Monday, December 31, 2012

#Rechat...Playing with Second Chances

Life has been busy, to say the least, so I took a couple month hiatus from Twitter.  While on winter break, from teaching, I decided to “slowly” get back into the swing of Twitter.  That quickly changed when I discovered #rechat this past Saturday morning (9am EST), a chat with a goal to “rethink, reflect and re-imagine” education.   The focus for this particular chat was the role of play in education.  We were encouraged to blog our reflections about play in education and any experiences that we would like to share.  I guess that means I am “slowly” getting back to blogging too!

This has been a topic that I have spent a great time reflecting about since the chat on Saturday.  I am not a fan of learning something just because it’s a standard required to be taught.  One of my biggest complaints about higher education is that I feel like I am completing so many projects and requirements just for the sake of earning another fancy piece of paper.  I do not want my students to have that experience and those thoughts about their education experience.  I want students to be able to explain how the information they are learning can be applied to real life experiences.  Students need to be able to know that mistakes and errors happen and how to identify and learn from them.  Infusing play into education is one way to help student learn how to apply learning to real life situations. 

What is play?  That was a question that was widely discussed during this chat.  I think play can be defined in multiple ways, depending on the age of the learner.  For kindergarten students play could be something as simple as Legos or a sensory table.  Middle school and high school student’s play might look more like inventive play where they are required to create and revise a certain product, depending on the content being taught.  I also believe that adults need play to be able to relate to the experiences that students have within the classroom.  I was given that awesome opportunity in two separate settings this past November, thanks to my wonderful, innovative principal!

The first setting was during a full day teacher in-service where all my co-workers and I went to Priority Designs in Gahanna, Ohio.  We were given a tour, which was like watching play in progress.  We got to see the beginning stages of products, product revisions and then the final products.  The best part of the experience was being able to talk to the designers about their educational experiences.  The majority of the designers had some kind of learning disability and did not have a positive educational experience.  Too much of the learning required of them was reading and writing and not enough was hands-on learning.  They were required to find the correct answer, but never taught how those answers applied to everyday life.  Now they are required to find multiple correct answers, many of which will be revised or completely ignored, which is perfectly acceptable to them.  Revision and reflection was something that was never taught in school, second chances in learning did not happen for them.  However, that is how many of the products we use and depend on every day are created, by second or tenth chances.  After reflecting on this mandatory day of play I realize that, in the world of standardized education, students are not given enough second or tenth chances.  I appreciate being given second chances to improve a grant, IEP document and behavior plan, so I should afford my students the opportunity of second chances as well.

Now on to the second, and more uncomfortable, setting of play.  The day after our Priority Designs tour we had an after school staff meeting.  Instead of talking about the latest cafeteria issues or what the math RTI model looks like for our building we were allowed to play with paint.  Anna Kuenzli from the Creative Art Studio in Bexley, Ohio brought her art studio to our school and taught us how to make concentric circle paintings.  Secretly, I was ready to show the staff I am truly an artist in hiding.  Unfortunately, that artist is still in hiding!  How hard can it be to make a concentric circle painting?  I was allowed to decide my own color scheme and circle sizes, so it can’t be that difficult.  Oh my gosh, I was so stressed while painting!  Something that I secretly had confidence about, like so many of our students might about their comprehension after reading or creation of a poem, quickly disappeared as I walked around the room and look at the other paintings.  I started to think about the students and how their abilities vary so widely within a classroom, similar to the art experience of the teachers in the room.  Yet, we are quick to compare students to the same baseline, no matter what previous or lack of previous experience they bring to the classroom.  Overall, I was proud of my masterpiece (it’s proudly hanging in my classroom), but that was the first time ever painting on canvas so I wouldn’t want it compared it to my good friend’s painting whom has been doing art for years.  I think we need to remember this when educating students.  Some students come to us as avid readers, writers, mathematicians or questioners, so we need to teach them how to extend their thinking.  However, many students never read, write, compute or question unless it is within the walls of the classroom.  We also need to positively encourage these students, and refrain from comparing them to their peers who have had more experience in these areas.  It is through my own experience of play that I have been able to have conversations with students who are quick to say they are stupid or not as smart as another peer, and explain to them how much progress they are personally making.  It is important to teach students that just because they may not get something correct on the first attempt doesn’t mean that they didn’t try their hardest.  Students need to be taught how to reflect on mistakes and first attempts, and then use those reflections to improve on every attempt after that.   

As the New Year gets under way my goal is to be more reflective about my how I purposely plan for play within my teaching.  I learned more about myself as an educator during that in-service and staff meeting than I ever have at a previous staff meetings.  Students need to know how what they are learning applies to everyday life, and also that mistakes are a necessary part of life.  I believe that incorporating a sense of play into learning will help students to achieve both of those goals.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

This I believe - Literature

This I believe…

                I believe in literature, whether it’s in the form of e-books, audio books or ink and paper books.  I have taken Lamar Burton’s saying, “take a look, it’s in a book” and formed my belief system around it.  For me, literature has the ability to connect readers of all age, gender, ethnicity and race.  I believe in using literature to learn about something new, as well as refreshing an idea of old.  

Despite my occupation as a teacher, I am truly an introvert at heart.  I credit literature for helping and counseling me through all of life’s trials and tribulations, and making me into the person and educator that I have become. When I am in a social situation, and I am unsure of how to initiate or continue a conversation, literature always seem to help me find a common discussion point within the conversation.  Literature has given me the confidence to become a more extroverted individual.  

Within my occupation as a teacher, I am required to assess my students in many ways I do not believe in as an educator.  However, literature has been my go to resource for how to ensure student learning without focusing on the pain-staking assessments.  Tapping into the wonderful world of literature, not only opens worlds to students that they do not know exist, but it also helps students feel more confident about their current world and situations.  I spent two years teaching in a school district that did not value literature.  Books were a taboo topic of discussion, where as test prep workbooks were valued.  Students were like plants begging for water, when they would hear me talk about my favorite books.  These students would come to my room at recess and after school, asking if I had the latest Wimpy Kid book or if I could recommend a book by Lois Lowry.  They were eager to join this foreign world of literature.  When I switched school districts and began teaching at one that values literature, the discussions that I was able to have with students was incredible.  When students come to me to borrow books, they are able to articulate what they are interested in and then recommend books that I would be interested in as well.  Students are also able to take literature by their favorite author’s and write like the authors write, but apply their own ideas within that structure.  I believe literature has been the keystone to outstanding student engagement and motivation, not test prep workbooks.

Literature does not judge or care what baggage I may be carrying or the fears that I am hiding.  I believe that literature is a risk-free attempt to try something new and become someone I never dreamed that I could be.  I believe that everyone should be introduced to literature, so people always have a non-judgmental and encouraging place to turn, when unsure.  I believe that a world with literature is a world full of educated, motivated and engaged citizens.    

Monday, April 30, 2012

IEP ePortfolio - A Step Back

                This past fall I wrote about piloting an ePortfolio with students on IEPs.  I’ll be the first to admit that I fell into the Knowing-DoingGap.  I thought about, talked about, started developing, but never followed through with my plan.  Developing the format, while implementing the plan was a formula for becoming quickly overwhelmed.  I’ve spent the last few weeks reading and reflecting.  I really believe in the idea of IEP ePortfolios.  However, I’m taking a step back, creating a sample and asking for some feedback.

                The Power of Portfolios by Elizabeth Herbert provided me with some thought provoking insight.  She spoke about the multiple stages of ownership of a portfolio (p. 45).  Being that I work with K-6 students, my goal is to have three stages of the IEP ePortfolios.  The first stage is K-2 (K-6 the first few years of implementation), the teacher will be the main source of collection of evidence and both the teacher and student will write reflections on the evidence.  The second stage is grades 3-4, that would consist of teacher and student collection of evidence, as well as reflection.  The final stage would be grade 5-6, students would be the main source of collection of evidence, but both the teacher and student would be writing reflections.

                When I started this in the fall, there was no reflection piece attached.  I was collecting all of the data, but neither I nor the student was providing any form of reflection.  Herbert stated that one goal of reflecting is for students to grow metacognitively and to demonstrate competence in telling the story of learning (Herbert, p. 48).  If students are metacognitively aware, I believe they take a greater ownership in their work, which could improve their achievement in school.  When reflecting, the students will be able to decide what form of media will best suit them, oral or written.    To guide the students in reflecting, they will finish the statement, “I choose this piece for my portfolio because….”  After the student reflects, I will then reflect on the evidence and their reflection, tying everything together using the IEP goals and objectives. 

                Also within the ePortfolio, students, parents and general education teachers will be asked to complete a ProgressQuestionnaire related to the IEP goals and objectives.  The questionnaire will be completed at the beginning of each IEP, end of each 9 weeks, as well as before the annual review.  Using this questionnaire, the students will be using a formative assessment to reflect on the progress of their learning.  The students will be able to use this assessment, as a starting tool when discussing their present levels of performance at parent teacher conferences and the IEP annual review.  Parents and general education teachers will also be encouraged to complete the Questionnaire.  Having input, in regards to progress, from all members of the IEP team will ensure transparency within the progress of meeting IEP goals and objectives.    

                The next biggest hurdle, that I am trying to overcome, is when I am going to have these reflection discussions with students.  The majority of students, which I work with, are serviced within a general education setting.  If I pull them out once per week, for 30 minutes, I believe that will give me ample time to keep the student’s reflections current.  However, finding those 30 minutes for reflection discussion is the challenging piece.  As we all know, every minute is precious within the world of education.  As of now, I am tabling this thought until the beginning of next year school.  This may be a hurdle that is best crossed with each regular education teacher individually, as opposed to a one size fits all approach.  

                As I originally stated, in this post, I am take a step back and reevaluating my approach to ePortfolios.  I have started to develop a sample ePortfolio using LiveBinders.  I have yet to include evidence or reflections, but plan on having those pieces uploaded within the next week. Any feedback or advice that you are willing to share, would be much appreciated!