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Thursday, April 26, 2018

New Furniture Leads to Rethinking the Classroom and Teaching

Thanks to a generous WPSF grant one fifth grade room will be renovated to be a co-lab, a laboratory for collaborative learning. As we move towards the end weeks of the year, I'll be thinking about how this new furniture will inspire a new classroom set-up and new teaching.

As I set up the new room, I want to do as much of the following as possible:
  1. Store student tools and resources in easy-to-access and easy-to-put away places (everything in its place and a place for everything)
  2. Purchase common supply caddies to place on each table. 
  3. Create a "sunlight lab area" near the windows--this is a good place to watch plants grow, let water evaporate, and more.
  4. Place math/science books in a specific, easy to access area.
  5. Order the kinds of consumables that will support the program, consumables such as vinegar, baking soda, dirt pots, glue, sponges, teaspoons, plastic cups, pizza boxes, and more. 
As I think about the curriculum and new teaching, I want this new furniture to forward the following teaching/learning events:
  1. Significant attention to attributes of effective collaboration and teamwork upfront at the start of the school year
  2. More project/problem solving learning
  3. Greater attention to classroom routines and protocols to create a positive environment for teamwork, and an environment where there is plenty of time for meaningful teaching
  4. Plan the messiest activities for times when we can work outdoors as well as indoors
  5. Building good flexible teamwork structure so students get to work with a variety of classmates and so that teams are filled with students who encourage and inspire one another's best learning
During the testing days ahead, I'll spend a bit of time each day preparing for next year. I want to get this work done before the typical very hot days in late June--days when the students need you a lot and the room is simply too hot for thoughtful prep and paperwork. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Prepare for the End-of-Year Struggles

The end of the school year brings with it some predictable struggles including the following:
  • Reduced supports/staffing due to MCAS staffing and other end-of-year meetings and efforts
  • Extra work such as ordering, report cards, move-up day preparations, and classroom clean-up which are done on a teacher's own time
  • The end-of-year emotions some students express in multiple ways
  • A good dose of "spring fever"
In the best of circumstances we would not have to withstand these struggles, but they exist, and we have to deal with them.

What's a teacher to do?

First, you have to change your expectations. You simply can't expect the same level of teaching and learning when your supports are diminished.

Next, you have to make time for the extra work--it's best to get that work done before the days get too hot (note to self).

Making sure students have the play time they need to match the spring fever they feel.

Saving bigger, deeper issues and efforts for summer planning and fall conversations. 

This time of year is the time of year to take the MCAS tests and engage in a number of enjoyable collaborative learning endeavors. Onward. 

Homework: Accountability

Teachers discussed homework and accountability briefly. It's an issue I've thought a lot about for 32 years of teaching and still don't have a firm conclusion.

Here's the situation:
  • Research demonstrates that there is not a lot of value in homework, yet I continue to see that those who practice do better.
  • Families respond to homework in lots of different ways--some are able and willing to support homework, and others demonstrate less support or interest in homework.
  • Students respond to homework in multiple ways--some always do their homework, others rarely do their homework, and there's everything in between.
  • Making the time to check over homework is extensive and has little pay-back. For example when teachers correct homework, students often don't look over corrections. Teachers that look it over and then have students re-do incorrect problems probably get more pay-back, but even then that kind of response is very time consuming and challenging when you have a large, diverse class of learners--there typically isn't the time for a few to redo problems, and the feedback for many doesn't result in much gain. That being said, I do agree with the fact that checking homework supports accountability and good routines.
With this variation, what is a teacher to do.

As I think about this, I think I'll lean towards homework that the computer checks. That Quiz is a perfect practice site as students can practice specific skills and the computer can check it. The teacher can easily review who did their homework and who didn't do it, and perhaps have a homework make-up time for students who don't complete their homework.

Sometimes it's important for students, however, to complete paper/pencil practice. In cases like these, it might be good to couple the paper/pencil with a Google form as the google form can quickly correct who got the right answers and then a teacher could look at the papers of those who come up as not completing the problems correctly.

I'll give this more thought in the days to come as I do believe accountability is a good thing, and I also believe there needs to be room for personalization when it comes to homework completion and the many different attitudes and supports available related to this.