Archive | November, 2013

Listen up!

26 Nov

We demand it, we ask for it, we give it, and we get it. At least we hope so. But respect is extremely important when thinking about how we use the Common Core in order to engage our students in close readings, discussions, and Accountable Talks.

Respect is shown when we look at someone who is talking, when we recognize what was said, and we do not repeat each other because we weren’t paying attention. Simple listening skills that we all expect our students to utilize. Yes, I would love to have students doing this while I speak, but I also know that it is a must for when students are speaking to each other. 

Now the question is: how do we teach this? I’ve seen videos like this one from the Teaching Channel that show students listening, reacting, interacting, and commenting appropriately when other students speak. And those are just fourth graders! I want that! Actually, I need that in my classroom.

Is this something that comes from having the same expectations across a team or grade level? Instead, we set different rules and expectations, or worse yet, simply lament the fact that our students do not seem to care about what their body language says to their speaking peers.

As I was reading Kim Campbell’s book If You Can’t Manage Them, You Can’t Teach Them, she talked about respect and the role that it plays in teachers’ sets of rules.

One of my expectations is that we respect each other… After several years of this approach, I realized I was operating under the (faulty) assumption that students understood exactly what I meant. Teachers continually demand respect. But students do not always know exactly what it means or what it looks like in a classroom.

Uh oh. That sounds an awful lot like me. I am very conscious to avoid long rules lists on the first day of school. The word respect encompasses everything that I want to see in my classroom. But the meaning of the word respect varies greatly among my students. That is what needs to change. We need to know what respect looks like in my classroom because that can have the same meaning for everyone.

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One thing I am trying is the use of the hand signals that you see to the right. I recently added the “I agree with you” signal to encourage active listening as well. This gives the listeners a reminder that it isn’t just about the person speaking. It also asks the listeners to think about what they plan to say ahead of time and see where that fits in with what is currently being said.

As teachers, we can spend our time complaining about the poor manners, listening skills, and peer interactions, or we can start teaching students what to do instead. I’m in, now I just need to know where to start!

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#AMLE2013 Quotes

12 Nov

There were so many amazing things said over the weekend. As I take you on a tour through my notes, here are some of the quotes (or as close as I could get) that stood out to me:

“They will suffer through this miserable instruction later, so we better make them miserable now.” – Rick Wormeli

It really is cringe-worthy to hear someone say this. Let’s stop making excuses like this and start getting better. We don’t need to hide behind those excuses and blame others.

” ‘You’re out of control!’ is just like ‘For the next 30 seconds, don’t think of chocolate cake.” – Monte Selby

If we want a behavior to change, just pointing at it isn’t going to help! Give the child something to do instead.

“The kids better be more psyched to read and write when you leave them than when they came to you.” – Jeffrey Wilhelm

Build the excitement and the love!

“When the butt goes numb, the brain goes dumb.” – Kim Campbell

Let’s move more often! I am sick of getting stuck in a rut for too long in class. I need to do myself and my kids a favor and switch things up more often.

” ‘I don’t have pencil.’ Who’s fault is that? Yours! You let them in the room… You don’t enter my room unless you’re ready to learn.” – Jack Berckemeyer

If I could avoid hearing a student tell me that they didn’t have something, it would make my day!

And lastly, a serious one:

If the kids can see the target and know where they are in relation to the target, they hit it overwhelmingly more often than if they do not. – Rick Wormeli

It is time for me to help my students understand what their learning goals are and to be able to articulate them.

Sometimes I wish I could write faster…

#AMLE2013Day1

10 Nov

When I heard that the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) was holding it’s national conference in Minneapolis, it was up to me to do whatever I could to get myself there! Luckily, it happened. I was able hear some incredible presenters such as Jack Berckemeyer, Rick Wormeli, Jeffrey Wilhelm, and Kim Campbell. What a blast!

To make the conference even more valuable, I’ll do what I can to share some of the incredible ideas, activities, and quotes that I picked up. It’s time to do some reflecting through my notes, so I’ll post a few interesting and possibly random points today. Hopefully I’ll dig deeper into some of these in my classroom.

  • Assessment is something we do with and for the student, not something we do to the student.  – This one came from Mark Springer, who has been teaching without grades for over 30 years. His students write a narrative about their quarter in school.
  • Why do we have four columns in our rubrics? (Mark Springer) – Is our implicit message to students that it is acceptable to be “emergent” in a standard? Does a student even know what that means? What if we had three columns: exemplary, proficient, and not yet?
  • Powerful professional development tool: interacting with different scenarios at staff meetings. This came from Wormeli’s session on differentiated instruction. He had many different possible classroom and school scenes, but it is great for teachers to come with their own as well. Have staff members read a couple of scenarios in small groups and brainstorm five ways a highly accomplished, professional teacher would handle that situation. Too often we end up in a situation and only have one or two options. Let’s help each other build our toolbox! Start in a PLC and build some momentum. As Rick says, wherever two or three are gathered!
  • Mad, Sad, Happy (Monte Selby) – If you don’t look happy, and you don’t look sad, what does that leave you? When kids have trouble reading our emotions, it is our responsibility to teach them as well as to be happy ourselves and show it!
  • Use your out-loud manners to show students and children why we are doing something for someone. Instead of just opening the door for someone, let’s talk through it to show why we are doing it as well as how happy it makes the recipient of the good deed. (Selby)

Jeffrey Wilhelm does some incredible things with essential questions, inquiry, and motivation. I’ll give him his own section:

  • Studies have shown that you cannot, no matter what you say, possibly overestimate the role that motivation plays in a child’s education. And to add to that, it was found that students will only match the teacher’s level of enthusiasm for a topic.
  • Good essential questions must do two things: 1. Get at the heart of the discipline. 2. Be compelling to the kids, or as Wilhelm says, “Sexy.” If we aren’t taking the time to pique student interest, we are sunk before we begin.
  • Essential questions cannot be answered by looking it up, understood in a day or two, or easily agreed upon. Let’s have an argument and learn at the same time!

Here are a few examples of essential questions from Wilhelm:

  1. What are your civil rights, and how is this school violating them? (Civil rights unit)
  2. How far are you willing to go to get what you want? (Macbeth)
  3. What makes and breaks relationships? (Romeo and Juliet)
  4. Who will survive? (Dystopian novels/life science)
  5. What determines who wins? (A theme for an entire quarter of math)

The answers to these questions affect students in a way that feels immediate and relevant, perfect for a middle school student.

That was day one of AMLE 2013, from 10 pages of notes down to a few points. Who wants to know more? I’ll be happy to share! Of course, I still have two more days to go through in blog posts…