Monday, July 30, 2012

Our Brain Books: The 10 Essentials

When Brain Books were integrated into our learning environments, we saw a dynamic impact.  Students were empowered by their moment-to-moment interactions in our classrooms, making authentic connections among content areas and within their own lives. Brain Books immediately guided students in the direction of personalization, providing frequent opportunity to connect new learning with past while focusing-in on individual goals and interests.  Students were given the opportunity to attack learning through their own style, consistently applying strategies that worked the best for them to aid in retention.

As Brain Books were intended to be a student-centered tool from the beginning, we were very cognizant of our tendency to “take control” of the resource in a way that matched our personal learning styles and organizational preferences.  We really had to coach each other through the process of “letting go”.  It was very important to us to separate Brain Books from direct instruction and teacher-driven strategies.  Brain Books became a simulation of individual brains learning, so they no longer served the same purpose of a one-size-fits-all journal or notebook.  We didn’t want their Brain Books to be carbon copies of our “model notebook,” instead we wanted individual learning styles and strengths to shine within our diverse learning environments.

In sharing with other colleagues, we have found the following aspects to be imperative in keeping with the authenticity of a truly personalized notebook.  These 10 essentials help Brain Books to remain a student-centered tool, empowering students to take ownership for their learning in a way that best fits them as a learner.

The 10 Essentials

1.      This is a Personal Book:  OF the student, BY the student, FOR the student.
Each and every student’s Brain Book should be completely different, mirroring the students’ individual styles.  Each and every student chooses what goes in their Brain Book, where it goes, and when to expand their book.  Each and every student should see the Brain Book as a necessary
resource for themselves.
    Pondering Questions:
·         Is this artifact for me or my students?   Remember the words of Sousa, “The brain that does the work makes the most growth!”  
·         Will engagement increase with a student created resource?

2.      Independent Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences must be known.
Teaching students about each of the styles/intelligences allows them to understand their own personal strengths and challenges within the academic setting, so they approach each learning task with success.

     Pondering Questions:
·         Do I promote self-awareness in my students?
·         Am I continuing to do my job teaching all learning styles/intelligences so my students continue to use and benefit from their Brain Books?

3.      Frequent modeling by teachers and students must be used.
For students to understand the potential of the resource modeling must occur, along with intentional teaching around the Brain Book.  Students must also understand the WHY behind Brain Books.  Continuously sharing sample Brain Book pages and possibilities is important.
      Pondering Questions:    
·         Do my students understand the importance of a personalized resource?
·         Will my students benefit from creating a resource that is customized each and every day to meet their own learning needs?

4.      Organization by the student is key.
This is really the place where “letting go” was the most difficult for us as teachers.  But honestly WHERE students put information in their Brain Book and WHY they choose to organize it the way they did really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.  What matters is that each student has the opportunity to experience, investigate, and understand what works best for their learning style.  Their Brain Book allows them to experience learning from their own perspective, adding to and changing the format of the book as their knowledge increases and connections are made.  By using a personalized organizational style, meaning is connected to the learning.
     Pondering Questions:
·         What type of “meaning making” will come from students discovering what organizational practice works best for them?
·         Can independence of thought and purpose be supported by Brain Books?

5.      Open-ended access to Brain Books is necessary.
By permitting open-ended access to this resource, students are allowed to make natural connections, value information individually, and reinforce what they learn over time. The Brain Book is a STUDENT resource, therefore, once classroom expectations are set for the culture and learning environment and students are taught the complete and possible use of a Brain Book, the resource should be seen and valued no matter the time of day.  It is okay for Brain Books to appear during instruction if the information going into them is on topic.  They should stimulate conversations and connections constantly.  Brain Books will be completely different from one another, which is why they should be THE choice resource- students will feel as though their own thinking is relevant, important, recognized, and appreciated.  Thus, assume these books to travel everywhere and always be in the hands/backpacks of their owners!

    Pondering Questions:
·         Do I see Brain Books as a resource that encourages metacognition?
·         Do I keep in mind students’ feelings of ownership and value of their own work in order to increase their engagement and purpose in learning?

6.      Brain Books should become a natural resource in the Classroom Community.
This resource should be referred to often in order to review previous learning, make connections, and add relevant information.  Students should also access their Brain Book often as a go-to reference tool.  They will also document their progress, displaying evidence of their learning related to their individual goals.  Reflections will be stored in their personalized notebook to recognize their growth, innovative ideas, and associations.  This resource should also be used to share learning by way of comparing notes, sharing connections, and asking questions.  

    Pondering Questions:
·         Is reflection a common process in my classroom?
·         Can I encourage, then in turn trust, my students to use this resource effectively for themselves?         

7.      Books should be added as the brain naturally “grows”.
Adding additional notebooks to the original should not be a forced, time oriented, or teacher directed process.  Only a student should decide when another book needs to be bound (duct-taped) to their Brain Book.  The student needs to decide when their own brain needs additional space to work with.  Imagine being given lots of extra space prior to needing it.  For some students it may be overwhelming and cause anxiety to figure out what to do with it.  However, on the flip side, if you restrict a student from expanding their book because you deem it unnecessary it may cause the same effects.  Some brains need to feel as though there is enough storage space for what is to come and like to prepare in advance with 2-3 blank sections.  As we recognize that our brains do not increase in size as we learn, the students love this metaphor and play-on-words of adding notebooks as their brain is filled with knowledge.  It is a visual reminder for them of all they are learning, as well as a celebration of their personal growth. 

     Pondering Questions:
·         Am I cognizant of the adage that each child develops at their own pace?
·         Do I believe that Brain Books can assist in recognizing, promoting and celebrating this?

8.      Daily rituals should be used to value the thinking within Brain Books.
In our classroom, we have established 2 rituals for reflective thought and discussion:  One to start our day (Brain Breakfast) and one to end our day (Brain Snack).  Our Brain Breakfast is the brain food we need to get us going in the morning.  Our Brain Snack is the brain food we need to snack on as we head home for the day.  Both involve very strategic prompts/activities/conversation starters that integrate and infuse previous and future learning, along with all content areas.  We also carve in 2-4 additional reflection points throughout the day to allow students to confirm learning, self-assess, and/or make connections. 

     Pondering Questions:
·         Do I establish rituals daily for my students to reflect, discuss, and share? 
·         Am I intentional about minimizing teacher talk and maximizing student thinking?

9.      Brain Books should never be scored.
This resource plays a very powerful role in recognizing and appreciating that learning is a process.  When students feel safe and valued, they are more open to “muck around” in the learning process.  Thus, putting a mark on their resource would defeat the purpose.  We have stuck to not scoring, grading, checking-off, or collecting their Brain Books.  The message has been clear that this is a resource for them and not us.  As they bring their books everywhere with them, we often see their documented/gathered thinking first hand.  But they are in control of these moments.  We truly want them to own their learning, especially during the articulation/communication process.  Students should feel the power in exploration of the topic and their journey towards meeting their learning goals.  They should be empowered by their own thinking, allowing them to rise from mistakes and wrong turns along the way.  The purpose of this book is for it to be a resource:  a place to store thinking, connections, new knowledge, private thoughts, goals, dreams.  To put a score on any page would devalue their brain and the personal thinking that is occurring. 

     Pondering Questions:
                  ·        Am I clear with the message that this book is for them and not me?
                  ·         Can I help my students feel comfortable with putting their ideas and thinking in their book because it is for their brain?

10.  Brain Books are a vital component of a student-centered classroom.
Students who believe their teachers really listen and care about what they think results in students being more engaged and invested in their own learning, their classroom, and their school.  Our philosophy is to empower students through frequent choice, reflection, self-assessment, voice, and providing opportunities for them to take on the role of the teacher.  Brain Books facilitate all 5 of these strategies to occur seamlessly within our learning environment.

    Pondering Questions:
·         Do I ask my students for feedback regularly? 
·         Am I recognizing Brain Books to be a highly effective way of documenting learning and valuing student thinking?

~Celina and Ann

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Story of Our Brain Books

Brain Books have become the anchor within our learning environment, for our students as well as us personally.  Ann and I have been excited to share this resource- a good idea that our students made great.  But as we have tried to put the idea in print we have struggled a bit…. Then Ann reminded me again of the great words of Simon Sinek, “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”  So here is the story of the WHY behind our Brain Books:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Partnership that Works

Image of ceramic quote tag - sheltering tree
Image found here

I continue to appreciate the abundance of resting, playing, reading, planning, and learning the summertime has had to offer. Spending time in the sun, exploring with my kids, conversing with friends, and spending quiet time processing has allowed for some much needed rejuvenation.

As I have reached the stage of needing ideas put to paper, though, the next segment of summer begins.  That transition from previous lessons learned to new adventures on the horizon.  Ann and I have engaged in inspiring dialogue that has enhanced our excitement for the upcoming school year. We have chosen our theme, brainstormed concepts of focus, pinned a ton of organizational techniques, built our knowledge base of the CCSS, and began the creation of our schedules/planning sheets/calendars.

We are in the mind-swapping mode, which can get a little geeky at times. (Which is why our partnership works so well!)  And we have been very fortunate to work with amazing colleagues/friends this summer that push us forward with every conversation.  Our “geekin’ out” sessions have been quite fun and absolutely rewarding.  The ideas that spark within our conversations inspire new direction and possibilities.  We appreciate the diversity among our team and find each and every moment together valuable.

So as these interactions have occurred this summer, I have been reflecting often about my appreciation towards my team and my teaching partner.  And I quickly connected it to the overarching theme of “GROW” that Ann and I will use with our students this year, along with the symbol of a tree.  My thoughts landed on:

A partnership is rooted in trust, branches into respect, and blooms into friendship; that is the essence of a partnership that works.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this metaphor.  Does it connect to a teaching partnership that works in your life?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pathways to the CCSS

Earlier this summer Celina and I attended a training centered on moving to the Common Core in math.  Over the two day workshop we had the opportunity to work with other educators to discuss the standards at grade 4 and develop common assessment questions related to those standards.  We decided as a group to go “all-in” on transitioning to the CCSS this fall. 

Thinking about the standards in math soon had me thinking about how the CCSS plays out in literacy, which had me dipping into the first two chapters of a book I bought in May called Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth and Christopher Lehman.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Opening Minds Chap. 1-3

July is half way through and I am reveling in the long days and hot temperatures that have me finding a quiet place to keep on reading.  This week I tackled chapters 1-3 of Opening Minds by Peter H. Johnston. This book has been on my “To Be Read Pile” for a couple of months, so the #cyberPD was just the prodding I needed.  I have to say though now that I have started this is a book that is not easy to put down.

My take-away thoughts:

·         Using “Already”: that one little word suggests that what a student knows has the potential to be ahead of what is being assessed, and at the same time establishes that there is “nothing permanent about what is known and not known.” (pg. 2)

·         Mistakes happen at the edge of what we can do, when we are learning! So helping students to be comfortable with accepting mistakes as part of the learning process is essential.

·         MINDSET keeps coming at me from so many different directions! (Carol Dweck’s book Mindset is waiting for me on my Kindle ap.) I was fascinated by the idea that fixed mindsets tend to choose performance goals and dynamic mindsets tend to choose learning goals.(pg. 12) 

·         Influence: as a teacher I can contribute to my students developing a dynamic mindset in the ways I use feedback and praise, the way I frame activities, and lastly in continuing to teach students about how the brain works. (pg. 18) While I work hard with the last one, the first two are definitely areas I can grow and improve.

·         The Power of “YET”: “I am not very good at my multiplication tables, YET!”  Helping students to understand that they can achieve it, that they can grow and learn. (pg. 27)

Next steps:

·         I feel like I want to list some phrases to refer to for easy access until I have them imprinted on my brain. 

·         I am going to add the charts on pages 17 and 23 to our work with growth and fixed mindsets with our students.  While last year Celina and I worked this into some groups we saw struggling with challenging themselves, this year I feel like it will be essential information for all of our learners.  I also want to talk to our class about what they think it means to be smart.

·         Spend more time focusing on causal processes (pg. 31) “Causal process comments are the most effective way of promoting the belief that the important information is how someone did (or could do) something, because that’s what we learn from.”  I am going to try this one out on my own kids this summer! (Action-based research!)

·         Ah, and now to blog hop the others reading this book and then on to chapters 4-6!

~ Ann

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Percolating Continues!

I am well into my goal of reading, learning and growing this summer.  As Celina said the Arts PD we took part in last week was amazing.  It has me thinking more and more about CCSS in relation to English-Language Arts, which will have me moving into more great books, but first a recap of what has drawn me in these past few weeks:

Finding the Courage to Fly

Big personality, small stature.
Loud body, soft heart.
Overactive mind, inactive voice.

Excited to share
But reserved,
Not wanting to intimidate or annoy.
Over processing situations and
Potential outcomes;
Curious about the criticism.

Inner thoughts allowing
For discovery and deep reflection.
In search of like-minded souls,
Dedicated to relationships.
Connecting with positive energy,
Finding security in acceptance.

Through experiences
gaining perspective.
Learning to appreciate
My inner bling-
Allowing it to shine.
Finding the courage to fly.


***This art piece was my personal sculpture, and the poem was my artist statement- both created during my professional development experience last week centered around the Arts. We were asked to create each, symbolizing memories of a time when we felt like an outsider.  A very thoughtful, therapeutic activity I highly recommend...