Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Talking Teachers

Today I'm talking about teachers with my students. I need to know their expectations of me and their attitudes about teachers in general. We don't name names. I ask students which teacher behaviors they love and hate. Then we watch a "Teacher Pet Peeves" video a about teachers. The video was created by Bryan Baquiran, extraordinary student poet and soon to be Florida Gator.

The video brings us to Lisa Delpit's "Wanted One Teacher" (from Cushman's Fires in the Bathroom). We talk about what students want from teachers and from me in our English class. Then I review semicolons and we look at Delpit's sentence and write our own want ads imitating Delpit's style.

The lesson allows me to get to know my students and allows students to be heard. I'm having a great day.
Here's what my ninth graders have said they love and hate about teachers' behaviors so far:

We love it when teachers….
We hate it when teachers…
joke around (sometimes).
are joyful and animated.
teach interactively.
use visuals, not just lecture.
are nice.
have a positive attitude.
treat you like  “mad cool goon”.
tell stories.
are friendly.
are not too quiet.
don’t yell at you for everything.
have systems in place.
show us what to do, not assume we already know.
teach in a fun way.
know when to be serious.
are spontaneous.
are understanding.
speak monotone.3
give too much homework (more than 30 min per subject).
switch topics even if many in the class do not understand.
yell at us.
are rude.
do not teach (but just assign work).
talk too much.
ignore us. 4
are boring.
are sarcastic.
call us out.
are biased or play favorites.
lecture too much.
read from books we can read on our own.
abuse their authority.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Building Choice into Discussion

Shape Up Discussion Strategy
Students sit at tables in my classroom. They are grouped in a variety of ways: alphabetically, by reading/writing need, by gender or personality. Students are assigned by color, so they sit at tables labeled for colors in the rainbow. Chairs are numbered. If you sit at red number one then when I call "rainbow groups" you would get up and switch from the red table to the Rainbow #1 table.  I like the flexibility and choreography that goes into setting up the system. 

No matter how I’ve created my groups, I add a layer of choice by dangling shapes from the group signs. We use the shapes to spark and guide discussions, so before, during or after instruction (or reading) I can quickly say, “Think about your response to … Choose a shape that matches how you respond to the text/idea. Move to that group and discuss.” This is not a new discussion strategy. I’ve been asked in several trainings to choose a discussion table based on whether the ideas “are still circling” or if they “square” with my thinking. In my own classroom though, I needed more than four groups, so I added shapes and descriptions. Infinite possibilities for adaption.

Instructional Sequence: 
Read/view a common text.
Tell students to choose a discussion group based on their response to the text/ideas.
Give students time to talk in the shape group.
Switch groups for additional discussion rounds (if time).
Debrief the discussion as a whole class. What did you discover? What common ideas surfaced? What surprised you about the group’s discussion?

What shape fits your response? 
Circle:  The student wants to discuss ideas are still circling in their mind.  (need processing time before forming an opinion).
Square:  The student wants to discuss how or why the ideas “square” or agree with his thinking.
Star: The student wants to talk about what sticks (is memorable) or what poke at previous thinking.
Thumbs: The student wants to talk about which aspects of the text/idea he likes and why. 
Star Burst:  The student wants to discuss new or surprising components of the text.
Heart: The student wants to talk about which elements of the text or idea he loves. 
Parallelogram:  The student wants to talk about connections (or parallels) between this text and something else.
Triangle: The student wants to talk about  ways the text can affect change  or how he would ideas in the text and or  how the text is written.

I use the school's Ellison machine to cut out big shapes to dangle from the table signs. Then I label the shapes on both sides with a guiding question. See the labels-- or download, use and adapt them--from the Scribd link below. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Center C.H.A.M.P.s and Choices

Photo take from a classroom poster. 
My district is requiring  teachers to implement differentiated small group instruction. At my school this year reading and math teachers will be expected to implement centers and small group structures. I believe centers force students to persevere and learn independently (if they are well organized and managed).

I've been doing a lot of thinking about how that would look in a 47 minute high-school class period. I love The Daily Five system from the two sisters: read to self, listen to reading, read to someone, work on writing and work on words. However, it's not possible to have high-school students do these independently, daily, in my teaching context, so I'm adapting the idea to fit.

When I taught on a four by four block schedule I lucked out and had my ninth graders for ninety minutes a day for an entire year. English was the four by four exception for freshmen. Instead of keeping students for a semester only, we had double the time. Those were my best teaching years--or my best student achievement years. Is it any wonder? I am working within a different time frame now and with different constraints, so I can't do 30 minute rotations like I used to. In these lesson plans from 2003, I was using computer stations, writing and silent reading as rotations while I worked with groups or conferenced. Students cycled through in packs of ten. I don't have ten computers in my classroom at my current school, but students often bring their own devices, so working on the computer will be an option.

I'm in the process of creating expectations for each choice using the C.H.A.M.P.s acronym. I'm only going to teach a few at a time (more on that later), but I've got them in the same file. If you'd like to take a peek (or want to copy, adapt or build on what I've started), see the center signs, directions and expectations in PDF format here (if you'd like the PPT file, email me).

Center Champs and Choices

Wish me luck! School starts Monday.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Slice of Life: Tuesday's Temptations

“Alice came to a fork in the road. 'Which road do I take?' she asked.
'Where do you want to go?' responded the Cheshire Cat.
'I don't know,' Alice answered.
'Then,' said the Cat, 'it doesn't matter.” 

It's the week before I report back to work. Today is Tuesday. How much laminating do you think I could get done between now and next Monday? How many crafty cards and signs could I create in the next, say, 123 and a half hours? Do I even know where I'm going?

Last week I created new classroom signs. After wasting entirely too much time on Pinterest browsing classroom themes, I fell in love with  a black and white polka dotted paper at Michael's and began crafting. I bought bulletin board border paper in polka dots. Then stocked up on specialty papers I use to make things for students: sticker paper (for group journal topic labels), card stock (for signs), clean edge business cards (for word sort and journal jar activities), printable labels (infinite uses)..  My goal is to spruce up the room, spark creativity and reorganize (a bit). If the room looks good, I feel good. If I feel energized and excited, students notice. After the stress of last year's change to Florida's teacher evaluation system, I'm ready for the pleasure of a pretty classroom (well, as pretty as the trailer can be I imagine). Thirty laminating dollars later, I'm turning my attention to our virtual spaces.

Where do your classes live and work online? Mine rally at our class Ning space: Bear English. We use Google Calendars for assignments and reminders. Handouts, help movies, general resources get published and linked to my class website. Last year I flirted with Moodle, the course organization tool many are using. I didn't launch. I played in the sand around the launch pad and tinkered with the controls. I tried with one class for a short time. I uploaded and organized and spent time thinking about how it would work differently than the systems I already have in place.

My systems need maintenance. I need to clean Ning closets. It is open to all students and teachers. I pay the yearly fee so that we can have unlimited members. We have close to a thousand members now; our school population nears three thousand. That member number is deceiving  because as students forget passwords they create new accounts. Just this afternoon I discovered five Denishes whose birthday is today. Denish is not my students, so I'm not sure what happened with the multiple accounts. We've used the Ning for two years now and this will be our first fall cleaning. 

My students work well on the Ning. I know to teach them how to navigate to the discussion groups or to post to their blogs. They understand the idea of a profile and enjoy setting up their pages. Sending students to our "Ning group" is second nature to me in the midst of instruction. It's a  teaching move I make everyday.  If we are working on something together and I am moving from demonstration to coaching and believe a link or an example or a guiding question can help, I post it and send students there. After the first week or two of minilessons and work time in class, students will start asking me to post to the Ning. I hear: " Can you post that to the Ning group?" or "Can I take a picture of that and upload it?" or "Can you make a help movie for ...?" The Ning takes off, early in the year.  Knowing that, why devote time to a big move?

What I use is working. It is working to take my students where I want them to go. I want students to develop creativity and thoughtfulness as readers and writers. I want them to notice and observe, then write, read and connect. Our Ning does that. Why change it? I'm an early adopter. I love to play with computers and online. I join. I sign up. I tweet. I plurked. I pin. I publish. I share. I love to create. But I have to admit that I can be distracted by it too. Technology is tempting. The latest and greatest was probably just released and will be updated by breakfast. Why change the route if it gets to us where we want to go?

I'm not migrating from Ning to Moodle.  Not today anyway.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Classroom Themes

One thing I love about my son's school is how it unified by theme each year: "Dive in.

There is really no sense redecorating. My classroom, while double-wide and super-long, is going to be demolished at the end of the school year. The window sills are rotting away. The floor is squishy in sections. Our school is slated for a multi-million dollar remodel. I will pack everything and relocate to construction digs by the end of this school year.


School starts in two weeks and I'm dreaming of ways to make the classroom inviting. I spent time (and money) in a school supply store. I bought polka-dotted papers at Michael's. I'm set to make new labels and reorganize the books. Hello, August! But, I'm still searching for a theme.

In my world, themes could disguise themselves as essential questions. In the past, I've connected to questions like: How do we survive? Who am I? What does the future hold? Essential questions span a unit, a marking period, sometimes they become anchors, a theme. I've known teachers, high school teachers mind you,  to decorate and connect to their question all year.  I'm blurring language lines though. Essential questions guide inquiry and discussion. They are serious. As Grant Wiggin's says, questions "organize courses not around 'answers' but around questions and problems to which 'content' represents answers." Such "essential questions," ...are an important ingredient of curriculum reform."  Much more serious than say a jungle theme where students are "wild about...", right?

Yes and no. Let me equivocate. Themes create an environment--a physical environment that welcomes learners. Essential questions create an interior environment. I need both. As a learner (and a Mom), I need an organized environment in order to focus inward.

In my classroom, energy and passion dictate engagement: my own and students.A theme could lead a teacher to develop questions answered by the curriculum. A theme could inspire a teacher (and students) to think differently. Can you tell I want a theme?

My high school classroom is certainly not sterile. It is filled with books. I don't have much wall space and the one bulletin board I do have is dedicated to tracking our reading. But in pictures I can see that I need to tie elements of my room together. still, I'm thinking about themes. A tree in our Socratic Circle area maybe.

I teach in the STEM college (our school is organized into smaller schools), so I like a futures or engineering theme. However, I organize all sorts of things using the colors of the rainbow. Students sit at color tables by number, then the numbers can create larger "rainbow" groups where one of each color comes together. Perhaps I can tap into color:

How do our values color meaning?
What colors our world (the future)?

Or I could connect  to quotes about color, to books with color themes (Hailstones and Halibut Bones is a favorite). I love how Zusak's line from the book thief makes me wonder, "People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and its ends, but to me it's quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations, with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spat blues. Murky darknesses. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them. ”

What do think?