Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Holiday Confession #9

I watch Pillow Talk just for the set pieces.
I want everything in this Pinterest board.

I want rooms that look like this:

With furniture that looks like this:

And, my life would be complete if I could fill my whole house with items similar to all of these things:

Monday, December 8, 2014

Holiday Confession #8

I was trying to resist loving the new station on HD...but then they started showing "The Bionic Woman". I really don't think I need to say anything else, but just in case...this station also shows all those darned Westerns that I was forced to watch grew up with at the ranch.

Right now, my mother and I are sitting here watching "McMillan and Wife". Good, good times.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Holiday Confession #7

It all started with my grandmother. She died when I was very young so I don't remember much, but vivid memory I have of her is her obsession with fruitcake, second only to my grandfather's obsession with minced-meat. I remember going with her to the Wal-Mart in Ava, Missouri and buying those little fruitcakes that come in the plastic packages and buying those big fruitcakes that come in those metal tins. We'd get back to her house and she'd slice us pieces and we'd eat them with large cups of milk. Actually, I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who would eat and then I'd ask for more.

Last year I got the pleasure of trying fruitcake muffins and they too were quite delicious.

Below is a recipe for muffins, a fruitcake recipe, or two and just in case you don't want to make your own, but want a homemade one you can order a fruitcake from College of the Ozarks in Point Look-Out, MO...of course, you'd be a little late for this year!

Fruitcake Muffins
Free-Range Fruitcake-Alton Brown
Mom's Fruitcake from the Food Network

Order for next year at this link!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Holiday Confession #6

Socks make my feet hot and sweaty, that, in turn, makes me hot and sweaty. Please don't get me wrong I love socks...I love to buy socks. I love to wear them without shoes on...but, the idea of putting on a pair of socks and then a pair of shoes and, well, add to that a pair of pants and I feel so stifled and tired and warm--not in a good way.

I love that UGGS are made to be worn without socks. Why aren't all shoes made that way?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Holiday Confession #5

I don't even remember this trailer! Most Excellent!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Holiday Confession #4

I read a lot of stuff talking about the evils of Disney as a corporation, I read a lot of stuff about the evils of Disney and its treatment of teen girls and objectification of women. So much Disney hate...and, yet, I all I know are the wonderful things about Disney and how Disney directly and indirectly shaped my youth.

1] Hayley Mills
2] Annette Funicello
3] The Edison Twins
4] Disney Channel Premiere and Original Movies as old as "The Night Train to Kathmandu" and as recent as the "High School Musical" trilogy.
5] All those wonderful cartoons...including "Silly Symphonies", you can watch one of my favorites below:

6] All those wonderful animated feature films
7] The Princesses...seriously, I love them.
8] I love the Disney store.
9] The Swiss Family Robinson
10] Herby

I just think about all the things I learned from Anne of Green Gables and Natty Gann and Spooner and the Man from Snowy River (all movies I first saw on the Disney Channel) and I just can't help it. I want my kid to have those same experiences...like all. the. time.

Disney makes me happy.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Holiday Confession #3

I was 10 when I first knew that I loved Thomas Cruise Mapother IV. Back then it was cool to like him though, I'm mean he'd just finished:

But, then he joined this:

And, did this:

And, people stopped liking him so much...seriously, though I haven't stopped. And, have watched most of his recent movies in the theatre. How could you not?!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Holiday Confession #2

For real, I do this. I'm doing it right now.

Seriously though, what song doesn't appeal to the teenage girl in us. Um, er, since this is a confession, what song doesn't appeal to the woman in all of us. I just love her, she's fun to sing with in the shower and while folding clothes and after a break-up and when you just think someone is cute. She wins all of those awards for a reason, ya know.

Here are my Top 10 just in case you know you wanna give her a listen. I won't tell.

  1. "You Belong with Me"
  2. "Teardrops on my Guitar"
  3. "Fifteen" 
  4. "Back to December"
  5. "Everything Has Changed" with Ed Sheeran
  6. "Shake It Off"
  7. "Love Story"
  8. "Blank Space"
  9. "Ours"
  10. "Eye's Open"

Monday, December 1, 2014

Holiday Confessions and Randoms Acts of Kindness, er maybe the other way around...

First the Kindness

For more information you can visit Coffee Cups and Crayons, but this calendar is a simple way to get the whole family involved in the Spirit of Christmas while neither breaking the bank or your budget. There is also a Advent chain to go along with this theme. Can't wait to start!

And, now for the confessing

The other day I was scrolling through FB and people were posting things about Will Arnett. I watched all the videos and scanned the internet for more. After about an hour of Will Arnettedness I came to the following realization and posted it on FB.

One of my dear friends (read her blog here) got the idea to do this for the Holiday Season, because really can't it be so stressful and this is just a fun way to relax? Several of us are now sharing these on FB. Want to play along?...there's only a few rules:

1] It must be a confession. 
A confession is: "a statement made by a person or a group of people acknowledging some personal fact that the person (or the group) would ostensibly prefer to keep hidden" or as Scary Mommy puts it here. It can be a confession about the holidays or just in general. We're calling them Holiday Confessions because we are posting them over the holidays.

2] Post it somewhere on Social Media.
Play for all 25 days, for 20 days, once a week, whatever suits you, just let the world know about it. Feel free to tag me if you would like (Twitter handle: @smj274). So far the confessions I've read have been pretty darned awesome. You can even post them below in the comments! Hashtag on FB: #thisjustgotreal or #itjustgotreal Twitter: #HCs2014

(can you tell it's a snow day here?)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Educational Buzzwords...N: No Child Left Behind

What is "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB)?
From Wikipedia
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) is a United States Act of Congress that is a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which included Title I, the government's flagship aid program for disadvantaged students. NCLB supports standards-based education reform based on the premise that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual outcomes in education.

The Act requires states to develop assessments in basic skills. To receive federal school funding, States must give these assessments to all students at select grade levels. The Act does not assert a national achievement standard. Each individual state develops its own standards. NCLB expanded the federal role in public education through annual testing, annual academic progress, report cards, teacher qualifications, and funding changes.

The bill passed in the U.S. Congress with bipartisan support.

To find out more click here.

What works:
I don't think that people can argue about the fact that on paper NCLB has made us up our game as schools and teachers. Proponents of NCLB also see this increased accountability as a plus.

On paper this looks good and addresses the needs of students.

From Wikipedia:
...No Child Left Behind requires all public schools receiving federal funding to administer a state-wide standardized test annually to all students. This means that all students take the same test under the same conditions. Schools that receive Title I funding through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 must make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in test scores (e.g. each year, fifth graders must do better on standardized tests than the previous year's fifth graders).
If the school's results are repeatedly poor, then steps are taken to improve the school.
  • Schools that miss AYP for a second consecutive year are publicly labeled as in need of improvement, and must develop a two-year improvement plan for the subject that the school is not teaching well. Students have the option to transfer to a better school within the school district, if any exists.
  • Missing AYP in the third year forces the school to offer free tutoring and other supplemental education services to struggling students.
  • If a school misses its AYP target for a fourth consecutive year, the school is labeled as requiring "corrective action," which might involve wholesale replacement of staff, introduction of a new curriculum, or extending the amount of time students spend in class.
  • A fifth year of failure results in planning to restructure the entire school; the plan is implemented if the school fails to hit its AYP targets for the sixth year in a row. Common options include closing the school, turning the school into a charter school, hiring a private company to run the school, or asking the state office of education to run the school directly.
What doesn't work:

Please see all the reasons why it does, because, well, they are the same reasons why it fails in actuality.

I remember when they first rolled out NCLB and we looked at the goals for our school. On paper they seemed reasonable. I think they were something like every student would be on grade-level by 2014. Who doesn't want to be proficient or better by 2014? Who wants to say 'no child left behind except your child'?

As, with anything that isn't functioning properly we have to look at personal teacher goals, school goals, mandated goals, unspoken but still mandated goals and we have to give room for teachers to think and process and do what it takes to achieve. Only if I buy in to the fact that all of my students can succeed, only if I have money to throw at the myriad ways to help my students succeed, only if I have time to get every student to perform at the best of their ability in all subjects from K to 12 can we see that adequate yearly progress that people want to see. Sadly, more importantly than that we have to put our money where our mouths are...this definitely doesn't happen, just look here and here to see how my state alone cuts education funds, and that's just this year.

Standardized testing as each state gets to determine what their tests looks like and each state gets to determine the standard for those tests. 50 different interpretations of those tests, 50 different sets of standards...crazy town party of, um, what's 50 X 50 X the #of school districts?...Frankly, I don't like that a school can be labeled as 'failing' based on tests that I have no control over. As an English teacher I never see the light of day and the Arts and Physical Education which are just as important as English and Math and Science and Social Studies get pushed back way back. In all actuality English and STEM seem to be what drives us and history also seems to get a bit of a back burner. So, when it comes to PD who gets the time? When it comes to funding who gets the money? Who's been over-tested and over-stressed? What happens to the child's education under NCLB?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Educational Buzzwords...M: Missouri Learning Standards and the Common Core queue Dave Stuart Jr.

I'd like to premise this post with the following:

I understand that there are people in the world who are incredibly anti-common core. If you are one of those people, this post is not for you (you can read all the links filed underneath 'Common Core Concerns'). I hope I have written it in such a way that there's really nothing to argue about, but just in case there is, this post is not the place to do so. Please keep your conspiracy theories, anti-government/Obama rants and off-topic links to yourself. If you would like to comment, please understand that if you comment in a way that is not intelligent or helpful your comment will be deleted by me (this includes those who agree and disagree with what I've written below). Thank-you for your time!

What common core is:
[Read more about that here]

What common core is not:

  • Mandated curriculum
  • Mandated pace of said curriculum
  • Mandated books, essays and poems that must be taught during a certain year
  • Mandated laws in your state, rules in your home, policies at your school
  • Mandated classroom formatives and summatives

Only your state and local school district can do any of the above (update 4/16-see: "Don't Squander Teachers' Support for the Common Core" for more information on how states can really screw things up)...and, if they are, you probably need to ask yourself the following a] is this something that I know is wrong, have they crossed a line, and do I need to talk to my superintendent(s)/legislature about it? or b] is my school sucking it up so bad that my central office and the school board really do need to get involved to fix this mess?

Where do the Missouri Learning Standards fit into all of this?
The MLS are CCSS and Show-Me Standard aligned. They prepare students for college and careers. Schools can choose to adopt or modify the model curriculum units, but, they do not have to (of note: I've been using aspects of their model curriculum for years).

About the Missouri Learning Standards

What common core...er...MLS look like in my classroom?
OK, so when they initially rolled out the CCSS, I was a little freaked out. I had been working with the CLEs/GLEs so long that I'd practically had those puppies memorized (ok, fine I did/still do have them memorized). There were too many standards for me to get my head around, and then I began reading. We have a Staff-Development Center and there, with the help of The Carols (semi-retired STAR teachers who help us with data, New Teacher Institute and PD), we unpacked the standards, aligned them to the CLEs (a copy of which can be found here) and realized they're just what students should be doing anyway. In many ways they're getting back to the basics of what teaching is: students reading complex texts, students being challenged to think, students being able to write and explain said thinking critically. They are what it takes to be College and Career ready, actually if you ask Dave Stuart, he might say that while there are many, many, many standards, they aren't enough (see: 9 Skills the Common Core Doesn't List, But That Employers Want Anyway). They are what good teachers do even when no one is watching.

Example unit(s) from Sophomore English with Pacing Guides
Example unit(s) from Freshmen English with Pacing Guides

Who is this Dave Stuart person and why should I be listening to him?
From his blog:
Dave’s audiences appreciate that he teaches full-time, daily bridging the gap between theory and practice in his secondary classroom. This has led to a non-freaked out, down-to-earth approach that empowers teachers rather than weighing them down.

If you hire Dave, expect to get past fluff and straight to what works. He advocates a non-freaked out, focused approach to literacy, and his approach perfectly aligns with everything from the Common Core to, well… common sense.

Why you should listen:
We had Dave jump-start our school year and he really has a non-freaked out, "this is just what good teachers do" approach. He is still a teacher in a classroom that resembles the average classroom. Those of us at LHS who attended his workshop (not just English teachers, not just literacy gurus) are still singing his praises. The feedback was so positive that we are having him come again for a second round.

Helpful links
Common Core State Standards Initiative
Teaching the Core: A Non-Freaked Out Approach to the Common Core State Standards
Missouri Learning Standards
Common Core Concerns
Common Core for Secondary Education (Pinterest links)

For anything to work, teachers, parents and students must work together and use their brains, I've yet to see this remotely happen for any policy, any initiative, any teacher standard. No matter what happens to these standards in years to come, the way I teach won't change and the standards, without all the hullabalooh surrounding them and where they come from and who wrote them and so on, are *queue Martha Stewart* 'a good thing' that I find it easy to get behind, as they jive with my way of thinking.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Educational Buzzwords...L: Literacy

What is literacy?


The Goal at LHS:
This year our focus has been school-wide literacy. In digging more into what that looks like school-wide we've had people across the building share their classroom techniques during faculty meetings. We gave out a questionnaire and realized we have a long way to go to get everyone on a level playing field when it comes to reading and writing in the classroom.

Here are PDFs to our faculty meetings:


Here's our initial literacy survey for this school year, and here's our questionnaire, feel free to download and edit it to suit your needs.

My Goal is this:

Educational Buzzwords...K: Knowledge or the Life-long Learner

How do we instill in our students the willingness to always be learning? How do we instill in our colleagues the willingness to always be learning? What does it mean to be a life-long learner?

I open up my classes with this essay Don't You Think It's Time to Start Thinking? and I challenge them to rise to this essay every day. I challenge them to define what it means to think and then I hold them to that definition all year long.

Definition from Ask.com:
A lifelong learner is a person who continuously works on gaining knowledge and furthering his skills in a particular subject area throughout his lifetime. The learning experience can either be formal through education or informal through experiences.

["School House Rock!"]

For students:
  1. Let your students know that you care about them as people. In some ways that means meeting them where they are...social media. If you are afraid of friending them on various platforms sets up a group where you, your students and their parents can communicate with each other about things school related, but also about things they want to talk about. I used to have a forum for my honors classes and there was a section where they could talk about anything they wanted to and there was a section where they could ask me about anything they wanted to, now I have various blogs and have branded myself through the use of FB, Twitter, Pinterest and so on.
  2. Let them get to know you...of course, at a level that you feel comfortable...I suppose not everyone is OK with students touching their afro in the hallway, but I'm sure you have a personality...show it to them!
  3. Be honest with them...we've already covered this to an extent, but also be honest with them about your curriculum, your knowledge and your ability. However, they don't need to know that you still don't understand [FILL IN THE BLANK], unless, of course, that helps them understand it. Show them that you are always learning.
  4. Show them that you are always questioning and changing and adapting to better prepare them for a world that is always questioning, changing and adapting.
  5. Believe in them. I believe all my kids are rock stars who can achieve beyond what they've shown and, in saying and believing that, I get the students to believe that too. I NEVER let them says that it's the best they can do and I don't like teachers who say that about their students.
For colleagues:
  1. So many people come out of teaching with an overconfidence that borders on ignorance and because of this they believe they are always right and that they have nothing new to learn...show them that there is always something new to learn by sharing with them your process of learning. This is even more important to show if you are a veteran, tenured teacher as 15, 20, 30 years in there's still stuff to learn and different ways to reach students.
  2. Don't be afraid to say you are wrong.
  3. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
  4. Don't be afraid to show your weakness.
  5. Don't be afraid to challenge others.
  6. Don't be afraid to do all of the above, often!

And, I leave with with another delicious TedTalk video:


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Educational Buzzwords...J: JUST COMMUNICATE already...please and thank-you.

It's no surprise that for anything to work there must be consistent and clear communication. This is never more important than when a child's education is at stake.

Communication comes in various forms within the confines of the school building. If we think of the four keys to communication (listening, non-verbal, speaking and thinking) we can easily see how it should flow in the classroom.

Communication with Parents
As you can tell from my post about Helicopter parents, I do believe that sometimes parents can 'communicate' too much and in unhealthy ways. The key to good communication with parents is creating boundaries, getting them to understand that you are both on the same side and honesty.

Be open and honest by...
1] Letting the parent see whatever they want to see...this includes their child's tests, homework and well, even your classroom and its procedures. Come visit us anytime!
2] Telling a parent the best way(s) to reach you, and then making sure they can reach you...for me that's email.
3] Being honest about their child's potential in your class and their ability in your class. This includes being honest about how they, the parent, can help their child succeed in your class. Seriously, if a parent tells me that their child is working on my honors homework 3-4 hours a night and still not succeeding at the level they expect, we talk about what 'working' looks like and we talk about whether the honors class is the right fit for them.

Communication with Students
I started teaching because of the students, I could give two craps about anything else. I like hanging out with the kids and talking to them and getting to know them. I like figuring out how to help them. I like that, if they let me (many of them can't or won't), they come out of my class better and stronger versions of themselves. I feel this way about all of my kids--it doesn't matter if they are in my honors class or if they are...freshmen. I love them, I want the best for them and I want them to be independent learners who can succeed in the 21st century. The only way I can do this is by being honest with them.

Be open and honest by...
1] Giving the students monthly calendars, so they can pace their lives around my assignments for them and by giving them my goals for the class and then giving them time to adjust those goals to fit their needs.
2] We talk about what communication is in my classroom. Nothing upsets and annoys (yes, it's both) me more than a student who tells me that I don't teach and then they complain about how hard the next class/college and so on are for them. I tell them this upfront. We can work together to make them the best versions of themselves, but we have to do it together and they have to listen and they have to read directions and they have to study what I ask them to study. Most importantly they have to ask questions when they don't get something.
3] Telling them when they are falling off the ladder and allowing them the space to do so, knowing full well that, as their teacher, I'll be there should they want to get back on and try again.

Communication with Administration
I can only be as honest with administration as they are with me. My classroom is too important and my personal life too important for me to play mind games with my superiors. I think too often administrators take credit for things they shouldn't take credit for, try to control in ways that aren't healthy and have too many closed door meetings with other teachers and staff, hoping that those things in some way build trust. They do not. Administrators need to follow the norms of the building, of the PLCs and they need to be honest when they do not.

Be open and honest by...
1] Being clear about what kind of environment you want to work and be a part of and being clear about your goals as a teacher.
2] Being respectful, but letting them know that you will not be bullied, will not sit in on unscheduled meetings and being honest about what you will share with others...for me that's everything...I am an open book.
3] Being willing to walk away and find that environment that best suits your needs.

Communication with Other Teachers
In a building that is to succeed as a PLC school, communication must be constant. For a PLC to succeed:

Be open and honest by...
1] Following the norms. If you create the norms together that means you own the norms, own them by doing them.
2] Having an open door policy, closed door meetings and tattling to superiors do not make friends nor foster collegiality in any work place. If you have a problem with someone or if you know that someone has a problem with you talk to them directly and honestly. I don't think you have to be their friend, but I do think that they need to understand you and you need to understand them.
3] Understanding that not everyone is willing to do this (some people just like to stir up...er...have drama in their lives), that's OK...stay clear of these people.

So, I'm sure you can see a theme...honesty, it's not the best policy for nuthin'. Now, if only we could get everyone to see that.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Educational Buzzwords...I: Interactive Notebook

What is an Interactive Notebook?

Interactive notebook. (in’ter-ak’-tiv no¯t-bu˙k) n. 1. A collection of notes taken from reading, listening, discussion, and viewing, including corresponding responses, either in graphic or written form. First
introduced in Addison-Wesley’s History Alive! 2. Daily journal-type recording of student-written class notes from reading, lecture, and discussions, and the reflective and metacognitive responses students
make to their own note taking.

Our notebooks have two levels...a writer's notebook (for daily writing assignments, vocabulary, grammar practice--anything that involves writing and processing) and a section for hand-outs, worksheets and so on.

Below are the guidelines we give the students.

I've also started a Journalism Interactive Notebook.
Here's a great place to start; this is especially true if you like a good foldable.

Of course, none of these ideas were originally mine, I've just adjusted them to suit my own needs in my classroom.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Educational Buzzwords...H: Helicopter Parents...um...yeah...

Examples of when 'helpful' parenting turns into helicopter parenting...some of these are from my own experiences as a teacher:
When a parent...
1] stays home from work to do their kids homework. How can you tell the parent did it? The references for the paper are all college education books that the student, when you ask point blank questions, has no idea what you are talking about.
2] calls you on your cellphone (when you didn't give them your #) at 10.30p to talk about the extra credit work you assigned so their kid can have an A- instead of a B+.
3] a kid turns in said extra credit late and the parent doesn't understand why the teacher won't accept it and then doesn't understand why the principal doesn't make the teacher accept it.

What can you, as a parent, do to make sure you aren't hovering?
How to be a helpful parent (the opposite of the dreaded 'Helicopter')
1] Work with your student and their teachers for a plan that best allows your student to grow at his or her full potential.
2] Schedule times to meet or talk. Most teachers don't even mind if you sit in on their classes, as long as you call or email your intentions.
3] Trust that the teacher knows what he or she is doing. When you feel that a teacher is bullying your child talk to them first, be honest and be up front, however, realize that the teacher will still want your student to turn in work on time, be respectful in the classroom and to reach his or her full potential.

(wow, parents, wow!)

Five Words that even the Summer Couldn't Help Me Forget
(a post I wrote about more edu-words)

Educational Buzzwords...G: Grit

What is it?
From How Children Succeed
"There is no antipoverty tool we can provide for disadvantaged young people that will be more valuable than the character strengths…[such as] conscientiousness, grit, resilience, perseverance, and optimism."
  • non-cognitive skills are learnable habits, not in-born traits;
  • the two non-cognitive skills that seem to get the biggest bang for the buck are grit and self-control
"The tendency to sustain perseverance and passion for challenging long-term goals" ~Angela Duckworth

KIPP School says...
A student with grit, specifically, will:
  • finish whatever he or she begins;
  • try very hard even after experiencing failure;
  • work independently with focus.
How does that look in a classroom...
My go-to guy for all things gritty...the illustrious and brilliant Dave Stuart Jr. says...

  • When I give a complex text to the whole class, my below-level readers need to know that what I’m expecting is a gritty reading of the text. They may not pull out as much as their at- or above-level peers, but I expect them to focus for the duration of the reading and to finish it.
  • When we’re doing a close reading of an article and I model how to summarize a dense paragraph, I tell students I want to see them use self-control to remember what I taught them and put it into practice right away.
  • When we’re doing an in-class debate or discussion, I expect students to show politeness to people with opposing viewpoints, and to keep their emotions out of the debate–this is self-control. I also want them to stay focused on the flow of the debate even after they’ve made their required speech–this is grit.
  • That dirty p-word at the end of work-related self-control–procrastination–is a huge monster many of my students need to intentionally grapple with during their freshmen year; self-control allows us to talk about that issue through the lens of it being a barrier to one of the most highly predictive character strengths known to mankind.

  • How it looks in my classroom...

  • Students are not allowed to give up, students are not allowed to quit. I will meet them where they are and pull them up to where they and I know are supposed to be. EXAMPLE: We were doing a tiered unit, I had a student who I knew could do better than a B, we talked and she did the work to received the A.
  • Interactive notebooks allow students time for independent work, group work and whole class work at the level that is most appropriate for them.
  • Reading strategies to go bigger and deeper even with readings that they may not like and have a hard time understanding.
  • Teaching lessons about when it's OK to give up and when they MUST press on.

  • The problems with grit...can all be broken down to the following...

    And, my favorite one...

    But, I suppose we can break it down using Alfie Kohn's article.
    From "The Downside of 'Grit'" by Alfie Kohn

    1] To begin with, not everything is worth doing, let alone doing for extended periods, and not everyone who works hard is pursuing something worthwhile.
    2] Often it just doesn’t make sense to continue with a problem that resists solution or persist at a task that no longer provides satisfaction.
    3] Even if you don’t crash and burn by staying the course, you may not fare nearly as well as if you had stopped, reassessed, and tried something else.
    4] Proponents of grit rarely ask: Do kids love what they're doing?  Or are they driven by a desperate (and anxiety-provoking) need to prove their competence?  As long as they're pushing themselves, we’re encouraged to nod our approval.
    5] Grit is sometimes sold as a tool to accomplish whatever goals one chooses, but in practice the focus is on training children to accomplish the goals imposed on them by adults.
    6] In the field of education, meanwhile, some people are trying to replace a system geared to memorizing facts and taking tests with one dedicated to exploring ideas.  They're committed to implementing a democratic, collaborative approach to schooling that learners will find more engaging than what they're offered now.  But those enamored of grit look at the same status quo and ask:  How can we get kids to put up with it?

    See! Using GRIT effectively is all about thinking...How can I can my students to press on and when is it appropriate to do so?

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

    Educational Buzzwords...F: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades

    From the back cover:

    Ken O'Connor

    A Repair Kit for Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades, 2/e

    Communicating about student achievement requires accurate, consistent and meaningful grades.
    Educators interested in examining and improving grading practices should ask the following questions:

    • Am I confident that students in my classroom receive consistent, accurate and meaningful grades that support learning? 
    • Am I confident that the grades I assign students accurately reflect my school or district’s published performance standards and desired learning outcomes?

    In many schools, the answers to these questions often range from "not very" to "not at all." When that’s the case, grades are "broken" and teachers and schools need a "repair kit" to fix them. A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, 2/e gives teachers and administrators 15 ways to make the necessary repairs.

    The "fixes" are in four categories that reflect common grading challenges: distorted achievement, low-quality or poorly organized evidence, inappropriate grade calculation and linking grades more closely to student learning. Student achievement isn’t only about "doing the work" or accumulating points. But, when students receive points for merely turning in work on time, or when teachers put a mark on everything students do and simply count them up to determine a grade, the message is clear: success is determined by the quantity of points earned, not the quality of the learning taking place. In fact, messages about learning quality get lost.  Grades are artifacts of learning, and students need to receive grades that reflect what they’ve actually learned. That’s why this book advocates the implementation of grading systems based strictly on student achievement – and shows educators how to create them.

    Ken O’Connor is a former Curriculum Coordinator with the Scarborough Board of Education in Ontario, Canada. He is an expert on grading and reporting with a particular emphasis on using these techniques to improve student achievement through student involvement. With over twenty years of teaching experience in secondary schools in Australia and Ontario, he has presented hundreds of workshops for teachers at every grade level, and is the author of the very successful How to Grade for Learning.

    The Fifteen Fixes:
    With comments about each in, um, green...

    1. Don’t include student behaviors (effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc) in grades; include only achievement. I'm not sure why this one is even a problem. Of course, grades should be about achievement!
    2. Don’t reduce marks on ‘work’ submitted late; provide support for the learner. I love this one, but our school hasn't really gotten on board. I understand the reservation. I also understand having whole building rules about this just muddies the waters.
    3. Don’t give points for extra credit or use bonus points; seek only evidence that more work has resulted in a higher level of achievement. Um, isn't this just a fancy way of assigning extra credit or bonus points...
    4. Don’t punish academic dishonesty with reduced grades; apply other consequences and reassess to determine actual level of achievement. This makes sense, as academic dishonesty is a behavior not lack of mastery in a given standard...
    5. Don’t consider attendance in grade determination; report absences separately. Um, duh...and, yet, colleges and universities are BIG, FAT MEANIES about this!
    6. Don’t include group scores in grades; use only individual achievement evidence. Definitely unfair otherwise!
    7. Don’t organize information in grading records by assessment methods or simply summarize into a single grade; organize and report evidence by standards/ learning goals. I'm not really sure how to do this, if my grading system isn't aligned in that way, sure I can find things free online, but I find they are full of glitches and I still have to translate those into grades for our building online grade-book...
    8. Don’t assign grades using inappropriate or unclear performance standards; provide clear descriptions of achievement expectations.Duh...
    9. Don’t assign grades based on student’s achievement compared to other students; compare each student’s performance to preset standards. Duh...
    10. Don’t rely on evidence gathered from assessments that fail to meet standards of quality; rely only on quality assessments. Duh...
    11. Don’t rely on the mean; consider other measures of central tendency and use professional
    judgment. With online grade-books this just makes sense, weighing grades works out for everyone...
    12. Don’t include zeros in grade determination when evidence is missing or as punishment; use alternatives, such as reassessing to determine real achievement or use “I” for Incomplete or Insufficient evidence. This is the one I have the most problems with, knowing that fair isn't always equal I believe that sometimes it is fair to give a zero or two or five. If I've done all I can to get a kid to do the work/assignment and they don't when is it appropriate to say enough? For some kids the end is never...for others...a zero is motivation...I think it helps to know when, as a teacher I must know when. I also don't mind changes zeroes into passing grades. Obviously, I'm still stewing on this one...
    13. Don’t use information from formative assessments and practice to determine grades; use only summative evidence. Duh...
    14. Don’t summarize evidence accumulated over time when learning is developmental and will
    grow with time and repeated opportunities; in those instances emphasize more recent achievement. I'd like to see how this looks, I think I do aspects of this, I'd like to know how I can do this with more alacrity...
    15. Don’t leave students out of the grading process. Involve students - they can - and should - play key roles in assessment and grading that promote achievement. I'd like to do this one better and all of the time. 

    Educational Buzzwords...E: Educational Paradigm Shifts

    About Sir Ken Robinson

    Of note in the video (find the whole transcript here):

    1. There are two reasons for the current reform in public education. One is economic (how do we educate children so they are prepared for tomorrow when we have no idea what tomorrow is going to be about?) and the other is cultural (how do we make sure that children have a cultural identity while still being a part of globalization?). 
    2. It's better to have a college degree over not having a degree, but it is no longer a guarantee that you will get a stable job because of that degree.
    3. Everyone agrees we should raise our educational standards, but the problem is that we can't do this using the same educational ideas we've always used. Our current system of education 'was designed and conceived and constructed for a different age'. 
    4. Public education, as we know it, is a relatively new concept.
    5. Public education is steeped in academic ability, the idea that there are two kinds of people: smart people and not-so-smart people. The problem with that is that there are many people who are brilliant, who, based on the standards of education, are not seen as being brilliant. It's also steeped in the fact that everyone can/should/will be educated regardless of economic or social standing.
    6. Public education can be compared to the plague of ADHD, not because ADHD isn't real, but because it is no longer valuable that kids learn, they are just factories for standardized testing.
    7. In many ways the Arts are the answer because they are the most victimized due to their aesthetic nature. 'We are getting our kids through education by anesthetizing them.'
    8. Schools are built for the Industrial age and they are mostly about conformity and standardization.
    9. We need to educate kids to be divergent thinkers. We need to educate kids to have a capacity for creativity. Read the book: Break Point and Beyond and you'll find that schooling and education kills the idea of divergent thinking.
    10. Most teachers understand this and don't want to kill a child's ability to be divergent, but it's part of the outdated educational process. We must stop this. We must quit putting people into categories and groups. We must collaborate. We must address our institutes of learning.

    Monday, April 7, 2014

    Educational Buzzwords...D: Differentiated Instruction

    I am a member of the PD (professional development) committee. The summer before last, three of us and our principal went to the SDE National DI Conference it was in Chicago at the time (now it's in Las Vegas) and we spent a wonderful time eating, and learning, and discussing the awesomeness that is differentiated instruction.

    What is DI?

    1. Differentiated instruction is a way to reach students with different learning styles, different abilities to absorb information and different ways of expressing what they have learned.
    Ways to differentiate...

    We went to the conference to gather ideas about how to incorporate differentiation in our school and we spent quite a bit of time breaking down what we learned into presentations during faculty meetings throughout the school year. We then had four in-depth after-school sessions to fill in the gaps.

    Faculty Meeting PDFs
    DI #1
    DI #2
    DI #3
    DI #4
    DI #5
    DI #6
    DI #7

    Below you will find short explanations of each session with links to PDFs of the slides. If you would like to learn more or would like those slides, just give me a holler at smj274@gmail.com and I can email full size flipcharts or PDFs...it just wouldn't feel right selling them as most of the graphics and none of the ideas are originally ours. Enjoy!

    Learning and the Learning Environment. Who are you as a learner? How do you learn? Use these as a basis for our to differentiation.

    Tiered Lessons and their use in the workshop model. We use Cris Tovani's Catch and Release model and catch and release through entrance and exit slips.

    What is the flow of instruction in a DI classroom? How do you incorporate all of the...stuff? How does one go about adjusting assignments? How does one use flexible grouping effectively?

    Homework and Assessment...can I can use DI during my assessments? If so, how? What is your grading philosophy?

    Educational Buzzwords...C: "Can Skateboarding Save Our Schools?"

    C: "Can Skateboarding Save Our Schools?"

    Anybody who knows me knows how much I absolutely love this video it touches on my personal philosophy as a human-being and as a teacher...we have to be willing to learn even when we fail.

    I think this video speaks for itself, but here are some highlights...

    What a learning experience in skateboarding is all about...it's different than at most schools...
    1] Failure is normal.
    2] Nobody knows ahead of time how long it takes anyone to learn anything.
    3] Work your ass off until you figure it out.
    4] Learning is NOT fun.
    5] [It is] FLOW...finding 'Goldielocks challenges'.
    6] No grades.
    7] No cheating.
    8] No teacher.
    9] Real-time meaningful feedback.

    And, Dr. Tae is right...we haven't done a very good job of looking outside of schools to look at how broad the spectrum of learning really is.

    Oh, and skateboarding is friggin' cool!

    Sunday, April 6, 2014

    Educational Buzzwords...B: Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and Social Media in the Classroom

    So, I'm spending the month of April digging into the world of education. These are not just buzzwords, but they are educational concepts that have helped me perfect myself as a teacher.

    I am coming a little late to the party, to be honest, I totally forgot about the A to Z Challenge and am hoping to get caught up this week.

    [There's a great article that goes with this graphic and it can be found by clicking on this caption]

    B: Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and Social Media in the Classroom

    Social Media is...everywhere.

    As a teacher of Scholastic Journalism, I've never understood the fear that schools/parents/humans have of students, teachers and their interactions via blogs, Google Drive, email and social media.

    I like the idea of BYODs, which makes it easy for schools to go 1:1 as it helps schools bridge the gaps for those that don't have the means to incorporate technology in their homes or the ability to bring that technology to school.

    BYODs and 1:1 schools address so much, if we let them.

    A school that is preparing their students for the 21st century trust their teachers and trust their students to a] make responsible decisions on social media and b] have the proper consequences when they--both--don't. A school that wants to truly wants students to learn about the power of social media has a social media policy that enables everyone to learn and it doesn't punish the process.

    Too often though, we get bent out of shape when students use social media to bad-mouth the school, its teachers and its policies (forgetting all about free speech and the old adage 'Sticks and stones make break my bones...'). We forget that we've got a responsibility to educate students about time and place and the ins and outs of what constitutes good criticism. We also forget to listen when students speak. Too often we take what one student or teacher does has a reason to stop the learning of the rest of the masses.

    We have to stop being afraid of technology and social media communication between parents and teachers and students in and out of the classroom.

    We have to understand that good teachers make the right choices, good teachers understand the value of social media in the classroom and good teachers love communicating with their students...we don't even mind doing it 24/7.

    Honestly, and this is a sobering thought, those 'bad' teachers/students will manipulate the situation no matter what and imposing regulations that limit the ability of students to achieve and prepare for the 21st century only hurts the classroom. It only hurts the learning.

    So, anyway, BYODs and 1:1 schools are a great place to start...unlocking FB on school devices wouldn't be a bad place to go either. Of course, having social media lessons in place to teach all that proper conduct that most grown-ups understand wouldn't be bad either.

    Common Sense Media
    Social Media at School
    Students Want Social Media in Schools
    Bring Your Own Technology/Device (BYOT/D)

    Educational Buzzwords...A: Article of the Week

    So, I'm spending the month of April digging into the world of education. These are not just buzzwords, but they are educational concepts that have helped me perfect myself as a teacher.

    I am coming a little late to the party, to be honest, I totally forgot about the A to Z Challenge and am hoping to get caught up this week.

    So, on to my first letter.

    A: Article of the Week

    As you know, er, as many/some of you know I teach high school English. Over the years this job as been equal parts rewarding, inspiring, challenging, enlightening and a pain in my...er...you know what.

    One of the major challenges I've had is creating the perfect environment where kids want to read books. A book that helped me understand kids today and their struggle with reading was this little gem Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It by Kelly Gallagher. At the time he was teaching in a print poor school and he realized that students didn't/don't even have the cultural literacy to want to be better at reading. He gives strategies for students to increase their background knowledge and their knowledge of the world around them.

    A major strategy and paradigm shift in my classroom been incorporating the Article of the Week (AoW) into my class.

    His strategy is simple and can be found here.

    Dave Stuart Jr., a blogging/teacher friend of mine, goes even more in-depth and breaks it down on his website and that can be found here.

    Both of these sites give a list of articles to use and both have formats that can be easily adapted to what you are doing with AoWs in your classroom with your situation.

    Here's how this strategy functions in my classroom:

    1] I introduce the AoW with a whole class discussion using a Veronica Roth blog post called "Likeable Schmikable". That blog post, written pre-Divergent (and pre that disaster Allegiant), is about whether you have to like characters to like a book and the kids always have opinions about it.
    2]Once we start, first semester we do an article every week. Each is current, some are news, some are features all have to do with what is happening in the world around us.
    3] Over the course of time we've added several different concepts to our articles based on what we know kids are deficient in knowing...um, we do the usual by addressing audience and purpose and marking up the text, but we've added a section for text features, a holistic way at looking at the 20 point score, and when Dave Stuart added a section for argumentation using the book (They Say, I Say), we added that template as well.
    4] I also like Dave's breakdown of the article. Pass it out, read it, argue about it in class (you could have a class debate or Think/Pair/Share is a quick way to get this done) and then it's due the same day a new one is introduced.

    As a PLC, we do about 10 articles in the Fall and 5 in the Spring. We're not up to that ideal 35-40 a year and personally I'm not up to 20 a year, but I'm getting there.

    What do you think? What are some ways you've used AoW?

    Finally, if you are interested in any articles we've done this year, or want to see our template, it's an MSDoc and I would love to send it or the articles to you via my email: smj274@gmail.com


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