Last week I posted a blog: "When You Know Better" in which I was vulnerable in sharing some bad educational practices that I did in the past. That post has had the most hits than any other of mine, over the last two years. I only share this because it tells me that it resonated with people. Besides that, it has created conversations- which was one of my goals. People connect to our stories. Some have shared their #KnowBetterDoBetter stories and some have asked questions to help shift their practice. This is AMAZING!! So let's keep it going...
Last week I went on an amazing trip, but I am trying to get used to the flying part. Take off and landing are the worst for me. So this time, I tried to use that nervous energy to create something based on those above conversations.
Here I will share some more of my bad past edu-practices- in reading:
Popcorn/Round Robin Reading:
In my first few years teaching second grade, I called on students randomly to read out loud- either whole group or small group. Why? Well that is what I did in school. How else do I make sure they are following along? I was also able to hear many of my students reading, which I knew I needed to do. Why wouldn't it be a positive thing to put students on the spot, in front of me and their peers? I didn't think about the students in this activity. I didn't think about what might actually be happening. It wasn't until my daughter came to me at second grade and expressed her deep anxiety over this practice in her class, that I actually stopped to consider the end user. WHAT WAS I THINKING?
Now I know better: She told me that during these activities, she could not pay attention to what anyone else was reading because she was so worried that she would be called on next. She "followed along" to make sure she knew where the last person stopped. And then it clicked! She had anxiety because she struggled in reading and didn't want to be humiliated in class. I had anxiety, as a student, during this same activity- but it wasn't because I struggled with reading...it was because I was painfully shy and lacked self confidence. So it didn't matter about reading level- during this activity, there was no learning for either of us. I can't imagine that we were the only ones. If students are worried about such things (or if they are not able to read at grade level)- they are not comprehending the content, they are not improving their own decoding or fluency because they are "reading" the words while listening to someone else read. It is highly unlikely that much is getting in.
*Fun (not fun) fact: My daughter is still participating in these practices in her middle school content classes. She has asked the teachers to not call on her because of the anxiety. One teacher obliged, one did not. My kid deserves better.
So let's do better: I am a huge believer that we should be listening to our students read (especially in elementary) on an ongoing basis. I do not believe Round Robin or Popcorn reading is an authentic snapshot into our students as readers. Instead, we should spend time with students individually-listen to them read, talk to them about their reading and use that information to move them forward. HOW do we do that with X number of students? We need to create the time. If we have students working on engaging and empowering collaborative activities, it frees us up to sit with kids. To talk with kids. This doesn't need to be long: 3-5 minutes can make all the difference!
If we add tech into the mix, there are even more opportunities to hear kids read. They can use Flipgrid, (for a 45-day Flipgrid Classroom Trial use password: CORLANDO), Seesaw and now Padlet (new video feature and audio feature) to read. You can pick 5 a day to listen to, gather amazing information and give almost immediate feedback.
When I first began using small groups in reading, it was called "Guided Reading" and these groups were leveled by reading levels. People labeled these groups in different ways: some used colors, some used animals and some even labeled them "High, medium and low". No matter which way you sliced it- the students were being labeled. They would try to figure out our system and regardless if they were correct or not, their perception was their truth. "I'm in the red group, that means I'm dumb". OUCH. Was that my purpose- to label and track kids? NEVER. But I didn't know any better...
Now I know better: Labeling students is not conducive to a positive learning environment. Those labels stick well beyond the time they get slapped onto them. I have also realized the power in bringing all levels together to create rich discussions and learning experiences. Students are not a number and they are not a reading level. Most of my struggling decoders turned out to be my best critical thinkers. I would never have known this if they were always in the "purple" group and worked only on phonics day, in and day out for a year. The door to reading comprehension shouldn't be closed to them because they struggle to decode. The same goes for students who can read somewhat fluently, but struggle to understand what they are reading- if we only focus on making them more fluent- they miss out on the comprehension.
So let's do better: Midway through my career, I had a switch flip moment. I began using read alouds to introduce new skill in reading. These were not passive read alouds, but interactive (this will probably be a blog in and of itself). By doing this, ALL students could access the new learning. When I pulled small groups, they were based on skills needed. These were flexible and students could be in more than one group depending on their need. In these groups, we would work on a particular skill- first together- then they would practice it in their own independent reading book or text at their "level". I would have 5-6 students with me, reading 5-6 different books. As they would practice, I was able to tune in to each one at a time because of the close proximity. They were also able to "buddy up" and learn from each other- this also helped students to access different content and build up a desire to read along with their confidence as readers.
I could go on about each of these for pages, but I hope that I was able to explain enough to get you thinking. That's what I want...I want us thinking and willing to do different for our kids. They deserve it.
My call to action: If you currently use either of these in your practice, examine the goal, purpose and learning. If you decide that you want to "do better", we have many resources at our fingertips to do so. If you have an example that you would like to share, please do so in the comments. Share your stories- "This truth telling unlocks us."- Glennon Doyle
When you begin your career as a teacher, you quickly realize that your credential program has not adequately prepared you to work with real live children...at least for me. So what do you do? Well back in the dark ages, when I began in 2001, you held on for dear life. The only resources available were the other teachers you knew and the schooling you experienced as a student. So- that is what I based my classroom on. I was incredibly lucky to have amazing teaching partners and a principal who believed in meeting students above test scores. But I am nothing, if not honest. I could have done better.
For some of the examples that follow, I luckily learned better, while still in the classroom, and was able to make the change for students. For some, I did not come to the realization until it was too late and I was out of the classroom. I believe in what Glennon Doyle says "This truth telling unlocks people", so here I will share my truth in the hopes that it can help just one other to think differently.
I believe as educators, we know that classroom management is one of the most important pieces needed to create learning experiences for our children. One of the pieces that I used for classroom management was the behavior chart. At first it was "color cards" in which I would say "change your color", if a student was not "following my rules". Later, I saw a more innovative version in my son's class and hurried to my room to create it before the students showed up for day 1...this was the "clip chart". It was basically the same thing, except now I was asking these little hands to maneuver opening and closing clothespins after the "walk of shame". Oh...and I added "big trouble". WHAT WAS I THINKING?? Shame on me!
I will say that in every class, we only had to use those the first month of school, but now I know...that was one month too long!
Now I know better: Shaming people, especially children, doesn't work. And please understand, shaming was NEVER ever my intent- but it was the unintended consequence. It may have a short term effect of compliance, but I don't want compliant kids. I don't want students who are quiet and small because of fear. When I would do this TO students, the focus was on ME and MY rules...I can't even believe that was me. Calling students out publicly, making them walk to the front of the room for all to see, is humiliating and my heart breaks knowing that I did this to some kids. Could you imagine if these systems were in place for us as adults? Oh my gosh- I would live in the land of purple and be in "big trouble" my whole life!
So let's do better: Rather than this tactic, why don't we create classroom environments and cultures that honor students? Let's focus on getting to know them and using that information to meet their needs. Let us create engaging tasks that empower them as learners- to take hold of their own learning. If our classrooms are places that students feel welcomed and valued, there should be no need for such systems. Let's instead set up collaborative classroom cultures and have critical conversations, privately, with students when needed. *As with everything, there are outliers and special circumstances and with those we handle on a case by case basis.
Timed Math Drills
I did these as a student and at one point, I loved them. Why? Because I was successful...until I wasn't. I could not memorize my multiplication facts. I have vivid memories of my mom turned around in the passenger seat of the car, flashing flash cards at me on vacation trips. As hard as we both tried, they didn't stick. To this day, I still don't have them. But, I am forever thankful for the calculator I now carry in my pocket.
When I taught grades 2-4, I am guilty of giving those same timed math facts tests. I believe I even called them "Beat The Clock". SHAME ON ME! That's what you did, right? Not only did I give them weekly...but I had a sticker chart where I displayed where each student was. A few years in to this...I saw a different version...an iteration that I hooked on to. The way that the students' successes and failures were displayed for all to see was now in the shape of a baseball field. Much better! NOT. This was a place for me to call attention to where everyone was in the "game". WHAT WAS I THINKING?
Now I know better: I really wish I could say that I figured this one out before leaving the classroom, but sadly I didn't. Putting a timer on students' skills does not equal increased fluency- in fact, for many, it has the opposite effect. These tests can cause extreme anxiety for kids. Not only that, they can be totally deflating to their confidence level. Is speed what we want students to focus on in school? Is that the skill that will carry them through life? I don't think so. So why do we make it such a focus with these math drills? Many will argue that automaticity and number fluency are needed skills- to this I agree. BUT timed math drills is not the way. Number fluency does not equal speed. Number fluency is the understanding of numbers, the fluidity. It is being able to maneuver them in different ways for meaning making.
Follow the Jon Steven's Twitter thread here.
Here is a personal example: My daughter struggles with memorization. She has not memorized math facts. What she has done, is figured out how to break numbers apart (decompose), put them back together (compose) and move them around to make sense. To me- this skill is going to take her a lot farther than spitting out answers to a clock. She can do this pretty quickly, but that is not the emphasis. She has deep number sense and problem solving skills that will take her well beyond the four walls of the classroom.
So let's do better: Why not create classroom culture where students "play with numbers"- a place where they do sense making. A place where students feel comfortable thinking in different ways- where divergent ideas are shared and honored. Multiple ways to solve are created BY students and explained BY students. Let them own their thinking and their learning. Like I said above- we all carry calculators in our pockets, why can't kids use them? If we are giving questions that end with what can be done on a calculator, we need to rethink our questions. We need to examine the tasks that we are asking students to do.
My friend Alice Keeler says "Let's teach like Google and Youtube exist." which I love. But now I add..."Let's teach like cell phones and Desmos exist". *My 8th grade daughter told me that they are NOT allowed to use calculators in math. When asked if they have used Desmos, her and her friend resonded "Is that the thing the teacher said we could use if we needed help...wait, no that was Kahn academy." We can do better, our students deserve better.
These are only two of the multiple examples that I have of bad practices that I am guilty of...this may just become a blog series. Let's see the reactions/push-back that I get.
My call to action: If you currently use either of these in your practice, examine the goal, purpose and learning. If you decide that you want to "do better", we have many resources at our fingertips to do so. If you have an example that you would like to share, please do so in the comments.
We learn from each others' vulnerabilities and as educators, we are life long learners, so let's do this together.
Whenever I visit a classroom...I am not looking at the teacher, I am looking at the kids. I want to know what they are doing. Why? Because that will tell me about the learning. The person doing the work, is the person doing the learning. BUT beyond that...what IS that "work"? It matters.
When I left the classroom almost four years ago, any time I had a platform, I spoke about the 4 Cs (Critical thinking, Communicating, Collaborating and Creating)...and I still do. I am surprised how many educators are still not familiar. Every time I speak about it- I spend a little extra time on that last one. Creating. What does that mean? When I pose that question, it is usually answered with things such as art projects, maybe a slide show or two...something to be displayed. I respond with "creating doesn't necessarily mean some involved thing that is to be displayed at Open House." In fact, I hope it isn't.
Creating can come in many forms. To me, creating is any artifact of true learning. Something to show that students have analyzed, synthesized and understood in order to produce something. What is that something? It could be a conversation, it could be a letter, an essay, a comic, a skit, a song, a sketch, a discussion...the list goes on and on. What it isn't...a worksheet. It isn't fill in the blank, circle or draw a line to the correct...It isn't cut, place and paste. Our kids can do more...our kids can do better...they deserve better.
A few years ago, my friend Jon Corippo shared this idea of "Flipped Blooms" and it just made sense. Since then, I talk about it, I present on it, I share it every chance I get. I think now it is time to write about it.
Back when I went to "teacher school"- Bloom's was the "thing". We were told to use it as we lesson plan. We were told it was a continuum, that started with the most important pieces at the base, and we can move students up.
I graduated from a well know college and I honestly can't say I remember much of what I was taught. Why? I had no context in which to connect the learning to. I learned facts and theories, but I don't believe I understood. It didn't stick, and that is sad. Both of my kids have told me that it has been and is the same for them as they move up the ranks. To me, this is a tragedy.
Are my kids prepared for their future? Can they creatively problem solve? Can they take in information from different sources and DO something? I hope so, but I don't believe they had that practice in school.
"Analyze over memorize"- Alice Keeler
That hit home for me! I'm taking that one and using it! My daughter struggles with memorization, always has. Her and I have come up with different techniques for her to compensate. But here is the thing...last week, she had to memorize and "perform" the Pre-amble to the Constitution, just as her brother did and just as I did. She stressed and stressed and stressed. She spent so much time memorizing and practicing this thing. *I'm not saying that there isn't a time and place for some memorization, I just am always questioning purpose and learning. She did it, like a champ, because that's who she is. Afterwards, I asked her what the words meant. She had no idea. She said "I don't need to understand it, I just have to say it." What a missed opportunity.
Now, I'm not saying that the teacher didn't teach it, I'm not saying that there wasn't an attempt at creating understanding. I am saying, that for my kid...it didn't happen. There was no stickiness. In the brain, out the mouth and gone. Poof!
Now, contrast that with an activity she told me about a few nights ago...same class. They each had to create four "bills" that they wanted passed. They then had to take their bills to the "house" and "senate". And it went on from there...the whole process of how a bill becomes a law. They did it. She was able to explain the whole process, with understanding, because she was a participant in her own learning.
Guess what? I had to Google the process. True story. I have definite deficits in my own learning that until very recently, has left me at a disadvantage in life. Now with Google and Youtube at my fingertips, I can research...but to understand...that takes much more.
This post was inspired by my own kids, students, many observations and conversations and the tweets below:
Words have power...we know this...we say this, but let us really think about this. There has been one word that I have been hearing a lot of lately- the word is "can't". It seems as though I am hearing this word, now more then ever. Either that or I am just now tuning into it. What happens when we use this word? What is the power?
I believe that when we use that word, it automatically shuts the door. It puts a stop to possibilities and it puts an end to forward movement. It is one thing when we say WE can't, but it is a whole other-more powerful thing - when we say our students can't.
We have all used the word, I have caught myself saying it multiple times in the last two days. But since I have had this post in my mind, I catch myself and I reframe it. I have heard many educators say "But, I can't..." followed by a reason to justify. Some of these are legitimate, but some might be more of an excuse. When we find ourselves at this crossroads, we need to stop and think...
Is it that we can't, we won't or we don't know how? This is a hard question to ask of ourselves, but the answer makes all the difference.
But, I can't...
This is often heard when someone is being asked to do something differently. I am guilty of saying this, a lot. But I have also realized that it is a great roadblock and I do my best to choose a way to jump over, go around or bust through for kids.
But, I can't...
because I don't have time...
because I don't know how...
because my students have so many needs...
because my students won't...
because my students don't...
because the district...
because my principal...
because I have so much...
because I have so many...
because I don't have help...
Whenever I hear these things, I do my best to approach it with empathy. I try to understand where this is coming from. I pose questions, I listen and I try to help reframe, I try to help come to some solutions or brain storm ideas to counteract their statement. Why?
Because school is about the kids, not us. We can't let our own limitations, place limitations on them. We owe it to our students to let them live in the land of possibilities.
I say- let's take risks for kids. Let's get comfy with the uncomfy...for them. What if something doesn't go as planned? We yell, "plot twist" and keep going. We won't break and we won't break the children. In fact, those moments are an amazing opportunity for growth- for you and them.
But, they can't...
This one is a lot harder for me to swallow. Why? Who are we to decide what our students can and cannot do? By making that decision for them, we take away their power of possibility. We have shut the door, before they even had a chance to approach it.
Our students have already had many doors closed to them before they even walk in through ours. Let us not be another.
But, they can't...
do the work...
figure it out...
So how do we remedy this? We can reframe our thinking. Rather than focus on what we perceive they can't do, let us focus on figuring out what they can do and use that to move them forward. We have no idea what our students are capable of if we don't even give them a chance. We need to know what is going on inside of their brains. We are not minds readers, so how do we do that? Well, we talk with them. We need to know them to grow them. In order to do this, we need to be intentional with our time with students, our talks with students and our tasks with students. We need to make students' thinking visible (and audible), not only to us, but to them and to their peers. It is only then, that we can help them unlock their own learning and their own potential.
Here is a scenario:
In a discussion about students and math, a teacher says "But I have a handful of kids that just can't to do that."
Here is the beauty of math- there are so many ways for students to access, understand and explain...if given the right kind of tasks. If we give "lower floor, high ceiling" tasks- this allows all students to have an access point. So let's get into their minds and see what they can do. Rather than ask students to come up with an answer, what if we asked them how they would solve something? Or ask "where would you start?" With this change in questioning, students' thinking is honored and shared. What if they struggle to come up with a solution? We shouldn't end it there. Give them the key ring to unlock their thinking.
Ask them open ended questions:
What are you thinking?
What do you see?
What do you think?
What do you wonder?
And then listen...by doing this, you can quickly assess where your students are in the process. Use that information to plan forward. Use what they can do, to their own advantage. They may not be able to produce what you were looking for, but is that what this is about? I hope not. At this point in education, we know that a focus has shifted from "knowing" to "doing". Focus is more on the process, the thinking...these are the skills that our students need to live beyond the four walls of our classroom. We want our students to be thinkers, creators and problem solvers. When we say they can't do something, we close the doors on those possibilities.
*The above isn't isolated to just math- the questions and ideas can be used with any content and in any context. If this kind of questioning is new to your students, know that you will probably get "crickets" at first. Don't stop. Model, meta cognate, support and scaffold...but they can do it. We must operate from the belief that all students can learn. They can do it in Kinder and they can do it with limitations. They just need time, space, guidance, support and a culture where they are comfortable to risk.
My call to action: Be cognizant of our word choice...for us and our students. Reframe things to ensure that we are door openers, rather than door closers.
Mother, Teacher, Administrator, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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