Monday, March 17, 2014

Teaching Grit and Rigor in the Classroom: Validating Everything I Do

OK, well it's been a long hiatus from the blog (7 months actually), but I'm back. This year has been a difficult one, with implementing the Common Core, and dealing with a lot of changes in my school district, but I am happy to say that I'm finding more time to get back to my passions, one of them being this blog... So, with that being said, let's move on.

This morning on my way to work, I listened to a great piece on NPR called "Does Teaching Kids To Get 'Gritty' Help Them To Get Ahead?" The article goes on to explain that a child's grit (determination, the willingness to fight on and never give up) can actually be a better predictor of success than can IQ score or standardized test scores. But it also states that it can be hard to implement strategies to teach 'grit,' that it seems to be an inherent trait that certain kids have and certain kids don't.

Yet, I've been stuck thinking about this all day. Every teacher deals with the kids who give up easily. We've all heard the 'this is hard, I quit' mentality that plagues so many children in our world today. Actually, those kids have probably always been there, and it can be easy to see them not being successful as they get older. After all, what is college all about? More than anything else, college tests your ability to do something for many years, dealing with tons of ridiculous garbage, bureaucracy, and politics, and finally get a degree and a job. College is all about grit and self-drive.

In the article, Jason Baehr, a philosophy professor at Loyola Marymount University says the following:
"But I'll say from our experience in the school, I see [kids learning to be grittier] all the time. ... You can create a classroom culture in which struggle and risk-taking is valued more than just getting the right answer."
I made a challenge to myself this year, well a few actually, but what it came down to was creating a classroom focused on process and not product, struggle and rigor and not just right answers and policy. Overall, I feel validated, I feel that my students have shown a greater ability to problem solve, to persevere, and to challenge themselves than ever before in the past. Of course there are the exceptions, as with any class, but I feel that I'm finally coming into my own and creating a classroom culture that demands grit, and I want to grow that.

This article is spot on the way I feel about education at this point in my career. We can discuss hands on learning and investigative approaches, project based learning and strategies to instruct in literacy and math all day and never come to a consensus. But what we need to do is realize that not every child is going to persevere, especially in a subject they aren't passionate about. What we can do, however, is train kids to fight, and deal with their frustration in a constructive way. After all, school isn't supposed to be fun or easy. It's supposed to challenge students, to make them think, to make them frustrated, and to learn to think outside the box. Rigor, relevance, and a classroom focused on the active struggle is a great start. Please read or listen to the article, if you missed the link above, here it is again:

Does Teaching Kids To Get 'Gritty' Help Them To Get Ahead?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Daily Math Challenge: Upping the Rigor in Mathematics Instruction

All teachers (should) follow lessons plans and unit plans in order to make their instruction cohesive and make sense. I'm not going to get into all the aspects of following scaffolded, developmentally appropriate lesson plans, but if you're "winging it" everyday in the classroom without a clear focus, don't expect a lot of learning to take place.

The point of this post is taking a little timeout in math everyday to let students think and work through challenging, rigorous problems without an immediately evident solution. I call this activity "daily brain work," and it takes 10 minutes. The intent here is to pose a problem to the class, and to step away and let them work through the problem on their own. Students should be able to elaborate and articulate how they reached their solution. Finally, go over the problem, have some students share their answers, and hopefully at least a few have the correct solution to share.

In order to get started, I needed some multi step story problems. Don't start too difficult, and make sure that everything you give students is developmentally appropriate for the majority of the class.

Here are some resources to find multi step word problems and other math puzzles / brain workouts:

Math Multi-Step Word Problems

Brain Teasers / Math Puzzles

Friday, July 5, 2013

Primary Sources: The Perfect Fit for Informational Texts in the Common Core

I've been focusing a lot lately on informational texts as we move towards the Common Core adoption that is pretty much going into full swing next month, and with good reason. The informational text / literature split is very important moving forward, and failure to give it its proper due and focus heavily on it might actually cost you your job a few years down the road, it IS essential.

At the beginning, I focused a lot on resources. Where can I find informational texts? Are there resources out there for how I can use them properly in my classroom? I've already done some posts about this (see: Informational Text Free Digital Resources and The Informational Text Revolution).

Now, I'm starting to think about the connection to other subject areas (another major key in the CCSS). I've always considered myself a social studies teacher. Yes, I'm an elementary school teacher who teaches, and does a pretty darn good job of teaching, all subject areas. BUT, social studies, especially history, has always been my primary passion, and as my instruction in social studies has evolved to the point of students doing multiple research based projects, presentations, and doing some deep, relevant, technology and personally driven learning about history, geography, sociology, and economics, I've thought about how this all fits the CCSS.

I'm going as far as to say that implementing the CCSS in social studies might be the most exciting part of the CCSS adoption for me personally... well, it's actually pretty close between that and the changes it demands of math instruction from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade.

Social studies instruction is already built for informational text. Honestly, I think most of us in the elementary grades might not go deep enough with our instruction, or with student expectations when doing research, but that's not really the point here.

The point here is simple: Primary sources. The more I've been thinking on this subject and studying it, the more I am convinced that 5th grade students can read and analyze primary sources, and it's exciting. Some of the primary examples I've seen of implementing the CCSS in 5th grade involve reading and analyzing the Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech, and other great primary sources.

So with that in mind, I'm going to just throw some information and resources out there that I think can benefit all of us. I'll be listing a quick description of each of these multiple links:

These first links are to research articles, and other descriptions of the importance of primary sources within the CCSS:

Finally, I'm going to end with some resources that can be used with students, or can get you thinking more about using primary sources in your classroom:
  • Teaching With Documents, Lesson Plans : From the National Archives website, there's some decent lessons here that really help when developing your own lessons. A good place to start.
  • Using Primary Sources in the Classroom : A great pdf document from the Library of Congress that lists some great lesson ideas and some examples.
  • Primary Sources for the Classroom : A pdf document from the state of Tennessee that might be my favorite of everything I've listed here. There's some stuff I want my students to read and take to heart as they start researching.
  • Library of Congress Common Core Teacher Resource Center : If you don't know about this, wake up! This huge listing of resources can't be ignored. I've been referring to it often. It's growing daily, and there are tons upon tons of great things there, not just for primary sources, for ALL the Common Core.
  • Evaluating Sources : Another pdf document, this one is helpful and I think your smarter 5th graders could handle without too many problems.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Two Great YouTube Video Based Tools That Will Add Student Engagement To Your Lessons

Today I wanted to share a few neat video tools that I can see students and teachers really enjoying in the classroom. I found both of these tools on Free Technology For Teachers, and after playing around with them, decided that they were definitely both worth sharing.

First off, there's wireWAX. wireWAX is a cool YouTube annotation service that allows you to place interactive tags inside of YouTube videos. The best part is, whatever you tag to opens up within the video that's already playing, it doesn't take you to an outside website. I'm already working on one to share with my students during a history lesson, and I've found that it's really interactive and engaging, I think students will really enjoy this.

Here is a wireWAX annotated video to check out:

Next up is blubbr. blubbr allows you to create YouTube video clip quizzes. After playing around with this one, I was very impressed, and see great applications on both computers and tablets alike. If the concept sounds interesting, I recommend you head there and try a few quizzes, and try to make your own. It's really easy, and like wireWAX, totally free.

Well, that's my quick little post for now. Go check out these two great services, you won't be disappointed!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Class Dojo: An Interactive and Fun Way to Monitor and Reinforce Behavior

Ask almost any teacher what their primary growth area is, and in what area they primarily have issues in, and if they're being honest, they'll most likely say behavior. How do you handle 21-35 kids all at the same time? It's not easy. It's not easy to deal with negative behaviors in a constructive way,
and it's really not easy to notice those students who are doing the right thing, and reinforce the positives. I'll admit, I've struggled with it over the years, and have tried multiple approaches to behavior management.

I feel as if I've been successful, but there's always room for growth. For the last few years, my school has been using the clip chart system of behavior monitoring and reinforcement. It's a simple concept, students start everyday at the green "ready to learn" spot, and can be moved up for positive behavior, and down for negatives.

There are consequences plainly spelled out for moving down, and the teacher can have different rewards for moving up (the graphic shows what this looks like).

I am fully on board for using the clip chart, and have found success with it, even in the 5th grade. BUT, there's always room for growth. I've also noticed from observation that many teachers don't properly utilize (or utilize at all) the clip chart, and this lack of follow through can create issues in a school, where everyone should be using the same method.

OK, anyways, that's not really what I wanted to get in to today. I wanted to show you a great behavior management system that's online, is easy to use, and is just all around fun. And yes, you can use it on a computer or a tablet.

Class Dojo is a neat behavior management software that you can project in your classroom, using a computer, an iPad/iPod/iPod Touch, an Android smartphone, and any other tablet you can imagine (more or less).
Each student has their own avatar, and by clicking on it, you can assign points or remove points. All of this is tracked, and you can view data at the end of each day showing how students are doing. This is easily readable and can be shared with parents either by printing it, or by having parents sign up for their own parent account to view their child's behavior.

I find Class Dojo to be interesting in that it's so transparent. You simply project it, assign points, and students get immediate feedback. It's also a great way of staying accountable (I know that's hard sometimes).

I've used a behavior notebook in the past, logging times I've had to discipline children, just for administrative purposes. Class Dojo takes care of that by keeping all the data together for each child.

Now, I know what you're asking. Yes, it's completely free, at least for right now. So go ahead and sign up, and get to using it. It's very user friendly, and there are tutorials if you're ever confused.

Finally, I'm embedding a few videos to get you started if you're interested in seeing more before you sign up:

Class Dojo Tutorial Video (11 minutes)

Using Class Dojo (4 minutes)