Posted in Education, Learning, Professional Development, Reflection, Sixth Grade, Students, Summer Reading, Teaching

Mindfulness Background Reading

I stood at the counter recently at a local Dunkin’ Donuts shop, perplexed.  They had both of my favorite donuts on the shelves, the Chocolate Stick and the Vanilla Cake Batter.  I was befuddled by which donut I should choose.  The chocolate stick is easy to hold and eat and makes very little mess when eaten in a car.  The vanilla cake batter donut has a delicious filling that makes me go, “Ahhhh.”  What about not getting a donut at all?  They are full of fat and bad chemicals that only cause problems for my body.  Should I not even bother with a donut? I thought.  It was quite a vexing moment for me.  I didn’t know what to do.  I was torn.

I feel this same baffled way about the teaching resource Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness by Deborah Schoeberlein David that I recently finished reading.  While it filled my mind with lots of great ideas to implement in the classroom, it was poorly organized and overly repetitive.  So, do I give it a rave review and not mention how disorganized the text felt throughout or do I give it an honest review mentioning both the good and bad aspects of the book?  So, like I did that day at the doughnut shop, I paused, took a deep breath, and made my decision: Honesty is always the best policy.  So, here it is, my honest review of the professional development resource regarding mindfulness.

Mental food for thought:

  • The book is very disorganized and repetitive as the author keeps telling us the same thing over and over again regarding mindfulness and how to live mindfully.  While she breaks the concept down into tiny pieces, the definitions and methods are almost always the same.  Due to this chaos within the book, it felt clunky and I found myself skimming over several parts and chapters because they were all providing the reader with the same information.  This aspect made the text hard to digest effectively as I constantly found myself thinking, She already told us this, throughout the book.  Had she organized it in a more meaningful, succinct, and appropriate manner, I would have found much more enjoyment in the entire reading experience.
  • After reading this text, I realized that I am already doing some of the mindful practices the author suggests, which also reminded me that not all new teaching practices are completely new and unique.  Some concepts and ideas are things effective teachers already do on a regular basis, with mindfulness being one of them.  I’ve felt as though the big push recently in education is about teaching students to be mindful.  So, as one of my professional goals is to craft a mindfulness curriculum this summer, I felt compelled to read up on the topic so that I had some sort of foundation on which to build my curriculum.  As I read the book, I realized that a big part of being mindful is reflecting in the moment and after the fact.  I already do this on a daily basis through my teaching blog.  At the close of each and every day of teaching, I stop, reflect on something that went well or crashed and burned that day, and then write about it.  This process allows me to see how I can become a better educator since I am able to see the mistakes I made or celebrate my greatness.  In reflecting, I’m also able to, sometimes, generate possible solutions to problems facing me as a teacher.  Over the past few years that I’ve been blogging and reflecting, I’ve been able to focus my thinking in the moment.  I find myself thinking about what is going well or not as I’m teaching, which allows me to make any alterations needed right then and there.  So, while this idea of mindfulness seemed new and strange to me at first, I’m realizing that I am already on the path of being a mindful teacher, which means that I can model good, mindful practices for my students.
  • Mindfulness is all about taking the time to live in the moment and truly experience life.  I wonder then, if my school’s schedule is more conducive to mindlessness than it is mindfulness.  We have short class blocks, which do not allow most teachers to delve into mindfulness practices.  Our school is driven by time and schedule, which means that most students and teachers are always looking at the clock and not able to be present in the moment.  While our sixth grade schedule is much more flexible, and we reiterate the importance of not living by the clock or time constraints in the classroom at the start of the year, as a whole school, we struggle to build in time for mindfulness.  How can we expect our teachers to teach mindfulness to our students if we don’t provide them with the time to be mindful in the first place?  For our school to truly help students be more mindful in and out of the classroom, our schedule and mindset as an institution needs to change.  We need longer class periods and more time to work with the students on living in the moment and not worrying about what comes next.  We need more time to pause and reflect with our students.  I worry that while my co-teacher and I will teach our students to be more mindful this coming year, if our school doesn’t value mindfulness as a whole, then when our sixth graders move into the other graders, all of the effort and work they put into being mindful will be lost.
  • Teaching students to be mindful involves teaching them about the brain and how it works.  Once the students know how their brain helps them learn while also trying to distract them at every turn, they can begin to see how they can control their line of thinking and change their mindset.  While my co-teacher and I are teaching our students mindful practices, we will also be teaching them about how the brain works in our study skills course.  This way, they will be able to see how the puzzle pieces fit together.
  • Like teaching any new activity or skill in the classroom, it’s important to explain the purpose of mindfulness.  Why are we teaching you to be more mindful?  What’s the purpose?  How can these practices help you become a better student and individual citizen in our world?  These are important questions to address with the students at the outset, which is why we are planning to begin our mindfulness unit with a TED Talk or video that visually shows the students why mindfulness is crucial to their future success in and out of the classroom.
  • Short activities that allow students be more mindful in the moment will be good to use in all of our classes.  Perhaps starting class with one minute of mindful breathing and quiet contemplation could help center the students and recalibrate their brains and bodies prior to jumping into the learning and content for the day.  I want to use this in at least one class a day as I think it will really help the students see the benefits in stopping and pausing before continuing on with their day.  Another simple yet mindful activity is to start class with a riddle.  Having the students think about just the answer to the riddle allows them to hone their focus and concentration at the start of the class.  This is also a cool idea that I want to use in our study skills class.
  • When crafting the mindfulness curriculum for our class this year, I now have several good activities and ideas to include:
    • After explaining the purpose of learning mindfulness, I want to have the students realize how many different thoughts are swirling around their tiny heads at any given moment by having them list every thought they are thinking during a period of 30 seconds.  I will follow this up with a class discussion and reflection activity that will hopefully help the students see the power in decluttering their minds on a daily basis.
    • I want to have the students complete some mindful speech and active listening activities to help the boys learn how to speak aloud and listen appropriately.  The students will work with a partner to read a section of text aloud in various different ways before receiving feedback on each method.  This way, hopefully, the students will be able to see how important volume, annunciation, and intonation are when speaking aloud.  This activity will also help the students learn the importance of being good listeners and how this skill can help them and their partner grow as students and people.
    • The author introduced a cool activity about walking with awareness to help the students see how their body language shows their feelings and emotions without them even knowing it.  This will help the students learn to be aware of their body language and the messages it sends to their peers and teachers.
    • Have students complete various acts of kindness and then talk about the resultant feelings.  How does it feel to be kind and compassionate?  Helping the students see the value in kindness will help them to treasure it and spread it to everyone they come in contact with on a daily basis.
    • I want to have the students try a mindful seeing activity as a way to introduce how quiet observations can lead to mindful vision.  We could work this into the STEM curriculum as they observe the natural world right outside of our classroom.  How much more valuable are the observations they make when they are quiet and patient than when they are talking and focusing on several different ideas?  This is something I struggled with this past year in my STEM class.  When I took the students outside to observe their forest plots, they were so preoccupied with the external factors of bugs, heat, and their peers that they couldn’t mindfully observe their plots. Having the students practice this activity a few different times might help them to see the benefit in mindfully observing the world around them.
    • Have the students complete an activity in which they discuss a hot button topic before seeing how their expectations and judgements cloud their mindfulness.  How can you truly and objectively think about or discuss a topic if your mind is full of preconceived notions and subjective thoughts?  Getting the students to see the importance of broadening their perspective when learning about new ideas or topics is crucial for mindful learning to take place.
  • A great and easy way for the students to document their mindfulness progress is to have them reflect on their mindful thinking and learning in their e-portfolios.  As we will have the students update and maintain their e-portfolio throughout the year, adding another component in which they can document their growth as a mindful student just makes sense.  This way they can see how much more mindful they are at the end of the year compared to how they were at the start of the academic year.

While I didn’t totally love this book because it was disorganized and repetitive, I did learn a lot from it.  Reading this text also facilitated much thinking for me on the topic of mindfulness.  Although I wouldn’t recommend this book for teachers looking to create a mindfulness curriculum, it has helped me to think about how I want to organize my own unit on mindfulness.  Now begins the fun work of setting up my mindfulness unit with all that I’ve learned from this resource.

Posted in Education, Sixth Grade, Students, Summer Reading, Teaching

Summer Reading: Books my Students Will Read

As I sit here in the magnificent Howe Public Library waiting for my son to finish a final exam at his high school, I’m filled with glee.  I am so glad that it is him and not me taking exams.  I hated taking final exams in high school and college.  They were so stressful and my hand ached with great pain after each one as I had to write a novella to address the questions being asked.  I am so happy that instead of sitting in a room filled with tension and teenage hormones, I am here in a cool and quiet library updating my blog regarding my second summer professional goal.  The metaphorical sun shines brightly in my epically blue sky today.

After reading the underwhelming Welcome to Camp Nightmare by R. L. Stine, I was worried that all three of my children’s literature selections would be duds.  With the plethora of choices and options in this genre, I feel as though I am more likely to read a bad book than a winner.  Despite these odds, I persevered, thankfully, and came out on top with much to show for my work.  The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce and The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang were both fantastic reads that thrusted me into completely different worlds filled with action, humor, drama, and diversity.  In the sea of icky young adult fiction, it’s nice to know that there are authors willing to take risks and write brilliant books for the future leaders and thinkers of our world.

The Unforgotten Coat tells the amazing story of refugee children trying to navigate life in a new land, while always fearing deportation.  The author did a wonderful job painting the portrait of differences and compassion with Polaroid pictures and a first-person narrative from the perspective of a sixth grade girl as the backdrop.  I absolutely loved every page of the novel and hope that my students choose this book to devour this summer.  There are several great talking and discussion points I could bring up with my students regarding this novel as it is filled with lots of examples of great writing, poor choices, compassionate choices, and kindness in a harsh world where a piece of paper is the difference between safety and loss.  Wow! is just about all I can say about this great book.  If you are looking for a quick read for sixth grade level readers or looking for a new read-aloud to teach your students about diversity and the refugee crisis with which our world is faced, then this is the book for you.

The third book I chose to read that some of my new sixth grade students may read this summer was The Shadow Hero.  As I have grown to enjoy graphic novels thanks in part to the author of this very book, I could not have been more excited to jump into this wonderful novel.  The author does an amazing job telling the story of a Chinese superhero created during the time when comics were all the rage in our country.  Unfortunately, the original story and comic fell to the wayside and never really gained popularity in its own time.  Thankfully though, the author and illustrator reinvigorate The Green Turtle narrative by imagining his origin story.  The book is filled with creative imagery and crisp writing that moves the story forward like the tracks below a speeding train.  Because some of the language used could be construed as a bit mature, this novel would definitely be for more advanced readers or those middle school readers looking for a fun read filled with action.  I was transported to a different time where stereotypes and differences abounded like bubbles in soda.  This book could be used to teach about the Chinese culture or diversity in general.  It might also be a unique way to introduce or teach world mythology to students.  If you’re looking for a young adult novel that is a bit different from the norm, then this may just be the book for you.

While my son sits in a hot classroom, frantically moving his pencil across the page as he answers yet another question about American history, I could not be happier sitting here reflecting upon some great books I’ve read this week.  After reading these three books, I’m inspired to tackle even more young adult novels as I work my way through the rest of my summer professional goals.

Posted in Challenges, Education, Learning, Student Support, Students, Summer Reading, Teaching

Summer Reading Professional Development Text: Lost at School

Although the crux of the concept Ross Greene explains in his book seems intuitive and almost like common sense for teachers and parents, I found this novel to be eye-opening and quite beneficial.  It’s an easy read with short chapters and lots of specific examples.  The story of a school using his Plan B weaves together the book and different ideas suggested within.  As my son is often described as a challenging student, I found this book to hit very close to home.  I “saw” him in many of the descriptions I read about difficult students in school and it made me realize that even though the method of supporting and helping challenging students is good teaching, very few of my son’s teachers have utilized this approach to helping him.  So, I send out a plea to all teachers, if you haven’t yet read this book, please do so and utilize Plan B when working with all students as we don’t want to create apathy and anger within our students.  Let’s get comfortable giving up control in order to foster an atmosphere of caring and collaboration in the classroom.

Some takeaways:

  • I sometimes find myself treating difficult students as if they are being defiant and challenging on purpose.  I then try to inflict my will upon them as a way to control the situation and the student.  Not only does this not work, it creates anger and frustration within the students.  They learn to dislike school because they are not being supported or cared for.  The author explains how as teachers and caregivers, we need to change the way we think about difficult kids.  Challenging students are challenging not as a way to be purposefully defiant but because they have developmental delays regarding thinking and learning skills.  These difficult students are challenging because they don’t know how to do what they are being asked to do.  If they knew how, they would clearly do it.  This idea really made me question how I have dealt with difficult students in the past.  I believe that I usually assume challenging students are purposefully acting out as a way to be defiant.  Boy was I ever wrong.  This new way of thinking will help me better support challenging students in my class come September.
  • Greene proposes that teachers collaborate with students to solve problems and address challenging and difficult behavior.  For many educators, this will be hard to swallow as we often want to be in control of our class.  “How can we possibly allow the students to help us solve their problems.  They have no idea what they need.  They need to be disciplined and receive consequences for their poor choices.”  This fixed mindset is what has caused students like my son to hate school and struggle greatly.  As teachers, we need to realize that we are in this amazing journey, often called education, together with our students.  It is not us vs. them; instead, we need to be one big community and family of learners.  Families do things together and so the same needs to apply in the classroom.  Students know themselves and what they need way better than we do.  Sure, we might not always like their ideas, and that’s okay, but we do need to respect what our students have to say and how they feel.  Students need to be validated if progress is to be made.  The author’s Plan B is all about validating the feelings of our students and then working together with our students to help address these issues that are rearing their head as challenging behaviors in the classroom.
  • Greene’s Plan B approach to solving behavioral problems in the classroom contains three steps:
    • Step 1: Validate the feelings of the student by showing apathy.  “I’ve noticed that it’s been difficult for you to complete your homework on a daily basis.  What’s up with that?”  This step begins the conversation and allows you to determine is going on with the student.  Why is he or she exhibiting this difficult behavior?  This is the most important step in the process as it builds trust and care between the teacher and the student.  While the student may not give up the goods right away, if you keep digging and probing through empathetic questions and active listening, you will eventually figure out what is causing the student to act they way they are acting in the classroom.
    • Step 2: Explain your concern with the student’s behavior.  “My concern is that by not doing your homework, you are unable to practice the skills introduced in class and then seem very confused when we build upon the skills learned.”  This step is obviously the shortest and must be free of judgment and explanation.  Don’t try to assume why the student is acting a certain way, simply state your concern with their behavior.
    • Step 3: Invite the student into the conversation once again by asking for their suggestions on how to solve the problem or address the behavior being exhibited.  “I wonder if there is a way we can help you complete your homework on a daily a basis.  Do you have any ideas?”  This step may take the longest to complete as the student may have lots of ideas that won’t be mutually agreed upon by both the teacher and the student; however, it’s important that we show the student that we value their input.  We want them to be a part of the problem solving process.  If a student doesn’t have any ideas, propose your own.  While the student may not like any of your ideas, he or she might be prompted to provide some of their own once they have had time to process what is being asked of them.  Difficult students often lack executive functioning skills and need more time to process and think before responding.
  • After reading through the three parts of Plan B, I began to wonder, am I already doing a form of Plan B in the classroom at times?  I do find that I sometimes begin conversations regarding a student’s behavior with empathy before getting into my concern with their choices.  However, that is usually where I stop.  I don’t usually allow the student to add their ideas and suggestions to the conversation.  So, what I thought was Plan B is actually Plan A.  I am doling out consequences as a way to control the student and my classroom.  Because I’m not making the problem solving process collaborative, the students become disengaged in the process and no genuine progress is made, which is why I often see these same difficult behaviors repeated throughout the year.  I need to be sure I allow the students to add their thoughts and concerns to our discussions as collaboration is crucial to making real progress.
  • The author helps educators think about the Plan B model of collaborative problem solving by comparing it to differentiating academic instruction in the classroom.  Teachers wouldn’t expect every student to be able to comprehend every aspect of a single novel read without support and scaffolding; therefore, we shouldn’t assume that every student has the ability to transition from playtime to class time without help and support too.  Some students need help from us, their teachers, to learn how to solve problems, transition, etc. and Plan B is a differentiated approach to doing this.  If we differentiate the academic instruction for our students, then we need to do the same for behavior and the social aspects of school too.  I liked this analogy as I see how important differentiation is for academic instruction.  If I put as much time and energy into helping all students address their behavioral issues as I do creating scaffolded learning opportunities for my students, then I would see the frequency of challenging behaviors in my classroom decrease.
  • Plan B isn’t simply an individual approach to problem solving; it can be used for a whole class or small groups as well.  The same three steps are used.  The only difference is that more students are involved.  You will need to set ground rules for how these conversations proceed, but they are vital to fostering a strong sense of community and compassion within the classroom.  Although I do try to address big issues with my entire class, I do so in a very controlled manner without allowing the students to add their insight to the discussion.  I want to work on this for the new academic year.  I’m thinking that maybe having one community meeting a week to address behavioral issues or concerns might help to create a sense of family and caring within the classroom.  I want to run this by my co-teacher to get her thoughts on the issue.  I’m excited about this as I think it will make a big difference in the classroom.
  • The author suggested a cool idea that could easily be incorporated into these whole class Plan B discussions: Have students share gifts or personal qualities and attributes they have that could help their classmates.  This would help the students learn more about their classmates while also helping them all learn who could help them within their class.  This kind of activity could do wonders for building a strong sense of community within the classroom.  I love it and will use it as an icebreaker activity at the start of the year.  I might also revisit this activity throughout the year when issues arise.

Although my feedback and takeaways can’t possibly do justice to how great and wonderful this book is, I feel as though I encapsulated the best and most important ideas of the text.  I love this book and feel as though the ideas presented will help me continue to grow and develop as a teacher.  I can’t wait for September so that I can try Plan B.  Heck, I’m going to try it with my son this summer.  Bring on the challenging behavior!

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 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, Grading, New Ideas, Objectives Based Grading, Sixth Grade, Standards, Summer Reading, Teaching

Personal Summer Reading Part II

Grading has always been a sore spot for me as a student and a teacher.  What does an A really mean?  How do I know what skills I’ve mastered if all I see is a big, fat red A at the top of my paper?  How can I help my students learn to focus on the skills and process of learning instead of the grades?  Why is our society so focused on grading and assessing everything?  This hotel received 3/4 stars.  So what?  What does that really mean?  The problem with grading is that despite using the best objectives, grading is almost always subjective.  So, then why do we grade our students?  If grading only negatively impacts students, why do we continue to do it?

In Sir Ken Robinson’s book Creative Schools, he devotes several chapters to talking about grading and assessment.  He tells the story of a teacher who struggled with grading and so got rid of it in his classroom.  However, at the end of every marking period, his school makes him report grades out to parents.  So, at that point, he asks the students to give themselves a grade based on their progress towards the learning targets.  He reported that they were almost always spot on or even a little too tough on themselves.  When we help students focus on the process of learning and growing instead of grading, students are more able to focus on what really matters: Learning and growing as students.  With the vast amount of research available that shows how standardized testing and formalized assessments destroy the educational process and negatively impact teachers, students, families, and schools, it’s baffling to me why our world is still implementing them.  The old adage, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” doesn’t apply to grading and assessment in our country because our current model is indeed very broken.  We need to rethink how we assess our students.

In Robinson’s book he goes into detail about how some schools and teachers are doing away with grades to focus on the entire learning process.  They start by answering this question: What skills do students really need to be equipped with in order to be successful global citizens?  Then, they work with the students to help guide them towards understanding.  They utilize project based learning and real-world problems for the students to solve.  Following each project, the teacher meets with each student and debriefs the process.  What skills did you learn and how?  What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?  What skills do you still need to work towards meeting?  How can I help you meet your learning goals moving forward?  Grading and assessment then becomes a learning process deeply rooted in self-reflection and conversations.  Through this paradigm shift, strong relationships are formed between the teacher and the students that will allow for more genuine learning and growth to take place in and out of the classroom.

While I would love to see my school move in this direction, I know that we can’t because of the secondary schools that many of our students attend.  They still utilize the traditional grading system and, in the words of my school’s administration, “Wouldn’t understand what our new grading system tells them about our students.”  They worry that our students wouldn’t get into the schools that we are currently sending our students onto.  So, for that reason alone, I’m forever going to be on an island.  Now, this doesn’t mean I’m going to send out an SOS and move back to the dark side of letter grades.  Oh no.  I’m still going to fight the good fight and continue to rethink how I grade and assess my sixth graders.

I currently use the objectives-based grading system in the sixth grade.  We don’t talk about letter grades even though the school makes us report letter grades out at the end of every marking period.  We talk about the four-point scale we use to measure the progress our students make towards the learning objectives.  We have conversations with the students throughout the year to debrief their learning process.  We provide them with clear and specific feedback on their progress and what they still need to work on.  The students are continuously self-evaluating themselves and reflecting upon their progress.  By the close of the academic year, the students have a good handle on their learning process.  However, I do feel that some students struggle to see outside of the realm of letter grades.  They have been taught their whole lives to strive for As even though they have no idea what that really means.  When we try to help them see beyond grades and look at the skills needed to be successful students, some of them struggle to see the light.  So, as a teacher, I need to work on helping students see the value in our grading system.

At the start of the year, I need to get the students talking about grading.  What does grading and assessment mean?  Are they good or bad and why?  Why do teachers grade students?  What do grades mean?  How do grades make you feel?  How do grades impact you?  Then, once we have started the students talking and thinking, we need to change the dialect.  Assessment is a vital part of the learning process for every student.  Teachers need to know where students are on the path to learning enlightenment so that they can best support and help them continue to grow and develop.  In the sixth grade, we will be assessing you on a series of learning objectives that you will need to demonstrate proficiency in.  We want to help each of you understand where you fall along this learning continuum and so we will be meeting with you throughout the year following assessments to help you understand your strengths and challenges.  We use a four-point scale on which to do this.  I would then use a mountain as a metaphor for the entire learning process.  Life is like a series of peaks in a mountain range.  Each peak gets progressively taller and more difficult.  At the start of each new learning adventure or grade, you begin at the bottom of the new peak and have to work your way upwards.  Sure, you will stumble and fall, but your teachers and families will be there to belay and support you along the way.  Hopefully this metaphor will help the students see why and how we utilize a different method of grading in the sixth grade.  I want to try something new to better help the students see their year in the sixth grade as a learning process and not another boring year in a classroom filled with desks.

Posted in Challenges, Change, Curriculum, Education, Learning, Professional Development, Standards, Summer Reading, Teaching

Personal Summer Reading Part I

Now that I’ve finished my required summer reading text, I’m onto one final book that a colleague let me borrow back in February.  I meant to read it sooner but never got around to it.  What better time than now.  So, before I get into learning how to knit and working on my first STEM and Humanities units for the new academic year, it’s time to increase my knowledge base.

Creative School by Sir Ken Robinson is a book about how to create effective and great schools that allow students to embrace their passions and curiosities while also challenging themselves.  Although it contains some great ideas for big, sweeping changes to education, I haven’t snatched up any knowledge nuggets just yet.  It’s more about the need for changes from the top.  It’s a book about the philosophy of education and how to bring about and foster schools that will empower students to grow and change the world.  He uses vignettes to support his thesis that the educational system in the world is defunct and in need of a complete overhaul.  We need to rethink how schools are structured and eliminate a set curriculum based on random standards.  Trying to fit students into a one-size-fits-all education is like trying to put a size 10 boot on an infant.  It just won’t work.  As we are no longer preparing students for life in the industrial age where everyone is expected to do the same thing, trying to educate students in this manner is futile.  Students are bored, dropping out of school, causing problems because they are disengaged, and complaining about school and their teachers.  It’s time to break the cycle, he laments.

Reading this book does lead me to wonder if school leadership might be in my future.  I would love to start or lead a school that is built upon the ideas Robinson discusses in the text.  Imagine a school where students can explore, play, work together to solve problems, learn what intrigues or interests them, and be excited to come to school every single day.  That’s the kind of school I would love to be a part of.  With all of the research on the need for change to come to education in our country and the world, it’s baffling to me why more schools aren’t changing or adapting to better meet the needs of their students and the world in which they will live.  Most schools in this country are still bound by standards and time.  There is a structure for everything.  Schools are failing students and nothing is being done about it.  Then, I worry that if I leave the classroom I might miss it and the direct contact with the students.  Leading a school is more about politics and direction than it is working with the students.  I don’t want that.  I want to be in the trenches helping to inspire students and trying to bring about change in my classroom that others will hopefully see and want to replicate.  But is that enough?  If I don’t reach for the stars, will any real change actually happen?

For now, I will let Sir Ken Robinson impart his knowledge upon me as I think about how to foster change in my school.

  • Flexible Grouping: Should students be grouped by ability or age?  Does it matter?  What about having stronger students paired with struggling students?  Would that make any difference?  Having the ability to fluidly group students throughout the year would help to empower students.
  • Longer Class Chunks: Should we have a set daily schedule for every grade or allow the teachers to tailor the schedule for their team or group of students?  Do we need 40 minute classes every day?  Is that really enough time to dig into the learning?  Providing students with longer chunks of time to learn, explore, and play would help to engage students in the educational process.
  • Make Learning Meaningful: Does there need to be a set curriculum or set of standards?  What about rethinking the curriculum and creating a flexible map that students would follow to help them gain the skills they will need to be successful members of a global society in the 21st century?  How often do you need to recall basic facts you learned in 8th grade science?  For me, it is rarely.  That should be a wake-up call right there.
  • Teachers as Guides: Who should be driving the classroom forward, teachers or students?  How fun is it to listen to your colleagues talk about something in a faculty meeting for 20 or more minutes?  Perhaps your brain functions differently than mine, but I grow bored quickly.  I want to be doing the learning myself.  I want to talk to my fellow teachers and bounce ideas around.  I don’t want to sit, listen, and take notes.  And I would imagine that our students feel the same way.  Teacher-directed instruction isn’t going to help prepare our students for meaningful lives in a global society.

Change needs to come fast or we will continue to fail future generations of students.  Then what?  Who will help to save humanity from rising ocean levels, increased levels of pollution, and limited access to food and water?  If we don’t inspire or better challenge and support our students now, we, as the human race, will be in serious trouble in 10-20 years.

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

Professional Development Summer Reading Part V

I worked with a student a few years ago in my science class who quickly grew bored of the traditional kind of education that included reading a text, taking notes, and answering questions.  He demonstrated his understanding of the content very easily and finished far ahead of the other students.  At the time, I hadn’t created any sort of Extend Your Learning sort of activities that I have in place in the classroom now.  I didn’t know what to do.  I feared that I was losing him to the sad game of repetition.  And that’s when I got a bolt of creativity.  I constructed some extension activities that he and other students who showcased their learning ahead of schedule could work on.  One of the projects involved using the game Minecraft to create a usable model of the layers of Earth, highlighting important facts about each of the major layers.  As he loved Minecraft, I knew that this option would pique his interest.  Well, to say the least, he and the rest of the class, went bonkers for this project and worked outside of class to finish their Knowledge Phase to get to this extension activity.  They also spent much time working on their Minecraft model outside of class.  The screencast videos they made of the models were amazing.  My students are so creative and always have been.  I just didn’t always create opportunities for them to showcase it.

Chapter 5 of Grading Smarter Not Harder by Myron Dueck was all about the importance and benefit of being creative when crafting assessments, tests, and projects to assess students on their understanding of the content, learning targets, or graded objectives.  Creativity is a crucial life skill for our students.  He cited educational gurus Daniel Pink and Sir Ken Robinson to help him make his point.  Creativity allows for a variety of ideas and a unique way of thinking, he states on page 120 of his book.  He then goes onto mention how creativity will be necessary for problems to be solved by future generations.  Teachers need to allow students options and choice when showcasing their learning.  Empowering students to utilize their strengths to demonstrate learning of a particular concept leads to engagement and focus in and out of the classroom.

  • Dueck suggests using Test Feedback Sheets to allow students to examine and reflect upon their work on a test or final assessment.  While I use a more simplistic form of this type of reflection in the classroom, the specificity of his example would better allow my students to reflect and grow as test takers and learners.  He asks questions such as, “Are there parts or sections where you felt more confident than others?  Explain.”  I like this idea.  I might not use it after every assessment, but for unit assessments it could be a useful reflective tool for the students.
  • Although I am not a fan of multiple guess tests, the author asserts a new approach to multiple choice exams.  He calls it the “I Know I am Close” Multiple Choice Response Format.  It allows students to choose more than one letter or answer to a question when they feel as though they have a specific reason for not being able to select just one answer.  The students would select more than one letter or answer and then explain, using support, why they have chosen more than one answer to the question.  Cool idea, if multiple choice tests must be used in the classroom as an assessment tool.  I try to steer clear of them for many obvious reasons.
  • Dueck suggested using a Twitter Format as an assessment tool.  Students would create a Twitter conversation between two or more parties or items pertaining to a topic and have to meet one of the learning targets through the conversation.  The example he provides on page 150 is to create a Twitter conversation between two of Earth’s spheres.  They must discuss the effects of deforestation on their sphere.  Each sphere needs to have a handle and a relevant hashtag.   Only four tweets can be used.  Keep it simple.  I love it.  It allows for brevity and succinctness in a creative manner.  While this task could be difficult for some students, it may allow other students to feel successful when attempting to meet a learning target or graded objective.  The idea is about providing students with options and choices in how they can showcase their learning process.

As I have only the Conclusion chapter remaining, I’m feeling a bit let down by the book.  I longed for more.  Sure, the chapter on Unit Plans was fabulous and has provided me with much fodder in crafting my new units for the next academic year; however, the other chapters were not what I was hoping for.  It would make a great text for new teachers or teachers who are stuck in the traditional ways of grading and teaching, but for someone who has been utilizing the methods discussed in this book for several years now, it is a bit basic.  I’m not putting the book down by any means because the author does a fantastic job outlining some of the components of great and effective teaching.  It’s just not the professional development text I was hoping it would be.  It’s more of a primer on great teaching practices.  With that said, it has been a fun ride this week digging into Dueck’s ideas and thoughts.  The prose was interesting and captivating.  He used personal stories to help state his case, which added depth and humanity to the points he was trying to make.  I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

Posted in Education, Grading, New Ideas, Professional Development, Summer Reading, Teaching, Testing

Professional Development Summer Reading Part IV

If school is all about the process of learning in order to help students grow and develop into meaningful global citizens, then isn’t it our job as their teachers and guides on their learning journeys to help support and challenge them in any way possible?  So then, why do so many teachers refuse to retest or alternatively assess students?  Some students, like me for example, are not good at taking tests.  I get confused by the tricky multiple choice options and the short answer questions overwhelm me with the critical thinking involved on the spot.  But, when I was in school, that was my only option for demonstrating my learning.  How is that a process?  If I did poorly on the test, I received a low grade and thus did not showcase my understanding of the content covered.  Yet, I continued to matriculate onto the next grade each year.  How?  In retrospect, I wonder how effective my learning process was based on the teacher guides I had and grading systems with which I was faced.

Chapter 4 of Myron Dueck’s book entitled Grade Smarter Not Harder is all about the idea and philosophy around retesting or re-assessing students.  Most traditional schools and educators take the low road and refuse to retest students.  They view a test as a final game with no opportunity for a rematch.  Is life like that?  When my friend failed his driver’s education test, he was able to retake it a few weeks later and passed.  When I was once late to a class because of a meeting, I wasn’t fired.  I was given another chance to prove myself.  So then, why do we not provide our students with second chances to demonstrate their learning?  Dueck suggests just that in this chapter.  Students should be allowed to retake a test, part of a test, or redo an assessment as long as the redo process is more rigorous than the first time through.  Plus, the students need to somehow show that they have genuinely learned the concepts or skills involved.  If a student did not showcase his understanding of rates and ratios on a math exam, he should have to attend study sessions, create vocabulary cards, or make and take his own self-created exam to prepare for a test redo or retake.  This way, the students will really learn what they should have grasped the first time through.  Sometimes, tests prove challenging for students and don’t really allow them to demonstrate their learning of the content because they were so caught up in the format of the test or section.  Retesting allows for the teacher to change up the format of the test and questions, thus allowing students to demonstrate their true understanding of the concepts covered.

Some key points that Dueck brought up in Chapter 4 regarding retesting that I found intriguing…

  • Rick Stiggins, an educator, preaches the idea that all students should be able to answer three questions throughout the learning process: Where am I going?  Where am I now?  How can I close the gap?  This would be a great way to formatively assess students throughout a unit.  How might I incorporate this into my class?  I would have to reword the questions and use more student-friendly language.  I would also have to help students understand how to know what the end result of a unit is.  Using unit plans in the classroom might help the students see the entire process for each unit, and thus, allow them to know what the end result should look like for them.  I want to keep this idea of reflection in mind as I plan my units for next year.  I feel as though this process could be beneficial for my students.
  • The author utilizes Tracking Sheets in his class for the students.  When he hands back exams or projects, the students fill out a Tracking Sheet which lists the individual learning targets or graded objectives.  The students then denote their progress and outcomes on the sheet.  If they need to redo a section, they then explain what they will do to prepare before completing the re-testing phase.  Great idea.  This would help the students own their learning process.  It would also be a great entrance ticket to a redo.
  • Changing educational norms as they pertain to grading and assessment will require huge shifts in the culture of the school.  So many students who come from families that have always had great access to education, generally tend to have been exposed to traditional sorts of teaching and grading.  They feel as though this is how the game of school is played.  Listen to a teacher provide you with information on a new skill, topic, or concept, study, take a test, and repeat.  Getting students and families that come from this kind of world and society on board with objectives-based grading and assessment redos is no easy task.  It will take many conversations for some students and their families to understand the hows and whys of the changes happening in the classroom.  I dealt with a family like this during this past school year.  They didn’t understand why we didn’t have numerous tests on a weekly basis.  They also didn’t understand why we didn’t mark up student work with grades.  They come from an educational background that is based in the industrialization of education: School is like a big factory where every student graduates having learned the same stuff in the same manner.  That no longer works in our world.  If we want students to be effective global citizens, they need to be creative problem solvers and innovators.  Retesting is one way we can help bring about change in the classroom for our students.
  • The only problematic idea Dueck brought up in this chapter pertained to how he grades retests.  He blends or averages the scores together.  This seems to go against the concept of grading just what the students should have learned: The graded objectives.  Shouldn’t tests or assessments be graded on individual learning targets or objectives and not given an overall score?  How would one flat score tell students how they are progressing regarding the individual learning targets covered for a unit?  Tests or assessments should only be graded on the objectives covered.  For example, if the students have to create a forest field guidebook that lists and describes various flora and fauna samples found in their assigned plot in the forest, the final product should only be graded on the two objectives covered throughout the unit: Identify accurately, by common name using a guidebook, various flora and fauna samples in Cardigan’s ecosystem and construct a diagram that describes and illustrates the cycling of matter and flow of energy among the living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.  The final projects should not be graded on neatness or organization if it is not a graded objective.  Therefore, they are not going to earn an overall score on the project as it is all about the process of learning.

I hope that as a school we are able to have open discussions and conversations about our grading, homework, and testing policies throughout this next year.  While I would love to have change come about right away and make all teachers utilize the objectives-based grading system, no longer grade or assess homework based on the letter grade, and allow for redos of tests and assessments, I know that I can’t expect monumental change in one year.  I do hope that my school administrative team will help educate teachers to see the value in moving away from a traditional way of teaching and grading students so that change will happen within three to five years across the board at my school.  Fingers crossed.

Posted in Curriculum, Education, Grading, New Ideas, Objectives Based Grading, Professional Development, Summer Reading

Professional Development Summer Reading Part III

When I hear the words Unit Plans, I get a bit queasy because they are yet one more hoop my school makes teachers jump through.  While I do feel as though all teachers must have a written curriculum that outlines their course for the year, do all teachers need to then complete a separate file that lists the same information over again in a different format?  That seems repetitive and unnecessary to me.  Shouldn’t teachers be spending their time helping their students grow and develop and not having to complete a bunch of busy work.  Filling out Unit Plans is the equivalent to Homework for students.  Great, effective teachers already have a road map for their class.  Why not just allow teachers to submit that in place of separate Unit Plans?  If we know that offering students choice and freedom in the classroom helps better engage them in their learning process, shouldn’t we take the same approach with teachers?  Why must I spend an extra 2-3 hours creating a Unit Plan for a unit I already have detailed for the students?  I’m sure my school’s administrators might answer that question with, “Accountability and integration.  We want all teachers to be held accountable and see how units fit together.”  Okay, I get that.  Why not then meet with each teacher and have them show you their curriculum or units?  That way you are creating a culture of caring and support rather than uniform accountability.  I would much rather have an open dialogue with my administrators than just click the Share button on a Google Document I created because I have to.

So, going into Chapter 3 of Myron Dueck’s book Grade Smarter Not Harder did give me pause.  What else could he possibly tell me about Unit Plans that my school’s administrative team has not already shoved down my throat 10,000 times?  But then, I was surprised and elated when I realized that he was not talking about the mandated Unit Plans I have to draft.  Instead, his third chapter outlined how to create unit plans that can be used in the classroom for the students.  At the start of every unit, provide the students with a unit plan that outlines the graded objectives or learning targets in student-friendly language.  Beyond that, there is much flexibility in what a unit plan for students should or could contain, he suggests.  Teachers could include due dates, places for students to enter grades, or room for students to make comments or note areas in need of improvement.  What a great idea!  Instead of spending hours crafting unit plans that not more than one or two people will ever see, create useful documents that will help make the process of learning for the students, transparent.  What a concept!  I love it.  Although I do utilize, in the classroom, a very modified and watered-down version of what Dueck’s suggesting, making it clear and easy for the students to reference and understand makes so much more sense.  And I thought I wasn’t going to learn anything from this book.  Wow, was a I wrong.  Even if the rest of the chapters are filled with fluff or concepts I already know, this one chapter will make the book worth it.

Some highlights regarding his idea of crafting unit plans for the students to use:

  • Break the learning targets or graded objectives into four categories: Knowledge Targets (What do students need to know?), Reasoning Targets (What can students do with what they know?), Skill Targets (What can students demonstrate?), and Product Targets (What can students make to show their learning?).  While this follows Bloom’s Taxonomy as it pertains to the learning process, I’ve never thought of chunking my graded objectives in such a way.  Cool idea.  I like it.  I think I will try this for my first STEM unit of the year.
  • State the learning targets or graded objectives as “I can” statements for the students on the unit plans.  This will make the learning more accessible for the students.  It will also provide them with ownership in a meaningful way.  When they read statements like, “I can list the four causes of weather on Earth,” they feel as though what they need to do is attainable rather than listing its as a vague and broad objective, “Students will be able to explain the causes of weather on Earth.”  Using student-friendly language in an active manner that speaks to them directly will make for more relevant unit plans.
  • Research shows that students and teachers benefit when the learning targets or graded objectives are made clear to the students at the start of a unit.  On page 75 of Dueck’s book, he cites some examples and research to prove this.  When students understand what is expected of them in and out of the classroom, they can easily track their learning progress and grow and develop meaningfully and appropriately.  When confusion or unknown variables enter the classroom, such as “Where did this letter grade come from?” or “Why do I need to write an essay on WWII?” learning becomes more like a convoluted puzzle for students.  While I’m sure we all loved the David Bowie movie Labyrinth very much, it would not make for an appropriate classroom environment.
  • Is using student examples of work helpful or harmful to students?  I’ve always been on the fence regarding this issue.  I tried to use more student examples this year than ever before and found that sometimes this helped the students fully comprehend what was being asked of them.  In years past, I avoided using examples because I felt like they would have prevented the students from creatively interpreting the assignment or task.  However, Dueck makes the case that if students have no clue what the project or assignment should look like when they are finished, how will they be able to employ creativity?  Confusion leads to more confusion and not answers or creativity.  Perhaps using student examples of work when introducing a new project or learning task will help students be and feel more successful in their learning journey.
  • One area of projects and learning tasks that I have always wrestled with is the planning stage.  How can I help students effectively map out or plan a project or task before they begin working on crafting it?  I usually tell students to plan out their idea before hand and check-in with a teacher to be sure they are on the right track.  Conversations, I find, are more beneficial than just having the students complete a mind map or planning worksheet.  Dueck suggests using Student Planning Stations.  Have the students map out or plan how they hope to meet the graded objectives for the assignment.  Then, have the students partner up and pitch their idea to their partner as though they are securing a deal for a television show and their partner is the “producer.”  Allow the “agent” a set amount of time to share his idea with the “producer” before the “producer” provides feedback on the idea and how it addresses the graded objectives.  The students will then switch roles so that each person has a chance to share his or her idea and receive feedback on it.  This way, the students have a chance to revise their idea before they even begin working.  I love this idea.  I can’t wait to try it in the classroom.

Chapter 3 wowed me to the max.  I’m so excited to plan my first units for Humanities and STEM class using this format for the unit plan.  Isn’t it always about our students?  Couldn’t we then just use these plans as the ones our administrative team requires we complete?  Why jump through even more hoops?  As Dueck’s book is titled, shouldn’t the same be true for all aspects of teaching?  “Teach Smarter Not Harder.”