Friday, December 21, 2012

We Have iPads...Now What Do We Do?!?

Over the next few years our school district will move toward the 1:1 model where every child uses an electronic device.  Our district chose the iPad as the device.  Students will use it for most of their daily work; as a textbook, an e-reader, producing examples of their learning, as a collaboration tool (Google Docs, My Big Campus, etc.), for research, and in more ways than I probably am aware of right now.

For the past semester, teachers at my school have been using their iPad to get acclimated to teaching with an electronic device.  We have seen a wide range of uses from an interactive whiteboard app to specific learning apps used in small group work.  The changes in student engagement have been significant and the teachers, I feel, are becoming more at ease with their iPad.

As we move into the second semester, three of our classrooms will implement the 1:1 instruction model, or at least move closer to that model.  I'm not sure we're entirely ready for iPads to be used all day long for every assignment, but we will get there!  I'm excited to see how the iPads are used in each classroom.  Two of the classrooms are third grade students and the other is a multi-age classroom of fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students.

The teachers are anxious, and probably a little nervous, about what their classroom will look like as we move in this direction.  Their lessons will continue to focus on student learning but the way the instruction is delivered will change.  The change of delivery will ultimately change the way feedback is given which will in turn change the way students review/revise their work.  This will start our school down a wonderful path where there is no 'end' of learning but rather a cycle of learning, reviewing, revising, reflecting, and learning again.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Integrating Technology

Today our corporation's students had the day off while our teachers participated in Professional Development with Will Richardson (@willrich45).  We were all invited to breakfast to celebrate our corporation being named an 'A' corporation by the Indiana Department of Education.  That's something I believe we are all proud of in our district.  Some more than others because of the school grading system, but in the eyes of the general public, an A is much better than a C.  That seems to be the game our department of education is making us play so we must deal with it the best we can.  That's a topic for another post at a later date.

Will Richardson's presentation focused on 21st Century Learning Skills and how teachers MUST integrate technology into their classrooms.  One idea that stuck with me came when he said, "Schools are the only place where students cannot use their mobile devices to access information."  Obviously he's not speaking about ALL schools, but you understand what he's saying.

So why is that?  Why is it that students cannot use their mobile devices to access information at school? I'm stopping here.  I have some ideas but I really would like to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

MCCSC Literacy Summit - Day 3

Day 3 of the MCCSC Literacy Summit didn't disappoint!  All of today's attendees were able to hear from Dr. Mike Schmoker in the morning and Dr. Richard Allington in the afternoon.  These are two top presenters in the world of education.

Dr. Schmoker's message is based on his book Focus which makes the argument that student achievement would skyrocket if schools did away with all of the initiatives each school year brings and 'Focus' on two or three high-leverage strategies and carry those out better than ever.  The areas of 'Focus' are not new, innovative, cutting-edge, or based on the use of technology.  The areas of 'Focus' ARE tried and true educational practices which are discussed every year and in every school district, building, and team meeting.  What follows are my notes from the morning's session.

Dr. Mike Schmoker
Author of Focus

Less is more.  In any sphere of life people say, "Less is more." But do we truly embrace that idea?

Never more than 2 or 3 initiatives per year.  Pick the top priorities and make sure that you do them better than anyone else.

"Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious." -George Orwell

When you walk through classrooms, what do you see?  You know what kind of instruction/delivery should be found but do you actually find it? There's a huge gap between what the average educator is doing in the classroom and what they should be doing in the classroom.

Lecturing needs to be thrown out of the window.

Assigning homework is not teaching.

When a teacher asks a question, who is the first person to raise their hand to answer?  Who's the last one to raise their hand, if at all?  Who does the teacher call on?  Do the struggling students even get help?  Does this really benefit anyone?

Worksheets: not the most effective and wonderful tool for students.
Worksheets: easy for teachers to copy and hand out to students.
Worksheets: designed to be assigned, not taught.  You don't really even need the teacher.

20-50% of students entering college are not prepared for the amount and rigor of reading required.

Simplicity/Less is more: first things, ceaselessly clarified and reinforced
First Things that All Schools Must Make a Priority
- guaranteed and viable curriculum
- authentic literacy and rich text
- effective lessons
   - once these 3 are fully mastered, we may judiciously pilot truly evidence-based innovations but not before mastery

Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum
- Coherent, content-rich curriculum--learned primarily through reading/writing
- guaranteed and 'viable' curriculum creates more time for reading; writing; talking about content
   - guaranteed means that parents don't have to worry about which teacher your child has

Do America's schools now ensure that a coherent, 'guaranteed,' literacy-rich curriculum actually gets taught?
- most teachers provide a self-selected jumble of standards
- wide variation from teacher to teacher

We need to have
- coherent sequence of core content learned via reading, writing, and discussion in these modes:
   - draw inferences and conclusions
   - analyze conflicting source documents
   - solve complex problems with no obvious answer
   - support arguments with evidence
(multiple 3-5 page papers and far more books, articles, and essays in the curriculum)

Every student should believe that he/she will be called on when a question is asked.  Keeps them focused and on-task.  If students know that the teacher will call on the first person with his/her hand up, most students won't even try to answer the question or raise their hand.

Common Core "Instructional Shifts": Literacy Across the Curriculum
- building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction and informational texts
- reading and writing grounded in evidence from text
- regular practice with complex text and its academic vocabulary

Continuous lessons and modeling is key (3rd day in a row that modeling is noted)

How to Build a Curriculum
- reduce, then map essential standards/topics
   - divide by grading period
- Select Common Texts
   - for each standard, for only one grading period at a time (to discuss and write about)
     - textbook; specific pages (not entire chapters) for topics, not as the content-rich text
     - books/novels/plays
     - historical/scientific documents; newspaper/magazine articles; data sets
     - generate questions/tasks for texts (make arguments, inferences, compare/contrast, etc.)
- Continue and repeat the process, at team meetings, to select texts and create good questions (PLC time)
- Define parameters for common writings
   - number/length

Authentic Literacy
- literacy is 'the spine that holds everything together in all subject areas.'
- 'literature based arts and crafts' hold NO value for student growth and achievement
   - dioramas, game boards, worksheets, posters, coats-of-arms, mobiles, movies, cutting, gluing, coloring, drawing, designing book jackets, skits, collages

Writing: How Important is It?
- There are no silver bullets in education. But non-fiction writing is about as close as you can get.
Literacy Template
- teach background vocabulary to students
   - rarely happens and students have no idea what they're reading
   - spending 3-5 minutes on a mini-lesson will allow students access to the text
- model critical reading/underlining/annotating (once again, modeling is key)
- Repeat the above

Effective Lessons
- 100% engagement
- clear standard/learning target
- teach, model, think aloud
- guided practice and lots of think/pair/share
- multiple checks for understanding (formative assessments - checks for understanding - formal and informal)
- independent practice

Students at 4th/5th grade level need to be reading at LEAST 10 chapter books each year.  How many do your students read? Imagine the educational impact reading 10 chapter books would have on a student.

Jim Collins in Good to Great…"Foxes pursue many ends at the same time…Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest." The fox always tries to innovate and come up with new ways to improve and never does.  The Hedgehog does one thing and always wins.  Most schools behave like the fox, trying every new innovation that comes across the principal's desk.  Those schools rarely, if ever, see sustainable improvements in student achievement.  On the other hand, schools that select two or three research-based instructional strategies show considerable student growth over time.  What kind of school would you rather work in?

Most effective strategies:
- common content-rich curriculum
- checks for understanding
- 90-120 minutes of quality reading instruction and reading time

Here are the notes from the afternoon session with Dr. Richard Allington.

Dr. Richard Allington
University of Tennessee
Presentation Title:  Improving Reading Comprehension: The Power of Access and Choice.

- As students spend more time in school the array of reading abilities broadens
- This is the primary reason why a "one size fits all" curriculum plan is always a bad idea
- "Bad" because it is always an ineffective plan

We have teachers not offering rigorous instruction beyond the grade level they teach.  Can those teachers then ask why their students are 'catching up?'

Why would schools STILL use core reading programs?
- no research exists demonstrating that any core reading program actually improves reading achievement
- major finding of the What Works Clearinghouse
- so why are most schools still buying core reading programs?

Programs don't teach kids to read, teachers do.
Our best teachers teach every child to read.

Classrooms which experience more success and high student achievement have their students reading at least 3-5 times more than other classrooms.

Reading Volume (amount of reading students are required to do)
- critical to reading success
- free voluntary reading activity is best predictor
- few schools have active programs fostering free voluntary reading
- some classroom teachers foster free voluntary reading but only some

Why so little reading in and for school?
- limited reading demands in schools (teachers not requiring it)
- few classroom libraries
- little use of school libraries
- no time in school day set aside for free voluntary reading

Here is what others were Tweeting during the day:

Jake Steinmetz @JakeJSteinmetz
Allington- One size fits all curriculum doesn't work well-more time kids are in school, the array of reading abilities broadens. #litsummit

Patrick Haney @phaney10
- We have been fed a test-prep diet for years, and we think it's nutritious. It's not. -Schmoker #litsummit
Allington- Any more than 2 hours of "test prep" instruction per year = decrease in standardized testing scores. #litsummit

Lee Heffernan @lee_heffernan
We don't do much reading and writing in school.  Not good. Let's change that.  #litsummit
Worksheets aren’t good. 50% of kid time  in K - 12 is spent filling out worksheets. Focus on reading and writing, please.  #litsummit
Unpacking EL's = finding texts, questions, tasks, writing extensions that can help us teach the EL  #litsummit
Write more grade less.  Schmoker #litsummit

- Allington and Schmoker in the same day?!  #booyah  #litsummit
At the beginning of every meeting, review the same priorities and celebrate the successes - Schmoker #litsummit
Purposeful writing about reading is as close to a silver bullet in education as we have. -Schmoker #litsummit
83% of students surveyed said that discussion about interesting articles is their favorite part of school.  #litsummit
That's twice today we've heard that worksheets are not good for student learning.  I'm noticing a trend!  #litsummit

Mary Beth Riley @MBRileyNCE
Only 20-50% of students in college are ready and prepared for the rigor and volume of work. Solution? Less is more. Schmoker #litsummit
It's not programs that teach kids to read, it's people, as in teachers. - Allington #litsummit

Melissa Brisco @mgbrisco
If in Kindergarten you are still doing letter of the week, you are 40-50 years behind.... AMEN Richard Allington!

The 1st Annual MCCSC Literacy Summit has come to an end.  Attendees had three great days of professional development and lived out the meaning of 'Life-Long Learning.'  I'm already looking forward to the 2nd Annual MCCSC Literacy Summit.  Mark your calendars for July 22-24, 2013!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

MCCSC Literacy Summit - Day 2

Today was an interesting day for me.  I have been using Evernote as a way to 'capture' websites, articles, voice recordings, notes, and Tweets for about a year.  So today I decided to take all of my notes using Evernote.  I even incorporated a few Tweets from other people.  Evernote is a great platform for bringing all of the notes, ideas, and Tweets together into one place.  Instead of writing in paragraphs I copied and pasted my notes, followed by a few tweets from the #litsummit hashtag.  I appreciate any feedback you want to share.

Presenter: Ellin Keene
Author of New Horizons in Literacy Teaching and Learning

Three Questions to Guide our Inquiry Today
- What is characteristic of the most effective comprehension teachers?
- What does it mean to understand deeply? How can we raise expectations for children's literacy learning by rethinking comprehension?
- What does the new generation of comprehension strategy instruction look like?

As teachers, we wonder what went wrong, after students miss something on a test. "I know that student knew that." So how do we truly know our students have deep understanding of a concept?

The most effective teachers…
- understand that people learn (retain and reapply) best when they:
   - focus on a few concepts
   - of great importance
   - taught in depth
   - over a long period of time
   - applying them in a variety of texts
If any of those concepts are not present, comprehension is diminished to some degree

People who deeply comprehend retain and reapply across a variety of texts.

The most effective teachers…
- raise expectations for children's literacy learning by
   - having a clear idea what high expectations "look like" in a literacy classroom
   - understanding that children need to read increasingly complex texts with substantive ideas
   - probing children's thinking rather than accepting the first thing they say

Has your district, school, staff, grade-level team discussed what exactly the 'high expectations' look like?
- I believe MCCSC is on the right path, jumping out ahead of many districts in this area.

When a teacher asks questions to students and there is a doubt about comprehension, ask "What else?"  Even after the student's first answer.  Asking 'What else?' gets beyond the basic recall and digs into deeper understanding.

What does it mean to understand deeply? How do we raise expectations?
- If a student asked this question, "What does 'make sense' mean?" how would you answer?
- Too often, we think of comprehension as:
   - answering questions
   - retelling
   - teaching comprehension strategies

Asking students about text (recall and retell) are not comprehension strategies…that's called testing.

- What does it mean for you to understand deeply?
- What do you need in order to understand deeply?
- What are the indicators that you do understand deeply?
As educators, if we don't know the answer to these questions, our students will not gain deep understanding to their fullest potential.

Comprehension strategies are tools we use in all genres in order to understand more deeply
Proficient readers:
- monitor for meaning
- ask questions
- use schema
- infer
- create sensory and emotional images
- determine importance
- synthesize while reading

Take time to explicitly teach comprehension strategies to students.  Treat them as if they are 'Power Standards' and every student needs to learn them before moving on to the next level.  Pace them out over the course of the year and really go in depth with each one.

Here is a quote from a 3rd grader about empathy:
- Empathy - a belief that the reader is actually a part of the setting, knows the characters, stands alongside them in their trials, brings something of himself to the events and resolution---emotions are aroused

When I taught 3rd grade I'm not sure I would've had a student be able to offer that kind of insight.  Well, maybe they could but I certainly never got to that point in my professional career where I was seeking that kind of insight.  I feel like I should find every student I had and apologize for holding them back.

We choose to challenge ourselves on topics about which we are passionate.
- What are your students passionate about?  I doubt it's worksheets and standardized tests.
- Do you seek out texts and topics that your students are passionate about or do you pick one book and everyone reads it?

As adult readers we struggle for insight, we savor and learn from the struggle itself, we take ventures into new learning territory and fight the debilitating influence of judgment.

The evolution of comprehension "instruction"…
- from answering questions and retelling to…
- explicit instruction in comprehension strategies
The goal for our students is deeper, more lasting comprehension by responding to a passage to becoming an active strategic reader

You can't get better at synthesizing text until you know how to synthesize as you read.

Students who are struggling readers hang on for dear life to the first thing they understand in a text, right or wrong.

Modeling and thinking aloud is crucial for developing students into readers who comprehend in a meaningful way.

The afternoon session was kicked off with actual students coming in to help the presenter demonstrate the strategies which were discussed in the morning session. I thought that was the best part of the PD session.  Most of the time teachers sit and listen to a presenter talk about all of the methods and strategies that can be implemented in the classroom.  If we're lucky, the presenter allows us to practice on each other, but really, how meaningful is it to practice some of those strategies with adults who already know how to read and just listened to the presenter instruct us how to use the strategy?  That's like an audience learning a magic trick together and then the magician turns and says, "Ok, now you try it on each other."

I was amazed as Mrs. Keene used high level vocabulary words with the students: strategies, synthesize, metacognition, just to name a few.  The students picked up on it quickly with a few mini-lessons about the word and then they were using the words...and using them correctly!  Go ahead.  Correctly use metacognition in a sentence.  I'll wait.......

Mrs. Keene was really placing emphasis on modeling and thinking aloud.  Every time she turned the page during the read aloud, she would talk the students through her thinking process.  When it was the students' turn, they were able to speak intelligently about a text they had just heard.  The process was powerful.

The teacher, Mrs. Keene, was congratulating students for their thinking.  That was GREAT!  How often do you thank your students for taking time to think?  Most of the time a teacher asks a question, waits for a response, and then moves on to another student if the first student doesn't come up with a quick answer.  What is that teaching the reluctant student?  If you can out-wait the teacher he/she will move on to someone else.  What does that do for the average to above average student?  They know that they better spit out an answer before their window of opportunity is closed.  They say the first thing that comes to mind without really thinking about their answer.  Deep understanding? Probably not.

She kept referring back to times when the other students stopped to think before answering.  "Take your time, sweetie." Then, to the other students she would say, "Remember when Katie stopped to think?  That was really smart. Good readers usually stop to think about their answer before they say it."
The following scenario came up several times during the demonstration.  How often do you call on a student and he/she says, "I don't know."  What do you do?  Move on to the next student? This is her strategy:
Student: "I don't know."
Teacher: "I know you don't know, but what would you think if you did know?"
Student: "I don't know."
Teacher: "Yes, but you said you didn't know last time but you did know.  So, what else do you think?"
The teacher is not allowing the student to get out of answering the question yet being sure to not embarrass the student.
Don't let your students get by with saying nothing.

Students shouldn't be worrying about comprehension strategies. Teachers need to guide them through the strategies without having students know they are being guided.

Here's what others tweeted today. Hopefully, Jake and I won't wear the same outfit tomorrow!

Jake Steinmetz @JakeJSteinmetz
- Great literacy teachers have a very clear sense of how to raise expectations in the classroom. #litsummit
- We have to say "what else?" to our students. They have much more to offer in their thinking. Don't accept their first answer. #litsummit

Patrick Haney @phaney10
- Ellin Keene- Deep learning = ability to retain and reapply concepts. Must narrow focus & teach concepts in depth across a variety of texts.
Comprehension strategies are not "an end", but a means to an end- empathy, compassion, a deep, personal reading experience. #litsummit
Grt strategy during lit instruction: "Take your time, Emily" to the other students
-"Don't you admire people who take their time?" #waittime #litsummit
Silent picture walk at the end of guided reading: "Think about how your thinking changed during the story." Really smart!! #litsummit

Kathryn Phillips @MissPhillips3
- Comprehend: focus on fewer concepts of great import taught in depth over a long period of time applying them in variety of text #litsummit
Show kids four challenging books for them and let them choose.  Keep choice but push students to grow. #litsummit
We need literature that challenges students at the idea level. -Ellin Keene #litsummit
When students don't respond quickly to questions: That is so smart that you are taking your time to think. I really admire that. #litsummit

Instead of asking "anybody else?" when students answer a question, try to use "what else?" "If you did know, what would you say?" #litsummit
Oxymoron of the day: a teacher's guide for a guided reading group... #litsummit #neverthoughtaboutitlikethat
Asking questions about text has never helped a student to get better at comprehension.  It's testing #litsummit
A question to get students synthesizing: what were you thinking before, and what are you thinking now? #litsummit

Lily Albright @lilyalbright
@eok824 We have to tackle the hidden bits of us that still believe children in poverty can't do it. They can! #litsummit
@eok824 Asking questions about texts is not good comprehension instruction-questions assess-they do not teach kids to get better #litsummit
@eok824 - empathy is the pinnacle of understanding. #litsummit

Karen Papadopoulos @wakarusa1
Empathy is an indicator of understanding deeply. #litsummit
- Modeling and "thinking aloud" are critical in order for students to apply reading comprehension strategies. #litsummit
Teacher,"Why do you think you thought so differently while reading this book?" Student, "Because you really have to BOND with the book" #litsummit

Melissa Brisco @mgbrisco
Let's tell kids what it is that characterizes deep understanding.... Why do we keep it a secret. #litsummit

Beth Buchholz @bethabuchholz
Wish we could find a way to make this twitter convo about #litsummit (& others) more “generative” rather than individual bits of insight.
@JohnHudson42 @JakeJSteinmetz It HAS been great! Just wondering aloud about how we can push ourselves to think deeply together #litsummit

This post is somewhat unique because it is simply my notes along with some tweets from the day. I'm looking forward to the teachers taking these strategies and implementing them into their teaching.

MCCSC Literacy Summit - Day 2 was another day of growing professionally.  I'm thrilled to be working in a district that's out front and leading the way!  The first two days have been amazing and we cap it off tomorrow with Dr. Mike Schmoker and Dr. Richard Allington.  The line up for the first annual MCCSC Literacy Summit has not disappointed!

Monday, July 30, 2012

MCCSC Literacy Summit - Day 1

The school district I have the honor of working for is hosting its 1st annual Literacy Summit titled "Full Court Press on Literacy" this week.  Today we kicked off the event with an introduction from MCCSC Superintendent Dr. Judy DeMuth.  There were several people to thank for getting the Literacy Summit together, some house keeping items, and then she handed it over to Mr. Cameron Rains, MCCSC Director of Elementary Education.  Mr. Rains, introduced as 'Almost Dr. Rains,' gave a brief overview of the Summit, took care of more house keeping items, and then introduced the presenters for the next three days; Dr. Danny Brassell, Kelly Gallagher (@KellyGToGo), Emily Iland, Kylene Beers, Robert Probst, Ellin Keene, Dr. Katie Wood Ray, Dr. Mike Schmoker, and Dr. Richard Allington.  Quite a lineup of literacy all-stars!!!

Several people who attended the Summit were chatting and posting ideas via Twitter, using the hashtag #litsummit.  Some of the ideas below come from my notes and some will come from following the #litsummit hashtag.

I decided to learn from Kelly Gallagher today so my Summit experience took me to the Bloomington High School South cafeteria.  Mr. Gallagher was a great mix of resources, personal experiences from the classroom, and humor that kept the audience engaged.  Here is a brief recap of the two sessions from today's Summit.

Mr. Gallagher started the session making reference to a PDF titled Writing Next; Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools Here is a link to the website:

The article outlines 200 studies of writing instruction and comes to the conclusion that there are 11 'things' that work when teaching writing...#1 among them all is modeling for students.  That was a reoccurring theme in Mr. Gallagher's message today.  This is what he had to say about modeling:
- modeling provides students with opportunities to read, analyze, and emulate good writing.  He used the following analogy to drive his point home. When a basketball coach sees a player not shooting the ball correctly, he does not stand over to the side and yell, "That's not right," or even worse, "Put some backspin on the ball."  If the player knew how to do that already there would be no need for further instruction.  Instead, the coach would pull the player over to the side and model how to hold the ball so that it sat up on the fingertips and not in the palm of the shooter's hand.  The coach would show the player over and over again until the player could repeat the process for himself.  That's modeling.  Telling someone that what they're doing is wrong is not modeling.

Mr. Gallagher stated that the number one best method for teaching students to become better writers is the one strategy that is rarely, if ever, used in the classroom...modeling.  Think about it.  How many times can you remember a teacher writing in front of you to see?  I'm not talking about writing something on the blackboard or dry erase board.  I mean, how many times did the teacher pretend that he/she was actually writing like you were being asked to write for an essay?  I can't remember any either.

Students need to watch us write.  Instead, we do all of our writing behind closed doors just like the Great and Powerful Oz.  When we show students our work it's already in final draft form.  If we would open the curtain and let the students in to our thinking, our writing process, and our editing/revising processes it would do more for them than simply showing them our final drafts.  Of course, just like the Great and Powerful Oz, if our 'curtains' are thrown back the students might actually find out that we aren't perfect.  Shocking, right?

Along with modeling our writing, students need to see 'mentor texts' so they can see what professional writing should look like to their audience.  He presented several ways to incorporate mentor texts into lessons and used a few of those strategies with us today.  One process that he said he always uses is to following this sequence when students write; writer goes, teacher goes, student goes.  He uses a published piece to show an example of writing.  He and the students discuss what the writer did, what the message was, and how the writing was set up.  Then he writes, mimicking the author's style while modeling for the students.  Finally, the students write using the skills they have just discussed and watched.  Simple.  Highly effective.

One part of today's presentation captured my attention a little more than the rest, although it was all highly engaging.  He pulled up a YouTube clip of Allen Iverson's rant about practice.  "We talkin' 'bout practice, man.  Not the game. Not the game. We talkin' 'bout practice, man."  This was in response to Iverson's coach publicly calling Iverson out for not being at all of the practices.  Iverson's temper tantrum...I mean, his point...was why should I come to all the practices if I'm already good?  Mr. Gallagher, without throwing a temper tantrum, argued that when it comes to writing, it IS about practice.  He said, "Students need to produce a lot of bad writing before they can become better writers. Students must have writing fluency (just like in reading) to become better writers.  You can only achieve writing fluency by writing a lot.  Students need deliberate practice in areas they need the most practice in to become better writers."  This was the example he used for practice: The average golfer who goes to the driving range will most likely not improve his game.  He's really only there for entertainment if he doesn't work on the part of his golf game that needs improving.  Rarely, if ever, will your average golfer practice hitting balls out of the sand, underneath tree branches, or from anywhere else they may find themselves on a golf course. But those are the shots we need to practice because when we actually play a round of golf we are going to be in the sand, behind the tree, and anywhere else we shouldn't be to begin with on the course.  Yep, we talkin' 'bout practice, man.

The main message I took from today's Summit session was that our students need to see us, hear us, watch us, and experience through us how we seem to always have a final draft the first time we write.  Because in reality, we don't.  They need to see that process so they will know how to become better writers.  Follow this simple routine...Model, practice, model, practice, model, practice and then repeat.  Does that sound like your experience when it comes to writing in schools?

I am going to share some of the other highlights and resources from today's session in bullet form, rather than in paragraphs and in no particular order so I don't bore you to death.  You're welcome.

  • Let students know that their 1st drafts will NEVER be accepted as their final drafts.  Mr. Gallagher goes so far as to call them 'crummy' drafts.
  • Editing does not only mean to move the commas or to check spelling.  There's a lot more that goes into great editing.
  • One broad topic has several sub topics.  Don't try writing everything about a subject, water polo for example, which will probably end up as nothing important or interesting about the topic.  Instead, write about the rules of water polo, strategies of water polo, unwritten rules about the game, etc.  More focused writing usually equals more interesting writing.
  • At the beginning of the year start students out writing and editing one sentence.  Don't try to write War and Peace and then be disappointed when you have tons to grade and the students had no idea how to write.
  • Gradually move on to six word memoirs, Twitter updates of 140 characters or less, and then to paragraphs, short stories, etc.
  • Before students can write one poem they need to read hundreds.
  • Are your students reading and writing enough to compete in today's job market or to be accepted into the college of their choice?
  • Peer response is not the same as peer editing.  Totally different process and outcome.
  • Allow students to edit as a group for more collaboration.
  • Ask students, "What did this author do in the writing that you would like to try?"
Ideas for generating writing topics, especially for the student who claims, "I don't know what to write about."
  • In a writing journal at the beginning of the year, have students make an 'idea territory' page with 75 possible topics they could write about throughout the year.
  • Show this phrase to students...A ________________ Worth Seeing
  • Show a picture on the screen and have students write one sentence explaining what is happening in the picture.  Use that sentence to spark their writing.
  • Use a technique from Sports Illustrated where they write '6 Things You Should Know About...' and let the students come up with the topic.
  • Write this phrase...Sometimes, _______________ is cruel.
  • Use this as a topic generator...I was a witness to ____________.
  • Make a list of 'Ever Wonder Why?' topics.
  • Make a David Letterman Top 10 List.
There were so many great ideas being shared today and this is just a brief outline of a few of those ideas.  If you would like to see more, follow the Twitter hashtag #litsummit . This was only day one and we still have two more days to go.  I'm looking forward to the next two days of learning and growing professionally.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day

What can a son say about his father on this special day?  What can a son say to the man who molded and shaped him into the man he is today?  How can a son thank the man who sacrificed his own interests so that I could pursue mine?

I can remember a lot about my childhood and growing up in a small town in Indiana.  But no matter what the story or memory is, my father is in every one of them.  He may not know it or realize it, but he was always there with me.  Sometimes he was there physically and sometimes he was there figuratively.  No matter the circumstances, he was there.

I can remember as if it were yesterday playing baseball in little league with my father as the coach.  He worked with all of the players making sure we improved our skills.  He taught that fundamentals meant more than winning, even as our team went 16-0 on the season and won the tournament.  I can't remember any of those games though.  Not one of them.  I do remember the pre-season tournament (called The Marathon) because we didn't win a single game!  My dad was (and probably still is) a great pitcher.  During the pre-season round robin tournament, for some reason the coaches pitched to the players.  While the other coaches were lofting 'beach balls' to their hitters, my dad took a different approach.  He was throwing heaters, curve balls, and even a few knuckle balls to some of us.  This was from the little league pitching mound too so we didn't have much reaction time.  At the time I couldn't figure out why he was doing it and it was pretty frustrating.  Having grown up some since then I know that he was teaching us a lesson.  If we could hit his pitches we could hit any little league pitches.  My friends and I still laugh about it when we get together to relive the glory days.  I guess going 16-0 helped heal some of those wounds.  Dad, thank you for teaching me that fundamentals are the backbone for long-term success.

I can remember a time when my father first asked me to help him carry something into the house.  I'm not talking about groceries or something small.  This was an entertainment unit that was in the garage and we cleaned it up to take inside.  He said, "Grab the other end."  At first I didn't think he was serious or maybe there was someone else standing behind me because he had never asked me to 'grab the other end' for anything.  I wasn't big enough to help him until then but with those four words, my relationship with my Dad changed.  I was finally big enough to help and that meant the world to me.  Dad, thanks for allowing me to feel like a big boy when I was still little.

I can remember the first time he let me mow the yard with the riding lawnmower.  In my mind I was ready for the responsibility and had been asking (begging) for awhile.  Finally, the day came.  It was a mild day early in the summer.  He made the first pass of cutting the grass around the edges of the yard and I stood on the top of our hill behind the house desperately wanting to mow.  As he rounded the garage and headed toward the house I kept thinking, "Let me drive.  Let me drive."  He must have sensed my eagerness and sure enough, he pulled the mower up near me and shut it off.  He said, "You want to mow for awhile?"  I think I was on the mower before he was totally off.  After a quick 'How To' lesson he said, "Let's go around once without the blades on, just to practice."  I didn't care if the blades were cutting or not, I just wanted to drive the mower.  So I agreed and took off.  I knew that I wouldn't leave the yard but for some reason I felt like I had embarked on a journey that would take days to complete.  There was responsibility placed in my hands; a passing of the torch in some way.  As I rounded the garage and headed toward the house I was grinning ear to ear inside but acting like it was no big deal on the outside.  He motioned for me to stop and I was going to pull up right beside him and shut if off, just like he did to me a few moments earlier.  I pushed on the brake but didn't slow down.  Of course I panicked and desperately tried stomping on the brake but still nothing happened.  I got closer and closer to the house and eventually brought the mower to rest on the old style basement doors.  You know, the ones that open up out of the ground made of flimsy metal?  Yep, I was bucking up against the house and bouncing on those basement doors.  My dad came to my rescue and turned the mower off before I busted a hole in the house and ended up in the kitchen.  What I remember most though was my dad asking if I was ok.  He wasn't mad and after a few more 'How To' lessons I was mowing the yard.  Dad, thanks for allowing me to mow the yard even though I was probably to young to do a good job. (As the years went on that privilege became a chore and the enthusiasm wasn't as high but I really did enjoy mowing the yard.  But I hated weed eating!)

I can remember when I quit basketball between my freshman and sophomore years.  That decision was not easy nor was it popular in my house.  My father played basketball on one of the best teams in our school's history.  He played in college too.  My grandfather was a basketball coach and my father coached high school basketball as well.  To say basketball was in my blood is an understatement!  So when I said that I didn't want to play basketball anymore, it was a dark day in the Hudson house.  My dad said, "If you don't play, you'll regret it."  I can't say that I regret not playing.  Sure, I missed it and probably threw away a lot of natural ability.  But what I gained was worth it.  A buddy and I drove to IU three nights a week to play tennis at the IU Tennis Pavilion.  I got to be pretty good and really enjoyed the competition.  I like that all of the pressure was on me and I couldn't rely on someone else to carry me.  If I missed a shot it was my fault.  If I lost a game, set, or match it was my fault.  That's a lonely place sometimes but it helped build my character.  Sometimes to a fault.  Sometimes I rely on myself and take on too many responsibilities without asking for help.  If something goes bad I want the blame.  As far as basketball went during my sophomore and junior years I played a lot of pick-up basketball in the park and kept my skills fairly polished.  I did play basketball my senior year and really enjoyed it.  Memories of playing basketball are some of my fondest of high school.  I don't regret not playing but I do wonder 'What if' sometimes.  As a father myself, I can't imagine the strength it takes to let your child do something you don't agree with.  Especially something that means so much to me and the family.  So, Dad, thank you for allowing me to pursue other sports and supporting me 100% in my decision.

I can't remember a time when I needed my Father and he wasn't there.  He came to every game, match, after school event, and program I was ever in.  Sure, he might have missed one or two along the way but I really can't remember a time when he wasn't there.  Every memory I have of my childhood involves my Dad.  Good and bad.  Physically or literally.  My Dad was there.

So, Dad, I just want to say 'Thank You' for always being there!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Discipline the Behavior, Not the Child

"I want him out of my class! And he can't come back until he's ready to follow my rules."

Have you ever heard these words come from a teacher?  If not, have you heard the tone? The frustration?  The exhaustion? The call for help?

There was one time as a teacher that these words came from me.  Instantly I felt horrible for what I had done and I knew that I would forever be a different teacher based on that one interaction. And I was different from that day the student.  I lost all of his trust, confidence, and desire to learn.  

Like I said, I knew that I was forever changed but I had no idea how much I affected the student. For the remainder of the year (luckily this happened in April) the boy was different.  No matter what I tried, he was done with me.  It would have been better for that student if he was moved out of my classroom.  I don't talk about this lightly and I think about this student a lot and wonder where/what/how he is today. I guess my biggest fear is that he lives under a bridge in a cardboard box, staring at an old yearbook picture of me as he plans his revenge for that fateful day.  Maybe I feel like I have WAY more influence over that student than I actually did, but I like to think I made an impression on him.

A few months ago I was visiting another building, not in the district I work in, and the first thing I saw was a teacher walking an unruly student to the office.  I've seen this before so I slowed my pace because I didn't want to be in the way just in case the 'party' was about to get started. The boy turned and looked at me and in that instance I was transported straight back to the day I became frustrated at my student.  The whole scene was an awful reminder of my actions.

As a building principal I understand the frustration that students can bring to the classroom.  I also understand that teachers have good and bad days.  So do the students.  When those bad days happen on the same day fireworks are bound to go off, quickly.  A big cause of office visits are based on frustration levels.  Some teachers have a higher threshold of frustration while others have a very very very low threshold.  Have you ever known a teacher to kick a student out of class because he/she didn't have a pencil?  Probably a low threshold kind of teacher.

When a student comes to my office I quickly remind myself to separate the student from the behavior.  I know that is very easy to forget in certain situations, however, it's imperative that you do it.  We never know exactly what the student is going through at home, who is bullying them in 1st period, or what their after school activities demand of them.  Life seems to be more and more stressful for adults and students and we, the adults, better be prepared to help students navigate their stress. When we deal with students in a disciplinary manner we can help reduce some of that stress by dealing with the negative behavior separate from the character of the student.

Monday, June 11, 2012

iTeach Academy Day One Resources

Today, two Indiana school corporations came together for the first iTeach Academy to learn more about integrating technology into classroom instruction.  It was powerful.  Overwhelming to some.  Right on target for others.

Sessions today centered more around the need for technology integration rather than 'how-to' resources.  Alan November (@globalearner) delivered the morning keynote and lead breakout sessions throughout the day.  There was a compelling case made for the use of technology, not just as an afterthought to a lesson, but as a way of life in the classroom.  The way Alan described it really hit home to me.  He called it, "Shoving paper down a wire."  That's what a lot (not all) of teachers consider technology.  Typing a research paper on the computer is NOT integrating technology.  That's just a really expensive pencil.

We want our students to begin blogging, making videos, and be globally connected with their school work.  Teachers will be asked to create google docs, prezis, and incorporate the 'flipped classroom' model.  Obviously this list is just a small part of what the educational landscape should start to look like when technology is actually integrated into classrooms.

Administrators will also be held to a high standard when it comes to technology.  No more should we need hour-long meetings to take care of 'housekeeping' business.  Place the agenda on google docs so that teachers can look at the agenda items and come prepared to join the learning rather than teachers sitting and taking in information.  We MUST model for our teachers what we want them to do for their students.

Tomorrow's breakout sessions include more 'hands-on' demonstrations for teachers.  Participants will learn iPad iWorks, curation of resources, iBook, Khan Academy, participatory learning, Web 2.0 tools, moodle, e-publishing for iPad, and iPad productivity.  It should be a another great day of learning for MCCSC and R-BB teachers and administrators.

Here are links to a few of the resources discussed today:


TweetDeck (Twitter app)

Hootsuite (Twitter app)




Docs (via google)

RSS Reader (via google)


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Retention Gone Wrong

During tonight's PTO meeting our district's Director of Elementary Education, Cameron Rains (@CameronRains), came to speak to parents about the upcoming IREAD-3 assessment. He did a great job, as usual, speaking with parents about the assessment and fielding questions. He is a voice of calm and reason in times of uncertainty.

Here is a quote about the IREAD-3 assessment from the Indiana Department of Education taken from the parent communication letter:

"Public Law 109 requires the evaluation of reading skills for students who are in third grade beginning in the spring of 2012. This legislation was created to ensure that all students can read proficiently at the end of grade three. In response to Public Law 109, educators from across the state worked with the Indiana Department of Education to develop a test blueprint and to review test questions that have now become the Indiana Reading Evaluation And Determination (IREAD-3) Assessment.

The intent of Public Law 109 is to ensure every student has the opportunity for future success through literacy. The results will have a positive effect on our entire state as the need for remedial education in middle and high school is reduced and dropout rates and juvenile delinquency are lowered. In addition, Public Law 109 will help Indiana develop the highly skilled workforce needed for a strong economy."

There's not one educator who could possibly argue against the spirit behind Public Law 109. However, I can't think of many who agree with the punitive nature that comes with the law. Students will take one test, given on one day that will determine if they are proficient readers. If they don't pass they have one more opportunity during the summer to prove themselves. That's it. They have two chances to pass a reading test which will determine if they are promoted or retained for the next school year.

What does it mean for students who don't pass the IREAD-3? They will be retained and take third grade again. Read that one more time. They will be RETAINED and take third grade again. There are three 'good cause exemptions' allowing students to not be retained: A) the student's case conference committee can determine the student should not be retained B) the student is an ELL student C) the student has been retained twice before third grade.

Of course, the Indiana Department of Education has said that students can receive instruction in fourth grade curriculum for all other subjects except in reading. They are coded as a third grader, must receive third grade reading instruction, and they will again take the third grade ISTEP+ test in the spring. They will forever be a grade level behind because of a one day test of reading proficiency.

Is automatic retention really the right course of action for these students? Will retention actually "... have a positive effect on our entire state as the need for remedial education in middle and high school is reduced and dropout rates and juvenile delinquency are lowered..."?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Can Your School Improvement Plan REALLY Improve Your School?

Working on my school's improvement plan this year has been challenging yet rewarding. In years past, the school improvement plan has mostly been a check mark on the 'to-do list.' Gather the data, put it into charts, discuss the guaranteed and viable curriculum, give an overview of the school population (enrollment, ethnicity, free/reduced lunch %, attendance), select a few goals, and click save.

Our classroom teachers are working extremely hard to select Essential Learning targets, gather data, make assessments based on 4-point scales, group students, offer intervention/enrichment opportunities for ALL students, and start the process all over again. Again and again.

So this year I have taken the responsibility of developing our school improvement plan more seriously than ever before. Don't get me wrong. I have always taken it seriously but for some reason this year it feels different. This year I am taking on the challenge of producing an improvement plan that actually has the potential to improve the school. Novel idea, right?

Today after school I sat with my school's literacy coach, @eandersoniu (give her a follow on Twitter), for about two hours to work on the plan. She is such an inspiration to me. I'm sure she doesn't feel that way but she is. I respect her point of view and opinions on education and enjoy our scheduled weekly meetings and the times she pops in to chat about school. While working on the plan she helped me refine our school's goals for the next three years. I feel like, for once, our school's improvement plan will help guide us in the right direction. Our committee will come together in the next few weeks to tweak the plan and put the finishing touches on it.

How does your school come up with its improvement plan? Have you made it a 'to-do list' or is it actually meant to improve your school?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Learning Outside of the Classroom

Marlin Elementary students enjoyed a fantastic week of activities outside of the classroom.

Our students were featured in the local newspaper for their participation in the SeaPerch robotics competition. You can access the article here

The Marlin teams represented the school, MCCSC, and themselves very well all day. We had four teams participate in the regional competition at DePauw University. One team qualified for the state competition! This was our first time to participate in the event and we didn't know what to expect going into the day so qualifying for the state competition was beyond our expectations.

The first event of the day was an underwater obstacle course which involved the students maneuvering their ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) through five hoops on their way out and navigating back through the hoops on their way back. Teams were divided into heats and the top four times of all the heats were given trophies. Team Marlin 4 took second place overall with a great time, barely missing out on a first place finish.

The second event was a sprint race half way across the pool and back. Once again, each team did a fantastic job and the times were all very close. Team Marlin 4 took second place again, finishing just behind the Tri-North middle school team with a solid time in their heat.

During the last event of the day all of the teams made a presentation of their work to a panel of judges. I was able to sit in on the presentations and I was very proud of how our students handled themselves.

While we were at the SeaPerch competition our local Boy Scout pack was at school working hard to complete a service project for our school. They received a grant to purchase lumber to build five picnic tables for our school. The picnic tables will be used for students to enjoy some class work outside when the weather becomes a little warmer. They are also a place where students gather during recess to hang out and enjoy their friends' company. I saw the tables yesterday and they look great!

We had a great week outside of the classroom, which shows that not all learning takes place inside of a building. Sometimes it's in a pool and sometimes it's outside building something for others. I'm very proud of our students, staff, and parents for their commitment to education, no matter where we find it.