Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Accountability & Standards

One of the ways I'm trying to remediate students' work not meeting standards is by having students write letters to their parents. Although this feels punitive to the students, what I am attempting to offer them is a reflective and educational experience.

Honestly, I'm not shooting for perfection in myself or my students. I would, however, like to see some motivation, some academic growth, and some sense of responsibility or accountability in my students. 

I shared my letter with guidelines to the students, school-wide, today (March 23), so that my students in your studylabs could be reminded that they can be working on it.

I'm just wrapping up attempt #1, and the results to date, are observational and interesting:

  1. My students are not pleased about missing the movie of Romeo and Juliet, while their peers who did meet performance indicators are enjoying it.
  2. My detailed directions force, I mean GUIDE, guide students into writing a reflective letter that requires they look at the work, the performance indicators, and their responsibilities in not meeting those performance indicators. 
  3. Students must revisit all the documents I shared with them in Gclassroom to find the information they did not pay attention to the first time. They really DO need to read and follow directions. 
  4. My colleagues are extremely supportive of students and colleagues! Some have emailed me, or sent students to me, so that our mutual students can work in studylabs on the mandatory letter. 
  5. Some of the questions my students have asked me as they work on their letters are disheartening for me: they clearly missed important information. A few of them missed the whole point to SSR...the insertion of the reader to make meaning by questioning, connecting, and observing. Some students still do not care. 
  6. Through my students' letters, I can see some of the weaknesses in my planning, and have made notes about different ways to organize for next time.
  7. Parents are drawn into the work of their students' letters, and receive an explanation FROM THE STUDENT for a failing grade.  
No parent feedback yet...

Tech and Teaching Practices

The Daily Genius "Periodic Table of Education Technology" divides up technology into useful categories. It helps me to think about how to use technology in ways that align with my beliefs about teaching and learning. 

For example, in Sodium's location, the periodic table of Education Technology has Em or Edmodo. I use some of Edmodo's features to share information and resources with graduate students, with an online book group, and as a data collection resource for performance indicators (PIs) for my students. Edmodo features customizable assessments for many reading and writing performance indicators. I can select which PIs at what grade level. 

In the spot traditionally reserved for Ti (Titanium), this table has KA...Khan Academy...beloved by my homeroom math whizzes! 

It's helpful to me to have a one-stop resource for ideas for social networks, online learning, multi-media, and classroom technology, to think about dragging my bookworm self into the tech-rich lives of my students. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Reading vs. Skimming

When we give our students text books with end of chapter questions, those questions have taught our students to skim for answers. Likewise, chapter study guides have turned our readers into skimmers. 

If you truly want to help your high school students to continue to grow as readers, assigning longer and more complex texts is only part of the work of teaching. Continuing to use end of chapter questions or chapter study guides merely reinforces the idea that skimming for answers is the same academic experience as actually reading for understanding. Skimming is not reading for understanding. 

For example, I can skim in my content area, English, and be fine. If I skim in the sciences, I am sunk. I know enough about myself as a learner, and am honest enough with myself as a student, to recognize that different ways of reading are part of my academic life. This awareness is not necessarily true for high school students. 

Instead of study guide questions, I like to ask my students to make their own notes. In English and social studies, Peter Rabinowitz's "Rules of Notice" is an extremely useful reading comprehension tool. You can click on the label cloud's "Reading" label to get a reminder about Rabinowitz's "Rules of Notice."

Another reading tool is Story Impressions. Doug Buehl's Classroom Strategies for Interactive Learning is a terrific resource for all teachers. You are welcome to borrow my copy anytime. Story Impressions begins as a very scaffolded teaching tool in which the teacher goes through the chapter or section of text and picks out key names, terms, and events. These are the "impressions"--as in, you get an impression of the reading by looking at this list of key terms. 

Here's a science example for Story Impressions. You can do this with ANY content area. Most often this is cited as a pre-reading strategy...a way to help students see what they already know and need to learn. I think it is a great POST reading strategy too! It's a check for understanding, a reminder of key terms, names, and events or concepts. 


  1. The first Story Impression should be teacher-created. 
  2. Students MUST use the "impressions" in the order in which they are listed. 
  3. It's helpful to have students underline the "impressions" so that they are easy to find when you're looking at students' work.
  4. After some practice with the teacher generating the impressions, you can have pairs of students generate the impressions and then swap with another pair. This really challenges students as readers to select only the most critical impressions!
  5. Another alternative: have students add 1 or 2 impressions to the teacher list and include them in the writing...this gives students a voice because they are selecting a couple of things they thought were important but perhaps the teacher did not. 
  6. I like this set up  (give it a second to load) for Story Impressions better than the one shared in the science example.