saying goodbye

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saying goodbye

When you have someone who has made a significant impact on your teaching and school, it is difficult when they have to move on. Our school has experienced that recently and it just does not seem to make sense to let go of someone with impressive credentials, knowledge, skill, along with the passion to make a difference in the lives of children and teachers. She had a strong bond with our students, families, and faculty. She was our shining light at a struggling school in gloomy times and she was let go, all due to budget cuts. 

There has been a shift in education; it has been about quantity and not quality. Veteran teachers (as well as administrators and other faculty members in education) are being replaced with newer staff members due to budget cuts and setbacks (they can fill more classrooms with newer teachers and spend less money from their budget). This trend is happening all over our nation and it will come back to bite us (we are starting to see it already). We wonder why test scores are dropping and why teachers are not staying in the teaching profession. Budgets are being slashed and it is becoming more difficult to keep teachers in this profession without substantial support, relationship building, or connection.

Education is it's own type of animal. It is quite different than Corporate America. We make special connections to the students, families, and staff that we see every day. I am not saying that people in Corporate America cannot have those connections, what I am saying is that business people are running education like a business. What has become most important are statistics, testing data, numbers, and money. We hear if from the top up, "your test scores are not where they need to be," "your teaching and assessments are not rigorous enough," "your students are below grade level," "what are you going to do about your data?" Let us remember, we are teaching CHILDREN, not test scores. I am not saying that test scores are not useful, as I use this data to drive my instruction, build my small groups, and formulate my teaching plan. I believe that the relationship I build with my students is what they carry on through the rest of their lives. It is time to start sharing our voice. 

As life at school goes on, we need to take the time to help our students understand that saying goodbye is part of life. As old doors close behind us, we have to remember that new doors will be open around the corner that may give us a different perspective and quite possibly a new opportunity! Only then we can say, "ahhh, now I see why this happened." I only hope that our school has a new door around the corner and when we open it, we can all see a shining light to brighten our school spirit. 

Good luck to our shining light, we will miss you. 

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Student Presentation of Learning

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Student Presentation of Learning

In lieu of traditional parent teacher conferences this year, we started doing presentations directed by the students (along with guidance from me as needed). It has been a huge success in our classroom! The students were so articulate with what they shared with their families. I was certainly impressed with their honesty and their excitement to explain their learning and their thinking. The parent's faces were glowing with pride as their child discussed how they could improve in the classroom and all they have learned (they really are listening to me)! I will never go back to traditional parent teacher conferences where I do all of the talking. It was an incredibly rewarding time to share with my students and their families. Today I send my gratitude to my students. You are truly incredible and I am so thankful to have learned so much from all of you!

Want to give it a try? Here are a couple articles to get you started. 

http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin112.shtml

https://www.edutopia.org/practice/student-led-conferences-empowerment-and-ownership

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The Big Homework Debate

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The Big Homework Debate

To give, or not to give, that is the question! There is much debate amongst professional educators supporting and opposing homework. Does it actually help student achievement? There are pros and cons to both sides.

Over the past several years, I have tried to keep myself informed about the most recent research and best practice. I have heard stories from parents about fights, arguments, and tears that have been shed over homework (sound familiar?). I always tried to side with the parents and tell the student how important it was to do their homework, but realistically, deep down, I did not feel that it was that important. I would rather have my students spending time on a hobby, sport, or better yet, playing with their family.

For years and years, as a teacher, I was directed to give out homework. I used the "10 minute rule" (10 minutes for each grade level the child was in) but always told the parents that the most important thing to do was read to or with their child (I still stand behind this one). Week after week, I would scramble to find worksheets for students to do to make a packet. For some families, it was too much homework and for others, it was not enough. I even tried to differentiate homework (what was I thinking??)! I felt like I was wasting my time spending hours each month putting packets together and stressing myself out when I should be using that time on creating thoughtful lessons for my students. I tried to make things easier for myself and purchased ready made worksheets for the whole year on Teachers Pay Teachers. This helped, kinda. But, what if there was something on one of the worksheets that I had not taught yet? I did not want to spend even one second during my teaching time checking or going over something that was not that meaningful for students (or myself). I finally had to face reality. I hated homework, just like my students. It's not that I do not understand that there are things in life that we have to do that we do not want to, the question was, did this make a difference for my students?

I started to listen to what other educators had to say. I found that recent research showed that in early grades, giving out traditional homework showed no positive correlation to student achievement and educators suggested rethinking how we give homework to students in early childhood. The research did show a positive correlation of student achievement and homework starting at about the seventh grade up to twelfth grade (check out my link to an article from Time below). I was definitely intrigued. Many suggested giving no homework. I felt like if I did this, I was leaving parents in the dark on how to help their child. So I took it to the professionals. I asked my students. The students that I have this year are extremely thoughtful and they can debate almost any topic. We discussed it and they told me how much they did not like homework. One of them (a future president perhaps?) said that homework was not fun, not even a little bit. They did, however, like doing projects.... hmmmm, now my brain was buzzing! We voted and it was unanimous, they wanted the homework packets to stop altogether and start Homework Projects.

That night, I searched the web to find out what other educators were doing. I found some creative book projects on Teachers Pay Teachers that sounded interesting. I wondered what my parents would think. I told them that the students voted and they wanted Book Projects. It was a hit! The projects that came back were astonishing! Parents got involved and told me how much they enjoyed working with their child. I had students who never turned in homework packets actually turning in book projects! So far, it has been a success. I still have a small amount of students (I mean very small amount, like 2 or 3) who do not do their book projects, but I think when they start to see their classmates sharing their projects, they might get on board. I am loving it. It is so enjoyable seeing the creativity they put into their projects and the excitement in their eyes when they get their next project. They are also proud to share their work (some are still reluctant to share, but we are working on it).

This weekend is supposed to be really nice weather. Their homework? To go outside and play! You could probably hear their cheers through the whole building!

http://time.com/4466390/homework-debate-research/

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Learning Through Play

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Learning Through Play

Over the last few years, I have become a big advocate of learning through play (as it is very appropriate for early childhood). But not all educators and administrators jump on this bandwagon. It is a tough battle to fight (especially with the rigor movement and all the testing) but I know, in the end, I can advocate for my students. Learning through play provides such an organic and natural way for students in the early years to practice conversation or trying out different ways to solve a problem. Our English Language Learners need to have time to play.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/opinion/sunday/let-the-kids-learn-through-play.html?_r=0

http://www.naeyc.org/play

http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=240

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Making Mistakes

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Making Mistakes

One problem in classrooms today is teachers “spoon feeding” students the answers. It is important that we as educators remember that powerful learning takes place when students solve problems on their own. For example, give students wait time, or as we call it, “thinking time” to communicate their thoughts about their learning. We also have to remember that the objective is not always for the students to have the right answer, but the journey of them coming up with solutions through trial and error and gaining knowledge by making mistakes through exploration and discovery is what is most important. Allowing students time to discover the answer on their own or providing students time to explain their way of coming up with the answer in a different way can show students that there is more than one way to find a solution to a problem. It is vital, however, to know when to interject and when to step back.

 As I have learned through my years of teaching, balance is key. Interweaving explicit teaching and providing students with opportunities for implicit learning (like project based learning) and knowing when to let go is part of developing your craft as an educator. For students learning a second language, the need for explicit teaching is greater given the cognitive developmental stage at the time of exposure to their new language, especially when it comes to skills like spelling or grammar. This is where you can address student need through conferencing or small group instruction. It is important to keep in mind student need, level of proficiency, student motivation and interest, as well as academic requirements. 

It is important to understand that students learn best through active participation, experience, and discovery. Creating a natural learning environment, provides opportunities for students to make powerful connections to their schema and new topics in which they are exploring in an organic and more meaningful way. What can be difficult is finding those teachable moments, those “aha” moments, those moments where the light bulb goes off. As teachers we always have to be searching and listening so that we can hone in on those opportunities and pave the way for the magic to happen. That, is the best kind of magic!  

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