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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Why I Stopped Assigning "Morning Work"

photo: Eric Johnson (Tumblr)

Time is precious. Instructional time is important. Wasting classroom time, a crime. Well, maybe not that serious, but most teachers I know work very hard to make sure that every minute of their daily instructional time is used wisely. Everyday should be focused on learning, except for maybe field day and the day before Winter Break, no student is in a mood to learn anything on those days.

So, like most, I felt a need to incorporate 'morning work' into my class' routine. Morning work, a learning activity, is placed in the first part of the day. Its intent is to transition the kids from outside activity to classroom activity and learning. Once the students take care of their belongings, go through morning routines (attendance, lunch procedures), perform morning jobs (electrical stuff plugged in, computers fired up, etc), the students start their morning work. The work, usually tied-in to content we were covering in class that week, has always been part of my kid's morning routine. Usually a worksheet, the activity occupies the time between arrival, school announcements and the first class of the day. Until this year. 

I started off this year doing the same thing. The kids were greeted with work on their desks. Except this year, I had different goals. Last year was not one of my favorite years, to say it as nicely as I can. The culture of the classroom was...well we never reached a point of learning, respect, and fun that I desire for Room 216. I think I rushed things at the beginning of the year and never established our identity and community. So this year I was determined to spend more time getting to know my kids, fostering relationships, and establishing community and slow down.

One morning early in this school year, I looked around the room and something just didn't seem right.

The kids were all at work, everything was quiet, their work was diligent, but were they learning? Was the activity furthering their learning? Was the activity meeting my goals of a a community focused classroom? Were we using our time wisely?

I'm not a worksheet teacher. I'd rather give the kids the choice to demonstrate what they have learned without filling in a blank or circling the correct letter on a worksheet. Most worksheets are learning garbage anyway, but I realized that our morning work was almost exclusively worksheets. How did I not recognize that?

The next morning I changed. I took the work away that had been handed out a few days before and put it in the recycling bin. I don't think the kids noticed too much, it was still early in the year and the routine of our mornings weren't yet automatic. Heck, even if they did notice, I don't think they would have complained about the lack of work. Sixth graders ya know.

What do we do now? How do we spend our time? The kids now come in and take care of their stuff and most sit down and talk. They talk to me. They talk to their peers at their learning clusters. Some use the classroom laptops to blog, some read. Some of the kids use the time to do homework from other classes. Sometimes, we launch right into the day, usually science,  and use that previously cast away time to get right into the day's investigation. That 'extra time', is time we now reclaim from a crowded day. More time spent on collaborating and exploring.

What do I do? I don't spend my time making sure that everyone is working and on task. I don't have to explain an  assignment that has limited learning value. I relax. I 'work' the room and take the 'temperature' of the class to get an idea of where everyone is 'at'. I gauge how ready they are to learn. I also learn more about my kids. I get insights on what their weekend or evening was like. I understand who is or more importantly, who is not in a mood to learn. We learn a lot.

Time well spent.

Follow me on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher

Saturday, October 12, 2013

How Being Connected Can Help Your School

The tweet, sent out on a Thursday, indicated that my elementary school was staging a very large event the very next day. We were not attempting a run of the mill school drill. The largest elementary school in our district was going to rehearse moving 500+ kids (preschool, Special Needs, staff, everyone) over a mile to an alternative location in the case of a large scale disaster. Think meth lab explosion, train derailment (chemical spill), or dog food plant explosion. 

Twitter in not only a personal source of perpetual professional development, but is also a 'place' for me to share what is going on in our classroom, school and district. I had 'discovered' earlier in the week that Twitter was unblocked on our district's network after I opened up my laptop on Monday and Twitter refreshed. It took me a few seconds to process the absence of the standard, "this website is blocked because we don't trust you' boiler plate message that I encounter every once in a while. There was no announcement, the previously blocked site had a sort of soft opening if you will.

I started the conversation with the local news station (an ABC affiliate)  and friend of Room 216, Tom Coomes a Meteorologist with the station. I never thought of picking up a phone or sending an email. Too slow. Besides, I have maintained a relationship with this news station since I was one of their candidates for 'Teacher of the Year' a couple of years ago. The confirmation of the reporter, Amanda Starrantino, and her ETA all done via Twitter. She later posted the story on her Facebook page, which I later shared on our class' page. Great partners!

Actually, I'm very proud of our district's approach of openness and trust with internet resources. The dynamic policy allows teachers and students to balance the freedom of the internet with the obligation to use it appropriately. We don't 'block it and lock it'. Available to teachers and students in my district are resources blocked for many of my virtual colleagues, including YouTube, Pinterest, and now Twitter. My kids and I are fortunate.

(click picture to watch the story)

Having these resources allows me to offer more leaning choices for my kids, opportunities to teach digital citizenship, and have additional communication conduits into my student's homes.

Connected educators can also use these mediums to broadcast the great things taking place in our schools and classrooms. Who knows, you might just land your school the top story on the evening news.

If we don't take an active role in controlling the message surrounding education these days, others will. We all know what that sounds like.

Thanks for reading

Follow me on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher

p.s My kids didn't like the official name of the days drill, so we changed it. And of course, we tweeted it out.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Who is a "Connected Educator" Anyway?

October is "Connected Educator Month" and I was honored to be asked by the IDOE eLearning Development office to model what a "Connected Educator" might look like for their promotion of the event.It was great opportunity to stretch myself in the video creation department, so I was happy to accept the invitation.

What Does 'Connected Educator' Mean?
"Connected" means so many different things to different people. For me, being connected is utilizing web tools, resources, and online collaborations to help me become a better teacher. 'Connected' also means that I get exposure to terrific methods of teaching, creative student learning products, and support from teachers around the globe who are trying to get better as well.

How Do I Connect?
I think that most teachers are a very giving lot, educators that share what works and what doesn't is invaluable. A source of perpetual professional development. I have great teachers in my building to be sure, but I can make almost unlimited connections through my favorite social media platform, Twitter.

After more than three years on Twitter, I can confidently say, the people I follow share things that matter. Whether their content comes to me through their blog, website, tweets, or their own re-sharing, there is rarely a time when I don't find something of value on the other side of that click.

#Chat it up
When I was a new teacher, #ntchat, founded by Lisa Dabbs (@Teachingwithsoul) and moderated with her fabulous devotion to her 'newbies' helped me realize that I wasn't alone. The Twitter chat let me 'talk' with teachers who were encountering the same problems that I was facing and work through solutions together. I've found tremendous value in #elemchat as well. There is one out there for you as well. Start with Jerry Blumengarten's (@Cybraryman1) Educational chat page to find one that matches what you need.

This constant sharing and resource stockpile has resulted in great depth of available expertise and tools that I can use to help my students learn and demonstrate their learning. Tools that allow them to take hold of their learning and be creative in how they show what they have learned. I guess you could say that not only am I connected, but so is our class.

A Personal Learning Network or PLN is a network of people that you can develop over time. A PLN is about relationships and trust.You don't have to be the building 'techie' to create or grow a PLN, you just need a desire to learn and a willingness to learn from others. Your PLN can be as big as you want it to be, but  whatever the size, it can be invaluable. Read this excellent post by Tom Whitby on PLN's from a few years ago.

A Connected Class
I've used technology to connect in differing ways to my students and their home partners. I use Facebook, Remind 101, Google sites, Kid Blogs, and Edmodo among others to let home partners be a part of our classroom. Parental engagement is so very important to my student's success, so tools that flatten and simplify communication are essential.

My blog is a place for me to talk about what's important to me and share some things that have worked for me in my classroom. I'm amazed and humbled that people like to read what I have wrote. The reflective part of the writing process can be excruciating and painfully slow, but worth every minute, I put into it.

Get connected. You'll be glad you did.

Follow me on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher