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So I came across this quote today and couldn’t help but pause and laugh.

As an elementary school principal, leading a group of teachers and students into the next couple of weeks has “stress” written all over it!  Everywhere you turn people are stressed, kids are stressed, parents are stressed and yes, I am stressed!  It’s testing time and while I have come to look at that as a good thing because it’s evidence that students are learning, teachers are growing and we are all working together to make a better world, it doesn’t change the fact that, yes,  it’s a tiny bit stressful.

So as I read this quote, I laughed because it’s all in the way you look at it.  At school, we make an analogy between measurable data and the weight scale all the time.  Measurable data is like getting on the scale if you are on a diet.  You get on the scale and like it or not, a number looks back at you.  A real, very explainable number of the evidence of either your efforts or lack of efforts.  So many of us ask questions of ourselves before we get on the scale like did I exercise enough? Did I count my calories accurately?  Did I eat the right foods? Will the scale reflect it?

Or on the opposite side, “yes, I ate 3 pieces of pizza and a piece of cheesecake two days straight, did I gain weight”?  Well, more than likely, yes.  The thing about the scale though is that you were completely in control of what you ate, how much you exercised and whether you chose to eat correctly or not.  Take the analogy further, does the same principle apply to your classroom? well..

As a teacher, you can control only so many things when it comes to the classroom.  You can control if you are prepared, whether you know your content, how you teach the material and present concepts to your class.  You can also control how engaged students are and the types of questions you ask to measure learning.  You can work hard, plan right, teach well and then get on the scale, what will it say?

Hopefully, you understand what I’m getting at…  Sometimes the scale remains the same, sometimes the number goes up, sometimes it goes down, but really is it all that important?  What’s most important is that you did everything you could and more importantly how do you feel?

“Stressed is desserts spelled backwards”, your hard work will pay off in student growth because you worked hard, did your best and your students are all the better for it.  Desserts are awaiting!

So currently we are on spring break.  I spent several hours scouring the internet for advice on how to understand or “unpack” the standards.  I was struck by the amount of misinformation to be found about the concept.  So it inspired me to write a quick post on understanding what the standards truly mean and why it’s important for teachers.

From a principal perspective, I need to feel confident that my teachers understand the standards and know how to assess learning in the classroom.  Today’s common core standards never just ask for understanding material, a student must be a able to make a judgement given the material in front of them.  Whether that’s math, social studies, science, reading, writing, you name it, that’s what it boils down to…

How many of you out there have a hard time making a decision?  Even a basic one like what’s for dinner?  Sounds simple but think about the concepts that go into making that decision.  You have to weigh many options, (or if you search through our cupboards, according to my kids, you have very few options….) but really, think about it.  Do I have the energy to make a meal?  What do I have that I can put together to make a meal?  Is there anything prepared that just needs to be heated up?  If so, what should I add to it to make sure it’s healthy?  Do I care if it’s healthy? The list goes on…

So how does that relate to understanding the standards we teach?  Well, if you look at the standards and decide what type of questions need to be answered and how to help students think their way through the process, you are not just teaching a standard, you are teaching the understanding of the standard.  Here is an example:

http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RI/4/7/

Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.

Let’s just start with understanding the verbs that will be asking students to make judgements,  Do you recognize any?  Here are some hints…  interpret ( to interpret something you have to comprehend, understand, think about it’s importance and value, and then decide relevant or not?)  explain (ever had someone give you an explanation that had no reason behind it? Was it frustrating?) Yes, of course it was, because in order to explain something, you have to understand the inner workings of the whole concept or it doesn’t make sense.  “Because I said so”, is cliche for a reason!

Now to the hard part, getting students to do this is extremely difficult.  It can lead to many silent moments in a classroom, long, unpleasant silences where crickets seem to be chirping, but how can teachers help?  By not giving up, not giving in, teaching the process of getting the students to look at what they know and make decisions.  The above standard has them looking at time lines, animations, interactive elements, charts, tables – all of those tools are skills to help the student be able to understand the bigger picture. INTERPRET and EXPLAIN are the concepts to be taught.  Students must make decisions and then provide their explanation as to how it supports the understanding of the text.

So start with these simple questions;

What do I know given the material in front of me?

Does anything in the material show a pattern or contrasting thought or idea?

How do I decide if the information is important to the topic?  What’s the proof?

Can I make a conclusion that I can support?  Based on what?

Can I explain why I think that?  Do I have evidence to support my idea?

As a teacher, modeling these questions while going through the material will help your students to understand the standard above.  Not only would you be addressing the standard, but you would be teaching the conceptual approach to interpreting and explaining information.

It just doesn’t get any better than that!  During the next few weeks, I’ll look for examples in the classroom and follow up with proof and data from PTES!

 

 

One of the greatest gifts we can give our students is the ability to write.  It’s not just a gift, it’s an unbelievably powerful tool!  Recently, I was sitting with my  daughter who is now in college. She said to me,  “mom, the best thing I learned in AJUSD was how to write and you know what, I’m really glad because I see my friends really struggle when we have papers to do, and I just get them done.”  Wow!  Funny, I don’t remember her saying the same thing as she was writing all her high school, middle school and elementary school papers…

So, I use the word gift, because students often don’t look at the ability to write well as a gift, they look at it more as a pain staking, tedious, and unnecessary task.  Sound familiar?  Do you as the teacher feel the same way?  Many of us would say yes, but that’s because we were  not taught writing in a way that helped us to understand what a gift the ability to write well is!

What do I mean?  Honestly, teaching writing is formulaic.  Once learned, it’s like riding a bike, you may not do it for a while, but if taught well, you pick up the pen or pencil or sit at your keyboard or ipad, and start writing.  And, just like that, the prose comes forth.  As teachers,   we are all familiar with the six traits of writing.    These traits are tools to use, to help us make our writing better but just by themselves, they don’t accomplish the task.

So where is the gift?  It’s in the process.  Good writers understand the process and don’t fight it.

First, writing is all about understanding your audience, determining the purpose of the writing and organizing your thoughts in a way that flows and makes sense to the reader.  I believe this concept may go all the way back to Plato who wrote often.  When asked, authors like Stephen King and others have replied that brainstorming is a crucial first step.  It “sets the stage” so to speak.  So what does brainstorming look like?  It looks like anything that makes sense to the person writing, it can be a web, a combination of just thoughts all over a page, a word cloud, a wordle, anything that allows a writer to get down initial thoughts.  (You can find an example of a Wordle prewrite in my links)

What’s next?  Now that the audience has been picked, the purpose has been decided and the topic brainstormed, putting everything in a natural order makes sense.  The almighty pre-write begins.  As we all know, a good 5 paragraph essay starts with an introductory paragraph, followed by three supporting paragraphs  and then a concluding paragraph.  There are many different schools of thought as to which should be written first, but I’m a firm believer in writing the introductory paragraph and going back to revise it if necessary.  It sets the stage, creates the tone and allows a natural order to appear.

So your introductory paragraph is done, what now?  Take a break!  Even standardized tests have breaks written into the directions for everyone to step away from their work and take a breath of fresh air… After a short break, re-read your introductory paragraph and ask yourself,  does it define what I’m writing about?, Does it talk to the reader? Is it arranged in a logical order?

Rough draft ensues…

Upon finishing the rough draft, teach students to read their writing out loud to themselves; modeling the steps is the most important piece of teaching writing.  Does it sound right when I read it to myself? Am I noticing that I am repeating the same words?  Have I stayed on topic?  Did I give details and evidence for each idea? Do I recognize any words or phrases that could be changed to make the writing more appealing.  Again, this step is where truly understanding the six traits of writing comes in really handy. This all important step as we all know is the revision process.

When teaching either brainstorming or revision, it’s always a good idea to read an article or piece of writing that is similar to what is being written about and make comparisons.  Ever notice how a good reader, often makes a good writer?  Good teachers teach the connection everyday.  Author’s purpose, audience, plot, theme, inform, entertain, persuade; do these things sound familiar?  Don’t you find yourself asking your students when they are reading if they understand these concepts?  Would that possibly make them even better writers?

Just take the leap and connect it to their writing as well!

So the final draft becomes a work of art; a finished product which either informs, explains, persuades or entertains.  Does it come easily? No it takes practice, practice, practice…

And then, according to my daughter,  it becomes a gift!

 

For those interested, I have included a link about creating good introductory paragraphs, it’s easy to follow and great for upper elementary teachers and students.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3COR_IKG2c

This weekend, we had so much going on!  As I reflect, what a great weekend for our students and our community.  Friday, we had what is quickly becoming our annual Father/Daughter Dance.  While lots of learning took place on Friday, it was wonderful to see the young ladies of Peralta Trail Elementary School looking forward to a night out with dad.  Our PTO did an outstanding job of creating an atmosphere of a Disco and from what I hear, dads and daughters danced the night away.  I can’t help but think what a wonderful opportunity our PTO created for our students and parents.  As you know, one of our district tiles is relationships, and our parent organization went above and beyond to really help our families come together!

In addition, this weekend was the Lost Dutchman Parade.  Our float was decorated to the T’s as they say, and I was so proud of our student council for doing such an amazing job of representing our school.  As we are the bobcats, we always do our best to represent “Peralta Pride”  and they did.  As another teacher and I were walking the parade route behind our float, listening to our school song blaring from the speakers, watching our students wave enthusiastically to the crowd, and shout when I say go, you say Bobcats! Go, Bobcats!  we were privileged to have many onlookers comment on how beautiful and classy our float looked and our students acted. Our kiddos did us proud!  It was a wonderful way for us to just say “Thanks for all you do” to support our students!

At Peralta, we are blessed to have many winter visitors who volunteer their time during the day to read to our students.  They come in droves and our students really look forward to reading with them during the day.  It’s so wonderful to see how the community of elderly supports our students and gives of themselves to help better our educational environment.  I can only hope, that one day, our students give back to the community the same way.

This week, our students will be going to Basha’s to paint the windows in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day.  It’s something we brought back this year, and I know the community appreciates going to the local grocery store and seeing our student’s art ability on display.  It really brings us all together and reminds us that we are so lucky to have a neighborhood school!

Gold Canyon, we love you! Thank you!

Attached is a link to the definition of community, hope you enjoy!

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/community

 

 

So, it’s something that the majority of teachers out there are familiar with, the use of jigsawing of informational text to scaffold learning for students.  It’s a popular teaching strategy for the differentiated classroom.  At our school, I most often see it used to review a major concept by supporting the concept with various levels of texts for heterogeneous groups.

With common core standards, teachers are implementing a new (but old) strategy of close reading of text to support major concepts.  When I was growing up, we called close reading, “reading like a historian”, basic concept was there;  read, reread, identify key ideas, make connections to the bigger world, and support what you are saying or writing through going back into the text and citing evidence.  Maybe, it’s because I was a history major that it was called that, but that’s what it was…

So as I walked one room where a teacher was using close reading into another classroom where a teacher was using jigsawing, a small thought popped into my head.  How do we use jigsawing today to best meet the needs of our students with common core?  Do we have to change the practice or do we just need to think of it differently.  Then it hit me…

I remembered an article I had read about the actual practice of jigsaw in a classroom (I’ve included the link below).  The article went over how to model jigsawing in the classroom and how to group students to best use the technique.  In one of the steps, a suggestion was made to split the material being read into pro/cons, or arguments for or against at different reading levels and having groups read, re-read, make connections, find supporting evidence,  and then come together in “home” groups to discuss.

Does that sound familiar?

One of the key practices in the Common Core standards is the ability to analyze and to make judgments based on evidence found in text.  So often, I see close reading done whole class; just for a moment think about it…  could you jigsaw using articles in support of the concept or against the concept at various reading levels and groups and support all learners?

Yes, you can.  Differentiation using the same concept, using arguments to justify or defend a concept at a level all students can be reached and  it’s engaging and relevant…

Bring on the old to help the new!

 

http://www.readwritethink.org/professional-development/strategy-guides/using-jigsaw-cooperative-learning-30599.html

Today was such a learning opportunity for me.  I had the chance to teach 6th grade Language Arts.  We were learning about how Ancient Greece has influenced modern times.  The students read through the story with my help and I found myself asking quite a few questions of the class.  One of the things I found myself constantly asking them was why?  Why?  Why?

The question why? is tied to common core instruction because it asks kids to justify their answer.  They have to defend and support their response using text or reasoning from inferences made by the author.  The question “why?” bumps learning to another level.  At one point, we were studying Socrates, and were reading about his important contributions to the teaching practice.  We went over the Socratic Method and the students discovered that I was teaching using this model.  They were frustrated beyond belief because they kept wanting me to give them clues, all I said was,” look back in your text and tell me what sentence explains or proves the answer.  I’m perfectly comfortable with wait time….”  I called on students that weren’t raising their hands, I called on students that were, I held all students accountable by asking them to share the answers with their partners and prove it.  It was exhausting, but I couldn’t help thinking that Socrates was truly an unbelievable teacher because those students went home tired today.

My proof, you might ask?  I asked one of the students as he left how he felt, and he said exhausted.  Of course, I asked “why?” He looked at me with this wonderful teenage expression you can all visualize, that said “really”, and then said “I had to think quite a bit today.”

Thanks Socrates!

How do I meet the various needs of every student in the classroom?

Have you ever found yourself pondering this question?  Have you been evaluated and your principal asked, how can you demonstrate that all students are engaged in the lesson or how can you assess if learning is taking place?

Ever said, I’m not sure…

Before being a principal, I’m not sure I could have answered this question effectively.  I taught, students learned, I guided, they practiced, I assessed, they answered.  But what did I do to make sure that all students learned in their own way in the classroom?  Today as I was walking rooms, I saw a common theme.

It wasn’t necessarily in scaffolding the lesson or creating different choice boards or activities for students, it was merely by posing a question that was DOK level 3 and giving students the same material to work with and letting them develop questions themselves.

The following is a general summary of a lesson today in 6th grade math. Students were being introduced to the concept of ratios.  They created a KWL chart and filled out what they knew and what they wanted to know.  They wrote things like, it’s comparing two things, it’s a fraction, it has a colon between numbers, etc.  The two questions asked were what is a ratio and how do ratios relate to fractions.  In order for students to understand and answer this question, they truly needed to understand the concept of what a ratio is.  The unique thing about ratios is that unlike fractions, ratios can be part to part, as well as, part to whole.  Fractions are parts to a whole.  Students in the classroom worked through different examples of ratios.  They compared girls to boys in the class (12:17), girls compared to whole class (12:29), and boys compared to whole class (17:29).   They discussed a word problem with partners and gave the various answers as prompted by the questions. They explained their answers and discussed evidence of parts and whole. Here’s the great part…  then, they were asked to take out their science book and look at a paragraph.  The students were paired and asked to come up with questions that could be posed about ratios based on the paragraph that contained the following information:

Number of Words in the Paragraph:  67

Number of Sentences in the paragraph:  3

Paragraph:  1

The students were turned loose to create their own questions.  Here are some examples of the questions they came up with; some of the questions you could have expected.  What was the ratio of words to sentences?  What was the ratio of sentences to paragraph?   What was the ratio of words to the paragraph?

The next questions are where it got interesting.  Remember they were asked to create their own questions and provide the answers:  What is the ratio of commas to periods?  What is the ratio of 4 letter words to 5 letter words?  What is the ratio of capital letters to lower case letters? What is the ratio of letters to words?  What is the ratio of words to letters? What is the ratio of lowercase to all letters?

Do you see what happened?  The problem posed asked them to come up with their own questions, it never identified, how hard or easy it had to be.  The students discussed with their partners and then discussed whole class.  Was everyone engaged? you betcha!  Did everyone understand the concept? you betcha!  Were students able to work at their own ability level on grade level concepts?  You betcha!  Did learning occur?  ABSOLUTELY!  The exit card asked them to fill in what they had learned during the lesson on their chart.

The beauty of what I watched, struggling students were supported, all students were working, and higher students were given the opportunity to push themselves and provide quality examples for the entire class!  Success for every student!!!!!

 

 

 

In AJUSD, one of our focuses is on relationships.  It’s a word I think about often and it’s also something that I think so many of us sometimes take for granted.  In teaching, relationships are everything, especially in elementary education.  Students need to know that we care.

Our character counts focus this month is caring.  As I walked classrooms, I saw teachers giving examples and asking students for examples of caring in day to day life.  It was really fun to hear the students different answers, like “it’s about helping a friend, it’s being nice to someone, it’s making someone feel welcome”, the list goes on.  And then I thought, do we as adults take the time to ask ourselves that question?  What does it mean to care in education?

For many of us, we got into education for the love of children.  We couldn’t wait to help students turn on the light bulb and see their reaction when they finally get it!  We know our standards, we focus on creating quality instruction, we dedicate ourselves to professional development and we assess students for learning.  However, I’ve watched some of the best plans go right out the window because a teacher does not have the ability to relate to children, or doesn’t take the time to get to know their students.

As a principal, I ask teachers to take the time to get to know their students.  To embrace  a few minutes in the day for building relationships.  These relationships are absolutely crucial to student success.  I know of no child who, when they honestly believe you care about them  and you treat them with respect doesn’t go the extra mile for you.  A simple smile at the door, a simple “wow it’s great your here today, I’m so proud that you remembered your homework all week, I really appreciate how everyone is sitting quietly and waiting their turn.”

We remind our students to be caring individuals, to build relationships with their peers, to be nice to everyone.  We as teachers have the huge responsibility of being role models,  not just to the students we work with but everyone who helps make  school a positive, safe and educational environment for our students.

How do you build relationships with your students in the classroom?

 

If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch this video, it’s extremely powerful!  Rita is a wonderful role model and speaker!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFnMTHhKdkw

 

 

Hello Bloggers!

January 7, 2014 | Expectations  |  1 Comment

Perspective is going to be a blog about the little things that teachers do and can do to make a difference.  Real world application and real world situations that every teacher goes through everyday.  A principal’s perspective is always interesting because as principals, we see the entire school, not just one classroom, yet we see the impact that one classroom can have on the entire school!  So on to today’s perspective…

Back from the holiday!

As a principal, it’s always interesting to see teachers and students return to school from the winter break.  New teachers have had an opportunity to rest after an exhausting first semester.  You can start to see that yes, they believe they might make it.  Veteran teachers are excited to be back and try out the new things they came up with after two weeks of rest and the students are just doing everything they can to just stay awake because they haven’t been getting up until noon, and now it’s back to school and thinking and problem solving at 9:00am, oh boy!

So as I walked classrooms today, something I do everyday, I noticed the little things that teachers do that make such a difference in a smooth transition back to school.  Classrooms were neat, schedules were posted and every teacher stepped back into their schedule as if it were just another day.  Expectations were set that school is a place to learn and when we are here, it’s learning time.  The students responded beautifully and the happy chatter of kids was heard all over the school in problem solving, sharing the clues in the text they found, studying how fast their plants had grown while they were gone, and citing evidence from text to support their ideas.  It was truly an eye opening experience!  Structure can be so calming and when used properly it’s an incredible tool to return to business as usual!

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