I’ve been fascinated in the idea of a flipped classroom. The children I work with are grappling with much more than just how to do math problems. As a result, instructional time can be eaten up with the needs of the class. My schedule this year has allowed me to try out the flipped classroom in a controlled setting. Math is scheduled Monday through Friday, but I am not in on Fridays. There is coverage for my group, but they have been spending the time playing various math games. Over my December break, I had time to think about what the group should be doing to help them with the projects we work on when I am at school. I signed them each up for an xtramath account to strengthen their facts, and I started giving them specific math videos to watch on Khan Academy. I formatted the group, so they can practice their quick facts on xtramath. When they feel ready to move into content, they go to Khan Academy to watch videos and complete activities. I took the time this week to teach them the navigation skills needed for working independently on Fridays without me. There are a lot of skills they need on the computer before just handing the assignment to them, and the lessons gave them time to learn the routine. By yesterday, they were confident. What amazed me was that the same content I’ve been teaching was all of the sudden much cooler when in a tutorial video online– I think kids get sick of hearing my voice. The kids loved the control and the fact that it was on a computer. I can pick different videos for different children to help with the specific skills they need to hone. Fridays will now be much more productive, and I’m also collecting data! It’s so convenient, and the motivation and engagement has increased significantly.
Writing has encouraged me to think deeply about my craft as a teacher. In addition, my break has given me more time to reflect on my way of working. Combining writing and time away has helped me to further reflect on my previous post I wrote about taking time for myself to both enjoy my work and avoid burnout. An extension of this reflection is the connection to a few articles, this one in particular, I read about a changing the presentation and delivery of professional development to engage more teachers on a meaningful level. Basically, no one looks forward to a lecture at the end of the day– no one wants to watch someone else click through a Powerpoint after a long day at school.
In this digital age, we have changed our way of learning. Most learning happens through our individual drive to learn (as it always has), but it looks different now. It has become more accessible from home, which results in less face-to-face interaction. Teachers seek on their own what they know they want to know. The problem is that teachers want (and need) to talk with other adults who share their interests and have similar experiences– it can be done online, but there’s value in being able to converse with colleagues in a physical setting. Being able to be fully honest in a place where confidentiality is not broken is important.
What can motivate teachers to want to have PD after school within the school community? There’s no question in my mind that teachers want to learn; that’s not the issue– it’s everything else on their plates– being stuck in the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute and missing out on the bigger picture. It is only natural for many teachers to work like that, but there is a need for exposure to new ideas, bigger ideas, conversations, and reflection.
Here’s the test idea that we’ll try: a small group of teachers will meet regularly to continue a school-betterment project that was started by all the teachers earlier this year. This smaller focus group will continue work on the project, which will deepen our understanding of the flow of academic goals for children and will help create a more consistent reference for the curricular goals for reports, IEPs, conference notes, etc.
The project is intense and will require dedication, motivation, and energy. What’s going to be different is the presentation– we’ll have snacks, coffee, and even a little wine. So, instead of a forced collaboration with only goals and checklists, we’ll get together and work on the bigger ideas– our common interest fueling our learning in a more social and fun context. It seems like it will be more productive this way, and we’ll also feel better about it– not dreading the time we will spend on the project but looking forward to the time we spend on it. The sense of accomplishment at the end will hopefully also come with an interest in doing another project of the same magnitude. We’ll see!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Down the Road has a new writer joining us! Meet Jennifer:
Jennifer Reid began teaching in 2001, setting out to provide young children with a solid social, emotional, and academic foundation in their earliest years of school. Knowing that success in learning – and success in life – takes root long before a child becomes school-aged, she focuses much of her attention on the emotional development of children in the early childhood years. After teaching in independent preschools in New York City for several years, she shifted her attention to working with emotionally at-risk children at the Lucy Daniels School in Cary, North Carolina where she is currently a therapeutic teacher in the kindergarten program and the Associate Director of Education. She received her Master’s degree in early childhood and elementary education from New York University in 2003. In addition, she holds an early childhood teacher credential from the American Montessori Society and the professional credential of Certified Psychoanalytic Educator (CPE).