Posted in Education, Humanities, Language, Learning, Professional Development, Sixth Grade, Students, Teaching

Summer Reading Professional Development Text: Educating English Learners

After a lengthy hiatus brought on by the craziness that is teaching sixth grade at a boarding school, I jumped headfirst right back into Educating English Learners, by Nutta, Strebel, Mokhtari, Mihai, and Crevecoeur-Bryant, now that summer vacation has begun.  While it was quite dense and loaded with vocabulary more geared towards English as a Second Language Teachers, I learned a lot about how to better support and help the English language learners in my class.  I would not recommend this text for light reading as I found myself having to reread several passages because of the syntax and verbosity of the language used.  It’s a great resource for any teacher who works with non-native English students in their classroom.  Although the book doesn’t include neat and easy to use remedies and strategies, it provides the reader with much food for thought and fodder on how to create a caring and supportive environment for all students in the classroom.

My takeaways:

  • English language learners will struggle less when learning English if their native language literacy skills are strong.  While this seems quite simplistic and obvious, when I read this knowledge nugget, I felt as though someone had slung a bag of bricks at my head.  So, the stronger the EL student is in his or her native language, the better equipped he or she will be to tackle the intricacies of the English language.  Knowing this will help me better structure mini-lessons or plans for the ELs in my class.  Talking to parents and looking at student files ahead of time might provide me with the answers I need regarding this issue.
  • To help EL students feel more welcomed and safe at the start of the school year, labelling objects around the room in the native languages represented in the classroom is a good first step in setting up the classroom.  This will help the students know how much I care about them and want them to be successful.  It’s a little thing that is sure to go a long way.  It’s also great for vocabulary development for those EL students in my class.
  • Things that native English speakers take for granted are truly difficult for EL students to learn.  For example, native English speakers know the difference between words when they are used in social contexts or in academic settings.  A party is a social gathering when discussed amongst friends, but in the social studies classroom it refers to a group of people with similar beliefs.  Although the definitions are closely related, to non-native English students, how is it possible that one word can have more than one meaning?  The English language is full of rules, idiomatic expressions, and exceptions to every rule.  Being aware of these challenges will help us better empathize with and support the ESL students in our classroom.
  • If we know that most native English speakers don’t fully grasp why we say what we do and how we say things in English and our ELLs need much help understanding rules of grammar when learning English, why don’t we do more formal instruction in the classroom on the rules and structure of English?  Why don’t we teach the parts of speech and how to use them?  Why don’t we help students learn how to diagram sentences to understand the hows and whys of English?  Why don’t we teach the English language to all of our students?  As I’ve often wrestled with these questions over the years, I’ve suddenly realized that I don’t formally teach grammar and English to my sixth grade students.  Sure, I brush over it at various times when I’m conferencing with students in Writer’s Workshop or helping an ELL in my class; I don’t however, do any full-class instruction on this.  I need to bring back the formal grammar instruction, but I want to make sure I do so in a meaningful, relevant, and engaging way.  Having the students complete worksheets and underline verbs and nouns seems tedious and boring.  I want my students to truly learn English grammar.  I was thinking of starting my Humanities class twice a week with a brain opener activity I would call Grammar Gurus in which I would teach the students about English grammar through fun activities.  It wouldn’t take more than 10 minutes and it would allow me be sure that my students understand the form and function of the English language.  This would also greatly benefit the ELLs in my classroom too.  Nice!
  • Acting out, visually, or through modelling, new or challenging vocabulary terms will better help the EL students in our classrooms understand what we are discussing or asking them to do.  I could use images or diagrams as instructions on worksheets or on our class website to help non-native English speakers better understand what is being asked of them.
  • Much like labelling objects in the classroom in various different languages, having a word wall in the classroom with new vocabulary terms and their definitions in simple English would also help struggling English language learners better understand the content being covered in class.  My co-teacher and I could use this strategy as an introductory lesson for each new unit.  We could introduce the new vocabulary terms that we will cover throughout the unit and help the students generate student-friendly and simplistic definitions for the new words.  Very cool idea!
  • Thematic units or PBLs help ELLs due to the longer exposure to the content and vocabulary terms covered.  If the students are learning about renewable energy in STEM class and also writing about it in Humanities class, the same ideas, concepts, and vocabulary terms will be used in both classes.  The English language learners in the classroom would then be provided with more time to practice understanding the content and processing the new words and concepts.  What a brilliant idea!  I’m going to talk to my co-teacher about crafting more thematic units throughout the year to better support and help the ESL students in our class.
  • While I’ve always known the power in partnering non-native English speakers with native English students, the book made a point to explain the power in pairing students with different languages together when working on a PBL activity that incorporates technology somehow.  The non-native English speaker can receive English support from the native speaker while they are both problem solving in English together.  Not only does this technique help to bridge cultural differences, it also helps both students grow and develop as English language learners.  I need to make sure I continue this tradition of pairing ELLs with native English speakers in the classroom as the evidence and research proves what I’ve known all along.
  • The text discusses the importance of correcting the English language learners in our class in their writing and oral speech.  This goes against my prior knowledge and what I currently do in the classroom.  Rather than correcting the oral speech of the ELLs in my classroom, I work with them one-on-one with their writing.  I provide them feedback on how to improve their written English.  I should do this more consistently and also correct their oral English as well.  The book highlights the importance of doing this so that the students will learn proper English.  If we cottle the ELLs in our classroom, they will not grow and develop as English language learners.  Although this seems like common sense, I’ve never realized the importance of doing so for the ESL students in my class.  I need to do this regularly in the classroom.
  • For ELLs to grow and develop, they need to be receiving direct instruction from an ESL instructor at least once a day along with inclusion in a mainstream class.  The combination of the two will help the students understand the rules and function of the language while also practicing the social and academic rules of English.  In the sixth grade, my ELLs only have ESL class twice a week.  They need to have it every day in order to be appropriately prepared for the rigors of seventh grade English class.  I need to talk with my school’s director of studies to see if this can be changed for next year and beyond.  While ESL class is a regular course in the seventh through ninth grades, it is done differently in the sixth grade.  This needs to be changed.  Perhaps that’s why I see very slow progress from my ESL students over the course of the year.  As I am not a qualified ESL instructor, I can’t help them in all of the ways they need to be supported as they learn the English language.
  • Because my school has almost 50% non-native English speakers, we need more professional development for supporting ELLs in our classrooms.  We need specific strategies, tips, and tricks we can use when working with English language learners.  While reading this book has helped me understand the issue at hand, it is only a tiny piece of the puzzle of working with ELLs.  I’m sure my colleagues would agree when I say that we need much more help and support from our school in working with non-native English speakers.  We need to be taught about teaching ELLs in our classrooms.  We can’t effectively help all of our students if we don’t know how to do so.

While it took me a bit longer than I had hoped to complete this text, it was totally worth the wait and perseverance.  I now know that I need to be much more deliberate and purposeful in teaching the English language to all of my students, and especially to the English language learners in my class.  I feel as though I am much more prepared now to help support the ELLs in my classroom come September.  Yes, I do still need a lot more help in what specific strategies to use when working with the English language learners in my class, but at least I feel like I have some places to start and ideas for how to improve as an English teacher moving forward.

Posted in Curriculum, Education, Learning, New Ideas, Planning, Professional Development, Sixth Grade, Student Support, Students, Summer Reading, Teaching, Trying Something New

Summer Work: What I’ll Do When It’s Hot Outside

While there are times I miss owning a house and having a place to call my own, I don’t miss mowing the lawn, plucking the weeds, and checking to make sure the basement isn’t flooded, again.  The summer months are the worst for homeowners as there is so much to constantly do and redo again and again.  It’s a never ending cycle of sweaty, back-breaking labor.  No, I don’t miss taking care of a house, especially in the summer.  The summer months are for relaxing, spending time with family, and staying cool inside thanks to artificial air from air conditioners.  What a brilliant invention!  If it weren’t for air conditioners, I’d have to spend every summer at the North Pole with Santa and his elves.  Although it would be super cool to help Santa make presents for all the girls and boys around the globe, I’d miss my wife and son too much.  Luckily though, I get to enjoy the best of both worlds with air conditioning and family fun.

As I spend most of the oppressively hot summer days inside, I’m far from bored.  In fact, my summer vacation is the second busiest time of the year for me.  The most hectic time is definitely the regular school year, of course.  In the summer though, I set lofty goals for what I’d like to accomplish.  Last year, I revised my STEM curriculum, learned how to knit, learned how to solve the Rubik’s Cube, and read a few professional development texts.  This year my goals may be a tiny bit higher as I work each year to grow as an educator and individual.

  • Read Two Professional Development Texts
    • As I never finished the book Educating English Learners that I began at the start of this past academic year, part A of my first summer goal is to complete that.  In order to be sure that I best support, challenge, and care for the non-native English speakers that are sure to fill my sixth grade classroom next year, I want to finish reading this text.  I’m hopeful that it will provide me with many valuable and useful strategies that I can apply in the classroom at the start of the year.  This way, I will be better equipped to help the international students in my class be able to effectively learn and grow as English language learners.
    • The professional development summer reading book I chose from the list provided by my school’s administration is Lost at School by Ross Greene.  Although I never read his immensely popular book about how to help difficult or explosive children, I’m excited to dive into this resource for helping students with behavioral issues feel cared for and supported.  I have sometimes found myself fumbling for the best strategy to use to to help students with chronic behavioral issues.  As I know there is clearly some sort of underlying motivation for their poor choices, I struggled, at times, to best help students who seemed to be “too cool for school.”  I’m optimistic that this resource will provide me with much fodder for next year and beyond.  How do I best help students with behavioral issues in the classroom?
  • Read Three Summer Reading Books my Students May Read This Summer
    • As my new co-teacher and I put together a pretty amazing list of possible summer reading books for our new sixth graders, we wanted to be sure that between the two of us, we have read them all.  As there are nine books on the list and we each read one, I’ll be reading three that interest me and my new co-teacher will read four that she’s excited to read and perhaps utilize in STEM class next year.  I’ll be reading Welcome to Camp Nightmare by R.L. Stine, The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce, and The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang.  As I’m a huge fan of young adult literature, I can’t wait to dive into these treasures.
  • Create Mindfulness Curriculum
    • After attending a workshop on the importance of teaching students how to be mindful in this ever distracting world in which we live, I felt compelled to find a way to implement mindfulness into my curriculum.  Since my new co-teacher and I have three extra periods a week with the sixth grade boys in the fall, we now know how we are going to cover this ever important topic with the students.  Once or twice a week, we want to introduce, explain, and have the students utilize mindfulness practices including meditation, breathing exercises, self-awareness, and much more.  As I haven’t had much opportunity to dig into the many resources available online for teaching this important topic, I’m looking forward to having the time this summer to craft a meaningful and appropriate mindfulness curriculum for our new sixth grade students.
  • Revise Humanities Unit on Community
    • Despite truly loving the community unit my co-teacher and I used this past year, I want to take the time to deeply reflect on it.  Does it cover and address the big ideas I want my students to take away from it?  Is it fun and engaging for the students?  Does it take up too much class time or not enough?  Is every part of the unit interconnected?  Are there too many field experiences or not enough?  Should I stick with just the town of Canaan or cover the entire state of NH?  What’s the best way to instruct a unit on community?  I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel by any means and will probably keep most of what I used last year, but I want to take the time to meaningfully look at the unit and what it entails.  Is there a better way to implement a unit on community in the sixth grade?
  • Learn How to Effectively Utilize a Makey Makey Tool
    • Not only is it fun to say, “Makey Makey,” but it’s also a really cool resource to use to get students learning about computer mechanics and circuitry.  As I was recently given a Makey Makey of my own, I feel compelled to not simply learn how to use it, but to learn how to use it effectively so that I can teach students how to use it in our classroom’s Makerspace starting in September.   As the Makey Makey website includes many great tutorials and resources on how to best utilize them in the classroom, I’m excited about playing with this cool new tool this summer.  I wonder what amazing knowledge I will gain from learning how to use the Makey Makey.  I can’t wait to find out.
  • Research Grading Rubrics and Create Several Different Types
    • As I am moving into year one of my school’s Individualized Teacher Improvement Plan (ITIP) beginning in September, I felt it prudent to choose a topic that I could begin focusing on this summer.  While teacher and student reflection is definitely my jam, I already do it and have seen tangible results because of its utilization in and out of the classroom; therefore, I’ve decided on a topic that will force me to look at how I assess and grade student work.  Although I’ve seen the benefits of using the objectives-based grading model in the sixth grade classroom over the past several years that I’ve used it, grading and assessing student work still proves to be a bit subjective at times.  Is this because the objectives I’ve created are too subjective or open to individual interpretation?  Do these challenges stem from having expectations for my students that are too high or too low?  What is causing the issues that I’ve seen regarding the grading and assessment of student work?  To help me figure out what might be at play here, I’ve decided to focus on the grading tool I use to assess student work.  While I’ve never been a fan of prescriptive rubrics as I feel they steal creativity and problem solving from the students, I’ve only been using a bare-bones list of expectations the students need to meet when completing a project or assignment.  Is this enough for the students to be able to effectively demonstrate their ability to meet or exceed the graded objectives?  Should I use rubrics instead so that the students know how to meet and exceed the graded objectives for a particular task or assignment?  Might that help or would it limit what the students could do because rubrics are so explanatory?  Are there different types of rubrics I should use?  What is the most effective way to introduce an assignment and grade and assess student work using the objectives-based grading model?
    • So, this summer, I want to research grading rubrics and their effectiveness in the classroom.  What type of rubric works best?  Do rubrics work?  What data have teachers and schools collected on assessment that might help me address my ITIP topic?  I also want to create a few different types of grading tools and rubrics that I could utilize in the classroom to collect my own data on assessment.

So, that’s it.  That’s my plan for the summer in between chauffeuring my son around to his driver’s education course and football training commitments as well as spending time with my wife and making sure I do as much as I can to help out around the house since I’m quite absent when the academic year begins.  So, bring on the heat as I’ll be keeping cool and busy inside this summer with my epic workload and professional development goals.  Go me!

Posted in Boys, Challenges, Co-Teacher, Education, Learning, Professional Development, Teaching

What’s the Best Way to Teach Gender and Sexuality to our Students?

My co-teacher and I read an article yesterday from Independent School magazine on the importance of teaching gender and sexuality issues to our students.  It was very enlightening.  It raised many valuable points on why we need to address and teach these concepts and ideas to our students in every grade from K-12.  Our students need to understand that not every student is the same as not every boy may feel like a boy inside.  The article written by Jennifer Bryan included many great points on how to teach these concepts and ideas in the classroom.  The big takeaway for me was that the responsibility of teaching gender and sexuality issues is not up to one person such as the health teacher; it is every teacher’s responsibility to address these issues in their course and curriculum.  English teachers could choose novels that deal with issues of gender roles or sexuality while history teachers could cover the historical significance of these concepts and how they have evolved over time.  Every teacher needs to help their students understand and respect the gender and sexuality of every other student, regardless of the sex the student was born.  Creating an inclusive and accepting community makes all students feel safe and respected so that genuine learning can happen.

After reading this article, my co-teacher and I felt as though our school has some work to do to be more inclusive and supportive of every student.  We don’t cover and address these concepts in every class or every grade.  Our school takes a health class approach to teaching about sexuality and gender and it only happens for a few weeks during the spring term.  On top of that, these concepts are only briefly covered, superficially so in those classes.  What must our students think when we skim over such an important identity-related topic?  Does gender and sexuality not matter?  What if one of our students is still questioning where they fit into the whole spectrum of gender and sexual orientation?  Do they feel supported and respected?  Within the current model used at our school, we would argue that students who are still questioning their identity don’t feel as though they can safely do so at our school.  So, now what?

Rather than talk about utopian ideals that we wish our school could live up to, my co-teacher and I decided to take a stance and do something about this.  We set up a meeting with the Director of Studies at our school so that we could share our ideas and concerns with him.  Our hope is that we can have training on this topic for the full faculty during faculty orientation prior to the start of our next academic year.  Perhaps we could bring a specialist to campus or simply have some discussions on the topic.  How can we be sure that every teacher is purposefully and meaningfully covering this topic within their curriculum?  How can we do a better job as a school of teaching these concepts to our students?  How can we make our community more accepting and inclusive?  We are hopeful that something can be put into place to bring about change at our fine institution so that we can become a school that helps students see themselves for who they are and can be proud to celebrate their identity without fear of persecution.

Posted in Education, Professional Development, Uncategorized

Teaching Teachers May Not Be Easy, But it Certainly is a Ton of Fun

Thursday and Friday of this week, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the New England League of Middle Schools’ annual conference in Providence, Rhode Island.  It was a hoot.  I had so much fun learning new techniques for teaching math to students, how to effectively utilize data to enhance my teaching practices, and how to construct and implement a meaningful and relevant unit on mindfulness.  I met some amazing educators from other cities and states and enjoyed some tasty food at the Providence Place Mall.  Despite all of this awesomeness, my highlight was definitely being a presenter for one of the last sessions of the day on Friday.

I presented my session on The Power of Teacher and Student Reflection.  I was of course nervous and scared.  Will they like me?  Will I speak clearly?  Will I forget what I wanted to say?  What if the projector doesn’t work?  What if my computer breaks?  What if the Internet flakes out on me?  What if the snowstorm prevents anyone from attending my session?  So yes, I was a big ball of nerves.  The presenter before me went over her time a bit, which also stressed me out as I was worried that I wouldn’t have sufficient time to get set up for my session.  However, like I frequently tell my students, I just needed to relax, take a deep breath, and jump in feet first.  So, I did just that.

I was set up with ten minutes to spare and so I used that time to interact with the teachers who had wandered, hopefully purposefully, into my session.  I passed out some paraphernalia on my school to them and shared pieces of student and teacher reflection I had compiled and created over the course of the year.  It felt good.  Everyone seemed excited and interested in my topic.  Yah, I thought.  I was feeling pretty good, despite still being quite nervous.

As I got started, things seemed to go smoothly.  I made sure to start out by telling the teachers in attendance that I would not be offended if they left my session part way through.  “I want you to make the most of this conference.  So, if you feel like this session isn’t giving you what you had hoped it would, please leave and find a session that will help you grow as an educator.  I will not at all be offended.”  I hope this statement helped the attendees feel a little more at ease.  I then jumped right into my session.  I posed questions to the audience and stirred up some conversations early on.  I even made them laugh once or twice.  I did my thing and tried to showcase why teachers should reflect on a daily or regular basis and why we, as teachers, should help our students see the benefit and value in self-reflection.  I shared examples from this very blog as well as samples of student surveys my co-teacher and I used in the classroom.  The attendees asked some clarifying questions and seemed engaged.  As my session was drawing to a close, I gave those in attendance some options, like what we do for our students as teachers.  “As this session is almost over, feel free to leave and head home or stay and work on applying some of what we talked about today.  I’ll be here if you have any questions or would like help on anything at all.”  I wanted the teachers to feel supported but also not bound to stay and work if they needed or wanted to leave.  I then wrapped my session up with some closing remarks, reminding the teachers to complete the online survey for this session to provide me feedback that I can use to reflect upon later regarding this session.  Phew, I made it without throwing up or peeing my pants.  Yah for me! I had taught teachers how and why they should reflect and teach their students to do the same.  It felt good to finish.  I felt a true sense of accomplishment.

Several of the teachers in attendance came to me before leaving the session to thank me for my time and ideas.  “They liked me, they really, really liked me!”  It felt great.  I had helped teachers.  I kind of felt like a superhero, but not one of those famous ones like Aquaman or She-Hulk, but one of those extra special super heroes like Eddie Vedder or Kevin Spacey.  I was helping to make a difference in the lives of others.  It felt quite rewarding.  So, my initial thought on how my session went was positive and upbeat.  I feel like things went well with yesterday’s session.  But of course, we all know how critical we can be of ourselves.  On my drive home, I then started analyzing every aspect of my session and realized that I could have done a much better job.  I didn’t help those teachers in attendance as much as I could have.  I could have done more, said more, and made my presentation much more useful and relevant.  Here is my true, thoughtful analysis of my presentation:

  • I didn’t really explain how to help students understand why they should learn to be reflective.  A teacher asked how I help my students see the value in reflection and really take it seriously.  I didn’t have much of an answer for her.  I did say that it comes down to building a culture of reflection and mindfulness in the class and school.  The teacher needs to explain why the students are reflecting so that they see the relevance to them.  While my response did address her question, I feel as though I left this aspect out of my presentation.  I didn’t really go over how to make powerful student reflection happen in the classroom.
  • I didn’t show an example of an eportfolio that I use in the classroom with my students.  I wish I had been able to share an example with the teachers in my session so that they could see how we use reflection to help the students begin to take ownership of their learning and be self-aware of their habits as a student.  A teacher asked about this and I just verbally explained it.  I wish I had thought more about showing specific examples in my presentation.  I felt like that was a big piece missing from my slideshow.
  • I wish I had asked the teachers more questions.  I felt like I did a lot of the talking.  While I did ask the teachers to share their ideas on how they reflect as teachers and how they have their students reflect, I wish I had made the session more of an open forum or discussion rather than teacher-directed.  I know that having some sort of skeleton to drive the presentation is crucial, but I feel like I had the whole body, flesh and bones and all, and didn’t allow for too much flexibility.

I know that the age old adage, “We are our harshest critic,” rings true in this situation.  After reflecting on my presentation, I noticed things that didn’t stick out in the moment.  I saw mistakes that I felt I had made.  Sure, it’s always good to reflect on one’s work and look for ways to grow and improve; however, I also want to make sure that I celebrate the good things in life as well.  I did a pretty amazing job sharing some knowledge nuggets with fellow educators so much so that they provided me specific, positive feedback on my session before leaving.  So, I clearly did some things correctly yesterday.  Yeah, I made mistakes too and I now know what I need to do the next time I present at a conference for teachers.  Self-reflection helps me see the big picture, rather than just looking at the minutia or focusing on one aspect of my work.  I take both the good and the bad into consideration when learning from my mistakes and successes.  Life is a never-ending learning process.  Just like Dallas Green so wonderfully tells us in his song Save Your Scissors, “And I’ll keep on running this never ending race,” I need to remember that I will never do anything perfectly, but I will do plenty of great and amazing things; in the meantime though, I’m just going to keep on running this figurative race to the best of my ability.

Posted in Education, Professional Development, Teaching

It’s Goal Reflection Time!

Several years ago, right around this time of the year in fact, I decided to make a change.  I wanted to grow as an educator.  I didn’t want to stay stagnant any longer.  I wanted to better support, challenge, and help my students.  I no longer wanted to be okay with being just a good teacher.  I wanted to become a great teacher.  So, I started this very blog in hopes of learning something from myself.  Wait a minute, that sounds strange.  Shouldn’t I already have been learning from myself?  While one would hope, I clearly decided that I had not been effectively learning from myself.  I wanted to be more deliberate and purposeful about how I learn from myself and my teaching.  I wanted to take time every day to reflect on my teaching.  What went well?  What did I struggle with?  What was a struggle for my students?  How can I do better tomorrow?  That’s where the blog came in.  I decided to commit to spending 15-30 minutes every teaching day to reflecting, in writing on this blog, on my teaching practices.  Looking back on that time in my life, I am so thankful that I decided to bring about change within me.  This blog and my daily reflections have allowed me to grow as an educator exponentially over the past few years.  I am now, in my eyes at least, a great teacher because I take the time to learn from my mistakes or embrace the awesomeness each and every day.  I encourage all teachers, and people for that matter regardless of your profession, to take time out of your busy schedule to reflect, even if it’s not in writing, on how your day went.  It will make you a better teacher and person.  Because I’m always thinking about how to grow and improve my craft as a teacher, I find myself reflecting in the moment now.  How can I make the next second or minute of my teaching better than the previous one?  It’s almost like the Force from Star Wars, but this is more of a reflective force.  I can improve my teaching mentally, right then and there, because I’m always looking back on what just happened in order to make the next experience even better.  I’m sort of like Obi-Wan except with a way better outfit.

With mental lightsaber in hand, I tackle my next reflective moment: My professional Goals.  Earlier this year, I set two goals for myself as a teacher.  While I’ve kept them in the forefront of my mind since then, I haven’t formally reflected on my progress in working towards my goals.  How’s it going?  So, what better time than right before the holiday break to reflect on my progress in working towards meeting my goals.

My first goal was to learn how to better support and help the English Language Learners (ELL) in my class.  I felt as though I was lacking in this aspect of my teaching.  I’ve never had formal training on how to teach ESL students and so I felt at a bit of a loss earlier this year.  To help me work towards meeting this goal, I started reading a book all about how to best help ELLs in the classroom.  It seems like a great resource, but I have only read about the first 20 pages.  I need to devote much more time to reading this book in 2017.  I have also done some research online to find out how other teachers help their ESL students.  This approach hasn’t proved too fruitful yet.  What I have learned and realized on my own is that I need to be mindful about my oral and written instructions.  I need to simplify the English language used so that my ELLs can comprehend and understand what I’m saying or asking them to do.  This has helped.  I’ve been much more cognizant of the words I’m using when providing instructions for tasks or activities.  I also have all of my students, but especially my ESL students, take notes on the whiteboard tables with questions they have while I’m talking.  This has allowed them to more effectively ask for help or clarification.  As I’ve seen much progress from the ELLs in my class, it’s hard to tell if it is as a result of the changes I’ve made in my teaching or if it’s just them.  Exposure to the English language in the full immersion-style of my school has probably helped them learn a lot.  They feel much more comfortable speaking the language now than they once did because their vocabulary and confidence has grown.  Is this because of me or them?  It could be a mix of both, me and them.  Regardless, I do feel like I have a way to go to meet this goal.  I want to finish reading the professional resource I started months ago and I want to add some new strategies to my toolbelt so that I can better support the ELLs in my classroom starting ASAP.  I don’t like feeling lost or helpless.

My second goal was to follow through with every new idea or activity I started at the beginning of the school year.  I wanted to make sure that I continued having my students work on learning to solve the Rubik’s Cube, observe and learn from their assigned Forest Plot, and learn more about coding from the online website Codecombat.  So, far, I’ve met this goal.  Everything I started doing in September, I’m still doing.  Every other Tuesday, the students go out to the forest to observe their assigned plot of land.  They record their observations in their farm journals.  Every Saturday, the students work on solving the Rubik’s Cube.  Five of my 14 students have already learned how to solve it.  My goal is for everyone to learn how to solve it by the end of the year.  Fingers crossed.  My students still utilize the coding website Codecombat on a weekly basis.  Many of the students even work on it outside of class as they enjoy it so much.  This is excellent.  I love that I found a tool that engages and teaches.  I hope that I’m able to continue meeting this goal by the end of the academic year.  Being sure that I include these activities in my unit plans is one very helpful way to be sure I keep on using them in the classroom.

So, there you go.  I’m working towards one goal and meeting another.  At this point, I don’t feel like I need to put more on my plate since I want to really focus my effort on meeting my first goal by the start of the next academic year.  I need to keep on learning new strategies, trying new things, and reflecting on them.  Until next year, this is me reflecting and learning from myself.  Who knew that I was full of such good ideas or had so much to teach myself?  The power of reflection is amazing.

Posted in Class Discussion, Current Events, Education, New Ideas, Professional Development, Students, Teaching, Trying Something New

The Benefits of a Silent Discussion

In early November, I attended the New Hampshire Council for the Social Studies annual conference in Manchester.  It was a wonderful day filled with useful workshops and great discussions with colleagues.  I learned a lot that day; however, one of the most valuable nuggets of knowledge I learned was the silent discussion.  What is a silent, discussion you ask?  How can a discussion be silent, you’re probably thinking to yourself?  A silent discussion is much like a round-robin writing activity.  The students respond, in writing, to a guiding question regarding a discussion topic.  They discuss the topic in writing for a given amount of time.  Then, the students pass their papers onto another student, read what the previous student read on this new paper, and then add to the current discussion started by the previous student.  It allows those quiet and shy students a better chance to get involved in the discussion and showcase their learning.  This idea seemed cool to me at the time.  I thought I might try it in my classroom.  Perhaps, I thought, it might allow some of my ESL students more processing time and thus, better allow them to demonstrate their ability to meet the class discussion objective.

So, this past Saturday, during our final Humanities class prior to Thanksgiving Break, I had my students participate in a silent discussion as a way to discuss a current event I introduced to the boys.  Usually, on Saturdays in class, we discuss a current event topic in small groups.  While this has been effective for most students, some of the boys haven’t been as involved as I feel their potential shows.  Perhaps they are nervous or shy or maybe they need time to think before sharing their ideas.  Why not try something new, I thought to myself?  Our topic was President-elect Donald Trump’s plan for education.  We read an article from Newsela together as a class.  I clarified a few points that I thought might be confusing for our ESL students, but did not allow for questions during this time as I wanted them to save their thoughts and ideas for the silent discussion.  Our guiding question was, Should President-Elect Donald Trump focus on School Choice and Vouchers or the Public School System in America when he takes office in January?  After handing out paper to each student, the boys got right to work.  Many of the students vigorously etched onto their paper for about two minutes while one or two students struggled to write more than a few words.  Perhaps they were taken by surprise with the short time limit and those students who wrote very little would write more following the first switch, I thought.  Then they passed their papers onto the next student, read what was there, and had two more minutes to add to the discussion.  Almost every student seemed more focused during this second chunk of writing time.  I was impressed.  Then, they switched one final time to add to one more discussion.  When time ended on the last writing period, the boys started switching their papers again as they wanted to keep going.  They seemed to like this silent discussion method, I thought.  Yah!

I wrapped up class by reading a few of the discussions aloud.  They were pretty darn good.  I was impressed.  The students used examples from the article and their own ideas to take a stance on the issue of education in our country.  Wow!  I shared these thoughts with the boys before I asked for their feedback on this method of discussing a topic.  What did you think of this way of discussing current events compared to a whole group or small group oral discussion?  Most of the boys seemed to like all three methods equally, but one or two students did like this method of a silent discussion better because they felt as though they had the opportunity to genuinely share their thoughts with others.  They did wish we had more time to switch with every student so that the discussions could have grown into something greater though.  No one seemed to think that the oral method of discussing a topic was better than the silent discussion strategy.  Nice!  I might use this again later in the year when there is more time to really dig into our discussion topic.

I found this silent discussion method beneficial for almost every student.  Most of the ESL students in my class seemed to like this method better because they felt like they had time to collect their thoughts and write.  My weakest ESL student still struggled to convey any sort of coherent ideas or thoughts on this topic, much as he has done during previous small group oral discussions.  He doesn’t seem to be understanding the conversation or ideas on a level that makes sense to him or his peers.  The ideas he jotted down on paper were basic and just reiterating what was already discussed by the previous student.  I was hoping that this method of discussion would help him as he felt that he wasn’t able to jump into the small group discussions in the past weeks because he felt like everyone was hogging the conversation.  Despite having two solid minutes to add to the discussion in writing, he failed to showcase any sort of learning or understanding.  This student’s issues are much greater than just not being able to add his insight to a class discussion.  Overall though, this silent method of discussing a current event topic proved beneficial to my class.  I send a shout-out to the professor from Plymouth State University who shared this idea with me and others. Thanks for the idea and support.  #yahforteachersharing

Posted in Education, Professional Development, Teaching, Uncategorized

Lessons I Learned from My Summer Vacation

Over the years, life has taught me much: Don’t talk to strangers, eat your vegetables, don’t swallow gum, don’t mix Pop Rocks candy with Coke, don’t get into white vans, and don’t use temporary tattoos with strange symbols on them.  Each new experience, brings with it new lessons and morals.  The older I get, the more life seems to throw repeats at me.  Sometimes it feels like I’m watching Nick at Night and that same episode of Full House is playing.  Or maybe, I’ve just grown so accustomed to life teaching me something that I ignore the lessons.  Whatever the reason, over the past few years, I feel as though I’ve learned less than ever before from life.  Everything seems to be bleeding together, like the cup of water used to rinse a paintbrush creating a brilliant picture of flowers using water colors.  However, this summer seemed different.  While I don’t feel as though I learned too many new lessons, I do feel as though my experiences from this summer changed me.  I feel a bit different, like that time I got new glasses after having the same glasses for five years.  The colors are more vivid and things seem four-dimensional.  It’s pretty sweet.

In no particular order, I will recount the summer experiences that helped make my life a bit more vivid.

  1. Experience: Taking my son to a football camp.  In mid-June, my family travelled south a bit to Connecticut, for my son to participate in a Football University Camp.  It was intense, for both him and us.  The weather was hot and sunny, which may be why I dropped some weight that weekend.  I sweat off what felt like 20 pounds.  I hate being hot.  At the camp, my wife and I learned all about football recruiting for our son.  It’s crazy!  He needs to have video footage and a profile online in order for college coaches to see him and thus recruit him.  First off, I didn’t even know my son was that committed to football.  I knew he liked playing it, but him wanting to attend this camp made me realize how serious he is about the sport.  He seems to want to focus on football, moving forward.  While I’m not a huge fan of him doing so because of all of the health and safety risks associated with playing football, I do like that he has found a passion and is setting some goals for himself.  That’s great, I just wish it was with a sport that is a bit less aggressive.  Oh well, since I can’t force him to go pro in ping pong, I guess football is okay.  Life Lesson: Setting life goals and finding one’s passion is crucial to make progress and bring about change in one’s life.  I am now constantly thinking about how I can change and grow as an educator, which perhaps is one of the reasons why I did accomplish so much professional work this summer.  Sometimes I wonder who is teaching whom, me or my son son?
  2. Experience: Helping family friends move from Florida to New Hampshire.  In early July, a friend and I, flew down to Florida, which was hotter than my armpit after a trip to the sauna, to help his in-laws move their belongings back to New Hampshire.  After arriving, we loaded the moving truck with as much of their stuff as possible.  The next morning, we loaded the remainder of their things into the truck and made our long journey north.  We had decided to make a few stops along the way, for fun.  Our first adventure included going to an alligator farm.  Alligators raised in a farm, controlled setting seem very docile and not scary at all.  I almost felt like cuddling up to one as they sat in their tank of water, but then I realized it was way too hot to cuddle.  Our next stop was Hilton Head, South Carolina.  I heard so many cool stories about people vacationing there.  So, I figured, let’s check it out.  What a hot waste of time that was.  There was not much there except a beach and some stores.  Whoopie doo!  We then traveled to Atlantic City, New Jersey.  Now that was awesome.  Well, it was a bit scary being caught in a torrential downpour, but walking around the city and casinos was so neat.  It’s amazing.  Stores in the casinos are open all day and night.  So, if you have a hankering for a cookie at two in the morning, Mrs. Fields is open.  How cool is that?  Atlantic City was definitely the highlight of the trip for me.  Our last stop before heading back to New Hampshire was the Pocono Mountain range in Pennsylvania.  I wanted to go to some epic flea markets.  Who doesn’t love a good bargain.  We went to two amazing flea markets.  The last one was by far the best.  It had a huge inside part with a store that sold old Nintendo games.  For a few moments, I was thrust back into my childhood playing Super Mario Brothers for hours on end.  Ahh, the good ol’ days.  While the trip only lasted five days, we accomplished a lot.  Life Lesson: Take risks and try new things.  Even though we arrived to Atlantic City tired and wet from rain, we decided to walk around the boardwalk a bit.  It was awesome.  So many sounds and bright lights.  It was like that rave I never went to.  As a teacher, I’m going to try new things in the classroom this year, even if they scare me a bit.
  3. Experience: My son having a cardiac event at a football camp in South Carolina.  There we were, my son and I, in hot and steamy South Carolina, for another football camp.  Things started off swimmingly.  The drive down was long but good.  The first meetings at the camp went well.  Then came the first practice.  My son looked really good.  He made some epic catches.  I was a proud dad.  Then, I didn’t see for a while.  I wondered where he had gone.  As I made my way to the water tent to see if he was there, a medic called my name.  “Mark Holt!”  My son was down on the ground, clutching his chest.  It was one of every parent’s nightmares.  What was wrong?  Would he be okay?  He complained of pain in his heart and couldn’t move or really talk.  We were rushed to a strange hospital in a strange place via an ambulance.  Luckily, he soon felt better and it seemed as though we would be discharged after only a few hours at the hospital.  Then, the doctor came in and closed the door.  Now, we all know that nothing good is ever said behind closed doors.  I started to get nervous.  What was going on with my son?  One of the blood tests came back positive for a cardiac enzyme that tells doctors that some sort of cardiac event had occurred.  The doctor in the ER wanted us to see a specialist before going home, and since they didn’t have a pediatric cardiologist at that hospital, they needed to transfer us to another hospital in North Carolina, about 45 minutes away.  What?  My wife was back in New Hampshire and I was alone with my son in South Carolina.  Fortunately, my son had no real idea what was happening because he felt fine.  He said, “Why can’t we just leave the hospital?”  Once we got transferred to the larger Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, they did more tests and found out that whatever cardiac event had happened to him, it was minor and didn’t seem to cause any noticeable issues.  So, they discharged him later that afternoon.  While my wife and I were relieved that he was being dismissed from the hospital, we were still anxious about what had caused the event.  A few weeks later, once we saw a specialist back home, our fears were quelled when a stress test revealed that whatever happened to him probably wasn’t heart-related.  That was great news.  Life Lesson: Fake it ’till you make it.  In the hospital, I appeared to my son and the hospital staff as calm, cool, and collected, while inside I was a complete mess.  I just rolled with it externally while my insides felt like a fish out of water.  I was so scared for my son.  As a teacher, I’m really good at faking it and letting personal stresses stay personal, but, every once in awhile, I do allow my emotions to get the better of me.  This year, I’m going to work on keeping everything in check, all the time.  If I can come across as serene while my son is being rushed to the hospital, then I’m sure I can remain in control in the classroom.
  4. Experience: Family trip to Maine.  My wife’s family rented two cabins on Highland Lake in Bridgton, Maine for a week in August.  My wife, son, and I, along with my wife’s parents, her sister, and her two kids, spent the week together.  The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm every day.  It was only really hot one day, but got really cool one night.  There was so much to do right there at the lake.  My son and his cousins went fishing, kayaking, and swimming.  We played horseshoes and had a campfire every night.  It was so peaceful and relaxing.  It was just what my family needed before school starts back up for me and before we drop my son off at his new school.  Life Lesson: Take YOU time.  Having time to oneself is so beneficial for recharging the emotional battery.  We all need some down time on a regular basis.  Whether you read a book, listen to music, fish, or something else, it’s vital to your sanity and the sanity of those you live and work with to take a break every once in awhile.  As our schedule at my school is so hectic, I do need to remember to take me time more frequently than I have in the past.  Perhaps I should take up a new hobby or just play some of the old school video games I recently purchased.  Anybody up for a game of NBA Jam on the Sega?

Together, these experiences helped shape my summer, and changed me.  I feel a little different.  With faculty meetings for my school beginning tomorrow morning, I’m feeling energized, excited, and ready to go.  Bring on the new students, new ideas, new teachers, and new experiences.  I can’t wait to see how this new year will bring about more changes within me.

Posted in Education, Professional Development, Sixth Grade, STEM, Teaching, Trying Something New

Summer Reflections Part IV: Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks is Easy, Sort of

Learning to play the guitar was an interesting adventure.  It all started because I wanted to be a famous guitarist like Slash from Guns’n’Roses.  I used to love their first album Appetite for Destruction.  Sweet Child of Mine is still one of my favorite songs from them.  Anyway, before I digress too much and tell the story of how my parents forbade me from listening to Guns’n’Roses and so I had to sneak their double album into my room when I was a teenager.  That’s a completely different story, yet great none the less.  So, I wanted to be like Slash and I decided that I wanted to learn how to play the guitar.  Since my school didn’t offer guitar lessons, my parents found a local music shop that did.  Things were great when I first started taking lessons.  The instructor was nice and I was a quick learner.  Then, things went south.  First, the lessons and skills covered became increasingly difficult and I didn’t want to put in the time and energy needed to practice and hone my craft. Second, my instructor became very aggressive and distracting.  During lessons, he would whack my hand with a pointing stick whenever I did something wrong, which was frequently.  That hurt even though it was only a metal coated, plastic rod.  When he would put the pointer down, he would pick up a banana and eat while I played.  As he gave me instructions, pieces of chewed banana flew onto my guitar, hands, and sometimes, my face.  If you’ve never had chewed food spat upon you, let me just say, it’s nasty.  So, within four months, my rock and roll dreams died faster than Milli Vanili’s career.  I just didn’t have the patience or drive needed.  While it didn’t help that my instructor was a bit strange, it was mostly my fault.  I didn’t really want to become a guitarist that badly.  To this day, I wish I had stuck with it.  Oh well.

Unlike my guitar catastrophe, I didn’t want two of my summer goals that involved learning new things to fall to the wayside.  I wanted to feel some success.  So, when I decided to learn how to knit and solve the Rubik’s Cube, I persevered despite the many hardships I faced.  I never gave up until I had succeeded and boy did that feel good.

As the farm program started to solidify in mid-June, I started to realize that I needed to learn how to knit so that I could help my students as they took on hand work projects of their own.  Luckily, I am blessed to have a crafty wife who is a skilled knitter.  So, one evening, I had her show me how to knit.  She began by showing me how to cast on.  This was tricky and took multiple tries.  But, I did eventually do it.  Then she worked in the knit stitch.  That was much easier.  I spent about an hour practicing and honing my new skill.  I felt very comfortable in the end.  Then came day two.  I wanted to practice casting on and knitting again, by myself as my wife was at work.  I quickly realized that I had forgotten everything.  But, I didn’t give up or stop.  I found some informative YouTube videos that covered the same skills; however, most of the videos either went too fast or were so confusing that I just couldn’t follow them.  When I finally found, the right video, I watched it a few times until I mastered casting on and knitting.  I practiced several times that day.  Then I practiced even more the next few days until I felt at ease casting on and knitting.  Before moving onto the purl stitch and casting off, I wanted to wait for my wife’s help.   Unfortunately, June and July were busy times in the Holt Household and so it wasn’t until mid-July that we finally had a free moment together.  She then showed me how to purl and cast off.  Since I had learned the basic stitch already, these two new skills came quite easily.  After practicing several more times over the preceding days, I felt as though I had mastered the basics of knitting.  I made a few small doilies to showcase my new skill.  I finally felt confident in the art of knitting.  I had learned a new skill despite struggling at first.  My fingers were not meant to knit.  The yarn is so thin and the needles so small.  I had a heck of a time getting one needle to go under another to make the stitches.  But, I did it.  I used a growth mindset and persevered.  I wanted to encounter the same types of problems my students would so that I would be able to empathize with them.  Knitting is no easy skill, but it is not an impossible skill.  I’m hopeful that it will help some of my sixth graders with their fine motor skills and handwriting.  We’ll find out in November and December when we get into fiber work as part of our farm program.

While knitting did prove challenging, it was more of a physical one than a mental challenge.  Learning to solve the Rubik’s Cube was purely a mental challenge, and boy was it challenging.  First, I watched several different YouTube videos until I found one that worked for me.  Then, I watched it many times.  I paused, practiced on the cube, rewound the video, rewatched the video, and repeated this series several hundred times until I mastered the first few steps.   Then, I went onto the final few steps that involved a series of algorithms performed in a certain manner.  This took a few tries, but was much easier since I had learned the basics of solving the cube already.  I was so excited when I had first solved the cube, I jumped up from my seat and yelled.  I had done it!  I practiced the first few steps several time more until I had them mastered.  Then, I just needed to look at my cheat sheet to solve the final three steps.  There are just far too many algorithms for me to memorize.  I had it.  My fastest time was 5 minutes and 46 seconds.  That was impressive.  However, not clearly as impressive as those kids who can solve a cube in five seconds.  I’m not sure how that is possible.  I have even seen a former student of mine do it and I still didn’t believe it.  Was he a robot?   That’s amazing.  I’m nowhere near that, but I feel quite good with my basic ability.  My goal in learning how to solve the cube is to be able to help my students troubleshoot problems they encounter as they learn how to solve the Rubik’s Cube in STEM class this year.  I now feel as though I am capable of that.

Of the two new skills I learned this summer, solving the Rubik’s Cube was definitely the most difficult.  It required much focus and concentration.  I had to translate what I saw in the videos to my three-dimensional cube.  I messed up a lot at first because of that.  But I never gave up, I just kept at it until I had it.   Everything I hope for my students this year, I accomplished this summer.  I hope that is enough to be the teacher my students need me to be come September.  I certainly don’t want them to give up on their dreams of knitting and solving the Rubik’s Cube like I did regarding the guitar.  So, note to self, no bananas in the sixth grade classroom this year.

Posted in Curriculum, Education, Professional Development, Summer Reading, Teaching

Summer Reflections Part II: Summer Reading Recap

When I was in high school, I was forced to read some awful novels.  Because of this, to this day, the thought of William Shakespeare makes me want to gouge out my eyes.  When I was younger, I felt as though there were many books that should never have been written.  They were a waste of resources, time, and energy.  And, I had to read them.  So, being the rebel I was, I raised my middle finger in the air and didn’t read many of the books I was assigned.  I took shortcuts.  I read the Cliff Notes version of many books back then.  In retrospect, I wish I had just read the books.  I feel now as though I missed out on a lot because of my too-cool-for-school attitude.  But, at this point, I want to leave the past in the past while still learning from it.  So, I now have a rule when reading a new book: I must finish every book I begin no matter how boring or horrible it may be.  That’s the only reason I finished any book by Suzanne Collins.

This summer my reading list was short on purpose.  I wanted this summer to be different.  I wanted to dig into curriculum development a bit more this summer and so I knew I needed time for this.  With that as my guiding focus, I read only two professional development texts this summer.  As I already spent several blog posts earlier in the summer debriefing these two novels, I will not labor over them individually.  I will say that they were great reminders of why we as teachers do what we do.  We are innovators and engineers of the future because we see the problems that exist in our world and desperately want to fix them.  The two books I read this summer beat the same very drum I use as a teacher.  That was reassuring and nice to see.  They also taught me some new things.  I revamped my grading scale a bit because of the book Grading Smarter Not Harder.

But, I found that the second text I read this summer served as the catalyst for everything else I accomplished over the past few months.  Creative Schools by Sir Ken Robinson motivated me to rethink my curriculum and classroom.  Rather than viewing myself as a test-prep guide in the classroom, I need to think of my role as a creative, inspirational Guru.  I’m a guide for the students and not the giver of knowledge.  My role as a teacher should be about inspiring students to want to learn more on their own.  I want to inspire students to ask questions.  I want my students to fail and then figure out a new way to solve a problem.  Robinson’s book did just that.  It inspired me to reshape my role as teacher.  After reading this amazing text, I went on a journey myself.  I explored unchartered skills and discovered new ways to make the education my students will be receiving this year more tangible and real.  

I created a Farm Program for my class because I wanted to not just teach my students how to knit, but I wanted them to see where the yarn they would be using came from.  This then lead into a whole new world of awesomeness for me, which I’ll explore in a future entry.  But if it wasn’t for Robinson’s book, I’m not sure I would have even bothered to go down that path.  I probably would have taken the road most travelled and that would have been sad.  Luckily for me, my school, my new co-teacher, and my students, I took the road less travelled like Robert Frost suggested and I’m ready to get creative and inspire my students as they learn how to apply the skills we learn in the classroom in fun and unique ways.

Posted in Education, Learning, Professional Development, Teaching, Trying Something New

Learning Something New

As a student in school, I struggled to learn new ideas, concepts, skills, and content.  I needed repeated exposure and much hands-on practice to grasp and learn something new.  Unfortunately, my public school utilized a traditional model of education and so I wasn’t allowed the extra time I needed to learn new things.  Therefore, much of the “learning” I did in school was to pass a class, matriculate into the next grade, or take a test.  The learning was never made genuine or real for me.  Because of this, I did not retain most of what I learned in elementary, middle, and high school.  It’s all a blur now, reflecting on my school experience.  Most of what I know now, I learned in college or on my own as a teacher.  In college, I had time to learn at my own pace using methods that worked for me.  If I needed extra practice or study time, I took it.  If I needed help or feedback from a teacher, I got it.  I was able to learn on my terms.  It felt good to actually be learning something that would stick in my long term memory.

After having just finished my second and final summer reading book, I felt inclined to learn something new that I could incorporate into the classroom for the upcoming academic year.  I read an education article recently that discussed different types of technology teachers utilize in the classroom.  While the obvious ones are used in most every school and classroom around the world, a few others surprised me.  Knitting is a form of technology that teaches fine motor skill development, mathematical patterns, stamina, problem solving, following directions, and creativity.  So, I decided that I am going to learn how to knit this summer so that I can determine how I might best incorporate knitting into my STEM class.

I purchased a teach yourself to knit kit earlier this week in hopes of using it to teach myself to knit.  Luckily, my wife is a star knitter and wanted to share her passion with me.  So, last night, she taught me how to cast-on and knit.  She was a great teacher, very patient.  When the lesson was done, I had knit four or five rows.  It felt great.  I like this knitting, I thought.  Later last evening, I tried to continue what I had started, to no avail.  I couldn’t remember what to do and then ended up doing the wrong thing.  I basically ruined what I had started.  I was frustrated.  I thought I knew what to do.  Then, I thought about how I learn best as a student: Practice.  I need much more practice before I can truly learn the skill.

So as to not completely forget what I had started learning yesterday, I decided to take matters into my own hands today.  After I finished reading Creative Schools by Ken Robinson, I felt motivated to try something new so that I could revolutionize my classroom.  I jumped on Youtube and watched some videos on how to cast-on.  The first four I watched were useless.  They explained the process way too fast for me.  Even with pausing it and rewinding, I couldn’t understand what they were trying to show me.  I was frustrated, but not done trying.  I persevered.  I watched one more video, and wallah.  I was back in business.  This video broke the steps of casting-on down into manageable chunks.  The demonstration and words used to explain the process were easy for me to understand.  So, I cast-on many stitches, and then undid them.  Then, I cast-on again for 22 stitches, and undid them all.  I repeated the process of casting-on several times until I felt very comfortable with the entire process.  At that point, I felt as though I was beginning to make the process of casting-on stick and begin to move into my short term memory.  By the end of the summer, I hope to move that skill into my long term memory.

I continued practicing, undoing, and repeating casting-on and the knit stitch process.  It felt good and a bit easier.  I’m learning, on my terms, and I’m loving the results.  This entire experience simply builds upon my belief in the learning process.  Every student needs to learn how he or she learns best and then be given ample time to work through the process when learning something new.  Classrooms should be work centers, hubs of creativity instead of factories with desks in neat rows.  Some students learn like me, through repetition and practice, while others learn through listening, observing, or just doing.  As teachers, we need to provide our students with the space, time, and materials to help them learn how they learn best.  For me, I needed to practice, observe, and repeat.  Although learning new things is challenging and frustrating, it’s all part of the necessary process.