Sometimes I love collaboration. When people with different ways of thinking come together, each with his/her own strengths, each willing to contribute, each willing to listen to the others. I love that. I can see the sum is greater than the parts, and I can feel the impact it has on my teaching.
I love how we can envision teaching and learning in new ways and make what we do better. I love hearing other people’s ideas for teaching strategies to work with a certain concept, skill, or text. I love sharing an idea and having someone help me break it down, and together we build it back up until we know that something amazing has been created that will engage students and impact learning.
Other times I shake my head wondering how in the world a team of people so different can possibly come into one room and share ideas willingly, contribute equally, and follow through consistently? In these moments, I wonder how I can be inclusive instead of divisive, and what I can do to build on the good each person has to offer.
What collaboration boils down to is teamwork, shared responsibility, and listening. Most of all, teachers need to be able to see the other people’s strengths and view working together as a good thing and not see what is happening in the classroom next door as a competition. We are, in fact, all in this together.
This time of the year is always tough on collaboration: testing season, spring break, the final quarter, yet perhaps this is the time collaboration is most important. This is sometimes the time when doors are closing when they should be opening. When I’m in the final stretch, I would like to cheer on others and be cheered on, too. And I’d like to know that we are all on the same team, and this is not about personal best it’s about coming together to challenge, inspire, and share.
Part of why I love blogging with SOL is because here is a place where I feel challenged and inspired, and we are, this month especially, spending a lot of time together–collaboratively not competitively. Thank you.
Wow! Look at that! Whoa–get a load of the stereo in that car! Blaupunkt–wow–turn it up! That stereo rocks! I can’t wait to drive around campus listening to that. I can imagine those thoughts racing through my brother’s mind before he bought the stereo along with the car. Oftentimes, as consumers we are wooed by the bells and whistles, the extras that make something stand out. I learned the hard way that Hunter remote control ceiling fans will not last as long as the simpler ceiling fans with an old school string to pull, but I indulged in a ceiling fan with that “bell and whistle” that seemed so cool at the time. What I have found is that bells and whistles often overshadow the essentials of so much.
The bells and whistles of a lesson may have the potential to transform a lesson from good to great; however, if the original lesson is not solidly formed with all its essentials, then there is not a solid foundation on which to build. Of course, I am attracted by bells and whistles–the shiny stuff that glitters: the engagement factor, the perfect video clip, an engaging and timely text, the perfect real world connection, and the infusion of technology. Yes, these things have the potential to increase engagement and impact learning; however, bells and whistles are a cacophonous noise of distraction if the essential components of a lesson aren’t present.
At some point, you or someone you know well has been lured by the “bells and whistles” of something:
In the 80s, my brother bought a lemon, a Volkswagen Passat. While there were some warning signs, the bells and whistles wooed my brother; the car had a rocking Blaupunkt stereo. As a family, we joked that at least he had the stereo to listen to the many time he was broken down for hours on the interstate.
In the late 80s, I bought a bedroom suite of cheap black lacquer furniture that shined and shimmered, with trim of a grey marblesque design, a geometric sort of design of mirrors, and shiny gold pull handles. My sister’s boyfriend criticized me for buying junky furniture, but I didn’t get it. All I saw were the bells and whistles of having furniture that looked good. I failed to notice the cheap construction of furniture that would begin falling apart after one move.
Fast forward to February of 2016, the students survey data indicates that there has been no improvement in the areas of closings on student surveys under the item, “My teacher takes time each day to summarize what we have learned.”
I could give you a litany of excuses to why that score is again lower than I would like:
One class surveyed was the lunch class–there isn’t time for closing.
I run out of time.
With all the differentiation going on, I’m not sure how to close a lesson.
We do different sorts of closings, so I’m not sure if the kids see it as a summary.
Summarizing a lesson seems like regurgitation, and that’s boring and falls short of the challenges I set forth in each lesson.
Did I mention that the lunch class was surveyed?
All that said, I believe my excuses need to be laid to rest along with my search for bells and whistles in everything I do. If I have too many bells and whistles, the kids miss the point as they are distracted by the noise that I’ve created. Furthermore, they won’t find what’s essential.
Admittedly, I have been distracted by the bells and whistles as I look for what shimmers and what shines. The bells and whistles are the add ons, and I can’t add on to something that’s junk. In other words, I need to ground myself in the practice and habit of good closings before I try to add to them. If I fail to do that, then, I, too, will fail to find what’s essential. If I try to refine a practice I haven’t mastered with consistency, my bells and whistles are like the cacophony of a Blaupunkt stereo attached to a lemon of an automobile.
Before I get distracted by the bells and whistles of engagement as I try to fulfill my vision, I need to focus on the substance of the work that needs to be done. I need to be deliberate about creating a routine of consistent closing practice that focuses on making sure my students get what they need to master the content/standards. Once I’ve established that with fidelity, only then should I add the bells and whistles. I could suffice it to say that I am continually realizing that the nuts and bolts of lesson construction must come before (or at least work alongside) the bells and whistles, and perhaps I’ve found the root cause of the lesson of dots that I cannot connect and the underlying cause of a lesson that my principal refers to as “too busy.”
I may be sick and tired, but my hamster doesn’t stop running on its wheel, oh no. On a paper grading break, blogging in bed and wondering of what would be great thought provoking questions that would work well in ELA.
These thoughts were sparked because yesterday when I had a lesson follow up with the Instructional Design Team, I told my TechEds county person that I’d like to make my own randomizer of questions. Guess what she did? She made me a video with directions where even I can cut and paste and put things in HTML and make my own random questions to use with a QR lesson closing. I am excited to use this as a way to bring some excitement and higher-level thinking to closings. Of course, now that she figured it out and made a user-friendly video, I feel compelled to take that step.
I thought of even making my own QR die, Tony Vincent style:
Here is what I used yesterday for my closing yesterday and last week:
While I like the above reflection questions, I want to make at least some faces of the die more reading, writing, communication based; I want to make it my own and select my own questions. Still, though, I’m looking for great minds to help me. When I finish my die, I will share what I create in the comments section of this blog, so give me some good ideas and share your thoughts.
I might make one that is totally generic for any content, but that works well with summarizing and digging deeper into a lesson…like I said, the hamster is still running…just a little more slowly.
Being part of TechEds requires me to try new technology, and I love that. I love learning new things and finding new ways to engage and reach kids. I regularly use all sorts of tools for differentiation, assessment, and instruction. However, when several people are coming to watch me teach using technology, I feel the need to do something that perhaps they won’t see others doing. This is where the overplanning madness began.
Overplanning is something I do when I have time and announced visitors observing me teach. This time visitors are coming to see what the TechEds teachers are doing in their classrooms, so I got some crazy ideas and started running with them. This weekend I looked at my plans, and I was like, “Huh? How am I going to do all that? Why did I set it up this way? Does that even make sense? Will it make sense to the kids? Is the content getting lost in the wordiness? Am I trying to make a production?” Aaargh!
Sometimes I chase an idea, catch it, and then don’t know what to with it. Yesterday I began tweaking what I was going to do because I couldn’t figure out how to do what I had envisioned. Then, it just didn’t make sense when I tried to plan the logistics of the lesson.
Finally, I moved to streamlining and simplified what seemed like the “dog and pony show” or “the production” of it all. And now, it makes sense. Now I feel like my technology is infused in my lesson in a way that makes sense. I still might be a bit over the top, but I am trying to show them what kids can do with BYOD.
Tomorrow the students will be participating in “The Great Comma Race” in teams of four. They will take a QR comma quiz (you can make QR quizzes at http://www.classtools.net/QR/) in groups, they will edit sentences written by students differentiated by their level of comma expertise, and the will take a group quiz on their edited sentences using Formative (https://goformative.com is a new favorite tool of mine). They will end with QR reflection questions (I wrote about this a few days ago). They will be charged to go home and revisit their essays, and return tomorrow with examples of 3 of 4 types of commas we’ve discussed.
THINKING AND BLOGGING
Now I’m just thinking through the lesson. I want to feature tools, I want teachers to see how you can use BYOD, and I want what I’m doing to be grounded in good instruction. As usual, blogging about my thoughts helps me harness my thoughts. I’ve never really thought of the process I go through so often: overplanning, replanning, tweaking, streamlining, thinking, walking through…
Thank you for helping me make sense of my madness, teacher friends and blog readers. Thanks for commenting, too.
Wish me luck tomorrow. 🙂 I’m tired just thinking about it. I feel like I’ve run The Great Comma Race already many times, in circles.
As a reader and writer, I realize the importance of grabbing my reader as well as of crafting a thought provoking ending that leaves my reader thinking; however, as a teacher I easily craft a lead and build engagement, but my endings are like poorly written stories with fizzling endings or like common stories ending abruptly with trite lines,
“Oh, look at the time. Y’all better hurry up and go to your lockers.”
“I’ll see y’all tomorrow-make sure to remember it’s a BYOD day”
“Don’t forget to finish what you didn’t get done.”
“Help me out, and get a piece of trash off the floor before you go out the door.”
I have always struggled with taking the time to end the class. Today a visitor (the usual suspect) entered my class for one of those drive by walk-throughs with minutes left in the class. I looked at the clock and smiled in my principal’s direction knowing that I had to make a decision with those few minutes I had left. I would either finish supporting the small group of kids with whom I was working, or I would send them back and close the lesson. Not wanting to put on a show and not wanting to send away struggling students, I opted to finish offering the support. However, had I timed my lesson better and paid attention to the clock, I would not have had to make that choice.
I am thankful for the constructive feedback I received today because actually being a better closer has been on my mind lately. When having a casual conversation about the walk through, my principal said several positive things then, mentioned the “one” thing (you know, the one I focus on the most). I started to fall back into my typical MO, “Well, those kids came to me and needed help, and I was working with them, and time–okay, nevermind, the excuse…” Thankfully I caught myself, and the conversation resumed.
At the beginning of this school year, I set alarms: one on my Fitbit, the other on my iPhone–to shock me and call me into my closings. I shake my arm and tap the Fitbit and resume instruction. I tap the iPhone if I have the volume loud enough, and then, I promptly forget why the alarm sounded (I do this also when the alarm sounds for me to go home).
Reflecting on this, I think on those days I am stuck in a moment, so are my students, and the dots I’ve worked so hard to connect have a critical disconnect; in fact, I guess they fall just a bit short of putting the final picture together. The puzzle isn’t quite built, and perhaps by the next day a piece or two might be lost.
Last month I read an Edutopia article about opening and closings of lessons, “The Eight Minutes that Matter Most.” This article made me rethink my closings (once again) and reminded me that I need to bookend my lesson more effectively. In this article, AP lit teacher Brian Sztabnik writes, “That is the crux of lesson planning right there — endings and beginnings. If we fail to engage students at the start, we may never get them back. If we don’t know the end result, we risk moving haphazardly from one activity to the next. Every moment in a lesson plan should tell.
The eight minutes that matter most are the beginning and endings. If a lesson does not start off strong by activating prior knowledge, creating anticipation, or establishing goals, student interest wanes, and you have to do some heavy lifting to get them back. If it fails to check for understanding, you will never know if the lesson’s goal was attained.”
I read the article. I pedagogically pondered and thought about how I should really work on my closings, yet until outside eyes looked in on my room again, I didn’t stop and ask myself, “What can I do differently?”
Now I ask you, what works for you? How do you prioritize your 8 minutes of beginnings and closings? How do you make sure you get to the crux of your lesson? How do you connect the dots at the end, the ones that create the big picture? When kids are being productive, when time flies, when kids need to get more done, or when kids are getting help from you, how do you force yourself to STOP and make time for the closing?
Most days my endings are planned and purposeful on paper, yet often I fall just short of creating the complete picture. While I can check for understanding the next day, I often neglect one of the most important teachable moments. I’d like to learn to PRIORITIZE my closings. My OLW (one little word to live by) for the year is prioritize, and I’d like to avoid endings that end like a bad story,
“And that’s my slice of life about bad closings. THE END.”
I cringe writing that. Maybe I should cringe teaching that, too.
After all, what I really want to master is creating
Looking at my one word for the year–sacred–I am trying to find how that will work for me tomorrow. You see tomorrow marks a new venture and a return to a sacred spot as I begin doing some work with KMWP, my local chapter of the National Writing Project. I’m trying to figure out how I am going to work with teachers at the school level and where this is going to take my presentation. I’ve decided to change directions from focusing on content writing in working with social studies teachers to reclaiming the sacred in writing.
As I surround myself with other teachers who truly value the sacredness of certain practices in the teaching of writing, I will force myself to look long and hard and what I am doing right now and how I need to change. This is both scary and exhilarating to me, scary because I know I have taken the prepackaged units given to me and not done what I could and what I should to make them better and exhilarating because I am going to finally begin to put into action what has been tearing at my writing teacher soul this school year. Questions I have to answer as I seek to find the wiggle room in the units provided to me.
How can I add writing that isn’t text-based or is loosely text-based that will help each student find his/her own unique voice?
How can I loosen the shackles of the curriculum and seek the sacred in writing? I mean I have a provided unit, but I have some freedom.
In this age of collaboration and data and same page teaching, CC and district mandates, how can I find a way, in spite of it all, to do what is best for my student writers?
How can I do all I have to do but still create a space where writers will flourish?
How can I find the time and space for the sacredness of the writing groups?
Jim Gray, founder of NWP, writes of how writing project teachers find their niche in the teaching of writing. I want to find my niche, explore my niche, and yes, even (ugh!) scratch my niche.
How can I help my students find a true audience when the summative tasks provided are essays written for me?
How can I help students still find that memoir that exists inside all of us and use writing not just for analysis, but also to make meaning out of life?