The wonderful thing about social media is that even though I don’t work with Molly anymore, I am aware of what is going on at her school via various teacher’s instagrams and twitter accounts. My social media PLN is constantly a source of learning and growth for me. One person I have not met in person yet that I have learned a great deal from is Teach Finn https://www.instagram.com/teach_finn/. Finn teaches Kindergarten at Molly’s school and one day I saw a post about how his class had done an inquiry into who was represented in their classroom library. I knew I needed to replicate this in my own classroom. So a couple of days later, I divided my students into partnerships and gave each of them a bin of books from our classroom library. I have a fairly large classroom library both with picture books and intermediate chapter books so there were a lot of bins to go through. Students were engaged in this for about thirty minutes. After students made their own lists, we came back together and shared who was in our library and who was missing. The resulting conversations were eye-opening. As expected, most characters are white. This didn’t shock me but did make me realize I need to continue to actively seek out more diverse books with diverse characters. Another observation my students made was that they didn’t see people with disabilities. They were right and I hadn’t even thought of seeking out books with this perspective.
You can see the chart we came up with below.
This is a great activity to do with students of all ages.
My challenge to you: Look and see who is in your library and who is missing. I am now seeking books that show people with disabilities and books that represent everyone in my class. My plans going forward? To do this every year to ensure I am constantly evaluating and adding to my library.
It was 12:15 on Wednesday, March 12th. My students were in Art when I got word that Seattle Public Schools would close its doors due to the spread of the Coronavirus. We knew that this was a possibility but there was no way that I was prepared to say goodbye to my students for 2 weeks. I had time to run off some worksheets and gather their math workbooks before it was time to pick them up from Art. It was an early release day so I would only have about 45 minutes left with them. What would be the best use of this time? I know I wanted every one to leave with their favorite books and I also needed time to say goodbye. And that meant a classroom meeting. Usually that would start with complements but today it was just a chance for everyone of us to say something – a thought, a worry, a goodbye, a I will miss you because, school because…..
If I’m honest I don’t really know what was said. There were many of us who had tears in our eyes and there were many of us who said we would miss being here, in our school, in our classroom, the place which is home away from home for all of us. I assured them that we would be back and we would keep in touch on our class blog, and our class twitter account. And then they loaded up their book bags and it was time to go. Today I found a picture that I managed to snap as I wanted to document how classroom meetings build community in a way that I can’t really define.
My week ended similarly to Molly’s. We still had school until Friday but then the Governor declared all schools closed on Friday afternoon. There had been murmurings in the community that this may happen and there was an undercurrent of stress within my classroom. On Thursday, we had had to cancel our family writing celebration since it would have been over the recommended gathering size. My class decided they still wanted to have an in class celebration on Friday morning. Friday arrived and I could sense the nervous energy in the classroom so instead of pushing academics, I put a cozy fire youtube video on the projector and students created decorations for the class. Some made origami decorations, some made signs and many worked together to create a long paper chain that span all the way to the 4th grade classrooms. The energy in the classroom was calm and happy. My students weren’t stressed or worried about a strange, new virus but instead they got to act like normal third graders for an hour.
By the time we said goodbye and I got home, I saw homeschooling plans all over social media. These plans would that start Monday and were heavy with academics. And if those sorts of plans work for a family, great. But we should not be expecting or providing new learning at this moment.
At a Zoom meeting the other day, my administrator said something that really stuck out to me. If we had just experienced a natural disaster, we would not expect students to jump right back into learning so why are we doing that right now?
Personally, we’ve had many friends whose lives had shifted dramatically in the last week. Many have lost jobs. My husband is a firefighter and I’m faced with the reality that he is out there working on the front lines of this crisis and that’s stressful.
Our students are in similar stressful situations, the individual situation may look different but most families are experiencing some level of stress that is out of the norm right now. We believe our number one job as teachers is to make sure students feel loved, safe and seen. That belief does not change regardless of the situation. Right now, students need to feel loved, safe and seen before they can engage in any learning. And as a country, we need to understand that for many students and families, learning is not the top priority now nor should it be. As teachers, let’s make sure our students know we love them and continue to connect with them in any way we can.
I feel like rigor is a buzzword in education that means something different to every educator. I was talking with a group of teachers this week and they were advocating for more rigor in our classrooms. As I listened, what I heard (and maybe I’m a little defensive) was that our 3rd graders still don’t accurately form their letters. “How can that be?” said one 3rd grade teacher. I also heard that WE (all of us?) needed to make sure that everyone was on the same page. Now when I hear that I see myself handing out daily handwriting packets and planning all of my lessons so that I can be on the same page of the same book from the same curriculum with every other 1st grade teacher in my building. (maybe even in my whole school district) My heart sank. Is that rigor? Is that what’s best for kids?
No. So what is the definition of rigor in an educational setting? According to the Glossary of Education Reform http://edglossary.orgy Rigor is defined and used by educators to describe instruction, schoolwork, learning experiences and educational expectations that are academically, intellectually, and personally challenging. Rigorous learning experiences help students acquire skills that can be applied throughout their lives.
For me, that means I’m on the right track. I believe to develop rigor in our students we must build relationships. And as we get to know each child socially, emotionally and academically we can differentiate learning so that each student is working at their own pace. In my school, 1st grade is when students learn what it means to be a self directed learner. We talk daily about mindset, what it means to be flexible, optimistic and persistent. I have no assigned seating so that students can learn how to pick a space that works for them. They learn how to work independently for short than longer periods of time. They participate in projects where they work together to ask and answer questions. They use their imagination to create original work.
Rigor also includes voice and choice. My students are almost never doing the same thing at the same time. Independent reading, word work, math, science, it looks different for everyone. My mini lessons are often strategy lessons and students apply and build on these strategies to do their best work. Last week we were working on measuring during our math block. Students picked non standard units of measure and were working together to find different ways to measure items in our classroom. This led to a discussion of perimeter and soon more than half of my students were measuring the distance around objects, taking pictures of this work and using technology to show what they had learned. Perimeter had not been in my lesson plan but it was in theirs. Students can and should drive their learning!
I am not a perfect teacher. But lifting expectations is key. Even our youngest learners can set their own learning goals and use these goals to challenge themselves. And one more thing, mistakes are welcome in my classroom. And yes, their handwriting is far from perfect. But my 1st graders are learning how to learn, to work with their peers, to think critically about their world and their place in it. Rigor.
This post has been a long time coming. I just spent the weekend with Molly and I was both inspired and energized to start blogging again, and to tell the next part of our story.
Last spring, my husband and I made the decision to leave Seattle and move north about 90 miles. This decisions was hard and sad, but we realized this was the next step for our family. I was fortunate enough to find a job in a district that belief system closely aligns with my own. I was hired to be a third grade teacher. I was unsure about third grade–I’ve always seen myself as a primary teacher not to mention I would no longer be teaching the same grade level as Molly. Change can be hard. I’m two weeks into third grade and to put it bluntly, it’s rad. I’m loving it and excited for how it is stretching me as a teacher.
As Molly and I talked and talked this weekend ( so much catching up to do!), we realized we could keep blogging together-our beliefs are still the same as when we began this journey. We both still have things to say about digital citizenship and supporting and empowering all students. We both believe that our classrooms should be safe, nurturing places for all students. Our post may have a slightly different perspective now since I’ve moved to intermediate but Molly is still my person, my teaching soul mate and still the person I run just about every crazy idea I have by. Our lives and teaching situations have changed but not who we are. I hope you continue to join us on this journey.
Every year at this time I am celebrating my successes and reflecting on what I can do better. For many years my colleagues and I have integrated project based learning in our classrooms. These projects are guided by a driving question and incorporate all of the PBL essentials: student voice, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, reflection and a time for student presentations.
For the last 6 years my 1st graders have done a Spring project that focuses on birds. This project was designed to meet state science standards as well as allow students plenty of time to research practicing what it means to synthesize information and to put that learning in their own word. This learning culminates in a bird symposium where students present what they’ve learned in a way that expresses all that they know to an audience. Every year Alicia and I have tweeked this project, adding art and music components, numerous field trips, tuning in to bird cams so that students could observe fledglings in their nests. We brought in experts and used twitter to connect with ornithologists. We immersed them in the study of birds and their habitats. We knew that our students were engaged and that their understanding was multi layered and deep. Students were asking questions and helping each other find the answers. Yes,they were learning a lot about birds. But could they do more?
In our 1st project of the year, our students had done a project in which they built a city of the future. To do that they brainstormed a list of what they saw as “problems” in our city. Homelessness, traffic, pollution and loss of green space. All of these were mitigated in the city that they imagined for their future.
It was learning that stuck and when we started talking about birds they were immediately drawn to the problems they had already identified. Pollution in our city had to to be hurting birds too. This time they wanted to make a difference and they asked if they could reach out to the Seattle Audobon Society.
The letters were delivered and we had permission to do a fundraiser. Our neighborhood holds a farmers market in the Spring and luckily they were happy to host our 1st graders who signed up for shifts after school and into the night.
In the end these children raised 575 dollars and 25 cents, money that will be used to help protect bird habitat in our city. But more than that they demonstrated that their voices mattered and together they could make an impact on our world. This urgency and sense of purpose made a difference in their lives. And mine. And as I reflect back it’s what should drive all of our teaching. We must lift expectations and let students lead the learning in real and authentic ways.
I sat down at my computer today to write a blog post about the impact project based learning has had on my students. I had just gone through my camera roll and tagged the pictures and videos that showed my 1st graders researching, collaborating, struggling, using feedback to try again and I was so proud to share their success as self directed learners. 1st graders who use technology and are empowered to share their thinking and learning with the world. But writers block set in so I decided on this gloomy June day in Seattle that I could do a technology training that’s been on my to do list since September. ( my district will pay me 8 hours of pay to get it done) or I could check my twitter feed. Perfect. That’s when I saw that George Couros had retweeted Mike Crowley’s blog post:
I read the post then retweeted the post and then decided to get a cup of coffee and maybe go for a walk. But Crowley’s post stayed with me. Mainly because Alicia and I had the opportunity to pilot the first 1 to 1 iPad program in an elementary school in our district. We also started this blog because we watched how these devices transformed teaching and learning in our classrooms. Now, 6 years later, even though there is lots of technology in our public schools, the inclination is still to control and even to block students from using these devices. And professional development? Teaching teachers how to use technology in meaningful ways that impact students? It’s happening but it’s teacher driven. Which brings me back to the technology training that is still on my to do list.
As you can see the PD that I can get paid to do is several modules that will help me learn how to use our district’s evaluation system, how to use office 365, how to use power teacher and homeroom which are systems that allow me to take attendance and look up data for my students. It also includes schoology which is how I am able to access this training. (Schoology is also used by students in our middle and high schools I could get an hours pay to learn how to use gradebook but that doesn’t apply to me either. The digital classroom and the personalized learning path gave me hope but again there is nothing here that will impact my teaching and/or my students.
So that’s how I ended up on twitter this morning. A place where I am able to connect with educators like Mike Crowley and George Couros who are transforming education. Of course teachers need digital tools in the classroom and I will get better at using Onedrive and Power Teacher and Homeroom-programs that are used by our district. But in the classroom the focus needs to be on our students. And if we are going to give our kids technology we need to support teachers in their professional development. We need to show them what’s possible and support them as they integrate technology in authentic ways. This will lead to powerful learning in all of our classrooms. Quoting Mike Crowley, “Let’s imagine what learning can be.”
This week in my classroom students are listening to one of my favorite read alouds, My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. We’re reading a chapter a day, working as a class to infer word meanings (weep, cargo, inhabited ) pausing so that students can turn and talk about the storyline and share their understanding of the text. We started by making predictions about what would happen in the book. Why is there a lion on the cover? Why did Elmer pack what he did in his knapsack? But instead of just writing these predictions on paper, and turning them in for feedback, my students are using Twitter to share their learning with classrooms around the United States and Canada. For the third year in a row my 1st graders are connecting with other 6 , 7 and 8 year olds in more than 20 different classrooms using the #1bc18.
My students are used to sharing on Twitter. In fact, our class Twitterers, (there are two) is our most popular class job. Most days these students will send out a tweet at the end of our day. It’s their chance to share what they think is most important about our school day. These tweets are student directed. My 1st graders use their best guess spelling and they use our school hashtag (#QAE) because they know hashtags bring specific audiences together. I don’t step in until their finished, and then I read it, offer feedback and let them tweet it out to the world. What’s most significant about this is that they are sharing their voices with an authentic audience.
During the book club, my students are literally lining up in front of our classroom computer so they can share their predictions, thoughts, etc. about the chapter we are reading. And because we are on the west coast, and 2 to 3 hours behind most of the other classrooms that are online, we are able to see what what other students are doing which creates a lot of excitement that help push my students in ways that I alone cannot. It is a connection that is authentic and motivating. We are also noticing similarities about our thinking and about the schools and classrooms that we learn in. We have gotten out maps and put dots on the cities and towns that we now have a connection to, we feel like we have made new friends and we’ve added geography to the 1st grade curriculum.
Learning is also amplified when students can share their ideas and get immediate feedback from people who don’t even have to be in the room. We have tweeted several authors and heard back from most of them. My students also share their thinking on kidblog. And you can find that link on our class Twitter account. And if you are now thinking how am I going to find time for this, it really doesn’t take more than a few minutes a day. We check our twitter account (@MsMecksClass) during snack time. And surprisingly, or maybe not, I’ve never had to edit or admonish anyone for anything inappropriate. Already, my students understand what it means to be a safe online. Digital Citizenship is taught explicitly. Common Sense Media definies digital citizenship as the ability to “think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in the digital world.”
I am very passionate that every student should be learning how to use technology and social media in school. My own kids (now 18 and 21) were the 1st generation of kids to grow up in this new digital world and they were navigating social media with very little support from adults (I thought I knew what they were doing ) and absolutely none from their teachers. In fact, students were banned from bringing technology to school and were only told what they couldn’t do on school devices. I believe that the students that are in our classrooms now will be more thoughtful and positive on social media. And that they will not only be digital citizens but digital leaders who will use technology and social media to create positive social change. This today from one of my 1st graders who wanted to share her feelings about the thousands of students who walked out of schools everywhere to honor the victims of gun violence.