Monday, December 28, 2009

10 Things I've Learned in 10 Years

I've been reflecting on my growth as a teacher & decided to document my version of the top ten lists that seem to be popping up everywhere as the new year comes to an end. So here at top 10 lessons I've learned in my 10 years of teaching & coaching.

1) All kids are different, period. In a nutshell you cannot teach the same thing in the same and expect students to "get it".

2) Differentiated instruction comes in different forms. You can change the assignments, assessments, vary from small group to whole group, utilize a layered curriculum model, workshop model, or literature circles to reach kids specifically at their ability level.

3) What was the previously the "best" way to teach anything changes often!

4) The definition of literacy is changing rapidly to include things like computer skills, collaboration, evaluation of sources, and research using the internet.

5) Writing instruction must take into account things kids do naturally like blogging and other social networking mediums.

6) Teachers, like students, need to be told often what they do well!

7) Teachers flourish when they amongst a network of learners-exchanging ideas, team-teaching, and leading professional development.

8) Teachers must be willing to learn from students, especially in a rapidly changing technological world where students are often more savvy, but willing to showcase their knowledge.

9) There is no simple formula for increasing student achievement; this varies according to a school's unique population and needs.

10) Parents, teachers, and administrators really do want the best for students- we just need to learn how to work together to get the results we all want!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lotta Learning!

This week has been extremely hectic. It's the last week for the students before Christmas vacation and their energy level is ...oh on a scale of 1 to 10, about 100! It's also finals week for me at school so I've had several papers and projects to complete, I didn't even have a chance to celebrate my birthday which is not at all like me.

Anyway, as crazy as my life has been I've learned so much from my students. Here are a few things on the tech side I've learned just in the last couple of weeks:
* How to create MP3 file to export from Garage Band
* How to create a zip file from a Keynote Presentation and export to Slideshare
* How to navigate some elements of Photoshop

Bigger Lessons:
* How to stop trying to "control" the learning in my classroom
* How to trust the students to navigate difficult projects/problems
* How to ignore the massive noise level that inevitably arises when authentic work is going on with 25 kids in the room
* How to relax and remember that kids will be kids and it's not the end of the world

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

YES- Schools Can!

After reflecting on my rant about the inequity of the American School System, I have decided to devote my next few blog posts on schools that are doing wonderful work. "Wonderful" meaning innovative, creative, student-centered, authentic instruction that's producing great results and great kids who are problem solvers and thinkers. Check out the video below on YES Prep in Houston:

YES Prep Video

Also, High Tech High:

High Tech Video Clip

Monday, December 7, 2009

Education: The Great Equalizer???

I just viewed CBS's interview with Geoffrey Canada, Developer of the Harlem Children's Zone.  The zone is a truly visionary project that spans about 100 blocks in Harlem.  Began in 1997, it now services  more than 8,000 children and 6,000 adults.  Including innovative programs like Baby College, Promise Academy, obesity programs,  and healthy foods served from an organic garden onsite, the Children's Zone has recently drawn attention from the Obama administration as well as researchers, educators and policy makers nationwide.  The video is embedded below if you wish to see it in it's entirety:

Harlem's Children Zone:  60 minutes clip

Seeing this is inspirational though leaves me feeling disgruntled, disappointed and lots of other adjectives about the way America's schools system has failed and continues to fail our children.  The "Great Equalizer" has actually had the opposite effect for those who don't have the money to attend private schools or aren't lucky enough to get chosen by the lottery system at many of American's most successful charter schools.

I'm ecstatic to see many states implementing takeover strategies or providing more opportunities for charter & independent schools to take over where our public schools have failed.  With that said, the U.S. Department of Education has recently released the guidelines for receiving federal funds for school reform:

  • Turnaround model: Replace the principal and rehire no more than 50 percent of the staff and grant the principal sufficient operational flexibility (including in staffing, calendars/time, and budgeting) to implement fully a comprehensive approach to substantially improve student outcomes.
  • Restart model: Convert a school or close and reopen it under a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an education management organization that has been selected through a rigorous review process.
  • School closure: Close a school and enroll the students who attended that school in other schools in the LEA that are higher achieving.
  • Transformation model: Implement each of the following strategies: (1) replace the principal and take steps to increase teacher and school leader effectiveness; (2) institute comprehensive instructional reforms; (3) increase learning time and create community-oriented schools; and (4) provide operational flexibility and sustained support.
For more information visit the U.S. Dept of Education website.

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    Kids Utilizing the Power of Networking- Awesome!

    I haven't posted in over a week- I've been beyond busy writing papers for school. but I had to take a moment to share this story. Yesterday, my team had the opportunity to take our 8th graders to a live taping of the television show "Know Your Heritage". It's basically a show that tests kids' knowledge of cultural heritage in a game show format.

    We didn't find out about the taping until literally the last minute, but decided to give the kids the permission slips anyway. We were concerned because they have a habit of forgetting to bring things back signed, and we only had one day to pull this all together. Also, we knew that if too many of them showed up without a permission slip at school today, we wouldn't be able to go at all since no one would be available on such short notice to provide coverage for too many kids.

    So, despite the last-minute nature of this venture, we handed out the slips and told the kids we'd only be able to go if we had 100% of the show up with it signed. To our surprise, the entire 8th grade class showed up (with the exception of 3), ready to go, slips in hand this morning. A casual conversation with my girls revealed the reason- they put it on facebook.

    Not only did they put it on facebook, they sent out several text messages to the entire class, warning that they would have to stay in school ( and what middle school doesn't want to spend the day at a television show taping when they're supposed to be in school)? I laughed and shared this with the rest of my team but the lesson was very real. When it comes down to it, the kids' needed wanted it to happen and it did- with just a little help from technology and social networking!