So this will probably be the shortest blog post ever (it is the afternoon of the 1st day of school...), but I just have to share my excitement about this year! I decided to make a change, and so I became part of a brand new Inquiry Program at Ebenezer! We have been working since the very first week of summer "break" and let me just tell you - it's been great! The 4 other people I'm working with along with our leadership team have been incredible to work with. I feel like I'm the most nervous I've ever been (since my first year of teaching)... starting at a new school is a tough transition alone, not to mention the leap of 2 grade levels! Yikes! But after today, I can safely say that this year is going to be AMAZING! I have met my class of 25 fourth graders and I love them all already. I'll try to be better about blogging this year and keeping you updated about what Inquiry looks like in Rock Hill and how things are going with the program. Goodbye for now.
Clearly it's been a while since my last blog post. I could come up with all sorts of creative excuses as to why, but really (apart from a small mishap with my 1st attempt at posting on this topic) what it comes down to is that I've dropped the ball. Some might say it's because I don't have any accountability for whether or not this blog succeeds. Perhaps I would blog more if I knew it was part of some proverbial grade for my life. Probably not.
How often in life have you found yourself looking back affectionately on all the times you had to take some type of assessment? Never? No fond memories of filling in bubbles or timed math tests? Weird. I know I have mentioned alternative types of assessment and the fact that I'm not as concerned about the scores my students get on their tests as I am about whether they leave my class with a sense of purpose - somehow trying, in their own way, to make a positive impact in this world. However, I also value my job. I know I have to do some iota of rule-following if I plan to continuing to make a living working with students on a daily basis. What this means is that I have to subject my students to common assessments once in a while. While I may believe that there are better ways to glean information about students than to give them a paper and pencil test - it's pretty much the most commonly accepted way to figure out what students have and have not learned.
So, to this end, I have developed some pretty strong feelings about how students should and shouldn't be tested in elementary school (specifically in the primary grades).
1. I will test only what is to be assessed. Seems obvious right? Not so. Students are routinely failed on tests because of one specific reason: the child couldn't read it. If you wanted to see how well someone could fix your car, would you have them write a 2 page, double spaced paper? No. The answer is definitely no. You probably couldn't care less about the person's paper-writing abilities. You'd want to see if the individual could fix your car. For this reason, I will continue to read test questions out loud (for students who need it) in the areas of Math, Science, and Social Studies. I'm not testing their reading skills (I assess their reading separately) - I'm testing their content knowledge and ability to problem solve. In primary school, many students are still learning to read. The change happens in upper elementary grades when students are expected to do more reading to learn.
2. I will ensure that students understand the format of the test itself AND each question. With so many ways to format questions, it's no wonder students get confused about what they need to do - getting answers wrong simply because they didn't know how to answer appropriately. Multiple choice, true/false, fill in the bubble, short answer, fill in the blank, matching, multiple answers, essay, dropdown menus, multiple correct answers, file uploads, attachments, etc. For students - knowing the information is only half the battle. They also need us to teach them the strategies of how to communicate the information.
3. I will make sure students understand what success looks and sounds like. Rubrics, 184, B-, Fail, 75%, Ace, S+, 4... none of those grades mean anything out of context to a student who has no prior experience with aforementioned grading scales. Telling a child "you got a 60% on this test" probably sounds pretty awesome to a student who has only dealt with a standards based grading system where "4" was the highest grade you could get.
4. I will not give more questions than necessary. Seriously test-makers. Just stop. If you can assess using 8 questions instead of 30. Do it. What is the point of redundancy? Remember that time you enjoyed taking long tests? Right. Me neither.
I may not be able to make change with standardized testing companies, but I'll do everything I can to make a difference in my classroom. If you'd like to check out a great summary on the problems with standardized testing you should Google: "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Standardized Testing." I'd post a link here, but this blog is attached to my student website and the video isn't appropriate for student ears.
"You never know beforehand what people are capable of, you have to wait, give it time, it's time that rules, time is our gambling partner on the other side of the table and it holds all the cards of the deck in its hand..." - José Saramago
SATs... ACTs... GPAs... Digital Portfolios? Move over paper and pencil and make room for a different way for students to showcase mastery of content. More and more colleges and Universities are accepting and reviewing student portfolios as part of their admission process.
You don't have to remind me that I am actually an elementary school teacher. My second grade students barely scratch the surface of standardized testing, and are seemingly years and years away from their college careers - if that is the direction they choose for their lives. What I'm telling you is that I think it is so important for people of all ages today to begin creating and fostering a positive online presence. I read a recent blog post published by the Harvard Business Review called "The Perils of Being a Social Media Holdout." Although the article focuses mostly on the business world, several of the reasons for developing an active online presence have a place in education as well. The authors point out that people will be talking about you whether you choose to participate in the conversation or not, that being invisible instantly makes you less credible, and that choosing not to be active online makes you susceptible to the perception of being behind the curve. Do I want this for my students? No.
I digress. Last year I embarked on a "new" adventure with my students. I used Weebly to create a page for each of my students and had them blog and begin documenting their work. Now that the year is over, I have had time to reflect on the process. When I first began having my students blog, I didn't quite know why. I know we should always begin with the why... I didn't. I began with an idea that I knew was a good one, but I just wasn't quite clear on the reason behind why it was so good. Now I know. I know that, among other things, blogging gives my students a voice and an authentic writing atmosphere. I also know that digital portfolios allow my students to gain confidence while working towards a goal, it shows proof of growth, and it allows them to reflect on their work. If you need help creating student Weebly pages, please view the screencast on THIS page (you'll have to scroll down a bit).
Now that I know why I want my students to blog and keep ePortfolios, I will make some changes for next year. I will help my students become successful, responsible, 21st Century citizens.
How will you do the same?
Holy buckets! Two blog posts in one day. How do I have time to do anything else? Before you start feeling impressed... here is a small taste of today's schedule: wake up, blog about Evernote, eat breakfast, brush teeth, blog about Skype in the Classroom, eat lunch. Eventually I will throw a shower in there. Not impressed anymore? Told you so. Anyway, back to the topic at hand.
I think Skype in the Classroom is a great digital resource that people should know about. I ran across this site about a year ago and didn't really take it seriously until a few weeks ago. I have decided that I am going to embark on a Challenge Based Learning project with my class this upcoming year that is focused on recognizing similarities and celebrating differences with people around the nation/globe. To do this, I need to make a few contacts with people from said areas. Hmmm. Bring in the usefulness of Skype in the Classroom. Add that to the power of blogging combined withe the shameless plug (I plan to link this article) on Twitter and I should be able to come up with something. Teachers from all over the world are using Skype to make learning more exciting, memorable, and authentic. Skype offers an immediate way for students to discover new cultures and ideas, all without leaving the classroom. Can anyone say free field trip? Sweet. Here is a video on how to get started.
Here's an article worth reading that lists 10 great ideas for using Skype in your classroom. http://www.edudemic.com/2013/03/10-ways-to-start-using-skype-in-the-classroom/ Or check out this video for some inspiration. Do you already do these things now? I would love to hear about it! If by chance you are interested in connecting with me and my class this upcoming school year, please let me know!
I've been using Evernote for quite some time now, and I have loved it from the very start. I have it on my iPhone, iPad, personal MacBook, and school MacBooks. I use it numerous times EVERY day. The great thing is that what you change on one device will automatically sync to all your other devices! Really, at the very beginning, I was terrible at using Evernote and was certainly not using it to it's fullest potential (OK, honestly, I am still not using it to the fullest potential, but I am much closer!). They might have called the app "Boring Notetaker," or "Grocery List Keeper," or even "To Do List Manager" because those are the things I used Evernote for. I have learned that it can do SO MUCH MORE!
Depending on what you do, Evernote can work differently for you. I teach. I needed to make Evernote work for me throughout my teaching day. The first thing I heard was not to be afraid to create lots of notes or notebooks. Well, let me tell you, I was afraid. I like things to be neat and tidy. I want to be able to find things and know right where they are at. My thinking was, the fewer the notes the better; I will know which note to go to. It'll be great! Whelp, I was wrong. The thing about having only a couple notes was that I had so much in each note that I couldn't find what I was looking for. Eventually I learned how to use "tags." With tags, everything is searchable! I tag my notes with my student's names, project titles, subjects, etc. and I can use the tags search bar to instantly find what I am looking for. This has been invaluable during parent teacher conferences! What's that you say? How do I use it during parent conferences? Let me tell you.
First I need to contact parents to set up conferences. I have an Evernote notebook where I keep all my parent's contact info. Our school has parents fill out student info cards at the beginning of each year. I used to also have them fill out the same info on a different sheet in my classroom. Not anymore. I save parents a step by taking a picture of the office card (directly from the app on my phone/iPad), tag the picture with the student's name, and throw it in a notebook. Then I always have access to the info even if I'm at home. Great right? Once I've got the parents at school I have all this great stuff to show them. I'll tell you about it.
Usually at a conference I would lug out my folder of student work, gradebook, behavior report, attendance sheet, etc. to show parents. I still have these things, but most of what I show them is right on my iPad (which I mirror using either Apple TV or AirServer to my Promethean board). Instead of keeping work to show parents at conferences, I will take a picture of the work, tag it, put it in notebook (see a trend?). Now I can send all work and projects home with students as we go along so parents can always see how their child is doing. I have the picture to refer back to at conference time when we are talking about "grades." I can also show them how they've been progressing in guided reading groups.
This is my favorite use of Evernote. It has completely overhauled the way I plan and keep records for guided reading. I now keep my lesson plans directly in a Guided Reading Lesson Plan Notebook on Evernote. Within the notebook I have notes for each book we read with each group. The group members are tagged in their respective notes for later search-ability. When I give running records I can quickly set my iPad up to record and capture audio of the student reading. This is done directly within the note (using the little microphone icon) and then it places a button right in the note that I can listen to and play back for parents later. This gives me actual examples to show parents of what I see in school of a child's progress.
I am super excited about this final thing (that I hadn't thought about until I saw THIS post)! This is such a ridiculously small thing, but it will make my school life so much easier! Class list checklists. OMG. I use checklists all the time at school: who have I conferenced with in reading and writing workshop; where is each child at in the writing process; roll call for a fire drill; field trips; you get the idea... I have put a picture of what it looks like below. Once I get the official class list for my little friends this year I will type them in the column on the left and I'll be good to go. Excited much? Yes.
So, I still use Evernote to keep track of my To Do Lists, but I use it for so much more than that as well! I hope this post gives you some ideas to manage your own workflow. If you have any questions on how to do any of the things mentioned above,
It has been a year since I started using Weebly to host my website. As I look back through the blogs from this year I find myself wondering where the time went. Last year (almost exactly) I wrote a post about Challenge Based Learning and I remember how excited I was to begin the year. Now that the school year has ended I sit here on the same couch (that's still covered in what looks to be the effects from a school library explosion) and cry. I cry not because it was a bad year, rather, it was just the opposite. I can confidently say that my 7th year of teaching was the best yet. It's hard to believe all of the things my class was able to accomplish this year. Our big project was, of course, The Face of the Playground. My students learned so much about being an agent of change. They learned that it doesn't matter what age you are, you are never too young to make a big difference. The collaboration skills I saw these students develop will travel with them for the rest of their lives. The other ongoing project we were involved in was our monthly travels to Harbor Chase Senior Center. Just thinking about the relationships forged between these small children and the elderly brings tears to my eyes again. (Darn it! - Must. Stop. Crying.) Before our first trip I had several students who were afraid to visit people who (in their eyes) were so much different from themselves. That first visit didn't do a whole lot to calm their nerves until we visited the room of one of the residents who just happened to have a guinea pig. The rest, as they say, is history. As the time went on, the students gradually got less excited about seeing the guinea pig and more excited about visiting and reading to their senior buddies. I wasn't the only one who was crying on that final day; students and seniors alike were shedding tears over the time spent with one another. We were all going to miss each other. Some of the skills my students learned throughout the year are not easily measurable on standardized tests, but they certainly are easy to see. You can see it every day in the way they treat one another and themselves.
At this time of year I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking "If only I could have done ____." Not today. Today I am focusing on the things we did accomplish. Are there things I want to do better next year? Absolutely. Have I already put plans into place to help me grow professionally to become a better teacher in years to come? Of course. Today, though, is not about that. Today (well, as I reflect on the year and write this post) is about remembering and cherishing the moments this year brought. I appreciate everyone who supported us along the way. As any great teacher knows, you can't do it all alone. Mr. Roorda and Mr. Camp allowed me to follow my (often) grandiose ideas and gave me strength to try new things. The parents of my students gave constant support throughout each of the projects we worked on, and thankfully, didn't threaten to kill me when their child's shoes came home utterly destroyed. My husband -and dogs- were forgiving of the long hours put in at school. Most importantly, my students. Thank you for your enthusiasm to try new things, for your unwavering trust in my ideas, and your willingness to get your hands dirty. You are, of course the reason I teach. You are truly REMARKABLE.
Some people would say that I am dedicated to my job. I would usually tend to agree. I see things and hear things every day that renew my dedication to teaching and to my students. Let me tell you a story... We have been working outside each day early in the week for an hour in the afternoons on painting the blacktop. Tuesday - success. Wednesday - success. Thursday - huge failure. You see, it rained on Thursday morning and made it impossible for us to paint the blacktop since it was wet. When my students realized that we would not be going out to paint I received looks of dismay and confusion. Anarchy was nearly imminent. I heard urgent questions like "What are we going to do now?!" and "How will we ever get the project done so kids can play on [the blacktop]?" As the excitement drained from their eyes taking with it the color on their faces, it really hit me that they love this project. They are so invested in the outcome and feel the same sense of urgency that I thought I alone possessed. They know other students (as well as themselves) at our school are ready to play on the new designs. They know that each day that passes without us finishing is another day that we are depriving others of potential fun at recess. I foolishly assured them that we would be able to work outside the following day and we would finish in no time!
Fast forward to Friday. I thought we were going to have a nuclear-sized meltdown in classroom B110. The students were changed into their painting clothes early because of our jam packed schedule. We head down the hallway for recess and march outside ready to breathe in some fresh air when what hits our senses - light rain!!! OH NO! The whiplash some of these kids must have gotten when they turned to look at me must have been painful. A large groan went out, not for recess. Nope. My students love an occasional indoor recess. The question that was asked said it all "What are you going to do Mrs. Gaffney?" It was all over their faces - another postponed Face of the Playground day was in our futures. Obviously this weather catastrophe was on me. Luckily, I thought and acted quickly to avoid disaster. I became delusional and planted some seeds of hope. "Guys" I said "Its just a little drizzle, I am sure it will clear up by this afternoon when its time to come out to work." Of course, my students are too smart and slightly more than a little skeptical of this statement. During lunch I did what any self-respecting teacher in a bind would do. I stopped to talk to a couple of friends and begged them to help me out with the weather. They were good sports about my request, even making up a small "go away rain" dance. It was nice. Lucky for me the weather cleared up and I was able to take my students out to finish what we had started. Tragedy averted. The picture in this post is proof that our class experienced success today. Thank goodness. So you see, I may be dedicated, but its because I work in a place that makes it so easy to be dedicated.
I'd like to tell you about a fantastic display of good character that I was fortunate enough to witness. I know I have mentioned the "FOTP" project my class has been working on this spring. The picture posted is the final draft of the winning playground (blacktop) design. Students from the entire school were able to vote on their favorite of 4 designs created by students in my class. The favorite design of the most students was the one created by Travis. The picture shown is not the original created by Travis. Please let me explain why. After all the voting was complete, the students' next charge was to tally and count all the votes. Once Travis realized that he was the winner, he had a small celebration. Smiles and cheers were shared around the class for Travis' success. Travis then came and had a conversation with me in which he said that he thought all the other 3 students had really worked hard. He thought their work deserved to be displayed on the blacktop as well. He had the idea that maybe all of the borders could be combined from each design and then his work could be in the middle. This was the final design that was decided on. What an incredible kid. I have no doubt that Travis will experience success throughout his life. I am so thankful for students like this who inspire me each and every day. I hope that you are each fortunate enough to have a "Travis" in your life at some point as well.
Every teacher knows that there are many challenges in education. Challenging curriculum standards to cover, challenging parents, challenging students, etc. Some days just seem harder than others. For me though - I've been lucky. The overwhelming days are few. The challenges are what keep me going. This post is not about the struggles in education though. No. This post is about challenging our students and how it's necessary to do so if we want students to succeed.
A while back I blogged about CBL and how I was so excited about taking this on with my class. My students are working on a project we have coined "The Face of the Playground." The students have been working to improve the playground at Finley Road Elementary School. We've been raising money all year through various fun-raisers. All of the money raised will go toward purchasing the supplies needed for improving certain elements of the playground.
The students first step was to talk with our school's principal, Christopher Roorda, to make sure that all of the projects they thought of were feasible. Once that was completed, the students chose projects that interested them. They are currently involved in research to see what supplies are needed and how much those supplies cost. Some ideas the students are thinking about are: to fix and paint the benches, plant grass seed in the muddy areas, re-surface the blacktop, and fix the basketball court.
We also received a donation of 13 trees (oak, cherry, and apricot) from Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories in Charlotte. The company brought workers to Finley Road to help the students plant, fertilize, and water the new trees! The workers from Bartlett and the students worked all morning in the mud and crummy weather, but everyone had a GREAT time! I couldn't have been more proud of them.
The picture at the beginning of this post is of the student's shoes at the end of the morning. They were disgusting. Seriously. All I could do was laugh. They had worked so hard, how could I be upset? Luckily, I have an intern this year who is in her full-time teaching, so I spent two hours of my afternoon cleaning shoes. It was worth every second. We all made memories that will last for a lifetime. I asked my students to come back and visit me when they are in high school so we can see how the trees have changed. After thinking about it though, I really hope that each one of them does come back to visit, but not just to see how the trees have changed... I really want them to visit so I can see how they have changed and grown.
On second thought, maybe I'm not that lucky. Maybe luck has nothing to do with it. I just love my job, I love my students. Every year is a new challenge. I hope I can continue to help my students grow and experience success. One thing is for certain, whether they know it or not, my students are helping me grow. For this I love them.
Every year when Halloween rolls around I hear teachers talk about how wild the kids are in school. If you have ever spent time in an elementary school when Halloween falls mid-week, you'd be crazy not to agree. Here's the thing though - I love it just as much as the kids do. I love to see my students get excited about something. It really reminds me of being a kid. To see their smiling faces and hear them talk about their plans helps me to remember that we are working with young children.
Too often I feel like we are trying to turn our students into adults as quickly as possible. We expect them to sit quietly in their seats, walk in a single file line, and use proper grammar. I expect these things out of my students on a daily basis, but sometimes it's really nice to see the kids just be kids. On Halloween, I don't try to fight it. We still hit all of our daily requirements... just in a Halloween-y way. During writing, we worked on a persuasive piece about which candy is the best. They got so into it and the pieces turned out so great that I put them up in the hallway! We took time to partner read holiday themed books. Halloween books lend themselves really well to alliteration (repeating beginning letters), onomatopoeia (words like buzzz and THUD), and similies. So, our whole group lesson was focused on these skills. Lauren, my intern, created a really nice lesson in math using pumpkins. The day was educational, but it was also fun. I am always exhausted at the end of these days, but it's not because I've spent the day butting heads with students. It's really because I've had a great day too.
My name is Carrie Gaffney. Someone once asked me a question that remains in the back of my mind and helps to shape my life: "How will you be remarkable?" I am continuously trying to discover new ways to answer that question.