What a week. By the end of an emotionally-draining, anxiety-ridden election week, many find themselves struggling to breathe, smothering under the weight of an insecure future. Each breath as shallow as the destructive rhetoric of intolerance forcing American voters to choose a side—a blade that cuts deeper than partisan politics. With respect to our right to have a voice in the democratic process, what message did adults express to a generation of impressionable children?
Rather than answer that question, I ended the week in the most comforting place I know—with my family. As the father of two compassionate, open-minded, respectful children, I maintain hope for the future. While I cannot protect them from all the realities they will encounter, I will continue to model empathy, encourage dialogue about their questions, and equip them with knowledge and courage to overcome ignorance.
Raising children to become critical thinkers and selfless citizens feels overwhelming at times, but parents are not alone. They have a support system and powerful ally in education. Together, we send a message of hope built on trust, protected by knowledge, and secured by an understanding that all lives matter.
Before closing the week by spending a quiet Friday night watching movies with my family, I attended a two-day conference: The 7th Annual National Convening on Personalized Learning. This year, The Institute for Personalized Learning focused on Preparing Learners for the Future, “to produce learners that work independently, are able to drive their own learning, and want to learn out of curiosity.” From one presenter to the next, all conversations challenged traditional thinking about the way we do school. In fact, every speaker inspired an audience of educators to rethink their vision of school. Breakout sessions shared models of success and struggle to personalize learning, while reinforcing the fact that personalization is not a pre-packaged educational program, initiative, or buzzword. It is a culture-shifting philosophy that puts learning at the center of all decisions, leverages student voice and choice, and empowers every student, every day.
Here are my notes and greatest takeaways from two days of rich dialogue, challenging thoughts, and memorable conversations with passionate educators… Continue reading
A number of connected educators are admittedly PD junkies. They crave conversations with other passionate educators, share ideas, seek knowledge, exchange resources, and take part in a global dialogue. Many need the adrenaline rush of an intense hour of a Twitter edchat to ignite their creative drive and keep their job from being anything but mundane. However, not everyone is interested nor ready to participate in Twitter chats. These chats are fast-paced, intimidating for some, time consuming, becoming echo chambers, and, as #slowchated founder David Theriault eloquently concludes, might just plain suck. Continue reading
Something amazing took place in class today. After spending the past week struggling to comprehend the opening act of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, my juniors had a breakthrough. Everyone reached proficiency thanks to one of my favorite formative assessment strategies: one fails, we all fail. Continue reading
Reality: high school is a microcosm of society. A community of chaos and constant traffic. People with destinations and deadlines, seemingly too important to stop and help. Daily drama. Private posts and popularity contests. The struggle for an identity, acceptance, praise. Competition to claim correct answers and have the first hand raised. Call on me. Look at me. Acknowledge me. “Like” my post. Like me. Reward me with scores and post them online.
High school is a student’s reality for four (sometimes five) years. For an educator, it is the real world (despite having shorter lunch periods than those not serving a lifetime sentence within school walls). Real life is happening every day.
And then a parent or friend asks, “How was your day? What did you do in school?” It is baffling when those questioned struggle to produce answers. Students simply have to look through their social media to review the archives of the day’s lessons. Some of the learning is academic, some social, and some needs to be unlearned. Unfortunately, much of what is captured and shared is through the limited (selfie-centered) perspective of students, but it does tell a story. This is where teachers have an opportunity to add transparency to learning and validate all that is good in education by curating student work.
Part of my current mission is to make learning accessible to all stakeholders. Fortunately, we are a GAFE school with access to technology which adds convenience and efficiency to the process. Students are invited to utilize their devices. All I have to do is guide students to use these tools for good, not evil. So, I do my best to model the process in a variety of ways.
In addition to a teacher website and class web pages, I have a class Twitter account to share snapshots of what takes place. I take pleasure in capturing highlights of the school day and document the memories my students create. (Side note question: Why are students so comfortable snap chatting ridiculous-faces-and-up-the-nose selfies to each other, knowing the images will be saved by their friends, but question a teacher taking pictures of brilliant group work? Seriously.)
Parents deserve to see what their children know and can do. They appreciate seeing what is produced in classes–contact that tends to disappear after students leave grade school. Last year, I wrote about and posted a Six Word Memoir video from my creative writing class.
We needed to publish our words–allow the world to hear our voices. Several visionary artists took a lead role, and within a week–after having us choose between five songs to accompany our words–produced a class video. The video might not signify much to a general YouTube audience, but it forever unifies our class. It also gave me something more impressive than my artistic syllabus (which I handed out…) to showcase during Back-to-School Night. As the parents of my writers watched intently, waiting for the words of their son or daughter to flash across the screen, they were overcome with emotion (several to tears). The power of the written word, combined with the potential of our children’s minds, made a bold statement about the quality of our educational system. I am proud to share our video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkymNjSz_OI with you. Enjoy.
I am constructing a class blog site where we can house student blogs, showcasing their writing and videos. It took several years to be launched, but I now have an entire class of seniors writing for a global audience. Alas, I am no longer the only intended audience of my writers.
In the near future, I would love to see students in our school build digital portfolios for presentation at the end of each year and once more before graduation. They should be proud to display their achievements and leave high school with a collection of authentic, purposeful artifacts. Let’s validate the growth process and the quality of education received by every student in our district.
By no means am I a tech expert, but I am comfortable blending learning in all of my high school English classes. In fact, I have used this blog and Twitter to document my experiences and share student feedback through three years of teaching a paperless writing course for high school seniors. At last week’s professional development teacher academy, I presented two sessions entitled, Enhancing the Writing Process With GAFE. In each session, I shared strategies to improve writing, communicating feedback, differentiating instruction, and accurately assessing student work utilizing the Google apps.
Even though I was pleased with my progressive approach (heading into my nineteenth year of teaching) and the success of my writers, human nature forced me to ask:
- How can I make my workload as a teacher less stressful?
- When does the most learning take place?
- How can I be more efficient with class workflow & provide more effective feedback to students?
In typical, all-knowing Google fashion, my questions were answered. I was one of the chosen.
I was invited to explore the new Google Classroom over the summer. In my trial run, I had no problems navigating my way through the options. I even set up a mock class with several tech-curious colleagues (as my students). They received announcements (individual or whole class) and assignments–which Classroom allowed me to set so each student got his own copy. No more begging students to share a document, make a copy of the original document, or accidentally edit the master copy. I could monitor the progress of completed assignments and see how many remained incomplete after the deadline. All work was then filed neatly into a folder in my Drive.
Simple and impressive. Google continues to lead the way in education. At last, the brilliant minds at Google have found a way to streamline workflow connecting all of their apps. There is always new technology popping up, but nothing is more exciting than the potential of Google Classroom for the 2014-2015 school year.