November 20

Tennessee Educational Technology Conference

Next week is one of the best opportunities in our area for learning, growing, and developing as a teacher.  The Tennessee Educational Technology Association is hosting the Tennessee Educational Technology Conference.  I look forward to it each year and always learn loads at sessions.

I am doubly excited this year because I get the opportunity to facilitate a couple of workshops!  For a listing of tentative workshops, check out this list.

Hope to see you there!

November 20

Asking the Hard Questions

One of the best ways to teach students is to ask them questions.  When they are working on projects, we ask them questions to find out more about their vision, their plan, their intentions.  When students are writing, sometimes the best conferences are when we listen.  Sometimes the best conferences are when we listen and then ask questions.  When students are uncertain, sometimes it is better for us to ask them questions than it is to answer their questions.

I find the same thing to be true when I am coaching teachers.  Sometimes, it is better to ask questions than it is to offer my ideas.  Yet, in both cases – when we are working with students as well as when we are working with other teachers – some questions are hard to ask.  We walk a fine line of asking questions that will promote thought and help clarify thinking rather than asking questions which frustrate, exasperate, or annoy.

I had the opportunity to ask lots of questions this past week.  When in a classroom with a teacher and her students, the student asked me which option would be better as a creation tool for his assignment.  Of course, I simply began to ask questions.  What was he more familiar with as a tool?  What options were more important to him?  How did he envision the finished product?

When planning with a teacher, I asked which standards would be be focusing the lesson on.  How was she planning to measure that standard?  Did she want to have several formative assessment points or one large end assessment piece.  I also asked what tools and resources her students were accustomed to using.

Then, at the end of the week, I was working with a fellow coach who was working on the visual, guiding piece of a professional development workshop.  She expressed that she was not satisfied with the directing in which she was headed at the point.  When we looked at what she had already, I was completely blown away by the impressive images, colors, and eye-appeal of what she had going on.  I was overwhelmed with all the research she had behind it.  I first told her that I thought she had almost created a college course – something she and I are both quite guilty of doing!  Then,  I posed a hard question.  I asked, “What is it you want me to know and walk out of your workshop and be prepared to use in my class as a teacher within a few days?”  She named off four major points.  Then, she had a look on her face of clarity.  There was still frustration that she wasn’t closer to being done with the prep of her workshop but she seemed to be more satisfied with the vision she had at that point, though.

I don’t like asking hard questions.  I always worry that I’m going to step on toes.  I always wonder if I’m going to frustrate.  I always want to be certain that my ideas are not taken and their ideas are not left behind.  Asking hard questions may not be the easiest and most comfortable thing to do.  However, when we are coaching young learners or even our peers, we also know that we certainly want them to ask us the hard questions when we need them to be answered.

November 7

My Blogging Story

I became a blogger years and years ago.  I didn’t really realize that was what I was doing at the time because I had never heard of a blog before!

Nine or ten years ago I had the harebrained idea that some of my teacher friends and I should write collaborative journals.  We each bought a journal and began writing about our teaching practices, strategies, and experiences.  After a week, I collected the journals and redistributed them.  Marcy got Angela’s.  Angela got Nancy’s.  Nancy got Leslie’s.  Leslie got mine and I got Marcy’s.  We wrote for a week and rotated them again.  It was a wonderful learning experience for all of us.  I feel like I grew as a writer and I know I grew as a teacher because I learned what these other teachers were doing in their classrooms and tried applying some of those ideas in mine.

Then, in 2011 I started a personal blog and went public with many of my experiences.  About the only people who follow it and really read it are my family members but it is a way to preserve memories and experiences and a way to share them with other members of my family.

Even now I encourage teachers – especially English and reading teachers – to blog and to have their students blog.  I can think of no better way of encouraging writing and no better way to develop writers than to have them write.  Just like a ball player needs to practice in order to improve his or her sport, if we want to improve as writers, we need to write repeatedly and write often.  What better way to practice that craft than to write a blog post?

November 6

Resource Suggestion: NYT The Learning Network

I’ve been working with several English/Language Arts teachers lately and we have been discussing ways to encourage students to write.  Just write.  Practice writing.  These teachers know that the more their students write, the more their writing improves.  With this in mind, I’ve been looking for sources of inspiration that I could share with these teachers (and their students).

One of my go-to resources when it comes to thinking and writing is always The New York Times The Learning Network.  There are so many appropriate resources for middle and high school student learning to be found there!  Of course, there are the articles from the publication which provoke thought and encourage opinions to bubble up.

One section alone is called Teenagers in the Times and is a monthly post which gathers together articles which involve and relate to teens.  Oh, how I wish I knew about that when I was a student taking Civics for my social studies credit!  We had to bring in a news article at least once per week and sometimes more often and be prepared to lead a discussion about it with our class.

NYT The Learning Network  offers articles and questions, writing prompts, quizzes and crosswords, multimedia, lesson plans, and so much more!  The content is varied, relates to most any content area, current, and interesting.  Check it out!

November 5

Developing Writers

As and eighth grade English and reading teacher, I always started off the year looking for ways to get my students confident that they are all writers.  We would start with letter writing so that students could tell me a bit about themselves, their strengths and struggles, and what they expected from our class.  From there we did a bit of formulaic poetry where students completed statements that started with: I am from.  Next, we moved to personal narratives because who doesn’t have personal stories to tell?

Once it was established that the class had a major focus on writing and reading the works of good writers, my students seemed to blossom.  I highly recommend that any grade-level take some time to practice writing narratives to help students find their voice and their confidence.  We used mentor texts such as picture books and borrowed ideas from professional storytellers to serve as our role models.  The Power of Narrative is a post which offers some great suggestions – many of which are similar to what I did with my students.  If you haven’t already, encourage your students to write narratives for a bit and come back to visit the genre often to continue developing their voice and confidence.

June 5

How are you growing as a teacher this summer?

In our district, we are deeply embroiled in summer professional development.  Teachers are learning, collaborating, and creating materials for use in the upcoming year in every room I pass as I walk down the hallway.  Growing as a teacher is more than just attending a professional development workshop at your school or in your district, though.  There is a multiplicity of ways to grow as a teacher throughout the summer.  Here are a few ways I would recommend:

  1. Read a professional book to improve your practices and strategies in your classroom.  As a former ELA/Reading teacher, any reading list I suggest is always going to include works by Kelly Gallagher, Aimee Buckner, Ralph Fletcher, and Jeff Anderson.  Another list you might want to consult is the group of books published by Dave Burgess Consulting.
  2. Attend a teaching conference.  There are conferences being held all over the country during the summer and they are easy to find just by searching online.  I would highly recommend ISTE 2017 and the Midsouth Reading and Writing Conference I thoroughly enjoyed both when I attended.  The great thing about summer teaching conferences is that you meet new people and develop a network of folks with like-minded ideas.
  3. Check out some educational videos.  Peruse what is available within Discovery Education.  There are so many different topics available and there is probably one to help your students learn and grow which relate to the standards you teach.  You have the option to choose video clips so that the entire video doesn’t have to be included in your lesson if only a portion of it is relative to what you want your students to learn.  Let these videos enhance instruction.  You might also want to check out some that will provide information similar to what you would experience at a conference.  I recommend the Education on Air playlist posted from the December conference.  There are lots of choices and inspirational ideas to grow and teach us as educators.
  4. Listen to some podcasts.  I enjoy plugging into my iPod and listening to inspiration while I’m performing menial tasks such as dusting, vacuuming, and cleaning house.  Since I spend some time cleaning and tidying up during the summer, listening to a podcast is a great way to gain some new ideas or be reminded of some that I had forgotten while I am performing one of those dreaded chores.  I have also been known to listen while I’m riding my stationary bicycle or walking on the treadmill.  I’ve loved listening to the Google Teacher Tribe Podcasts this spring and I highly recommend them to other teachers for listening pleasure.  There’s a whole Education Podcast Network with valuable podcasts to help grow you as an educator as well.  One of my favorite resources is StoryCorps.  I often used their ideas and topics in my classroom to inspire and encourage young writers.  They have many wonderful resources but perhaps their most valuable one is StoryCorpsU.   So, listen up!
  5. Get to know what’s going on in your school community.  Attend a concert in the park, go to the local farmer’s market, or take in a local landmark.  You might take a guided tour at the Frist Center, The Country Music Hall of Fame The Hermitage, or The Carter House.   You might visit The Carnton Mansion, the Nashville Zoo, or The Parthenon.  There are loads more landmarks of local and area interest!  Take your visit a step further and share it.  An elementary school principal in Texas encourages his teachers to spend the summer completing a Selfie Bingo.  Read his post to get ideas for sharing your summer adventures as you grow and learn about local culture.

Be a lifelong learner and continue to grow – even during the summer!

May 1

It’s That Time of Year

I try so hard not to be ‘that’ teacher.  You know, that traditional one who does the same things year after year whether it is effective or not, whether it is outdated or not, whether it is something worthwhile or not.  Yet, what I am finding is that no matter how hard I try not to be ‘that’ teacher, I am.

Oh, I’m not the ELA teacher who still clings to 3×5 index cards for note-taking in preparation for creating an outline in preparation for creating a ten-page research paper.  That gal is long-gone.  I would far rather have a student use an online tool for highlighting and annotating and curating sources in preparation for mapping out an infographic or infomercial with catchy images or screencasting or GIFs to illustrate the main points.

I’m not the teacher who sets up a group project and thinks I have to assign strict roles for students to follow in completing a prescribed project with a prescribed product that I can display twenty of the exact same thing in the hallway for everybody to admire on their way to the cafeteria.  That cookie-cutter concept has completely crumbled.  I would far rather ask an essential or driving question and have student groups determine their own plan for creating a solution or reporting their findings.  After all, the learning is in the doing.  To help me know that my students were learning, I would ask them reflective questions which document their understanding and mastery and not assign a multiple choice set of questions.

For the  past couple of days I’ve watched teachers and from what I can tell, most of them are ‘that’ teacher, too.  What I’m referring to is ‘that’ teacher who is feeling burnout.  I don’t know if it is the time of year and we all have a bit of spring fever after so many long grey days.  I don’t know if it is fatigue from keeping up the grueling schedule of class, extra-curricular requirements such as gate ticket sales or coaching.  I don’t know if it is the stress of the emphasis that is put on the high, holy tests that are administered at the end of every school year and that season is definitely upon us, too – practice ACT, ACT exam, practice state test, state test, etc.  Then, there is the review of all the material for those tests because they are cumulative and somebody might have forgotten a morsel.  All of this has led to burnout, I think.  Teachers are burned out and students are burned out as well.

I see encouraging email messages from administrators go out every few days.  They might include a cartoon or an inspirational quote  or video but all are telling folks to “finish strong!”  Yet, it is really difficult to finish strong when we are experiencing burnout and I know that I am wallowing in that burnout.  The criticism, the frustration, the desperate feeling of not making an impact and nobody listening all have snowballed and left me feeling as if I am covered up in ashes and barely smoldering.

I will say, however, that I found a spark of encouragement in the words of Ann Voskamp this morning.  In her post she encourages spiritual refinement as the cure for burnout but the defining statement for me was this:

“The only way to lead a symphony is to turn your back to the crowd, the critics, the court.”

Really, isn’t that what we are trying to do on a daily basis, no matter what our calling – but especially for us as teachers?  Leading a symphony is certainly what life feels like at times.  We are dependent upon all those instrumentalists to gel together and create harmonious beauty.  There have been hours and hours of learning new measures, days of practice and reinforcement, and it all comes down to a performance for an audience.

So, today, I just say to all of us who are feeling burnout, turn your back to the crowd and lead your symphony.  Some will applaud and then you will have time to revamp, rejuvenate, and plan for your next collective performance.


April 28

Go Paperless!

More and more during this school year I have seen many wonderful teachers moving toward a paperless classroom.  Please notice that I entered paperless, not paper-free!

Going paperless has so many advantages.  If nothing else, think of the millions of pieces of paper that are not used.  Other advantages include producing materials that can be shared widely and more easily, updates which can take place in real-time, and tapping into a medium which is a natural extension of students.

Below is a list of suggestions to get started toward being paperless.

  1. Communication with students and parents can take place in real-time even outside the classroom.  Google Classroom and Google Keep offer many options for communicating beyond the delivery of materials and links for lessons.  Make announcements, post and hold whole-class discussions, communicate with small groups as you are differentiating instruction, or provide feedback privately to individual students.  Feedback could be a simple message entered online or could include oral feedback using an online tool like Vocaroo or the Google Extension, Simple Audio Recorder or it might even include a short video using the Google Extension, Screencastify.  Twitter (with district certification) provides teachers with a quick and easy way to post announcements and updates.  Moving  beyond email, a teacher can make announcements for both parents and students communicating via text messages Remind (with a texting agreement).
  2. Collaboration is easy, effective, and readily accessible anywhere and anytime using G Suite tools.  Students can create, share, and edit in real-time online.  Everyone can literally be on the same page at the same time!
  3. Creation is limited only by time and imagination using digital tools.  Students can create something simple like a presentation to showcase their knowledge or can design and create a tangible project using a 3D printer.
  4. Quick Formative Assessment provides instant data.  Nearpod not only allows for engaging teacher-led lesson activities, but also provides a student-paced alternative.  Within a Nearpod lesson, quick, informative, and effective assessment can be embedded.  Socrative will also allow for a quick polling option as well as a pre-planned, mapped out, or even game-based online quiz.  Google Forms provides unlimited options for quizzes including differentiation via branching, adding images, and uploading a file as a response.
  5. Deeper Summative Assessments can go far beyond a multiple guess test.  If that format is most effective, such could be created using Socrative and Forms but digging deeper is often more informative and provides more comprehensive learning.  Demonstrating their understanding or skill mastery can be captured in presentation or infographic creations using Google Slides, Drawings, Documents (with text, images, and drawings), or Piktochart.  Students could also create videos or screencasts providing not only a demonstration of their understanding but also provide a model for future classes.
  6. Research and curation becomes immediate, up-to-date, and easily accessible using digital tools.  Collaborate, curate, and share resources online using tools like Google Keep, Symbaloo, and Diigo.  Notes and resources can be highlighted, annotated with digital sticky notes, and categorized using these tools with color and tagging options.
  7. Access and use quality content.  The free resources for online content are almost limitless!  Content for social studies classes might be accessed from any of the resources curated in the Symbaloo linked below, for example.
  8. Writing improves with practice.  To be a better writer, read more and write more!  Using Google Documents and Edublogs allows students to share their work and provides an authentic audience.  Not only do students take their work more seriously when shared in these forums, but the platforms also provide a way for developing quality feedback and improved communication skills.

Integrating technology in new and innovative ways can be overwhelming.  Don’t let it be!  Choose just one way to help move your classroom toward being paperless.  Then, continue to be a lifelong learner and step forward to try something else new and different.  Baby steps can take us (and students) a long way on our journey!