This past week I got to attend and present sessions at the CETPA 2017 conference. While there I attended two sessions that stood at beyond the content of what was being presented. As I continue to present at various conferences, I am always looking for what makes a presenter better than others. I got to see two speakers who showed me what to works and what doesn’t.
The first presenter, Martin Cisneros, was everything I hope I can be: funny, engaging, knows the content well, and open to questions or suggestions. The other presenter was the exact opposite. While he seemed to know his information and he really did try to engage the audience, he offended a few members of his audience. I’m not even sure he knew he did it. Unfortunately he decided to talk down about teachers using tech, especially if they were career teachers who hadn’t worked in other industries. I believe there was also something about teachers who had been teaching for longer than 10 years. As someone who is both of those who happens to be techy AND attending a technology in education conference, not only did he offend me, but he lost the ability to share his knowledge with me. I no longer wanted to learn from him.
This got me thinking about our classrooms. Every year we get a new group of students, yet we teach the same way to all of them. We might do a few team building or “Get to Know You” activities in the beginning of the year, but how much does this tell us about the kids. If we really want to make a difference and have the students trust us enough to learn from us, we need to take it further. I see this whenever I have students for multiple years (one of the drawbacks and pluses of teaching combo classes in California!). Those students are the ones who tend to do the best in my class. It’s not because they know what I want (which does help), but it’s more that we know each other better. There isn’t a lot of time being spent having to get to know each other. I understand what they need and where I can take them. They trust me to help them learn.
There have been many blogs/podcasts/talks that share how important relationships are in the classroom. There is a reason it’s such a common topic.So while there will be a mad rush to get some academics done before the end of the semester, it’s also a great time to get to know your class. Share a few things about yourself. Ask a few more questions about what they are doing over the breaks or with their families. There is still time to change around that kid who you haven’t quite reached. It’s all about knowing your audience.
I have a cold. Hopefully it's the end of it since I've had it for a week. This blog will be told in two parts. The first, a slight rant about how hard it is for teachers when they get sick (or at least how difficult it was for me). The second, how technology can make life easier in this same situation.
My family is fairly healthy and I (usually) only get small colds towards the beginning of the school year. This means I'm rarely out of the classroom for illness. In fact, I just discovered I have enough sick days to be out half a year. (Good news for when I get close to retirement, bad news when I think how often I could have taken a mental health day and didn't.) This last week, as I didn't sleep, couldn't breathe and could barely move without an ache or ten, my husband convinced me to take the day off. (This was a slight struggle as it was Halloween and I couldn't imagine asking a guest teacher to step in on such a fun but difficult day!) As I got out of bed hopefully only long enough to arrange a sub and send a few plans, I realized nothing was going to be that easy.
After an hour and half of getting on the computer to "order" the sub, write the lesson plans, and put together the review I told another teacher I would have ready for her for the upcoming 6th grade test, I remembered why I DON'T stay home often. By the time I had finished preparing for a day I wouldn't be at school, it was almost not worth the effort to stay home! ALMOST! I have always laughed at those who say, just stay home the sub can handle the class and you have back-up plans in the office. Anyone who has taught realizes that not going to work is a lot more than just not showing up. You still have to give the kids something to do and have to deal with any issues once you return.
The day might have gone a little better had I not gotten a text from my office manager almost an hour into the school day saying she couldn't get the plans I sent to her for the sub. (School Halloween parade meant no one needed it sooner so she hadn't checked!) UGH! With a little research, I found Google had flagged the plans as inappropriate! This would have been laughable (really, what could have been inappropriate about telling another teacher what to teach the class????) had I not already spent so much of my "sick day" trying to get my class on the right track without me there. Because of all the hassle I knew I would return the next day, whether I was feeling better or not.
Rant over, now the good stuff. Even with the missing lesson plans (which were eventually unflagged and emailed in), the students didn't miss a beat. While I was at home trying to figure out what exactly went wrong, a few problem solvers in the class decided to check out Google Classroom to see if I had posted any assignments. Of course I had! They were able to get started on the assignment before the adult knew what needed to be done. The other adult I have in my room daily said it all went well and the kids knew exactly what to do. That's the great part about technology, my students can run the class and only need an adult around for when they have a question or two.
Even the review I mentioned earlier was saved through tech. My teaching partner knew we were going to show short videos to review the concepts that were on the upcoming test. The problem was she had no way to access them since each student group chose them and shared with me in Classroom. No problem. I copied the links into a doc and shared them with both her and myself. This meant I had a copy in my email, which I knew was open on my computer in the classroom. She reviewed them in her class, then showed them to the students in my room at the appropriate time.
I have no idea if I will stay home the next time I get a cold (one of the joys of being around kids all day is that even after 20 years I still get their germs!), but I do know that I needn't worry about whether the class will be taken care of. Technology and the kids' ability to problem solve will help everything flow smoothly. Oh, another good thing I forgot to mention, the kids felt so bad that I was sick and had no voice that they were REALLY good for the next TWO days!
We all know that kids need to learn to read to succeed in life. It helps if they love reading. Unfortunately not everyone does. Teachers are constantly trying to come up with ways to encourage their students to read independently, usually at home. For years, reading logs, book reports and quizzes on what they read have been the norm. I was one of those who did all of it. Recently, I have discovered that not only were the kids to not loving reading, but for those who weren’t motivated on their own, these methods actually killed any desire to read on their own.
This year I tried something new. First, I ditched the idea that students had to read books within their own level. If the goal was to get the kids reading, then why did it matter if the book was too easy or too hard for them based on a test they took once? Second, I got rid of the idea of what types of books they read. No more “this month is (insert genre here)” ideas. Students are now reading graphic novels, short stories, picture books, and great novels by their choice. The point is that they are reading! Next I got rid of how long/how much they read each night. No more log meant I had no idea if they were reading for 5 minutes or three hours. I just want them to read. (Comprehension and vocabulary increases throughout the year would prove to me who was reading for longer periods.)
Last, I changed HOW they showed me they have read. “Book reports” now come in the form of Flipgrid videos (and responses to other student’s books!), posters, quizzes (some kids actually LIKE taking these!), tell me about the book (of course I was going to ask a few pointed questions!) or anything else they could think of. The level of student enthusiasm has increased dramatically over books being read. AND more students are reading than in the past where they felt the pressure to earn so many points in so many months. I found that students who were “failing” their reading quizzes were now reading longer books and were able to share about what they read.
Because I teach both a 5th grade class and a 6th grade class this year, I decided to create a competition between the two classes. Here’s the basics. First, read ANY book. Then complete an activity (see above). Create a flower for our bulletin board for every 100 pages you read in the book. For example, any of the Harry Potter books could earn 5-7 flowers for the student and class. Any book less than 100 pages still got 1 flower. Each class would put their flowers on their side of the “Garden” bulletin board. Since flowers had student names and book titles/authors, everyone could see what was being read in both classes and I had a record of the books. (This concept could be done with any interactive bulletin board. I spent WAY too much time this summer trying to think of the best one that would be easiest for the students to create an object for and would create buy-in by the kids.)
At the end of the quarter, flowers on both sides have been counted. The winning class (whichever side had the most flowers) is getting a prize. They get to find out which class gets it on Monday, and it’s going to be a pretty big deal. There were days in the 8 weeks we did the first competition where one of the classes would be way ahead. Since the students hate to lose, the other class would always do more the next few days. When it came down to the last week, suddenly many different students were finishing their books, completing activities and adding new flowers. The winning side came down to the last day.
It really doesn’t matter in the long run which class won the competition. (In my opinion they all did.) What mattered is that once the flowers were counted, the students had read over 12,000 pages! They were reading and enjoying it. Two of the students had taken quizzes and not passed them, one of them getting 0 questions correct. They were both defeated. However, when I explained to them that I was more thrilled that they had read such great books (Harry Potter and Frankenstein) and they were still able to contribute to the class competition, the looks of pure joy on their faces was exactly what teachers want when kids are talking about books. One of the boys decided to do a Flipgrid for the second book he read. The animation and details he was able to bring to his video were something that a quiz could never have measured.
My students are now more engaged and all it took from me was a little creativity and competition for the love of reading.
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching