Beyond the Assessment Institute…

This is cross posted at the Cooperative Catalyst.

I do think words matter. (See a previous post here.) I think how we define words matter and it’s important to have common definitions, language and belief systems when working together and sharing kids.

Joe Bower ended his post today with a quote from Socrates about the beginning of wisdom and defined, “…assessment as a process where the teacher and student work together to nurture a desire to go on learning…” That made me wonder…Is that how I would define assessment?  Is that how YOU would define assessment?

I KNOW it’s not how many teachers would define assessment. This summer, I’m going to participate in a professional development opportunity in my county, one we call the CAI (Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction) Institute and the topic is assessment.    Two of the outcomes are supposed to be:

  • A shared model for a process of assessment among stakeholders
  • Develop knowledge and skills for participants in assessment:
    • process
    • task and item creation
    • leadership

So, clearly the leaders of this work see assessment as a process.  But, is it a process “where the teacher and student work together to nurture a desire to go on learning” as Joe says?  Is it a process to find out what is known and unknown?  Is it a process to define future steps for learning and evaluate past actions? Is it all of those and more–or less?

Will teachers leave after three days with new skills in assessing? Will we have an opportunity to define assessment and come to a common understanding of the purpose of assessment? Or will we simply go back to our schools and continue to do weekly multiple choice tests to see what kids have learned in math, or drill kids with online programs like Spelling City and Accelerated Reader to define what they know and don’t know?

In looking at this year’s purpose of the CAI Institute, will we change our practice and how will we know whether it has made a difference? Will the representative teachers chosen to go then return to their schools and share what they learned to make changes in more teaching practices? Will we see language shifts in talking about student learning?  Will “item” mean a multiple choice question and “task” mean a real world one? Will we spend time on developing common language and exploring beliefs and building on current understandings to deepen knowledge and experience? Will there be opportunities to really delve into the work of creating high quality assessments that will make a difference in classrooms and in students’ lives? Will students see a difference in how they are asked to show their learning, or will worksheets still abound?  Will principals allow that to occur or will they be the leaders who set guidelines that drive a change to deeper ways of assessing?

HOW will the Institute be set up to forge common beliefs, to change the language we use in describing student learning and to refine assessment literacy to move beyond traditional methods to ones that make sense to the learner?  How would you set up a workshop like that?

What advice would you give the people who are setting up this opportunity, and how would YOU structure my day to have the biggest impact on students when we return to our schools to share what we’ve done?  How would you ensure that this three day institute would actually change what teachers and students do in school?

Wiki Work

Recently someone asked for wikis to share in a wiki presentation, and thinking about how to explain mine, I decided it would be easier just to blog about them.

The first one I’d show is Potatoes, Pumpkins and Plenty More which is a wiki fourth graders put together to make their learning transparent to the classroom teachers while reading a couple of Megan McDonald’s books. The setting of both books is the early 1900’s and both books begin with grandpa telling the grandson and granddaughter a story of when he was young.  The story ends with a set-up for the next book and the kids clamoring for the story, but grandpa says something like “Not now.  That’s another story for another day.”

When I asked the kids if they wanted to make a wiki based on these books, they immediately wanted to write the third story in the series, which Ms. McDonald  never published. So some began composing while others immediately went to the wiki and began making new pages.  Two students began creating a dictionary page for  The Potato Man and when two others saw that, they asked if they could then do one for The Great Pumpkin Switch. Of course I said yes.  Without prompting, kids created an author page, a character page, and then an opinions page showed up!

But the most incredible thing to me were the stories the 4th graders wrote. The stories were filling up this wiki, though, and so we decided to move them to a separate wiki and connect that one to this one. One student’s Lucky Penny story amazingly captured Megan McDonald’s style and even set up yet a fourth story at the end of her writing!  Thus another wiki, the Brown Box Stories was born. Another student went down a different path and suggested yet another connected wiki, the one called Plenty More.  A great piece of this work for all of the students was the amount of self direction and creativity they showed.

Wiki #2 is one I created as part of a collaborative lesson these same fourth grade teachers and I planned together. The name of this one is “When is an estimate close enough?” In this one, I wrote up the lesson we planned to do together and set up additional pages  for them to use later when back in their classrooms.  On the resources page is an estimation calculator that is fabulous!  There are also videos about how to estimate in specific situations. It’s worth showing a teacher-created wiki.

And, wiki #3 would be either Nicolas’s wiki, specifically his iPad Review pages or the Crozet LED Kids wiki, specifically the report pages from each group. Nicolas is a self-directed learner who “gets” social media and how important the connecting piece of that is. One could spend hours studying the work he has done on his wiki in the two years he’s had it, and the quality is pretty sophisticated for a young man who wrote it as an 11 and 12 year old. This is an independently designed and created wiki.

The Crozet LED kids shared the process they followed while participating in a contest that was aimed at middle and high school kids where they were the only elementary kids designing an LED project. The honesty and the forthrightness is refreshing and they clearly understood how to show what they know. It’s about making learning transparent and sharing.

Kids truly never cease to amaze me. Their willingness to work hard on stuff that matters, to share their thinking and to support each other to create quality work is simply astonishing to watch and support.

Holy Cow!

This post was begun in early November, 2010 and finished in late December.

I’m a smart person. I come from a smart family. I have always gotten clear messages from my family that intelligence and learning is valued. I was told by my mother that I could be anything or do anything I wanted to in life if I simply put my mind to it, and I believe that mostly. I enjoy challenges, brainteasers, puzzles and conundrums.  I like asking hard questions and fiddling around with possibilities.  I look for patterns and relationships in my world and love the big picture conversations that come my way.

BUT. . . . when I became a gifted teacher–or more accurately, a teacher of gifted students–I began to question just how smart I was.  My kids are so much smarter than me, and the parents of some of my students blow me away.  Just two examples:

I have a parent who is incredibly smart and he and I enjoy talking and sharing ideas and thoughts about his two very talented kids–and we always move on to big picture kinds of things, the world in general, education in particular, and lots of just general stuff that intrigues one or the other of us. The other day I was showing him a game we have done in math so he could play it with his son, and the minute I finished sharing the instructions, he said something that showed he had a deep understanding of the math behind this game intuitively and immediately. The quickness of his grasp of the big ideas and the depth of understanding in the minute details of the math was simply mind-blowing.  I sincerely was bowled over by the fact he got so quickly what I had taught and only come to through playing the game I had taught my kids.

Then, today, I was teaching divisibility rules to my 4th and 5th graders. I taught the rules for figuring out if a number was divisible by 2 and then by 3, and then showed them how easy it was to figure out whether a number was divisible by 6 from knowing the rules for 2 and 3. We then talked about how to tell if  number was divisible by 5 (it ends in  a 0 or 5) and  someone asked, what about 4?  I honestly drew a blank, so I told them I couldn’t remember and asked them to try to figure it out while I googled it. By the time I had done that and printed out a copy (so I could review the rest before tomorrow’s lesson), I had many kids with very reasonable hypotheses.  However, one kid had it down. . .she said (in words, with no lists, no drawings, no numbers written down) that in any 2 digit number if the first number was odd, then the ones place had to be a 2 or a 6, for the number to be divisible by 4.  Furthermore, if the 10’s digit was even, then the ones digit had to be 0, 4 or 8 for the number to be divisible by 4. (She’s 11.)

I had to write it down to see her pattern.  I chose to use a stem and leaf plot so the kids could begin to see real uses for it (It WILL be on the state test after all.) As I wrote it on the board for all to see, I realized the brilliance of her response. I realized she had seen a pattern in about as quick a moment as had the adult earlier in the day. Class was almost over, so we didn’t have time to talk about it much–but I left it up so we can tomorrow. The thing that really got me, though, was the fact that after school I called two of the three fifth grade teachers in to see her thinking and one didn’t get it, and the other was blown away–“Holy Cow!” were her exact words…

And “Holy Cow” is right…I have MANY students who think like that girl and that Dad…yet for the majority of their day they sit in  regular classroom and do exactly what everyone else does, being given the same directions. Yet the one that worries me is the teacher who didn’t even understand what the kid was doing and thinking. . .how can she recognize when the kid needs extension and some other work than the regular classroom work? This speaks to the need for gifted kids being in classrooms with teachers who have either had some support knowing how to work with gifted kids, or who are simply smart as heck themselves–because smart people can recognize the different kinds of thinking gifted kids do.

How do we restructure our classes, our schools, indeed, our very world so that the talents of our children do not get wasted?  How do we set up life experiences for all children so that they are constantly growing and thinking and being challenged instead of marking seat time until they can do what they want to do? How do I help my classroom teachers see the need for something else for children who learn faster than the speed of light, who think differently and who need more than marking seat time?

Holy Cow, we have a lot of work to do–the system as it exists doesn’t work for so many–so what will you do to change it where you are?

No Fiction? Grant Wiggins, What Were You Thinking?

Because of reading fiction with 5th graders, I had a student write this after reading Grandpa’s Mountain:grandpadrop

The Park did something wrong to do something right. It wasn’t black or white, right or wrong. It was shades of gray. ThinkQuest has made me think for myself. Now I don’t think what other people want me to think, I sort it out myself.

(from “Our Stories” on What Price This Mountain?)

About a dozen years ago I was teaching 4th grade and had to teach about the Civil War. The kids had to know some specific battles and the basic issues for the state test, but that wasn’t what worried me about teaching it–it was how to teach it to 9 and 10 year olds without the blood, guts and gore of teaching about war. I think about that a lot because I’m a softie who cries at anything, and I also have nightmares easily when I hear about cruelty–and I didn’t want to cause my students either nightmares or tears!

When studying the Civil War, I decided to teach the idea of conflict through the book, Across the Lines , which is a point/counterpoint between two young boys.  One is a slave who chooses to escape in the craziness of the master’s plantation being overrun by the “Yanks” and the other is the master’s son, who has always considered the slave his friend, without realizing the condescending attitude he held toward his “friend.”


Because of reading the  fictional Across the Lines with students, I had a young Jewish student state in class that he, too, was nervous about learning about the Civil War and all the blood and horror it might include, but he really liked the way we had studied it, through books.  He went on to say something like, “When we began, I thought I knew what the Civil War was about–it was about slavery and I knew that was wrong.  But now that we’ve studied it, I know it was about more than that–it was about state’s rights and the federal government’s right to tell states what to do, and it was about more than slavery. I understand now that slavery was complicated, and it wasn’t just black or white. It really is shades of grey.”  (He is currently in college studying politics, fully intending to go to Washington and make a difference.)

(Both classes had been reading historical fiction novels by Carolyn Reeder, and one of her books is called Shades of Grey.) These are NOT isolated responses–read the other students’ thoughts on “Our Stories.”

The other day my Superintendent, Pam Moran, tweeted : “U of Mich study shows today’s college students: 40% less empathy than 20-30 yrs ago.”

Would you say my students had no empathy?  These groups are currently in college or freshly out.

Come on, Grant Wiggins–admit there’s a place for both fiction and non-fiction, and realize great teachers can do great things with a great piece of fiction.  We teach WAY beyond the fiction in the book.

Planting… or Uncovering… Brilliance

“Planting Brilliance” is a phrase I first heard in a post by Ben Grey. After thinking about some conversations with some of the teachers in my school, I’m thinking it’s more about uncovering brilliance. Or maybe it’s about building faith in one’s own brilliance.

I grew up in a household where I was told (in an era of stay-at-home Moms) that I could do or be anything I wanted to, if I just put my mind to it. That was from my Mom.  My Dad always said he didn’t care what I did, as long as I did my best and did something I loved. There was never a question as to whether I was going to college, although Dad hadn’t graduated—he met my mother in college, they fell in love, eloped, and he went to work and just never finished—but we kids always knew he was smart, just as we knew our mother was, too. I grew up in a home where parents believed in the power of an education, and were supportive of schooling—and also learning. My mother and I spent many Sunday afternoons (after church and cleaning up from Sunday dinner) playing Scrabble with a dictionary between us. We paid no attention to the time rules—the goal was to find new words, interesting words, and to make the most points we possibly could. I don’t remember a winner or loser—or caring about that—it was the pursuit of words that was the goal.

When I became a teacher, I was much like Ben describes in his post—“We step through the door on that birth of our career with thoughts that we will change the world. Or many tiny worlds.” but then reality set in and I found out not all kids had been taught to believe in themselves. It didn’t take me long, though, to figure out that many kids just needed someone to believe in them for them to believe in themselves. I also had been punished enough as a kid for being a rule-bender, a limits-pusher and a question-asker that I wasn’t interested in being a yeller or a punisher, so kids quickly figured that out about me. I ignored a lot and didn’t give them the attention they were seeking—yet I did give them good kinds of attention. I think my joy of learning, my love of books and my generally happy attitude was somewhat contagious to kids and caused most to want to try in my classes.

However, I also realized a long time ago that I would have kids in my class that I didn’t immediately connect with—or worse yet, that immediately made me bristle for some reason. The fact is that if I catch myself feeling like that with a kid, I consciously make an effort to be one on one with that child as much as I can. I invite them to have lunch with me.  I ask them to run errands to the office. I ask them to hand out or collect papers, or be line leader.  What I discovered (again, long ago) is that when I am with a kid one to one, I find ways to connect with them. I discover their interests or humor, or sadness, or something that builds a connection between us. . . so that we are no longer at odds or strangers to one another.

As an adult, I’m realizing now that that was kind of what happened with my 6th grade teacher—I just didn’t connect—ever—and I don’t think she ever tried to connect with me. What a shame—I’ve never forgotten her—first name of Pocahontas, and the Indian native, Pocahontas is one of my distant relatives. Could have been quite an opportunity to connect, but instead I remember her because we didn’t. I only remember one other first name of a teacher and that’s because he connected with me academically and as a human being…he used to pass the bus stop each day and on rainy/cold/snowy days he’d give my brother and me a ride to school.

John Dewey says we are there to help find “out the conditions of the environment and the kinds of activities in which the positive capabilities of each young person could operate most effectually.” (John Dewey.p 139) Pocahontas didn’t do that.  Mr. Arrington did. I am trying to, and I look every day to try to uncover brilliance or build a child’s faith in his or her own smarts. Challenge them, give them success and then raise the expectation… and then challenge them again. Teaching is not just about sharing knowledge, it’s about being human and helping kids feel smart and finding their own strengths. The more they know about themselves–about how they learn, how they think, what they enjoy and don’t enjoy, the more prepared they’ll be to learn throughout life and find their niche–or niches. So many times we simply don’t allow students to show us their brilliance.. .so the next time you feel your hackles rising at something a child did, stop yourself from responding immediately  and then ask him or her to have lunch with you today. Watch the situation deflate and enjoy the company at lunch! See if you can help uncover some brilliance!

What’s Working? Conversations!

This post was originally entitled “We Need To Ability Group” but after listening to the NBC Town hall on September 25, 2010 @johnccarver had the idea of asking “What’s Working?” on Twitter. I suggested we all go write a blog about what’s working and share them with the hashtag #educationnation. Here’s mine.

My 4th and 5th grade teachers are thinking reflectively through grouping, response to intervention and providing enrichment an quality learning experiences for all kids right now. They’re thinking though pre-assessments, flexible grouping and ways to differentiate that meet many different kinds of learning needs.

On Thursday, several of us were having a conversation about some of the issues we face when adding a SPED teacher and Gifted teacher into the mix. Both grades have math at the same time, and scheduling and flexible grouping brings many challenges. One of the teachers said, “We just need to ability group!”  and I responded, “Ability group, or achievement group?”  The teacher nods and says, “Yeah, I meant achievement group.”

The third teacher is looking at us quizzically, and I said, “There’s no way we can truly know the real ability of these students–we can only speak to their current level of achievement. We don’t know what these kids are capable of, giving the right situation and opportunities, so how could we possibly group that way?  If we say “these kids are the bottom kids,” then what do we doom them to believing about themselves? And what are we saying to parents about the potential of their children?”

She then nodded and said, “Oh, I see what you’re getting at–achievement grouping and NOT ability grouping–we all need to use that language as we talk about just how we’re going to meet the needs of all of our children!”

It’s not JUST about the language, but also the beliefs…and helping folks be aware of the beliefs they may accidentally portray by words is important. We haven’t decided just exactly how we’re going to split up the kids… but as we do, I know at least three of us will be thinking about the differences between achievement and ability as we talk.

Words do matter. When teachers confuse the language, how do we help parents understand education? Achievement and ability are two different things–let’s make sure we don’t confuse them, or use them interchangeably!

Related Posts by DJakes:

Words Matter

Words Matter: Game Changer

Incidental Learning #2

This post is a continued reflection of me going  into a Kindergarten class to do a series of lessons on graphs and wondering about the incidental learning K kids are doing while I’m in there.  The set up for this series of posts can be found here or here, I cross posted it.

So on Thursday, I went and introduced myself to them with a book called “Once Upon a Time”  where “A boy and his parents move to a new house where it seems there’s “Not much to do. / Not much to see.” As the book continues, the boy remains by the cottage, but familiar faces begin to dot the landscape: a golden-haired girl chased by three bears, a trio of pigs each toting a bundle of different building materials. Young listeners acquainted with classic nursery rhymes will quickly recognize the game and begin searching for their favorite characters.” (The quote is from Amazon’s review, and the picture below is from Amazon as well.) I was using it to see how well-versed the kids were about what are supposed to be familiar stories for young kids, so I wanted kids to call out and I wanted to see how many could name the characters as they entered the pictures.

onceuponatimeIt was hilarious–kids were giggling, fidgeting, talking to one another and the teacher and I were just howling with some of their comments. It was also a hit–the kids couldn’t wait until I returned the next day to help them tell a story with “just dots and lines.”

So the next day I came back, read a fairly traditional rendition of The Three Little Pigs (Paul Galdone’s verison) and then I pulled out the paper where we were going to make a line graph and tell our story with “just lines and dots.” I modeled doing the worksheet shown here, and we then sent all of the kids to their seats to make their own story to take home.  What an eye-opener–just ask any teacher what they can see when you ask K kids to do a worksheet on the 17th day of school when you’ve just done it in front of them. You can see the kids who have preschool experience who have learned to “play school” well–they want to copy yours exactly.  You can see the kids who have little experience with writing… you can tell the kids who know how to line items up well and those who don’t get that detail…you can see names written (or not) and as they work together, you can clearly see kids who need support.

So I’m standing by a table with several kids who are struggling to do the dots and lines and I’m helping them along.  This activity isn’t set up to see who can do the worksheet perfectly, but to help us see who gets the concept of lines going up and down to symbolically represent high and low feelings of fear in the story.

As I was helping one child, two boys at the other end of my table began the “he wrote on my paper” call outs. I moved to lean down beside the closest one to me and a third child also said it, pointing to the boy beside her. (I’m beside a black kid, looking across the table at two white kids.) I immediately turn to the boy beside me (to stop his continued tattling) and  as I do so, I think to myself, “Dang, what are they thinking with me talking to the black kid first?”  I KNOW how kids watch everything the teacher does and read into it… so I’m now thinking,”This is a predominantly white school, and many of these kids haven’t much experience with other races. Are they reading into my looking to the black kid first that I think he’s guilty when the two white kids aren’t? I know I did it because he was closest and I can have a semi private conversation with him if I need to, but they don’t know that. What can I do to take any possible stigma away here?”

So I say, “How did you feel when he wrote on your paper?”  The kid is STILL saying “He wrote on mine first” and, looking at the other boy,”You did it to me first.” He was clearly trying NOT to be the first one in trouble, and staking his claim as simply doing back what had been done to him. I literally leaned forward more so he could no longer see the other boy and repeated, “How did you feel when he wrote on your paper?” He stopped cold in the middle of another disclaimer and looked at me.  I asked it again, and he and I both were conscious of the whole table watching and listening. I repeated my question again, adding, “Did it feel good?  Did you like it when he wrote on your paper?” He simply shook his head no. I then backed up so the two boys could see each other again and asked the white boy how he felt–did it make him feel good when his paper was written on. He also said no. I then asked him if he meant to make the other (black) kid feel bad.  He said no.  I then asked the kid beside me if he meant to make the other (white) kid feel bad, and he said no.  I completely ignored the girl who had tattled, as my goal was NOT to get into who did what when.

I then looked at both of them and said, “If you didn’t mean to make the other boy feel bad, please think of that next time you start to write on someone else’s paper–think how you’ll make them feel.”  And I backed off and went back to the kid I had been helping. They looked at each other and then went back to their own papers.

I hope they learned it’s not about placing blame.

I hope they learned I really don’t care who started it.

I hope they learned it’s about how you make someone feel.

Shaping behavior in a classroom is ALL about how you make them feel.

And when teachers shape behavior, we have to be cognizant of ALL the nuances–what kids might be learning incidentally if we always look to certain children first, or if we always choose certain children to be our helpers, or if our messages are not consistently about taking care of each other and not making others feel bad.

Shaping behavior in a classroom is all about how you make them feel.

IWBs in 140 Characters

Recently I’ve seen some some discussion about IWBs (interactive whiteboards) on Twitter.  Having been coming and going sporadically in Twitter for quite a while now, I don’t really know the issues being talked about–I have just picked up that there is a yeah, “we’re for them” group, and a “no, we’re not” group. The latest comment I saw was @Tom Whitby’s tweet, “Plz read & comment: My Latest Post: IWB’s Help or Hurt? #edchat #education #edtech”  to which I responded,”@tomwhitby An IWB is inanimate… it’s what the teacher does with it that makes a diff–and helps or hurts what? #edchat #education #edtech

So,in reading the tweets referencing IWBs, I can’t help but think about one of my early experiences on Twitter–where @Betchaboy (Chris Betcher, from Australia), asked for IWB stories for a book he and a friend were writing.  🙂   I contacted him and offered to share a story-and it was indeed printed in the book, The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution.

With the intent of getting involved in the conversation, I’m reposting it here as I sent it to Chris in October, 2008.  As I recall, it was somewhat edited in the book, but don’t have the book here with me to check.

Students may like the “interactivity” of IWBs, but the communal engagement of using them is most powerful. Typically, students fill in the blank or answer closed questions on IWB notebook activities teachers find or create, with the IWB simply being a big touchscreen where kids compete to show they know the correct answer. As I plan, I search for ways that the technology changes the task or increases the depth of how the task is understood or completed. I also consider the potential for thoughtful conversations.

Influential activities I use involve co-editing or co-creating a product to meet specific goals. Many teachers I work with use “Editor in Chief” where students read, edit and (sometimes) recopy in their best handwriting the edited text. When “Editor in Chief” is done on the IWB, students observe peers modeling their thinking about the mistakes made and how to correct them. I often see an increase in intellectual risk-taking as students become willing to share in order to have a turn to use the IWB.  They actually clamor to edit!
Discussing student strategies and options for revision are also much easier than when students simply read their text aloud, describing what they did. The IWB allows for
and promotes engagement through a variety of learning modes.

Another powerful activity involves teaching students summarizing and notetaking, a high yield strategy identified by Robert Marzano. My students examine a text (often wikipedia entries, so we can explore authenticity and accuracy) about a historical event, such as “. . . the importance of the American victory at Yorktown.” (VA SOL Virginia Studies 5.c)

We display the Seige of Yorktown wikipedia text on the IWB, with 2 students having airliners.  The rest have their textbooks/laptops and history journals. I like the airliners (a wireless slate connected to the display computer through Bluetooth technology) because, with the slate, students control the IWB from wherever they are in the room.  Working from their seat puts the emphasis on the text on the IWB, not the person in front activating the board.

As everyone silently reads the text, they note vocabulary that may be an issue for or interesting to them. Students without airliners attempt to condense the text into one sentence or main idea. Concurrently, one “airliner pilot” is using colored pens to mark up the text on the IWB as the second pilot watches. The goal is to make learning and thinking transparent, and the use of the IWB facilitates this by allowing students to see what other students are doing, AS THEY ARE DOING IT. As students finish their independent work, they, too, watch the first pilot who is using the airliner and IWB to make their thinking transparent.

We probe why pilot #1 did what s/he did, and others naturally chime in to describe their process. When we have finished probing, we all contribute as pilot # 2 attempts the same two tasks (with more information and having had instruction), now synthesizing and evaluating everything that has been said and done to this point. Doing this twice supports another of Marzano’s strategies, reinforcing effort and providing recognition. Working, thinking, talking and learning together, we encourage each other to provide recognition for work well done, as we comment upon, agree or disagree and improve our understanding of essential content and effective summarizing. The way we use the IWB is integral to this process of thinking and collaboration.

We then reflect upon condensing the entry into one sentence, discussing the efficiency, effectiveness and support for understanding that provides. Marzano’s research shows that students should substitute, delete and keep some things as they use the basic structure of the information presented. Using the IWB allows us, as a group, to work on the structure of the text, comparing and contrasting our first activity of a “one sentence summary” to collaboratively creating a more effective summary.

When students share their processes and strategies, other students hear what they are looking at, paying attention to and the connections they make as they read and work.  Sharing this “thinking about their thinking” provides models for less experienced students to note that successful summarizers pay attention to things such as text features, the connections a reader makes (whether it be self to text, text to text, or text to world, etc.) and the vocabulary in the text so that they can use it or find synonyms as they restate the material in their own words.

Students learn to question what is unclear, seek clarification and analyze a text/topic to uncover what is central, restating it in their on words. Using the IWB to scaffold students observing, talking about and reflecting upon their own process supports deeper understanding. As we finish this lesson by collaboratively creating a clearly stated summary of our text, students noticeably show their increased understanding of summarizing, and we all acknowledge that having the IWB as a tool helped tremendously!

There are some other great examples in the book, so if you can get your hands on it, it is worth reading.

Now, having said all that and describing some ways to use an IWB well (I think), let me say I don’t use one in my classroom. It’s simply too hard to go get it, set it up and plan out how to use it in powerful ways. I prefer to use the SmartBoard notebook software with my airliners and an LCD projector hooked to my computer–no need for the big board, or the time it takes to get it and set it up..  🙂 I also think it promotes the sage on the tage rather than collaboration and I prefer hands on work in small groups. I also think we can do a lot of what I’d think of doing with other tools online that are just as good, more easily accessible and not space hogs. So, I guess I’d have to join the group I referenced above that says “no, we’re not for them.”

Now, catch me up and challenge my stance.  Please.

What Kids Take Away From Our Lessons

Many of you know I have been complaining on Twitter lately about all the snow we’ve had–over 50 inches in a state that has about 18″ in a normal season–storms of 1-2 FEET where we normally have 2-4 inches at a time. . . I’m really tired of it!

But, it’s been an interesting ride to see how many of my kids have gotten on wikimail and tried to interact with me or work on their wiki on our snow days.  Several have actually written and asked if there was anything they could do for school, so I set up an assignment for them this morning.  We’ll see what happens with that!.

I got a REALLY cute wiki mail this AM.  I have my mail set up so that when I get a wikimail, it flashes in the bottom right corner of my desktop.  If I’m on, I respond right away.  So this morning, I was working on a blog when a kid began interacting with me. On about the 6th exchange, he wrote: “So it’s really true you respond within seconds.”

The other night I had two girls at a sleepover asking me questions about some links I had sent out.  Realizing they really wanted to think, I sent one of them the following email: (My words are in purple)

Remember about two weeks ago when I was telling you something and you asked me if it was going to be on the test and when I said no, you said, good, because I don’t understand it? And you weren’t willing to push through to get it? And I told you I couldn’t believe you said that?

An online friend of mine, Scott McLeod, blogged this today:

“Just tell me what to do”

Seth Godin wrote toda
y that:

People are just begging to be told what to do. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think the biggest one is: “If you tell me what to do, the responsibility for the outcome is yours, not mine. I’m safe.”

I think another big reason is that most people spent at least 12 years of their life being deeply socialized in the “just tell me what to do” model.

We know that schools strongly emphasize compliance in the name of order and discipline. We know that the fact-regurgitation model that still dominates schooling mostly leads to the student mentality of “Just tell me what to do to get a B,” rather than “Inspire me to follow my passions and interests and learn more about this on my own.” We shouldn’t be surprised when our graduates take that mentality with them into higher education and/or the workplace.


Now read this:

Here’s my question:

What would be on YOUR resume from Crozet?


(I did exchange several wikimails helping them understand parts and pieces of the Edurati article and telling them to skip parts of it.)

I totally expected something content driven. After all, I have taught these kids off and on since they were in first grade. These are smart kids, used to me posing hard questions and asking them to reflect on their learning.  I currently have them for math every day.

However, this is what I got back from one, the next morning, after the friend had gone home:

in my resume, I would say…
1 I have learned to work better in a group. (I can do it better than when I started at Crozet)
2 I have learned to exept (accept) whatever someone throws at me.
3 I have learned that ALL teachers have different ways of teaching, and some of them I like, and some of them I don’t like.

I have learned…
4 You should NOT have a boys table or a girls table, no matter what you think.
(My rule-they can choose seats, but have to be gender mixed at the table.)
5 Everyone thinks differently, and you should listen to what other people think, to here (hear) what they think. (Why they think the question is wrong or right).
6 Laugh at your mistakes.
7 There is ALWAYS more than one way to work the problem.
8 Make learning fun.

Here are some of the ones that I thought of.

5th grade student

Pretty insightful, hm?

Would love to hear your thoughts. . .

Mimicry-Ya Got That?

As I’ve been working on thinking about “LEARNING”  for the project at Thinking About Words Through Images,  my camera has been my constant companion at school.  That’s not unusual, for me to pull out my camera and snap pictures of my students working, but the difference is that I have told them WHY I am taking pictures and some of what I am thinking.  I have shared the link to that wiki, and it’s been interesting–knowing that I am collaborating with educators from all over the world seems to have had an impact on my students. I notice them commenting on each others’ wikis more, offering strategies in class more explicitly and asking each other questions that imply accountability to the community (like, have you finished your  geometry wiki page, I’ll call you tonight to remind you to bring in your iPod, etc.)

But, I wonder– am I seeing these things more because I am looking for specific instances of learning to photograph?

I have learned a lot in the first week of January, trying to take pictures of “learning.” First, it’s HARD trying to capture a still picture of the active learning in which my kids engage. I find myself wanting to describe the pictures, to explain what’s going on, to share the amazing thinking I see in my kids. While the images can capture some of what is going on, I need words as well.  I find myself posting my lessons (both adult and student ones) to the web, describing what happened and what I was hoping to happen. It’ll be interesting to see what I think and how I’m looking at the world through the lens of my camera at the end of the month.

What else I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter what age kids are, they still mimic their teacher.

In teaching kindergarten, one of the funniest things to watch was when kids were in “free choice” time and they chose to play school.  I would hear my words coming out of their mouths, just as in housekeeping, I would hear their parents’ words.  It was eye-opening in both situations, and I often changed the ways I worded things based on the feedback I received watching my kids mimic me. (In parent conferences, I often told parents I wouldn’t believe half of what their kid told me about them if they’d promise me the same–because we ALL know that age also has a very active imagination!)

Yesterday was a hoot–the mimicry happened with fifth graders. In my class, when students are explaining their thinking, I often play confused so they have to be more explicit in their explanation and they learn how to explain their thinking more logically, sequentially and in depth.  I check for understanding with the group listening frequently by stopping the explainer periodically and asking the group things like, “Do you understand what s/he is saying?”  or “Did you get that?”  or “Does everybody know what s/he means when s/he says. .. ?”   I guess my most used is, “Did you get that?” Kids in my class don’t hesitate to ask for more explanation because this is part of our day-to-day conversations, AND they see me model confusion and asking clarifying questions.

Ms. White, Tzstchr

In a lesson where these pictures were taken, I was playing my confused self.  I had been taking pictures, but sat down at a table to probe a student who was making an assumption she shouldn’t have been making. Setting my camera on the table, I began asking the child to show me her thinking. After several minutes of interaction, another student picked up my camera and began taking pictures of our interactions. I paid no attention to that and continued with my questions.  She put the camera down, and throughout the next 5-10 minutes, several students took turns picking it up and taking pics as others gathered around to hear the conversation and support the child being questioned if they could. watchingThe pictures they got were pretty good (I had to leave out two because they have students whose pictures may not be put on the web.)

However, the funniest part was Toria taking over the explanation for the child I had begun with and explaining to me the way she saw to work the problem.  (She describes class on her wiki page, MathIDidToday.)   She was showing me her way, and I made her do it three different ways, apparently not understanding each time. (I asked her to, NOT because she didn’t get it, but because she was so adroit at thinking flexibly, choosing various shapes and changing her approach and modeling descriptive language for the others watching.)  By the third time, she was getting a wee bit frustrated with my lack of “getting it”, so she finished and, (truly) standing up, with a hand flourish, asked,  “Ya got that?”

The class erupted in HOWLING laughter. . .that’s why they all left with the red faces Toria describes!

UPDATE: the kid who picked up the camera first just wiki-mailed me and asked if I had ever figured out whether S4 was half of S5 (which was the problem we were working on that’s described in this blog.). I wrote her back this message:

Hanna, I’ll share a secret that you cannot share.
Please read this:


Her response back to me was simply priceless:

wow that is so cool i have never known but i did notice that you ALLWAYS didn’t get what we were telling you