Monday, December 30, 2013

In 2014…Leave Your Comfort Zone!

In a previous post, 9 Tips for Teaching in the Wild, I wrote:
Be the lead learner. ... If you think you are going to push kids to grow and take risks, ask yourself when was the last time you took a risk and tried to learn something new and challenging.
You are already good at many things…staying in your comfort zone is…well, it's comfortable. As humans, we like being comfortable. It feels nice. But GROWTH requires a step outside of that zone. 
We've all seen this:

But one of my teachers explained it to me like this:
There is a range, between the comfort zone and the "panic zone," where we are open to learning. In describing Habit 1 of his 7  Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey uses a similar graphic, with "area of influence" in the center and "area of concern" in the outer ring. Proactive people focus on their area of influence and, by so doing, that circle actually grows larger. 

I believe it is the same with learning.When stepping outside the comfort zone becomes habit, the learning zone increases. We become more comfortable with the feeling of growth, so that it fails to bring on panic. We become better learners.

Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can't Ignore You, calls this deliberate practice. He says that deliberate practice, which involves regularly stretching beyond one's comfort zone is what distinguishes the good from the great. 
"If you just show up and work hard, you'll soon hit a performance plateau beyond which you fail to get any better…Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that's exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands…Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration."
In the new year, let's resolve to become better teachers by making learning a habit, the kind of learning that stretches us and feels uncomfortable. I believe this is the most important and vital thing you can do to become a better teacher. 
What will you learn?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Teaching with the Daily 3

I have adapted the Daily 5 structure for my 4th/5th grade language arts class from five to three. I also read aloud almost every day to my classes, so they do listen to reading as well.

A few reasons I LOVE Daily 3:

  • Modeling- I followed the careful plan outlined in the book for creating anchor charts with students and modeling the correct and incorrect ways of doing each component. Normally, because time is such an issue, I find myself skipping steps. I expect things of students that I may not have carefully modeled. The modeling for Daily 3 takes time, but it is time well-spent. Everyone knows what to do and they quickly settle into productive activities. 
  • Choice- I believe in giving students choice, as much as possible. Freedom within form works. Some students need more guidance with their choices, so I help with that. Other students have the maturity to manage their time and are able to be highly independent. 
  • Personal Learning-This goes with choice. Motivation happens when we are fueled by our own interests and pushed to grow in accordance with our own abilities. It is a lot of work to be a coach and guide, to retain the flexibility and responsiveness to push each student. Despite the challenge, I can't imagine that one size fits all would do the job. 
  • Authentic Literacy- This word "authentic" is starting to sound buzzwordy to me. I understand that we all have different definitions of what this means.  Authentic is the opposite of schooly. I am willing to bet that when offered the challenge of choosing five books for a desert island, it is a very rare individual who would choose a basal reader. Where the notion ever originated that canning and condensing the art of children's literature was a good idea could only have been from those who were poised to profit. However, I am amazed by the number of teachers who believe that they can't properly teach without the guidance provided by the accompanying materials. To those teachers I say, "read."

Daily 3 from Andrea Hernandez on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Uses for Google Forms

In her post, Getting Started With Google Forms, Catlin Tucker shares some interesting uses for forms in the classroom and asks for examples of other creative uses of Google Forms. Here are a few of mine.

Job Application: My 4th/5th grade students may apply for classroom jobs and, once "hired" they keep their jobs for approximately one month after which time they can apply for a new job or reapply for the same job. Jobs are optional.

Choosing our read-aloud book: I narrow down a list of possibilities to about 5 choices. When I share the form, I also share the links to the reviews of each book on Amazon. Everyone can vote privately for the book they really want without any peer pressure.

Daily 3 timesheet for accountability and self-monitoring:
I also tried using Google Forms to make a timesheet for students to record their Daily 3 choices. Since we rarely have time to do all three every day, I wanted them to make sure that they are choosing each activity over a week. I also wanted to have a way to see what they are doing, so I had them make a place on the form to record what they actually did during the time.

I demonstrated how to make the form, then had them make their own which they were supposed to share with me. It was a total failure for many reasons.

Because the Google form was such a pain and really didn't work, I decided to use an "old-school" paper graph with my other class. In some ways that one worked better, but overall I think the whole D3 accountability thing is not really working. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

9 Tips for Teaching in the Wild

Yes, I think I may have subconsciously borrowed "in the wild" from the title of Donalyn Miller's new book (which I haven't yet read), Reading in the Wild. I have the sense that she and I are on the same page (haha, pun intended) when it comes to teaching.

So, if you are a new reader, I will tell you that I am fresh back "in the classroom" after many years as an instructional coach/tech person, etc. I changed hats so often I lost track of my job title, but at the core (I only now realize) I was trying to change the culture of schooling to be more of a natural learning environment. After being told again and again why my ideas wouldn't work in a real classroom, I began to question myself. After all, the last time I had been a full-time classroom teacher was in the last century! So, when the opportunity presented itself to teach my favorite grades (4th/5th), my favorite subject (English language arts) and to pilot a brand new 1:1 iPad program...
I was scared. And it's been hard. And totally amazing. Now, with three months under my belt, I'm starting to really see the benefits of creating a "wild" learning environment. 

So, here are some tips I have for creating a natural environment where learning grows and flourishes.

1. Wait for it.
Nothing happens overnight. I started off with a million (seriously!) ideas. I wrote them down in a big book and then, I admit, I tried to make them happen as quickly as possible. When you plant seeds, they do not grow in one day. But they do grow. Have patience, little grasshopper!

2. Believe in it.
I have nourished and nurtured and developed my learning philosophy over years of reading, experiencing, growing, changing, watching and basically being passionate about what I do. I have a philosophy and I believe in it. This is not to say that I don't seriously question myself at times. But being rooted in a philosophy of learning is the soil in which the whole thing grows. The kids come to understand it and feel safe in the consistency of the environment.

3. Find your people.
There is no "I" in wild. Ok, so there is, but in my experience, nothing great happens without other people. I am blessed with phenomenal colleagues, a supportive administrator and many wonderful classroom parents. I also have developed a "PLN" that has developed me and continues to challenge me, connect with me and, at times, remind me that I am not crazy.

4. Trust kids.
I think that one of the biggest reasons that "student-centered learning" fails is that people are loathe to trust their students. After all, they are children, and they are going to make mistakes. And their mistakes might make me look bad as a teacher. Cultivating a student-centered mindset takes time (see #2), but it pays dividends. I have given my 4th/5th graders the keys to the castle, so to speak. It is a relationship based on trust and responsibility. I act as a coach and guide, but I also trust them to co-create the learning environment with me.

Exhibit A : This is their Twitter account, not mine.
They are logged in on their own iPads, decide who to follow/unfollow
and what to Tweet. A 4th grade student also designed the avatar.
Exhibit B: One example of what happens when you create the environment
and invite students to be co-creators of the learning. 

5. Be the lead learner. 
Everyone responds to passion. You can not find learning in the wild if you don't live there or at least visit often. Canned materials seem to offer comfort and structure, but they fail to ignite passion, nor do they meet the needs of diverse learners. The ONLY WAY you can discover all the opportunities for authentic teaching is to be an active, engaged, reflective learner. I also believe very firmly that you can not teach something that you do not practice.

Let me repeat, it is not enough that you graduated college and passed 4th grade way back when. If you teach reading, you must read. If you teach writing, you have to be a writer. If you think you are going to push kids to grow and take risks, ask yourself when was the last time you took a risk and tried to learn something new and challenging. 

6. Begin with the end in mind
Know the standards. Where are you trying to take your learners? What does growth look like? How you get there should not be predetermined because there are many paths. Flexibility and a spirit of exploration will enhance not detract, as long as you know where you are going.

7. Imagine it!I think the best teachers are blessed with abundant imaginations. Whether this comes from nature or nurture, I'm not sure. But I do think imagination, like every other trait, can be developed. We live in a time of abundance, where other people happily and freely share their own imaginative ideas for teaching. Pinterest offers a wealth of ideas.

8. When opportunity knocks, open the door!
When you hear about that great project, idea or learning opportunity, banish that little naysaying voice in your head that whispers, "There's not enough time" or "It's too much trouble" or whatever else it says. If it sounds like a great opportunity for your students, check it out. You know what learning looks like, right? Try something new. Even when things don't work out as we plan, there is always an opportunity for learning.

9. Enjoy the journey
You're allowed to have fun.