It Will Get Better, Right? Takeaways from In-Service

Day One: Nerves Drive Me to Reminisce

Today is the first day of in-service. I think I am prepared, but I am also very nervous. As always, when I am anxious, I write. Here we are. 

This post may not make it to the blog, and that’s all right. It is an exercise in self-care. Teachers need to practice self-care in any situation. How many of us grade papers late into the night, on weekends, and over vacation? Too many, I’m afraid. Do we make time for ourselves, walk or ride, read for pleasure, or listen to music? Many of us don’t. We hear the call to teaching, day and night. We shoulder the burden of our students’ progress. We think their lack of success is our failure, and their success is their achievement. 

Those feelings do not emerge without reason. We are trained to feel this way, to think that we need to assume so much responsibility. Just like managers who consider themselves servant-leaders, we are trained to ensure our students experience success. Is the effort appreciated? I hear that it is, based on conversations with a handful of students and parents. Other students and parents may not express it. They may not know their feelings would be appreciated. 

When I was in high school, I was trained not to say anything to a teacher, good or bad. When given feedback, I took it and processed it, but did not question the teacher’s opinion. I was lousy at math, and there was no hope for me, so why was she going to waste her time? I was destined to be a historian, so she expected more of me, but she never said so. I just knew. I didn’t ask her because that would be a mistake. I was failing chemistry, so the teacher ordered me to join her for lunch and let her help me, as my performance was so different from 9th grade that she was concerned. I appreciated it and never even thought to question the edict. 

I wonder if my teachers felt as I do or thought a student’s failure was theirs alone? That is how it appeared, but since we never had a real conversation about academic progress, how would I really know? 

Day Two: Solid Takeaways from Day One

I have no idea why I ended up writing what I wrote yesterday. Perhaps it was my way of calming my nerves a bit.  I am curious as to what your thoughts are, dear reader. That’s a nod to Charlotte Bronte, by the way. Please feel free to comment.

Yesterday, I made my room ready to receive students. The seats are labeled so that students are distanced six feet apart each period and that odd-period students sit at odd-numbered seats and even-period students sit at the even-numbered seats. This gives me a chance to clean and disinfect desks before they arrive and finish up while they are getting settled. Books and paper are out of the way, to protect them from the misting machines. My room looks a lot better, in my opinion. 

My Newly Arranged Room

Perhaps that is a useful takeaway from our preparations for the students’ return: We get to start over with a clean slate, almost literally. We are embarking on new teaching and learning methods, reflected in room arrangements and health-and-safety procedures. Our physical world reflects our intellectual world. Yes, that is a positive and hopeful takeaway. It calms the nerves a bit.

Before the end of the week, I have to create a “Meet the Teacher” night video that will replace the usual face-to-face meeting. Parents are not allowed to come into the building, except to pick up students, so the typical meet-the-teacher night will not happen. I have to create a video for each prep, so what I am thinking of is creating one with a table of contents that will guide them to their student’s class information. What I have now works for all classes; I have to add class-specific details. 

There’s so much to do! Time to get to it!

The Days Flew By…

Days three through five are a blur, even now, after I have had some time to review. I can’t remember what happened on Wednesday. I can remember what happened on Thursday and don’t want to. Friday passed so quickly because I was obsessed with creating that video I mentioned earlier. Instead of creating a video for each prep, I added one slide to the end for each class and called it a day. I also struggled with the right platform to produce and publish the video. It was a mess.

Even using the microphone from the robotic camera, my videos are not as good acoustically as I would prefer them to be.  The HVAC system is to blame for that, but I would rather have it circulating air constantly. Wouldn’t you? Besides, students and parents need to understand how the physical environment is going to function.  Advice from teachers in other districts is to have everyone bring headsets or wireless ear buds and use them to hear me and each other better while everyone is logged into the conference. This makes sense. I will try connecting my wired headset that claims to be noise-canceling and see if that works. That’s another cord…

I’m Not Going to Look Like a Duck.

There is an old saying about a duck looking calm and peaceful above the surface, but furiously paddling beneath the surface. I’m not going to look like a duck. My feelings are written all over my face. They always have been. Perhaps that is what terrifies me. I doubt that any advice I receive is going to help that, I’m afraid. 

I’m also trying to ignore the fact that parents are going to see me in real-time. What if I break down in front of them and they call to complain? What if I do something wrong? I’m going to push that thought from my mind. 

Final Thoughts

I want to wish everyone in the learning community the best as we embark on this journey together. Please give yourself and your teachers grace while they become accustomed to this new situation. We can get through this together.

2 Ways That Waiting for the First Day of School Is Nerve-Wracking

Some Advice to Help Calm Your Nervous Mind

Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash

I was recently honored by a request to do an interview as a teacher representative of my district regarding school reopening. It was a surprise for many reasons: receiving the invitation the day before; receiving the invitation at all; having only an hour to get my disaster, otherwise known as my classroom, into shape before the reporter arrived; and having to demonstrate a lesson among them. Fortunately, it was a relatively painless process. During the interview, Alyssa Kratz asked me if I was nervous about coming back to school.

“I’m nervous, I am,” I said. “I would hate to think that anyone would get sick on my watch.” I have said this numerous times before. It’s just the first reason why waiting for the first day is so nerve-wracking.

1: We Don’t Know What Is Going to Happen

As I have been running through the scenarios in my mind, the only conclusion I can come to is: We don’t know what is going to happen. That said, I have also decided that I am going to have faith in the learning community. After the interview, I said I have faith in everyone.

“I’m going to believe that everybody is going to do their part and we’re going to get through it. Because we’re going to take care of each other, and we’re going to take care of ourselves,” added Edick.

To have that faith is the only way I know to quell the fears I have about something going horribly wrong. 

Therefore, my advice is to have faith. Be kind and patient. Give grace. Additionally, you can be kind and patient while also being firm and consistent with rules that protect everyone’s health and safety.

2: Teachers Aren’t Counselors, So How Do We Address Our Students’ Trauma?

Over the summer – indeed, even before the last marking period of 2019–2020 ended – numerous members of the education community sounded the alarm about student trauma. We heard some terrible stories, including those about domestic violence increasing during the “stay-at-home” period. We heard stories about parents losing their jobs. We heard stories about older siblings caring for younger siblings, having to sacrifice their learning to support the younger children. We heard stories about students’ frustration with a new learning model thrust upon them. 

Then, we heard about the inequities of education in this country. So many children and teachers did not have the tools to transition to virtual teaching and learning. They had to make do with what they had, and everyone suffered. I hope the education community will address these inequities, as they have been a problem in education for too long. Funding disparities should be eradicated. Everyone should have equal access to the excellent tools available, not just the fortunate districts who can afford them. 

The most heartbreaking news focused on food insecurity. My district and many, many others provided lunches to families each day during the last marking period. They will continue to distribute lunches to those who chose virtual learning this fall. I am so proud to be part of a district that considers addressing food insecurity to be a priority.

When I told my son about the lunch program in our district, he said, “How is it that in this rich country we have so many hungry people and so much money in so few pockets?” 

As Cassandra Fox said in her brilliant article: “You’ve got to Maslow before you Bloom.” A learning team cannot work on teaching and learning until all members feel physically and psychologically secure.

Teachers were traumatized too. Many teachers have young children they needed to teach while also teaching their students. Teachers struggled with the new instruction model. We were working with changes to policy daily. Some teachers, I think, also had to deal with domestic troubles, and may have partners who lost their jobs. It was difficult all around.

How do we deal with all the trauma then, while also staying in our lane? We are not licensed counselors. Before I was a teacher in traditional K-12, I taught at a residential facility for those in the juvenile justice system and with an alternative education program. One of the first things I learned was to report observable facts, not try to diagnose the person, and never dispense advice. As a teacher, it was my job to report what I could see to the appropriate personnel. 

My advice on this is simple. Prepare the tools and develop the routines you will use to demonstrate compassion and caring. Ask the students every day how they are doing, but teach them not to share too much personal information. Deal in adverbs and adjectives, rather than details. For example, they can share they are feeling down, and request to see the guidance counselor (which should be arranged immediately). Alternatively, they could share they are feeling hopeful today, or they are feeling better than yesterday. Perhaps create a form with suggested “feeling words.” At the end of the form, ask them if they would like to get an appointment with the guidance counselor. Make sure the form is private, so other students cannot see the responses. 

You can also integrate some Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) activities into your curriculum, but I advise that you are very careful and use activities from reputable sources. There are many such sources out there. Don’t try to create activities unless you are experienced with SEL. In fact, I would look to your district for guidance on SEL activities.

Show you care about them by being you. Teachers enter the profession to help others. You are a wonderful person: caring, kind, generous, thankful, and loving. Show them yourself, gain their trust, and develop solid relationships with your “kids.” 

If you have these tools and routines in place for the first day of school, you will feel more secure.

Final Thoughts

I would like to thank everyone in the education community for their response to the crisis and their continued efforts to, essentially, reinvent education as we have known it. There are so many brilliant minds involved. We can make this work and we will if we take care of each other and ourselves.

Best wishes to everyone for the best school year ever. 

 

I Did It Again. I Made Something Too Complicated.

The novel study portfolio project I have planned needs a lot of work to be effective for the students. The project should be fun, thought-provoking, and memorable – not painful.

Holy Post-It® Notes! This is what I did to a very good book.

To introduce the novel study portfolio project to my AP® Lit students, I decided to create one of my own. I’m glad I did because I saved myself and my students a great deal of frustration. I saved myself a good deal of embarrassment, too. In the image above, I captured how the book I’m reading, Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, now looks after I used almost an entire pack of Post-It® Flags to help myself remember everything. My husband actually laughed at me when he saw the book.

My husband said, “Heather, your kids aren’t in graduate school, and you aren’t either.” He still remembers my days on end in front of the computer, researching, writing, and having NO FUN AT ALL.

Fair enough. We are supposed to help students find joy in reading great literature, not induce panic attacks. Besides, my hand hurts and the image below shows why.

My hand hurts from writing and rewriting these notes.

I love this book. I posted in an AP® Lit teacher’s group that I’m exhausted thinking about it, but that I am in love. My approach to these things, however, is not going to work for 16 – 18 year olds. I will end up making what should be transformative into something that reaffirms why they don’t want to read: It’s too hard.

What Was I Trying to Do, You Ask?

AP® Lit is hard and there is not a lot of time to do anything. To expose the students to a variety of novels, I created the novel study portfolio project that the students will complete three times, once every three units. Meanwhile, in class, we will complete units on short fiction, poetry, and longer fiction. The longer fiction units will focus on drama instead of novels, because it is better to work on drama together, I think. At the end of the longer fiction units, students will submit their portfolio.

The portfolio has several components:

  • Reader’s journal (the second image in this post shows my attempt at a reader’s journal)
  • An annotated bibliography for three articles about the book . These articles need to be from peer-reviewed journals.
  • Two responses to Free-Response prompts. We have a document of prompts used in past exams from which the students can choose, which is cross-referenced with a list of novels used in past exams and the years in which they were used. These responses will be drafted, revised, and edited. Peers will then evaluate the responses and use the rubric to assign a score. Before turning in the responses, the students will create a final draft using feedback from their peers.
A Refocus on the POINT of This Exercise

What’s the POINT?

As I was bike riding today, I revisited this assignment and asked myself what I really want the students to do and WHY. I was thinking about the unit planning acronym I’m using this year called POINT (Purpose, Objectives/Standards, Indicators of Learning, Negotiables, and Tasks/Steps). Thinking about what and why also reminded me of literary analysis and annotation of texts. What are we looking for when we annotate a text? We are looking for the WHAT, the HOW, and the WHY.

A new reader’s journal idea was born, and I think it’s better. A sample entry shows in the image above. Below, I have included an image of a blank chart. Students can hand write or type their notes. I prefer to take notes by hand. Students may actually want to take notes by hand, too, if only to take their eyes off the computer for a while.

WHAT – HOW – WHY

WHAT – What happened? Briefly describe what happened that struck you as important.

HOW – How was the “what” conveyed? Include your “quote jimmies”! I’m from Philadelphia, so they aren’t sprinkles. “Quote jimmies” are a few words, not entire sentences or paragraphs that can be woven into an analyst’s original sentence to prove a claim.

WHY – Why is it important to remember and process the WHAT and HOW? In other words, try to answer the question, “So what?”

At the top of the page, I included the codes for the Big Ideas of AP® Literature: Character, Setting, Structure (Plot), Narration, Figurative Language, and Literary Argumentation. We will be visiting these Big Ideas continuously.

What Do YOU Think?

Am I on the right track? Will this new format help students deepen their love and appreciation of literature, which will help them better understand the human condition and their place within the human family? Please feel free to comment below.

Teaching a Hybrid Class? Bell Ringers Might Save Your Sanity.

Last year, bell ringers featured prominently in my instruction for about a month. This year WILL be different. Right? 

What Are These Bell Ringers of Which You Speak?

Most teachers will already know the term, but the explanation below is for those who might know it by another name. Please comment below if you know it by another name. I would be willing to adopt a new term, as I am not a fan of this one. I am, however, a fan of the idea, so please read on.

A bell ringer is an opening activity that students complete without assistance while teachers are transitioning from class to class. Teachers need time to take attendance, for example, so they fill that time with something that will keep the students productively occupied. Each minute is precious in live instruction, and teachers try to fill each minute with something pertinent to the curriculum.

Bell ringers in ELA could include reviewing the previous day’s instruction, vocabulary activities, grammar exercises, or mini-lessons on topics like theme. Last year, I used sample questions from the Keystone exams as bell ringers, vocabulary learning, and grammar exercises. I will do that again this year and use the rest of the instructional time to address more particular student needs and the curriculum. Diagnostics and benchmarks will tell me what those needs are.

Plan Your Bell Ringers 

A Google Slides or PowerPoint presentation would be perfect for this. Create one slide for each bell ringer, share the slide within the conference, and use a projector. If all your students, no matter their location, join the conference, you do not need to project. (On a side note, teachers already in the classroom are finding that students cannot hear them over the HVAC blower and because of the mask they have to wear. They are asking all students to bring earbuds with them and join the conference, thereby eliminating this problem. It sounds odd, but I recommend you try it.)

Here is an example of a Google Slides bell ringer I used last year.

You could also use a service for vocabulary and grammar instruction There are numerous flashcard services available now. Students can work on vocabulary during the bell ringer using a link provided or by signing into your LMS (learning management system) classroom. Some services make grammar exercises fun. Well, as fun as grammar can be.

Another idea is to produce a video of yourself introducing the topic of today’s lesson. Students will get to see you without the mask. There is recording software available, free to teachers forever. Other software is low cost. Students would sign into the LMS, play the video using their earbuds, and then be ready to learn. At some point, I will edit this post to include an example of a video introduction.

Be Consistent

Considering the rollercoaster ride we are going to be on most of this year, I am imploring myself to be consistent. A former supervisor of mine gave me sage advice: Make sure that everything you plan to do is sustainable. Therefore, the question I put to myself is, “Is this plan sustainable?” Since I lasted a month last year, can I last longer this year?

Be Helpful

The next question I’m asking myself: “Is this going to be helpful?” Is the activity relevant, or just busywork? Reconsider assigning busy work at the beginning of class, as it might tire or bore the students. That does not bode well for the rest of the period.

Be Concise

When planning your bell ringer, be sure to plan something that is short, well-explained, and within the students’ ability to complete independently. 

What Do You Think?

Please comment on the post. Thank you for reading!

One Multifaceted Way to Reduce Cheating When Teaching Remotely

No, it’s not by using a lock-down browser.

Let’s Be Real…Cheating Happens

Let’s think about what is going to happen when you combine online students with in-person students in a synchronous classroom. The students online have the advantage of being able to cheat without the teacher being able to see what they are doing, even if the teacher is closely monitoring the virtual meeting.

Yes, you can scramble the questions and answer choices.

Yes, you can create two forms of the test.

They will still figure out how to cheat, especially if you are testing them to death, which many teachers are wont to do. Many of us are trying to give students many opportunities to earn points and earn a good grade, so there are multiple quizzes and tests within a marking period. We have good intentions. We are helping them play the GPA game, maintain their rank, etc. However, if each test is an essay test, most teachers would go crazy trying to grade them all fairly and effectively. Therefore, we use methods that are almost always graded for us: multiple choice, short answer, matching, and so forth. Right?

Human beings learn to be more efficient in many ways; some of them are at the expense of others. Cheating is one. In the business world, managers will try to take credit for the work of their team, even if they had nothing to do with the work product. That’s cheating too. Nothing is more repulsive to me than that behavior. I don’t care if managers also say they have to take full responsibility for team failures too. That reasoning isn’t good enough.

In the programming world, a world from which I came, people have mastered the art of efficiency. It’s what has made open source so popular. Please, take my code! Make it work for you! We allow people to take code snippets and widgets and put them into their programs, all for the sake of convenience and rapid development. Think Bootstrap. Think jQuery. Think of all the queries you’ve done against data. In my opinion, that is ok. People expect you won’t reinvent the wheel with each program. The developers hand out their code willingly, and even produce links to embed style sheets and code into your own code so it will call their site instead of asking you to put their code into yours. If they know and approve, is it still plagiarism?

In the academic world, it sure is. In the programming world, eh, not so much. It’s sharing and no one expects every developer to start from the beginning each time they start a new project. In academics though, especially when sources aren’t cited, it is plagiarism. It’s cheating. In my mind, it’s as repulsive as the manager taking credit for a team’s success without acknowledging the hard work of individuals.

When I catch a plagiarist, I go ballistic.

The More They Create, and the Less You Create, the More Ownership They Will Assume.

Since we already have enough this year to be wary of and upset about, shouldn’t we try to eliminate at least one source of frustration? I’m going to do my best.

Use Multiple Choice, Fill-in-the Blank, and Matching Quizzes for Formative Assessment Only

These type of assessment questions have their place and fit nicely with other forms of formative assessment. Instead of entering a score for the number correct, give the students a handful of completion points. Students can identify their strengths and weakness so that they can focus their studies on personal needs. Teachers can identify class and individual strengths and weaknesses so they can reteach what the students need retaught. This prep work can help everyone be more successful. Teachers and students will feel more confident approaching a more rigorous examination. That extra confidence might curtail cheating, because the students will feel they can do the work on their own since they are prepared.

Use Authentic Assessments That Help Students Express Pride in Their Progress

Authentic assessments, those which ask “the student to ‘do’ the subject”; simulates ways in adults work in the adult world (yes, that includes guidance for future teachers!); are rigorous and require critical thinking and other 21st century skills; and allow “appropriate opportunities to rehearse, practice, consult resources, and get feedback on and refine performances and products.”

For some reason, as I typing the previous paragraph, I was thinking of Hogwarts. What if the wizards had released Harry, Hermione, and Ron into the world with ONLY textbook knowledge or other vicarious experiences? Sure, they tried to protect the young wizards by forbidding magic outside school. Still, they had authentic experiences. But do you think they would have fared well without them? I just remember all those crazy experiments and other activities they sprinkled through the books and in the movies. What if the young wizards only had those experiences through video, passive learning, or reading? I shudder as I think about it, even though it might prove to be great fiction.

Authentic assessments are not just teacher-created. That is what makes them cool. Teachers and students work together on it, so both understand what is expected from the other. How it works in the adult world: a manager sits down with a teammate for a conversation about what is expected, provides resources for the teammate to be successful, and establishes regular check-in meetings with the teammate to support progress. Additionally, a good manager listens to the teammate express concerns and answers questions; a good manager also changes course upon feedback from the teammate. Teachers and students can replicate this process with a conference during which they develop the assessment together, develop the rubric together from a sample, and discuss the challenges the student will face. They can also establish future conferences to discuss emerging challenges and celebrate victories.

But Heather, you might say, I have 150 students! How am I supposed to do this? I would say it could be done this way.

  • Pick a course or section you think will benefit MOST from this type of assessment. You don’t have to do this with each class you have at the same time.
  • Design a general “authentic assessment” that offers choices to students that they can mix for their own project. Hyperdocs are good for this. Use a theme, a concept, or a skill to focus the students. Try to ensure that it can apply to future experiences, so it answers the question, “Why do I have to do this?”
  • Hold a “group” conference for each class, during which you introduce the assessment and the sample rubric for the assessment.
  • Show them a sample project plan, which will help them to organize their time, tasks, and steps. Project planning is a terrific 21st century skill to foster.
  • Explain to them that you want them to come up with an assessment that suits them using the general guidelines you provided.
  • Let them work on project development in a collaborative document they share with you (Google Docs or Google Sheets, for example) and respond to the comments as they come up. Some students will be fine; others will need a bit of help. Set a deadline and be sure to give them credit for their hard work.
  • Evaluate their progress and rubric before they start the project. Once you release them to start working, continue to be open to asynchronous communication about their progress.
  • Let students help each other. Provide class time for them to work with their peers before coming to you with questions. Sometimes, peers can explain things to each other better than teachers can (the same is true with managers and reports).
  • Be generous with deadlines, especially the first time around.
  • Celebrate everyone’s work, especially the first time around.
  • Put their work to use, so it does feel authentic.
    • For example:
      • Infographics: If you are lucky enough to have a poster printer, print them and display them. Ask the students to present their infographic to the class. Many students need help with public speaking. The more we have to social distance, the more we need to collaborate verbally. Students will need these skills to succeed.
      • Presentations: Ask the students to walk through the presentation with the class. Perhaps the students could even create a short quiz for the students to take after the presentation. Future teachers will appreciate the practice!
      • Podcasts and Videos: Assign the media to the other students and have them complete discussion postings in which they offer constructive, respectful feedback. Discussion forums are still a thing; learning how to create posts that don’t “flame” other people is a critical skill.
      • Portfolios: Help the students create a virtual gallery walk with their portfolios. Tools like Wakelet, Padlet, and others can help with this. Let the other students evaluate the portfolios, like aspects of them, and make constructive comments about portfolio elements.
      • Reports: Compile reports into an e-book that students can share with friends, family, and others in school.

If you have more ideas, I would love to read them!

Final Words

Once we acknowledge humans are efficient creatures, but we also want to be proud of ourselves and our work, I think we can see possibilities for assessment that go beyond our comfort zone. Authentic and open-ended assessments bolstered by formative assessments are one way to help students build the confidence they need to put the urge to cheat aside and produce work of which they can be proud.

Unit 0: Building Community

One Way to Adjust to Teaching in 2020-2021

Feature Image by J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash

Note: I teach in a district fortunate enough to have a 1:1 program. Therefore, I can implement a Unit 0 completely online knowing my students have access to the technology they need to be successful.

Dear Students, Parents, Community Members, Fellow Educators, Staff, Administration, and School Board Members,

Welcome to the 2020-2021 school year, one in which we reaffirm the purpose of education, build learning communities in novel ways, and discover new ways of schooling together. Administrators, teachers, and staff have been working diligently to redefine what school is for each district, both physically and academically. Soon, if not already, school doors will open to students. This unprecedented school year will begin.

There are so many concerns to address.

  • How do we keep those in the building and those who live with them safe from this highly contagious virus?
  • How do we address fears and concerns the stakeholders have?
  • How do we organize the physical environment?
  • What is the first day going to look like?
  • How do we ensure rules are followed?
  • What about the COVID-19 slide that exacerbates the typical summer slide? How will students catch up?
  • What are the expectations for teaching and learning?
  • How are we as a learning community going to overcome the challenges of multiple modes of learning (online (synchronous/asynchronous), in-person, hybrid, etc.)?
  • How can we assist families during this time?

Certainly there are many more to address, but these questions might cover most of the major categories of questions.

To facilitate this process, I offer “Unit 0 – Building Community.”

What Is Unit 0?

Instead of starting with unit 1 in our curriculum, we can start with a unit that prepares us all to adjust to new ways of “doing school,” teaching, and learning. Since many school districts are having meetings with all the stakeholders, issues of safety, conduct, policy, and procedures can be introduced during those meetings and reinforced in real time. For example, monitors in the hallway can reinforce unidirectional movement, social distancing, and mask compliance.

Many school districts have posted their reopening plans, complete with contingency plans for when infection rates increase. They are sharing videos of what the online options look like. In other words, school districts are attempting to be as transparent and helpful as possible.

What happens the first day in any particular classroom? I believe we will all have procedures to follow, but that there will be slight differences in each classroom. Hopefully, there won’t be too many, because consistency is key. I want to be doing everything properly and like the other teachers so that students are not overly confused or have to hold too many rules in their heads. Learning is hard enough. Learning during a pandemic is harder.

In Unit 0, which could be implemented by any teacher, these are the issues that remain.

  • Seating arrangements
  • Introductions
  • Examination of Feelings
  • Team Formation and Agreements (Norms and Rules)
  • Technology Training
  • Syllabus and Curriculum
  • Diagnostics / Benchmarks

Seating Arrangements

Since we need to maintain six feet between students, every teacher’s room needs reconfiguration. Most teachers will tell you it is going to be challenging; our rooms aren’t huge and some of us don’t have the furniture we need. Smaller class sizes have alleviated some concern about space. Something I thought of last week is to number each desk I have (22 in all) with even numbers in red and odd numbers in blue. Odd-numbered periods can sit in the odd-number desks; even-numbered periods can sit in the even-number desks. That will give me time to make sure all the desks from the last period are cleaned before another student sits in it.

If I have more than 11 students in the class, I need to use the tables I have, of which I only have a few. Keep your fingers crossed; I hope this works. If this plan is sustainable, on the first day I will explain to the students which seats to take as I greet them at the door. I can complete seating charts once everyone is settled.

In the LMS course, I will upload a document explaining seating arrangements. This is in support of my contention that everything should be online. I will not upload seating charts however; that can be completed in the gradebook.

Introductions

To facilitate introductions, I plan to use our LMS’ discussion feature because some students chose the online-only option. The question I am going to pose for discussion is “What is your avatar? Why does it best represent you?” Most students should know what an avatar is, I expect. They will be asked to search for a picture that best represents them, save it to their desktop, and then upload it as a response to the discussion, along with some commentary about why they chose that picture. Students will then respond to a few classmates’ posts in a positive way. I will also respond to each posting with a positive message.

Not only are the students going to learn about their classmates, but they are learning how to use the discussion feature of the LMS and they are stretching their writing and response muscles.

I doubt this will be a silent exercise. I am banking on the students already knowing several classmates. If it starts out silently, I will do my best to ensure that there is some sort of chatter. We will need to start forming our class team. Speaking of which…

Examination of Feelings

This exercise combines practice with assessments in the LMS with students sharing their feelings about our current situation. What is on their mind? What questions do they have? How are they feeling? Assessment tools might be the best to use because the results are private. This assessment would not be graded, of course!

Team Formation and Agreements (Norms and Rules)

This is a PNG of a poster I am going to hang in my room, and that I sent to the students in PDF form at the end of last year. It is to remind the students it is their education, and they should take full advantage of this opportunity to think, explore, and take risks. To support them, we will form a team to study literature to better understand the human condition and our place within the human family.

How should our class function? I don’t think that should be up to me entirely. Instead, I would like us to come to an agreement on a limited set of rules. If memory serves, five is usually a good number.

Five Good Rules

For this exercise, we could combine learning how to use a collaborative tool such as Google Docs with rule generation. A thought for an activity just occurred to me: “I Promise… You Promise…” Let me talk myself through it for a moment. Feel free to let me know what you think about it in the comments.

  1. Share a Google Doc with the students that contains a list of items I promise to hold myself to this school year.
    • My promises would include 1) To care, respect, and treasure every student; 2) To be patient and kind; 3) To guide you to the information you need to help you build the tools to be successful; 4) To address YOUR needs; 5) To be rigorous in my approach and equitable with my feedback.
  2. Ask the students to open the doc from the link posted on the LMS. Explain that everyone has editorial rights to the document, so they can add their promises. They should start their entry with their name and then create a list of their promises. Everyone should respect everyone else and not edit anyone else’s entries. They are welcome to include rules they have learned over years of schooling, but at least two rules should represent thoughts they have about how they want to behave this year and for years to come.
  3. Using the comment feature, students can highlight what they LIKE about their peers’ entries and make positive comments. This teaches one aspect of constructive feedback.
  4. Using qualitative analysis techniques (yep, you read that right), we as a group can find the most common promises and then form rules that make sense for us as a group.

I know this could take a few days. This year is going to be different in so many ways. We need to be careful, gentle, and kind – and to take the time to emphasize that we are interdependent beings in a community. Building a community takes time.

Technology Training

The students may be surprised to learn that their technology training has already begun. After all, we entered the course and then used the discussion feature and the assessment feature. We also used Google Docs. Now, I would turn to how to use the technology we have effectively and independently.

Main Categories

  1. How to write an effective email (Please, dear heavens, complete the subject line!)
  2. How to manage email (filters, labels, when to check email, etc.)
  3. How to set up a folder for the course in Google Drive
  4. How to use Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, and Forms
  5. How to use the LMS and Google Calendars in tandem to manage your time
  6. How to set up a portfolio on the LMS
  7. How to send your teacher a message on the LMS
  8. Recommendation: Install the LMS app on your smartphone and turn on notifications
  9. How to navigate the course
  10. How to use “native” LMS tools and third-party tools integrated into the course
  11. What SSO (Single Sign-On) means, the tools used for SSO, and how to use them
  12. How to gain access to other tools, like signing up for an e-card for our state’s library system

There must be other things to cover, but the students might be on overload if I put too many other items on this list. Like everything else, tutorials will be added to the course for them to review.

Syllabus and Curriculum

Saving the syllabus and curriculum for next to last might seem odd, but if you think about it, shouldn’t the students understand how things are going to run before they dive into content and activities? That is why I saved this task for later in Unit 0.

Diagnostics and Benchmarks

A common saying among teachers is to “meet the students where they are.” With the COVID-19 slide and summer slide looming before us, it is more important than ever to find out where they need the most help before starting the course. Therefore, I recommend including diagnostics and benchmarks at the end of the unit.

Our evaluation of the results will help us to modify Unit 1 to meet the needs of our students and help them be most successful during what is going to be a challenging year.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Heather MacCorkle Edick, M.S.Ed

Teachers: One Way to Make Everyone’s Life Easier This School Year

Screenshot of a Course I Created in Moodle

Put everything online as soon as possible. My school’s LMS is not open yet, so I used a personal Moodle site to capture a screenshot of what I am talking about. Who knew that it would take 45 minutes to do it, but I think it’s worth it if I can help someone else. Because I am disorganized, it took me much longer than it should.

Therefore, my advice is this:

  • Create course and unit sections (or, weekly sections, if that is your preference) first.
  • Create folders next (for example, a texts folder)
  • Plan the assessments so you can get them on the calendar. You can edit them later; for now, get them on the calendar. Use your LMS calendar to your advantage; it will save you from going crazy about due dates.

Don’t Leave Your Content Folders Disorganized

I did that. My files are all over the place. Take the time to organize your hard drive or your cloud drive before you start to build your course. It will, I promise, take you a lot less time to get your materials into the course. You may also find that you have “holes” in your content (for example, a missing graphic organizer or other tool) and you can plug those holes before transferring everything to the course.

Another consideration: Some LMS’ will allow you to upload a folder of content that can be expanded after it is uploaded. Here is a GIF showing how that works in Moodle.

GIF Demonstrating How to Upload a Zip File to Moodle

Create a Toolbox for Your Students (and Yourself)

Into the toolbox can go all the things that students will need at points throughout the year. In my case, that includes the syllabus (a 43-page monster with several appendices, essential knowledge and essential questions for the course, a link to a classroom provided by the College Board, rubrics, annotation forms, and a writing toolkit. These are things the students will need throughout the year. I’m positive I will be adding to the toolbox as we go. Use folders to make the first impression of the toolbox less intimidating.

When Creating Unit/Weekly Sections, Ensure Your Students Know Why They Are Working on Something

In a previous post, I mentioned a paradigm I am using called POINT. To put this idea to good use, I have decided to include a unit essay that explains the POINT to the unit and includes all aspects of this paradigm for planning.

After that essay, I included a folder of the texts we are going to use and then the assignments we will complete in chronological order. Whenever I added an assignment, it was transferred to the LMS calendar.

LMS Calendar

Teach the Students How to Use the Calendar

To avoid questions such as “When is this due?” and to avoid excuses such as “I forgot,” teach the students how to use the LMS calendar. Many LMS’ now feature a calendar AND the ability to subscribe to it using, say, Google Calendar. That way, the calendar will sync to the external calendar and the students will be able to see all the deadlines (curricular and extracurricular) in one place. If you change a deadline, students will see that too. In addition to letting them know during class time or through announcements, their calendars will be updated.

Final Word: Use the Same Content for In-Person Learners and Those Online

There is no reason to create one set of lessons for in-person learners and another for online learners. If you have all the materials they need online, then you can use your course to everyone’s advantage while teaching. If the online students are doing things synchronously, this idea makes perfect sense. If they are not, you may have to include recordings, but these will also serve your in-person students well, as a review or a way to keep the pace if they are absent.

It is highly likely that at some point this year we are going to be fully virtual. If we are prepared for that eventuality from the beginning, everyone wins.

Thank you for reading.

What’s the POINT? Important Considerations for Unit/Lesson Planning during the COVID-19 Crisis and Beyond

POINT is another acronym for unit and lesson planning. You know, we needed one more to beef up the alphabet soup of educational jargon.

Created by me using VideoScribe

In a previous blog post about practical considerations for teaching and learning during the COVID-19 crisis, I mentioned yet another acronym for teachers: POINT. We all need another acronym for teaching and learning, right?

I know that answer as well as anyone, but please hear me out.

POINT stands for

  • Purpose (Goals)
  • Objectives (SWBAT/Standards)
  • Indicators of Learning (Diagnostic, Formative, Summative)
  • Negotiables for Differentiation
  • Tasks/Steps

A Little Background: UbD and HyperDocs

I have been inspired and motivated by Understanding by Design (UbD) for a long time. A site called TeachThought features a number of articles on UbD, and its founder, Terry Heick had many conversations with Grant Wiggins before he, sadly, passed away. (ASCD also offers numerous texts on the subject.) My main takeaway from UbD is that we need to know WHY we are teaching something before we dig into the planning. If our purpose and goals are not aligned to meaningful learning, then what’s the point?

More recently, I have been influenced by a method tied to virtual and online learning: HyperDocs. Their virtual lesson template library is intriguing. You can the library here. Their lesson plan templates, when complete, are “meant for students to use.” They guide the students through the process, one step at a time.

A basic template includes the following checkpoints.

  • Engage
  • Explore
  • Explain
  • Apply
  • Share
  • Reflect
  • Extend

I was drawn to the “Explain” aspect immediately. Do we spend enough time explaining why students are doing something? Do we keep the standards and big ideas mysterious, or do we share them? Can we adequately address why the lesson is important, WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) questions, and how the outcome of the lesson is going to make their future explorations more meaningful and fulfilling?

How to Use POINT

POINT is actually a cyclical process, in my opinion. For example, a purpose could come to mind immediately and then as I work on the other checkpoints, my backward interrogation could lead me to believe that my purpose is “meh.” When I created the video linked to this post, I added arrows that point backward and forward. That is because I feel it important to interrogate (love that word) each checkpoint backward and forward to ensure that everything is in alignment. If we are to teach with intention and ask our students to learn with intention, then I think it’s important to ensure the lesson’s intentions are excellent and that everything the students will do harkens back to the Purpose.

An Example

Suppose I am teaching a literature unit called “Eye-Opening Short Stories.” I decide that the purpose of the unit is to examine characters within the context of a moment in which they make a big discovery about themselves, about life, and about living within the human community.

By the end of the unit, students should be able to recognize the textual details provided by the author to indicate character, contrasts with other characters, and that character’s values and beliefs. Those details could be conveyed through the narrator, dialogue, etc. How do we know that the character has made a big discovery? Where in the text do we find that out? What are the effects on the structure or plot? Why is that important? What was the author’s purpose?

Now I have to interrogate my original purpose against the SWBAT items. I find the purpose lacking. I can ask myself, “So what?” In other words: “What’s the point?”

I can add something to the purpose, to make it more relevant to the students’ lives. Something like, “As teenagers, students are in the throes of developing their worldview. Mentor texts such as these can lead to an exploration of events within their own lives (prior knowledge) that have led to growth and maturity (new perspective). We can make connections between the chosen texts and their own experiences. Students can take away from this exploration methods and techniques for making future discoveries about themselves.”

I’m “spitballing” here on purpose. I want to show you my thought process.

This examination of the first two checkpoints informs the next checkpoint: Indicators of Learning. How do we know the students have learned something? What diagnostics should we employ before learning? What formative assessments should we perform during learning? What does a summative assessment look like?

Next, how do we differentiate learning so that each student benefits from the lessons in the unit? Some students will be more prepared for discussion and writing than others. What do we do to support those who need that extra help; what scaffolding do we use? When do we release some responsibility to them?

At this point, we should interrogate the indicators and negotiables against the purpose and the objectives, right? Are they really going to demonstrate learning as it relates to the purpose of the unit? Are we just doing assessments to do them or do they align? Are our negotiables truly going to help students progress and learn?

The last step of the process, in my opinion, is to examine the tasks and steps involved. We have decided our purpose and our objectives. We have assessments in mind and negotiables. Now, how do we execute all that through specific steps? After deciding that, we again need to interrogate (still love that word). That’s why this is cyclical. Do the tasks and steps align with the purpose? Do the tasks and steps reveal something to add to the purpose and objectives? Do we need to tweak our assessment ideas? Will the differentiation work for OUR students? Finally, do our materials work?

What Do You Think?

Thank you for reading!

Practical Considerations, Part III: Enrichment Courses

What Is an Enrichment Course? What Is Its Purpose?

In the previous post, the enrichment course idea bubbled to the surface as a solution to a problem that courses with end-of-course exams would have if we were to use the 4×4 schedule. There would be a delay between the true end of the course and the standardized test students take to fulfill graduation requirements. Alternatively, there might not be enough time to work on all the skills tested because the student is taking the course in the second semester and the tests normally occur in April. Either way, going to a 4×4 schedule would not be possible unless there is a course that provides students with time to prepare in an equitable way because, face it, only the most dedicated students are going to prepare without someone to encourage them, like a teacher or a parent. There are many reasons for this, but the most important reason is they don’t have time. Our students are so busy these days. We need to help them and an enrichment course would be an ideal way to help them.

(In case you are interested, here is a list of the current exit examinations in the United States.)

What Would an Enrichment Course Look Like?

It would start with diagnostics. There are so many companies that provide diagnostic tests aligned with the assessment anchors for state tests that it is a huge industry. I won’t provide brand names or company names. If we are paying for those services, we should use them. If we aren’t, we should consider finding the best one and use it because this year the COVID-19 slide and the typical summer slide are going to force all of us to push for progress faster and more efficiently. If we know where the students are, we can make more progress.

How? Well, one way is to use ILPs (Individualized Learning Plans) created with the students to identify those assessment anchors and standards that are of concern to the student. If a student’s skills in one area are considered proficient, and in another area are considered basic or below-basic, then the student and teacher can identify the student’s focus from the data, not anecdotal evidence. From there, resources and instruction can be provided that student based on those needs and that data.

Another way is to refer to the data in aggregate for the class. Identify the areas of concern for the class and proceed from there to share resources and instruction with the students. (I don’t like to say “deliver content.” It makes me feel like I’m opening a kid’s head and pouring stuff in and I’m not a fan of “banking education,” the term coined by Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I am a constructivist and believe that all students construct, de-construct, and re-construct their knowledge base and world view on a regular basis as they take in new information and reconcile it with the old.) Together, as a class, we learn through the selection of excellent texts, presented using multiple modalities, that are accessible to the students either immediately or with differentiation.

It could work.

What’s the Point?

In my next blog post, I’m going to talk about a paradigm for designing instruction that combines UbD (Understanding by Design) and Hyperdocs. The acronym (because we all need a new one) is POINT, which stands for:

  • Purpose/Goal
  • Objectives/Standards/Essential Questions
  • Indicators of Learning (Diagnostic, Formative, Summative, Authentic)
  • Negotiable Instructional Techniques (Differentiators)
  • Tasks/Steps

Thank you for reading!