What really matters, anyway?
Last year I had a very difficult combination of students in my classroom. We were on pins and needles most of the time. It felt nearly impossible to create a safe classroom. Put bluntly, it was hard to teach and learn in my classroom last year. I felt like a terrible teacher on a daily basis. But wait! Mid-year scores came in and the kids did great on the NWEA. My administrator complimented me on the scores. I was a good reading teacher. Yay, me!
At my end-of-the-year evaluation, however, my target group did not make enough growth. Because of that, I was deemed as an effective, not highly effective teacher. I was advised to contact some of the reading experts in the building. Maybe I could get my teaching skills polished if I observed one of them. I took it to heart. I officially sucked.
In my conversation with my administrator, only my deficits were discussed. The numbers were brought up and "numbers don't lie." There was no mention of the nature of my classroom that year. and how that may have effected the learning in my room. No mention of my successes, the biggest one being I survived the year. I went back to my room and wept. (I was barely holding it together that year.)
Fast forward to this year. I teach two separate classes. One happens to be a little more focused and cooperative. I teach the same lessons to each class. We just took our mid-year NWEA test. I was shocked to see that one my classes grew substantially and the other class not so much. Same. Lessons. So, why the difference?
The class that did better was my homeroom. Was it because I had more of a relationship with them? Is it because we write in our gratitude and reflection journals every day? Is it because we pause for a minute of silence and reflection at the end of the day? Or, is it because one class is more focused and the other class less so? I cannot know for sure.
But this I do know for sure: When it comes to high-stakes test scores, everything we do matters and nothing we do matters. Wait, let me explain.
We do what we know is right for our kids.
We build community,
We teach our students in
we pick up,
we check for understanding,
we small-group it,
we blend it,
we stir it up.
And when it comes to taking the
When it comes to that day, those days,
for any given child,
some of that will have mattered,
much of that may have mattered,
and perhaps none of that will have mattered.
on that day. for that child.
What then matters?
What matters is that we are true to our core values.
What matters is that we are constant learners, evaluators, and activators.
What matters is that we count the things that the test does not.
And that we have done what we know is right for our kids.
Hamilton, Connie (2019-04-14). Hacking Questions: 11 Answers That Create a Culture of Inquiry in Your Classroom (Hack Learning Series Book 23) (Kindle Location 1274). Times 10 Publications. Kindle Edition.
Fill Your Pocket: Prepare a handful of metacognitive questions.
Some of the things that strike me as important in this chapter are:
1. The importance of metacognitive questions, not just content questions
2. The importance of teaching students the QAR Question-Answer-Response model
3. "Attend to verbs" Instead of saying, "How's it going?" ask, "How is _______ going? (comparing, contrasting, etc.)
4. Think-alouds matter. (Sometimes it feels like read-alouds are discouraged in favor of reading articles and answering questions.)
5. Follow content question with another question.
Confession: I'm not great at always preparing questions for a lesson.. (Is there terribly awful to admit?) BUT I am learning from Connie how to do that, be more intentional about my questions. I want to do that, so that's step one. These Back Pocket Questions give me a concrete way to move in that direction.
Action Plan: Plan for questions in lessons. Write them down. Post these questions in key locations around the room, so I can refer back to them.
I am really trying to have the students think about their thinking this year, so this is a wonderful resource for me as I keep working towards that goal.
In defense of design
For the purposes of this post, here is my definition of design and the dictionaries definition of aesthetic:
design: using space, shapes, and color to make a document aesthetic
Have you ever seen this in your classroom?
Student A is creating an online book. His/her pages are filled with random pictures, different fonts, different backgrounds, disconnected drawings, and speech bubbles; but there is no content or words.
Have you ever heard yourself say, "Put the text in first, then you can go back and fancy it up with colors, fonts, and pictures."? (Me. Yesterday.)
oI'm all for integrating design into projects. It adds more bang for your buck as students build spacial and visual skills.
But I know all to well there are pitfalls a' plenty.
One "pitfall" is this: Design is not tested on our high stakes state test.
The other pitfalls often boil down to this:
Sometimes some students focus only on design and neglect content.
I get this. I've seen this. I know this. I've done my best to stop this. But here's the thing:
And here are my reasons why:
In summary, there are pitfalls to offering design as part of a project, but I believe the benefits outweigh the potential negatives. I challenge myself to keep offering design opportunities in the learning experiences I plan for my students. I believe in them. And I believe in them.
Here i sit
When I don't feel like I have anything to write, that is a red flag for me. It means I have not been reflecting like i hope to. Because there is PLENTY to reflect on every day.
Funny as I sit, things come forth in my mind. When I am on the go with a busy life and a busy mind, reflection is difficult.
So, there's my first thought. Slow down, Jill.
Here's the problem with using district assessments to assess whether how I am teaching is working. Teach for 4 weeks, assess, repeat. And if the test is a bad one....there goes an hour of my students' time they will never get back.
I am still looking for a systematic way to assess in a "bigger" way. My exit tickets are mini-assessments, but I would like to get more scientific/systematic about collecting data to see if my teaching is effective.
I am definitely teaching differently this year, (clearer about objectives, interactive slides, daily exit tickets on content and effort) so I should be able to measure if it is working! Just need to keep making sure the tests are valid.
Action plan: Revisit Mr. Ryan Higbea @MrRyanHigbea spreadsheet and be more intentional about pretests. I think I fear pre-tests because they take up instructional time. But if I let the kids "opt out" of questions they have no idea about, it will go faster.
My reading workshop has been going smoothly, but I feel uncomfortable about how much my students sit for those 90 minutes. Plus, I have a whole group lesson, then students read to self and do vocabulary work while I confer with students. I need to integrate more time for discussion and partner work.
Use collaborative structures during the lesson.
Mill to Music
Ask myself every morning: How will the students be moving today? When will my students have discussions today?
I am committed to walking forward and not panicking. Just doing what I can when I can. That clears up a lot of space in my mind and heart.
Two action plans. That'll do for now. And the big third plan: slow down. I just had to sit for a minute.
Super-Sizing my Exit tickets
As part of my Visible Learning journey, I have my students filling out an exit ticket (Google) form every day. It takes them about 5 minutes. It is evolving right in front of my eyes and I have to say, it is very exciting to me. ?
This summer I read Visible Learning. It was a lot of theory and part of my thought, "Just get to the good stuff." But I stuck with it and am so glad I did. Here is why. I really didn't know where to start this fall, with all of my new learnings. With some support from some VL gurus, I made my small plan and set forth. My main two things were daily exit tickets and having clear objectives and criteria.
As the exit ticket has evolved, it has become a lighthouse to my teaching. Students report on their effort, understanding, and let me know if they have any questions or comments. I've gotten comments like "Please make it less confusing." and "Could we have more work?" Along with nice comments like, "Thanks for teaching us. I know you had to plan for it."
The questions on my form include:
What I added recently was "forcing" them to write the learning goal for the day (I had been giving them multiple choice) and also giving them one or two multiple choice questions testing them on the content. WOW. How eye opening! In one place I can see if I succeeded in being clear about the objective for the day. And here's what I am becoming....my own evaluator and activator. Kinda by stumbling into it, I have to say.
I thought I had to do some big pre-test and post-test to see if I was being effective (and I am not ruling that out for future analysis). I tried having small 3-5 question low stakes quizzes. But something wasn't working. It wasn't giving me the information I wanted about how I was teaching. These tiny-bite questions in my exit ticket are so illuminating.
Basically, I have super-sized my exit tickets and committed to doing them daily. This is growth for me. And for that, the celebration comes from joy of learning.
I used to think, "I have to write a blogpost." Now I think, "I have to let myself write a blog post." I've come to appreciate the benefits of writing down my thoughts and reflections. I enjoy writing. There's the rub. In my mind, other things take prescient. I have my school work. I have my fun. But blogging falls in a bit of a foggy area, because it is both and it is neither. And now I see it. Because I blog. Just by naming it, I am more aware of it and will act accordingly. I will craft out time to blog, like I do for lesson planning, family gatherings, walking, being with friends, and watching cheesy shows.
And now you've read the shortest blog post ever. I'm off to write another one! 💟
What is the purpose of our Google Sites Portfolios?
1. To house finished work and reflect on it
2. To see growth over the months
3. To house ongoing data
4. To help students make choices about their learning
We just finished up our "Window A" unit, so I took this last week to help kids get items into their portfolio. Here are two things we discovered last week (I love learning new things with my students!):
Embedding a Book Creator Book
My students have one page on their site devoted to data. My next goal is for them to add some of their goals on this page as well. Last week we figured out how to put our reading data onto our data page. It was a disaster at first (I hadn't made a copy for each student, so you can imagine how that went down.), but then we figured it out.
I'm committed to not panicking about this. It is my first year and I will set my intentions and follow through. I will keep reflecting. But I'm not going to feel an urgency to get more, do more, document more, etc. I welcome feed back on my journey!
Daily Reflection Exit and Entrance Ticket
I have been using a reflection ticket (Google Form) nearly every day with my students as part of my VL adventure. One student said the other day (as he was filling out the form, "I learned it because I believed in myself." I think it is awesome (I love reading over their responses.) and something I've never done before BUT I am struggling to figure out how I measure how effective it is.
The other day I taught a whole lesson on summarizing and when they took the low stakes quiz a lot of them asked, "What is summarizing?" Well, I don't need a magic wand to figure THAT one out. That particular lesson was NOT effective!
Here's what I'm thinking. This unit wraps up in one week. I think for the next unit I will give them all a pretest similar to the post test and use that as my benchmark. Then I will have concrete data on how they grew or did not grow! I am open to suggestions.
What metacognition methods do you use in your classroom? How do you help students reflect on the content AND their work/attitude? This is the form I am currently using:
Low Stakes Testing
aI have been giving several low stakes quizzes every week as a learning strategy. So yay for that...BUT here's what I need to do to improve (my goals, if you will):
Truly Believing in Each Child
The other day we were in a meeting and someone said, "Oh, ______ could never do that." I'm not judging. My thinking in the past has not been totally different than that teachers' comment.
I am kinda appalled at MYSELF for not truly believing that each child can excel. I THOUGHT I did, for sure. But now that I am really conscience of it, I am seeing that this is a growth area for me. To really and truly believe that each student can achieve. Last year if a child was struggling too much because things were truly too hard, I'd lower my expectations. This year I'm like, "Nope. You have to write more because you CAN." In the past I would care more about their feelings than pushing them to excel. This is QUITE the eyeopener for me and it is a true pleasure to make the shift.
It is so helpful to put all of this into a blog post. It helps me organize my thoughts and hold myself accountable for future actions. If you got all the way down to this line, thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts. #bettertogether
One of the hardest things about going back to school is putting my learning and reflecting on pause so that I can get my school legs back and get all my ducks in a row. But I feel like I am steady on my feet and eager to jump back into blogging, sharing, learning, growing, and being better together!
A few things I am excited about....
A colleague helped me with Google Classroom the other day (Thanks, Joni!). I said, "Thanks, I'm not sure I would have figured that out on my own." She replied, "Oh, you wouldn't have slept until you did." True story. I love figuring things out and won't stop until I get to the bottom of things. Often it is my Twitter community to the rescue.
I became a Book Creator Ambassador and am having fun figuring out the ins and outs of BC. How do you share a book with colleagues? How do you set it so students can't see other students' books? How do you make a template that students can copy and make their own?
The other day a great teacher friend of my was reflecting on technology and said something to the effect of, "How do you add all of that in when we just need to teach the standards?" Part of me figuring out the ins and outs of tech platforms is to incorperate them into what I am learning about Visible Learning and Powerful Learning. I am hoping to add in the focus of VL and PL (not just platforms) now that I am settled into the school year.
My next steps with Book Creator?
I'd like to keep creating and sharing #onetinytip videos as I think of things that would be helpful to know in BC.
My next project with Book Creator is to create gratitude and reflection books that my students can add to on a regular basis. Still brainstorming with the best way to do that....
Learning and sharing new things keeps me energized and excited about my work. I can't not.
First chunk to distill into an action plan: Visible Learning.
Visible Learning 👀
1. Teach Growth Mindset and Mistakes.
2. Remember: Where am I going? How am I going to get there? Where to next? CLEAR standards and PUNCTUATE the lesson.
3. Discussion Notes for "Who do you want to be? What do you want to do?" p. 69 VL for Literacy. LOVE this. Make copies.
4. Teach strategies for learning that students can access and draw from when they are struggling. Connie Hamilton to thank for this list.
5. Cornell Notes p. 60 VL for Literacy AND sketch-noting.
6. Less teacher talk. I am going to record myself and/or invite others in to observe me and give me feedback.
7. Objective must be obvious and criteria must be posted.
8. Google form to reflect every night. Small quiz every night.
9. Rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal.
10. Use data sheet found on Twitter to keep track of learning.