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|#2 - Courage in Education||Issue #2 / February, 2013|
Something for Today - “5 Word MAX Definitions"
Several years ago my district had the opportunity to work a bit with top-notch literacy consultant Amanda Arens. One of her suggestions that I was able to put into practice in my classroom is the notion of putting a minimum number of words on vocabulary definitions. For me, the magic number has been "5 Words or Less".
If you have students struggling to learn vocabulary consider simplifying the task (and improving summarizing skills) by asking students to condense definitions down into "Five Words or Less". This forces students to put definitions into their own words, rather than simply copy them from the glossary or a website. If they do this in groups, then by haggling over what the five words should be, they in fact end up remembering 6-8 words, by remembering the ones they DIDN'T choose as well. These definitions make for quick and easy studying using cooperative learning structures and create a common vocabulary for a classroom to utilize. The grammar isn't always the best, but we'll save that for more complex pieces - the purpose of this is to just learn the meaning of the word!
Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend my first EdCamp, this particular event occurring at Hixson Middle School in Webster Groves Missouri and dubbed “EdCampSTL”. If you’re not familiar with the EdCamp concept, it follows in the “Unconference” model in which participants attend for little or no money and come prepared to present material themselves as opposed to having a slate of presenters scheduled ahead of time. There are no keynotes, no nationally renowned speakers, and only the minimal amount of vendors present so as to sponsor the event, thus allowing free entry for conference registrants. Upon arriving, participants are met with blank “sign up” sheets in which they can write their own ideas in about what they might be willing to present or lead a discussion on or simply an idea or question they’d like to discuss. Participants are encouraged to “vote with their feet” if a session is not to their liking, they should get up and go find a different one. Sessions are very informal and more often discussions as opposed to presentations – and without the courage to present or the willingness to participate, the entire endeavor fails. For more on the EdCamp model, click HERE.
Initially after leaving EdCampSTL my thought was “Why isn’t this format in use in every school district in America for Professional Development?” The idea is simple enough and would be even simpler to achieve within one’s own district. Reserve some classroom space, tell people to show up with ideas for what they might like to learn or what they might like to share, then get out of the way as the two intersect. Professional learning at it’s finest, right?
Maybe. As the saying goes “it’s difficult to be a prophet in your own land” and the one thing EdCamp has going for it is that all of its participants are there voluntarily. They’re coming eager to learn and share, or they wouldn’t have come at all. This is not necessarily true in traditional or district level Professional Development. Surrounded by their friends, colleagues and administrators, it's possible teachers would lack the courage to share their needs or ideas for fear of being judged or ridiculed.
While at EdCampSTL, I took the opportunity to share some of what I do in two different sessions -one on Standards Referenced Grading and another on differentiating instruction using student choice. Both were received well, but similar to the Powerful Learning Conference I presented at last month, an odd question came up frequently. “How does your administrator feel about all this?” This was often accompanied by “How do your colleagues/parents/teacher above you feel about all this?” These are valid questions, but it’s alarming how rarely people ask me “How do your students feel?” Simply put, teachers have no fear of students – they have an inherent fear of their boss, and potentially, their colleagues.
I once heard Larry Bell say during a presentation “Teachers – what have you done lately that upset your principals? Principals, what have you done lately that upset your Superintendent?” He was driving home a point that the best teachers and principals are the ones who are willing to push the envelope and fight for what’s best for children. Dr. Anthony Muhammad told us during a breakout session at the aforementioned Powerful Learning Conference “It goes back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You have to ask yourself ‘Does my need to keep my boss happy or my need to be liked by this colleague trump my need to do something I believe is best for kids?’” He wasn’t judging people and encouraged us that only we can make that determination. I recently heard Rick Wormeli echo the same sentiments – the greatest teachers are risk takers who are willing to make mistakes in their classrooms.
As a teacher, I often find myself talking to students about the need for “positive risk taking.” I implore them to raise their hands, I beg them to ask questions, I encourage them to share in groups and I applaud them when they try and fail and try again. Yet – how many educators are willing to take similar risks?
If you’re an administrator, I challenge you to ask yourself “Does the culture of my building encourage and reward innovation in the classroom? Do I empower my teachers to be bold, creative and try new ideas? Or have I created a culture of fear in which teachers are forced to cling to the accepted ways for fear of ridicule – never knowing if something better exists?”
If you’re a teacher, I encourage you to do as we ask our students – have the courage to take positive risks. Take it upon yourself to be on the forefront of Educational practices. If you have an idea that’s not being done in your building, be a pioneer and blaze a trail that may reach students in ways they’ve not been reached before.
Regardless of how successful your school is or isn’t, we should all strive to improve and learn everyday, if for no other reason than to model this behavior for our students. Yet, without courage, their can be no progress. There will always be reasons NOT to push the envelope – let us not let those reasons become excuses for why we lack the courage to help our students.
Students Who Refuse to do Classwork
Our Library and Media Specialist, who also teaches reading a couple reading classes for us, recently emailed me and asked how I would go about handling students who are scoring well on summative assessments but are not completing basic classwork. Her classroom uses Standards Referenced Grading, so the idea is that all classwork, homework, group work, etc is viewed as "practice" with the only thing that's "graded" being the summative assessment. It's very similar to how I run my own classroom. I don't believe distorting achievement data (grades) with punishments for incomplete, missing or late work, so this is a tricky - if common - question.
I told her the first thing I would do is look at their grade on the summative and use that to make up my mind. If they do well without having done the individual classwork, I'd have to reflect personally and ask myself "Was the individual work necessary then? Should I be challenging them more?"
Why Differentiate Instruction? Consider This...
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon learning from a gentlemen I've long since admired, Rick Wormeli. Wormeli is one of the nation's leading instructors on Differentiated Instruction and is a highly entertaining individual. While I intend to write more about Mr. Wormeli later, it was this cartoon which jumped out at me immediately as a powerful piece.
Many of us have seen this cartoon before...how many of us knew it was created in the 1960's? According to Rick Wormeli, that's exactly the case. Thanks to Joe Bower and his blog For the Love of Learning for this picture and the quote.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
According to Wormeli, who is paraphrasing Carol Tomlinson, there are five basic ways teachers can differentiate instruction.
5. Learning Enviornment
This is similiar to what I wrote on Edunators.com when I spoke of Three Easy Ways to Differentiate Instruction. While I didn't put it in quite so eloquent terms, I was essentially eluding to Content, Process and Product. Teachers can usually find a way to change what students, how students learn, or how they demosntrate understanding. The other two are a bit more complicated, though certainly not impossible.
Later this month, I'll be reflecting on my afternoon with Rick Wormeli, as well as EdCamp St. Louis and the Powerful Learning Conference. Stay tuned to Edunators.com to check that out!
In this Newsletter, I seek to include a variety of topics for the variety of educators who subscribe to this service. I try to include a simple and practical classroom idea in the "Something for Today" section as well as a "big-picture" philisophical idea for you to think about in the "Something for Tomorrow" section. If you have any feedback regarding the newsletter, website or topics you'd like to see discussed in future newsletters, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a message on Twitter or Facebook. I'd love to hear from you!
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Mashed Potato Handshakes -Only at Edcamp!
Along with a full day of great learning and inspiring conversation with fellow Edunators, one of the highlights of Edcamp is the manner in which it embraces Social Media, in particular, Twitter.
On the name tag I received upon registering for Edcamp, I was encouraged to also put my Twitter handle (@Edunators) in case others wanted to connect after the conference. The highlight for me however wasn't adding new followers - it was meeting one of my favorite "Tweeps".
Krissy Venosdale (@ktvee) is a highly engaging, thoughtful and inspiring educator who frequently offers up an insightful and powerful message in 140 characters or less. Her blog, venspired.com, is a worth a read as well, full of quick, engaging pieces and well done graphic art like the this one.
Of course this wasn’t your ordinary Professional Development. During the lunch break the event organizers set up a number of “things you can’t do with students in the building” including a “food fight” in which participants got to throw handfuls of mashed potatoes at a wall target.
On my way up to makeshift “bullpen” I recognized Krissy and introduced myself. It’s always odd when somebody recognizes you by your online handle (she turned and said “Edunators! What’s up!?”) but it was a fun experience as I thanked her for her tweeting and told her I enjoyed her blog from time to time. She was in the middle of lunch and apologized as she shook my hand, worried she had pizza on it. So of course, after packing and throwing a “snowball” full Idaho’s best, I had to return the favor. She laughingly indulged me in a “mashed potato handshake”.
Ah, only at Edcamp.
The moral of this story? 1) Go to an Edcamp, it’s not your ordinary PD. 2) Throw mashed potatoes, it’s fun and oddly stress-relieving 3) Join Twitter, it’s the best free PD teacher’s can ask for. If you don’t believe me, check out THIS ARTICLE from the NEA or THIS WEBSITE from Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman).
"Teaching Like the Terminator" at Missouri's Powerful Learning Conference a Huge Success!
Last month over 200 educators from all around the state of Missouri and beyond got the chance to "Become the Edunator" at Missouri's Powerful Learning Conference! Feedback on the session has been overwhelmingly positive as many teachers and administrators learned how they can better Accept Responsibility for Student Learning, Grade for Learning, Develop a Culture of Learning, Lesson Plan for Learning and utilize Reflection for Learning. The inspirational and practical message has been described by conference participants as "powerful, effective, and energetic" as well as "Practical and HARDCORE!" Thanks to everybody who attended the session and ran back to check out Edunators.com!
Interested in Helping Your Faculty Become Edunators?
Mark is available for professional development in half-day or full day workshops in which he entertains and inspires as he shows teachers they have within them all they need to "Become the Edunator" and gurantee that in their classroom, "Not learning is NOT an option!"
Mark's "Focus on Learning" workshops are designed to model differentiation, formative assessment, reflection and standards referenced grading - virtually guranteeing that everybody can walk away with multiple new strategies by focusing your professional development on actual LEARNING! Teachers will learn the strategies because they'll participate in them from start to finish from the perspective of the student. From initial instruction, through assessment, re-teaching and enrichment teachers will experience the power of choice, reflection and clearly defined objectives in the learning process.
If all of that sounds like a bit too much for you and your staff, "traditional" presentations are available as well in a mostly lecture based or small-group format. Mark will work with you to determine the best course of action for your faculty's professional development.
If you would like to learn more about how Mark can help your faculty "put it all together" and use formative assessment, differentiated instruction, reflection and feedback to reteach, enrich and empower students - email him at email@example.com or send him a message on Twitter or Facebook. References available upon request.
So what were people saying after hearing "Teaching Like the Terminator" at Missouri's Powerful Learning Conference?
"Mark's energy and positivity are inspiring! I want to be an Edunator!"
"Amazing presentation! Planning on getting him to speak to our faculty. Something every PLC team needs to hear."
"The presenter was FANTASTIC!!! He was entertaining yet informative. You can really tell he truly cares about LEARNING. He shared information about sharing your teaching objectives with students. I have not been doing this. I plan to start sharing our learning objectives with students so I can evaluate whether or not the students have learned."
"Mr. Clements was soooooooo AWESOME!! He is a great speaker and very motivating!! I will be working on making sure my students know the information and not just worried about getting the worksheets and tests finished. Make sure they know the info is mastered."
Edunators is a website dedicated to helping teachers overcome the obstacles that prevent them from focusing on learning in the classroom. We take pride in oversimplifying the complex and discussing some of Education’s biggest ideas in a more conversational tone. Our articles, blogs and presentations are designed to inform, entertain and inspire professionals working in the field of education.We know that teachers are among the most underappreciated and overworked professionals in the world. For this reason, it can be difficult to keep up with the latest big ideas in our profession. We know sometimes teachers don’t have time to read the latest and greatest books or educational research and we appreciate that teachers and administrators alike sometimes just want somebody to tell it to them straight. That’s where we come in, offering easy to digest teaching strategies ranging from basic introductory material to more in-depth classroom ideas.
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