Monday, March 26, 2018

In Defense of Worksheets #EdChat

Another day on the EduTwitter and another blanket comment on a tool that many teachers use. It's not so much that comments like this happen, it is more that they are used to shame teachers that are genuinely trying their best to help students.

It drives me nuts to see that teachers are still shaming and making blanket statements about tools. Worksheets is one of those ones that is an easy punching bag for EduTwitter criticism. Worksheets carry with them plenty of baggage because they are viewed as the tool of the lazy teacher giving busy work to students instead of engaging assignments that should require higher order thinking and, possibly, lots of fancy tech tools. However, there are plenty of reasons that worksheets are the perfect tool for the right situation.

There is a tremendous amount of privilege in statements that tell all teachers to ditch their worksheets. That is super easy to say to if you are in a district that has 100% of students with access to devices and Internet so all things can be digital. What about those teachers who teach in high poverty areas where students do not have access? What about rural communities that do not have internet at home on a regular basis? Worksheets to collect students thoughts and ideas are needed in these instances because a digital option is not feasible.

What about teachers that do have students with full access to digital tools? A 1:1 school perhaps. There are still instances where a teacher might need a students to write things out in pen or pencil on a worksheet. As an English teacher, I would have students handwrite things often. Having students working on the writing in class is an important skill. Taking notes in class on worksheets could be a great way to help students study. There is actual science that supports taking notes by hand with pen and paper and not on a laptop. Science will tell you that a worksheet in this instance that guides a students taking notes is better than a Google Form or Document.

I am sure there are plenty of examples of worksheets being used appropriately and used poorly. To sit on Twitter and make blanket statements about all worksheets is simply lazy. If you don't want to help people or engage with teachers asking about worksheets, just leave it alone. Don't engage. However, if you want to position yourself as a leader in educational technology, then be prepared to help many different teachers in many different points in their educational journey.

Let's stop making blanket statements and try to help those on their journey.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Breaking Out Of Silos #EdChat

Last week, I stopped by a Spanish class and the students were throwing a party. It was the party unit I was told and the students organized a party and were learning all of the different words that go along with throwing a party. The students were fully engaged and having a great time as they worked through various Spanish words and phrases to communicate their thoughts.

Later on, I headed down the hall and stopped in a Math class and the students were working on multiplying with percentages. Some students were in groups, others were at the whiteboard, and some were watching videos. Every student was fully engaged as the teacher went student to student to see if they needed any help.

The Social Studies class was studying ancient Rome and the Chinese class was filming their own weather reports using a green screen. The Science class was doing blood type testing and the English students were exploring Greek myths.

I was always supportive of the idea of getting out of the classroom and visiting other teachers. I hated the mandatory framework that had been imposed in my previous job because it felt to evaluative of the teacher. I just wanted to see another teacher in action and see what I could learn. I always walked out of every class feeling like I picked up something that would make me a better teacher. It might be something that impacted my overall class lesson planning or something specific about a shared student and how to interact with them.

As a traditional classroom teacher, I had to make the time in my schedule to visit other teachers during an off hour if I wanted to see my peers teacher. It was not easy, but it was important. I knew that I didn't have it all figured out and there were experts all around me, we were just stuck in our silos. It can be nice to hide there from time to time, but it is no place to live as an educator.

It is so important for administrators and teachers to meet to find a way to support visiting other classrooms and just let teachers see other teachers in action. See how they are running a class and interacting with their students. Yes, observing something changes its behavior, but there are still things that can be learned by visiting other teachers over time. Visiting another class should not be viewed as a one time visit for the school year, but a long term process to support your own growth as an educator.

One of the things I make sure to do is send an email to teachers I visit and thank them for allowing me to visit. I mention a couple of the awesome things I saw and tell them I look forward to the next visit. Sometimes a teacher needs another teacher to point out what is working and it makes all the difference.

We are in this for the long haul and we cannot survive if we all hide in our silos and just hope everything works itself out. Getting out and seeing other teachers is just another way to dedicate yourself to becoming a better educator for yourself and, most importantly, for your students.

Do you have a system that works for you to visit other classrooms? Shoot me a message because I'd love to hear about it. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

#NationalWalkOut Thoughts

As an educator that has spent time teaching Civics and Thoreau's Civil Disobedience. While there are plenty of schools that were supportive of the students taking a stand on school violence and chose not to punish these students, I am very proud of the students that were willing to accept punishment for their stance. Threats of punishment are an all to common way for schools to control students. Looking those consequences in the face and leaving class because they felt this was an issue that mattered is brave and should be recognized as such. If you don't think it is brave, you have forgotten what it is like to be a teenager and the pressures to conform.

Our history is littered with examples of non-violent acts of civil disobedience to, hopefully, force change. At times, it has been the only way to make change. I'm not sure where my former students are in their life, but I hope they remember the conversations we had while discussion Thoreau. The greatest revolutions can start with one person refusing to sit down when told. These students are refusing to sit and be silent. Despite efforts from people around the country that want the students to speak when spoken to, this generation of students written off as narcissistic, phone obsessed snow flakes, are going to shout their displeasure with the status quo and then they will speak with their vote.

For educators, we are not surprised to see these students doing these great things on their own. We've seen it in them and many of us have supplied them with skills to make change. These are our children and I couldn't be prouder of them.


Monday, March 12, 2018

Student Voice Through Student Led Conferences #StuVoice

One of the many things I love about my new job is that conferences with parents are not like they are in many places. University Liggett Middle School has Student Led Conferences in place and it is one of the best ways to give students a voice in their education. First, let me break down how we do SLCs.

Every teacher has a group of students from the same grade for 20 minutes a day. We call this advisory. We help kids get organized, email parents about upcoming projects, and generally check in to see how things are going. It acts like a homeroom for the students in the Middle School. I have 9 8th grade boys in my advisory. SLCs run through the advisory class.

Instead of the traditional model of conferences where parents meet every teacher for 10-15 minutes, the student prepare a presentation on how they are doing in each class, what their strengths and weaknesses are, their goals for the coming months, and how they worked on their previous goals. The advisor for the students sits back and only comments if a student has skipped over an aspect they should cover or give the student the credit they deserve for good things going on they might not think are important. Students run the 30 minute block of time with their parents and provide artifacts of their learning for each class. This evidence is key in supporting claims they are making about their learning in each class. I wasn't sure how this was going to work when it started, but it has been awesome to see students take ownership of their learning in this way.

As students prepare for the SLC, they are working with their teachers and advisor to create a presentation that best represents the work they are doing in class. Teachers prepare template slides in Google to help pinpoint the main areas of focus for their content area that were covered for that marking period. The students use advisory time to check in and work on their presentation. We do not require students to use the slides, but they are there if they need them. Most importantly, we are trying to set students up to have a conversation about their education that goes beyond the grades that are on the report card.

Giving students the opportunity to have an active voice in the conversation about their learning should not be a novel idea, but it really is. At the high school level, I was always frustrated that I would meet with parents to discuss the learning habits of their 16 year old child, they would go back and relay what I said, and the student would come back and tell me what the parent said based on what I said. That is a nutty way to communicate about education with a learner who is old enough to have a voice in the conversation. SLCs at Liggett are the perfect way for students to start thinking about their learning in terms of an ongoing conversation instead of a series of benchmarks when the report card shows up.

Students can take more ownership of their learning if they can have a bigger voice. One of my favorite parts of the SLC is the end part where the students tells the parents and teachers what they feel they need from them to be successful moving forward. I love it because it requires the students to think about the overall process of learning and how their community can help them achieve their goals.

I think Student Led Conference are an excellent way to give students a larger voice in their education that allows them to take more ownership of their learning. In the grand scheme of things, that is what we are hoping to do as educators.

Do you do Student Led Conferences? Please leave a comment so we can share the different ways it works.