Monday, August 17, 2015

NTC MOOCs for new teachers

In May, I wrote about MOOCs (massive open online courses) that are available for new teachers through the New Teacher Center. At the time, their First Year Teacher series was not available, but it is now!

The NTC's First Year Teacher Success from the Start series is available, on demand. There is a secondary and an elementary course offered. Each course has 6 modules with presentations and assignments. You can start the courses at any time. The course is free, but in order to receive a certificate of completion, there is a $49 cost associated. Check with the professional development and/or continuing education credits office in your district before paying for the certificate to see if the credits will count towards license renewal credits or professional development for you.

What a great way to get back into school mode and ready for the year!

Monday, August 3, 2015

becoming a professional (part 1)

The transition from student to teacher happens gradually, and then all at once. You have worked so hard in college throughout your courses, practica, and student teaching - as a teacher candidate. Suddenly, you have a job and are expected to be the full-time teacher for a group of students. Exciting! Terrifying! You have committed yourself the the well-being and success of your students, as well as maintaining rigorous standards of professional practice. But what does that really mean?

Spending time this summer thinking about what is expected of you as a teacher can be a really helpful framework for heading into a new school year. There are so many expectations for a teacher, but here are some of what makes a teacher a professional (adapted from Thompson (2009):
  1. Establish positive relationships with every student. How will you plan to get to know your students? In what ways is the curriculum flexible to build on student interests, skills, knowledge? How will you show your respect for students?
  2. Honor your students by having high expectations for all. How can you communicate high expectations? How will you differentiate to help all students succeed at high levels?
  3. Maintain a productive and safe learning environment. How can you use your classroom to support students in their learning? What organizational structures / routines will support student learning?
  4. Accept responsibility for what happens in your classroom. It can be tempting to find many reasons to excuse low student motivation, low test scores, inappropriate behaviors. But taking responsibility for these is empowering. You can do something to fix this! Think about ways to proactively plan for these in your classroom.
  5. Initiate a teamwork approach with parents / guardians. What is your plan for working with parents? How will you keep them informed? How will you invite them to ask questions? 
  6. Be a life-long learner. Being a successful teacher means that you live a life full of learning. Be open to new ideas, from your students and colleagues. Read. Attend workshops with an open mind. Take risks.
Reference: Thompson, J. G. (2009). The first-year teacher's checklist" A quick reference for classroom success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Monday, July 20, 2015

nonfiction resources for science and math

There is so much talk about nonfiction lately, especially as a response to the Common Core State Standards. There are some misconceptions (like that English teachers can't teach fiction any more in order to meet the nonfiction percentage of text required by the CCSS), but as the linked article states, "The Common Core does not say to get rid of literature and only read non-fiction. It says that 50% of what elementary, 60% of what middle school and 70% of what secondary students read should be non-fiction. The key here is throughout the entire day." This means that all teachers should be include and teaching nonfiction texts throughout the school day across content areas.

For science and math teachers, finding high-quality resources can sometimes be a challenge. But the great news is that there are lots of organizations out there to help you find the best sources for your students.

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) publishes a list every year of the outstanding science trade books published for K-12 students. I look forward to the list every year to use to add to my classroom library.

Nonfiction Detectives is an awesome blog reviewing new nonfiction books. Here's their "Best of" list from 2014, which includes a science section. The 2012 list includes some math books too.

Sometimes, though, books are more text than you're looking for. The Electronic Library for MN (ELM) is an amazing resource for teachers. Not only can you search for nonfiction articles to supplement your own learning about new topics, the databases have been culled to provide the best nonfiction resources for your students too. Check it out - it's free!

Where do you find the best nonfiction resources for science and math?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

effective feedback

In my graduate course on assessment, teachers spend time observing other teachers teaching for their uses of praise and formative feedback during lessons. It is one of the activities that teachers in the course find most valuable. Not only do they learn new ideas for providing feedback to students (or, sometimes, what not to do), but the act of observing also encourages reflection on their own practices. The right kind of feedback is essential for effective teaching and learning, and several recent reviews of literature on feedback indicate that there is some good consensus on what works and what doesn't work when it comes to feedback.

It can be hard, if not impossible, to carve out time to observe colleagues during the school year, but the summer might provide a perfect opportunity to do this reflective work. You might not have access to summer school classrooms, but if you've got an internet connection, you can do this activity at home.

Review the chart of effective (and ineffective) feedback practices (McMillan, 2014). Then, find a teacher to observe. This can be in a summer school classroom or online. Teacher Tube and Annenburg Learner are great resources for finding videos of teaching. Observe the teaching, and make note of examples of the effective and effective practices you observe.

Use challenging yet attainable goals Use goals that are too high or too low
Emphasize mastery goal orientation Emphasize performance goal orientation
Ensure that feedback is clear, transparent, and easily understood Use feedback that is unclear and/or difficult to understand
Compare student performance to standards, criteria, cognitive strategies and precious performance Compare student performance to the performance of other students or emphasize the person rather than the task
Use a moderate amount of specific, individualized, and descriptive feedback Use general or vague feedback
Give feedback as soon as possible especially for simple cognitive tasks, tests , and other assignments Give delayed feedback, except for slightly delayed feedback for cognitively complex tasks, especially for high achievers
Use both verification and elaboration feedback Use only verification feedback
Match feedback to student ability Use the same feedback for all students
Focus on key errors and misunderstandings Ignore key errors
Emphasize effort attributions Emphasize external attributions
Give feedback as students learn Give feedback only after performance
Anticipate probable feedback messages Rely on unplanned or unanticipated feedback

If you're watching videos, you are highly encouraged to do this work on a porch, with a refreshing drink, while the sun is shining :)

After completing this activity, make sure to reflect on your own practices as they relate to praise and formative feedback. What are two things you could make a plan to do next year that will help your students move forward in their learning through your use of formative feedback and praise? Write them down in that notebook of great ideas you keep all summer (you have one of those right? to keep track of the brilliant brainstorms you have while you're on the boat, driving the kids to soccer, or standing over the grill but are sure to forget once back-to-school workshops start? yeah, that one!). Return to these ideas in the weeks leading up to school and throughout September to keep a focus on effective praise and feedback.

reference: McMillan, J. H. (2014). Classroom assessment: Principles and practice for effective standards-based instruction (6th ed,). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

end-of-year reflections

It's finally here - the end of the school year. You have been frantically trying to tie up loose ends, final projects, portfolios, exams, fieldtrips. The spring is always a whirlwind.

Before you lock your classroom door for a final time this year, take a few minutes (or more) to reflect on the year. While finding the time to do this might seem impossible, it is one of the best ways for you to think about all you've accomplished and set yourself up for even more successes in the next year.

I really like the list of questions found here:

In particular, the following questions from the middle of the list might be really helpful for you to consider in planning for 2015-2016:
  • What do you hope your students remember most about you as a teacher?
  • In what ways were you helpful to your colleagues this year?
  • What was the most valuable thing you learned this year?
  • What was the biggest mistake you made this year? How can you avoid making the same mistake in the future?
  • What is something you did this year that went better than you thought it would?
  • What part of the school day is your favorite? Why?
  • What were your biggest organizational challenges this year?
  • Who was your most challenging student? Why?
  • In what ways did you change the lives of your students this year?
Spending some time reflecting on these questions can be affirming as well as provide a roadmap for things to consider in planning for future teaching. 

What is your favorite way to reflect on the end of the year?

Monday, May 25, 2015

MOOCs for teachers

Have you tried a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)? While they;ve been around since 2008, it's only been the last 2 or 3 years that they've really exploded and more and more people, including teachers, have started taking advantage of the opportunity.

The New Teacher Center has partnered with Coursera to offer some MOOCs especially designed for new teachers. Right now, their three main series revolve around the Common Core in Math, Common Core in ELA with the Literacy Design Collaborative, and the First Year Teaching series. 

There aren't any starting immediately, but their First Year Teaching series usually begins in July. So definitely make a note to check back towards the end of the school year to see when a start date for that course might become available. And check with your Teaching & Learning department - these hours for the course might contribute towards PD or course credits  for lane changes based on the completion certificate.

Additional MOOC offerings that might be worth looking into can be found here and here.

Monday, May 11, 2015

tired teaching?

Guest Blogger: Jay Rasmussen, Ph. D., Professor of Education at Bethel University


Tired Teaching?

While the title of this first blog post does not sound terribly exciting, it does describe how new teachers feel at times. “Tired teaching” is not just the result of countless hours put into planning, teaching, and grading. It is also a result of trying to function in a challenging work environment filled with “important” meetings and competing demands for time. The phenomenon I describe of tired teaching is known in the professional literature. Weimer (2010) characterizes it this way:

it lacks energy and is delivered without passion; it is easily offended by immature student behaviors; it favors the tried and true over innovation and change; it does the minimum, be that feedback to students, office hours, or the use of technology; it decries the value of professional development and manifests a kind of creeping cynicism about almost everything academic. (p. 174)

Now, no teacher sets out to become a passionless teaching machine. Waning instructional vitality sets in with time but it can be dealt with when recognized. It is important, however, to acknowledge that no one institution, leader, or colleague can do this for us. Staying alive and fresh as a teacher will only result from purposeful action that we take.

So, how do we avoid being that instructor who plods through the day counting the years until retirement? Weimer (2010) offers a few helpful suggestions:

     Contribute toward a healthy institutional environment. Without this type of environment “we get frustrated, then furious. We get depressed, then disillusioned. We get tired, then exhausted. We get skeptical, then cynical” (p. 181).
     Recognize that there is much to learn about teaching. One must consider if experience teaches everything one needs to know.  And, are the lessons learned through experience always the right ones” (p. 184)? “Most would agree that experience is a good teacher, but not when it’s the only teacher” (p. 186). “Without an infusion of ideas and information from outside, without openness to other pedagogical methods, without recognition that education is a phenomenon that can be studied systematically and learned about endlessly, teaching stays put; it runs in place” (p. 185).
     Consider how to marry methods and content. This takes a sophisticated knowledge to accomplish and it often begins with recognition that some forms of content are best understood when processed collaboratively, some by experience, some by example, etc.  “What is taught and how it is taught are inextricably linked” (p. 187). The most effective teachers are not necessarily those with the most sophisticated content knowledge; the best teachers are often those with a continually growing repertoire of instructional strategies that develop along with their content knowledge.
     Embrace the power of change. A regular amount of change “does for teaching exactly what exercise does to improve overall health” (p. 192). That change can be in the form of new courses, new texts, new delivery modes (e.g., online), new students, etc.
     Infuse new ideas. Instructional vitality thrives on new ideas. Most would concur that regular pedagogical reading should be a part of every teacher’s life but research has consistently shown that this does not happen. Fortunately, new ideas and fresh insights are readily available in the form of professional development activities, consultation with faculty development specialists, and conversations with colleagues.
     Explore different conceptions of teaching.  What teachers believe about teaching has an impact on how they actually teach. Akerlind (2003) found that teachers typically start as teacher transmission-focused which revolves around covering material. This category is often followed by being teacher-student relations focused which is characterized by developing good relations with students as a way of motivating them. The next category, student engagement-focused, brings attention to what students (vs. the teacher) are doing. The final category is student learning focused. Teaching in this category is focused on assisting students in developing critical and original thinking, questioning of existing knowledge, exploring new ideas, and becoming independent learners. It is important to note that growth in conceptions about teaching does not occur automatically as careers progress. Movement on this developmental continuum requires conscious effort.

Bertolt Brecht once said, “The world of knowledge takes a crazy turn when teachers themselves are taught to learn.” Learning, especially as a teacher, is effectively summed up by thinking about the two characters for the word “learn” in the Chinese language. One character represents “study” and the other represents “practice constantly.”

It is an honor to author this blog post. What are your thoughts/feelings, experiences, questions, and suggestions related to being a tired teacher as you move into your new career?

Let us learn together!

Jay Rasmussen, Ph. D.
Bethel University
Professor of Education
Faculty Development Coordinator
Program Director MA in Education


Akerlind, G.S. (2003). Growing and developing as a university teacher: Variation in meaning. Studies in Higher Education, 28(4), 375-390.

Weimer, M. (2010). Inspired college teaching: A career-long resource for professional growth. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.