Monday, April 24, 2017

A teacher who pays enough attention to make instructions clear is probably also paying close attention to how academic discussions and projects are structured.

I came across this idea and it got me thinking. In working on my edTPA (which is basically a really intricate, nationally scored, work-sample) I have to sit down and really look closely at my lesson plans, my students, their work that resulted from my teaching and reflect on how I could use all of this information to better my practice. As I sit at my laptop, looking over student work and think about those students that didn't do as well as they could have, I wonder what I could have done differently.

Not every student learns the same. This isn't news. We know this. So being intentional with how we deliver instructions is critical. And listening, in the many forms that listening can take, to what your students are telling you. You can glean super valuable information from watching and listening when you are instructing, when students are working in small groups, when they take exit tickets, when they are writing, and when they are (or aren't) participating in full class discussions. Instructions are embedded throughout your lessons. When you are talking about how to understand the parts an opinion piece, you are giving instructions on how they would one day write an opinion piece.

I am sure I will have more to say about this in the future. In fact, I've already got ideas stirring, but these ideas are also causing me to think more deeply about the reflections I need to write for my edTPA. ;)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Vanity isn't always such a bad thing!

Being in a teacher preparation graduate program that uses the cohort model is possibly one of the best experiences in my life. I am pretty lucky to know and work with 25 teacher candidates who are all phenomenal in so many ways. Some of the biggest advantages to the cohort model is the ability to collaborate and compare notes, and more importantly to be able to commiserate with someone who knows exactly what we are going through. (Let's be honest: Our partners, friends and families can console us to a certain degree, but there is only so much you want to put on them.)

I was talking to one of the women in my cohort about what you might call stage-fright. As part of our program, we have to tape one of the lessons we teach, and share it with the rest of the cohort, as well as have our cohort leader observe us live in a classroom. She mentioned that she was a little nervous about both of these things (not to call her out!) and it kind of surprised me. Now, I'm a pretty outgoing person, and have been comfortable in the spotlight for as long as I can remember. I was in choir, theater and almost every sport I could fit into my schedule. This is a commonality a lot of the folks in my cohort share.

Having an audience, to me, was always something that drove me to be better. Even if that audience was just me, it helped. Playing volleyball, I would review tapes of me at practice, or games that were recorded, to see what I was doing well and what I could tweak to better my game. And for many people, being able to observe yourself is almost an act of pride. It not only helps you to be able to identify how you can improve, being able to see what you did well is one of the best confidence boosters.

I believe that great teachers tend to possess some degree of vanity and showmanship. Vanity, today, is seen as a negative thing. But it really is just an adjective that is defined by being "produced as a showcase for one's own talents." Now that you've had your vocabulary lesson for the day, I'll get to my point: Teachers, to some degree, are performers. Now this isn't to say that great teachers should be vain or that their motivation for teaching is to feed that vanity. But hear me out. We teach because we have knowledge. We share that knowledge because we believe that we can help others to learn. And at the end of the day, being able to help someone learn something new feels pretty darn good.

Try and remember some of your teachers who were not necessarily your favorite growing up. It's difficult, right? Probably because they didn't make as much of an impact on you. Maybe it was because it wasn't a subject you were particularly fond of, but even in those classes, you can have teachers that inspire you in some way.

Now think back to some of your favorite teachers. What do they have in common? For me, and I'd venture to say for you too, all of these teachers kept me engaged and I wanted to stay in that classroom to listen and learn. They were always "on." They were interacting and responding with what students were saying and doing, and encouraging them to be engaged too. They listened, they were thoughtful in their responses, and, almost most importantly, they had a personality!

Gosh, 8 hours of being "on," that sounds exhausting, doesn't it? Well, after spending time co-teaching in an elementary school, I realized that, yes, it is exhausting. But so much fun, and so rewarding. As teachers, we come prepared with a script, albeit a loose framework of a script that is altered at any given moment. Improvisational skills are crucial, and listening and paying attention is necessary. We know how we want to be seen in our classroom by both our students, their parents, and our colleagues. And just like with any other profession, when we walk out the front door, we start the show.

In the words of Bob Dylan, you have to "know your song well before you start singing." For any musician, once they have performed a song or an album several times (probably several hundred times), they know it inside and out. They know it so well, that they are able to improvise and go off book and still make it sound great. Effective teachers work much in the same way. They know their craft. They can "perform" at any time because they have studied themselves, they have collaborated, and they have listened when given feedback. Performing isn't about being the center of attention or stealing the limelight. The best performers, much like the best teachers, are fantastic listeners. They aren't up in front of the classroom putting on a show, they are in the classroom with their students.

Grad school gives us the opportunity to hone those skills. We only get a year in this program to get in as much as we can. Recording yourself should not be feared, it's another tool that you can use throughout your entire career as an educator. Being observed might make you a little nervous to think about, but once you're in your classroom with your learners, they might as well not be there because there are just so many other things to focus on. And when the day is done, you get to have a conversation about your "performance." That feedback from a seasoned professional is gold.

You know your song! Listen to your students, follow your "script" when you can, improvise because you will have to, and, most importantly, have fun!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Common Core State Standards

There are a few reasons I am writing about the Common Core State Standards. One of the big ones is that there is so much information out there, a lot of the resources are websites that are difficult to navigate, and if you don't know what you're looking for, it's even more difficult. I wanted to understand what these standards would mean for me, as well as my future students, their education and their parents. 

This past December, when I decided to come back to get my Master's so I could teach, I really didn't know what I was going to see on my path. I knew I loved working with kids. I am passionate about learning and helping others learn; even in a corporate working environment, I often took the role of adviser/trainer. However, I didn't know anything about the current educational climate or how it would affect me. In my first class back, Math 211, I was introduced to the term Common Core State Standards. Everyone in my class knew what they were, I however had no clue what that meant. I've gotten a lot of mixed opinions; some say they will definitely help more students to achieve their academic goals, others say that they will hinder the flow of the classroom and standardized testing is bad. Both are blanket statements, and I tend to not put much stock in blanket statements. So that meant it was time for me to do some reading and investigating of my own!

As of today, all but seven states have adopted these standards. While I think that there are things about the Common Core that are not going to benefit everyone, I think it is a fantastic place to start to get everyone on the same page. Our education system in the U.S. has been underfunded, neglected and taken for granted for a very long time. A lot of students are falling through the cracks; high school graduation rates are as low as 60% in some states. That means about 4 of every ten students aren't making it through high school in those states. While this is better than it has been in previous years, it's still very disheartening.

But what does all of this mean to me? Or my future students? The official website for the Common Core states that "To ensure all students are ready for success after high school, the Common Core State Standards establish clear, consistent guidelines for what every student should know and be able to do in math and English language arts from kindergarten through 12th grade." These standards aren't just a list of things a group of people decided were benchmarks of a student's readiness to graduate to the next level; the folks that are helping to put these standards in place are educators and researchers who have put in many hours looking at students, classrooms, tests, and much more. All of these people care about the future of education as well as the future of our children.
The Standards set a guideline to show what kind of knowledge and comprehension a student should have in mathematics as well as language arts/literacy depending on their age and grade level. While the guidelines state what children should know, they leave it up to individual states to decide how they want these to be implemented and what content is used to further students' comprehension.

As I said earlier, I think this is a great place to start. There is a lot of opposition out there and a lot of arguments why this won't work. That students will get left behind, that there isn't required texts from state to state, that skills are only addressed and not content. But we are looking at an entire overhaul of the education system. It's not going to be perfect right away. Each state and local districts are able to decide how the Common Core looks in the classroom, but children, by and large, will be learning at the same pace as others on the other side of the country. Having these standards, I believe, will help many students to achieve their academic goals. It will help teachers to create concise and effective lessons. And while standardized testing isn't everyone's favorite thing, its a spring board to gauge students' knowledge and comprehension.

I also know that I have no first-hand experience with any of this yet. My views may change in the next year. But I also know that this is where education is going. Better to get on board early so I can fully understand all the tools at my fingertips! If you want to find out more information about the Common Core State Standards for your state, go here and choose the state you would like to know more about.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I'm going on an exciting trip!

Currently I am a graduate student in the Graduate Teacher Education Program at Portland State University. I am always looking for ways to learn, better my classroom experience and management, and being able to write about it all is a great way for me to reflect as well as to share with the world. I hope that going forward this blog will be an interactive place where I can share with parents and students, as well as my peers, creating a conversation that will benefit everyone. I consider myself an educational passionista; I love working with children and seeing that light turn on for a student fills my little heart with warm fuzzies. This is just the beginning of the road for me, but it's gonna be an awesome trip!