Monday, August 29, 2016

#SOL16 Kindergarten!

Dear Kindergarten,

You and I- we go way back. 2003 to be precise, when I became a kindergarten teacher. Man, I didn't know what I was in for! There is no exhausted like  kindergarten teacher exhaustion in the first few weeks of September. I quickly learned singing is survival in kindergarten and we sang throughout the day! Back then, we painted, played, celebrated. We had Teddy Bear Tea Parties and a Q and U Wedding. I thought I would always be a kindergarten teacher.

Was it you who changed or I? Maybe we both did. When I came to you, I was single and still a relatively new teacher. You were pre-Common Core and much more relaxed. As the years went on, you became more rigorous. Less play. Tests. Quadruple the amount of sight words expected to be learned. I got married and had two children. We went our separate ways- I left you for the upstairs third grade classroom and pushed you out of my mind.

Till now. You see, Kindergarten, my son, Alex is about to join you. A different town, a different school, but Kindergarten all the same. He is my pride and joy. He is the "bear of my heart". He's nervous and I'm nervous. You would think I would know exactly what to expect, having been there-done that for years as a teacher. It's all different when you are the parent. The postcards I used to send- well, we got one from Alex's teacher. It meant so much. Now I see how all those little touches really do mean something to a family about to send their most precious person out into the world. 

So, Kindergarten, go easy on him. Excite him. Embrace him. Play music and encourage him to dance. Bring out the paints and playdough. There is time for sight words and number bonds. Don't label him or sort him or rank him. Let him feel loved and comfortable, safe and happy. Fill him with wonder and joy to be a learner in school. We've done our best to teach him to be a good person- to be kind and respectful, considerate and polite. Please keep teaching him those lessons because they are the most important ones. 

Kindergarten, I loved you once upon a time and the truth is, I still carry you in my heart. Please take care of my little boy.

A Former Kindergarten Teacher/ Current Kindergarten Mom 

Monday, August 22, 2016

#SOL16 The Hard Questions

"Mommy, will we go to Heaven at the same time?"

Megan is cuddled up next to me, in my bed, as I try to get her to fall asleep while simultaneously keeping up with the #nctechat about writer's workshop. Her own little princess bed in her pink and green room down the hall is alone again (naturally) as she prefers sleeping next to me. It's a hard habit to break and this summer we've gone backwards. As I am tweeting on my phone, Megan, at 3 years old, decides we need to have a philosophical conversation about life, death, and the afterlife. 

"Why did GG die?" she asks.
"Where did GG die?"

"Will I die?"
"Can Simba come back?"

 (Simba was my in-law's dog who recently passed away this summer. Megan would bring him bones each time she visited.)

I don't know the answers. My heart aches when she asks if we will die at the same time. I can't imagine life without her and don't ever want to leave her, either. She says she doesn't want to go to heaven- she wants to be with her family here. I want to reassure her that she won't die for a long time, that we are all safe and healthy and no one is going to heaven anytime soon. I feel myself lying through my teeth, because of course no one is guaranteed a tomorrow. A first grader can get gunned down in her classroom. A toddler can get snatched by an alligator while on a family trip to Disney World. Terrible, unimaginable, horrific things happen every single day. 

Clearly, I can't tell her that.

When my grandmother (GG) died in December, Megan didn't seem upset or aware. My son, Alex, who will be 6 in October, took it much harder and asked a lot of questions. It seems Simba dying has caused Megan to think about life and death and GG now more than before. She says she and Alex can "rescue" GG from heaven and bring her back. I try to explain it doesn't work that way, and that GG is happy in heaven and doesn't want to be rescued.  

But what do I know?

Tonight, as Megan lays down next to me (again- little bed vacant), she tells me she wants to have a good dream. She says she dreamed about a monster last night, but he was a good monster. He made her pastina and carried her and took her to Little Gym and helped her on the bars. She can't imagine a mean monster- only a kind one who is apparently a better chef than me. 

Tonight, she believes in a safe, happy world. The hard questions are not voiced tonight- instead, she drifts off to sleep, with her stuffed baby fox under her arm, and good monsters who hug her in her dreams. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

#SOL16 Ditch the Dojo?

Last week, Dr. Mary Howard posted this on Facebook. My initial response, which I wrote as a comment, was this: 

 I also dislike public shaming systems but I've used Class Dojo and don't find it to be like that. I don't publicly display the points. I've tied the dojo dollars into a class economy where kids get paychecks and can purchase brain break coupons or the right to sit in the rocking chair at reading time. Paychecks were given privately so students weren't aware of how many points the others received. I did give a certificate to the high dojo scorer of the week and many times it was a student who put forth a lot of effort, despite academic challenges. Class dojo makes it easy to be in touch with the parents and send them pictures and class happenings in real time. They also have a great video series on growth mindset that my students enjoyed and sparked good discussions. There is no public shaming in my classroom and class dojo has been a positive 
way for me to share with parents. 

The truth was, entering the conversation, I really believed I was right about Class Dojo. When I taught kindergarten, I had been guilty of the clip system. In my early days of teaching kindergarten, I used color cards- green was good, orange was like a warning, yellow had a small consequence (like missing 5 minutes of centers) and red was a note home or a phone call and the loss of center time (a major deal in kindergarten). If you "stayed on green", you would get a star on your card. 5 stars meant a sticker and 10 meant a prize. 

I'm ashamed of this now. At the time, this type of behavior system was what was recommended to teachers. I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought the visual display was what students needed. I thought rewarding students who showed "good behavior" was the right thing to do and the students who acted out deserved a consequence. In later years, I changed the color card system to the clip up, clip down system. Everyone started their day on the green paper plate. Positive behavior meant you could move your clip to blue then purple, negative behavior took you down to orange, yellow, and, for the truly naughty, red. This was a system that others advised me to adopt- a way for students to "move up" and still a way for them to move down, if they were not behaving. I uncomfortably realized that some students always moved their clip down and everyone knew it. 

Why didn't I see this as a public display of humiliation? Why didn't I acknowledge that some students were always, always, below green, while others- the "good" students frequently found themselves on purple. Why did't I see that I was creating identities for students and not really teaching them much about changing their behavior- just labeling it, rewarding it, or punishing it.  After reading posts by Pernille Ripp, I decided to scrap the clip up, clip down system when I made the move to third grade. I recognized that publicly posting students' behavior was unkind, unhelpful, and nothing I would want for my own children.

But then I heard of Class Dojo. It was a way to integrate technology with classroom management. Each student had their own avatar and could earn points, or lose them, based on their behaviors. I could communicate with the parents as a whole class and on an individual basis. Students could earn Dojo dollars, which could be used to buy classroom privileges like sitting in the rocking chair or selecting the Brain Break we picked on Go Noodle. At the end of the year, I would do a Dojo Auction and give away books and materials in exchange for Dojo dollars. I never publicly posted the students' points and would give out the paychecks individually so students did not know what other students received. I would give a certificate to the "High Dojo Scorer of the Week" to recognize those students who were working hard. I felt very good about all of this. 

So, when I commented on Dr. Mary's post, I believed Dojo was doing no harm. I knew my students were very eager to get Dojo paychecks and it added an element of excitement to our week. I knew their parents liked the way Dojo opened communication and was an easy way for us to share information and reminders. But then, the conversation continued. Ryan Scala responded to my message very respectfully, but also raising questions about compliance and if students should receive paychecks for kindness and hard work. He also pointed out that it doesn't seem to work well with a growth mindset and only rewards successes. Mary commented as well, pointing out that the research shows extrinsic rewards do not  further intrinsic learning or offer strategies for students who have difficulty "behaving" (such as our ADHD students). 

This made me think of one of my students, who struggled with ADHD and often received the lowest Dojo paycheck each week. Was this really fair? When peers without this issue are able to attend and focus, is it really right to give them more Dojo bucks when they biologically can attend more readily? We know our students do not come from the same situations or backgrounds. Is it fair to award some and punish others? Should that even be my role? As a teacher, shouldn't I be TEACHING my students how to appropriately manage their own behavior instead of giving them points for sitting quietly? 

Dr. Mary asked, "Would something else work better?" And that got me could I still keep the things I like about Dojo, but stop giving and taking away points? For this coming year, I settled on Remind as a way to send messages to parents and keep communication open. I can still show my students the Class Dojo growth mindset videos, which are fun and open up conversations about persistence and failure. Instead of Dojo paycheck day, what else could I do to add an element of free choice and fun into our week? Might makerspace be the way to go? Or genius hour? Maybe I could try a period a week where students could sign up to be the teachers, like an Edcamp feel. 

And what about discipline? Behavior management? What will I do without a rewards and consequences system? Confession- I'm a little scared. This will be the first time in my whole teaching career that I haven't had a "plan" in place. I'm thinking we will talk a lot about what a community is, what it looks like, and feels like. I might need to have private behavior conferences with students. I will need to teach students strategies. I'll have to work to make class  more engaging so they don't need the promise of a point to stay on track. It might be a disaster. But my heart tells me I'm on the right track by changing course, ditching the points, and trying to create a community without dollars and clip charts.

Some scoff at the idea of being a "connected educator", saying they don't "do Twitter" or don't have time to have these conversations.  But how do we revise our thinking and stay current in our field if we don't connect? In an extremely contentious election year, having civil, respectful conversations where we start from different viewpoints and can end up changing our mind is really what we want our children to know about debate and differences. Sometimes you agree to disagree. But when you listen with an open mind and heart, sometimes you move to another level of understanding, and you just might change your mind.  

Thank you to Pernille Ripp, Dr. Mary Howard, Ryan Scala, and all who helped me understand why I should rethink Class Dojo. This year, I'm ditching the Dojo dollars. 


The The 
The tru


Sunday, August 14, 2016

#DigilitSunday Crafting Digital Media

Crafting Digital Media is such an important topic because I think our students are really looking for opportunities to create! I am still in the early stages of learning how to do this myself, so I think I've held the reigns on crafting digital media, sometimes not allowing my students to do the creating part. For example, we used a green screen through the app Doink for our persuasive speeches last year (third grade). I took the video of the students talking and I did the work of creating the new background through the app. I learned a lot! But did the students? This year, I would like to "let it go" (Thanks, Elsa) and teach my students how to do more of the digital creating.

Part of teaching them how to craft digital media is also modeling and showing them possibilities. As I prepare for a new school year, one task is to send home a letter introducing myself, asking for supplies, and communicating about the year ahead. I decided to make a Google slide presentation about myself and then narrate it using Screencast-o-matic, which I just learned this summer. I downloaded it into SeeSaw, where I plan to have digital journals for my students this year. A QR code will be generated and put into my back to school letter, so students can scan the code and then listen to my presentation. I will also put the link in case some families do not have access to a QR code scanner. 

Here is the video I created: 

This summer, I've been creating weekly Smore newsletters around reading for my school community. Each newsletter has a Padlet where people can share what they are reading. Last week, I shared videos from Olivia Van Ledtje, a student who has been creating videos about her reading life. (You can find her on Twitter @thelivbits. She is awesome! Her mom supervises the account so it is a great kid-safe site to share with students). Two of my former students, who are sisters, were inspired! They created their own book review videos,which will be features in tomorrow's newsletter, but I'll give you the sneak preview today. It was very telling to me that after seeing a video of what one student could do, these students thought, "Why not us too?" and used digital media to share their ideas as well. 

I've been enjoying reading all the posts today on #DigiLitSunday and I was reminded that "creating" is the highest skill on Bloom's Taxonomy. I will keep this in mind as the new school year begins, looking for ways to help my students show their learning by crafting digital media. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

#SOL16 Do You Want To Be Great?

In Teach Like a Pirate (2012), Dave Burgess asks, "Do you want to be great?" (145). He goes on to say, "Could it be that wanting to be great seems egotistical or selfish? Let's destroy that idea right away. First of all, your greatness in the classroom doesn't negatively impact or inhibit anyone else's opportunity to be great. This isn't a zero sum game. The pie is infinitely huge. In fact, your greatness only enhances the opportunities and possibilities for others. By being great, you are raising the bar and providing a model for others to emulate. Being your best possible self contributes to the school culture necessary to create the environment for greatness to flourish" (145-146).  

Do you want to be great? This is the conversation I've been having with some educators I admire, educators who are shining lights in the field. I've been thinking about Dave Burgess' ideas around this topic. He writes, "To ascend to the level of greatness, you have to be on fire with passion and enthusiasm. Mediocrity is incapable of motivating" (147). One more thought from Dave: "The decision to pursue excellence- as a teacher and as an individual- transforms teaching into an amazingly fulfilling and rewarding profession" (147).

I think this is a conversation worth having, because in my experience, it isn't always comfortable to strive to be "great." There are many reasons why you might not want to "go big" with your ideas or passion. For me, sometimes I worry people might think I'm acting as if I know it all or have all the answers, when that is the furthest thing from the truth. The more I learn, the more questions I have and the more ways I see I need to improve. I would never want to come across as someone who believes I am doing things "perfectly." But should I not share the things that I am doing? Areas where I've grown or taken a risk? Shouldn't we all feel comfortable to talk about ideas we've tried or progress we've made in an area of our teaching? 

Another reason it might be hard to strive for greatness is pressure not to do "too much" for fear others will be made to do it. If you create that website, will everyone have to do it too? If you try that new idea, does that reflect negatively on those who are not trying out the idea? Thus, there is a pull to stay with the same-old, same-old. You don't want to be seen as making others look bad. 

Yet...when you have a lot of passion and teaching is not your "job" but, in many ways, your life, you can't help but work towards greatness, knowing you will never really get there, but improving yourself each step along the way. As you improve, your students are awakened to more opportunities and a better, enriching school experience. 

Have you struggled with the answer to the question, "Do you want to be great?"  

Sunday, August 7, 2016

#DigiLit Sunday Preparing for a New School Year: Purposeful Use of Tech Tools

Thank you to Margaret Simon for bringing us together to share our thoughts on Digital Literacy on Sundays! 

My new third grade students will be heading back to the classroom in one month, as school officially starts on September 6th. While one month can feel like a long time away, I'm starting to slightly panic that time is running out for me to learn all I wanted to this summer and jumpstart my planning and preparation for the new year! Last year was my second year teaching third grade (after many years teaching kindergarten and previously 6th grade). I tried many digital tools last year, and this year I want to refine what I've been doing, teach the tools more purposefully and provide more consistent use of digital tools to increase student agency and engagement. 

Here are a few ideas I have:

  • Begin the year with launching a shared class blog through our class website: Last year, I launched our class hub, thanks to what I learned from Cathy Mere in #cyberPD. This year, I want to utilize the blog option on the website and teach students about blogging from the first day of school with a shared blogging experience. The class blog will be a record of our learning but will also teach students the basics of blogging before we launch our own Kidblog pages. 
  • Use Padelt for reading records: I LOVE Padlet! Last year, I tried Biblionaisum as a way for kids to record what they've been reading on a digital shelf. While this was really visual, my students had to login first to access the page and we never really looked at each other's shelves all that often. I'm thinking of creating a Padlet for each student and housing the links on our class webpage. Students can click on their Padlet and add the title or image for the book that was read (or even a selfie with the book). I can also access their Padlet. I can add digital badges to their Padlet when they complete a genre in the 40 Book Challenge, which I am hoping to do again with my new class. Padlet seems more accessible but still has that visual component. 
  • Make screencasts for students and families on ways to access the technology sites we use, like Kidblog, Padlet, and even Twitter. I would also like to try to "flip" some of my lessons this year!
  • Utilize SeeSaw digital portfolios for students as a place to showcase their thinking, writing, and speaking. I began using SeeSaw last year and want to use it more consistently this year. 
These are a few of my ideas I'm thinking about in terms of digital tools and literacy! I'm excited to read what others are planning and grow more ideas! 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Mean People #SOL16

I am no saint, although, rumor has it, they did play the song "Goody Two Shoes" for me when it was my turn to light a candle at a friend's Sweet Sixteen many years ago. I might have had that reputation. Now, at 37 years old, I am not claiming to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Many areas need improvement. But, the one thing I can say about myself, unequivocally, is I am not mean. I never deliberately try to hurt anyone and can't imagine trying to inflict pain. Yet, I've come face to face, as most of us have, with people who act, well, mean. 

Why? How do you get an ounce of joy knowing your words and actions caused someone heartache? What part of you delights in hurting someone, maybe even someone who trusts you and has been vulnerable with you? What went wrong in your life that being mean feels okay and acceptable to you?

We teach our students about being "bucket fillers" who help other people get filled with joy and love. We say being a "bucket dumper" will never bring you happiness- dipping into someone else's bucket won't make yours any fuller. (If you haven't read Have You Filled A Bucket Today, this is the book I am referring to! You should totally read it.) We try to show our students that kindness is always the answer and always possible. But how do we protect our students from the broken hearts that come when others act in unkind ways? How do we protect ourselves?

Experiencing meanness is hard and sad. I think you have to be really kind to yourself and be sure you have a strong, positive self image that can weather the storm of cruelty. At the end of the day, you know who you are, and if you know you aren't mean, then that's saying something. Truly.