Sunday, May 24, 2009

Observing a Colleague's Classroom Instruction

Friday marked the last live videoconferences of the year to the Schultz Center, leaving us at a grand total of 175 live streamed lessons in the past five years. The lessons have all greatly benefited the teacher audiences at the professional development site, because they can observe live unedited instruction, debrief with the classroom teacher, and then have conversation with an audience of their peers at the Schultz Center about the instructional practices in the classroom. However, not only has the conferencing benefited others, it has also brought great growth to the CCE teachers. CCE teachers have planned instruction, considered the purpose of why they have particular practices in place, and have articulated the reasons for their decisions in debriefing. To say it has put them on their toes is an understatement. In addition, the live conferencing has provided time for the Chets' coaches to get inside classrooms and watch instruction across the school. Furthermore, our instructional technology coach, has captured some of the lessons on videotape, and they are on our Setting the Standard ning for viewing by a global audience.

On Friday, the last two lessons were videoconferenced to the Academy of Mathematics. One of the lessons, a Grade 3 Math Workshop, focused on the benefit of games inside the MI curriculum to promote fluency in learning multiplication facts. Rather than the students simply using traditional math flashcards to memorize their facts, Cynthia's students used array cards and played a game to practice their facts. They weren't just memorizing their facts; They were learning number sense in relation to their facts. I overhead conversations like, "I know that 8x6=48, because 4x6=24 so I doubled that." "I know 8x12= 96, because 8x10=80 and 8x2=16 and 80+16=96." The students didn't just shut down when they got to an unknown fact, because they had decomposing strategies, and could figure out how to solve based on facts they already knew. They also didn't have to pick up a pencil and paper for facts like 12x9, because they had mental math strategies they could use to solve the problem.

The Math Workshop was broken into three components; opening session (15 minutes), work period (30 minutes), and closing session (10-15 minutes).

Opening Session
Ms. Rice began Math Workshop with a 5x5 array card (a card that shows the array based on the area of the problem, in this case 5 rows and 5 columns), and asked students, "What do you know about this array." After students shared the attributes and characteristics of the array, they also used strategies for solving. Skip count by 5's five times (5,10,15,20,25), or consider 5x10=50 and half of 50 is 25, or 2x5=10 and 3x5=15 so 10+15=25. Then, she modeled the playing of the game Count and Compare (much like War--directions attached to the end of this post) with a student, and explicitly explained the recording sheet she had created for them to record their work. She did a think aloud with one of the array cards she selected to model for students how she thought about the product.

Work Period
Next, students set off around the room to play the game with their partner. The teacher had strategically placed partners and gave them a bag of array cards based on their readiness to practice certain facts. This differentiation left students at their instructional level rather than at a frustrational level. During the work period, she facilitated learning by circulating to each group and asking students questions about their learning. She strategically selected students who would share in closing session to promote the learning of all classmates. If a student was selected to share, she asked them to hang on to the array card they would be sharing as a visual in closing session.

Closing Session
The class came back together for whole group debriefing. By design, the teacher had students share their thinking to show the range of strategies used in solving the problems. As the students explained their thinking, their array card was under the doc camera as a visual for other students. The classmates listened attentively, sometimes asked questions, and sometimes shared other strategies for solving the same array card. The teacher then summarized the day's learning and the workshop concluded.

The students headed to art, and the teacher debriefed with the audience across town at the Schultz Center while sitting in the comfort of her own room. The audience thanked Cynthia for letting them observe (just 8 1/2 days before school is out for the summer), applauded her on the delivery of the lesson, and extended their thoughts about the flexibility of thinking on the part of her students. The audience asked how she formed her pairs, how she differentiate instruction with the placement of the array cards by student groups, and if she had corrected any misconceptions as she circulated. They also asked her about the recording sheet, and let her know that they would be stealing her idea and implementing it in their own classrooms the next year. The debrief concluded as they applauded her for her first ever live videoconferenced lesson, for which she appeared calm as a cucumber!

From the Instructional Coach
Ideally, teachers would be able to file into a colleagues classroom, observe, and then debrief a lesson. In this case, time and distance present the obstacle, so to overcome the barrier we videoconference the lesson. However, it accomplishes the same objective. Teachers are visiting classrooms, talking about instruction, asking about student performance, sharing ideas, and gathering new implementation strategies for their own classrooms. We started this journey within our school as colleagues visited each other's classrooms for demo lessons and had debriefs, now we share this practice district-wide with the videoconferencing, and nationally with thousands of visitors. We only hope that this practice continues to grow in many schools as teachers invite others into their classrooms to discuss instructional practices and share ideas to promote student performance.
How to Play Count and Compare
A Set of Array Cards
1) Deal out the cards equally.
2) Place your cards in front of you with the array face up. (The product on the back is face down and used for checking purposes.)
3) Players place their cards in a stack in front of them.
4) Players draw the top card and compare it to their opponents cards.
5) The players figure out whose card is more, say the product of their card and explain their thinking, and then check the back of the card to make sure their product is correct.
6) Players record their multiplication facts on their recording sheet.
7) The player with the largest array card keeps the cards and places them at the bottom of their stack.
8) The game continues until all the cards are used in one players stack. Then, the cards are shuffled and redealt.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I'll remember. Involve me, I'll understand.

As a coach, my role includes setting up learning opportunities for teachers. Sometimes that means me going in and modeling for them, sometimes it means co-teaching along side them, and sometimes it simply means providing them with an opportunity to visit in a colleague's classroom.

Earlier in the week, the new 2009-2010 Second Grade team met for a day of planning. That day was a great opportunity to set up expectations and answer questions, but it didn't provide a glimpse into another teacher's classroom.

Because there are several teachers coming from the intermediate school into the primary school, and I know that the biggest difference in ELA is skills block, I wanted to set up an opportunity for them to see inside a primary colleague's classroom. So, I set up a demo in a co-teach classroom for the day after the New Team TDE.

The teachers and I went to watch the co-teach duo, Maria Mallon and Cheryl Dillard because they have an incredible interactive fast paced skills block.
Skills block began with students gathering in the meeting area, they recited their class promise, sang a letter combination song, did a shared reading song, completed a morning message to reinforce punctuation and spelling, and then played a word wall game. The game reinforced rhyming words, homophones, and common spelling patterns, to name a few. Next, they quickly reviewed the playing of a bingo spelling game with the ar, or, er, ur, ir spelling patterns, and set off to play the game with a partner.

The visiting teachers watched this fast paced interactive skills block, asked questions, looked at artifacts, and jotted notes. Then, we debriefed the 30 minute observation. All in all, I think the teachers thought this was a valuable use of their time, and as a coach, an easy way for me to give teachers a glimpse into a strong instructional practice. When they see it, they will remember, and as I work with them in their own classrooms next year, they will understand the impact this practice will have on their student's learning.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Team Planning in Grade 2

As we wrap up one year, we eagerly await another. Decisions about next year's roster are already made so new teams can meet for an entire day, on the clock, and plan together. This week, our 2009-2010 Second Grade team met. They are an eclectic group of Learning Leaders--some are first grade teachers looping to second, some are third grade teachers coming down to second to then loop to third, some are current second grade teachers, and one brave soul is trying her hand at second after completing four years in fifth grade. Some of the teachers are co-teaching and others are departmentalized. I am thrilled to have such a unique group with so many varied experiences, it will undoubtedly allow this great team to look at each decision from many perspectives.

We began the day with a Getting to Know You activity that was a mix of collegiality and competitive competition. There was much laughter as we got to know each other. Next, we discussed our CCE non-negotiables as outlined by our School Improvement Plan and the America's Choice School Design.

--One hour Readers’ Workshop
--One hour Writers’ Workshop
--20 minute Skills Block
--One hour Math Workshop
--15-20 minute
Everyday Math Counts Calendar Math
--45 minutes of Science / Social Studies

On average, including book in the bag, no more than 30 minutes nightly. Homework in place on Monday,

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights. Please no homework on weekends.

Million Word Standard
--Each student is responsible for reading a million words a year.

--Evidence will be logged through a book log.


--Book of the Month attractively displayed and accessible to students.
--Data Notebooks (Diagnostic Profiles, DRA’s, PMP)
--Portfolios in Writing and Mathematics
--Reading Response Journal or Notebook 1-5
--Writing Notebook / Seed Journal 2-4
--Teacher Made Charts demonstrating mini-lessons in ELA
--Classroom writing rubrics
--Math artifacts (Teacher made charts, 100’s chart, number lines with negative and positive numbers, manipulatives, strategy charts etc…)

Standards- Based Bulletin Boards
--SBBB will be displayed by the deadline date with at least the following components: Standards, Task, 4 pieces of student work, teacher commentary. They may also include student commentary, circumstances of
performance, etc...

--No SBBB due in August, December, March, or May.
--Co-teachers in departmentalized grade levels will alternate between ELA and Math/Science/Social Studies

Standard Snapshots
Will be designated on the yearly calendar and done collaboratively amongst the grade level. Each student’s
piece of work will be attached to the snapshot to be sent home on the specified date.

Pacing Guides
--District Learning Schedules in Mathematics will be followed in Grades K-5.
--District Learning Schedules in Science will be followed in Grades K-4.

--ELA CCE Pacing Guides will be followed as prepared using the Scope and Sequence in our district adopted
Houghton-Mifflin Text and the Sunshine State Standards.
--Author Studies will be conducted, as outlined in our SIP, according to the designated pacing guide schedule.

Grade Book
--No grades will be taken on homework.
--There needs to be a reasonable number of grades to average for an overall grade. (at least one every two
--There needs to be grade level consistency on what is being graded and teachers need to be able to communicate with parents how the grade was derived.

Communication with Parents

--Weekly newsletters
--Written notes in planners or email
--Blogs are highly recommended but optional.

Next, the team nominated Ashley Russell as their team leader and Karen Morris as their recording secretary. Other committee leaders were selected for groups including field trips, foundations, cultural arts, and spirit This group had participants eagerly embrace each of the roles and I could tell they would gel as a team.

After that, Melanie Holtsman, our Instructional Technology Coach, taught us to set up our websites for the new OnCourse attendance and grade book program.

Then, a delightful treat awaited as the second grade team headed out for an adult lunch break. Though we had to dodge the wind and rain, we comfortably settled in at Times Grille to have a lunch full of conversation, laughs, and of course more dialogue about the upcoming year.

When we returned to school, the ELA folks and Math/Science/Social Studies folks broke up for some specialized planning in their respective subject areas.

In ELA, our agenda included a discussion about the Second Grade wiki, pacing guide, reading/writing/skills Sunshine State Standards, common assessments, units of study, inventories/materials, artifacts, and grading. Had we not run out of time, we would have discussed the new F.A.I.R. assessment versus our CCE diagnostic. This discussion is an important one that we'll have to have soon.

The day ended with the grade level meeting again to put together a 2009-2010 supply list.

Though the teachers have to write sub plans and leave their students for the day, I think they appreciate the opportunity to partake in this type of planning. As one year comes to a close, they don't have to spend the summer wondering about their new team or about what lies ahead. Rather, they can jump in and get started because they have an outline and the expectations. A special thank you to our visionary leader, Susan Phillips, for making this planning day a reality!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

May Book of the Month

Book of the Month, a Chets Creek tradition which began 10 years ago, as part of our America’s Choice training, provides the platform for our principal to be seen as our instructional leader, enhance each classroom's genre library, and have a common book all students and faculty have read to foster conversations on rich literature.

Each month, Principal Susan Phillips, selects a children’s book and buys a copy for each classroom. The faculty gathers, the first Friday of each month, in our media center. They hear the story read aloud and learn a new strategy that will enhance their classroom instruction.

Last Friday, the book our principal presented was Pamela Duncan Edward and Henry Cole’s new picture book, This Old House. The scene was set as we arrived with a huge painting of the old house draped from the ceiling. As Susan read the literature, a few tears were shed as some connected emotionally to the text. Toward the end, when the old house is loved and renewed, the painting from the ceiling is shed, and in its place is a painting of the new old house. The audience at this point is totally hooked!

Afterward, Susan asked us to close our eyes and imagine where we felt like home. We were asked to quickly sketch our visual image of home and turn the paper over to write about our home. Melanie, our instructional coach, then collected our work, scanned the pictures, and over the course of several days, recorded us reading our pieces into a voice thread.

This learning experience gave us the opportunity to do a task we so often ask students to do-respond to literature. I will admit that it was met with more than one groan, but the finished product proves that it was well worth the angst that some people felt. I hope this experience will lead many teachers to try it in their own classrooms with their students. And, I think you will enjoy logging on to our Book of the Month wiki to check out our unique voice thread.