written by Denise Lee
“Can we meditate today? I just took a test and I really need to meditate.” In my 28 years of teaching, I had never thought about hearing these words come out of my student's mouths, and yet, I was pleasantly surprised to hear them this year.
This past fall, I knew I needed to help students learn how to deal with today’s issues of excessive computer use, screen time, social media, gaming, anxiety, depression and overall well-being. In my research and discussion with other colleagues, the powerful topic of mindfulness kept coming to the forefront. A Middle School book study was born using the book, Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness by Debra Schoeberlein. Through a Decorah Middle School email and networking with others in the district our adventure began.
Many sources suggested that we needed to begin our own mindfulness practice first. Several of us began our journey with the app, “Headspace,” and a Mindful Living workshop (by Karen Bergan and Michelle Williams) to guide us through this process. As we grew more confident in our own practices and realized the benefits, we began to experiment in our classrooms. Within days we were finding our initial attempts at mindfulness were having a positive impact. Emails between our group with suggestions, stories of heartfelt comments and results from our students were shared.
Jennifer DeLaRosa: “I have a student who struggles with temper/behavior. He thrives on Headspace and meditation, and says, ‘It helps me to just remember I'm in a classroom to learn.’ I personally meditate to help myself focus on one thing at a time. I no longer am brushing my teeth, checking my phone and grading a paper all at the same time. :)”
Holly Fish: “Mindfulness is now part of my everyday routine. It not only gives me a sense of balance, but gives me a purpose to my day.”
Tara Henry: “I have my own mindfulness and meditation practice that I perform daily. I keep a gratitude journal, meditate, and read devotions. My classes have Wellness Wednesday during the Fantastic First 5. They love meditation and mindfulness. My students beg for mindfulness 5 minutes, particularly the meditations on Headspace. They appreciate the quiet reflection and simple down time as they state they do not get this time in their lives.”
Sarah Nowack: “The biggest take away from the Mindfulness book study was the "take one" practice of mindful breathing. I use it with my students often- and many of them tell me that they do it on their own outside of school and that they really feel the benefits (more focused, sense of calm & relaxation, and less stress).”
Carole Sand: “One of the successful mindfulness strategies I have used with students is having my 7th graders study imagery, then write and record a 1-minute description of a scene to share with the class. They used describing phrases to help us imagine the sound, smell, place, and mood. The past month we have started our class off with everyone closing their eyes and 1-2 students playing their recording for us to listen and imagine we are there. I mentioned to them to be introspective, focus on their breathing, and let themselves go to that place. The recordings have been so amazing, full of beautiful imagery from a variety of scenes. And students say it is a calming moment in their hectic day. Personally, I have been trying to implement meditating into my life by using the Headspace app before I go to bed. Just 5 minutes makes a difference in clearing the constant to-do list brain-chatter to help me slow down for sleeping. I also am more mindful when I exercise to leave everything behind and notice what's around me and make note of it, focusing on positive thoughts.”
Denise Lee: “It is easy when teaching to be so focused on what you want the outcome/learning to be from your students that you forget to slow down and focus on the process and the student. Learning about mindfulness has made me slow down, look students in the eye, get to know them more and appreciate the journey in getting to our end goal. It is about paying attention to the details. It is also about taking a moment to breath and relax. If you let it, teaching doesn’t allow you to have those moments during your day. Students rarely get that time during the day.”
We not only observed the benefits of our mindful practices, but a survey we used gave us more affirmation about what we were trying. A sampling of those questions are listed below.
Websites created from our book study:
Having the opportunity to choose a book/topic/activity that we felt important and necessary was a wonderful use of our Teacher Quality funds. Each of us in the book study walked away with an appreciation for the incredible need for teachers and students to have time to reflect, choose their own adventure, and unwind/breathe in our day to day lives.
Have you thought about using mindfulness practices in your classroom? Have you wanted to start a book study?
written by Tara Henry, DMS Special Education Teacher and Collaborative Teacher
I’m happy for those lucky students, but yikes - panic mode for me! DeAnn, Beth, and Shannon go on a library search for me; thank you, dears! I email teachers, friends, the whole district, and I even check for cheaper, used copies on Amazon. Thank you all for your help and support! Within an hour, I have 6 books, but my resources are spent. So I post on Facebook “In dire need of copies of the book Boy in the Striped Pajamas. They will stay safe in my classroom and will be returned with a payment of chocolate. Thanks!”
Well, within 5 minutes a childhood friend I have not seen in 20+ years posts tracking information. She ordered 8 copies of the book to be delivered to my classroom! I immediately start bawling, thank her immensely, and get this response from her.
1) One of my favorite books; 2) You are amazing, and 3) You are most welcome. #Kindness counts and I’m considering it a deposit into the Karma Bank for the next time I’m a #$%& about something.
WOW! Kind and funny!
I will pay it forward, but would love to hear your kindness story!
Have you ever sent an email and wished that you could get it back? Perhaps you forgot an attachment or sent off a quick reply that could have used a bit more thought.
Gmail has an undo option that you might not be aware of that enables you to undo the message you sent up to 30 seconds after sending. See the screencast below to find out how.
Let us know in the comments if there are any other features in Gmail that you have found helpful.
by Julia Benson, K-12 ELL Teacher
What strategies have you found effective for instructing English learners?
From Shelley Fairbairn’s and Stephaney Jones-Vo’s book Differentiating Instruction and Assessment for English Language Learners.
Google and social media use algorithms to feed us information that confirms our biases, which means we need to work to find the truth. I recently geeked out when I found a search tool and a Chrome extension from Media Bias Fact Check (MBFC) that makes it easy to find unbiased, quality journalism in just a few simple steps.
Simple Step 1
Install and use the chrome web extension from MBFC. See video below for instructions.
Simple Step 2
Learn how this search engine uses MBFC’s rating system. See video below for instructions.
Below is a screenshot from my Facebook page that shows how the Chrome extension works. The bar below the picture indicates that according to MBFC The New York Times is rated as left-of-center in terms of bias, with a high level of factual reporting.
Now, use your new knowledge by taking this quiz on fake news. See if you can beat my score of 100%!
Written by Heath Kelley
Vulnerable as defined by the Oxford dictionary means “exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally”. However, by making oneself vulnerable a person unlocks their potential for growth. As researcher Brene Brown says, "vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change".
I feel that before growth mindset can catch on, a person must first be vulnerable. In your replies, it was obvious that we are working to create a growth mindset culture here at DMS.
Here are the responses:
I’m (trying) to create a Podcast about students and their experiences from the classroom that are memorable.
***Here is a preview from Zach. We will look forward to hearing more about this project in the future!***
On our snow day a week ago, my son and I worked together to make a birthday message for my Grandma. We used Denise's stop motion app from last fall's STEAM day and a couple balls of play dough, and it went really well. It took awhile to figure out how to build a stage for the iPad, how far to have it zoomed, how big to make the letters out of play dough, etc. but in the end it turned out nice.
I'm anxious for her to see it next month.
Here's another one from today: I pulled out and pushed in the bleachers for the first time today at DMS for the assembly. I had to find Jim so I could find where the controls were. Once I had the controls, I had to make sure the microphone cord was pulled out. I found out I didn't pull it out far enough, so I had to pull it out farther. Then I could pull out the bleachers. Once I pushed them back in when it was all over, I had to make sure the microphone cord was put back the way it should be. Then Mr. Albers and I had to watch the cameras from the assembly to try and figure out which cherub pried the metal warning plate off the 3rd bleacher and bent the metal on it to kingdom come exposing razor sharp edges during the presentation. :) Wheeeee!
This year I tried helping coach eighth-grade volleyball and it was definitely outside my comfort zone. I love volleyball and I love working with eighth-grade students, however it was very challenging in ways that surprised me. I relived many of those same experiences I had as a first-year teacher even though the students were the same kids I’ve had in class for four years.
Have all my courses on Canvas - this has allowed me to do lesson plans at home on Sundays rather than come to school - yea!
Trying to integrate some quiet "introspective" time - one way is each 7th grade student wrote and recorded a paragraph using imagery about a place/experience. We start each class period now closing our eyes, listening to the recording, and imagining being there. Takes 1-2 minutes and helps us settle in.
Starting to use Screencastify for directions and feedback.
At the beginning of this school year I decided that the best way to reach high school students was to start an Instagram account. I’m sure to some this sounds simple, but it really made me nervous. For one, I wasn’t really sure how Instagram worked and I didn’t want to cross a line with students into the friend zone where I was seeing posts from them that, well, I couldn’t “unsee.” And then there was that middle school feeling in my gut that I wouldn’t have any high school followers, I’d just be the dorky librarian trying silently and desperately to get kids to read. The happy ending to this story is that I have well over 100 DHS followers and its been a great way to build community and encourage students to stop in to check out books, and even play Bingo with me on Friday mornings.
Follow me at @mshortonlibrary!
It all started with a curiosity for a personal desire to be more present in each moment. I joined a book study on Mindfulness which centered around the book, Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness: A Guide for Anyone Who Teaches Anything
by Suki Sheth. After a few weeks of practicing some mindfulness, I began teaching my students a few strategies. My favorite is called "Take One." For one whole minute, the class is completely still. Basically, we focus on nothing but our breathing. After the one minute of mindful breathing, the class resumes. That's it. One minute. But, the results- astonishing. Students are much more focused and it works to create a calmness (for those days they come into your classroom all riled up). I have had more than half of my students tell me that they have started using this strategy outside of class as well. Take One isn't something I use every day, but when we do, I definitely see the positive benefits immediately!
- Sarah Nowack
A couple of things I tried for the first time was:
Classroom: Collaborative curriculum - getting student feedback on when the students felt they were ready to demonstrate their learning for a summative assessment. Also, what format the assessment should look like for them to best demonstrate their learning. Using Canvas to create an online discussion about the issues with deforestation in Brazil.
Personal: Running regularly this summer and then competing in the Nordic Fest Elvelopet and a half marathon this fall.
Meditation - After participating in a book study regarding Mindful Teaching (see book below), I began exploring meditation and even incorporated meditation with my students. At first, it was uncomfortable, awkward, and even a bit amusing, but soon became a very needed daily routine in my life. I use the Headspace app on my phone for my daily meditation practice. I have found it to help relieve stress, reduce my need to plan/organize every second of my day, and help me fall asleep at night. It has been life-changing! Students enjoy the quiet, thoughtful, peace of meditation as well.
This past November, I had the opportunity to co-teach a conference session with a music teacher from Texas. I've taught in settings where my co-teacher has taught segments and I've taught segments, but this was the first time I've had the chance to teach in a setting where we were passing the teaching back and forth throughout the lesson! It took SO much work in planning the activity, but it was pretty incredible -- and the results were something neither one of us could have dreamed of on our own!
I learned how to take information that students submitted using Google Forms and have it automatically fill into a Google Document, for each student, using the autocrat tool.
Something new I tried last year was a quarterly read aloud. I hadn't done it in the past because I thought it would take too much time from my instruction. I gave it a go last year and I don't think it is something I will ever stop. The first 5-10 minutes of each class period, I read a book to the kids. At the beginning of the quarter I select 3-5 options, give book talks, and the kids vote on which book they would like read to them. They love having ownership of their choices. It has created routine in my classroom as well. They know to come in, sit down, read directions on the board, and have materials ready for the lesson while I read aloud. They are so engaged and interested in the story and they are always extremely disappointed if there is ever a reason we don't get to read aloud. The oral fluency, vocabulary, and then discussion they get exposed to by reading a longer book aloud together has been extremely valuable. I am glad I tried something new last year because it quickly became a favorite part of every class period.
by Gabriel Twedt, First Grade Teacher and Collaborative Teacher
Like many people, I have struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life. Growing up, I thought that slapping a smile on my face and hiding my struggles was the right thing to do. I told myself that once I was older my depression and anxiety would go away. I even thought that getting my dream job of teaching at the K-2 level would cure me of all of my insecurities and worries.
Unfortunately, being in my dream job only exacerbated my issues. I could not shake the feeling that I did not measure up to my colleagues. So not only did I feel inadequate in my personal life, but I now felt inadequate in my professional life.
How do they have it all so together? Where do they find the time to put binders together for every unit? What is a ‘craftivity’? Why can’t I seem to get my stuff together?
It wasn’t until I reached rock bottom one day in February a couple years back that I figured out that I needed to make a change. Thus the reason for my new mantra: “Good for them, not for me.”
As teachers, we seem to find new ways to be hard on ourselves. We strive to be our best for ourselves, but more importantly, for our students. We compare ourselves, knowingly or unknowingly, to our peers and colleagues.
We need to give ourselves a break.
You are doing a great job. You are meeting the needs of your students. You are working hard. You are contributing to the greater good of the building. You matter. You make a difference in more ways than you will ever know.
Of course, there is always room for self-improvement, but I would challenge you to take five minutes each day to reflect on all of the amazing things you do for your students and for your building. Celebrate those small victories. Reach out to a colleague to ask for help with a problem you’re having in the classroom. Keep a notebook on your table to jot down a quick sentence anytime you see a light bulb go off in a student’s head or when something happens that brings a smile to your face.
Let’s celebrate the victories of those around us, but not let those same victories diminish our own self-worth.
“Good for them, not for me.”
In other words, lift up those around you and remember that what works for them might not work for you. Find what makes you feel successful and happy. Chase that feeling and never look back.
by Dana Bockman, DCSD Facilitator of Assessment and Instruction
With the goal of making instructional decisions, a teacher’s focus should be on the data provided through classroom work, observations, unit assessments, performance tasks, and formative assessment. Why, then, do we need standardized test data? What’s the purpose if it does not inform day-to-day decisions in the classroom?
The Usefulness of the Standardized Test (“Big Picture Data,” as I like to call it)
1. For state reporting and district goal area assessment.Often standardized tests are given partly as a way for the state to measure a district’s achievement. State required goals are written based on the outcome of a standardized test.
2. Allows us to see how the District performs over time. Teachers are primarily focused on the performance of their classes. But the state, the school board, the public, and administration use standardized tests to evaluate the performance of our entire district and by building. We look for trends, which lead us to question gaps that may exist in specific areas.
3. A data point in determining entitlement and placement. Multiple years of multiple data points give reason for placement in specific classes, as well as entitlement for ELP or special education. We cannot place a student in a program or class based on a single data point. We need multiple forms of evidence to make the right call.
4. A red flag indicating a need for a closer look. If a student performs poorly on a standardized test, it gives teachers reason to look more closely at where exactly the student is struggling. It's like going to the doctor if you are not feeling well. The doctor will run tests to determine what the real ailment is. A low standardized test score simply gives reason for concern, but not the actual diagnosis.
5. To solidify our understanding of individual student needs. Multiple data points help to solidify our knowledge about student abilities and needs and guide us to make the best decisions for how to provide students the instruction they need. Comparing several data points assures teachers will make informed judgements and instructional decisions by identifying trends and anomalies.
“The problem with data is that it says a lot, but it also says nothing. ‘Big data’ is terrific, but it’s usually thin….”- Sendhil Mullainathan. Standardized testing has a place and purpose in education, but it is not a daily focus for our instructional decisions.
by Sarah Casterton, 7th Grade Science Teacher and Sarah Zbornik, Instructional Coach
"Some of the things you will never experience are right there for you to see
using VR.”-- 7th grade student.
Sarah Casterton has been intrigued by the idea of bringing Virtual Reality (VR) into her science classroom. After attending the VR technology session during professional development at the start of the school year, she went to Keystone’s media checkout and scheduled the VR kits to be delivered at the end of November. She knew that VR could offer an experience to her students that they could not receive on a typical day.
Mrs. Casterton contacted Brea Baxter, an Instructional Technology Integration Specialist at Keystone who had taught the VR session during professional development, and Sarah Zbornik, an instructional coach to start the process. Keystone’s two sets of equipment totalling 10 headsets for students to use and 10 android phones arrived right on time (checkout reference numbers KM 9796 1L (set of 5) and KM 9796 2L (set of 5). Through a hands on approach, she walked Mrs. Casterton through using the Virtual Reality sets. Ms. Zbornik assisted in troubleshooting difficulties and discussed possibilities for the lessons with Mrs. Casterton.
Due to the number of VR sets, Mrs. Casterton knew she would need to be organized. She mapped out a three day station rotation for the students to follow and separated the students into three different groups. (Please see Mrs. Casterton’s VR rotation schedule here.) Using Canvas, two of the groups were able to work independently, while Mrs. Casterton facilitated the VR session using Google Expeditions, an app that was already downloaded on the phones. Connecting the learning to the classroom, Mrs. Casterton led two expeditions -- Big Cypress National Preserve and Darkling Beetle -- and facilitated discussion as the students explored within VR.
Mrs. Casterton definitely plans to use virtual reality again to allow students to experience science outside of the classroom environment. As one of her students claimed this technology is, “truly out of this world and very hands on.”
If you want to try Virtual Reality or use Canvas during rotations in your classroom, have a chat with Mrs. Casterton to find out more information. The Google Expeditions have experiences that can be used for any classroom, not just science. Virtual reality not only enhances engagement in the learning process, but it also allows students of all income levels to experience the world. Imagine where your students could virtually travel to experience/apply your content standards.
by Dana Bockman, DCSD Facilitator of Data and Assessment
Today, it seems like we are inundated with data. Every year adds more and more and more to our plates (and spreadsheets). So, what do we do with all this data?
All data is relevant and useful in some way, but educators should be selective in which data they chose for various purposes. Teachers most often are focused on individual students' needs and how they can help their students achieve in the classroom. This goal narrows the focus of data analysis.
Keep in mind that the term "data" does not merely refer to a number (in other words, a test score). Data is any and all evidence of student progress and achievement. And when making day-to-day instructional decisions, standardized tests are often not the best source of data.
The Data Individual Teachers Rely On
1. Daily Work- Though I would debate the usefulness of grading daily work to determine a student’s final grade (I will save that for another post), it does give teachers a glimpse of how students are progressing toward mastering a concept or skill. It helps a teacher to know the areas individual students may need assistance in to master skills and meet the learning targets.
3. Observations- I may spend a great deal of time looking at spreadsheets full of test scores, but you will never convince me that teacher observation is not important data. Teachers' observations make them more in tuned to the needs of their students.
4. Formative Assessment (quick checks, exit slips, thumbs up, whiteboard answers, and so on)- Similar to daily work, formative assessment shows what students have a handle on and where they continue to need assistance, clarity, and practice. It guides teachers in making informed instructional decisions to help students find success and have them working at their appropriate ability level.
When it comes to data, maybe Einstein put it best. “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” So, that leaves the question, which data is the most useful for your world?
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