?

Here are just a few of the items I posted thus far:

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.30.40 PM
“All About Me” poster for the Middle Grades
IMG_1240
Full Sized Spring Paisley Grade Scale
IMG_1205
Full-sized Bright Chevron Grade Scale
Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 5.43.26 PM
Literature Circle Jigsaw Unit
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Literature Circle Jigsaw Unit

 

I am only in the first baby-steps of this endeavor of teacherpreneurship. I’d appreciate any feedback from visitors and insight into what types of additional teaching materials for which you see a need in the comments.

Vol.#67: Two Tech Tools To Start Your Year

Flickr User: St Boniface's Catholic College, Plymouth
Image Credit: Flickr User St Boniface’s Catholic College, Plymouth

As I start week four with my students, I am reminded that traditional calendar schools are beginning to start all over the country.  I have posted before about technology tools that simplify a teacher’s life. However, if I were to recommend just two from that video to check out as one starts a school year, they would be:

  • Class Charts: Digital Seating Charts, manage the behavioral data of my students, has a free Edmodo App
  • Common Curriculum:  Digital Lesson Plan Book, plan lessons, units and share that information with others; link material easily for students and parents

I have found them to be total game-changers.

What tools help you manage the learning in your classroom?

Vol.#66: Disrespect & Open Contempt

When Teaching Speaks Volumes gets more traffic than usual, it also typically means I’ve ruffled quite a few feathers. Last week’s post was no exception.

  • “Why don’t you just quit if you don’t like it? “
  • “At least no teacher level will be making *less* money then last year.”
  • “The Democrats/Beth Perdue/previous administrations didn’t do any better. “

Once-again-teachers-areI’m so weary of those who say teachers should just give up the fight (as if many haven’t already) or suggest we have to compromise, as if that’s not what we’ve already been doing all along. And yes: the teacher status in North Carolina has repeatedly fluctuated between mediocre to abysmal to mediocre to abysmal for a long time. As I’ve told those who want to fight “team politics” before,  I don’t see the point in rehashing who did exactly what when in our history. Now… right this moment…the teaching profession is under assault by the current NC policy makers.

Maybe not all teachers are under attack, but teaching as a profession certainly is.

  • Offering raises to the younger teachers, but at the top most  veteran level offering one-third of 1%.
  • Removing longevity pay for those that continue to bring their expertise to NC classrooms
  • No longer advancing salaries for advanced degrees.
  • Attacking tenure which puts teachers under threat of being unfairly fired

Teaching is clearly not respected as a noble profession, or even a profession at all: It’s a “starter job”. You know, like a starter house? They seem to believe it’s what you do when you’re too young or inexperienced to get a “real” job. If you’ve been teaching longer that 20 years, it’s an expensive liability, not a strength.

A-NC-teacher-would-haveAnd honestly, teachers would probably not give two cents what legislators thought, since we don’t think very much of them, except they get to be in charge.

Knowing and understanding nothing about us and what we do, they get to be in charge.

And they are not only ignorant about what we do… but have open contempt for those who do it.

For example, there’s the teacher who was called an idiot on the phone for her transgression of trying to talk about her concerns with State Representative Tim Moore.

And then there’s my own experience with Representative Bob Steinburg this week:Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 8.32.18 PM

He says the national average of teacher pay doesn’t matter except we’re ranked number 32 now, however if that is true, why would he be so angry in the next sentence that we’re “talking national averages’?  I asked several times for a source backing up this new 32% ranking, but he failed to provide any.

He did, however, post part of our conversation on his own facebook wall and make fun of teachers and how greedy we are with his followers, as I predicted would happen in the very post he’s calling garbage. I’m not a bit surprised that he and Representative Owens talked about teachers in the way I predicted, but I am a little surprised Mr. Steinburg put their contempt for teachers in writing. After all, he won by less than 5,000 votes.

We need to make it very clear that, while they hold teachers’ jobs in their hands as law makers, we all hold their jobs in ours as voters.

Vol.#65: Hocus Pocus Headline

Any NC teacher, parent, or voter who has not read : “The Pay Scale No Politician Wants You to See: How the “largest pay raise in state history” amounts to an average of $270.” by James D. Hogan needs to do so. Now.

Image Credit: Flickr User Xtream_i

Clearly aimed at generating a headline and talking point during re-election this November, the NC GOP has pulled a “please just re-elect us” rabbit out of their hat. They’ve done some “smoke and mirrors” math, such as removing our earned longevity pay (which the other state employees get to keep by the way) and not including that subtraction in the figures as a loss when declaring they gave teachers a 7% raise.

In fact, some teachers will make the same or less.

And as teachers point this out, we’re set up to look greedy and unable to be pleased, since all many voters will hear is the “7% raise” party-line. Even the state paper now has a headline that sets up teachers for blame. (We paid for your raises by cutting all these things – are you happy now?) As seen in the comments section, for some voters the teacher-blame is already in full-swing:

  • “Unbelievable. The GA does more to increase teacher pay than since Jim Hunt was our Governor and you still whine about it.”
  • “Amazing… teachers get the largest salary increase in State history and that is still not enough for some.”

And this misinformed mentality is just what those up for re-election are counting on this November. “We tried to give teachers a raise, but they just can’t be pleased.” *shrug*

Presto-chango: Is this your victim card?

I couldn’t resist making an infographic using some actual facts from Mr. Hogan’s piece above and this News & Observer Editorial:

 NC GOP Budget (2)

//

Educators and parents of school-aged children can only hope the NC public is smarter than the NC GOP thinks. Otherwise, they will see what’s left of our dedicated North Carolina teaching force…disappear.

Abraca-flippin-dabra!

Vol.#64: Performing the Mirage

Before I begin this week’s post, my sincerest gratitude to you. Yes, you reading this right now. “Teaching Speaks Volumes” has made Teach.com‘s ranking of education blogs. This is because of you, the reader. (And some other additional factors in their mysterious formula.) Anyway, thanks so much for reading!

So…tomorrow is the first day of school.  After twelve years, I am teaching a new grade level (6th grade) at a school across town. I am very eager for the new experiences and perspectives that accompany change.

collageI left my new classroom today ready to greet my new students at 7 am tomorrow morning. I have been out of school for six weeks now – an almost unheard of rarity in the year-round school schedule created by my switch from track 1 to track 4. I’m not accustomed to being off on break for more than three or maybe four weeks, and for me that’s plenty. I’ve written before about my love of year round schools, and I did not consider a move to a school with a “traditional calendar”.

With all the time off and the impending huge changes, the setting up of my new classroom became a huge focal point. I recently read “What You See in Today’s Public School Classroom Is A Mirage” by Carla Friesen a few weeks ago, and it really resonated with me.  In her article, she shows the “before” and “after” of public school classrooms: what is given to the teacher vs. what teachers added to create the final learning spaces.

Using the Time Shutter App, I captured the transformation of my new  classroom.  I took the first picture of the room as it was – the teacher’s before me moving out before I moved in – but in the second frame you can see my mountain of materials that appear. The rest of the gif is it slowly finding its new homes…

Exported TimeShutter GIF

Exported TimeShutter GIF (1)

 

How do you perform and transform your classroom into the “mirage”?

Vol.#63: Simplifying a Teacher’s Life: Free Technology Tools for Assessment

Last week, I posted my presentation   “Every Teacher a Literacy Teacher Using Technology Tools” from what I shared with the 2015 Kenan Fellows at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) in June.  As promised, though a little late, I am adding the other presentation: “Simplifying a Teacher’s Life:  Free Technology Tools for Assessment” this week.

The video is long (30 minutes), but as with any flipped lesson, it provides the benefit of being able to pause, skip, or come back to it as needed. Plus, the focus is free technology tools to collect student data so you spend less time grading, so in the end you will get your 30 minutes back, I promise! :)

  • Care to share your experience or planned use for any of these tools?
  • Have another tool to add?

Please share in the comments!

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