Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Strict, Not Mean

I'll never forget the student who came to me near the end of the year and said something to the effect of, "I went around telling everyone that you were mean, but then I learned the right word.  You're strict."

(To my credit she also added that I was fair, and pretty and that she loved me.)

I actually like having the reputation of being a strict teacher, so long as nobody thinks I am cruel or unfair.  A better way of saying it these days is that I have high expectations for all of my students.  (And for myself.)

When we hold students to high expectations both behaviorally and academically, they tend to meet them.  In the essential agreements our class wrote together this year, the students actually talked about how they wanted to hold themselves accountable for their thinking, their work and their behavior. I felt so proud of both them and the stellar school I teach at that has taught them to expect the best of themselves and others!

Students (at least in primary school), often come up to their teachers with their work and say,"Is this good enough?"

My response is always, "I don't know.  Is it?"

The answer is often a sheepish look and a mumble of, "I guess I could __________."

By and large, students know what to do to improve the quality of their work, though they may not know HOW to do it.  That's where we teachers come in: those one-on-one moments, the mini-lessons, the guided reading sessions, the impromptu "Hey, I noticed _______: do you mind if we take a few minutes together to figure that out?" are some of the most powerful learning moments for students and forge some of the most trusting relationships where students know they're not going to be labelled as dumb, but they're going to be accepted for where they're at, and helped to advance a bit further.

I hope the fact that I take the time to share and chat and demonstrate and sit down on the carpet and read with a kid even though my back really hurts mitigates my reputation for strictness.  Also, laughing long and hard about twenty times a day, telling really great stories and listening to their sometimes really boring stories with genuine enthusiasm probably helps.

I'm not too worried about being mean.  And, anyway, aren't you supposed to start off the school year being really mean?

Does this look like a teacher students are afraid of?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Some Great Inquiry Resources

School has started and my professional reading has been kick-started after a summer of beach reads and fluffy magazines.  (Okay, I always read fluffy magazines!)

These are some of the books that I've been delving into lately or have been referring back to.  Good chance they are in your school's professional library.  Have you looked through it lately?  If they're not there, they are worth making your own personal investment in!

About Teaching Mathematics: A K-8 Resource by Marilyn Burns.  This is a comprehensive text that helps teachers teach math in a way that builds understanding and skills, with a focus on inquiry-based, often open-ended problem solving.  

Classsroom Connections: Strategies for Integrated Learning by Kath Murdoch.  In her own words, "The best topics are built around big ideas that engage students in learning about significant, robust and transferable ideas."  This books is chock-full of strategies to help your students do exactly that!  It's one of my all-time favorites...

Understanding by Design  by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe  This is a resource to help YOU help kids dig deeper into their projects through thoughtful planning. It's indispensable if you're committed to an inquiry-based learning environment! 

How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms by Carol Ann Tomlinson.  Differentiation isn't only a buzz-word, it's a must-do.  This is a no-nonsense guide on how to really think, plan and actualize differentiation across the curriculum in your classroom.

Engaging Readers and Writers with Inquiry by Jeffrey D. Wilhelm.  This was recommended to me by a teaching colleague, though I haven't read it yet.  I'm excited to get to it!  It seems like it will fit right into "Making Thinking Visible" routines we already use at our school, and, of course, our PYP curriculum.

My kids giving an example of why
inquiry and critical thinking are
so important!

Happy reading!  Remember: even five minutes a day of professional reading is going to improve your teaching practice.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Night Before School Starts: One Teacher's Perspective

How happy are we?  JIS: one of the happiest places on earth.
 Even better than Disneyland!

My students start tomorrow, and while I'm excited, I'm not all atwitter, and I certainly have no impending sense of doom or dread.  I graduated with my bachelors of education degree 26 years ago, and I still love this job.  (That being said, I have chosen my teaching positions wisely and gotten out of ones that have been less than fulfilling.)

I remember those first day jitters I used to get, and I don't miss them.  Tonight I feel calm and collected and happy that tomorrow I will begin a journey with a whole new set of kiddos.  I plan to knock their socks off with excitement for learning, to inspire them, and to find a special place in my heart for each one of those whippersnappers.

It's funny because every year I look at the upcoming students and think,"Oh no, I'm not going to like them.  There's no way they'll ever beat the class I have this year."

Of course I adore this student, because she's my dirty-kneed
daughter.  How lucky am I to teach in the same school
 that my kids attend?

Regardless, within the first week of the new brood coming in, I am already thinking, "This is the best class I've ever had.  I  love these kiddos!"

I am sure this year will be exactly the same as it has been for the last couple of decades.  At this rate of enjoyment with my job, I could last another couple of decades.  It sometimes scares me how much I love my job because it IS enormous and the responsibility IS huge, and I have been entrusted with a cluster of starlets and it's my job to tug them higher and brighter into the night sky so they shine and inspire and grow into full-grown orbiting suns.

How cool and scary is that?  Should they pay us more? You bet!  Do we do it for the money?  Of course not.  Do we do it for the holidays?  Only just a very little bit.  Every teacher worth his or her weight in gold (and there are a lot of us) are in this gig because we know we are making a difference, and that our nurturing and facilitation is going to bring forth global citizens who will pay it forward and make a big difference in other's people's lives one way or another,  and it will go on and on just like that Clairol hair commercial from 20 odd years ago.

I want my students to be smart and knowledgeable and turned on to learning, but mostly I want them to be happy and grow up happy and to go on to help other people to be happy.  Maybe that's simplistic (and it's not acknowledging all the myriad of skills and learning we teachers are indeed working diligently on imparting), but in the end, I wish more than anything else for the happiness and well-being of my students both now and into their futures.

After all, what is life for if not to be happy?

I'm off to choose my clothes for tomorrow and to settle in for a restful sleep.  If there are butterflies tomorrow, they will be beautiful ones.

Happy first day of school, my colleagues and students and parents.  It's going to be a bang-up year!

We teachers like each other so much that we even
choose to socialize together!

Monday, August 19, 2013

A New Understanding of Concepts Courtesy of "Making the PYP Happen"

I'm leading my first PYP workshop in Mumbai in September so I thought this weekend would be a good time to do some rereading of "Making the PYP Happen."  (I hear a lot of the PYP aficionados in India can quote it verbatim, even giving page numbers and paragraphs.)

In my intimidation and, of course, my attempts at preparation, I am rereading this important document with a serious demeanor, green highlighter and post-it notes in hand.  I'm the first to admit that I am more than a bit intimidated that I am being entrusted with imparting IB wisdom or at least facilitating IB discussion amongst colleagues, many of whom will be more experienced and adept than I am at embracing and USING this framework for constructivist learning.

I thought I really knew this document, but there are so many things that are jumping out at me on nearly every page.  The section on concepts has given me my biggest "I really needed to reread and remember that" moments thus far.  I'm certain there will be many more such jolts as I continue my re-education.

According to "Making the PYP Happen," the concepts are key: they "drive the curriculum," but sometimes they have driven me a bit crazy in the sense that I have a hard time explaining them and thus using them as effectively as I might with my students in their inquiries.  They key questions have always challenged me just a bit.  I don't always completely get them.  Do you know what I mean?  (And should a woman who has been practicing PYP for 11 odd years and who is a workshop leader be admitting this on a public blog?  Probably not.  Let's just say I'm a lifetime learner and someone who forgets easily so I have to do a lot of re-learning.)

Anyway, as I studied my PYP bible today, and came to the concepts section of the Essential Elements, I realized I had not looked at it in a long time.  Big aha: for each concept, there is not only a key question, but a definition, a rationale, and examples of related concepts.  Now, I'm not admitting that I didn't know this; I'm just saying I haven't looked at this in a while and suddenly I am feeling much more conceptually confident.

Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about complete with my own thought bubbles, in case you can't rush right over to your own "Making The PYP Happen" and see for yourself.

Concept: Causation

(This is one of the eight concepts that I actually find the most challenging.  I've never been that good with cause and effect.  Maybe that's why I keep making the same mistakes over and over...)

Key Question:  Why is it like it is?

(We all know this question inside out and ask it all the time, right?)

Definition: The understanding that things do not just happen, that there are causal relationships at work, and that actions have consequences.

(Now why couldn't I share that definition (and all the others) with my students?  Of course I could!  (I'm sure many of you have it prominently displayed in your classroom.  I do, but the typeface is so small, I can't even read it. Tomorrow I enlarge.) As soon as I read the definition again today, I had a whole new understanding of this concept and its key question.  It helped me enormously.)

Rationale: This concept was selected because of the importance of prompting students to ask "Why?" and helping them to recognize that actions and events have reasons and consequences.  The analysis of causal relationships is significant within and across all disciplines.

(Thank you, IB!  I had forgotten that you have given us rationales for why PYP is constructed the way it is.  These rationales are embedded throughout the entire document.  It's very reassuring!  I know what I am doing works, but understanding why and how it came about lends a fair bit of credibility to this framework we've all bought into, doesn't it?)

Examples of related concepts: Consequences, sequences, pattern, impact.

(Those sure seem like mighty transdisciplinary concepts too, don't they?  Yahoo!)

Each of the concepts are unpacked in this same manner.  Form, name it.  I'm all ready to dive into a conceptual cocktail of learning with my students this year and to figure it out together.  (Admittedly, cocktail is not the best word to use in conjunction with students and IB, but I liked the alliteration.)

So...even if you're a "seasoned professional" why not do some rereading of your IB documents to refresh and invigorate your practice?  Don't do it all at once: just a few pages a day, maybe five or ten minutes, with or without a cocktail in hand (probably without, especially if you're still at work).

Your students (and admin) will thank you!