Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Simple Moment: Tremendous Impact! They Care That We Care!

I was cleaning out a folder in which I keep a lot of my "teacher stuff" from the last couple of years.  In it, I found a short essay I had written a few years ago in response to a question from Project Wisdom . When I read it, I thought how well it goes along with Angela Maier's concept, "#You Matter." This is what I wrote:

Over the years, I am proud to have become one of "those" teachers.  You know, the ones parents request every year. They request you because they have heard great things about you from other parents or your colleagues. Or maybe their child persuaded them that your class is where they wanted to be.

One moment in my teaching history stands out, a moment, out of so many, that I have not forgotten. It was the end of the school year, and I was talking to a student who had "requested" me.  She was a bright child, very sweet, always polite.

I can't remember what our conversation was about, but I found myself asking her what drove her to ask her Mom to place her in my classroom.  I have never forgotten her answer. It wasn't that a friend or sibling told her that I was a great teacher. It wasn't that she had heard great things about all the fun activities that occurred in my classroom.  With a beautiful smile on her face, she said, "One day you told me that I had on a pretty dress!"

Wow!  She was referring to a time when she was in the fourth grade. I didn't know her, but as I was passing her in the hallway, I complimented her on the dress she was wearing. I'm not kidding when I say I teared up.

We really, truly, do not understand the impact we have on our students!  Can you imagine?  I complimented her on her dress, and she remembered that a year later! That compliment, a year ago, was enough to make me a teacher she wanted to spend a year with.

 It reminded me why I teach, I  teach to make a difference.
If  one compliment can make such a difference, imagine what we could do, with the 180 days every year that we teach! 

Let them know that they matter! It may not be a big deal to you, but it means tons to them!

Monday, June 25, 2012

How Emportent Is Gramar and Splling? Grammarly Thinks, Very!

I hope you realize that my errors are intentional. :)

Spelling and/or grammar errors bother me. It bothers me when words are spelled incorrectly. It bothers me when I see signs, emails, and/or posts with the word your when it should be, you're.  I know I shouldn't let it bother me, but it does. There are times when I have walked through the hallways, read students' work, and cringed.

We seem to have become a society where spelling and grammar are not supposed to matter.  Where we should  allow our students' writing to flow, spelling and grammar be damned.  But I can't do it!

 It might be because I am "old school".  It might be that eventually our students are going to be in a situation where spelling and grammar are necessary. I believe that if you are going to write a final copy, adult or child, your spelling and grammar should be correct. I am not a perfectionist, I understand typos, I am guilty of  them myself.

However, as our students progress through middle school, high school, and college, how they write becomes even more crucial.  An essay that is phenomenal in content, but can not be understood because of spelling and/or grammatical errors, will not be judged as phenomenal!

Sometimes you need a little help!

I think students, and adults, should know how to spell and write using correct grammar. However, we can't all be that person. So, we call in the reinforcements.  In this case, a Grammar Check site, Grammarly, will come to the rescue! Keep in mind,this site is not just for students. Educators, bloggers, authors, anyone who puts fingers to the keyboard, or however you're publishing these days, can take advantage of this site.

It is very simple to use. You upload or paste your document.  Click Start Review and it will ask you to define your paper type. (i.e. casual, academic...)  Once your paper is scanned,  Grammarly provides you with a summary report that you can save or print. You can choose the short explanation or the long one.  Below is a portion of a report created using this blog post. (And yes, I went back and tightened it up.)

The report not only highlights what is wrong in your document, but also explains why it  is wrong, and offers suggestions!  Still stuck?  You can access Grammmarly answers or the Grammarly community.  There is a Grammarly Handbook available as well.  Here's another plus for educators!  The plagiarism feature points out portions, if any, that is believed to be lifted from other text on the Web.

In my opinion, I think it is better suited for higher ed in terms of individual use. I would use it with my 5th graders in small groups, correcting errors on papers students have published, (anonymously of course). Or use it as a mini-lesson to guide instruction, working our way towards better writing. Content is important, but spelling and/or grammar are too. And as a blogger, I believe this is a great investment!

Is Grammarly perfect? No, it is a tool to be used to supplement writing, a proofreader.  When I used the plagiarism feature, it thought I had plagiarized a phrase. Never!  But, just like any other tool you use, decide what you think is best for you.   Grammarly offers a FREE trial so that you can determine if this is a product that would benefit you.

On their Twitter page, one of their tweets says, "Friends don't let friends use bad grammar."  Think of Grammarly as your friend!

Sir Ken Robinson:Do Schools Kill Creativity?

The story of the little girl who became a dancer because ADHD had not been "invented" really touched me. Too many of our children are labeled and medicated!

Sir Ken Robinson was the keynote speaker at ISTE12! Wish I could have been there!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I Just Want to Teach: A Teacher's Plea!

Sad Smiley Clip Art

The other day I posted a status on FB, "They are sucking the joy out of teaching!"  You know who "they" are. I have taught for 27 years, and never have I felt this way.  It's not the new principal. It's all the next "new" things that have been lobbed at me from one day to the next. After I duck one, or get hit, depending on what innovative thing they have come up with, something new is thrown at me. 

I sat at our last meeting, completely overwhelmed, when our principal told us that she wanted us to use data to develop carousel workshops, every week, for reading and math.  My first thought was, in order to gather this data to use every week, I would have to test the heck out of my kids. My second thought, when am I supposed to teach? Teach! Remember when we used to be able to do that?  My third thought was, this is utterly ridiculous, and I cannot do this anymore! My mind is flailing as I try to stay afloat in a sea of acronyms! EQ, CSR, KUD, LM, NCLB, DCAS,  some one throw me a life raft!

I have come to the belief that we have been pimped out for RTT (Race to the Top) money. The powers that be jumped at the chance to accept that money, and agreed to do anything  that was asked to keep it.  But in the end, who actually completes all the requirements?Teachers do! Who benefits from this money, the kids? I think not. The teachers? A resounding no! We have "coaches" running our schools. My principal has at least three different coaches telling her what to do and how to do it. And then, she tells us. 

An example, the coaches walk around with her, enter our classrooms for five minutes, and then leave us a feedback form with 5 questions we have to answer. (What happens if she doesn't have 5 questions?) It's called 5 X 5, isn't that the cutest thing? How much are these coaches being paid and do any of them have a background in education? I know some of the ideas have merit. As a matter of fact, I have used some of them. But when you are told how often you should use them, when you should use them, and penalized if you don't, my gosh, doesn't that defeat my purpose? Why bother to pay me if I can't make any decisions, if my judgement cannot be trusted?

 I began every morning watching my administrator walk through the halls, making checks on her clipboard.  She was  checking to see which teachers are in the hallway, greeting the children. I received a newsletter(emailed), every Monday, 4 pages long, (I am not exaggerating), with the percentage of teachers who were observed meeting the requirements along with the new requirements of the week. I am losing my drive, I don't want to, but I am. :( I want to teach! After 27 years, I still love teaching!

So, I am going to try to not let "them' steal my joy! I will go in my room, and Skype, integrate technology, have meaningful discussions about anything and everything, watch the smile when one of my kids finally "gets" it, laugh, tell jokes, blog, create global learners, teach my students to problem solve, and most off all,I promise,  I... will... teach!

POSTSCRIPT: Many of the things I mentioned, stopped as the year progressed, well, except the coach part. And they didn't steal my joy, I will be back in Aug 2012! :)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sit Down, Let's #Chat!

I stumbled on the 4th grade chat (#4thchat) by accident. I was minding my business, perusing tweets, when this great conversation appeared before me. I had no idea what #chats were, I had never been a part of it,and I was kind of wary of jumping into someone else's conversation. But I did, and I was glad.

They welcomed me with open arms and I learned, and shared,  so much from the teachers who participated. Kudos to the person or persons who came up with this idea! So what is a #chat? And how do you get to be a part of it? Well, you need Internet access, a device that will get you on the Internet, and a Twitter account. Now, I know some of you think Twitter is for tweens, teenagers, etc..., but guess what? It's also for teachers! The #chats are hosted on the same day, at the same time, once a week. .

Prior to the chat, the moderators send out a Tweet asking participants to choose one of the given topics.(How democratic,right?)  The topic with the most votes is what will be discussed. The great thing about #chats is that they are informal.  You can  lurk  and get ideas, or you can jump in and share.You can interact with all, or none, of the participants. You can join the conversation late, or leave early. And,  I've never attended a toxic #chat, they have always been attended by , well, just very nice people. The conversation is always stimulating, and  strategies, books, ideas, links, and more are shared by like minds.

Whether you are a newbie or a veteran, you will get something out of it.  You definitely get  a chance to meet new people who are interested in what you are interested in. I have to say I have met more people participating in #chats, than I had the entire time I was on Twitter. Here's another reason, I love #chat. Let's say you would rather go out to dinner with your hubby, then attend a chat. But, you are bummed about missing that fantastic #chat they were having that night.  Don't worry! Each #chat is archived, so you won't miss out on those wonderful ideas , and you can still enjoy your dinner.:) And there are so many chats!

There is#edchat, #4thchat, #5thchat, #6thchat, #teachchat, #ntchat, #educhat, #elemchat, the list is endless! Sometimes, I find myself looking at the intials of some of these chats,  trying to figure out what they stand for. Don't be like me, just ask, they'll tell you. :)  Cybraryman has put together a comprehensive list of Educational Chats on Twitter, so look through it, and see what interests you. His list includes, days, times, and time zones. I remember seeing a question tweeted, and I'll paraphrase, "Are all these chats breaking us apart?"I love the fact that all these chats are out there.

 I usually don't get to many of them, but I try to make sure I attend  #5thchat, because I am a 5th grade teacher. I enjoy talking to those who are experiencing my little part of the teaching world.  Having said that, I also enjoy participating in other chats, because it gives me a chance to hear other viewpoints.

 You choose your chat!  I can almost bet that any #chat you attend, will most likely be a wonderful, learning, experience!

Monday, June 18, 2012

QR Treasure Hunt Generator! Using QR Codes to Engage!

I discovered QR codes about a year ago,  I read about them, downloaded a QR reader, and began to create my own codes. When I attended ISTE11, they were all over the place!  Silly me, I felt like one of the chosen when I had to demonstrate or explain what they were. :)

Well, eventually, the fun of it wore off, you can see them wherever you go, magazines, etc..., so now the question became, "How do I use QR codes in my classroom?" Or better yet, "Can I Use QR codes in My Classroom?" I was perusing Free Technology for Teachers in my Google Reader, and lo and behold, what did I see? A very, cool, way to use QR codes. Now, just to be fair, prior to seeing Bryne's article, I had already bookmarked Steve Anderson's "QR Codes in Education" Livebinder, Richard posted the  QR Treasure Hunt Generator  created by .

 It was very simple to use and the title says it all.  You create questions. The questions are turned into QR codes. Hang them around the room and let the students "read" the questions with their mobile devices and answer them. (That's the treasure hunt part of the game). Being educators, I know you can take this concept, twist it, turn it, whip it, and come up with 600,00 different ways you can use it.

 Upon seeing it, I immediately thought of the "Getting to Know Mrs.M' exercise I used at the beginning of the year.  I placed a summary about myself on the Smartboard, my students read it, and then answered questions about me. As boring as it sounds, they were engaged, but how much more spicy would it was with QR codes! I only had to show them how to use it once.( You know how our students are!).

 To test it out,  I made up 5 questions, that's the minimum amount you can use, hit "Create QR Challenge", and the work was done for me! First, it took me to the "Teacher Notes" page and from there you can access the  QR codes that the students will use for the "Who is Mrs M?" quiz.

I think using this tool as a team building exercise with the staff would be a great idea as well. We've done scavenger hunts in my building before, but how much more fun it would be with QR codes. (Ignore the grumbling of the "anti-tech" teachers as you played.)

When I originally wrote this post in July 2011, I was worried about the use of cell phones in the classroom.  But now, with the BYOD initiative, that is no longer a concern. I have a project on DonorsChoose requesting three Ipods so that we can implement some of the wonderful projects available with QR codes.
QR codes, you've come a long way, baby! :)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

I Have to Stop Reading Diane Ravitch's Blog!

My summer vacation began on June 13 and Diane Ravitch has started blogging. What's the connection? Well, every morning when I open my email, there are about 4-7 posts from Diane Ravitch. She doesn't send them to me personally. But, being a person who wants to know what's going on in the realm of education, besides the latest edtech tool, hers is one of the blogs I subscribe to.

Here's the thing though. Every time I open one of her posts, and begin to read, I get angry, frustrated, and outraged at what is happening around this country regarding education!  My stomach gets tied up in knots, I shake my head repeatedly, I talk to the "ed reformers" Diane refers to (and I am not saying nice things either),and the word "What?" "What?" spews from my mouth repeatedly!(You should have seen me when I read the one about Bill Gates and the bracelet!)

I love teaching. I love engaging my students, discussing parent involvement, learning about the latest edtech tools, developing cool lesson plans, and all the warm and fuzzy that goes with teaching.

But we, as educators have to wake up to the cold, hard, fact, that education is a-changing, no, it's changed.  We can't hide in our classrooms, and pretend that everything is right with the world because it's okay in our classrooms, schools, district, or state.

Do you know how many teachers I talk to that don't have a clue about ed reform, and what it means for ALL teachers?  Not just the teachers in New Orleans, New York, Chicago, and  Wisconsin, all of us! What affects a group of teachers in one state, will eventually come down the proverbial pike.

Reading Diane's blog, has opened my eyes, even wider, to what's going on in the edusphere.  We are being ripped apart.  Educators are the bain of existence,we are the cause of all things wrong with education!

Why have educators suddenly been demonized?  How did we go from the most respected profession to this? (And not everyone feels this way about us, by the way) Think of the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but in this case, substitute Kevin Bacon with the word MONEY.

Why have charter schools? Standardized testing? Larger class sizes? Government control of schools?  Someone discovered that you can make money off of education.  They began yelling to anyone who would listen, "We need to hold teachers accountable!", and here we are now. (Okay, I admit, that's my version of events.)

Educators, we have to stand up. It's not just someone else's problem. We can't turn a blind eye, and pretend we don't see it.  And if we are not aware of the problems, then become informed. Do you have to agree with everything you read? Certainly not! But, be informed. Be ready to fight for the rights of others! Do what you can, comment on a post, write to a government official, tweet, sign petitions, make your voice heard!

And as for me, I am going  to help where I can, and I am going to continue to read Diane Ravitch's blogs!

RACE from the AXE

It's pretty long, but it makes fun of what ed reform has done to the teaching profession!:)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

AND....I'M OFF! (Summer "Vacation?")

 Today was the last day for the 2011 - 2012 school year! Yeah! Boo! As always, it was bittersweet. I will miss this group, their laughter, creativity,and  goodwill. I won't miss all the testing, micromanaging, etc..., although I know it awaits me in the near future.

 BUT... what will I do with my time off? A colleague told me to do things that I enjoy, no work!  But it is so hard for me to abide by that, because I will be "working", at least by her standards. I will be involved in things that have to do with school, and I can't help myself. I ENJOY learning new ways to teach, especially edtech,  and introduce the curriculum to my students. (So, I guess I am abiding partially).

 I LOVE discussing and sharing ideas with my wonderful PLN on Twitter, Linkedin, my blog Facebook page, any place, anywhere, anything education. I anticipate growing my PLN, and learning innovative ideas that I can now take my time and explore. I will read Zite, blogs, education articles, and Facebook pages, and share on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. I will post my teacher thoughts, opinions, and lessons throughout the summer.

 A  friend of mine described me as a "teacher's teacher" after we attended an education conference on a Saturday. Yes, (gasp), a Saturday! But, she loved it, and we learned so much.

 I already have two webinars scheduled for tomorrow. One is for Nearpod, an Ipad app for interactive multimedia presentations. The other is Edmodo, a secure social learning network for teachers and students. Nearpod is new to me. However, I have used  Edmodo in my classroom for two years, but they keep adding stuff, and I don't want to miss anything! I know these won't be the last two for the summer. :) Lifelong learner!

 There are so many teachers like me, who "work" during the summer. The "work" is a way to leisurely explore new ways to engage our students. Tons of teachers don't see it as a chore, but as something fun! I do enjoy my summer. I don't do summer school, and I do not attend any district workshops.
 My summertime is my time, and I want to be able to delve deeply into what I choose, not the mandated stuff. (Except this year I will check  out Common Core). I travel, go to the beach, work on my novel, have barbeques, hang out with friends and family, and even enjoy a glass or two of wine on my deck.  But I am not going to feel guilty about indulging my passion for teaching, even when I'm supposed to be off! :)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Merit Pay:We Don't Need No Stinkin' Bribe!

COMING SOON?And you know they would! :) Merit pay, how realistic is it that our pay could actually be tied to test scores? Very realistic!

 What is merit pay?  Noun :extra pay awarded to an employee on the basis of merit (especially to school teachers)

 What "think tank" thought up this idea, maybe the same one that stated that smaller class size doesn't matter? I am amazed by what people (non-educators) come up with in order to hold teachers "accountable." Or is it to make sure that the "better" teachers get what they deserve? No matter the reasoning behind this premise, it is ridiculous!   I know it probably sounded like a good idea, but it is difficult to come up with criteria in the education field that would allow this idea to work. Tie our pay to test scores? Are all students equal? I don't think so. If that was the case, why would we need differentiated instruction?

If Teacher A works  in a school with struggling students and Teacher B works in a school with high achievers, does that make Teacher B a teacher who is deserving of merit pay, and Teacher A is not?

 If Teacher A and B engage their students, and provide ample opportunities for their students to learn, but Teacher B has enough students that pass the test, does this mean Teacher B is a better teacher?

 Or what if Teacher B does nothing but teach to the test, while Teacher A works to establish a well-rounded student?  Is Teacher B going to get paid more if more of his/her students pass? I believe that most teachers are dedicated, hard-working people, who don't need to be "bribed" to do their job. Teachers don't do what they do for money, that is obvious from the salaries we make.

 I partially agree with Arne Duncan, teachers should be paid up to $150,00. But pay them for all that they do, not because their students scored high enough on a test!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Why Can't We Hold Parents Accountable Any More?

I've noticed that whenever someone starts talking about  "the parents", people want to shut them down. The immediate reaction is a harsh backlash, usually accusing the author of parent bashing.  "The parents" are off-limits. But, I'm going to go there.:)

I believe society started a trend from which there is no escape, and no turning back.  Parents were allowed to relinquish the reins of raising their children. They relinquished them,  handed them over to the schools, to the teachers. They stepped back, and said, "You take care of them!"  You make sure my child eats, you make sure my child can read, you make sure my child gets enough exercise, you make sure my child doesn't bully anyone."  The list is endless! How did this happen? They are parents, and that is a job that should be taken seriously.

My mother raised 5 children, the key word being "raised".  She took responsibility for us, she did not make excuses. She, (my Dad helped a little), made sure we were clean, completed our homework, ate dinner, played outside, she did this.  We were all reading before the first day of school. It seems to me that when you know that someone else is going to feed your child, clothe them, teach them, make sure their work is done, where is the incentive for you to do it?

I understand that parenting is difficult, but you can't just stop once they enter school.  We need to hold parents responsible for providing the things their children need to be successful in school. If a child can come to school with the latest sneakers and/or latest video game console, why can't they bring in a pencil, a notebook, the bare essentials for a classroom? If there is no Internet access at home, why can't the parent take their child to the Public library, it's free! Do you know how many parents look at me as if I have two heads when I suggest this?

We have to stop saying, "Oh, you know they're not going to do it, so we (teachers) might as well." That is not acceptable. Do I mean let a child in your school go hungry, freeze, or not provide notebooks because their parent lost their job, or is on drugs, or any other catastrophe that can't be controlled? No, I'm not talking about that parent. I am talking about the ones who are perfectly capable of providing what their child needs, but refuse.  

The parent who will not attend conferences because they are "tired",  but will call you in a heartbeat to find out why their child didn't go out for Recess today.  The parent who signs tests and notes, as they push their kid out of the car in the morning, and then call you to ask how their child is doing.  The parent who asks for extra work for their child, a day or two after the phone call informing them that their child is not doing any work in class or at home. The parent who won't pick up a book to read to their child at home, yet complains to the teacher about the child's inability to read. (A parent told a friend of mine, "That's what you're here for!") The parent who takes their kid to Disney World while school is in session because it is cheaper, and then asks you to provide a week's worth of work!

 I have had many wonderful, supportive parents, who will do whatever they need to for their child, make the sacrifices that are required. But, I have also had the other ones. And I feel if they are going to hold us accountable, then our parents should be held accountable as well! Remember the triangle? Three legs,the child, the parents, and the school.  Unfortunately, every time a parent lets go, that triangle collapses! How can we get our parents to pick up that leg?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Does Class Size Matter?

Yes, it does, at least when it comes to class size. Recently Governor Romney visited Pennsylvania and made the remark, "a think tank type group went and looked at South Korea and Singapore and around the United States and said, gosh, in the schools the highest performing in the world, their classroom sizes are about the same in the United States ." Is education a priority in those countries?  I bet it is.

 Arne Duncan, the Education Secretary, has also called class size "a sacred cow," "and I think we need to take it on," said in March 2011. He later said, "My point there was that I think the quality of the teacher is so hugely important. I've said things like, give me the parent, give me an option of 28 children in a class with a phenomenal teacher or 22 children in a class with a mediocre teacher. If I was given that choice, I would choose a larger class size. I probably would too, but why should I have to?

 This is not about politics, this is about what is best for our students. I agree that teacher quality is important. I agree that parental support makes a difference. But class size is just as important. A number of my students are chorus members, and one day they had to leave for rehearsal.  That left 15 students in the classroom.  What a difference their absence made in my room! The remaining students asked, "Mrs.M, what if there were this many kids in the room all the time?"

 I smiled. In my mind, I was thinking of how much more I could accomplish.  How less draining the day would be.  I thought about the way I would be able to give each student individualized attention. Don't get me wrong, I managed with my group of 23 this year, and I realize 23 isn't a pretty bad number. But I know others are not as fortunate as I am. There are schools, where there are almost 30 students in a classroom. Even a "phenomenal" teacher  would have a difficult time with this number.

 I remember in the 80's when I had 30 students in my room, but it was different. The parents were involved, the students listened, they sat in rows, and I taught out of a textbook. The classroom was  easier to control , to manage. But now, when the dynamics have changed, it's not so easy anymore. Not when you want to engage students, create critical thinkers, and differentiate instruction.

 I wish I could get the "think tank" and Gov. Romney in a classroom of 25 1st graders. I wish Arne Duncan would spend the day in a room full of 30 middle schoolers. I am realistic. Presently, the economy is in a turmoil , money is tight, and budgets are cut. But if so much is expected of educators, if we are to work  in a productive environment, why not provide us with something that would help, a smaller class?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Data! Data! Data! and Presenting Playfully!

HI This post is twofold, a little about data and a little about a playful presentation about data. We celebrate data, "Data Day!", on June 11, this is a districtwide thing we got going on. Every school gets together as a staff and "celebrates" the data that we have gathered.

 I have nothing against data.  As a matter of fact, my team got a better understanding of how to use data to guide instruction this year. We used data to plan carousels(students travel from room to room to hit on a certain skill), focus on particular strategies, etc....

 However,  I did have an issue with my new friend, data. In order to gain data, I had to assess my students, assess, assess, assess.  It became an endless round of assessing, and my students were sick of it! I can't blame them. Formative tests, pre/post tests, DCAS, common assessments(district), universal screening... And then, guess who has to input the data if it is not on a scantron form?

 That's enough griping, on to the playful part! For Data Day, we have to "think outside the box" and highlight the data we are most proud of. I used Sliderocket  to "show off" our data. Below is the video I made with GoAnimate  and placed at the end of our presentation.  Sometimes you just have to have fun with these things or you will go crazy! LOL  Here's something to think about next time you want to get your point across and have fun at the same time!