Discussion Post: Procedures That Make a Difference
This is not a post about me being an expert, but rather a call for all of us to share our knowledge when it comes to managing our classrooms.
The other day the parent of a now 7th grade boy told me how much her son loved Mrs. Suhr’s class because she was clear on expectations and consistent about following through with consequences. He is the kind of kid who has no problem taking any opportunity to goof off, but really felt relieved and freed up to learn when in Mrs. Suhr’s classroom because of the structure. When parent teacher conferences rolled around this students was deemed “delightful” and his parents were shocked.
What procedure do you have that makes a big difference for your classroom? Comment below so we can learn from each other!
By Julia Benson, K-12 ELL Teacher
If you are interested in a full understanding of programming considerations for our district’s plan for serving ELLs, I would be glad to email you our district’s Lau Plan, which is updated and filed with the state each year. It is a plan I aspire to truly implement. It is not just a document filled with fluff to simply meet state requirements. This is a document that, of course follows a state template, but implements research-based programming and has been written by and updated by a team of people in our district who work with and have a vested interest in the academic as well as life-long success of our ELLs. If you have ideas that can help me at the programming level, please let me know. If you are interested in serving on the writing committee for our district’s Lau plan – I would greatly welcome that!
Fairbairn, Shelley and Jones-Vo, Stephany. Differentiating Instruction and Assessment for English Language Learners. Caslon Publishing, 2010, Philadelphia.
by Julia Benson
According to Shelley Fairbairn and Stephaney Jones-Vo in their book Differentiating Instruction and Assessment for English Language Learners, teachers must know the basics of intercultural communication and the language acquisition process to help students learn content and language simultaneously. In addition to meeting with teachers to discuss ELL students and intercultural communication and language acquisition as it pertains to individual students, following are key considerations for classroom teachers.
Factors relevant to both content achievement and language acquisition for ELLs:
students’ educational histories and where they are in their individual journey of
acquiring English. For many students, they know English very well, but may struggle with academic English. For others, they may need help with learning the grammar of English. And for newcomers to the United States, they may need a crash course in social English before moving onto academic English.
Fairbairn, Shelley and Jones-Vo, Stephany. Differentiating Instruction and Assessment
for English Language Learners. Caslon Publishing, 2010, Philadelphia.
by 6th Grade Language Arts Teacher Taylor Amundson and Instructional Coach Sarah Zbornik
There are many functions to Canvas makes learning more engaging, but also makes teaching easier. This combination has led Taylor Amundson to using both the survey and discussion components on a regular basis. She feels that one of the greatest benefits is that it allows the quieter or reflective student to participate in discussions easily and comfortably. Please view Taylor in action as she modifies and redefines her 6th Grade Language Arts Classroom using Canvas Survey and Canvas Discussion.
Have you used the Discussion in Canvas? How has it help conversation?
by Steve Peterson, DMS 5th Grade Teacher
A few years ago ace-colleague, Heath Kelley, converted me to Google Apps and I came to love the comment features in them. I do most of my work in Google Apps now, but I still struggle with making sure my teacher tone is appropriate in my written comments and that I’m specific and detailed enough to make a difference for learners.
Sometimes in my written comments, I find that I’m not reacting authentically as a reader, something that assessment guru, Dylan Wiliam, suggests is crucial to effective feedback. Instead I react as a judge. I wished I could encourage and point out the good stuff that is happening in student work AND the next steps that I see without that dreaded evaluative tone coming out in my written comments. How can I provide better “comments alone” response that learning research suggests inspires learners to be more intrinsically motivated?
On Twitter, recently, I read about teachers (@alicekeeler, for instance) who used a Chrome extension, ScreenCastify, to provide feedback to students. I’m writing to report that I’m trying it out, too. As you can see from the example below, I record myself talking while I’m scrolling through the student’s work.
I’m able to speak specifically about things that I see and how I react to them; I think I’m also able to be a little more human in my presentation. Tone and specificity mean a lot. And we all know that learners do better if they feel that they have been heard, understood, and taken seriously.
My protocol is to scan the student work with my rubric in mind. I pick out the 1-2 main ideas that I’d like to get across and highlight these in the text. I might add a short phrase using the comment feature to help me and the student locate and remember the spots I want to comment on.
I make sure that I spend some time on issues that the learner is doing well, or I have seen improvement, so I can notice and name what I see a learner trying to do, as Peter Johnston talks about in his terrific book, Choice Words. I record my thoughts on ScreenCastify as I go.
One thing that makes ScreenCastify so easy to use is that it automatically places the video in a Google Drive folder (which it creates for you!) and then it generates an easily accessible shareable link without you having to leave the recording page. I copy the link and paste it in the student’s work, or in private comments. Simple.
The student can listen to the recording while they follow along with my comments. Students have said that screencast is sometimes more helpful than a face-to-face conference because they have a record of the conversation that they can listen to again.
Since the extension is so easy to use, I am also experimenting with students using it as a tool for their own reflection. So far I’ve had them explain their work to me regarding a visually-based project. They take a photo of the project and walk me through their thinking process.
Next steps include using the tool as a way to reflect on their portfolio of student work that they are creating using Google Sites. My ultimate goal is to help students become more reflective, thoughtful, and intentional about the choices they make and the work they do.
If you have any insights on how you are using screencasting for feedback or for student reflection, I’d love to hear it. Also, if you’d like help setting ScreenCastify up and their videos don’t do it for you, drop me a line and I’ll help you.
written by Collaborative Teacher Brigit Storhoff and Instructional Coach Andrew Ellingsen
Brigit Storhoff's 7th grade ELA students are embarking on a semester long project called Genius Hour. Over the course of the semester, each student selects an individual topic to research, develops an essential question, writes a thesis supported by their research which is used for their five-paragraph essay, and decide on a way to share their learning with their peers.
As part of the research process, Mrs. Storhoff introduced students to the Mind Maple app. The app is a mind-mapping tool that allows the user to click-and-drag from a central topic to add questions/concepts and related details as subtopics. Students can also hyperlink sources to the map, insert images, and add notes.
Earlier this month, Mrs. Storhoff hosted both a Learning Lab and a Pineapple Chart visit in her room tied to Mind Maple. If you couldn't make it but are interested in seeing the app in action, check out the video below.
How could you imagine using Mind Maple in the classroom? Join the conversation and comment below!
Written by fifth-grade teacher Heath Kelley (@6kelley)
There are many social media options that provide content for educators to collaborate and share ideas. One of these options, Twitter, is used by millions of teachers to supplement the learning that may not take place during face-to-face, traditional professional development sessions.
I first started using Twitter a few years ago as a way to glean from experts such as Rick Wormeli (@rickwormeli2), Marzano Research (@MarzanoResearch), and read about how fellow teachers implemented strategies in their classrooms. I began following hashtags that organized topics such as standards based grading (#sbg). Twitter chats provided a place to discuss questions and exchange ideas. The district I was teaching at worked to communicate a shared vision to the community with posts of what was happening in and around the school using a common hashtag, similar to Howard Winneshiek (#2020howardwinn). Tools such as TweetDeck continue to help me organize the people and categories that I want to follow.
The personalized nature of Twitter gives teachers an opportunity to direct their learning at their own pace. Todd Whitaker (@toddwhitaker), author of What Great Teachers Do Differently, speaks to this when he says, “Twitter is the best PD in the world. Twitter is not an obligation. Email is an obligation.”
"Twitter = Connections. The bulk of what I have done in my teaching pedagogy has been lifted, stolen, and shared from sources using social media. Specifically, Twitter has afforded me the opportunity to connect, personally, with the creator of some really awesome educational tools that have helped me extend learning and make it more meaningful for students. It is like a short-cut to meeting and engaging with people smarter than I am in the field I am passionate about. Creating a Professional Learning Network (PLN) through Twitter has also helped me stay really motivated and engaged with learning how to become better at my craft. I only hope to continue to build my footprint on Twitter and be a resource for others to reciprocate all the benefits I've received from it."
- Zach Fromm (@ZachFromm1)
"I use Twitter to be exposed to current research by following leaders in the fields of education and math education; I have read more professional articles via Twitter than any other resource. I also use Twitter to help me process my thoughts on, and see other sides of, issues. Often this is done as part of a Twitter Chat, but I have also responded to individuals or groups to participate in these types of conversations. I do not always have time to check in, and I had to learn that that is ok. When I do have a chance to check in I almost always find some inspiration for reflecting more deeply on what I am doing in my classroom- and to me that is key. Twitter has made me more thoughtful about the decisions I am making in my classroom, rather than just following the status quo."
- Allysen Lovstuen (@alovstuen)
"I've found Twitter to be a great way to take advantage of the hive-mind to help me keep up on new thinking in both ELA and science. I've also shared materials that I've developed on Twitter and have most definitely benefited from seeing others' work, too."
- Steve Peterson (@insidethedog)
"Twitter is something I'm fairly new to, but it was introduced to me as an educational tool at a music education conference two years ago. I follow a wide range of people -- some friends and family, some educators, some policy-makers, and some pop culture personalities. Twitter is where I turn when I have 45 seconds to kill -- and it's amazing how many times I come across a gem of an idea that can transfer into my classroom! Sometimes I find stand-alone tech integration ideas, other times I stumble across a thread of tweets from amazing music educators around the country engaging in an on-going conversation about best practices. While Twitter isn't my first stop for research about education, it's definitely opened some doors and sent me down some rabbit holes!"
- Andrew Ellingsen (@AndrewEllingsen)
"Our goal with our twitter account is to use it as a tool to positively push information out about our activities and what our kids are accomplishing in all of their activities." Here is a link for more information about the Decorah High School Social Media Presence.
- Adam Riley (@Decorah_Vikings)
"I use Twitter to connect to various individuals in the physical education setting as well as for coaching. There are many valuable resources to connect with on Twitter and I have found it as a very easy tool to use. It is also been a way to be visible with my students as well and be able to communicate with them through this medium."
- Jonathan Carlson (@coachjc03)
"I get inspiration from a variety of sources: professional journals, Facebook groups, and email subscriptions. Nothing, however, compares to the depth and breadth of information I receive through Twitter. At the KPEC conference last summer in Dubuque, Todd Whitaker, educational leader and author, motivated me to use this invaluable resource more than I had been. He stated, “Teaching is a lonely world; Twitter connects you with experts. You learn how to be great by great people.”
Was he ever right! All my favorite educators – Penny Kittle, Carol Jago, Meenoo Rami, and Kelly Gallagher (to name a few) as well as groups such as TeachThought, edutopia, NCTE, and Heinemann PD are now available to me through Twitter. Just this week I learned about new books my students will love, prompts for argumentative writing, and strategies for reaching quiet and disengaged students. I can also search a topic (for example Civil Rights Movement) to assist me as I’m refining lesson plans or search #edchat for more inspiration.
I used to feel guilty about following others without tweeting out information in return, but another statement by Todd Whitaker alleviated those feelings. He said, “Twitter is not an obligation; it is 24/7 learning.” I realize people share because they want to help others become better at their craft, and I sure appreciate that! I’ll still want to read books and attend conferences to hear from people whose work I admire, but now I can access what they’re thinking about with a quick tap on my phone. Priceless!"
- Liz Fox (@Lizabethfox1)
"I began using Twitter in 2012. My initial goal was to connect with other professional educators and gather resources to help me be a better teacher. I have found that at times I can also be a resource for other teachers. I like sharing ideas and seeing what types of activities and classroom management styles other teachers use. Twitter allows me to make those connections with teachers all across the nation quickly and easily. I have also participated in Educational Chats. These are opportunities to engage in discussions with other like-minded professionals in a guided format. I also use Twitter to follow authors. I find it fascinating that many authors will reply to my tweets. It is fun and exciting to share these connections with my students."
- Jenny Butler (@jennybutler83)
written by Instructional Coach Andrew Ellingsen & Collaborative Teacher Shannon Horton
For the last month, we've been working with a couple of teachers on building a media literacy infographic. It has been shared with staff and students in our district, and the feedback has been really positive. (Click on the image below to open a full-size PDF that can be downloaded.)
Why we made it
Our goal in creating this infographic was to give students a tool to use to help them sort media outlets in two ways -- the liberal/conservative bias of the organization and the level of depth in reporting. It is not intended as a way to replace critical thinking and thoughtful analysis, and we've been really pleased to see that the students who have been using it in the past couple weeks have been having thoughtful conversations and discussions.
The idea to focus on media literacy to help students identify quality reporting and inherent bias in the media isn't new to our district -- this is something many teachers have been covering in their classrooms for years. With all the buzz on both ends of the political spectrum about "fake news" right now, though, it made sense to us when two DHS teachers approached us about partnering on a media literacy project.
How we made it
Following our initial meeting with them, we began gathering resources that might be helpful. In that research, we came across an early draft of an infographic created by Vanessa Otero. We really liked the idea of sorting news organizations in two ways at once, but it left out some of the news sources our students use and some of the category descriptors were more blunt than we would choose for middle and high school students.
We re-created the x-y axis plot and used her axis labels of "Quality" and "Bias" but chose to use colors instead of ovals as our visual organizer. As we sorted the news organizations, we used Vanessa Otero's initial placements as our starting place. She described her methodology in an extensive blog post, and we felt good about the level of analysis she did as she placed them.
In addition to her initial placements, though, we also turned to sites like www.mediabiasfactcheck.com and www.allsides.com to get more guidance on the placement of media outlets. We liked that www.mediabiasfactcheck.com is run by an individual person who analyzes the news organizations on a host of characteristics and that www.allsides.com uses public perceptions of the media outlets along with a methodology for calculating bias. This counterpoint between a research method and crowd-sourced rankings struck a nice balance, and in nearly all cases, both sites had media outlets ranked identically or very similarly.
How we revised it
As we worked on this, we tried to be careful not to let our own bias influence where we placed things on the infographic. To help with that, we shared a draft with colleagues and friends on both sides of the political spectrum for feedback and made adjustments accordingly. This was a helpful step in the process as we received several high quality news source recommendations that we had not included in our initial draft.
It was at this point that we shared a draft of the infographic with DMS and DHS teachers for feedback. Their response was thoughtful and helpful -- their questions, recommendations, and additional resources helped us make further refinements to the placements of the news organizations.
How it’s being used
There are currently more than thirty DMS and DHS teachers who have requested poster-sized copies of the infographic to use in their classrooms. We've received requests to share it with teachers and librarians outside our district, and we are happy to pass it on to anyone who finds it helpful! Use, share, debate, and edit it -- and continue to seek out high quality news sources for use with students. Our goal in creating and sharing this is certainly not to favor one political perspective, but rather to help our students become better informed citizens by using the best possible sources of information.
Written by 7th grade Science teacher Sarah Casterton and Instructional Coach Andrew Ellingsen.
Several weeks ago, a Decorah 7th grader approached science teacher Sarah Casterton asking if her mom could come talk to the class. The student had been born with a rare and often fatal cellular disorder (there are an average of 1.2 cases per million people), and she has usually been extremely private about sharing the details with her peers. This year, though, she recognized how her life experience could help her peers understand the science curriculum better.
Each year in 7th grade life science, students study cells. They begin their work with science teacher Sarah Casterton by learning about what Earth was like billions of years ago and how the first cell formed on early Earth. Students explore what the first cell needed in order to survive, what plant and animal cells look like, and what specific organelles (specialized structures within cells) do to help a cell survive.
Students have hands on experiences with cells during the year. They examine cork cells, cheek cells, and onion cells under a microscope. In addition, they received rainbow trout eggs and have been talking about their cells. They will continue to monitor these eggs as they grow into rainbow trout.
And this year, students learned about their classmate.
The student’s mother spent the day sharing her daughter’s experience with her classmates. Students learned about some of the specific effects of the disease, the treatment process, and the complications that are the daily norm for their classmate. They saw pictures of her as a baby and were able to see the physical effects of the cell disease. They heard stories about what the treatment was like, and learned that without this treatment she likely would have died. By hearing about how information that could have seemed theoretical has real-world implications for someone to whom they are personally connected, the material came to life for students and the content took on more real-world importance.
Coming next for the students is the discussion of cell division and what can go right/wrong in the process. This will dovetail into a genetics unit where students will discuss how conditions can be passed from parent to offspring.
How do you engage students’ life experiences in the curriculum? How has this changed your class’s understanding of the curriculum? Join the conversation by commenting below!
written by Heath Kelley, DMS 5th Grade Teacher
Athletes, musicians, artists...even teachers have others that they imitate in order to learn the intricacies of their chosen craft. Benjamin Franklin, for example, was well known to have imitated others to make himself a better writer (see his words here). When students are given the opportunity to model others, they also become better.
Recently, Steve Petersen and I collaborated on a writing task in which we sought to improve informational writing through imitation. We wanted to create a task where students would be learning and using multiple informational writing skills to create a quality final product.
The website Wonderopolis.org proved to be a great mentor for this task. The website provides many informational text features that students can learn about by mimicking the style and format of the articles. For example, the title of each Wonderopolis article is a question. Therefore, simply by imitating the format each student creates a title while simultaneously creating a research question. Another feature in the articles is the “Wonder Sources” section. This section lists websites the author used to write the article. Moreover, each article is written in a conversational style, embeds multimedia, and even highlights domain-specific words (Wonder Words as the website calls them).
Given all of these great features, we knew that by having students simply imitate the articles, a plethora of informational writing skills would be used. It would also provide many opportunities for mini-lessons and student conferencing.
The process for students went something like this:
Checklists and rubrics are great, but the students really thrived in trying to imitate the product. I can’t help but think that the mental repetitions involved with studying and imitating a mentor provided more depth of understanding than did my checklist or rubric.
From the teacher side, mini-lessons emerged from anticipating how students might need support prior to the moment they needed it (skills such as paraphrasing, citing sources, note-taking, etc.) and from individual conferences as we read over the shoulder or online drafts of the project.
I also wonder how many other types of processes or products that I might find as mentors in writing or other subject matter. How might students try to build on the ideas of others in order to create their own unique products?
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