School Week Round-Up: Twenty-Six

Lessons: I had the kind of week where the same lesson succeeded among some classes and bombed among others. I think I really need to start doing better differentiation for some of my more challenging groups of kids. They’re challenging because they have different needs and interests, and I need to make the effort to meet them where they are. This does not make them inherently worse students, and it doesn’t mean I don’t want to teach them. I don’t know why I felt like I needed the disclaimer. There’s something in me that needs to state it and read myself stating it.

Support: I’m struggling with a colleague’s request of me, not because it’s particularly difficult. It’s because I don’t see the point of it. She wants students to print out five or so pictures of their subjects for their timelines for the upcoming Wax Museum. (When she originally asked, I could have sworn she said three, not five.) I guess I don’t find printing out photos to be particularly impressive, and not a transformative use of technology in learning. It’s a lot of work for something that’s DOK 1. It would be more interesting for students to create their own — I think I just had an idea. Maybe there is still time!

Things I Did Well:
 I successfully kept all grizzly bears away from school, without resorting to the use of firearms at all!

Things I Will Do Better: I am challenging myself to differentiate better, which will involve more time-consuming and thoughtful prep.

Cold Prickly: Well, first let’s re-visit the issue of HB 49 from last week. Someone named Elizabeth from my house representative’s office did call me back, this past Tuesday. She and I talked about the bill and the overall political attitude towards teachers in the state. She said that she couldn’t speak to what the executive branch is thinking or feeling (as that’s the origin of the bill), but my rep doesn’t want externships to be burdensome for teachers renewing their licenses. She said another rep, Andrew Brenner of Delaware County (chair of the Education and Career Readiness Committee), planned to introduce an amendment speaking to the particular passage I asked about. I have also seen news coverage of people reacting to the passage; Elizabeth said it’s an issue their office has heard about from a lot of constituents.

So while I am partially reassured, I’m still guarded and feeling alert in regards to this. I will be paying attention.

Warm Fuzzy: Just thinking about our school nurse, our counselors, our climate specialists, our cafeteria aides, our bus drivers, our custodians, our parent volunteers, our community supporters… they do so much! They make such a big, positive difference in our school.

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The One Right Way to Do Things

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I was grading some papers, and a student wrote about how computers “get infermation quiqlly.” I can’t get past the spelling. Sure, it wasn’t right, but it communicated the point.

I ate lunch with first graders today. The lunch lady, for dessert, gave them frozen peach cups that were tricky to open – the condensation made the plastic seal slippery. Kids stabbed through the top with the end of their spoon; kids yanked the corner up with their teeth; kids flipped it upside down and pressed from the bottom, shoving the slushy mass through the top like a push pop.

In the computer lab, I watched as students went through many of the same routines, with variations. To do a typing activity, some students discussed with one another what they wanted to write. One started at the “last” question and worked his way up. Another bypassed the keyboard by turning on Voice Typing in the Google Doc. Some logged out of the computers by clicking on the start menu and scrolling down until they found the log out command. Others used keyboard shortcuts.

I emailed the other technology resource teachers in the district to ask how they handle a certain challenge (where tech skills meet classroom management). They had several strategies, some building-wide, some on case by case basis, and some methods that fell between those extremes. There was no one-size-fits-all solution.

What I’m trying to say is, I get really frustrated when adults act like there’s only one right or best way to do things. Yeah, some ways will be faster, some more efficient, some more comfortable, some less expensive. But that doesn’t mean other ways are inherently wrong or bad. And yeah, there is probably one best way to do certain things, but I like to let kids try those out and realize why other ways don’t work as well. They shouldn’t have to take my word for it.

“Boring but Important,” Plus Additional Thoughts on Engagement

Today a blog post from The Confident Teacher entitled “Boring but Important” popped up in my Twitter feed. In this post, Alex Quigley reflects on teaching when the subject is indeed important, but perhaps not as fun or engaging as other topics.

I am not advocating intentionally being more boring that we otherwise may be, but we should be wary of the notion that engagement should be the daily pursuit of teachers. We should think a little differently. Instead of trying to eliminate boredom – pretty much an impossibility in the real world – we should consider how we help our students manage it…

His point is that information is not proportionately interesting based on its importance. (Hence the popularity of trivia as a hobby – it is literally the stuff that is interesting and yet not important, unless it’s a question at the pub quiz.)

I am inclined to agree, from both a teacher perspective and from a student one. So the point of the post is that we should equip students to handle boredom, which I feel is a very good idea. I frequently need such strategies, even as an adult.

I would also add that, when you are fully engaged with material, it can be exhausting. So I’m not sure it’s a reasonable expectation, especially at the elementary level, for all students to be fully engaged in class content at a given time. I don’t think that’s a reasonable expectation to have of children; they need breaks. That’s the case for whether they’re naturally engaged, or not. If they’re really engaged, they may not ask for a bathroom break they need; they might be thinking about one topic when they need to re-focus on another; they may not make the best choices on how to manage their time when it involves something they’re hyper-focused on. So, in addition to teaching strategies to deal with boredom, it might be good to nurture methods for moderation as well.

“Storytime with Wil”: A Read-Aloud for Grown-Ups

once-upon-a-time-whitley-mdThere’s no shortage of anecdata and evidence that reading out loud to children is incredibly important to developing language skills, and a love of reading. Reading out loud can help improve comprehension, vocabulary, and information processing skills. There are many resources to help adults read aloud to children, or help connect other readers with children, or help children read out loud to an audience of their own.

Do grown-ups benefit, too?

Some may feel it juvenile, but I enjoy listening to things. I derive a lot of pleasure from listening to music, for instance. Podcasts and radio programs are some of my favorite ways to absorb nonfiction text. I don’t listen to audiobooks, but I know many adults who do. Why wouldn’t grown-ups also benefit from read-alouds?

My district took the night off from our usual Twitter chat, so when I was dorking around Twitter at 9pm EST with nothing else going on, I saw a link to actor Wil Wheaton‘s Twitch channel, where he was doing a read-aloud of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. (This is apparently a regularly scheduled event.) So, I clicked.

I don’t often visit Twitch, but it’s a social platform for people to watch videos, particularly snow-white-and-the-seven-dwarfs-aida-hiin the gaming community. (It makes sense if you spent hours of childhood waiting for your turn on the Nintendo, then realized that you like watching other people play almost as much as you enjoy playing yourself.) So, it’s an interesting platform for a read-aloud. But Mr. Wheaton has gamified the experience: when the time comes in the story for the reader to make a choice, observers in the chat make their opinion known about which choice they want to make. (The first few choices I watched were close to unanimous, but when it came too close and fast to call, a chatbot helped tally votes.)

However, there were over five hundred (!!!) folks watching the entire time I was participating. (Can you imagine being a teacher reading out loud to over five hundred kids? Yikes.) Still, that is a lot. There was no way you could reasonably expect to be singled out for attention. But, fellowship could be built between the observers, because the chat function (largely ignored by Mr. Wheaton as he read out passages between choices) was also a backchannel. People frequently reacted to Mr. Wheaton and/or the text, then reacted to one another.

I was impressed with (and enjoyed) the experience. Mr. Wheaton, as an actor, reads with gumption, something that would probably make former costar LeVar Burton proud. The community around the activity was energetic but without some of the negative interactions that can color an online experience. Not all five hundred-some viewers were chatting simultaneously, which probably would have been insane. But many were cracking jokes and so on. It was definitely more geared towards adults than for kids (I’d rate it PG-13 with an extra sprinkle of f-bombs).

While our principal reasons for reading aloud to children is to strengthen their literacy, let
us not forget that it can be fun and community-building as well.

School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty-Five

Lessons: I left school early one day this week to go to immediate care. A colleague took over one of my classes. I thought it would be fine, since it was one of the routine AIR test preps we do. But, I guess there are things that are normal in the computer lab that I take for granted, that really throw off other people. My colleague thought things went terribly! She told me she felt like a failure! Sure, she didn’t do things the way I do them, but she isn’t me. But wow. Really reminds me of how much I take for granted, that comes easily to me, but not to others.

Support: I’m going to start at the end: the people who are designated Google admin for our district can shut down the ability to install extensions on Chrome for student accounts. Okay, now the beginning. I have several students who had repeated issues on Chromebooks: they were slow as molasses. Turned out, they had installed several untrustworthy Chrome extensions. Some were intentionally, for changing the theme on Chrome. Others were pop-up ad extensions that probably gave themselves permission to install when students unwisely searched for Five Nights at Freddy’s or something like that.

Things I Did Well:
 Better time management.

Things I Will Do Better: Even better time management!

Uncomfortable Emotions: Instead of Cold Prickly/Warm Fuzzy this week, I am just… having emotions I wish I wasn’t. First, there’s a paragraph on page 1056 in HB 49 that is getting shared a lot between educators on social media. I called my Ohio state senator’s office, and chatted with someone named Anna about it. Thanks, Anna! She told me that it probably won’t make it to the Senate until April, and that it will likely change a lot before then, but their office will keep an eye on it. Then I called my house representative’s office. Well, actually I accidentally re-dialed my senator’s office – sorry Erica! Then I actually did call my house rep, and left a voicemail. They didn’t get back to me. I called again today… and left another voicemail. I have questions and I would like to hear what my rep has to say to them. I am grateful for Anna and Erica in my senator’s office, though.

Also, this week (especially as it was an AIR test-style prompt week in the computer lab) the topic of assessing writing on standardized tests was much talked about this week. There are so many things to consider and to balance – did the student answer a question correctly? Did they cite evidence? Did they write a decent answer, but it doesn’t answer the question? And then, while in the waiting room for immediate care… I happened to catch a particular press conference. I am so disappointed that we seem to be holding eight-year-olds to higher standards of clarity and communications than we do our highest elected official. I hate this.

Our district had a chat earlier this week (optional); the topic was “love of teaching” (get it? because Valentine’s Day?). The second or third question was, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” I stopped participating because I’m really struggling with that question right now. Gosh, I can’t even see five years into the future. I love the parts of teaching that I love, and I hate the parts of teaching that I hate (the parts that don’t feel as much like teaching). And I know this is a problem I would face in any other career, really. I think it’s a pretty normal struggle to have, actually, in a lot of aspects of life. In the short term, it’s time to re-listen to an episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast. In the medium term, I will be making time for reflection and productive reaction. And in the long term? Time will tell.

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/507930318/507930414

School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty-Four

February feels difficult. It is cold, lots of people get sick, and it’s still weirdly busy with extracurriculars.

Lessons: I got to play gym teacher this week. Turns out, that’s a pretty hard job! The gym teacher was sick for two days, and one of those days he didn’t have a sub. If this happens to another specialist, he usually doubles up on the classes and has a gym class twice as big. So I did the same for him, combining both our classes in the gym since I only have so many seats in the computer lab. Luckily, I had recently bought a megaphone (because it turns out I really like chanting); without it, I would have lost my voice by the end of the day, surely.

Support: My new favorite thing is to make Google Sites to serve as research hubs for student projects.

Things I Did Well:
 I’m going to give myself credit for not actually getting very sick this week. Felt like I came pretty close, though. 

Things I Will Do Better: I was on an event committee this week and, despite being very passionate about the event, I did not take a lot of initiative to get things done. I followed directions just fine, but a lot of the work of these kinds of things is to actually come up with ideas and solutions, then delegate. I want to do better for the next event committee I’m a part of, I want to take more off of other teachers’ shoulders.

Cold Prickly: Just dragging, physically. Today is Saturday. I slept in. I went to breakfast with my in-laws. And already I want to go back to bed. I’m exhausted.

Warm FuzzyLast night, we had our Parkway Hearts Dance (the event I was on the committee for). I love to dance, and I love dancing with lots of kids. I mostly danced with first graders and students’ younger siblings. I think the second and third graders have started feeling self-conscious, or are just not that into dancing with their overly enthusiastic technology teacher. But gosh, it was fun.

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I really must learn how to juju on a particular beat.

Why Bad Things Happen in Good Fiction

Years ago, I had a conversation with a police officer visiting our school about the Percy Jackson movies. “I won’t see them,” he told me. “I can’t enjoy a movie where kids get hurt.”

I don’t begrudge him that at all. Usually when I watch a movie or television show, I am also looking for some level of escapism, and sometimes real or painful things take me out of relaxation mode. But that’s not to say there isn’t value to real or painful things in fiction, especially for children.

Because, real and painful things actually happen to children. And to people children know.

I remembered this conversation while watching A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix, which I find to be quite a good adaptation (and I am loving Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket). The theme song, which features slightly different lyrics every episode, continually exhorts the viewer to “look away, look away” from the distressingly unstable lives of the Baudelaire orphans. Naturally, curious children are tempted to watch further (or, read the books).

As an adult, I do feel the urge to protect children, not just from “bad” things, but sometimes the knowledge of “bad” things. But I am not a perfect shield, and we don’t live in a perfect world. Let kids read (and sometimes watch) the stories with the “bad” stuff. If they see it on the page or screen first, perhaps they’ll be more ready for it when the hits start comin’ in real life.

Old Dog Teaches Self New Tricks

My mother-in-law (Momil) recently turned seventy years old. She’s a retired teacher, ace grandma, community volunteer, and lifelong learner. She and my father-in-law (Dadil) have very different tastes in television programming, so she often watches shows after they’ve aired on network websites on her computer. My spouse and I thought it might be nice for her to be able to watch those on the TV screen, so we got her a Chromecast for a gift.

11971592541756651845theresaknott_gift-svg-medFirstly, I’ll state that we have a Chromecast at home and I love it. That’s why I thought Momil would enjoy having one. Additionally, I was confident I could set it up for her. After her birthday dinner, I tried to do just that, but it turned out that their wireless router was not strong enough to get its signal to their living room. So it did not get set up that night. The next time my husband went over there, he brought a signal booster that worked very well. (And now Dadil is excited that his laptop gets the signal where it couldn’t before.) He set up the Chromecast device for her using his phone (my in-laws have one flip phone that they share). But, she couldn’t get it working on her computer.

I had planned to go over shortly to help, but before I could, Momil figured it out on her own! By “on her own,” I mean using the tools available to her. She looked up tutorials on setting up Chromecasts and read through step by step until she realized her issue. She did not have Google Chrome, the browser, installed on her computer. She installed it, found the icon she was looking for, and blammo, she was able to play it on the television. She was so excited, and now can’t wait to share it with out-of-town relatives when they come to visit. She’s thinking that it will be so easy to share online content with everybody this way.

The moral of the story is, learning is not about the content, it’s about the process. You can always keep learning as long as you remember, and practice, how to learn.

School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty-Three

I meant to post at least once more this week. I did not do well on the self-motivating.

Lessons: I had my second formal observation this week. I think it went well. Mostly, it’s just nice not have that hanging over my head. And, I’m glad we did it when we did it. I was observed Tuesday, with first graders working on Google Drawings/Sheets. On Wednesday, our internet connectivity went all spotty and I had to go with a backup activity. So, thank you schedule gods for that!

Support: I actually did end up taking a sick day this week, but it took one coworker several hours to notice. I had my work laptop at home, and she was sending me emails about issues I was having. I kept up until we bumped up against one I couldn’t fix remotely. That was when she realized I wasn’t in the building.

Things I Did Well: 
I thought I did a pretty good job being flexible during lessons, especially as it was the type of lesson this week where some kids finished right away, and some kids took a lot of time. Somehow we didn’t end up with too much wasted time.

Things I Will Do Better: Keep track of important things. Outside of school, I lost my wallet. But, I didn’t even notice. I only found out because my mother called me. The local police had contacted her (after being unable to find my contact information) to let me know they had my wallet. I must have left it at a restaurant or dropped it while walking home from the restaurant. Somebody found it and kindly dropped it in a mailbox so it found its way back to me before I even missed it. So, happy ending! Still, it shakes me a little. I don’t want to get into a habit of irresponsibility.

Cold Prickly: Betsy DeVos.
bitmoji35935645Warm FuzzyA student asked me to sit with him at lunch. I had noticed in the lunch line that he was really struggling with the behavior of another student who was annoying him. While we ate together, he told me that he can feel when he starts to lose his temper, and he sometimes loses control and might punch or hit someone. The kid across the table told him that when he gets really mad at his brother, he runs upstairs and puts his face in a pillow. So we talked about different ways we could handle anger. We can’t change the behavior of other people, but we can still make good choices for ourselves.