Monthly Archives: December 2013

Reflection

I work hard; it’s a strength of mine. Just like all strengths, it also can become a devastating and consuming weakness. This break has been really good for me so far. I’m happy to report that aside from the posts and a little reading, I’ve been doing a lot for myself. Everyday should be a time for reflection and resolutions, but this time of year puts those ideas in the foreground.

A dear colleague of mine sent me an article several weeks ago, and I just got around to reading it. It’s an article on Ed Week about an American teacher who moved to Finland and began teaching there (EdWeek is free to sign up for online). This teacher learned a lot about himself and the American way of teaching (being, really). Throughout the day in Finland, there are breaks for the kids- after every lesson. Not only do the children have breaks, the teachers do too. And the teachers use those breaks to rest and socialize instead of cramming more planning into every free minute.

It’s so American of me to work through my breaks and my lunches and my weekends. Reflecting on it makes me realize that there’s so much I’m missing in between– especially the rejuvenation and the love for life. It makes me think of my German friends and how they don’t work when they’re not at work; they keep their emails separate. My way of working will lead to burn-out; there’s no question. This idea, of course, is bigger than just me– but I can begin the change with me and maybe even at my school. A few more relaxed teachers will result in more relaxed and independent children. There needs to be more time for children to play and discover the world instead of having it all delivered in filtered, structured, and measurable lessons.

Despite all of the logic, I’m conflicted– what does that mean for accountability and how will that be measured? Finland consistently scores well beyond the United States, but that has only driven our system further from the mindset that helps children grow. Solutions? I suppose one step at a time.

XtraMath

I have been thinking of ways to enhance my math group– especially since my strength is literacy. I’ve been searching around for something productive for my group to do on Fridays when I’m not in school. I want it to challenge them, but I’m also aware that I’m not there to guide them. Always looking for free resources, I happened upon this one called XtraMath. In the week we come back from break, I’m going to spend some time teaching the group to navigate the site and independently sign on with their information.

A special thanks to Alex T. Valencic of Adventures in Teaching Fourth for his post about XtraMath that helped me form this idea. I will write a follow-up with details on how it goes.

And… Break!

The weeks leading up to a break are filled with anticipation. Everything seems frantic and all I can think about is having time to myself and my family. The final week is laden with exhaustion, depletion, and excitement. Each day begins with a deep breath, a cup of coffee, and a countdown. Routines have never been more important, and academic expectations need to be lowered for everyone’s sanity. Children are so easily distracted by travel plans and holidays and family; their minds are not in the classroom. The same is true for teachers. 

In addition to the extensive report writing that so many special educators engage in over the breaks, there’s a certain rejuvenation that takes place. There’s enough time to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning without a million things to plan for the day, to bake, to cook every meal, to remember personal hobbies, and to reignite the passion for teaching creatively.

My next couple of posts will be about the new resources and ideas I find for teaching while I explore my own hobbies at home.

Have a wonderful (almost) winter break, teachers. You deserve it.

Differentiating with Technology

When I was growing up, my computer classes were focused on typing and how to use specific programs. As the Technology Coordinator this year, it’s my job to facilitate lessons using technology. My focus is not on the smaller skills like how to save a Word Document, but on the bigger picture: to use computers to extend learning. The skills are absolutely needed, but children learn those skills through use, not through direct instruction (just like language). Every time I’ve gone to PD on a computer program, I find that I already knew 90% of what was presented because I’ve played around with computers. The creative aspect of technology is the part that’s harder to learn and harder to teach.

So far, I’ve worked with two classes in the lab. Our focus has been research on a topic they’re learning in class. One group is a fifth grade group and the other is a second grade group. It is so easy to differentiate the instruction with they way I have it set up. Some children are writing based on their research, and some are having their learning recorded on video. They’re each having a chance to express what they’ve learned in a way that is just right for them.

Before getting to this point, I needed to work on infrastructure– some of which is constantly evolving. The students have a student login with a student email account that I facilitate. I write the students an email as my prep for the lesson. Each child opens the email with their name in the subject, and they have a detailed list of instructions for their assignment. I can find appropriate resources based on their reading levels. My time with the group is maximized because I don’t need to give group directions– children are motivated to understand how to use computers.

Next week, I’ll have headphones for each computer, and I’m going to install a text-to-speech program for the children who will need sources read to them. This will make finding resources so much easier, as I will need to find resources for the child’s listening comprehension level instead of their decoding and comprehension levels. Many more resources will be accessible to them.

It’s amazing to have children creating instead of just filling in blanks on worksheets. They are excited and more invested in their work. I have more to think about for K-1, but maybe we will be able to do something similar with videos instead of writing. I want to move beyond the mindset of repetition and rote learning.