Sunday, December 17, 2017

How do you challenge yourself?

As teachers, we continually ask students to get out of their comfort zones. We are pushing them every day with new information and experiences.

Several years ago, I was embarking on my first 40 book challenge with my Tier 3 reading intervention students. I was going to be challenging them to set a goal (we didn't necessarily use 40) to read more that year than they had before. I felt like I needed to set a goal that would be similarly challenging for myself.

So I started running. My first goal was to run a 5k without stopping. When I met that goal, I decided to train for a half marathon. Now, I hated running - but I wanted to set a goal to do more of something that I hated, in hopes that it would get easier and I would hate it less.

It worked. I completed several half marathons. Now, I'm still not a huge fan of running, but I continue to do it anyway.

This summer I started taking an aerial silks class at a local aerial arts gym. I've never been one with upper body strength, which is pretty much essential in aerial arts. I've been taking classes for about six months, and I'm still terrible. I can't do a pull-up, I struggle to get off the ground, everything feels awkward and strange. But, I haven't quit.

For 90 minutes a week, I am completely out of my comfort zone - doing something that is super hard for me.

When I want to quit, I think about how often I ask students to do something that is super hard for them - in hopes that over time it will get easier and they will hate it less.

We cannot hold our students to a higher expectation than we hold ourselves.

So, what have you done lately to challenge yourself?

Enjoy these photos of my various aerial arts attempts! See those smiles...that's 15% enjoyment and 85% fake it till you make it.

Monday, July 31, 2017

From Reality TV to Growth Mindset

During the school year, I don't watch much TV, but I do indulge during the summer.

For those of us who love dance related of shows, World of Dance (WOD - the one with Jennifer Lopez) was an exciting new program this summer. The question among dance fans became - which is better - WOD or So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD)?

Image result for quote about learning growing and changing
I gave WOD a few watches, but I didn't love it, and I couldn't figure out why.

The choreography was amazing.
The dancers were at the top of their genre.
The judges gave valuable, relevant, and well-thought out feedback.
Each piece of the show is excellent.

It took me awhile to pinpoint it, but I finally figured out that WOD doesn't have my favorite element of SYTYCD - growth.

In case you aren't familiar with SYTYCD, here's how it works:
In the beginning, dancers are experts in one style (jazz, animation, tap, etc). Over the course of the show, we see them forced out of their comfort zone, struggling with new, different, challenging work, and persevering over the struggle. They get feedback and use that to inform their future performances - they make changes, learn and grow. It's visible and the best part of the show for me. 

This summer I've also enjoyed catching up on old seasons of Project Runway and Food Network Star. On all of these creative based reality competition shows, it's not about the product (I'm vegan and not really into fashion), but I love to see how they tackle the problems, work (or struggle) together on teams, develop innovative solutions, and adapt to critique. When something doesn't work, they try something else. It's growth mindset in action.

It's all of the things that school should be about but sometimes isn't.

Schools should be places where kids want to be. Where they see the relevance of their work, and they want to do it.

We, as educators, must create space for this type of work, learning, and growth in our classrooms. They need to understand how the skills are transferable. 

If they can think creatively to solve this problem, here in our classroom - then they'll be able to think creatively to solve some other problem we can't even imagine yet in the future. We can't practice solving that problem because we don't know what it is, but we can help students get the tools they'll need with the time comes.

How can we take the spirit of these shows and embed them in our curriculum? Share your ideas!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Just a Teacher

A few days ago, I was given the incredible opportunity to attend ASCD's Leader to Leader (#ASCDL2L) conference as part of the Emerging Leader Class of 2017.

The Emerging Leaders are an incredible, inspiring group of people. Each person I met was as accomplished and successful as the next. I just kept thinking - how do I fit in here? I'm just a teacher, just regular old me!

Part of the weekend involved creating an action plan for your work in the next year. People were coming up with incredible ideas - write a book, design a website, develop a business, create a new program. I was at a loss. I'm just a teacher, what can I do?

Now, there was nothing these amazing individuals did to make me feel less. This narrative was created entirely inside of my own head, a feeling like what I've contributed is not as valuable as what someone else has contributed. Although I'm still not sure exactly what the future holds for me professionally, I've realized that whatever I decide to do - the change has to start with me.

There seems to be a dark and diminishing political smog surrounding teaching and public schools, and I have allowed it to impact how I see myself and my work. I've bought into a narrative that is simply not true.

Words matter - I am not just a teacher. I am a teacher! It's time to reclaim the narrative. My journey is starting with what I tell myself about what I do, and how I portray it to the world. 

As teachers, we are our own best advocates, and we need to feel empowered, as individuals, to do the work required to write our own story. 

Yes, I am a teacher, I love it, and I can't wait to tell you more.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Real Talk - RtI and Equity

Real talk.

I'm late to the game on equity in schools.  I've started reading, and reading, and reading. I've taken coursework examining pieces of the problem like racism, poverty, and privilege. I seek out my own resources - getting books after they come up at Edcamp conversations, on Twitter chats (thanks #EduColor), blogs I've read, or podcasts I follow. Anytime I see an article come up even remotely related to the topic, I read it.

All because I believe that when you know better, you do better.

But, confession time, I know- but I'm not sure what to DO. I know all of this information about equity in schools, but what to actually do with all of that? I try to be aware, and examine, and confront my own biases. I reflect, and change, and adjust my teaching practices - but it doesn't feel like enough.

I'm putting this into the universe because I have to be honest about where I am.

I have a lot of questions about my role as RtI teacher and what that means for equity and my students. I get wrapped up in questions about standardized assessments, "researched based" practices, and the legal requirements surrounding RtI. Am I part of the problem? 

For now, I'm going to start there - with my classroom and my school. I want to do more, go bigger, broaden my scope - but I need to start with what I have direct control over. Me.

So, I'll start with these questions: How does RtI fit in with equity? What does an equitable RtI system look like?

I'm not really sure. Time to start researching, reading, reflecting, questioning, discussing, and changing.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Assessing Students with Breakout EDU

About this time last year, I discovered Breakout EDU, and I've been hooked ever since.

If you're not familiar, it essentially turns your classroom into an escape room environment where students solve a series of puzzles to get INTO a box. (That part confuses them at first, but they get over it).

Image result for breakout sketchnote

The best part is that once you get started with a kit, the possibilities are endless! There are tons of breakouts available for free on the website, and once you get the basic idea, you can modify them (or even create your own).

I've been using them this year with my intervention students as our "fun day" activity. Little do they know, I've been selecting and designing the puzzles to force them to apply the skills we've been working on.

Do I want them to pay more attention to details? Hide the clues deeper in something they have to read.
Do I want to see if they understand coordinate planes? Include a clue that uses one.

You can make clues that have to do with a variety of content topics and skills, and you're able to see very quickly who has a handle on things and who doesn't. It's been a great tool for me this year as I'm working with my math intervention students on problem-solving skills and my reading intervention students on close reading techniques.

I have a "Breakout EDU Wall of Fame" that I post their pictures on after they breakout. I try to do one a month, and I have to add it to our classroom calendar so they know when it is (or I get asked every day when the next one is going to be).

Can you assess all things all the time with Breakout EDU? Of course not - but it certainly deserves to have space in your assessment toolbox.

If you're not interested in purchasing a box from them to start, you can "open source" your own kit at stores in your town for not too much money. Regardless of how many students you have, you can get by with one box (see this blog post for the how-to), and you can start with a game that doesn't use too many locks. If you want to go all in with an official kit, you can try a Donor's Choose project!

So, the next time you're looking for a fun way to engage students in assessment - give Breakout EDU a try! I'd love to hear from people how they use Breakout EDU in their classroom or other fun ways to engage students in assessment.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Better Late Than Never, Right?

So, late in 2016 - my friend and colleague Matt (@MatthewWeld) and I had a conversation about how we both wanted to blog more. We had just completed a Twitter challenge, and through our discussion came up with the idea of #12monthsblogging writing challenge.

Over the holiday break, I brainstormed some possible topics and questions, and he put everything together into this great blog post creating month graphic and question starters. If I haven't been clear enough - he did pretty much all of the work.

Fast forward to today, February 14th, and I haven't posted a single blog. Which brings me to the question - should I still do it? I'm well past the "due date" of January for my first blog about the generic topic of "The Teaching Profession". What good will it do now??

Here's the thing - it will still do a lot of good. The process of being reflective about practices is valuable whether I am completing it in January, February or December.

In other words - I can still learn from the assignment even if it's "late".

I have to wonder, if I were being graded on this practice and had already long ago earned a zero (we are 14 days into February after all), would I still do it? Would I still be engaging this reflective practice? Would I be so overwhelmed that I'm almost two blog posts behind that I would shut down on the whole project?

As teachers, we ask kids to do a lot of things - some have a lot of value, some have not so much. If in the end, it doesn't matter if they do the activity or not - why are we even asking them to do it in the first place? And, if it does matter that they complete the assignment, why do we create systems that allow for them to opt-out?

I'm not sure I really have an answer to these questions. I do think that as educators we have a responsibility to our students when they are not completing work to really think about it. I have to ask myself, as their teacher, what am I doing to both support and stifle their learning processes.

I feel like we need to encourage students to engage in the experience I had today. Yes, I'm well past the due date, but there is learning value in this activity - so I'm going to do it anyway. Learning for learning's sake. No grade is given, no money is earned - but here I am (at the public library no less) typing away - a true life-long learner.

So many of us have that in our school or district mission statements, but do we really create school experiences that help students get to this point?

Lots of questions today, but not many answers. Thanks for reading my post, even though it's late.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Final Genius Hour Reflection and Wrap-Up

I've now wrapped up my first year implementing Genius Hour with my 8th graders. I jumped in with a few questions still on the table, but it was a risk I'm glad I took.

In the fall, students researched topics of their choosing, but I accidentally narrowed their output by giving too many specifics up front. In retrospect, I should have more work with some of the students to develop deeper questions.

With the second semester, I gave students a big goal - changing the world. I really enjoyed having a theme because it gave some focus to the projects, which we were missing previously. It also enabled me to do double duty with the argumentative research paper we needed to write third quarter.

The upside of the double duty was the students learned a lot about their topics leading up to the expo. The downside was that it sort of removed some of the "passion" for some of the students. Associating the project with the paper at all made it a challenge for some students to see the entire process in a positive light. Were I to do it again, this is something I would consider changing.

From the whole project, students gave the most positive feedback in regards to the actual Expo day. In my mind, the two (Genius Hour and the Genius Hour Expo) were one in the same. My students did not see it that way, and I'm not quite sure why that is.

I was really surprised by these results because I thought the two graphs would be more similar. I didn't quite get enough feedback from this survey, so I want to follow up with students. I need to understand the "why" behind some of their responses.

The most important part for me was seeing the importance of the "publishing" in action. Students need an audience beyond just their teacher. It was one of those things that though I've read it over and over again - seeing how much it changes the game for students made a real impact on me.

For the Expo, I had every one of my students give a presentation. Even students who have had a lot of struggles throughout the year gave great Expo presentations. One came to me prior to his class visiting and asked "Mrs. Reed, do you think I'm going to be successful at the Expo today? Have I done enough?" A different student who struggles in various areas with school had such a great project, I had two different teachers tell me how impressed they were with his work later on.

Did I have some students who didn't like the Expo? Yes. It certainly wasn't all sunshine and rainbows with all 77 of them, but with 8th graders, it's very difficult (if not impossible) to please all of them all of the time.

In the end, I don't think I've done a project in my teaching career that has allowed students to meet so many standards as once. Reading informational text - Check! Writing - Check! Research - Check! Speaking and listening - Check! I don't think students even realize just how much they've learned. That is something I would want to try to build in to future versions of Genius Hour.
One very rewarding thing was how many students reflected in their final blog post about how proud they were of the work they've done.

If I had the chance, I would certainly implement Genius Hour again next year. I would have a handful of things I'd want to change, but the overall premise is a very powerful idea. While I'm moving to a different position next year, I will work to involve as much student choice, project-based learning, and publishing of final products as I can. I was truly forever changed as an educator by this experience!