Category Archives: reflection

Vol.#102: NCCAT Revisited

This week, I went to the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching and attended the usually funny and always insightful sessions of Dr. Deb Teitelbaum during a program entitled “Teaching Beyond the EOG“. I hadn’t been to NCCAT since June 2012 as a Kenan Fellow. I wrote about that experience way back in Volume #5 when TSV was in its infancy.

I have taught middle school language arts for seventeen years, have a master’s degree in teaching, and am twice national board certified. One might wonder if there were professional development that could significantly improve upon the instruction of a teacher with this much time and training already dedicated to perfecting the craft. However, this week at NCCAT will unquestionably make a profound impact on teaching and learning in my classroom. I appreciated learning, practicing, discussing, and analyzing research-based pedagogical strategies. The time we were given to create materials using these high-quality strategies and then share them with each other was particularly valuable.

I learned about one particular strategy for students completing nonfiction passages on standardized assessments. This nonfiction strategy didn’t have a catchy name or clever acronym, as most all pedagogical techniques do. I was initially very skeptical, since it called for students to not necessarily read the entire passage. (*gulp*) Then we actually used the strategy on an 8th grade EOG passage. I got 100% of the questions correct. This was clearly a game changer.

I determined that to be comfortable using it with my students, I needed to convey to my students that I was not saying, “only read these parts”, but how to mark what to go back and reread as they completed the questions. After all, to get every question correct, I never read all of the body paragraphs, but I did read one of them three or four times.

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 8.40.48 PMSo, with this message as my goal and my penchant for  designing these types of things, I created an alliterative name and an analogy to using GPS technology. These are the resulting directions for students. I am most excited to use it with my students in the coming weeks.

 

 

Vol.#101: Hiatus

It has been exactly one year to the day that I have posted anything here at TSV.

I’d built today day up as sort of “D-day”. Either I needed to start to publish again, or accept that I just wasn’t going to be blogging anymore. And since I am not ready to make that decision, here I sit, writing without being sure of what I want to say.

No small part in this hiatus has been my adjusting to changes on all fronts. In this year’s time, I have sold and bought a house, changed schools to a new school in its inaugural  year, and changed both my children’s school as well. I’ve had a student teacher. I’ve been a contributing author in a book “Applying the Flipped Method to English Language Arts”, currently in press. However, saying “I’ve been busy” is an oversimplification that borders on disingenuous.

Mostly, I have been struggling with what to even say in regards to the state of education in the current political climate. It’s not that there hasn’t been much to discuss, goodness knows. Betsy DeVos’s appointment alone should have warranted a diatribe or two from me. I’m just… struggling with outrage overload. Also, I’ve been feeling like what I post doesn’t “don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” In the face of all of the problems with the current direction in education, my posting about teaching just seems so…futile.

I realize educators, more than ever, need rallying cries and inspiration, not the fruitless twaddle that’s been bouncing around in my head lately. To that end, I am closing TSV post #101 with the brilliance of Bald Piano Guy. He does both with musical talent and humor:

 

 

Vol. #98: 2015 in Review

My unintentional hiatus from TSV had two distinct stages. At first, I was buried in an unusually busy second quarter. School Improvement Plan Co-Chair on a re-write year, Department Co-Chair, a student teacher starting in my class, the usual day-to-day chaos teachers deal with, all in addition to being a mom of two very active boys…all overcame my weekly writing aspirations.

However, then my year-round calendar afforded me some time, and I entered a second stage. I was at a loss as to how to re-enter orbit. I couldn’t think of a topic that would acknowledge and/or make up for the absence. I wanted to set the right tone, or at least find a way to transition onto future posts.

Then, my digital PLC came to my rescue, as they often do. I read this post by the faithful blogger Bill Ferriter, and I had my answer! A top-five list of posts from 2015? Perfect.

My top-viewed page by far was the “Home Page/Archives” which is the main blog page when someone is viewing a current post. I took that out of the equation. number-698604_1280

So, without further ado, here are the five archived posts with the highest number of page views during the 2015 calendar year:

5.Vol. #46: The Teachers’ Time Off Myth“A math teacher’s email resulted in my infographic and accompanying post. Second only to “Vol. #34: Thank God for North Carolina” for inciting encouraging spirited arguments discussions, this post always raises strong opinions mostly from two camps: teachers and non-teachers.

4.Vol. 59: Four Things I Wish Parents Knew About Grades Online”  My list of advice for parents in a digital world of immediate grade reporting, born out of four specific frustrations, got some revisiting and re-sharing this year. It would seem they speak to other teachers and are still relevant.

3.Vol. #82: Read Theory” I’m thrilled the post about this specific tech tool was passed around in 2015. I still use Read Theory in my classroom, now even more than when I wrote this post. What a great free tool.

2.Vol. #25: FREE iPad Apps for the English Language Arts Classroom” This list of 26 tech tools in alphabetical order with descriptions is almost three years old, yet had the second-most views in 2015. Clearly, it’s time for a re-visit and update. Hmm…

1. Excluding the Home Page and Archives, the most viewed post in 2015 was “Vol. #84: Is This A Grade?”. Frustrated and annoyed from hearing this question, I set out to never answer it again. And I haven’t. Objective achieved.

So there you have it, the top 5 posts with the most views in 2015. I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings. Requests, suggestions, or observations for posts in the new year? Please leave them in the comments!

VOL. #97: NC Budget & Education Update

So, a budget finally passed.

The North Carolina General Assembly voted to pull funds away from the already bled-dry public schools. Charter schools got instructional per pupil funding, but now also get a portion of everything: A portion of transportation funding even if they don’t provide busing. A portion of child nutritional services funding even if they don’t have a cafeteria. How is this not a misappropriation of funds? HOW is this now LEGAL? My guess is more tax payers’ funds will be used to fight this in court.

Meanwhile, the Wallet Hub’s annual study of 13 key metrics for the best and worst states for teachers now ranks NC #50, up from #51 previously. Cue The Jefferson’s Theme here.

It’s worth noting that not all legislators agree with the approved budget. For her part, Rep. Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County said the funding for public education was barely adequate, calling the one-time $750 increase an “insult” to veteran educators [1 minute 51 seconds]:

In the midst of the budget release, DPI released a report to the legislature about the latest teacher attrition data.

I’ve included a few highlights here in an infographic:

Untitled Infographic

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.#93: Grade Scale Changes

NC has decided to roll out the ten-point grading scale one grade level at a time in high schools. As I understand it, the new grade scale will start with this year’s freshman and move up with that class over the next four years. There was an unsuccessful petition to apply this to all high schoolers at once, and many made great points in the comments. For example, I’m also not sure how our gradebook software will handle an elective class with freshmen and a juniors in it.

horizontal-477492_1280Thankfully, at least in my county, middle schools are all adopting the ten-point scale all grades at once this 2015-16 school year. It is not proving to be a simple software switch for us, either. Also, it will take some retraining of the brain for myself. My schools used to the 10-point scale until 4th grade, when we moved from the northeast to the south. Therefore, I have used the 7-point scale as a student and then teacher for almost 30 years. (That seems impossible, but I did the math twice.)

I am excited for the more simplistic scale. I also feel it’s more fair to our NC high schoolers applying to colleges, especially schools out of state.

In order to help fellow-teachers set up their classrooms this year, I am throwing a “GRADE SCALE SALE”  in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store this week from July 21, 2015 to July 24, 2015. All of my 4 FOOT GRADE SCALE POSTERS are on sale these days.

Links for those interested are below.

**10 Point** 4 FOOT Grade Scale POSTERS in My Store:
Warm Stripes & Cool Patterned Letters
Teal Grunge Coordinated Stripes & Smudged Dots
Teal Grunge Coordinated Diamonds & Smudged Dots
Psychedelic Swirls
Mint Retro Splash
Mint Retro & Cherry Swirl
Delicious Dots Motif
Fire & Cool Flair

 **7 Point** 4 FOOT Grade Scale POSTERS in My Store:
Jewel-Toned Chevron
Spring Paisley

Thank you for looking!

If you have a theme in your classroom that needs a different look, contact me.  🙂

Vol. #90: Why I Turned Independent Reading into Interactive Blogging

blog-684748_1280I started Teaching Speaks Volumes in June 3 years ago. Each year in June, I’ve updated the look of the blog and reflected upon its impact as a powerful catalyst for growth and change.

Blogging – writing with a real-world audience – has become an important staple in my reflective practice as an educator, but also in my instruction.  Besides authoring this professional blog about teaching, my students blog about the books they choose to read independently. Reading and writing for real purpose with an open reflection and engagement of ideas with an audience of peers is as powerful for students as it is for professionals.

My students write reviews of books they chose to read on the class Reading Blog. I’d tried many different approaches to independent reading over the years, from traditional book reports and presentations, to book talks and reading logs.  These are very typical of any English Language Arts (ELA) classroom, though I’d always designed my own reading logs, project menus and rubrics. However, for the last several school years my students’ blogging has had a powerful impact for my classroom independent reading.

Publishing independent reading reviews has made my students’ analysis of their reading interactive and authentic in several ways. First, when written on paper as a reading log or project and submitted only to me, spelling and punctuation sometimes seemed an afterthought. However, when published in front of their peers and the world, most students make a genuine and concerted effort to apply conventional spelling and grammatical rules, showing their best work. This has changed the dynamic of my students as viewing themselves as “published writers”.

The “search” option allows visitors to the Blog to search titles, authors, topics, and even friends’ names to see what they are reading. (Students often post comments to each other about the reviews, although this is optional.) Because middle schoolers are social by nature, the ability to see what their friends are reading and reviewing is a powerful motivating force to read.


Several authors have contacted my students about the reviews about their novels by posting a comment directly to the students on the blog. For example, the 2014 Newbery Award winner Kate DiCamillo responded this past November to one of my very own students!  No doubt googling their own book title, authors arrived at my students’ reviews and felt compelled to reach out to the young adults who reviewed their works. For all these reasons, this Independent Reading Blog is the very definition of interactive and authentic work by a middle schooler.Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 11.43.01 AM

To reap these benefits and make the switch to paperless book reviews shared to the world, I used the free and open source blogging tool “Wordpress” and I created a blog for my students. The structure of the submission form creates the post. Drop-down menu choices become where each review appears in the blog’s menu. (image) Anyone visiting the site can search all “fantasy” reviews or all “five star” reviews written by my students. The same book may appear in the five star reviews for one student, but another student’s review of the same book might appear with the three-star reviews, if that is how each child rated the book.Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 1.17.42 PM

Students can easily research what their peers are reading, and even use that information as a point of inspiration for what to read next. All of the reasons stated make reading interactive with their peers and this social aspect is very important to young adolescents. By designing this blog for my students “from the ground up”, creating a product similar to Shelfari or Goodreads but with my students’ specific needs in mind, it has revolutionized my instruction.

My ever-techie colleague Paul Cancellieri (@mrscienceteach) who blogs over at Scripted Spontaneity was instrumental in my setting up this interactive blog. He has created a how-to step-by-step guide on his blog.

Vol.#87: Thoughts On “I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate”

I really love kinetic typography, and if the video is about education, all the better.

So I came upon this video this week:

I sent it to about a half-dozen other educators to see their take, because I really wrestled with the message.

On one hand, I really relate to the message that 17-year-old Suli Breaks passionately delivers, refusing to be reduced to a number on a test. I’ve written in both prose and poetic forms that students are “more than a score”. The insanity over standardized testing was even featured on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. (You should really watch if you didn’t catch it, and if you’re not offended by some salty language.)

Anyway, back to Mr. Suli Breaks. I found much of what he said to be powerful, relatable, and certainly fair.

And yet…

There seemed to be a hint of devaluing academics in general; a playing down of the importance of one’s education, which made me uncomfortable. Several of the teachers I sent it to felt the same.

I posed this question: How does he show he values education, if he understandably does not value the testing, and that’s all he’s known education to be? How do we expect him to separate the two?

The conversation that ensued had me thinking deeper about this and how it relates to educators. I think it is similar to the crux of the problem those of us opposing the current state of standardized testing face:

  • How do we demonstrate our willingness for accountability when it has become synonymous with standardized testing?
  • How do teachers convince the powers-that-be that we value criticism, but not uninformed critics?
  • How do we explain that we value high standards, but not high stakes?

Vol.#79: Southern Snow Days

It was just after Thanksgiving in 1985. My family had just relocated from Newton, New Hampshire to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. I was in fourth grade, my younger sister in first.

Our first week there, my mother received phone calls from some horrified very concerned teachers. Where were our gloves? Scarves? Boots? Winter coats? I mean it was almost December! Of course, temperatures would have been in the 60s, which would have been May weather for us. Coats? You’re lucky we’re not here in shorts.

“Map: How Much Snow Cancels School?” via The Atlantic

Here in NC we have only attended school on both Mondays the past two weeks.  During these eight snow days, I have seen lots of commentary on social media about the “Southern Snow Day” phenomenon. The Atlantic did a piece last year with a Map: “How Much Snow It Takes to Cancel School in the US”. They made sure to make the point that it’s more about infrastructure than fortitude of citizens.

Still, comments like, “We’d love that forecast up here in Maine!”  or  “We have six inches more than you and we’re still going to school here in Massachusetts.” were lobbed at those of us holed up in our homes by mere whispers of winter weather.  “We just have a different mindset up here,” one friend of a friend posted.

No. False. It’s much more than your “mindset”. It’s a result of societal, environmental, and biological differences.

A society decides on what to spend its collective revenues. It’s not worth investing in salt trucks and sand trucks and arsenals of snow plows to maintain the roads full-time when your state doesn’t get snow for three weeks, let alone three months. Boston and Nashville are of similar size in population, but it would not make sense for their budgets to allocate similar funds to snow management.

Image Credit: Flickr User TrackHead
Image Credit: Flickr User TrackHead

The environment here surrounding a snow event is also different. It gets warm enough here during the day to remelt the snow. Then snowmelt refreezes at night, making a treacherous black ice glaze. It’s not that “southerners can’t drive on snow” because it quickly becomes sheets of ice. Northerners aren’t going to drive on that either, even with your fancy snow tires. And of course all our school districts need is one bus to slide on our ill-prepared roads to be open to litigation.

The panicked run to the grocery store that makes the news is not the overreaction northerners think it is either – we may or may not be able to get there for weeks. They can roll their eyes if they want, but I and many colleagues were stranded at our schools with students overnight due to these sheets of ice resulting from the mere half-inch of snow in 2006. I’m going to go ahead and get bread and milk, m’kay?

Finally, there’s the biological differences I experienced first hand at nine years old. I wore shorts that first winter, but wouldn’t now. Our blood thins/thickens due to where we live. People adapt to their environment. There are more heat stroke stories from the north than the south in the summer. They just aren’t as adapted when temps spike. It doesn’t mean southerners should take to social media to call them “wimps” for it.

A month into that first school year on Hilton Head Island in 1985, it “snowed” with the lightest dusting. School completely stopped and everyone went outside. The fourth and fifth grades were in mobiles, and I remember so clearly how teachers and students were running around, laughing, delighted….

I had just moved from New Hampshire. One could literally see the ground right though this “snow”. I didn’t get it.

It had not snowed on the island in over a decade. My classmates, unless they had moved like I, had never seen this stuff fall from the sky in their entire lifetime and might not again until their twenties.

It was  a big deal.   I didn’t get it then.

I do now.

 

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