Peaking at the right time?

As I watch students silently take their state assessments this morning, I couldn’t help but think about the problems of this sort of high-stakes testing.  Is this an accurate measure of a student’s ability?  Can four days of filling in bubbles in a silent room be the determiner of a school’s effectiveness?  Is 8:30 am the best time to test?  I’m sure we could all go on.

This morning was completely dark when I woke up.  I spent fifteen minutes in bed thinking about how I longed for daylight savings to allow the clock to fall back and let me see the sun!

Now I had time to get myself ready and have a coffee, of course, before beginning my workday.  What about the student who told me that she barely caught the bus as it was pulling away and had no time for breakfast, so a glass of milk would have to do?

Reading an article on Yahoo! made me think about the optimal times for doing our various daily activities – “Could you pack more into each day if you did everything at the optimal time?”  Middle school students are still in sleep mode until after 9:00 am. Research shows that to optimize performance we should be starting school later to match the circadian rhythms of our students.

With so much riding on these tests, isn’t it time that we explored different options for the times that we test?  How can we do our best to guarantee that each student has a chance to succeed and help our school to succeed?

Should we be incorporating this information into the making of schedules?  If our goal as teachers is truly to help students learn, shouldn’t we take that into consideration when planning schedules?  Should schedules be individualized and not done at random?


Rachel’s Challenge

After watching last night’s Modern Family, one moment stood out to me.  The father, Phil, shared a book that he titled Phil’s-osophy, which was full of quotes to his college-bound daughter, Haley, who never pays attention to her father.

This morning we attended Rachel’s Challenge with all of the middle schools in our district.  It was an inspiring program about Rachel Scott, who was the first student killed in the Columbine shooting.

The reason I connected these two experiences was that although we might think that teenagers are like Haley from Modern Family, where important quotes, thoughts, and challenges go in one ear and out the other, there are many students who will let a message hit home with them.  At the end of the episode Haley realizes the importance of the message because of what it means for her.  I had many students do the same.  I watched two classes intently write about specific talking points before class discussions today.  Rachel’s Challenge meant something to them. More than just a sad story that may have drawn tears, it was an opportunity to look inside themselves and decide who they want to be.

Here are some of the quotes or points that stood out to me:

  • Why do we forget that expectations will be risen or fallen to?
  • You can write about athletics, a job, college, but can you dream big?  Will you work towards those goals?
  • Don’t limit yourself!  You are smart enough.  You are talented enough.
  • Write your goals down and be specific.  Who do you want to be?
  • I won’t be labeled as ‘average’
  • We have no idea what a person might be thinking about, going through, or dealing with.  Treat everyone with respect and with the compassion that they deserve.
  • What message do you want to spread?
  • You never know what tomorrow brings, what five minutes brings.  How will you leave a person feeling when you are gone?

The final challenge of the day was to tell someone how important they are to you, that you love them, and what they mean to you.  This doesn’t happen nearly enough.  What will people remember about you?

Creating blogs that aren’t obnoxious

I’ve been very concerned with how to help my students create blogs that reflect their personality but aren’t full of distracting background pictures and neon-colored text.  We are at the beginning of our blogging journey and have just created our first post, so this is an important aspect as prepare to unveil our creations.  The question I had was how to get students to realize that their blog might be too distracting for readers without hurting any feelings.  Blogs, much like writing and art, are personal property that can lead to hard feelings when criticized.

Luckily EduBlogs has an awards section that has many great student blogs.  At the start of class we looked at some blogs that are slightly obnoxious with glittery pink titles and pointless ramblings.  It is amazing how easy it is to criticize anonymous writing!

From there, I asked students to go to the awards page from EduBlogs and choose the blog that they thought was the best looking.  We copied and pasted them and put them on Google Docs, then commented  on what made the chosen blog so attractive.  One student noted that the blog he found had “a non-eye-murdering color scheme,” which was very true!

Here is the example I shared to get them started:

Mr. Sanders
I like the way this blog used a solid background color instead of one of those obnoxious pictures that make it so we can’t read the words that are the most important part of a blog!  I want my thoughts to be more important than a picture that I stole from Google  I want to avoid copyright infringement and possible jail time.

We then discussed what we found, and realized that attractive blogs shared many of the following characteristics:

  • Simple
  • Eye-catching
  • Reasonable font size
  • Consistent colors of font
  • Relevant pictures
  • Matching colors for background and text

As we compiled our list, some computers began to open, some heads started to look down, and it was clear that students were realizing that their blog might be one of those that needs some work.  We began sharing our blogs after that and I asked each student who volunteered to give criticism on their own blog.

Students can be hardest on themselves, but they were thoughtful, accurate, and willing to improve their own blog in order to make it great.  What I saw today was another example to me of why the blogging process is valuable.  We are writing for an audience and be proud of what we create!

Real-world bullying

Take a look at this fantastic and inspiring example for students to stand up to bullying from Jennifer Livingston of WKBT News in La Crosse, Wisconsin:


Bullying has been a focus in our school district and in the state of North Dakota.  We continue to develop and implement new programs into our schools.  It continues to put positivity and belonging into the forefront of our minds as educators.

What really hit home for me in the video above was that this behavior is learned.  It is not something that children are born with.  We do not come into this world with the sense that skinny is attractive, tall is manly, and being different is worthy of hatred or criticism.  These things come from examples.

Children at home hear how parents and adults talk about people on TV, at work, or in the drive-thru line at McDonald’s.  These may be unintentional messages to children, but does that make it OK?  It is time to start being intentional with our actions and words.  How will your example live on in the next generation?

As a teacher who has been given more direction and education in the area of bullying, I feel that it is something that deserves our focus.  It is our job as teachers to be examples and take responsibility for what is learned.

As people, it is time to become the examples that are becoming less common.  When a young person sees you, what will he or she take from your example of how to treat people?