Thursday, March 26, 2015

True Grit

Yesterday, my weekly dose of Wednesday PD centered around rigor.  Then today I stumbled upon this amazing twitter #educolor chat centered around grit and rigor and the effect it has on students of color. You can read the entire chat here: March #educolor chat. I'm still not really 100% sure what people mean when they are talking about teaching rigor or grit. Initially I felt bad about that, but after some thought I've come to realize that I am not sure that everyone is referring to the same thing when using these catchy new words.  What I do know is this, rigor and grit are not new ideas, and they are not curriculum.  

I like inspiring and challenging my students through the relationships that I build with them or through curriculum that is so interesting and exciting that I don't have to teach them "Grit". They stay at a task because their interests and curiosities guide the curriculum.  They are interested in sharing their ideas with their learning community, and they know that their input is valued. Students are interested in real issues like social justice, bias in the media, GMOs and climate change.  They want to learn about the world and how it affects them.  Most of all, students like to play.  Who doesn't like playing?  Any time I can turn something into a game I am on board.  When the students make up the game-even better.  I'm looking forward to a rousing game of Headbandz with our vocabulary words right now.

I model grit and rigor without thinking about it because, although I do fear failure in real life, my classroom is a place where it is okay for everyone to take risks, including me.  People that have to overcome major challenges in their lives, myself included, are innately gritty-you don't have to teach this. I believe it is those that are starting out at the 40 meter mark that need to be taught grit, but like everything else, learning through experience is best.  I'm not sure grit can be taught through a discussion about a text or by reading aloud an inspirational quote.

We face challenges together in the classroom, and sometimes we fail.  Just today I had a rather funny fail.  I recently went to CUE15 and learned about a bunch of new tech driven strategies.  I'm trying out some of them with my class, but I am definitely not a tech master Jedi.  We are making some movie trailers about elective classes for the upcoming 6th grade orientation and I thought that it would be a great time to try out this new green screen thing. Long story short, I had a kid dancing to Pitbull's Mr. Worldwide in front of a blue background with some interesting stuff happening on his green tee shirt. I did warn them that this was something new for me and that I wasn't super comfortable with it and that I would most likely mess it up.  They were very understanding. We had a laugh about it and decided the mistake seemed kind of cool and that we might keep it, but we agreed that we're still going to try it out again tomorrow because we do want to learn how to get it right.  

A great piece about Grit and Resilience on middleweb:  Helping Kids Stick with Learning  By Susan B. Curtis

There is a second piece to this that really resonated with me on multiple levels, and that is how these concepts relate to children living in poverty.  I read this thought provoking article called:
No child has ever chosen to be poor. Children have never caused the poverty that defines their lives, and their education.
Yet, the adults with political, corporate, and educational wealth and power—who demand “no excuses” from schools and teachers serving the new majority of impoverished children in public schools and “grit” from children living in poverty and attending increasingly segregated schools that offer primarily test-prep—embrace a very odd stance themselves: Their “no excuses” and “grit” mottos stand on an excuse that there is nothing they can do about out-of-school factors such as poverty.  
In this article, Thomas explains that affluent students have the slack that allows them to fail, quit, or take breaks on their race to the top and still be successful, while students living in poverty do not have that luxury and have to work twice as hard to finish the race.  He has a vivid analogy for this race in which students living in poverty are starting this 100 meter race with a bear trap on one leg, while children of varying degrees of privilege afforded to them by their social status start at the 20,30, 40, or even 90 meter mark.  For many students just showing up at the starting line shows true grit.  When a student is dealing with late night domestic violence, not having breakfast and then gets themselves up, ready for school and to the bus stop because they do not have a parent that is able to handle this morning responsibility-isn't that showing grit? How about when a student shows up for school after spending the night in a car and going without dinner? Or when a student shows up for school after seeing a neighborhood friend gunned down in a drive-by shooting?  

These students don't need teachers to preach the gospel of grit.  These students need teachers that build relationships through understanding and taking a personal interest. These students need their school to be a safe haven.  They need curriculum that is so engaging that they forget about their real life worries for a little while.  They need teachers that have high expectations and who believe in them while offering a safe place to take risks and sometimes fail.  These kids are far grittier than any affluent kid that can work at reading a complex text for a lengthy period of time...respect.  I am not frustrated by the out-of-school factors that I cannot change, but inspired by these kids who show up eager to learn every day in spite of them.

One final quote and reading recommendation:

When teachers have a passion for the students in front of them, and not just for the subject they're teaching, everyone wins.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

"Talk Moose's be dating mystery date with Sherlock Holmes" What?!?!

I've taken to using an app, Dragon, to turn my speech to text.  I reflect on my day while I am driving home and then I email the text to myself.  This way if I get busy with swimming practice, basketball practice, volleyball practice, etc. I can remember what I wanted to write about for my blog post when I finally get around to it.  Sometimes the story that the dragon tells me about my day is just way more interesting than the actual day.  Apparently I had a talking moose in my class today, and I have really bad grammar! Hence the "Talk Moose's be dating mystery date with Sherlock Holmes" What?!?!

What I meant to say was something about talk moves and that we did a give one, get one type of activity that reminded me of speed dating.  We are going to read a story from Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure's of Sherlock Holmes" tomorrow.  Today we read two articles about Arthur Conan Doyle.  

Students in row one and three read:
Students in rows two and four read:
As they were reading the students recorded some of the most interesting things that they had learned about the author in the "Give One" column on the left side of a T chart in their notebooks.  I gave them about twenty minutes for reading and recording.  I told them to try and look for interesting things in the text, but not to go for the obvious in the bold headings. They wouldn't get as much information if they went for the bold stuff because they would be hearing the same things over and over. 

After the "Give One" part of the lesson was complete, I had the students stand and in rows one and three and they turned to face rows two and four, so I had two rows of students facing each other.  I also told them to be flexible and that at times they might be sharing in a group of two, and other times they may need to share in a group of three.  I told them I was less concerned about how many people they were sharing with, because it was the exchange of information that was the important thing.  

I gave them about a minute, maybe less to share something from their "Give One" list and write down what was shared with them in their "Get One" column on the right side of the T chart.  If someone shared something with them that was already on their list, in either column, I had them mark an X in the "Get One" column for that exchange.
I have a lot of attention-getting, noise-making devices because I just like them, and one is an electronic box just like this one from Amazon.  I linked the picture to it-it's $14.00.  When the sharing time was up I gave the "Charge!" signal and had them move a step to the left or to the right depending on what row they were in.  I believe it is the bugle cavalry charge sound.  It just seemed right.

I have VERY little room for movement in my class, but I make it work and so does the poor janitor with her vacuum cleaner.  This is a great strategy to get students talking, moving, and acquiring a lot of information in a short amount of time.  They were really engaged!  I'd rather be doing things that have kids talking excitedly when they leave my room than make excuses for why I can't do something in my room.  I say "Charge!"

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Ten Ways to Use Instagram to Engage Students

1.  Writing Prompts:

You can find some great writing prompts on the internet.  I keep them all in a pin board on Pinterest, so they are easy to find.  I have the students use the SWBST (Somebody Wanted But So Then) acronym to summarize the plot.  Instagram isn't really the place for elaborate writing, but you could use some of the better responses as prompts for more elaborated writing projects in class.  Another way to use picture prompts would be to start the story and have each student that comments build on what the previous person had written.

2.  Use Instagram to Inspire and Motivate:

3. Post Pictures of Notes From Class:

This might be something that helps them with a homework assignment, finish incomplete work, study for a test, or see what they missed while absent.  This could also be used as a reminder of reading or writing strategies that you want them to use.  Those helpful anchor charts that you have on the wall in your classroom aren't so helpful when a student is working on a reading or writing assignment at home.  Take a picture of it, post it on Instagram, make it portable!

4.  Celebrate Learning:

This one needs no explanation.  Show students that you value their work by posting it on Instagram.

5.  Preview a Lesson:  Hook, Frontload, Preview

Using the right picture with the right description can work as frontloading information you will be teaching, get students excited about what is coming next, or give them time to think about a topic.  When students have time to think about a topic, you will get better responses than if you ask them to give you something on the spot.  In this example, we were going to be reading a short story from Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure's of Sherlock Holmes".  

6.  Informal Assessment:

In this example I am checking for understanding about idioms.  In number three, "Notes from class", I asked a question about the conflict in a story we had just read.  Most of the ideas on my top ten list are forms of informal assessment, with the exception of "Inspire and Motivate" and "Celebrate Student Learning".

7.  Mystery Pictures:

I have taught my class how to use close reading strategies when looking at an image.  After all, "A picture is worth a thousand words" so why not close read pictures too.  On Monday we do Mystery Pictures, and I am posting the picture on the weekend.  This gives the students more time to mull it over and see what observations other people have made about the picture before asking them to infer and draw conclusions in class.  I have created a mini-unit for this and it is available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

8.  Vocabulary: Preview, Practice, Review

There are many ways you could use Instagram to engage students in vocabulary building exercises.  #Vocab is one of my favorites.  Again, this is something we do in class, so they do know how to respond and what #vocab is.  In this example I made a picture collage showing a screen shot of the word definition from, a picture of the anchor chart from class, and a meme for the final # which was something new, but I thought it would be appropriate to add a new "techie" type of element since I was posting online.  At some point in time I will get around to doing a post on #vocab because I just love it, but today it's Instagram.
   In this example we are doing the word reason.  We are in the midst of a mystery unit, getting ready to read Sherlock Holmes and have just spent a week learning about inductive and deductive reasoning.  So, reason is not an unfamiliar word to them.
   I started them off with an example of my own #s:
#Sherlock'sMindPalace (apply it to a place or activity)
#TheDogAteMyHomework (use it in a phrase-ok, so I didn't actually use the word, but I did use a cliche, and figurative language gets you bonus points!)
#WordWink (my connection to the word or what it reminds me of)
#TakingOneForTheTeam (The Katniss "I Volunteer" meme)

9. Memes:

I love memes.  This year I revamped my old first day of school behavior/expectations lecture and turned it into a humorous and memorable presentation using memes.  The students in my class still bring up the memes as reminders when someone is forgetting the rules.  The students are interested in me personally, so when my own kids take my Ipad and take a bunch of weird selfies for me to find, I turn them into memes too.  Here is a great blog post on "Five Ways to use Memes to Connect with Students" You can also post a meme photo on Instagram and ask students to comment with a caption.

10. Six Word Memoirs & Exit Tickets: A Record of Reflection

Six Word Memoirs is great way to have students reflect on their learning and experiences.  I also use this in class as a way to get them to summarize big ideas.  I put up a chart and give them a topic like 6 words on a character/theme from a book, or six words on an issue that we were debating. By posting it on Instagram instead, there is a record of it that they can go back and look at again.  I don't have the wall space to have all of the posters up so this serves as a digital portfolio of their reflections.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on using Instagram for the classroom.

Updated July 2015: 

This top ten list is focused on the teacher's posts. I would like to get the students using Instagram posting content for the class as well. So far I have come up with this: 

  1. posting real life applications of Math/Science lessons
  2. photos that capture random acts of kindness as they happen
  3. photos that show the effects of environmental issues
  4. photos that capture a student's interpretation of a song or poem
  5. photos of sketchnotes
When I get ten ideas, I will make a new top ten list on this topic. I am also looking forward to using Storify as a way to include parents that aren't following social media this year. More on that once I have more to share.