Thursday, July 17, 2014

I'm starting a new journey back.  Back into a self-contained classroom after 11+ years teaching in middle school, with the last 3 years concentrating just on 5/6 grade math. Back into teaching reading (in the content areas of science & social studies, but still), and I never have felt that I was an adequate reading teacher. And back into confidence and excitement about the coming school year.

I'm excited about the upcoming school year because I have been feeling so...I can't come up with another word but defeated...for the last several years. I have been trying to incorporate project-based learning in my classroom, taking in-services, reading what I could, going to conferences, but I just couldn't seem to make it work, so I always went back to lecturing. I tried to make that as interesting as I could, using manipulatives as often as possible, having students model in their notebooks. But, I knew in my heart that I was failing - I wasn't teaching in the manner that the students deserved, nor in the way I wanted to be teaching. It wasn't best practice. And, it wasn't getting results. My students test scores were not where they needed to be, year after year. So, I'd change tack the next year, hoping for something different. And, the same cycle would repeat. Frustrating. Demoralizing. Enough to make me question my career choice. I loved what I did, but I hated my job. I knew there had to be an answer, if I could just find it. I knew I was a good teacher - students, parents, fellow teachers, and my administration would tell me that I was one of the best math teachers they've seen. But, if that's the case, where's the disconnect? I'm determined to find it - and change it.

I'd been afraid to talk about this because I haven't really felt like there was a safe place to do this. Well, it's not very safe struggling here by myself, so I left the discomfort of suffering alone and chanced it by talking about it: to my principal during my end-of-year evaluation, to my colleagues, and during in-services. To my pleasant surprise, it was received well. Because of that, I received some very good advice.

Thanks to my wonderfully supportive partner teacher (who is also making the move from 5/6 to 4th with me, thank God!), I just read The Daily 5: Fostering Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades by Gail Boushey & Joan Moser.

Now, this is mostly about teaching literacy directly, so it's more suited for my partner teacher, who is the reading/English teacher. At first I was wondering what it would offer for me, but I promised I would read it after she talked it up so much. And, it delivered.

The main thing that hit me was the "10 Steps to Independence". I always thought I taught my students those expectations, but all I really did was tell them to them and expect them to remember them. I never invested the time at the beginning, and so I never saw the results I wanted. According to the authors, when following these steps their students work independently without interrupting them when they're in conference with other students, and they don't use rewards at all. I've always dreamed of having a class that is intrinsically motivated.

Here are the 10 steps, and some of the my thoughts about them:

  1. ID what is to be taught - can be done as a brainstorm, but they don't usually recommend it b/c it takes too long, so they have their expectations ahead of time; for "Read to Self", their top 5 are: read the whole time, stay in one spot, get started right away, work quietly, build stamina; there are expectations for the students AND the teacher (it is a T-chart - 2 columns)
  2. Set a purpose & create a sense of urgency - answers the question, "Why should I to do this?" in an academic way; at least 2 reasons are placed at the top right & left of the anchor chart on either side of the title
  3. Record desired behaviors on an I-Chart (a/k/a anchor chart) - it's a T-chart, but they make it an I-chart, so the "I" stands for independence; it's added to & referred to all year long; done for every station/behavior/expectation; always worded positively; behaviors don't have to be added all at once, they can be added to as you begin your stations at the beginning of the year, helping to build stamina
  4. Model most-desirable behaviors - 1-2 students model the correct behaviors in front of the class as teacher points behavior(s) out on the I-chart; connect it back to the purpose you set in Step 2 by following up with "If he/she/they continue with this behavior, will they [purpose(s)]?" (i.e. become a better friend, learn to read better, be able to do more math problems, etc.)
  5. Model least-desirable behaviors, then most-desirable again - then have another student(s) model inappropriate behavior; ask students to connect back to purpose in Step 2 (it won't happen), then have those same students stop the inappropriate behavior and model appropriate behavior from the I-chart; ask students to connect back to purpose from Step 2 (now, it will happen).
  6. Place students around the room - in an organized fashion, set the students to practice what they've learned, but they get to choose within guidelines that have been given (part of an I-chart directive?). Teacher does not have a small group, simply observing, but does not intervene (see Step 8).
  7. Practice and build stamina - At the beginning, no timer, but letting the students tell you when it's time to stop by noticing when the first one gets antsy. Once an undesired behavior is shown, stamina is "broken" and stations stop. That way, no bad habits get learned. You record the time on a graph and challenge the students to improve their stamina the next time (which could be in 5 more minutes, after another I-chart group session to add another desired behavior). I never thought of this before. I love the chart & the challenge. 
  8. Stay out of the way - At this stage (what they call the "launching period"), they stay in one place. The teacher does not praise NOR does the teacher redirect, truly staying out of any interactions with the students. That will be very strange to try, but in doing so, the students will have to learn what real independence means, and I'll have an accurate sense of what's going and and where they are. If they're waiting on that feel & comfort of seeing/hearing/knowing I'm near to keep going, what's going to happen when I'm in a small group and can't be there for them? That stamina that I thought was there (and will need to be there) will disappear. However, that doesn't mean that I should be checking email. I should have an observation sheet, taking notes & making "next step" plans. I'll also need to be looking for, what they call, "barometer children" (I love this term - loving, but accurate!):  "...children who dictate the 'weather' of the classroom. A barometer student will be the first person to run out of stamina." (p. 48)  They caution against using our "teacher eye" on them to get them back on task - again, that's using us as false independence. If stamina is broken, stop stations & move to the next activity. Be careful that the child isn't just "resetting" (as they call it) - EXAMPLE: someone stopping to take a stretch then getting right back to work isn't breaking stamina. Don't stop stations too quickly.
  9. Use a quiet signal to bring students back to the gathering space - While in the "launching period" make no judgement on the length of time stations lasted. Building stamina takes time. Record the time and move on. I have a set of chimes that I hope to use. They'll resonate even after I'm finished touching them, so those who are really into their activity still have an opportunity to break focus. Also, I'm hoping the resonance will be long enough to serve as a "let's get cleaned up & to our spot before it stops." 
  10. Conduct a check-in; ask, "How did it go?" - should be brief (5 min max); can use exit slip or hand sign (Likert scale 1-4, below, approaching, at, above standard); go over expectations/behaviors one at a time, asking, "How did you do?"; Awesome idea for those who just want to agree - surfer hand gesture - thumb & pinky waved back-and-forth means, "Me, too!" (don't remember where I got that, somewhere on-line, wish I could give proper credit for that)
(p. 36-52, The Daily 5: Foserting Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades, 2nd Ed., Gail Boushey & Joan Moser)

They repeat this 3-4 times a day (spread throughout the day) for 5-10 days - this is for Read to Self and Work on Writing. I'll need to modify this to concentrate more on math, science & social studies. I'll have to put this together with what I'm learning about math stations from another book I'm reading (future blog posts about that).

The idea of gradually increasing stamina is intriguing. I think that's something that's been missing in my instruction, and Common Core addresses it in the standards for mathematical practice, as well:

CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP1 Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

The authors use a line graph to keep track of how long it takes before the class loses stamina. I think I might use this to help with stamina on math problems, too.

The way they structure the Daily 5 is very similar to math workshop, which is another thing that I've discovered this summer, thanks to the wonderful advice of following blogs of teachers who have what you want. So, I plan to incorporate what they do into math workshop - when I figure that out. That's my next book. After I read it, I'll post on it, too.

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