October 23

Transforming My Classroom, One Bite at a Time

The following is a reflection from Ceci Johnson! Great reflection Ms. Johnson!

As a first year teacher, I felt like I was drowning, occasionally able to tread water just long enough to catch my breath again. But I survived and came back roaring and ready for round two. Mid-way through the first nine weeks, I was able to spend a day visiting classrooms of my coworkers to observe and reflect on my own teaching strategies. As a lifetime learner, I greatly appreciated this opportunity to reflect and redirect.

 

One of my strengths as a teacher is questioning. It is very rare that you will actually observe me answering a question directly, most times, I answer a question with a question. I do not want to give the students the information they seek, rather allow the students to discover the information. I lead them in their discovery by asking the probing questions necessary. Many of my students do not like this, it frustrates them when I do not provide a direct answer. But through the struggle, frustration, and challenge, the real learning occurs. A peer I observed has the same thought process on questioning, however she is much more consistent with the not-answering part. Occasionally I find myself giving in too soon, instead of allowing the appropriate think-time for the students to think through their struggle. This is one aspect of my teaching I know I can grow in, allowing adequate think-time.

 

Many classrooms had a word-wall posted. Each was unique to the style and personality of the teacher in the room. This is most definitely a HUGE growing area for me. I started a word-wall last year, however I only added about six words to this wall, which is not near enough. Time became my mortal enemy when it came to my word-wall. I know, I know, that every teacher is juggling a huge plate, I am not trying to use lack of time as my excuse. But at the end of the day, if it came down to preparing materials for tomorrow’s class or adding to the word-wall, preparing materials came first. In my mind, word-walls were(are) a piece of art, beautifully written and decorated. Much to my surprise, they can actually be basic, just words on a wall. One teacher had the words grouped by category, for example, “Transformations” would have the terms “dilation, translation, reflection, rotation” under it. Students need to be exposed to new vocabulary over thirty times in order for them to feel comfortable using the words in everyday life. In my mind, some of the math words require a picture to go along with it for clarification, for instance acute versus obtuse, a pictorial representation would help greatly for a student learning to differentiate the two. My goal is to find a word-wall method that works for me, efficient yet effective.

 

My absolute favorite part of a class I visited was the “Dead Word-Wall”. I love this idea because it encourages students to replace their basic vocabulary with new, grade-level appropriate vocabulary. This is something I will definitely implement in my room, everytime I hear the word “times” or “minus” instead of multiply or subtract, I cringe. The “Dead Word-Wall” will reduce the use of this vocabulary and eventually eliminate the problem altogether. My plan, is that when a student uses one of the dead words, I will point to that spot on the wall and ask them to find a better word choice.

A focus that I have continued in my class from last year is writing in mathematics. It is important for students to be able to defend their mathematical reasoning. However, as with many things, time has been my enemy with implementing this to fidelity. During my observations I had an ‘ah-ha’ moment that showed me a time-friendly method which will once again facilitate writing in my mathematics classes, an exit – slip requiring writing. This is something I can quickly look over, highlight terminology that needs replacing, errors in math, etc. Then the students will revamp their explanation the next day and the day after until perfection is achieved. This will allow students to once again acclimate themselves to writing in math while allowing them to experience success with writing, which is vital for students tackling the daunting task of writing in mathematics. Once all students have mastered this, I will implement a small weekly assignment, requiring students to defend his/her reasoning which can be completed during their individual work time as I am pulling small groups.

After much reflection, I have decided my focus for this nine weeks will be developing a time-efficient method to creating an effective word-wall. This is something I will have to get in the habit of doing, take fifteen minutes each day and dedicate that to hanging words on the walls for my students, possibly utilize my TA’s to help me be successful with this. I greatly enjoyed and learned a lot during my observation rotations. Now it is my turn, to take what I have learned and transform my classroom, one bite at a time.  

October 22

Small Group Instruction in the Secondary Classroom

Small group on the secondary level is unheard of! Today we discussed the “glue” we use to make learning stick in small group! In an effort incorporate what my teachers needed and to differentiate PD, I surveyed the teachers on what they wanted. Three themes emerged from teacher voice and input: Time Management Strategies, Strategies on how to manage the class that are not in small group, and strategies in general to use in small group.

 

Polling twitter and other peers, we were able to come up with a HUGE list of various strategies that are “go-to” strategies! One of my favorites, are “All Sorts of Sorts”. The mere act of sorting various words and phrases helps to get the metacognitive juices flowing in our students. Talking about why an item was sorted, multiple encounters with new vocabulary words or content vocabulary words, asking questions, and modeling think alouds are all part intertwined in “All Sorts of Sorts”. In today’s teacher academy, we had differentiated instruction at it’s finest through this activity. Each session was completely different and highlighted the needs/wants of the teachers present at that time. We had rigorous conversations on various topics. Teachers shared stories, learned some new strategies, and hopefully left with a clearer picture. 

 

Small group is all about ensuring what students know and how to either fill in the gap or accel them forward! Stay tuned in a for a strategies list of topics covered!

October 11

Think Outside Your Classroom

The following is a blog post written by lead teacher, Heather Studdard! Great job Heather!

 

Educators often get stuck in their own ways and lost in the world that is their classroom. Getting stuck in a rut can compromise your teaching which sets up a snowball effect of classroom trouble. The best way to get our of your comfort zone is to go and observe in other teachers classrooms. This is important for both new teachers as well as seasoned teachers. We are a community of learning and the only way to instill a love of learning in our students is to show them that we learn too.

I had the opportunity to spend the day exploring other classrooms within our school, examining classroom culture, expectations, teaching strategies, and classroom management. While roaming the school I focused on ways that I felt validated and take aways (good ideas that I could implement in my classroom). This is always an eye opening experience to look at yourself and see where your faults and flaws are as well as ways you can improve.

The list of take aways was much longer than the list of validations, however, it is important to note what you feel you do well in this can guide other teachers to your classroom to observe the areas in which you feel comfortable sharing. My validations were related to classroom management and my students awareness of rules, procedures, and expectations. While I did feel validated in these things I also saw several things in my takeaways that would help improve even the things that I felt validated in. My final validation was the use of interactive notebooks and the use of anchor charts. Anchor charts are a teaching strategy that I love to incorporate into my classroom, in fact if I could teach a professional development on them I probably would 🙂

Now the takeaways.

  • Hooking students into reading a book by showing them the first 10 minutes of the movie based on the book (These were AP students and they were dead silent during this clip and ready to get the book.)
  • Students can explain what they are working on and expectations of the assignment (This is something that I need to work on, giving more explicit instructions.)
  • The control of the teachers within some of the classrooms (These students didn’t move or do anything without being told to, these are the same students I teach and I was amazed at the behavior for the other teacher!)
  • Wait time and waiting on ALL students to put their hands up to answer before calling on someone, finally questioning in multiple ways (I like the idea of waiting on ALL students because you know they have looked for and considered the answers.)
  • Anchor Charts (Real world application of topics, ideas, subjects and expectations for when someone is speaking.)
  • Corroboration of multiple sources to help in essay writing and researching (This is something we are just starting to work on in history! I am excited about giving the students this tool to make them better historians.)
  • Don’t be afraid to make a mess (I am a little bit of an organization queen so this is sometimes difficult for me to do, but students learn more by digging in and getting messy with ideas and topics.)
  • Finally, MY FAVORITE TAKEAWAY: always answer yes or no questions with only a yes or no and force the students to figure out the why of their question. So many times a student’s second question is why but they learn more when they research the why on their own!

Hopefully, in the coming weeks I can start incorporating some of the strategies that I observed through our school. Every teacher should be given the opportunity observe within their own school and have an open mind when looking at others while be willing to examine themselves. If we don’t continue to learn we won’t grow as educators and stagnate educators create stagnate students.

October 8

Slice of the Day

What is the greatest barrier for collaborating and communicating with colleagues? Time of course! The slice of the day protocol can help bring each classroom to life in the building and spark some pretty interesting conversation and reflections.

What is a slice of the day? Slices can give teachers a quick bird’s eye view of what is going on in each classroom. It offers a quick way for teachers to self-assess themselves as to how their classroom fits into a school culture.

Two lenses were used in our Slice of the Day, Engagement and Rigor. While these two words pack a loaded punch, simply put while the short time we were in rooms, what did engagement and rigor look like.

At Winterboro, we used the end of the 9 weeks, to review our recent slice of the day as a way to open each teacher’s classroom door and learn from each other. During Teacher Academy, the teachers completed a Notice and Wonder Protocol then made a plan for the next 9 weeks!

Reflection was an underlying theme of Teacher Academy this Friday. I learned a great deal reflecting and talking with my colleagues and I hope they did as well. I cannot wait to meet with them about their next steps  and how I can support their growth!

 

 

July 6

OPUS: Reflect to Redirect

The following is a reflection from our planning day with Stephanie Couey (@23steph23) and Ceci Johnson (@crjo89). Great job today ladies! Can’t wait for a new year in OPUS!

OPUS…what is it? By definition, opus is any artistic work, especially one on a large scale. At Winterboro, OPUS is just that- a large work of art, created by students through integrating art and music into mathematics. We believe that students can become “mathematical artists” by learning in a variety of ways: reading, hands-on activities, listening, etc. It is our responsibility to provide a class where all learning styles can be successful. Let’s start by introducing ourselves. We are Cecilia Johnson, secondary mathematics teacher, and Stephanie Couey, 5-12 band director and fine arts teacher. Together, we use math, music, and art to teach 7th-grade math standards to our students at Winterboro High School.
Today, we came together to reflect on our past year (our first year co-teaching together) and collaborate on ideas for improvement in the upcoming year. Through “Glow-and-Grow”, we learned a lot about our strengths and weaknesses as co-teachers in this course. We realized that our biggest areas for improvement were being more consistent in our daily routines with the students and utilizing small-group instruction in order to individualize learning and help our students reach their full potential. One of the areas of improvement was to create a strict daily schedule. It is our hope that by establishing this schedule from day one, students will know what is expected for each task (math journal, tech time, group work, etc…) which in turn will keep them focused and working during the individual/buddy/group project time we use to host our small group instruction. Another area we both want to improve on is creating a positive climate for learning. We are going to work hard getting to know our kids, being strict and consistent on rules and discipline, and modeling what a positive climate looks like — how to give compliments, how to constructively criticize, and how to work together to achieve goals. One of the ideas for this, details of which are still being worked out, is to give the ownership back to the kids through a student-created rubric on our classroom rules. This will be a way to hold the students responsible for his/her behavior. This self-assessment system will help keep the students in check with regards to classroom rules, peer interactions, individual work time, ultimately every part of the time they spend in our classroom. Finally, possibly the most important, area of growth we found is in the ability to “mesh” both fine arts and math into every lesson everyday. It is our goal that our students will see the relevancy of one subject and how it relates to the other, fostering a growth mindset. So many students have the mindset of “I can’t do math, or art, I’m not a math/art person”, by integrating both courses together, we hope to change this closed-minded thinking into an “I can..” type of thinking. We want all of our “mathematician artists” to find success in a way they have never experienced before. Wish us luck as we embark on a this new adventure together! Updates on our progress with many more “Glows-and-Grows” to come.

February 4

Slice of the Day

Reflection is one of the most underutilized tools for teacher and student learning and allows metacognitive thinking to take place. Incorporating thinking strategies is “the single most effective way to increase student achievement” (Silver, et al pg 57), thus making metacognition and the reflective process taste that much sweeter to any teacher aiming to promote critical thinking in the classroom. How can you learn from others while teaching? Conducting a “Slice of the Day” is a great way!

To conduct a slice of the day, choose a school period and map out your schedule. @GraysonLawrence and I conducted our “Slice of the Day” during sixth period (A 96 minute period). We stayed in each classroom around seven minutes. We used the slice protocol to create a snapshot to share with teachers in Teacher Academy. Our goal was to show teachers the “Slice of the Day” and give them time to reflect on practice, create goals, and discuss classroom pedagogy that is impactful to student achievement.

@GraysonLawrence and I chose to do a new take on the “Slice of the Day”. We each had a lens of what to be on the lookout for. The only reported information was observable information/data garnered by the lense. His lens was student engagement and my lens was rigorous instruction. Here is what we discovered for each applied perspective:

Rigorous Instruction Lens:

  • Citing textual evidence
  • Academic vocabulary from the ACT Aspire in elective courses
  • Quality question by teachers
  • Students using content vocabulary in conversation without the teacher present (high expectations present)
  • Performance tasks (open-ended questions) in ALL content areas
  • Graphic organizers, such as ACE, in history and elective courses
  • Number talks in math
  • Manipulatives used by students to model thinking
  • Application of Ethos, Pathos, Logos in elective course
  • Differentiated Small-Group based on student needs
  • Students using Rubrics to assess their learning

Engagement Lens:

  • Classroom Managers present and eager to discuss their learning and the learning in the classroom.
  • Students troubleshooting through assignments together
  • Students using rubrics in groups to assess learning
  • Learning Targets posted that show a pathway to learning
  • Students asking questions about their own learning
  • Bellringers to start the day
  • Math Stretches
  • Students participating in PBL (Project Based Learning)
  • Blended Learning opportunities for students
  • Collaboration in Google Docs/Slides

References:

Silver, H., Dewing, R. T., & Perini, M. (2012). The core six essential strategies for achieving excellence with the common core. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

 

**Small side note about The Core Six Essential Strategies for Achievement Excellence with the Common Core:  It is a short read, BUT very transformative!!! I highly encourage you to read and reread it! I have a copy you can borrow anytime! It is not content specific, rather just a focus on effective teaching strategies!