Saturday, September 20, 2008

Do They Play Fair?

As educators, we all work on a team. At The Creek it is no different. We have grade level teams, content teams, technology teams, co-teach teams, novice and mentor teacher teams, and spirit teams just to name a few. I have the opportunity as an instructional coach to interact with many of these teams, and to attend meetings from a variety of content areas and across multiple grade levels. This provides me with the unique perspective of observing these groups in action and seeing the dynamic of the whole team, as well as the interaction between individual members.

I am a keen observer, astute listener, and quick synthesizer. As an instructional coach, I have to be. I also find myself coaching people rather than just content, so sometimes for the best interest of the teacher and the team mates, I have to confront people to point out that they are not playing fair.

Admit it, you have some of those people on your own team. You know them, they sit at a meeting looking somewhat disinterested, enter 15 minutes late for no apparent reason, roll their eyes when another member shares an idea, or sit quietly and never volunteer to take on any of the work load. As I sit and watch, I have to wonder, "Do they think I can't see them?" "Do they think their team mates don't notice?" Or, more likely, "Do they think no one will say anything to them about their behavior?"

In thinking about this whole topic (Playing Fair) I'm wondering how often people reflect on their role on the team. I wonder if each of them knows the extent to which they either assist in keeping harmony or increase the strain on a team. I'm curious how many more student learning outcomes would be accomplished if everyone on the team worked toward the common goal. Granted, I don't have much of this at Chets. In fact, almost everyone does play fair, but what about those few that don't? And, how will the rest of the players feel if I don't somehow confront the ones that don't play fair? So, I thought, why not create a reflection tool hoping that those that don't play fair will recognize their faulty ways and change. What do you think, will this work?

Directions: Give yourself one point if you could answer the question yes, and zero points if you would have to answer the question no.

My team members would….

1. _____ consider me a giver rather than a receiver.

2. _____ say I share ideas about instructional practices with them.

3. _____ believe that I value the efforts of every member.

4. _____ consider me approachable and friendly.

5. _____ assume that I am flexible and know that I can compromise.

6. _____ deem me as a member who will keep team harmony.

7. _____ thank me for sending them assessments, homework, activities etc...

8. _____ know I implement new ideas into my classroom practice.

9. _____ deem me a thinker that helps take their work deeper.

10. _____ consider me a reader of professional literature.

Add up your points.

10 Congratulations! You are the ultimate team player!

8-10 You are a great team player! I want you on my team!

7-8 You could be a better team player. Consider making a few changes.

0-7 You are not a team player. You may want to join another team!

What are your thoughts, would this reflection tool help offenders who don't play fair think about their actions? Or, do you think that the greatest offenders wouldn't recognize their destructive behavior? Let me know your thoughts.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Grade 4 Snapshot

Last week, I visited 4th Grade classrooms. This year's team consists of 8 regular education teachers and an ESE teacher. The team is unique because it includes several different types of classrooms.

1. One team is a co-teach inclusion class with an ELA teacher and Math/Science teacher co-teaching all day. They have an ESE teacher who "pushes in" to service some of the students. Altogether, they have about 44 students.

2. One team is a two teacher departmentalized team. The students spend half their day with the Math/Science/Social Studies teacher and the other half of their day with the English Language Arts teacher. Each of these classrooms have approximately 27 students.

3. One team consists of four teachers and is also departmentalized. The two Math/Science/Social Studies teachers co-teach with a group of about 44 students, and then the students split to go to one of two reading teachers who are in separate rooms. The reading teachers first classes then combine to go to the MSS co-teach in the afternoon.

Regardless of the classroom teaching structure, this entire team works together collaboratively to plan for consistent instruction across the grade level in all academic areas.

While I strolled through 4th Grade, two classrooms were teaching Math. One classroom was in their 15 minute Everyday Math Counts block. The teacher was facilitating instruction and the students were recording their EDC answers on their recording sheets. Students were working on their Daily Depositor and Counting Tape. Math vocabulary was embedded in their conversation. In this classroom, and across the grade level, students are held accountable for their EDC learning through a weekly teacher made EDC quiz. Teachers can then use the common assessment to discuss grade level instructional practices and make sure every student is mastering math concepts and skills.

The other math classroom was right at the beginning of their 60 minute Math Investigations Workshop. Their mini-lesson was focused on the purpose of building an array and things that come in arrays. The teachers were using an egg cartoon to demonstrate and show students how easy it is to count the number of things that come in an array. Mathematical vocabulary was embedded throughout the lesson. During student's work period, students were asked to add items to their student sheet, record the number of things found in the array, record the ways to read that array, and draw the array with the dimensions. It was evident in this classroom that the same EDC math lesson I observed in the other math classroom had already been taught.

In three of the ELA classrooms, the students were in Writers' Workshop. Each classroom was in a different part of the workshop (mini-lesson, work period, or closing) but basically they were working on the same lesson--adding ideas to your seed journal. In the front of each student's seed journal was a Table of Contents. Students have numbered the pages in their journals so they can quickly reference the section according to their Table of Contents. On this day, some students were adding seeds to their Best Life Events and Worst Life Events pages, and some were adding to Artifacts/Objects/Possessions. And, it appeared in one room that students would be doing a quick write about their names after the mini-lesson. As I casually flipped through a few student's seed journals, I could quickly tell that these students were receiving quality instruction, writing daily, and preparing seeds that would develop into great stories.

In the other ELA room, Readers' Workshop was transitioning from the mini-lesson into work period. The class had just finished generating a chart: I am finished with my reading bingo book now what? This important rituals and routines lesson teaches students not to waste any time during reading but to transition from one task into another. Students quietly transitioned into their book nooks, had books on their just right reading levels, and got to work. One student showed me her Reading bingo sheet which I noticed as an artifact in two of the other ELA classrooms. Basically, the bingo sheet ensures that students are reading across genres as they pick their literature.

This Grade 4 visit proved that teachers are communicating about their lessons, setting up firm rituals and routines, and adhering to the workshop structure. Students are developing number sense, reading in their just right books, writing daily, and preparing for a year of great success. I know they will meet all of their goals. :)

Friday, September 12, 2008

September's Book of the Month

This morning, the faculty gathered in the Media Center for our monthly Book of the Month. This month’s book, Amazing Pop-Up Picture Atlas by DK Publishing, is hot off the press. In fact, the copyright date of September 4, 2008 almost guarantees this will be a brand new text to students and teachers alike.

This BOM is no different than most first Book of the Month's for the year; It has been selected by the principal and purchased for each classroom based on this year's theme, Around the World in 180 Days--Our Virtual Learning Adventure. And, it was not an easy find. Plentiful are childrens' fictional picture books but more rare are the non-fiction titles that capture the imagination of our youngest learners. This find, by Principal Susan Phillips, has broken the mold and ensures a captive audience for our Kindergarten through Grade 5 learners.
Amazing Pop-up Picture Atlas engages the reader from the first page where a 3-D globe of our planet pops out, to page two with a Map of the World, and beyond, highlighting each continent. Pull out tabs are tucked in each page containing information on the countries, and fold out pages showcase flags, features, amazing sites, production, and interesting animals. This text is a wealth of factual information begging for the teaching of non-fiction reading strategies.

As always, Principal Phillips began by telling the faculty why she selected the text.

I chose Amazing Pop-up Picture Atlas as the September Book of the Month
to remind us never to get too comfortable with what we know. Embracing a global
perspective opens up opportunities for learning and growth, for both teacher and
student. There are wonders to behold outside our classroom walls, the state of
Florida, the United States, the continent of North America, and it is our
responsibility to share these with our students. Our future reminds me of this
atlas, complex yet simple, and just when you think you have it all figured out
something new pops up to change your perspective.
Then, to highlight how teachers could use this text with students, Susan introduced seven different activities: Compass Groups, Map It, Advertise, Fast Write, Travel Brochure, Scavenger Hunt, and Graffiti Boards.
  • Compass Groups--Position students in groups of four for north, south, east and west. Have students explore the atlas and then name each direction in turn so each student can talk about what they noticed or learned.

  • Map It--After providing students with time to explore an atlas and its features have individuals or groups create their own map of their house, the classroom, or school using the features they noticed while exploring the atlas.
  • Advertise--After providing students with time to explore an atlas have them create a short advertisement that highlights the features of the area reviewed.

  • Fast Write--Prior to exploring the atlas have students use continual writing for a few minutes about the areas of the atlas you will be having them explore. Once they have explored the atlas have them go back to the fast write to see how much they knew ahead of time and replace misconceptions with newly learned knowledge.
  • Travel Brochure--After exploring the atlas have students create a thumbnail summary of the major categories learned on a brochure.
  • Scavenger Hunt--Prior to experience with the atlas give students a list of things to look for as they explore. (This text has a build in scavenger hunt.)
  • Graffiti Boards--Have students work in small groups to represent what they have learned about the atlas using symbols, sketches, and short phrases.

Each grade level team along with the resource team where charged with collectively completing their assigned activity as they explored their text. The room was abuzz as teams excitedly set off to complete their task and concurrently brainstormed how this activity would look in their own classrooms. The ideas were plentiful and as I circulated from team to team, I felt proud to work at a school with such amazing teachers.

To close, Susan had each group share their product from the activity and discuss the process. The creativity of the group overwhelmed me, especially the funny poem advertisement put together by the 2nd grade team. As usual before departing to their rooms, each teacher received a one page handout as a reference tool.

The excitement about this text and the limitless possibilities leave me anxious to interact with students throughout the building; I can't wait to see their reaction to September's interactive Book of the Month. I know it will be a hit!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Every Day Math Counts

Yesterday, three of our math teachers graciously opened their doors so three colleagues from a neighboring school could observe and learn more about Everyday Math Counts. Everyday Math Counts is a supplementary program that our district adopted last year to use in addition to our core math program, TERC Math Investigations. EDC is taught everyday in Kindergarten-Grade 5 for approximately 15 minutes in an effort to preview, review, practice, or discuss math skills and build mathematics number sense.

The visiting teachers observed two EDC lessons, one in Grade 4 and one in Grade 5. The Grade 4 EDC lesson was done in a co-teach classroom, so after the lesson, one of the teachers had the opportunity to debrief with the visitors. They asked questions about the parts of the EDC lesson, how we got started, the process of implementing the program school-wide, and how the curriculum was different across grade levels.

After the Grade 5 EDC lesson, which I watched with them, they asked to walk through math classrooms on multiple grade levels. As we walked, and talked, they noticed that every math teacher had a bulletin board with EDC artifacts which were up to date, that each classroom taught the same elements, and that each student had a recording system for taking notes whether it was a sheet made up by the teacher (Grade 4) or a composition notebook (Grade 2,3,5). In addition, they were very interested in the EDC quizzes our teachers created to hold students accountable for their learning during this time. They also asked me about last year's math results. Had we seen an increase in scores due to EDC implementation, they wondered. I shared our data with them--92% of all our students scored 3 or better in 2008 on the Math FCAT, a one point increase over 2007. 78% of the students in the lowest quartile made a year’s worth of learning gains, an increase over previous years, and student achievement for Students With Disabilities rose significantly from 74% to 84%. The variable that changed last year was EDC for all students.

Though EDC could not stand on its own as a math curriculum, it certainly fills the gap as a supplemental program. And, I noticed yesterday as I walked rooms that our teachers have done an outstanding job implementing this program. I sincerely appreciate that our teachers have embraced this program wholeheartedly, implemented authentically, and are always willing to open their classrooms to other educators. I know they are impacting student achievement far beyond their classroom walls.