Tuesday, October 18, 2016

I read a quote today by John Carolus – sorry John, I don’t even know who you are but I like what you said.  “We think too much about effective methods of teaching and not enough about effective methods of learning.”   I met with a group of teachers today to brainstorm how to help a new student with limited English.  We did exactly what John suggested and flipped from thinking about the best ways to teach her, and focused on how best she can learn.  We decided on more opportunities to work with smaller groups of students even if they were in different grades.

When we changed seating arrangements in our class a few weeks ago, we asked each student to design their own name card.  It included their name and also one or two goals to help them be successful members of our learning community.  Our students included phrases such as “try to ignore off topic talk”, “listen when the teacher is talking” and “focus, focus, focus”.  From time to time throughout the day, we encourage students to reread their goal and think about how they can be a successful learner.  We are empowering our students to be responsible for their own learning.

At parent/teacher conferences tonight, I found myself speaking more frequently about what conditions are best for each student to learn.  My students will be transitioning to middle school next year and families will be deciding in the next two months what middle school to attend.  (I work in a district with extreme school choice.)  We talked about smaller schools, ones with fewer distractions and lower class size.  We talked about keeping students with their strong social groups as support for those adolescent years.  We talked about homework habits that fit each student.

We attend professional development classes and we read professional texts and we engage in professional conversations all to often about how to be better teachers.  What if each of those began with the same question – What is the most effective method for this student to learn?  Designing a classroom environment that meets the need of every student is not a reality.  We are too diverse to be able to fit every child into the same square hole.  But what we can do is help our students to find their own best ways to learn and allow them what space and opportunity we can to practice that.


I can’t give each student the one on one they deserve.  But maybe I can help them to know themselves as learners so they can advocate for themselves, set them up to be lifelong learners.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Reflection.  It is such a critical part of teaching.  Taking a little time each day to reflect is a habit, a necessary habit, that leads me to what I steps I will take tomorrow.  And after years of daily reflecting, I could still use some practice.

Unfortunately, I often reflect the day after.  Sometimes that is good.  A good night of sleep has made me less critical of myself, more forgiving of my students, and usually a little more clear headed.  But sometimes that isn’t so good.  Sometimes the heat of the moment reflections are the most useful.

So I am pulling out my little red journal and trying to write for a bit before I leave school each day.  Today I want to reflect on what I need to do to help my students listen respectfully.  I need to reflect on whether my new students’ behavior has some deeper motives that I haven’t discovered yet and how I am going to get to that place of trust to find out.  And I need to think carefully about how to raise the bar a bit with my readers.  They gave up too easily today and I let them.  I can do better than that.



Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Our school administrator is required to share district job posting with the staff every week.  I actually perused the postings last night and thought that Food Service Assistant II would be a good fit for me right now.  I would have momentary and passing interactions with students, I could do my own clean up at the end of the day to meet my standards, and while food wouldn’t exactly be respectful to me, it certainly wouldn’t be disrespectful either.

It was a long day yesterday following a long week last week.  I have 29 wonderful, delightful, fun and engaging 5th graders in my room this year.  And taken individually, they are each uniquely awesome.  But put 29 of them in one room together and it does not bring out the best in them.  I am really struggling this year to curtail the side conversations when I am instructing and I think it is a result of my own enthusiasm.

My teaching parter and I decided to fully embrace alternative seating this year.  We removed almost all of the furniture from our room and replaced it with kid friendly options.  We have a super high table where kids can stand, two low table where students can sit on the floor or on cushions, and lots of carpets and rugs scattered about with 25 camp chairs available for use.  Given what we had seen of our 5th graders in the past 6 years, we thought this would be a great option for encouraging more comfortable, individual, and engaged learning.

Wrong.  It has backfired and created more social learning instead.  So we are pulling back the reins today.  While I was ready to bring back desks and put them in nice, neat rows, my partner convinced me to try out assigned ‘spaces’.  We are going to stick with the alternative options but students will be assigned to one location each week.  We are hoping this prevents the wandering, the social grouping, and the constant hum of conversation.

It breaks my heart that these kiddos are not ready for the freedom yet.  Perhaps it was a mistake to hope for that.  In retrospect, we should have followed the age old advice – start off slow and then loosen up as you go along.  We should have started with those assigned spaces and then allowed the students to be successful there before allowing free range learning.

Lesson learned.  Great idea, poor implementation.  I always tell my students that it is a good day when you can say you learned something new.  So I guess I pull that job application and call yesterday a good day.

**Thursday, October 6 – After we assigned spaces, one of my students said, “I like having assigned seats.  When we choose where to sit it is really hard to know where to sit so you don’t hurt someone’s feelings.”  Little did we know…