Sunday, June 29, 2014

Planning a Better Lesson

While reading through my state teaching association's monthly magazine, I discovered, a website dedicated to Common Core aligned lessons.  While some districts were ahead of the eight ball on Common Core and have been planning for years, other districts are still trying to wrap their heads around making sense of the new standards.  For those of you in the latter category, this website is a great place to start as 5,000 model lessons for every grade level are provided.  The "meet the teachers" section of the website indicates which type of district (rural, suburban, urban) each teacher works in and provides a link to his or her lesson contributions.  This section is valuable for the "this teacher does not teach students like mine" crowd.

Each lesson is broken down by stage and most resources are provided (in some cases you will need access to the text mentioned or be able to substitute a different text).  There are even videos that demonstrate what a particular activity should look like.  One of my only criticisms of the lessons provided is that I saw very little evidence of differentiation, especially for English language learners. However, it's a very rare circumstance when teachers are able to take "canned" lessons and teach them without making any modifications for their specific group of students.  I believe that the purpose behind CC BetterLesson is to give teachers a starting point for planning Common Core aligned lessons and this site does an excellent job of achieving this mission.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Google Classroom

A few months ago my sister sent me a link to a Google Classroom interest form.  I've used Edmodo the last couple of years as the learning platform of choice.  In fact, it has helped move me towards a paperless classroom.  Last week, I received an exclusive invitation to begin my summer Google Classroom preview.  At a glance, it looks similar to Edmodo in the sense that it allows you to post announcements, assignments and links.

Where I'm hopeful that Google Classroom will differentiate itself is through the ability to electronically submit assignments using an iPad.  As stated in a previous blog post, my school is a 1:1 iPad school and one of my biggest frustrations with the product is the lack of a file management system, which means that students cannot use the "submit assignment" feature on Edmodo.  Students can submit  their Google Drive produced assignments straight from the platform, but they clutter my inbox and I often find myself having to search through dozens of e-mails in order to find a particular student's assignment.  Google Classroom will allow students to submit their assignments straight from Google Drive and automatically organize them in a folder.  I am excited to try out this new product and hopefully implement it in August.  Check out the video below for more information.  You can also learn more about Google Classroom here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I'm on Vacation, Yet Still at Work...

Although the students ended their school year last week, I am still finishing up some loose ends so that I can (eventually) enjoy my summer break as well.  Today, I worked with members of my department and the master scheduler to finalize next year's plan.  It took over four hours, but in the end we found a way to utilize the staff that we've been allotted next year in the most equitable fashion possible.  Everyone walked out of the meeting excited about the opportunity that they will have to make an impact on student achievement next year.

I will spend the remainder of the summer working on a curriculum project with the county ESOL office in addition to planning for my own classes in the fall (I like to curriculum map over the summer, it makes the school year less stressful).  In between, I will dedicate time to visiting family, exploring Central America and relaxing.  Throughout the summer I will post resources that I find helpful in my planning for next year as well as updates about my trip abroad (I will get to spend a portion of the trip working in local schools).  Stay tuned and if you're like me and living in an area where the temperature has already topped 90 degrees, stay cool!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Benefits of School Uniforms

In celebration of the end of the year, the school administration declared that students can abandon their school uniforms (khakis and a polo shirt) in favor of student-selected clothing.  The one stipulation to this announcement was that students must abide by the county's dress code (no spaghetti straps, skirt/shorts must touch fingertips, pants must fit and a good amount of skin must be covered).Naturally, the students were rejoiced by this announcement and the teachers cringed knowing that we were in for two days of battling students over the question of how much skin is too much.  As a student, I had heard of school uniforms, but always thought that they were a silly idea.  When I first started teaching, I was neutral on the topic.  Now that I have a dozen years of teaching under my belt, I will come out and declare it: I love school uniforms.

I spent today watching dozens of students parade through the front office to have the staff judge whether or not their outfit of choice complied with the dress code policy.  Most days, this is not a problem as students have a limited choice over which articles of clothing to wear.  In cases of accidents or lack of a clean shirt, the students are given a spare and quickly sent back to class.  Today, students deemed in violation of the dress code policy spent the day in the detention room, which took away from the instructional setting as well as interrupted the duties that office staff normally conducts during the school day.

While the students appear to be happy to be able to express their individuality through their choice of clothing, I know that there many students that are happy that this event lasted only two days as they own few articles of clothing beyond their school uniform.  I already saw dozens of students that mixed and matched their uniform shirt with a pair of jeans or their uniform pants with a t-shirt.  Some may consider uniforms to be boring, but when it comes to teaching in a Title One school, they are the great equalizer as they are easy for families to obtain.  Students receive many of their clothes from church groups or other family members and wearing a school uniform reduces the stigma of wearing hand-me-downs at an age when students are very conscious about their peers' impressions of them.

The topic of the school dress code came up in class today, so I used it as a teachable moment. I explained that even though I as a teacher have the freedom to choose my outfit everyday, there are clothes that are inappropriate for the school setting.  I told the students that part of growing up is making good choices.  Hopefully, they took this lesson to heart and there will be less violations tomorrow.  If there are and tomorrow seems long, it shouldn't.  The silver lining is that the district (mercifully) decided to make the last day of school a half day for students.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The End of the Year

My classroom is almost packed up, the student population is dwindling and my hair is starting to frizz. That must mean only one thing: the school is year is nearly over.  The end of the school is a confusing time to plan for. Most years, my attempts to keep the students engaged are thwarted by both last minute and planned events and assemblies.  For example, yesterday a colleague knocked on my door to inform me that a county judge would be by to talk to the students with less than a half hour notice. Granted, the students benefited from interacting with the judge and learned a tremendous amount about the legal system, but it pushed back the oral presentations that were scheduled for that day.

Today, my academic team wrapped up the year by hosting an awards ceremony and pizza party.  It's always nice to celebrate the students' accomplishments and they enjoy the recognition.  Two of my students were informed by the vice-principal  that they had the highest overall reading gains in the entire eighth grade.  Apparently there was a reading contest this year and this accomplishment was rewarded with a television set.  Heck, if I had known about the contest, I would have sat through the Scholastic Reading Inventory three times this year.  The ceremony ended with a video that the students created that lampooned their teachers (multiple students on camera trying to imitate their best New England accent) as well as teacher awards.  The students named me Teacher Who Taught Us the Most.  I couldn't be more honored.

It will be interesting to find out what happens over the next two days.  After this week, I have two days of professional development and then I am out for the summer.  For those of you already on break, I hope you're enjoying every minute.  For those of you with a few more weeks left, stay cool.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Looking Forward to Break

It's officially the last week of school.  My classroom is about halfway packed up and the students are in full countdown mode.  Unlike the past few summers, this one is sure to be filled with some uncertainty.  While I normally am relieved to begin summer break, I am also able to spend it knowing what I am coming back to in August.  Several weeks ago, the staff learned that the school will be receiving a new principal for the 2014-2015 school year.  My school is also going to be designated a Turnaround School, which means that there will be program changes as well.

I'm not sure what 2014-2015 holds, but two things are for certain: the students will return to school and they will need teachers.  With this in mind, I am prepared to enjoy my break.  I will keep abreast of the changes over the summer and be prepared to take on whatever challenges may exist.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Planning for 2014-2015: Articulation

One of the last tasks of the school year is creating next year's class lists.  My school has one of the largest middle school ESOL populations in the state, making schedule changes very time consuming should we realize in August (or later on) that students have been misplaced.  In addition, most middle schoolers find it absolutely traumatizing to be blindsided with a new schedule after spending days, weeks or months navigating their classes, learning their teachers' names and meeting their new classmates.

Since the school has close to 300 ESOL students, we offer courses that range from newcomer (students receive sheltered instruction for all core content areas) to advanced (students are mainstreamed for all core content classes) levels.  The ESOL department meets with the feeder elementary schools to explain the program and as well as discuss and place each incoming student. Our factors for placement include the WIDA ACCESS scores, grades, length of time in the country and individual student needs. Since we implemented these articulation meetings several years ago, the amount of schedule changes we need to request have been limited to those students that enroll over the summer and are misplaced due to incomplete records.

As far as finding time to meet, we try to arrange these meetings when the elementary schools come for spring orientation.  While we are meeting with the teachers, our ESOL students act as tour guides for the incoming students (with assistance from the guidance office),  This gives the incoming students an opportunity to learn about the ESOL program in middle school and our current students an opportunity to practice their speaking skills.  It's a win-win situation for all: the incoming students receive accurate schedules, the current students are given leadership responsibility and the teachers get a rare opportunity to network with each other.