Archive for October 2007

Today was a good day!

October 25, 2007

We had visitors from Georgia on campus today to participate in Design Studio.  I usually am involved in the presentation of materials, but today I was involved in the observation.  Since I am TEACHING again this year, I had some of the Design Studio participants come by my room to observe a Layered Curriculum unit and see my students in action.

The layered unit we worked on today centered around Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, The RavenPoe is pretty difficult for many of my students to grasp, but they did very well.  I have attached the layers in case you want to take a look.

You are welcome to use the lesson above as is or edit to fit your style.  You can find an audio reading here and the Simpsons rendition here.

The unit is short and sweet, but it gives students options and addresses different learning styles; and honestly, it didn’t take me any longer to plan this lesson than a “traditional” one. 

Today was a good day. EVERYONE in ALL classes completed the C Layer, most did the B Layer, a few completed the A Layer, and they can finish it for homework, so I am hoping to have lots of good grades on this assignment… oh, and by the end of the class period, most of the kids understood what was happening in the poem. SCORE!
Teaching is hard work and we sometimes tend to accentuate the bad days, but I think we need to hold on a little tighter to the good days. They are what it is all about.

** By the way, for those of you who are interested in creating some layered units, I suggest starting with something small (like the lesson attached) so the students can get used to the concept before you branch out into larger, more complex layered units… just a little free advice. 🙂


What I Learned

October 18, 2007

So, I took a few minutes this morning to watch a couple of the K12 Conference videos, and now I would like to share some info and reflect on what I have learned…

The first presentation I watched is Travel Through Space and Time by Silvia Tolisano.  I didn’t really take any notes on this one.  The teachers involved in the planning and implementing of the “project” Silvia discusses did an outstanding job, and you might get some ideas how you can plan an implement a similar project of your own.

I also watched Cell Phones as Classroom Learning Tools by Lisa Kolb.  I honestly didn’t go in to this presentation with very high expectations.  I thought there might be some gimmicky type things involved in the presentation, but there are actually some great examples and lots of good resources highlighted.  The presentation is a little long (almost an hour and 15 minutes), but you can always skip through parts if they do not interest you.

Here are some of the resources mentioned in the presentation if you want to give them a peek.

Using Cell Phones for Pocasting

  • Gabcast (this one is blocked at my school)
  • Gcast – I have used this resource before and it works well.
  • Hipcast (Not free)
  • Evoca

These sites allow you to create an account and set it up so you can record your podcast via your cell phone (or home phone) and then publish it directly to your blog.

Cell Phones for Audio Conferencing

These sites allow you to conduct an audio conference with multiple users at once.

Cell Phones for Mobile Notes

Using the above sites you can create an account and then send yourself (or someone else) a written note via e-mail or text message.

Private Numbers and Voicemail (both of these are blocked in my district)

The sites above allow you to create a private phone number and voicemail you can manage via the web.  This is a great way to give your parents and students a contact number without giving them your personal phone number.

The presentation also discusses ways to create and use ringtones, cell phone backgrounds and texting.  There are some good examples of how to integrate these resources into your classroom.  Give it a look… you might just learn something new.

Working at My Own Pace

October 16, 2007

So, I am a little behind, but I have begun viewing some of the presentations from the K12 Online Conference 2007. And really, in actuality, I am not “behind” because the presentations are online for me to access whenever it is convenient for ME. What a concept… I can learn whenever I want on my own time. Apparently professional development doesn’t have to take place in a room with a lot of other teachers; it can take place on my couch while I’m in my pj’s… NICE! Did I mention I can pause presentations and come back to them later… OUTSTANDING!

So far I have only completed one presentation. I watched pieces of David Warlick’s pre-conference presentation last week, and I just finished Clarence Fisher’s keynote for School 2.0.

Some ideas I have gleaned so far. ..

  • It isn’t about geographic location anymore. Learning can take place where and when it is convenient. No matter where you live or go to school, you can “travel” outside of your town and interact with others around the world.
  • We have to change the way we teach – teach students to be creative, solve problems, collaborate – stop teaching students to simply memorize and spit back information
  • Tools are very important… especially FREE tools like Wikispaces, Voicethread, WordPress, etc. Big THANKS to those of you providing teachers and students with such valuable resources.
  • Students are now “prosumers” – creators of information
  • Relationships are changing and important between students, students and teachers and those outside of our classroom
  • Attitude towards education needs to change – redefine what happens in our classrooms and redefine our attitudes towards what classrooms look like
  • Learning is something that is networked; it is something that we do together
  • Technology is about connections

So, are you interested in learning more, and possibly participating in the conference yourself? Head on over there when you get a chance… whenever that is… midnight, the weekend, tomorrow, once you have put the kids to bed… whenever it is convenient for YOU because that is what Learning 2.o is all about. 🙂

What Makes a Good Teacher?

October 1, 2007

If you read the title of this post, and you are hoping that I am going to give you all the answers – like a recipe of ingredients you need to become a good teacher – then you might want to stop reading now… because that is not going to happen. I will hopefully give you some things to think about, but there is nothing definitive here.

So, I got started thinking about the topic of what makes a good teacher after reading this article in the New York Times last week. <take a break from my post and read the article now… I will be here when you get back>

Honestly, I was a little torn after reading the article… I wasn’t sure whether I agreed with the writer or not, and the more I turned it around in my brain, the more unclear I became. And then I read this post by one of my colleagues <hopefully she won’t mind me calling attention to her minor meltdown>, and it all became a little clearer for me.

So, I am now going to attempt to present my thoughts on the topic of what makes a good teacher in a somewhat comprehensible format…

“…the vast majority of teachers I know struggle period to period, day to day, desperately hoping that we are making some academic headway with any of our students.”

And while I agree with Mr. Okun that teachers sometimes struggle, I also would like to point out that along with the struggles come moments of clarity, moments that teaching makes sense, moments of pride at our students’ accomplishments, and moments of awe when students reach and even exceed the expectations we have set for them. Although teaching may sometimes feel like an uphill battle, and there are days that we may feel like collapsing and falling over never to rise again, it just takes a thank you e-mail from a previous student to give us that energy to stand back up and keep fighting the good fight.

“A lot of young teachers come to our school with the hopes of changing lives. A lot of these same teachers quit (or leave for the suburbs) after one or two years, realizing that only the most elite, dedicated and skilled teachers are capable of performing the dramatic student transformations romantically depicted in teacher memoirs and Hollywood movies.”

Sadly, Mr. Okun is correct. We lose many promising teachers after the first couple of years because teaching is HARD work. It is sometimes agonizing to look out at the students in your classroom and see so many of them that are not living up to their potential. It makes us sad to know that the majority of our students would rather be doing just about anything than sitting in our class (on most days), and I think this is where one of the KEY components of being a good (and perhaps even great) teacher comes in… to be a good teacher you have to cultivate a RELATIONSHIP with each of your students. Do my students love coming to my English class every day? I would be lying (and a little delusional) if I answered, “Yes!” But I can’t. We have been writing an essay for the past week and a half (which is something the kids hate doing); it is not a creative writing assignment. It is not tons of fun. So I know my students have not been excited to come in to class every day, BUT they do it because they know I am happy to see them, they know I will greet them at the door, they know that I will not yell at them, they know I will ask about their weekend… in short, they know I care. You may be wondering why this matters, so let me tell you. Once my students know I am in their corner, they will do their assignments because I ask them to, they will be respectful to me because I am to them and they do not want to upset me. Will we have our bad days? Sure, but we will get through them and move on to better times. Will I have a Hollywood movie based on my great escapades as a teacher… I am going to guess – NO – but I am okay with that because I think what we do for our students is enough.

“The major sacrifice resulting from my reduction in effort and time (50-hour weeks) was that I no longer tried to engage all the students in all of my classes. During my first two years, I spent a disproportionate amount of time attempting to catalyze the seven or so students who expressed no interest in my class or school in general.”

Although, I can sympathize with Mr. Okun’s predicament, I am not ready to give up on any of my students. Yes, there are students in my class that are less engaged than others. There are students in my classes with elementary school reading levels and a few at college levels. This is where working smarter and not harder comes in to play – differentiating, narrating lessons, working in groups, having students peer and self-assess, and basically setting my class up so that I am not the purveyor of all knowledge. Setting up lessons like these can be a lot of work on the “front-end” but it allows me to spend my class time amongst the students instead of at the front of the room talking at them. <and by the way, I am not saying you should never lecture or teach from the front of the room; there are certainly times when it is warranted and even necessary>

“Will this feeling of inadequacy ever go away – or at least abate just a bit? Am I destined to live with this sense of “falling short” for my entire life?”

I would like to assure my colleague that once she has “x” number of years under her belt, everything will fall in place, but I can’t. Regardless if we are new or experienced teachers, we have bad days, we feel dumb at times, and there are even times when we wonder, “Why am I doing this?” That is when it is time to give yourself a break and realize you are not alone, pick up a book , watch a movie, go for a jog or whatever makes you feel better and take a REST. Your students will be there when you get back. 🙂

I have successfully rambled on about teaching and have not given you much that is concrete, so… what do I think makes a good/great teacher?

  • someone who cultivates positive relationships with her students
  • someone who cares and takes the time to reflect on her teaching
  • someone who perseveres even when the going gets rough
  • someone who listens
  • someone who treats her students as people and gives them their respect too
  • someone who is flexible and is willing to fall behind on her lesson plans if the students need more time to understand a concept
  • someone who follows through (if you say you are going to do it, then you need to)
  • someone who continually learns new things and isn’t afraid to try them out in class
  • someone who shares with her colleagues
  • someone who gives students feedback on their progress frequently
  • someone who is okay with coming in a little early or staying a little late if the students need extra help
  • someone who realizes that she is going to have good days and bad days, so she keeps her head up, rants to her friends if necessary (or on her blog), and keeps going because she knows she is not perfect, but that she will, and has, made a difference in students’ lives

By the way, I used the pronoun “her” because “he” is used so often to refer to men and women alike, and I thought you men could handle a little feminism. 🙂

If you have made it this far in the post, then you might as well finish strong by leaving a comment about what you think makes a good teacher. Thanks for reading and have a good day!