Monday, November 28, 2011

Grading Practices- My Mindset

Over the past week I have read numerous blog posts regarding perspectives on grading procedures, along with several articles on the topic from Educational Leadership’s newest issue, Effective Grading Practices.    I have thoroughly enjoyed the candor expressed within each intentional word spoken about the topic. 

In Ann and I’s world of Multiage, we have naturally changed our own perspective as the year has moved forward.  In our building/district, we are in year three of Standards-Based Grading.  Even though we have been focused on scoring student progress as a 4,3,2,or 1 rather than letter grades of A,B,C,D, or F for several years now, truly understanding Standards-Based Grading sinks in over time.  It is a process you have to become accustomed to since a shift of thinking is required.  You must focus on their progress towards a standard and record where their progress is at each grading period, rather than their effort and graded work averaged over a chunk of time.  This transition, though, has been a very comfortable process for me.  I like how it is black or white in nature; a student either has it or doesn’t.  Simple.

And this year Ann and I have really been able to take it to a new level.  Our students have the ownership of “Meeting Standard” or “Not-meeting Standard”.  (Again, they either have it or they don’t- very simple for them to understand.)  We are very open with the students about the standards they are to learn, introducing them within our Target Walls, but also providing students with their own Mini-target walls that are building blocks based on their individual needs, not their grade level.  Standards-Based Grading allows for the flexibility to move at the student’s pace, based on the student’s individual needs.  It’s what I love about it the most- it allows for “no ceiling, no floor” during the learning process.

The way that we have instilled our grading practices are non-threatening in nature.  Students are not working for an extrinsic motivator, nor competing against their peers.  They have specific goals, work towards them, “meet standard”, move on to the next building block, and set new goals.  Then they repeat the cycle  while understanding that they MUST continue rehearsing, reflecting, and synthesizing their knowledge base as learning continues in order for long-term retention to take effect.  They understand the true learning process.  It isn’t about a grade, or a meeting standard mark, but building their own intellect- because that’s the real purpose, right?

So filling out report cards can seem tedious in a process that is built in this manner.  (Our students could have filled them out on their own, had we let them, because they already know these facts about their journey. Every day is about their own personal progress.)   Formal report cards are an extra step, but it does allow for a documented trail of learning:  where the student has been, where they are now, and where they are going.  Tracking learning is something to treasure- one should have a way to appreciate their hard work and courageous effort. 

Regardless of which stance you take concerning grading, please remember that any type of grade labels a student.  They should not be blindsided by the marks on their formal report card.  Formative assessment along the way should have involved the students to allow them to clearly understand themselves as learners and where they are on their own continuum.  The feedback they receive is essential to their growth.

The questions we should continuously be reflecting on often, through our own learning journey regarding this issue, are:  How often do I provide my students with feedback?  Is my brain doing the work during the correcting process, or is theirs?  Do my students have specific information about their own learning profile?  Do they set their goals, or do I do it for them?  Do they choose their path each day, or do I make those decisions?

Ann and I allow our students to teach us every day, and because of this mindset we have grown exponentially with the use of daily formative assessment and student self-assessment.  In the end it isn’t about the final grade, but the learning path you walk together.


Bulbs to Blooms

     I finally took the time this weekend to plant a bag of spring blooming tulips.  Yes, in this part of the country tulip bulbs are supposed to be planted between September and October, and yes it is now nearly December.  I was laughing to myself, thinking back to the fact that September was the start of a new classroom and teaching assignment and I was a little busy!
     And yet even then I was planting "bulbs" so to speak within my classroom and my own professional development, and gathering the "blooms" of other bulbs that were planted over the summer.  Bulbs like how to effectively run a multiage literacy program, ways to look at our curriculum as a continuum of learning rather than discreet grade levels (students, then standards, then curriculum and resources) and implementing Celina's Masterful Math Method.  Within our classroom bulbs of empathy, community and appreciation for uniqueness were planted this fall, and now we are seeing the blooms of students who are excited to come to school, who feel recognized and appreciated for their gifts and who are pushing themselves, their classmates and us to even greater insights. 
      So as we approach these last 3 school weeks of 2011, with the ensuing December distractions of concerts, potential snow days, indoor recesses and holiday mayhem, I am thinking instead of all the bulbs that we can plant.  What are the blooms that I want to see in January?  What are the bulbs that will get our students thinking and processing now in order to see those blooms in 2012.  Let's roll up our sleeves and plant away! ~ Ann

Friday, November 25, 2011

Gratitude Post #2: Letter to My Friends

Dear Devri and Ann,
As I reflect over this holiday break, I continue to think of all the ways you 2 support me. Your friendship means the world to me, and I will forever be thankful for the way you unconditionally offer daily doses of love. I enjoy talking with you about any topic, feel grateful to walk down the path of motherhood together, and appreciate the genuine humor we share.

But truly, I want to thank you for the inspiration you provide me everyday. You are both amazing mothers, dedicated wives, loving daughters, insightful teachers, and thoughtful friends. You teach me how to: appreciate my children for their unique spirits, understand that it's the small things that count in my marriage, enjoy the conversations I have with my parents, see my students' truest potential, and respect the people in my life that offer me their friendship. Some of these lessons you probably never intended to teach me, but your grace and sincerity in situations (and stories) offer simple life-lessons... And I am always listening, ready to learn.

If I could give you both one gift--- one very special present that you could forever and always treasure--- it would be the ability for you to see the true leaders you are for the individuals you inspire on a daily basis. Sometimes your leadership occurs at home and other times at school, but please remember that your roles in both places are extremely important. You make a difference each and every day. Please look into your beautiful souls and value who you were born to be.

Thank you for accepting me for me. You help me stay positive, be myself, and keep my perspective about life. I will forever be thankful for the both of you.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gratitude Post #1: Thankful for our Nerdiness

Ann's post yesterday was perfect! This topic is something we discuss and celebrate daily- we ARE proud nerds and "geek-out" over the new literature we are reading each day. We take this information and apply it within our classroom, and even with our own children at home. Most days our brains are even on the same "wave" of thought (which at this point has stopped freaking us out, and we are just accepting it- it is no longer weird that we have the same thought in the same moments, buy the same book on the same day, or even find out that we had been reading the same blog or article at the same time....).

We know we take personal learning and growth to the next level, but we do it for our own sake because of the success we then see for ourselves as teachers and mothers. It is not for show or attention; we save our jokes/humor for that! :)

Last night I began reading 21st Century Skills, and I became captivated with Howard Gardner's "Five Minds for the Future".  He talks about the Disciplined Mind and how it takes about a decade to learn a discipline well enough to consider yourself an expert.  And that, "an individual needs continually to practice in a disciplined way to remain at the top of his or her game (pg. 12)."  He also talks about how downfalls can arise with having a fixed mindset, or even being an expert at one time but no longer keeping up with the changing times.  I think I connected with his discussion on the Disciplined Mind because it reminded me again of Ann's post... We approach our days with a growth mindset, ready to change our plan as needed and read new literature as relevant to our situation or dilemma. We may have both been in the teaching field for more than a decade, however within these changing times we find the only option is to seek knowledge and apply changes that will better serve the students of this generation.  

And finally a quote that I found yesterday:
Don't aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally. -David Frost

Be thankful for who you are, your own passions, and the friends and family who support you. 


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Nerd Day

Nerd Day is coming to our school, a chance to dress up and have a little fun for students and teachers.  I joked with Celina that we are often thought of as total nerds when it comes to professional learning.  We often spout favorite sites (,, blogs (see sidebar) and books we are reading (the latest being  21st Century Skills Rethinking How Students Learn by Bellanca and Brandt 2010). We find things to share with our students and colleagues continually, and we keep asking for and googling new information.  We are lifelong learners, we are passionate about teaching, we want to do and be the best for the students within our care.  Everyday is an opportunity to connect with kids and open the door of learning with them.  "Imagine what we might learn." "What do you wonder?" and "This is so cool!" are often mantras within our room in an effort to help kids continually expand their thinking. 
We talk a lot about how we are learners within the classroom too.  We thank them for being our teachers and most recently asked the class to give us an assessment based on our performance as their teachers.  What were we doing well?  What did we need to improve on?  What a crack-up!  Some of them want harder homework, more art projects, more time to read or do math.  Some of them are more concerned with getting to recess on time!  What this did for us was to open a dialogue about homework, push us into thinking of even more ways to integrate art into our content areas, and encourage us to streamline our processes to enable more time for their content learning.  It even inspired me to consider buying a watch! 
As I sat down with my last conference yesterday and the student opened his notebook to a highlight of the first trimester, I was reminded that being a NERD is great.  He stopped in the middle of his explanation to flip to the page we had just reflected on, a thought provoking discussion of what a googol is from (Wonder #411).  His eyes lit up, his voice got louder and he began rapidly explaining to his mom the fascinating idea that if all the matter in the world were turned into paper there would not be enough to write out all the zeros in a googolplex. 
So while some will celebrate Nerd Day next week, some of us will continue to celebrate it EVERY DAY!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Student Voice

Learning from children’s voices allows us to know
a deeper level of who children are as learners
 and, because we have that knowledge,
to expand and enrich our sense
of what it means to teach.
- Penny Oldfather (1995)

Do you listen to your students?  Do you hear their desires for learning?  Do you know what inspires them?  What are their personal goals? Are you aware of what THEY would like to learn today? Are your plans based on your curriculum map or chapter guidelines, or are they based on the individual needs sitting before you? Have you asked your students to reflect on your growth?

At the end of last year, I opened the floor to my third graders (whom I had been teaching for 2 years) and asked for the honest truth... How had I grown as a teacher?  What did they notice was different from one year to the next?  Well, it's as if I opened a can of worms!  I couldn't type as fast as their ideas were spilling out.... One of my spunkiest student's remark truly changed my mindset, though, as I was still wondering at that point if I had reached him after 2 long years. However, I am so glad I had asked to hear his voice, because in that moment I KNEW I had.  He stated, "You let us learn by our Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles this year, and last year we really didn’t get a lot of learning done because we didn’t know and use Metacognition.  This year you changed a lot and you made us grow more than we did last year. Oh, and I like how you taught us so much so we are able to teach teachers and YOU, because we teach you too!"  And these were his words, verbatim, and trust me I remember because he made sure I typed it correctly during that moment, a moment I will remember forever.  The moment when I let them provide me feedback.  My only regret was that I hadn't asked sooner... 

I wonder what would happen if you asked these questions to your students?  What if you asked them to provide you feedback?  Would it change the course of their learning path? Would it change yours?


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Our Daily Work is Student Driven...

As Ann and I reflect this weekend, we are continuing to devour literature based on the needs of our students.  Our conferences, thus far, have allowed us to articulate the perspective we have within our Multiage Program, as well as the individualized approach we are using, but also the future path we are projecting to travel through the course of the year.  And I say projecting because the bottom line is our path really is dependent on our students' needs and interests...

Our overarching philosophy continues to be:

Throughout conferences so far, students have been sharing personal highlights with their families, and these moments for us are priceless.  Their dialogue was not rehearsed, nor practiced, just purely from the heart.  They spoke of their goals, and each one displayed a unique passion for learning.  And can I say again outloud??-  "...And we are only in November people!!"  :)

Ann and I are thrilled with the milestones we have passed within just a few months; milestones we set for ourselves in developing our program.  What we have found over the course of the past 11 1/2 weeks is that our students (regardless of their academic standing or behavioral record) will rise to ANY occassion set before them, due to the environment we have established with them. We truly spent the first 6 weeks of school building a community: identifying learning styles/intelligences, celebrating uniqueness, exploring emotions, and building relationships.  These areas were discussed and practiced as we built the structure of our community and routines together.  The time spent on these endeavors has truly paid off!

We continue to explore the building blocks within each content area.  Our students prove to us everyday that they want to climb their individual towers, filling in their missing blocks as they go.  They know how to set a goal based on their own standards (individualized target walls), decide what resources they need, devise a plan, and accomplish the task (marking progress on their target walls on the standards-based continuum). They recognize what they know (GOT IT!) and what they don't (NEED IT!) based on their own evidence! It isn't about grades in our classroom community, but what building blocks they need to learn.  And if they have a particular building block, they become an expert within the community (aka "a resource"). 

This philosophy of student-driven learning is not new, but it does take a particular mindset.... to allow the students to be empowered by their learning.... to allow them to grow at them their own pace... to allow them to choose their daily goals/activities/resources... and to teach in a way that meets all learning styles within each whole group episode. We do not claim to be experts (as we are constantly in search of new ideas and strategies to further our own personal growth).  However, we do now how much "letting go" this process/teaching style/philosophy has required.

And just as we were searching and reading today, both of us became absorbed within the words of one teacher's blog... many of you may have already read his powerful statements and thought provoking dialogue. Thank you to Mr. Stumpenhorst! (And another thank you to Mrs. Ripp for nominating him on your blog, which allowed us to easily connect to his!) We are new to the daily following of blogs, but are really enjoying reading other educators' reflections about their daily work with students.  For Ann and I, finding Josh's words (as well as the numerous comments left by other educators on this path) was a full-circle moment for us....
***And Josh, we are at Phase 4 in general... thank you for putting this journey (mindset) into words! Ideas for moving to Phase 5???


Taking time to reflect

We are halfway through conferences.  I love the way that first trimester conferences fall around a weekend.  It has given me that halfway point to reflect on what I have learned from my students and their families so far, ideas and areas I want to pursue that will both help and inspire my students based on their interests and needs.  Plus I am reminded that I too am still learning, that I too have areas in which to grow.

This fall we worked through a science kit around the topic of Variables -- something that is normally just for 5th graders in our district.  Having taught the kit for the last two years I was made aware that this concept should be used throughout science in all grades, so this year I wanted to teach it to our entire multiage group.  This turned out to be an epiphany in itself.  The majority of third graders readily took to the idea of what controlled, changed and measured variables are, and could quite easily identify them in a situation.  So many of the fifth graders could not.  Which left me wondering if this was a developmental thing. Were my third graders more open to the idea? I love a good mystery, and here I am with one that I will use to transform how I teach science and how my students can teach each other.  More to come . . . . 

One of my very quiet students shared her reflections about how our multiage classroom is going so far, and it was wonderful to hear her insights and thoughts on the process.  She has been inspired by our work with building blocks and learning partners to push herself into new levels.  She is a strong reader and writer, and through the conference shared even more of her interests with reading nonfiction, something she was choosing to read at home. She shared her thoughts on a presentation given by other classmates to our school board and hinted at her own desire to try something like that.  I was delighted to learn more about this very shy student, then to see her yesterday morning and recognize a change in her as well.  She was more confident, more happy to have been recognized for her interests and her intellect.  She is coming out of her shell a little more.  Everyday I am reminded of the uniqueness and special qualities of these amazing little beings!  Again, more to come . . . ~Ann

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Truly Knowing Our Students

Our conferences begin today. Usually I am in a tiff, flitting about in chaos. Yesterday, though, marked a day of change.  A new mindset and philosophy has resulted in a different approach, as we are floating around in a bubble no one can pop (using a twist from one of my favorite metaphors from Ann)! Yesterday was the best time I have ever had stuffing report card folders- as we worked we read aloud their letters to their parents. Truly priceless! {...and then we un-stuffed the letters so we could make copies of them because they were truly amazing ... we want to be able to reshare them with students at the end of the year, plus use them for inspiration as we move forward}

We feel like we know our students this year even better than we ever have before.  And truly it's because each child has their own individualized program in reading, writing, math, and science (and soon social studies).  Our new program has opened new doors for us.  We know where each child is on each content area continuum, yet we are also able to teach several whole group lessons a day with all of these amazing brains working together.  And really these are not "traditional lessons", but conversations that are beginning to be driven by the students (and we are only in November!!).  They are sharing the strategies that are working for them and how they have approached the topic/activity for their own learning/ intelligence style.  The metaphors, quotes, and dialogue that are being shared are WOWING us each and everyday. We need more wall space for all the great thinking!!!

This year we are excited to have our conference conversations about the individual child, rather than the point we are at within the curriculum, or how their child's performance matched up to the curriculum's sequence or expectations.  In addition, we are prepared to share with parents the "building blocks" that are missing (and need to be filled) in order to move on to particular state standard expectations at the child's personal grade level.  We have specific academic prescriptions for each child and we are so excited to share them!!


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In the Spirit of Thanksgiving

"Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after." Ann Morrow Lindbergh

Today and everyday I was reminded that I am blessed and lucky to work where I do, and with the people I do.   I am inspired everyday to push myself into new and more challenging roles, and there is a support system and belief in my abilities that allows me to try it at my own pace.  I grow at my own speed, and yet know that I am much further along than I could ever have been alone.  That I grow faster from the company that I keep and the ideas I am inspired to undertake.

And to think, a year ago I was in a far different place, until one good conversation, one share of an interesting article, one connection about my own child opened up a whole new world.  Thanking my lucky stars today and everyday.  ~Ann

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Inspiration to Application: What have we noticed?

As Celina said, our new teaching assignment this year has been a chance for us to strike out into new territories and also to synthesize what we have learned previously in order to meet the needs of our students.  What a journey and we are only 1/3 of the way through (our first year).   In order to meet the needs of 51 students, within 3 age levels and even more developmental levels, there was no other option but to differentiate.  Here was our chance to channel our inspiration into application!

Our multiage philosophy of meeting students’ needs based on building blocks required a lot of background work in creating a community of learners. Students had to feel safe in sharing what they know and don’t know, and how to learn without comparing themselves to others.  We had to teach them how to be engaged, responsible and respectful to everyone within the community, and from this we could all grow.  What have we noticed?  Students across all grade level bands are working together for the success of all.  It is ok to “need” a target, and to seek out resources or partners to help you.  It is also ok to be an expert and teach others, even when you are the youngest in the class!  It is ok to hit the target on one assessment but have to move your sticker back on the next assessment, this means you need to keep practicing and keep this target active in your mind.  It is ok to work on targets that are below your grade level and even above.  There is no ceiling and there is no floor.  Suddenly this recognition that we are a community of learners allowed students the chance to let go of notions of being just like their classmates.  Each of us is different and that is to be celebrated!

Our brain based learning led us to create a learning environment that uses connections, novelty and timing to meet student needs.  No longer do students read and recite, but they actively seek out what they need to know, often with essential questions or targets in mind.  Novel ideas for gaining their attention abound, from dressing like Monkeys to make a point, to wearing a symbol of every genre to start a study of literature.  What have we noticed?  Time is always of the essence, and yet teaching students to continually practice targets, even mastered ones, has helped the learning to move into long term storage in the brain.   Making connections between topics and to overall big ideas helped new learning “hook” onto learning that is already in the brain.  Students began to see our overall big idea of STRUCTURES in everything that we did, from the structure of a book to the structure of an essay, from place value as the structure of math, to variables and the scientific process as the structure of our science experiments.  With connections our classroom day was no longer a random collection of subjects, but a sustained learning opportunity.  We could practice a topic for a day and then revisit it two days later with little gap in understanding. Novelty is so often our mantra that our students no longer bat an eye at us dressed up in costume, from the Genre Genies to the Queen Bees, we believe in grabbing the attention of our kids from the get go.  The brain as our focus became our greatest ally in the learning process as each student came to appreciate their own unique qualities!

Learning about meeting the needs of the gifted and talented students within our room led us beyond basic academics to meeting students’ affective needs as well.  We contemplated how we could help even our highest kids excel with confidence, bounce back from emotional setbacks and learn the necessary skills, like organization and time management, for success in all areas of life not just school.  What have we noticed?  Students began to discuss and connect with like talented peers and from this developed new friendships.  Given our multiage groupings they were able to learn from and teach to others who are talented in areas different from their own.  Our desire to meet the affective needs of our gifted and talented learners has helped us to meet the same need in all our students.  No matter what academic level, all students need to feel safe, appreciated for who they are, and accepted for their needs and talents. 

We have both taught with themes, and have recognized those flimsy connections we have tried to make between topics.  Yet we knew that we wanted a central organizing principle to bring it all together, that learning is not a separate process but a fluid one of using skills in all situations.  Our organizing principle became THINKING SKILLS.  What have we noticed?  The thinking processes of making connections, determining importance and asking questions apply in all academic areas.  Using schema in science was as relevant as using background knowledge in reading.  Thinking processes and skills became our common thread, our guiding work through all topic areas.  Kids have begun to effortlessly use these processes across content areas, no longer seeing math as separate from social studies, or writing separate from science. They are beginning to articulate what they know through the use of analogies and metaphors, applying even higher order skills.  What a moment to celebrate when there are five glowing children intent on sharing their analogies at the end of a work session.  A gem shared by one: “Hearing is to listening as thinking is to knowing!”

Self-assessment has also been a driving force within our classroom.  Formative assessments push our instruction every day, as well as how students spend their time learning and practicing their targets.  What have we noticed?  Students have far greater motivation and ownership in their learning when they can easily see what they know and what they need to learn.  It is no longer a mysterious process; grades are truly earned based on the evidence that is provided at a given point in time, rather than a summary of work/effort over time.  Students are more aware of what they need to do to take charge of their learning and are focused on meeting their own goals.  Our classroom has become a place of empowerment!

Again a “Full Circle” moment, appreciating that our inspiration has become application, and with that application we are seeing an amazing community of learners continue to grow.  What’s next? The sky is the limit!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

5 Things that Ensue Inspiration

Ann and I took on a new teaching assignment this year, challenging us both.  Through the challenges, though, we have enjoyed every “Full Circle Moment” that has occurred.  Many had the perspective of us throwing ourselves into a Multiage and Team Teaching situation.  However, the reality is that we did not volunteer for the role lightly.  We began our research before we stepped up to the plate.  Hours upon hours went into divulging literature related to all topics of this unique teaching opportunity.  We read and reflected for days (as we didn’t actually have months or weeks to process, but just days…).  Regardless, by the end of our processing state we were confident enough in ourselves and our previous teaching experiences that we would be successful for ourselves, our students/parents, our building, and our district.

As soon as the assignment was official, we continued to unearth as much knowledge as we could for 5 major areas (all of which we deemed essential for making our Multiage Program work):

1.       Multiage Philosophy
2.       Brain-Based Learning
3.       Gifted & Talented
4.       Integration of Content Areas (not to be confused with theme teaching)
5.       Student Self-Assessment
We believed deeply that these were the concepts we wanted at the CORE of our program.  As we read a variety of Professional Development Books, Articles, and Blogs, we found ourselves more inspired than we had ever been before. 
Our own personal ESSENTIAL question was:  Could we create a classroom community that truly differentiated for the needs of EVERY learner?

In the past, we had felt very strong in the area of differentiation.  We used a variety of strategies and felt like we had a handle on our daily instructional practices, but still felt like a few kids each year fell through the cracks and didn’t meet the growth we felt they were capable of.  What we found through our summer research, though, was that there was so much more that differentiation had to offer.  As we dug deeper into literature and others’ perspectives of the above topics, we found that essentially these were the reasons Multiage Programs were successful; if they were dutifully following the above “protocol”, so to speak. 

In September, we established our program with these 5 at the CORE as we had originally planned. 

1.       Multiage Philosophy:  We have taken on the perspective that every child can learn and has the right to at their own pace, diversity is a celebration each day, and our classroom is a family of learners.  We teach students on a continuum, and we established a metaphor that we refer to each day:  The grade level standards are building blocks.  When you are missing a block your tower will fall, so it is important to go back and fill in the gaps (bricks).  We focus on where a child individually is rather than their “grade level benchmark” indicates, therefore a student has the opportunity to fill in blocks or extend themselves to a higher block. 

And with the opportunity for looping with students we do not lose ground, because we have the chance to just keeping moving forward from day 1 of each new school year.
2.       Brain-Based Learning:  We used to think we were “Constructivists” with our teaching style, but now we have moved to this side of the tracks.  J   I actually think good teachers use a little strategy from each theory (just like good reading teachers use phonics and whole language).  We actually are also partial to William Glasser’s Control Theory of Motivation.  (This site by Jim Askew is a great reference tool!)  When you walk into our classroom you see both Theories living and breathing…  Our favorite authors on this topic are:  Marilee Sprenger, David A. Sousa, and Eric Jensen.  In fact, our students quote Sousa almost every day:  “The brain that does the work makes the most growth!”
3.     Gifted & Talented:  After obtaining my Master’s Degree (from Whitworth University), my passion for this area has grown and grown.  I took all of my elective courses within this field of study and learned so much about myself as a parent, teacher, and learner.  I am constantly reading new information and discovering each and every day strategies to assist our gifted learners.  My favorite website is: 
4.       Integration of the Content Areas:  As this is the direction we are headed anyways with the Common Core Standards, Ann and I decided give ourselves a jumpstart.  We intentionally plan lessons that will have natural crossovers among the content areas, while focusing on real-world concepts.  Our reading, math, and science/social studies blocks really have grown into just continuously learning opportunities that are more succinct rather than disjointed.  Art, music, communication, and writing occur daily.  We also have a common theme, each trimester, which ties it all together- for example right now we are working on “Structures”.
5.       Student Self-Assessment:  Our formative self-assessment occurs daily, and it is really in the hands of our students.  In order to really empower learners, they have to know what they have (their “got it” targets) and what they are missing (their “need it” targets).  About 90% of our students have no problem, just 2 months into the year, accurately self-assessing as they must provide “evidence” to support that they have it!  They can also successfully establish a plan of action utilizing the tools and resources (students, teachers, computer, and text) within our classroom.  They have independent/partner focus time daily to work on their goals.

As we move forward each day, we are continually inspired by each and every one of these 5 concepts.  We persistently find literature related to the 5- and many on our staff joke about us needing a PD Book intervention!  Yes, we may be obsessed, but for us this growth path we are on is invigorating!  We continue to apply new strategies each week and allow our students to provide feedback to us.  Their voice is the most important ones in the learning process.   And they are the evidence that tells us that our  5 Things that Ensue Inspiration are powerful entities within our Multiage Program!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Full Circle Moments

Times in our life that follow a pattern are “Full Circle Moments” to me.  For survival purposes, our brain likes the ritual of routines, behaviors, schedules, etc.  Full Circle Moments play into that for me.  Some call them “highs” and “lows”.  But for me, I do not like the terminology in this per say.  I would rather think of following a structure that allows for reflection and growth to occur to get us back into a place of comfort, allowing us to take on the next challenge.  Thus, a never ending- unbreakable- circle.

As a classroom teacher, raising the bar with standards and expectations sometimes causes challenges or even frustration.  Although facing challenges can be good, the moment of change can cause everything to seem out of whack.  The students’ reactions can become even more elevated through the adjustment phase (which would be considered the low point for some).  However, as students and teachers begin to show more growth with the standards and expectations at hand, the mood changes and relaxation sets in.  Achievement creates the calm after the storm (the high point).  And when we have reached the top arc of the circle, we must again “mix-it-up” by raising the bar.  We know learning cannot become stagnant, but the only way to ensure it doesn’t is to continue to push students towards their potential with continuous challenges. 
When we are in the “dip” of the process (the bottom arc of the circle), we must remember that we need to stay resilient and keep pushing forward.  Change is uncomfortable for many, and challenge is just that- a change in the learning process.  The climb back up to the top is the hardest part, but the reward when you reach the summit is incredible. 

So when in the place, with myself or my students, where I can easily slip into a negative rut, I need to keep a positive perspective and wait for my Full Circle Moment.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Wow, nothing like a more challenging day to bring about some much needed perspective.  Today was such a day, and despite the tired body and brain in reflection I am made aware of the distance we have come and all the things we have accomplished.  Growth, progress, success, maybe none of these are truly appreciated until you take that much needed pause.  That moment when you are "cooking" along and hit a speed bump.  That jarring sensation that says, "Whoa!"  Despite this I am not defeated, if anything I am elated and amazed because the pause is also a call to attention.  Look what has transpired, look where you were 6 weeks ago, look where things are now.  Our little community of learners are growing right out of our expectations, which brings to mind the mindset of realizing there are so many  more wonderful things to come!  Perspective, I thank you.

Completely loving the site Inspiring, refreshing, informative, the best money I have spent on my professional development in a long while! 

Be you!

This motto crossed my mind several times through the CRAZY day!  (Full moon tonight!)

From watching several students arrive in their very best clothes, as some were taking a field trip to the Symphony, the questions of their attire did not sway them to "be themselves" and rise to the occasion of acting like ladies and gentlemen!  One 4th grader arrived in a beautiful dress with blue converse, causing a 5th grade boy to state, "She is taking making a fashion statement to a whole new level!"  And for this student that is exactly what she was hoping for because she is "comfortable with herself". 

And for my teaching partner today, she was realizing that she has something remarkable to contribute to the world of teaching:  Her amazing spirit and positive, innovating perspective.  And she is arriving as a powerful leader as she increases her "confidence to be herself". 
And for me, many people are joking a lot lately regarding the amount of literature I read and then  regurgitate in my daily dialogue. I call them pleasure reads, other's call it more work.  To each their own, but what I realized in all the inspiration surrounding me today was I should always be proud of who I am- even the quirky parts of me...

I do love to read and expand my knowledge base.  I love to strengthen my weaknesses and promote my own growth.  I love to model the positivity in seeking knowledge, answers, and strategies that better my work.  Being an over-achiever is my make-up, but that is never on my mind daily.  I am who I am, and I love "being me"!

Which fit perfectly with a quote I read today in my inbox:  "Busy-ness is a state of mind, not a fact.  No matter how much or how little we're doing we're always just doing, simply living this one moment of our lives." - Norman Fischer


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Still Reflecting...

So apparently Ann and I read each other’s minds way too often.... As I was posting yesterday (Why Blog?), she texted me to share that she had just printed off 2 articles from Choice Literacy regarding how important REFLECTION was...

After reading them last night, I can agree that they are must reads (but isn't anything by Debbie Miller?!?). They are short and to the point, but truly go deep. Her message within both was to model leading a reflective life for our students. It just isn't about being reflective or even asking them to reflect. As Debbie shares, it is really about having your "disposition for thinking" on display and being present (Putting Ourselves in Our Teaching, 2006-2011). When you are mentally somewhere else in your teaching moment, or when you are moving from lesson to lesson {recipe to recipe}, you are not modeling good reflective practice. Rather, you are going through the motions.

Think of how much you remember after a getting ready in the morning, driving to work, or even cleaning your house- when you have been "going through the motions". If you are like me you don't remember a whole lot, because these are not moments in my day in which I am reflective about the task. Instead I follow through the routine, sometimes just to survive the moment, but usually this is the time I spend reflecting on something entirely different. For me it's hard to stay focused on things that are so mundane.

Now think of other circumstances when you spend time reflecting, usually when learning something new or enjoying a special time. These are the situational moments that need to be shared with your students. And not the details of the moment itself, but rather the thinking process that you ensued. 

Students need you view the teacher as an active participant or facilitator of learning, rather than a dictator.  They need to be empowered to learn, and it is through this modeling process in which it occurs. 

For example, in our classroom we start the morning with a “Brain Breakfast”.  Something to get the brain moving; it may set the stage for what we will conquer later in the day, or it may just be something that we use to stimulate thinking.  (This creation is one we are most proud of because it did away with the ordinary entry task and allowed them to take the learning and their thinking to the next level… you should see our classroom during this time of the day, it is a reflecting paradise…).

Our favorite Brain Breakfast is using a quote.  Students rely on their own metacognition to decipher what it means to them; there is no right or wrong answer, so everyone will participate.  During our discussion they usually have time to pair-share, but then we also have several students share out to the group.  This activity is stimulating in itself, but the power is what we have noticed grow over the past 2 months.  They are naturally taking it to the next level by bringing in their own “Brain Quotes” or creating their own quote to explain a quote or even another topic of discussion.  We are now displaying and using student created quotes in our weekly routine. 

This wasn’t a miracle, nor was it something we would have even predicted.  However, when I say naturally that’s exactly what I mean.  It was the routine we had instilled, but it was a task they could be empowered by.  They took it to the next level because we were constantly modeling this practice throughout the day and they felt safe in our environment to take risks. They have learned very quickly the power of reflection and never groan at a new opportunity (or small moment) to do just that.  And recently we recognized we had truly arrived because we now observe them leading a reflective life and not just waiting for us to schedule a reflection time within the classroom schedule.   They are sharing, discussing, and journaling on their own through the learning process. The students live each day for the personal ownership and connections they have with the new learning.  And we live to be inspired by them.

Why blog? Part 2

We ask our students and ourselves to Work Hard, Be Courageous and Celebrate Growth every day.  It is our classroom pledge.  It is a powerful statement, and one I could easily connect to the kind of classroom community environment I feel is necessary for kids to be successful learners.  The funny thing was the way I began to apply it to myself, and this only came through the many texts and reflections with my teaching partner.  Working Hard was never a problem in my teaching life, but by choosing to pursue those things that “filled my cup” so to speak, from reading PD books to seeking out sources and sites on the internet, to verbally processing my new understandings to further my own growth, I began to make connections to the positive energy that sustains a teacher throughout the year.  Being Courageous became the statement for being open and trying many new “recipes” to find the one that best fit the students in my class.  Within my school district and building it also meant having the courage to step up as a leader in my own way to teach and learn from others.  These were my building blocks, my epiphanies, only to recognize that the reflective process must also acknowledge and CELEBRATE the growth that is being made.  It is that celebration of a well-browned turkey that it isn’t too dry!  That celebration of mastering the whole technique of the perfect omelet or creating gravy without lumps of any kind!  With food you have the end result to enjoy, so where was my “food” so to speak.  To celebrate growth you need to know where you were and see how far you have come.  In the day to day process of teaching it is easy to get caught up in lunch counts, paper work, refocus slips and requests to intervene when someone is bugging someone else.  I knew though that a celebration of true growth comes from all the behind the scenes activities.  So I am blogging to acknowledge those things, those moments of growth I wish to celebrate.  I am blogging to recognize where I have been and make connections between all that I am learning from my students, my teaching partner, my resources, my colleagues.  I am blogging to celebrate my growth so that I can keep cooking!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Why blog?

We are readers, from novels to a plethora of PD books to articles to websites/blogs. We cannot get enough literature in our hands! What dawned on us, though, was text message reflecting was not doing our personal growth justice. .... and what do we know the most about learning? Reflection is KEY for making the information stick. You need to turn the information around and around in your mind (like a socket wrench) in order to make connections and allow that new learning to stick AND them BAM! (as Emeril would say) Dendrite growth... To us personal reflection is powerful, but what makes us grow even more is having a reflective dialogue. Therefore, a blog seemed like the next logical step for us... conversation is our fuel! {and now that Ann added BAM! to our cooking metaphor I can't get enough of it!!!}
Reflection can be the most overlooked action in the classroom. I know several years back I would only get to it if there was "time"... SERIOUSLY? Was I kidding myself? What could be more important? Well, honestly, nothing. Our students, just like us, cannot move forward successfully without owning the learning. They need time to process, practice, and reflect some more. When was the last time you walked out of a workshop as a expert? Didn't you have to go back into the classroom and "try it" in order to make it work in your own world? And then didn't you have to tweak it, practice it, and try it again and possibly again? And then the next time you used the strategy didn't it start to morph into your own? We only become experts over time... which is why I get a little irritated with my "past" self. Time was all we had. I just didn't make an effective use of time for my students or myself. I do not dwell on my past hook-ups, I just use my old thinking and experiences to revamp what I am doing now.
In being reflective about my past practice, I knew that I needed to change things because I was not effectively reaching ALL students.  I was teaching recipe by recipe, and when we did reflect it was because the recipe called for it- or because my oven cooked faster than the recipe called for so we used the "extra" minutes to reflect. 
We now know, especially after repeatedly using this action in the classroom, that without reflection students struggle with hanging onto the new learning. Reflection allows them to recode the information to make it their own, connect the new learning to prior knowledge, and find a way to apply the new learning in their daily life.  It's the Metacognitive process of genuine thinking that provides the opportunity for true learning. Allowing students to ponder:
  • Do I like this new food?
  • How is this food/meal like ones I have had before? How is it different?
  • If I could, what would I change about the meal?
  • If I could cook a meal of my own, what would it be? What ingredients/tools would I need?
  • What spice do I wish the cook would have added to this meal?
  • Is the meal too "big" or too "small" for me?
As you can tell, we really like our cooking METAPHOR! But when you think about it this way, it makes complete sense. When we just serve a meal and then clean up the dishes and then do it all over again, is anyone getting any pleasure out of the experience? Imagine sitting at the dinner table in silence, with no discussion regarding the meal you just prepared... Don't you want a thank you for your hard work? Don't you want to KNOW you have reached your audience??? Allow students the opportunity to provide you and themselves with feedback; it's the only way you will know what to dish them up next!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Metaphorically Speaking

As teachers, we strive everyday to connect the learning to the lives of the students we are teaching, whether it be within the whole group, small group, or individual conversations.  If there is one thing we have learned the most over the past year it is, “just because we taught it doesn’t mean they learned it.”  Seems like a no-brainer, maybe even a DUH statement, but for us it has been a revelation as we use daily formative assessments to track our teaching and the students actual learning. And more and more we find the statement to be true… even when we teach a fantastic lesson, one that makes us go home and continue to text each other regarding our excitement, we sometimes come back to school and realize that what Glasser, Sprenger, and all of our other “PD book mentors” are telling us is true:  it will take more reteaching, review, and rehearsal for them to truly have the ability to RETRIEVE the information.  So with the acceptance of this fact, we have been on a mission to find metaphors that will allow the students to connect the new learning to their schema, building upon their learning structure and recode the new information alongside what they know to be true.

From a brand new read, picked up at a recent WSASCD/OSPI conference, inspiration continues.  Rick Wormeli confirms our understanding of what we know now to be true in his book, Metaphors & Analogies.  He states, “What may need to change in many of our classrooms is the purposeful pursuit of metaphors and analogies in our teaching instead of the momentary inspirations that may or may not be helpful to students’ learning. We don’t want to leave such effective strategies to chance.   Teaching through metaphors and analogies isn’t just about building personal background knowledge so students have a context for understanding…..  It’s also a conscious choice to scaffold learning by making meaningful connections among topics” (2009).  He discusses that some of us make routine and natural comparisons throughout the day, but that others will be required to adjust their thinking and curricular planning in order to use metaphors effectively.  We have relied on metaphors in many situations so far this year, and these metaphors have provided “anchors” for different topics across the content areas and within the community structure for our students. 
Wormeli goes on to quote Carol Ann Tomlinson  from her DVD, Connecting Differentiated Instruction, Understanding by Design, and What Works in Schools:  An Exploration or Research-Based Strategies (2008), using her metaphor, “Standards are not dinner.  They are the ingredients.”  We have not yet viewed this DVD, but this reference made us think of a metaphor we have been using lately to explain our differentiated approach that involves a heavy load of individualized instruction.  Teaching with a differentiated style is just like cooking.  We can extend this metaphor with:
·         Our curriculums are our cookbooks
·         The standards/targets are the ingredients (note Tomlinson's quote above!)
·         Planning for instructional groupings [from one-on-one to small group to whole group] is like planning for meals [from snacks to lunch to a Thanksgiving Dinner]
·         Individual instructional needs/goals are the similar to individual dietary needs/ aversions/ allergies
·         The novelty added to lessons is the spice
·         The resources/tools/tech in the classroom are the cooking utensils in the kitchen
You can see how this metaphor can continue to grow… We can now ask questions like:
  • Do you like to cook?
  • Are you a natural cook, or do you need a class to improve your skills?
  • Do you rely on the recipe?  Or do you focus on who is coming to dinner?
  • Do you change the recipe as needed, or do you always make it the same way because that’s the way it’s always been prepared?
  • Are you inspired to create your own dishes?
  • Are the plates being cleared, or are people leaving the table with food still on their plates?
  • Are people lingering at your table, or scurrying off to better meals?

Metaphors can help anchor learning, or even just create inspiration, but either way they allow the abstract to become concrete.   And doesn’t that make the most sense anyways?  Think of information as bugs flying, flittering, and crawling around.  The information is everywhere, coming at us every day, whether we are a child or an adult.  Do we take the time to make sense of the purpose of the bug?  Or would we rather swat it away, squash it, or run away because it annoys us or scares us?  What if we looked close enough and took a moment longer- just a little bit more patience or focus in order to observe or think- would we be able to find the beauty in such a small thing?