Thursday, October 31, 2013

from good to great

I've been reading Good to Great Teaching: Focusing on the Literacy Work that Matters by Mary Howard. She wrote this text to help teachers identify time and tasks that support learning, as well as identify time and tasks that could be eliminated.

She opens her book asking readers to imagine a time we were engaged in a fulfilling learning experience and to use as many descriptive words as possible to characterize that experience. She guesses at the words or experiences that were not on our list: no worksheets showed up, no round-robin reading, no boring or frustrating texts or tasks, no embarrassment.

What are some other examples of negative practices?
  • failure to incorporate adequate modeling
  • lack of guided practice and scaffolding (round-robin reading)
  • skill and drill without application (fill in the blank, circle, underline; passive worksheets)
  • assigning over teaching (as well as teachers at desks while students are working)
  • rigid adherence to scripts or guides without considering student learning needs
  • busy tasks without connection to learning targets (crosswords, search-and-find)
What are some descriptors and examples then, of good and great work?
  • active engagement in learning tasks (interactive read alouds, work with manipulatives, creative thinking tasks)
  • access to high-quality and high-success texts (texts that are purposively selected for student needs and interests; building a rich school and classroom library)
  • gradual release of teacher support
  • flexible grouping (guided reading, writing and math groups, with changes according to student need)
  • less time on whole-group work (so no round robin reading of textbooks or other texts - opting for independent reading or peer reading if necessary)
  • peer collaboration opportunities
  • ongoing independent application with formative feedback
  • problem-solving opportunities
  • interdisciplinary lessons
  • focus on strategic thinking
She recommends watching a video of yourself teaching (or, better yet) working with an instructional coach to see what happens in your classroom that could be eliminated to make room for more effective practices. I recently videotaped my own teaching and looked for bad and for good practices. It was a very humbling and thought-provoking exercise, to reflect on ways that I could improve my teaching. Her point is not to add more, but to adapt current practices to be more effective.

The book is chock full of examples from real teachers' classrooms in order to illustrate the changes that can happen to make teaching and learning richer for students. Might be a good book to add to your wish list!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

staying organized

ARGH! If you're anything like me, this is the time of the year I begin to get buried in a pile of papers, slips, newsletters, mailings, etc that make my desk (and my sanity) a bit of a mess. I am always looking for tips to help me stay organized, and here are some great ones to help you get through the year. Now that the excitement of the beginning of the year has worn off a bit and the reality of teaching and work has settled in, the more we can stay on top of the mess, the more we can focus on what really matters - the teaching and students.

There are several tech tools that can help you and your students stay organized. Remind 101 is a way to text students and parents reminders about homework, projects, and other deadlines in a safe, easy way. 43 Things is a place to list and track goals for yourself, which can help remind you what the big goals you have for your teaching are and to keep working on them. You can connect with others to get support along the way. Use Planboard for tracking lesson plans and connecting with others for ideas. Get lots of questions about an assignment? Use jing to record yourself talking through an assignment using screen-capture technology and email the link to students and parents so they have the info they need.

Teachers love binders. I've got loads of them for different aspects of my teaching now, and kept many when I was teaching K-12 too. These binders can be for curriculum materials, but you can also use them for the other parts of a teacher's job, such as assessment data and progress monitoring, PLC and grade-level team meetings, parent communication logs, volunteer logs and responsibilities, and emergency sub plans. A kind teacher at I Teach 5th has an editable binder with organization sheets for you to create. A different resource of templates for an organizational binder is found here. Another version of a weekly to-do/calendar is available here. Pinterest is full of examples of classroom binder templates, so you're bound to find one there that meets your needs. Prefer a web-based binder? Check one out here.

Here are some other small organization ideas to get the juices flowing about ways you can better organize your room and paperwork.

Use coded binder clips to track what's been graded, what needs to be graded, filed, copied etc.

Or, if you are like me and sometimes have more of the graded or passed back than would fit in a binder, you could use plastic file holder inside an old bag for easy transport from home to school or to the office to copy.

Use plastic soap containers from the travel size section of the store for keeping track of flash and playing cards.

And here are some sites for additional resources for your classroom:

Trade books for free on Paper Book Swap - you can get rid of books that your students don't enjoy and refresh your classroom library with new ones!

Need or want something for your classroom? Post on Donors Choose, and see what happens.

Give and get free stuff in your area using the website Freecycle. Great for furniture, books, technology stuff.

What are some of your tricks for staying organized?