Curriculum and Instruction
If teachers don’t ask meaning-filled questions, then how can we expect students to give meaningful answers.
I went to a GATE magnet school where even if I did not like the subject matter, the assignments were engaging, had a purpose, and were challenging. When I became a teacher, I assumed that all schools and classroom would resemble the experiences I had in my education. But I became a teacher during the “drill and kill” days of No Child Left Behind and high-stakes testing.
Curriculum and instruction is a board subject, and there is a lot one could cover. I hear they even give degrees in it. I am always wondering about assessments and the need to use formative and summative testing. Even the method of grading is a big conversation, and my district has explored alternative grading methods. After all, no two students learn the same way, just as no two teachers instruct in the same way, Yet, I feel that a method like the gradual release of responsibility is effective no matter the classroom setting. I know that there are important conversations around the nature of homework. I would want to look at what the research says about effective homework practices and work from there. I am very much aware that some teachers are still grappling with the new Common Core State Standards.
Common Core seemed like such a massive undertaking and at the larger state level I sure it was. Let the Standards guide your instruction. When teachers follow the Standards, there is the ability to create engaging lessons that also provide a depth of content. Many teachers belly ache about not being able to give students that piece of the curriculum that they love. For example, teachers complaining about not being able to teach poetry because of the CCSS. The CCSS are liberating, not constrictive. In fact, that Standards allow almost any teacher passion project. The teacher just needs to let their expertise and experience support the learning goals.
I would like to share my own experience with teaching middle students poetry. The Common Core requires teachers to move away from covering a broad range of topics and seeks to have a focused attention to the content. I therefore assist students as they do a deep reading of 5 selected poems. This process takes an entire quarter and results in a student's writing a five paragraph essay. This the depth versus the breadth. The CCSS state that in Literacy 6.1 demonstrate command of conventions of English. I also teach this standard through poetry. An even better example would be CCSS Literacy 6.5 demonstrate an understanding of figurative language. Educators talk about the word “rigor” a great deal. Lessons exploring simile, metaphor, and personification through poetry sounds pretty rigors to me.
Technology in the Classroom
Technology is just another classroom tool that requires good teaching practices to make it effective.
I serve as a Technology Liaison, where I help to build teacher technology competency and act as a communication bridge between the district and my school site. I was one of the first teachers to be awarded Google Certification by my district. I am also Technology Innovation coach and working on a Master in Educational Leadership with a focus in Technology.
I want to be clear; I am focusing on the use of technology for instruction. We could talk about networking, the need for robust systems, and the challenges of standardization of data. For example, my current district data from the SIS only flows one way to the LMS. This is a challenge when it comes to reporting cards. I could bring up the subject of the vital need for Information Technology Enterprise Architecture. But it is technology in the classroom that I want to make my focus. The actual machines and apps where students can engage in collaboration, communication, creative expression, and critical thinking. For student to achieve in what we call The 4Cs, then teachers need to be trained in SAMR.
SAMR stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. This is a process of change and improvement. At the Substitution level, teachers are having students write essays in class, print them out, and returns the graded reports. In Augmentation, what is done begins to become unique. Students can take a quiz on Google Forms and get instant feedback. I created a lesson where student teams created quizzes on Early Humans and then have students from other periods take these student made assessments. Moving to the Modification level this is where students might create a Slides presentation, on cells, and then add a voice over to their presentation. Here is where what is being done can only be created through a technology device. Now, Redefinition is where computers support student-centered learning. As a fan of Projects Based Learning, the Redefinition level is exciting because it is at this level where collaboration has to happen through the technology. Students develop skills and master content through the creation of authentic products. It is no longer about teachers uses the computer as a tool, it’s about the students using the tools to engage in their own learning.
Discipline and School Climate / Culture
Every behavior is a form of communication.
The student that is acting out in class and the introverted, shy kid in the back of the room are both communicating their message. It is the job of a professional educator to understand just what a student is trying say.
I am a middle school teacher, and I have seen countless students sent to the office for being “defiant.” This leaves me to wonder about the effectiveness of sending students out of the classroom for behaving like a middle schooler. I have had many meetings with parents about their student’s grades and lack of organizational skills, mostly with boys. I frequently tell the parents, “You have an average middle school boy.” Middle school can be a very confusing time. Understanding the expected behaviors of a developmental level is part of being a teacher. Sending a middle school student to the office for normal middle schooler behavior is odd. From my experience, it seems that the removal does not address the student’s problematic behavior. It’s a teacher being honest and authentic that opens communication with the student and starts to change behaviors. With that being said, a Classroom’s safe learning environment must be maintained.
There are cases where a student must be removed from a classroom. I am a big fan of two behaviorists by the names of Mendler and Curwin. They focused their research on at-risk populations, and with almost 70% free and reduced lunch families that make up my school district, Mendler and Curwin’s theories need to be used. They message, distilled down to two words is “Dignity” and “hope.” When dealing with those students who have transgressed against classroom expectations, school rules, of state law, I still need to give those students hope and treat them with dignity. Therefore, consequences for misbehaviors need to be fair, firm and fast. I can not let my emotions affect restoration process. When adults, teachers, and administrators, are firm with students they set the boundaries of acceptable behaviors. If a student's actions require consequences from the administration, for example, detention, then the detention needs to happen that day. From my experience, I have seen students get a detention for a misbehavior from three weeks past, and there is no connection between behavior and consequences
Parent and Community Involvement
Educators must remember that we are part of the service industry.
We provide the service of education to children. We also provided services to families, as well. The actions of educators and administrators should reflect a service mindset.
If I had all the time, I wanted I could talk at length about getting parents and community members onto a campus. Parents need to be on a school’s campus. Many regulatory committees require parent involvement. All most all of my students have families where both parents work, sometimes multiple jobs. Bringing those parents to campus requires creative solutions, like childcare, dinner service, and even setting up appointments during off hours. There is the challenge of getting communication to parents for opportunities to get involved with the school. Communicating with parents is a priority and finding new, technology-driven methods can help, like e-mail. One of the great tools for getting parents on the campus is the most obvious one, students. Award and recognition ceremonies are very powerful for families. My site provides student-led conferences with an almost 85% parent attendance rate. Another very rewarding experience is a student project fair. What I think is it exciting that as educators we can provide the service of allowing parents to see their child as students and as a learner.
There is a lot to say about providing quality service. I worked my way through college doing restaurant work. I was even employed at Disneyland, which takes providing quality service to a whole new level. Schools should take some ideas from a restaurant, or even a restaurant at Disneyland. When someone enters a school campus, parent or students, they should be greeted. This person is here, at your school for a reason, therefore find out what are their needs. Office staff must be inviting and honest listeners, as they are the first faces a parent sees upon entering campus, and not all parents come to a campus happy. A friendly person, who is honestly listening to needs of an angry parent can change that parent’s mood for the better. It seems like a Zen Koan, but making a school a welcoming place will make parents feel welcomed. When there is a welcoming experience, there will be more parents wanting to visit the campus.