Category Archives: best practices

Vol.#99: Missing Work Memes

As a teacher, one of the most difficult things to do is get students to complete and turn in missing work.  I feel I am constantly chasing down students who have not yet submitted an assignment. I have too many students missing work to speak to every student individually. I have tried emailing parents, but this has not been very effective. Also, parents become dependent on an email and instead of being appreciative, they are angry when I do not email about every single missing assignment.

I’d tried a colleague’s method of writing all the names of students who are missing work on the board, but that was very time-consuming. I then moved to printing the missing assignment report the computer gradebook program can create. I would post this by my door. This was simple and worked well initially, but students eventually stopped checking. They did not seem to notice when the list was changed and new names or assignments had appeared. The novelty had worn off.

I decided I needed a way to indicate that a new list was posted. My students love memes, so I decided I would change my meme when I changed the list. This would catch their attention and let them know the list was updated.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 10.23.25 AMDuring a nine week quarter, I would post a meme and an updated missing work list twice before interims and twice after interims but before report cards. For example, it might look something like this:

  • Week 1 = begin quarter
  • Week 2 = collecting grades
  • Week 3 = post missing work list
  • Week 4 = post missing work list
  • Week 5 = Interims
  • Week 6 = collecting grades
  • Week 7 = post missing work list
  • Week 8 = post missing work list
  • Week 9 = Report Cards

Since I post the lists by my door, it has facilitated some great conversations with my students during class changes. As I stand by the door during transitions, I can glance at the reports and talk to students as they come and go.

Here is where you can get my 16 memes or of course you can make your own!

What are some strategies you use to facilitate getting your students’ missing work? Please share tricks of the trade in the comments!

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Vol.#95: New Rule

I’ve written many times about the importance of educational technology the tools that can differentiate for students, engage them, and provide data for teachers.

However, it’s not imperative that a teacher be an expert in #edtech. Like our students, there’s a range of abilities and circumstances. Also like our students, what makes the biggest difference is the approach, the attitude, the  willingness to learn

And I have to say, teachers are oftentimes the worst learners. It amazes me when teachers offer up excuses they would never allow a student to give them.

We are months away from 2016. Being a tech expert is not required, but ignoring educational technology is no longer an option. It’s in the standards. It’s part of your job.

Make. An. Effort.

So, borrowing the concept from Bill Maher’s segment of the same title: “New Rule”…

New Rule:

If you wouldn’t allow the excuse, don’t offer it as your own.

Tech Rules

/soapbox

I feel better. 🙂

Vol. #83: Continued Professional Evolution

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Just some recent tweets and thoughts about the importance of continued learning and collaboration for educators.

Essential Questions:

  • How do we fight the urge to become complacent?
  • How do we encourage reluctant colleagues?
  • How do we get funding for professional development reinstated?

Vol.#78: Never The Destination

accountableI read Karl Fisch’s great post over at The Fischbowl about the word “accountability” and how too many in education erroneously equate it with using standardized testing to justify educational actions and decisions.

It got me to thinking how this current phenomenon often has educators, sometimes myself included, pinned in the corner of “all standardized testing is bad.” This is an understandable reaction to the ridiculous, high-stakes, over-emphasized testing of today. When one feels they are under attack, they take a defensive stance. Testing gives a snapshot of a narrow facet of skills, and while it shouldn’t be the focus nor the be-all-end-all… it isn’t completely useless.

After writing recently about my frustrations of the frequent pre-screening before the pretesting before the big test, it must sound like I’m completely backtracking. However, it’s the way the data is used that is important to examine.

Testing should be small, incremental, low-stakes, and personalized. If  I have a student who is struggling, as a language arts teacher I should be able to request testing to indicate issues of fluency vs. comprehension to know how best to help him/her.  It should be targeted and prescriptive, but this would require trusting educational decisions of professional educations, which is not what’s happening in the political scope of education right now.

Even the larger tests that level students in achievement ranges could be helpful if it were early in the year so teachers could use it to help inform their instruction for the year. However, it’s used at the end of the as a  summary of what the student and teacher have “done right”. This, again, is a misuse of the data. It’s an autopsy when only a biopsy can help a teacher help a student. Also, inferences are being drawn from the data which does not measure what it’s being assumed to measure. (ie: “teacher effectiveness.”)

Therefore, high-stakes testing becomes the “goal”. Schools can’t test to see what they need to teach, they are too busy scrambling to teach what’s on the test that contains what someone else decided was important and another said it would carry serious consequences for the student, teacher, and school if some bubbles aren’t colored as well as last year.  And consider what that these tests could never measure for just a moment…

Your doctor does not decide your heath on a BMI score or triglyceride reading alone.  However, that small piece of data can inform a medical professional if its part of a larger picture. The problem is when non-educators in charge of education (which is a problem in and of itself) decide to measure the doctor’s competence by his/her patients’ BMI average (teacher’s test scores). This is a misuse of the data, and a ridiculous way to measure the doctor. 

TL; DR:

Education Haiku

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.#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.#33: A Fresh Year, A Fresh Perspective

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Image Credit: Pixabay user JamesDeMers

A new school year is budding: I teach in a multi-track year round school, and our students’ first day of school is tomorrow.  We both have wonderful staff members returning and are welcoming a large number of new staff members to our building. The faculty kick-off last week was truly exciting.

We have a very large staff, and we learned from a clicker session by our media specialist that we are almost exactly divided into thirds between Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y.

We viewed some funny & informative clips from speakers on generations in the workplace like Jason Dorsey and Cam Marlston like this and this, as well as looked at other information. Teachers were asked to reflect and discuss which parts pertained to them and which did not.  It all led to a really rich discussion of our staff, the strengths of each generation, and led to what it means in terms of technology and instruction.

We then shifted focus from who we are …to who we teach. 

Continue reading Vol.#33: A Fresh Year, A Fresh Perspective

Vol.#32: Help Navigating the Road to ELA Common Core

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Image Credit: Pixabay User “PublicDomainPictures”

It was about a year ago this very week when I started my journey with four other Kenan Fellows at DPI. My Kenan Fellowship last year was an amazing opportunity; one of tremendous growth in my teaching practice.

The culmination of our work together and our intensive study of the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards [ELA CCSS] is a library of resources which has been created and compiled in order to help other ELA educators to transition their own instruction to the demands of the newly adopted ELA CCSS. Continue reading Vol.#32: Help Navigating the Road to ELA Common Core

Vol.#24: iPad Apps for the English Language Arts Classroom

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Our school has recently acquired a cart of iPads for check out to use with students, and in anticipation I wrote (and have since received) a grant for Apple TV for my classroom.

I’d read things like this and this and this and this all about the uses of Apple TV in the classroom, and was stoked to get started.

Then…it arrived.

And there was paralysis by analysis.

am was unsure of where to start my students on the actual iPads. I knew I could start…

. . . a n y w h e r e .

Continue reading Vol.#24: iPad Apps for the English Language Arts Classroom

Vol.#17: A Choice Education

“My neighbor’s kid has been in Wake County schools for six years, and his school has changed six times. He has no childhood friends. Why does the county do that?”

I have no answer for this stranger who, upon learning I am a public school teacher for WCPSS, demands it. His tone is curious with only a hint of accusing. He knows I personally did not set any policies, but he’s grappling for a logical reason. Some counter argument which I cannot provide. This county is infamous known for the sometimes contentious board meetings and how it repeatedly rearranges student reassignment. Though the news has explained they are touting choice and address-based models and assuring students will be “grandfathered in”, it does not always seem to coincide with the stories from some parents like this one speaking to me now.

Actually, as a parent I know little about it as well. I am fortunate that the county accommodated my request to have my son at the year-round elementary school that is adjacent to and feeds into the middle school where I teach. There’s even a bus that runs to and from the school to bring him from and deliver him to my school. Therefore, I missed much of the agonizing analysis many parents experience.

Image Credit:http://artschools.com/resources/how-to-choose-an-art-school
Image Credit:
http://artschools.com/resources/how-to-choose-an-art-school

This past week, letters went home to parents about the 2013-14 school year assignment and their choices. I sent them home to my homeroom, as well as received one from my son’s teacher. I decided to go to the Wake County Student Enrollment & Assignment page myself. There’s lots of information on choices and many, many magnet programs. Curious, I entered my own address into the page provided to look up base schools we’re assigned. Continue reading Vol.#17: A Choice Education