Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Payoff

       When Monday comes calling, I will be buying pizza. And I'll be glad to do so. My risk-taking experiment came to a close on Friday when the projects were due. Two weeks ago I assigned my students to work in groups and come up with ideas for Public Service Announcements (PSA) which they would work together to create. I handed them a rubric, discussed the timing of this, and let them go. The pizza was their idea.
         I wasn't alone in this process. I had the invaluable support and help from my school's tech partner who made time to come to my school despite prior commitments. She provided tips to the students and affirmation and encouragement as the groups edited their video footage and created their spots.
     Thursday she spent much time after school in my classroom with students who were frantic to finish up their projects. Props to her for all she did to add to the success of this endeavor.
      Friday came and the groups submitted their PSAs. I forwarded them on to the principal and a few colleagues to get their "vote" for the best ones.
       Even though there was a winner, I feel like we all came out winning in the end. My students worked together, interacting and collaborating, problem-solving and engaging in critical thinking. They had to "figure it out" when things didn't go in the direction they thought.
      I asked all the students the same question. Was this worth the time? Should I do something like this with the next block of students? Did they get anything out of it? We dialogued for a while about these questions and the answer was the same from all of them. Yes, do this project again. It was fun;t we learned to work together, to figure things out, to write with an audience in mind, create for a larger audience. Common Core standard after standard continued to be vocalized.
       I asked myself the same question. I took time away from the school day to work on this. Was it worth it to me? In spades. This is the most engaged some of these students have been all year. It enabled them to participate in authentic learning, and it showed me how powerful engagement is in the learning process.
      So I'll take a hit for some pizza on Monday. It'll be worth it. And the PSAs? For a first effort, I'm happy with the results and so are the students. Isn't that what's most important?
      What did I learn?  I'm glad I gave up the class time for the students to work together. Projects are good for learning and engage students. I learned that students are hungry for engagement. I learned that little things like this can build relationships among all stakeholders. And I learned that students like to challenge themselves and others.
       Pizza anyone?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Professional Development & Teachers

       Ever have a love/dislike relationship with something? On the one hand you see the value of that activity or task but on the other hand it's something you dislike--perhaps intensely? I have that kind of relationship with going to the gym. I do it, but I don't like it. For many teachers, professional development (PD) days can morph into the same feelings. Love/dislike. So what's up with that?
       Most teachers love to learn. Monday nights a group of local educators gather via Twitter to explore different education topics via #gfedchat. This weekly interaction, to me, is invaluable as I'm interacting with colleagues, learning new ideas, and having my ideas challenged professionally. Plus, I get to do it all from my own home. All professional development should be so delivered!
       Actually, I should qualify my previous statement. Most teachers, like students, like to learn relevant material delivered in a manner in which teachers are told to deliver instruction. What do I mean? I mean avoid teaching teachers using the exact model administrators tell teachers NOT to use. Instructional philosophy swirls around the importance of engagement and avoiding the lecture format of teaching. Yet most PD days are filled with what? Lectures. Reading presentation slides, verbatim, to teachers. Words filled mostly with little meaning because teachers are not engaged.
       Some of my most enthralling PD instruction came in shorter segments when I was able to CHOOSE what I wanted to learn about and how I wanted to learn it. It was instruction from my colleagues, many of whom delivered flawlessly in their area of expertise.
       Frankly, I don't understand why administrators offer the "teach as I say, not as I teach" model of PD, yet teachers are evaluated on how engaging we make our instruction. It seems kind of like a double standard.
       Professional development can be just that--professional--when educators are treated the same as we are to treat our classes. Just as teachers are to offer choices, let students have a voice, and modify instruction, wouldn't it make sense for PD to model the same techniques? Let teachers have choices, let them have a voice, and let there be different levels of instruction on the same topic. Some teachers may be new to the use of interactive projectors in the classroom while other teachers may have spent numerous PD days studying this technology. Should the former be expected to be at the same level as the latter? Should the latter have to endure sessions on elementary information about the projectors? Modify delivery so learning is scaffolded. Sound familiar?
      Administrators will continue to hear rumblings of dissent over PD days if the sessions continue to be offered using the same old-same old model. If there are any admins reading this, take this to heart for more engaged PD days.. Change your format, offer choices, use the teacher experts in your own district which validates teachers and their skill levels, and allow for differentiation in delivery and learning. Avoid the old model of teaching and embrace the same model you want teachers to employ.
      By implementing these ideas, PD days will go from "hate" days to "can't wait" days as teachers anticipate professional development days rather than dread them. Engage teachers. This can only benefit the district and the students. The more engaged and involved the teachers are during PD, the more learning takes place. The more learning that takes place, the better instruction for the student. It seems like a win/win situation  for everyone.
      So be innovative, take a risk, and change PD delivery. It will make all the difference.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

What I Learned in School This Week

Art courtesy of
       It's the end of the first week of my class project experiment. So how did it go? Well, despite agreeing to fund pizzas for the winning groups, everything went surprisingly well. I was a bit tentative as to how my morning class was going to do, but I found as the week progressed their excitement level grew along with their ideas. Granted it was tough going at first, but we plowed along and made great progress.
        However, it's not only my students who have made great progress; I have as well. I've minimized my students by thinking they would have trouble achieving when just the opposite has
been true. One group of my morning class, in particular, has a lot of introverts; but they are working together to see what they can create as a team. They may have need a bit more encouragement to begin the project, but they picked it up on their own and are now laughing and engaged.
       A real benefit of this activity has been students getting to know one another. My school is a transient school, meaning we enroll students from the other two high schools and from out-of-district schools all the time. In this new block probably 75% of my classes were students new to the school. Students who began the block wary of each other have now become friends.
       I queried the groups on Friday, asking if they thought this was a project I should repeat next block and the answer surprised me. Maybe not the answer, but the strength of the answer. To a student, every one of them replied positively. Every. One.
       Next week we work on creating a finished product. Frankly, I consider this whole experiment a success regardless of what the end result looks like. I've gained more from this assignment than I initially thought I would. And the interaction and bond created among the students in my classes has been an unexpected side benefit. So, will I keep doing this project? Maybe not exactly, but something along these lines. It's been that worth it to me. Even if it does cost me a few pizzas in the end.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Risk-learning Education

       Taking a risk is scary. You never know the outcome. You can't control the situation. And for some, that lack of control is scariest of all. Yesterday I proposed a class project to my at-risk students.Scary? You bet. With the make up of my classes, I wasn't sure of the reaction.
       I have two, three-hour classes where I teach four classes concurrently. All of my students are at different places, usually, in their classes and I spend my day teaching one-on-one. So I put the idea out there and in my morning class...well, let's just say the idea was met with underwhelming support. I'm still not sure how it's going to go down in my a.m. class. However, my afternoon class was a different story. The groups challenged themselves to see who could do the better job on the project, with a promise of a prize for the best project elicited from me.
       So, am I disappointed with the outcome? Not really. My morning class is filled with introverts and some pretty insecure learners. My afternoon is the opposite. But it's only been Day 1. We have two more weeks to finish the project.
       A lot can happen in two weeks. This isn't just a learning experience for the students. I'm the one whose learning is being challenged. Taking a risk is worth it. It grows you as a teacher and allows students to see your failures and successes. Just like you see theirs. Bring attention to it and let kids know it's okay to fail. We learn from it. I know I do everyday...

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Relevant and Authentic Voice

             It’s Super Bowl (SB) Sunday and the world becomes obsessed with one thing: commercials. Talk tomorrow will center briefly on the game; however, the full force of conversation will be about which commercials people saw, liked, and disliked.
            So it’s the afternoon of this wild event, and I’m wondering to myself how I can leverage this national obsession into a real world application in my class tomorrow. How can I get my students to think critically about something that will garner their focus and attention like the SB ads?
            My Twitter feed brought me the answer. For those who don’t know it, I’m a sports junky. I follow educators and sports people (broadcasters, athletes, teams, etc) on Twitter. One of­­ the people I follow tweeted a link to a SB ad that will air tonight. That’s what set me to thinking.
            What if my students had to create a PSA on something they are passionate about? What would it be? How would they react? What if the class worked on it together for the first half hour of everyday? What would they say to writing, speaking, and using mechanics properly if their PSA would be viewed by others through the school district website or other mediums?
            I want authentic and relevant assignments that give my students a voice to say what they want to say. To think about what they feel needs to be said. To explore how to say it. To create the medium in which to project their voice. To celebrate their creation and take ownership of their voice.
            Will they jump on board with the idea? Will they take ownership of it and make it "theirs?" I guess I'll find out. One thing I do know. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough…