Saturday, August 9, 2014

Great Giveaway at I'm Lovin Lit

Who wouldn't be interested in one of those cool toolboxes with the cute labels for their classroom.  Well, Erin over at I'm Lovin Lit is giving away one of those great boxes with your choice of label design!  And, even if you don't win, you can nab some pretty nice labels and make your own toolbox or one for a teacher friend.

I have seen these over the years but I never get in the mood to make my own.  The only time I really have is summer and I tend to do a lot of reading on the deck and making excuses for not getting my list of things I wanted to do, done!!!

But Erin seems to have an abundance of energy because she is always posting about the fantastic things she makes both for herself and for her classroom.  You should check out her TPT store too.  She has some great products.

So, before you head back to school, head over to Erin's blog and check out her giveaway.  I am sure you won't be disappointed.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Great new historical fiction book!!!!

Jump over to the  Teaching Authors blog to read about the new novel, Odin's Promise, that focuses on WWII and the occupation of Norway by the Germans.  There are links to the author's website to learn more about the novel, and The Teaching Authors are raffling off a signed copy of this book.

I teach a huge unit on the Holocaust and this would be a great addition to my library, so I am secretly hoping that I will be the winner!!!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Simplest Explanation of the Common Core that I Have Seen!

Thanks to Shannon Clark over at I Run, Read, Teach I found the best way to explain the Common Core State Standards to everyone. I honestly don't understand what all the hoopla is about. They are standards, and pretty good ones if you compare them to what Illinois has had! But they are only standards, not a curriculum. I still teach the way I want and what I want, only now I get to go into more depth. Why doesn't everyone just stop and think about what is best for the students that we teach instead of worrying about who decided what! If you study the standards, it is obvious that thought was put into them and that they were written to raise the level of education in the United States. Isn't that what we all want????

As for all the testing they are insisting that all schools participate in, I think that is crazy. Do we just teach to a test or should we teach to educate???? That is where I see the problem!
Easy Explanation of the Common Core State Standards

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Summer Institute at the Smithsonian

Last summer I was lucky enough to spend a week in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian's Museum of American Art participating in an awesome workshop that showed middle and high school teachers of English/reading and Social Studies, how to incorporate art into the classroom. It was such an exhilarating experience. I learned so much, not just from the presenters at the museum, but from the incredible teachers that I met at the institute! I became fast friends with a woman from Florida (we actually met waiting on the bench outside the dorm where we were being housed for the week) and another woman from New York. I also met another wonderful woman from Florida who was embarking on a new teaching assignment working on a reservation in southern Florida. They taught me so much about what goes on outside my little world in the suburbs of Chicago. There were people from all over the country, as well as Korea and China. Our learning did not stop once the day came to an end. Being able to walk all over D.C. and experience the rich history that city provides was also an added bonus. I can't even begin to tell you how many miles my old feet clocked! And staying in a dorm room on the campus of George Washington University was another eye-opening experience, since it had been a long time since I spent time in a college dorm room!!!!

The Smithsonian is again offering this experience to middle and high school teachers of ELA and the humanities. The fee is small, the housing affordable and the experience a "once in a lifetime." If you are at all interested, please click on this link, Smithsonian Teacher Institute and apply. I guarantee that you won't regret a single minute! Application deadline is March 31, 2014!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Please help my school win new computers!

CDW is having a contest to win new computers for your school. The school I work at is a very small Catholic school in an economically challenged area. The majority of our students are low income, Hispanic families. Many of our families pay reduced tuition or are subsidized by the Archdiocese of Chicago. We have a computer lab that has old computers that were second hand when we received them. Don't get me wrong, we are very thankful to have been given them, however, we definitely could benefit from new ones! Please help my school to win new computers from CDW. All you have to do is click on this link and enter the zip code 60073. Once you have done that, just scroll down and click on St. Joseph School. Our school community will be extremely grateful if you do.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

I'm still on the search for support of my beliefs in assessment!

I follow Life of an Educator by Justin Tarte and I found this amazing entry. It really supports what I believe about education. I try to follow these beliefs in my classroom and it isn't always easy to do when you have to deal with other staff members. You can read the entire article on his blog, just click on the title above and it will take you to his blog.

"6 myths in education that need a debunking!

Myth 1 - Students will abuse and take advantage of a situation if we treat another student 'differently.' We all believe in differentiating, personalizing, and customizing the educational experience for our students as much as possible. Having said that, many believe that if you do something perceived to be 'easier' for one student or you 'cut them slack,' then other students will exploit and use this situation to their advantage. Here's the deal, what's fair isn't always equal, and what's equal isn't always fair, and a majority of students aren't going to take advantage of a situation just because you treated another student 'differently.'

Myth 2 - Students learn from 'zeros.' When a student receives a zero for not completing an assignment (this could be for numerous different reasons), the student deserves a zero because in turn they will learn from this zero and learn not to repeat this behavior. For the record, I'm still waiting to find the kid who gets a zero and says 'I have now seen the light and I will no longer commit myself to such atrocities and hence forth all of my future assignments will be turned in completed and on time with a little pretty bow on top...'"

I also read this article about averaging grades by the Association for Middle Level Education that I think everyone should read. I refuse to ever average another grade as long as I teach. I truly believe that averaging has no place in education. I want to let the student and parent know what the child knows, not what a bunch of numbers average out to be. Personally, I think letter grades are stupid. Give me standards based grading any day. Let the parent and the student know what they need to work on and what they have mastered. What do grades really tell the parent anyway? Especially when Susie teacher down the hall gives all A's and B's because she just doesn't want to deal with the parents. Read the article if any of this has made you curious!

Student Motivation

I instituted the 3P grading policy for the second semester of the school year, with my principal's blessing. I truly believe that student's should have some input into their final grade. I also believe that when a student feels that they are valued they will perform better. So, all that being said, I thought that this approach to grading might help to motivate my current 8th grade class. I was wrong. They certainly seemed excited by it when I explained it to them, but their work performance did not change. The same students that did not do their work before, continue to not do their work. I don't know what else to do!

We do much of our work in class because I know that they go home to environments that are not conducive to study. Many have parents who do not speak English or parents who do not arrive home from work until quite late. If anything does become homework, it is only what was not finished in class AND it is ALWAYS something that any one of them could complete independently. I NEVER ask them to do anything, with which they might struggle, without me. And still, I get nothing.

I have a good relationship with the class. I do not belittle them or scream at them or even nag them about work (I have colleagues that do all of this and more!). These students come to me with their problems, their hopes and dreams, and they tell me repeatedly that I am their favorite teacher because I understand them and my class is fun and interesting. So WHY CAN'T I GET THEM TO DO THEIR WORK!!

I know, some of you are thinking my work it boring! But it isn't. I am not a drill and kill worksheet lady. I turn grammar lessons into songs and use a story approach to teaching. We have LOTS of discussion, turn and talk, work with a partner, and hands-on activities going on all the time.

I really feel like this class is an anomaly, but I know that the upcoming 6th grade class is like this 8th grade class so I am wondering if this is what the future holds. Is education not valued anymore? What can I do to make sure these students will be successful in life?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Great Figurative Language Giveaway at Middle Grades Maven!

Yep, another day off of school and I have time to peruse the blogs! I found this great giveaway over at Middle Grades Maven and although I want to be the winner of this giveaway, I really think that everyone should hop right over there and enter. They are giving away soooo much! If you teach language arts then you can use the wonderful figurative language materials they have designed! Kathleen at Middle Grades Maven and Deb at Crafting Connections have really worked hard on this bundle of materials and I appreciate that they want to give away a bundle to some lucky teacher winner! (Hope it is me!)

Monday, January 6, 2014

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I would love to teach but....

Yes, no school means I have time to peruse other blogs and find fantastic pieces to share!  I found this on Miss Lifesaver's blog.  You can link directly to the article here.  Like Erin, I am also saddened that so many of our "quality" teachers end up leaving the profession because they just can't stand all the hoops they have to jump through, the swapping of "good" teaching for test prep, and the lack of accountability on the part of the students and their parents.  It does make a teacher want to cry.

Frigid Air leaves me missing my students! (And working on a better way to grade!)

I live in northern Illinois and we are experiencing a blast of frigid air so all of the local schools have decided to close.  I teach at a private school but we follow the public school bus schedule, so since they are closing, so are we!  An extension to our Christmas holiday!

Since I am off, I have been doing more reading on grading and I have come to the conclusion that I really need to change what I am doing.  I don't believe that averaging a bunch of grades together really gives an accurate picture of what a student can do or where they fall in relationship to mastery of a standard.  After reading about Steve Peha and the 3P grading system (this link will take you to the Teaching That Makes Sense website, the 3P grading system can be found on the left side, 4th link from the top), I just think that this type of grading makes the most sense to me and allows me to give an accurate picture of the student's progress and achievement.  I have not worked out all the kinks yet, but if my principal gives me the ok, I will be implementing this system when we return to school on Wednesday. (unless the frigid air keeps us home another day!)

The philosophy of this grading system strengthens my fundamental desire to meet the needs of each child in terms that move me beyond traditional quiz/test/homework percentage calculations. Together with each child, I will critically examine how work was completed and what needs attention. This collaborative process enables students to actively “earn” their grade, which in turn launches them forward in life-long introspective observations of their own effort and accountability.

Students will be evaluated on participation, progress, and performance. Participation has to do with how students conduct themselves in class.  Progress is new learning: a measure of what students know at the end of a grading period that they did not know at the beginning. Performance refers to the quality of the work students submit (notebooks, journals, projects, collections of quizzes, tests and graded papers).

Student self-assessment is key to this process. In calculating the final grade, a student’s evaluation is equal in weight to the teacher’s evaluation. It also increases student ownership, heightens accountability, and improves motivation. This is probably the most powerful aspect of the 3P System because it makes student self-evaluation an ongoing and integral part of the class.
Participation (40% of the grade) is more important than progress (30%) or performance (30%). Participation is the key to maximizing achievement for every student; the harder they try, the higher they fly. Making participation the most heavily weighted trait encourages students to put forth a greater effort.

Grades are calculated based on a portfolio or collection of work during a grading period. Looking at work over time allows me, the teacher, and students to assess growth and to spot important trends and patterns. Parents will be able to view letter grades regularly during the quarter. (I will meet with students and assess at the 3, 6, and 9 week marks.  Of course, the grade could change significantly if a student really starts to improve or slacks off.)  It is helpful to underscore with children that letter grades represent the following descriptions.

  • If you are an “A” worker, you go “Above and Beyond” the minimum requirements; you not only meet the requirements, you do MORE than is asked of you. A grade of A is reserved for excellence “Above and Beyond” the norm. Students who get an A have singled themselves out as one of the very best.

  • Most people are “B” workers who work hard enough to get the job done, but don't really do anything extra to go “Above and Beyond.” “B” workers follow rules and procedures, show up on time, do everything that is asked of them, and don't cause any problems. They're "Generally Good" at what they do.

  • A "C" worker is someone who slacks off every now and then, may show up late every once in a while, and doesn't complete tasks in the time required. This person simply "Could Do Better" by putting more effort into the work he/she does and completing all tasks.

  • A "D" worker is someone who does only the minimum to pass. This person shows up late regularly, does not come prepared with materials or the right attitude, and makes excuses. In the real world, this is someone who has a difficult time keeping a job.

  • An "F" worker is someone who does nothing and does not try when he/she shows up to class

I would really appreciate any insight or opinions you might have on this.  I am really just searching for the best way to accurately assess my students so that it is beneficial to them and not just a letter on a report card.  

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

8 Things We Can't Accept in Education by Justin Tarte

I found another person who has such incredible insight into education that I just had to share his post with you.  Please consider following Justin's website as he has a phenomenal amount of information to share and seems to be right on target with where education is today and where it needs to go if we want our young people to grow up to be successful adults. 

This is from his Saturday, October 12, 2013 blog post. 

8 things we can't accept in education
We can't accept what's been done in the past as the only way to do things in the future. Obviously changing just for the sake of changing is not appropriate, but we can't ignore the changes that are happening all around us, and as such there must be corresponding changes in education.

We can't accept not teaching the 'whole' child. More and more frequently our students are entering our schools with needs that extend far beyond just 'learning.' In order for education to be successful, we can't ignore the external factors that play a critical role in what we do in education.

We can't accept working in isolation and working in silos. The world is rich with opportunities for collaboration and there is no possible way to argue that we aren't stronger as a team and stronger working together.
We can't accept that our content is more important than the relationships we establish with our students. It is with almost absolute certainty that students won't care about your content if they don't care about you. Develop strong relationships to truly bring your content to life for your students.

We can't accept and continue to allow educators to believe that integrating technology into instruction is optional. As individuals, we can choose to ignore the influence of technology in society, but as educators we are robbing our students of experiences they will need to be successful.

We can't accept and continue to think that learning is limited to what happens within the four walls of a classroom. Learning can't be contained and learning can't be defined by man-made structures. Learning is everywhere and learning is all around us... education needs to acknowledge it.

We can't accept and continue to believe we have an achievement gap. In reality, we are facing an 'opportunity gap' that continues to divide the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' between equitable and equal access to educational materials and resources.

We can't accept and can't allow ourselves not to be held accountable. We as the educators are responsible for what happens in our schools, and it's that responsibility that makes working in education awesome.

Grading practices and homework!

I know that I have not posted in eons.  I let the every day job of working and living take over my life.  I am starting the new year with a resolve that I will either develop this blog or create a new one and have a focus that will be everything education.  I don't know if I will focus more on my classroom experiences or the larger picture of, and problem with, education today.  I still need to do some soul-searching to decide how I want to proceed. 
Anyway, I have been doing research into grading practices since I am not at all pleased with what I have been doing in the past AND I have a new principal who is very supportive of change if it will make our school a better place for the students, and I came across this video by Mark Lemont that I think is quite interesting.   Please listen to the entire video before coming to any conclusions.  (I say this because there are a few comments on ADHD that might offend some) 

I have also been looking into using Steve Peha's 3P grading system and would appreciate feedback from anyone who has used it. (when you click on the link, scroll down to the link for 3P grading on the left)  I teach a reading/language arts block for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade and I have been using a 4 point system for grading the first part of the year so switching to that wouldn't be so tough, it is the rest of the model that might be a bit hard to sell to parents.  However, if I can convince my principal of it then I know I will be ready to tackle my parents.  After all, don't we want the same thing, for their child to do their best and be assessed accurately? 

So, if there is anyone out there still reading my blog, I would appreciate any input that you could offer on grading and homework.