Monday, April 30, 2012

Make School Different

This weekend I did something I swore I'd never do:  stick a bumper sticker to my car.  I really stuck it--no magnets, tape, or other alternative affixes.  For the past few weeks I drove around with it curled up on the front seat of my car, debating whether or not to take the plunge.  In all my years of driving, I have never peeled the backing off a sticker and placed the sticker on my bumper--not just because I don't want to damage the paint (though that is part of it), but because I cannot think of a sticker that holds a message significant enough that it should be a permanent and public banner of my beliefs.  So why now?  

Because Phil Sharp's "Make School Different" sticker, inspired by Seth Godin's Stop Stealing Dreams, is that important.  I will never stop believe that our children deserve a new vision, an entirely different concept, of school.  Car paint be damned. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lessons Learned in Vermont

Rather than outlining my third day in Vermont, which included a trip over to the 3-8 building (Williston Central School) to see kids blogging, writing pieces for the Vermont Young Writers' Program, skyping with an author, using Pixton to create graphic novels, I'll close out my reflections from the trip as a whole.

Here are my major takeaways:

Third grade classroom

Sixth grade classrooms
  1. In every classroom I visited, I saw kids sitting at tables--not individual desks.  This arrangement is a physical representation of the belief in collaboration.  I'd love to see our individual student desks replaced with collaborative work spaces like tables.
  2. Kindergarteners can and want to blog, tweet, video chat...and not for a gimmick.  These activities transform their learning, helping them explain their thinking, publish their work, and connect to the larger world around them.  I'd love to see every student in our building publish work and thoughts on a blog hosted by their teachers.
  3. Teachers who are connected via a PLN (personal learning network) can transform their instruction virtually (no pun intended) overnight.  Of course we should support the work of the teachers right next to us or down the hall, but why not reach out beyond our building to share best practice ideas with other teachers throughout the country and around the world?
  4. If we are truly child-centered, our decisions about schedules, facilities, access to technology, and curriculum and instruction must not be based on adult-conveniences but on what's best for kids.  We also need to figure out how to help parents understand our choices, offer them boundaries, and hold them to those boundaries so they do not interfere with their children's learning.
  5. We cannot depend on programs to define our instruction.  While teachers may benefit from following a set of lessons or a packet of resources, we must bring our understanding of best practice to everything we teach.
 Many, many thanks again to all of the people at Allen Brook School and Williston Central School who opened their classrooms to me and spent time talking with me.  Of course, I am especially grateful to Sharon Davison for coordinating my visit and for being an inspiring, motivating teacher.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Allen Brook, Day 2

Today at Allen Brook School I was treated to a full schedule beyond Sharon's kindergarten class.  She so wanted me to see as much as possible that she thoughtfully arranged for me to see a variety of language arts instruction, a Reading Recovery lesson, and iPads in math.  I also spent time with one of the district's literacy coordinators.  I won't detail my day here--I'll just highlight a few parts of the day (like the Vermont cheese sampler we enjoyed for dinner!).

The day began with a visit with Julie Rogers' first grade students during their morning meeting.  I loved watching how her students so confidently lead, participate in, and enjoy the meeting that Julie facilitated.  Julie's morning meeting affirmed my belief that students should be at the very center of their learning.  There's so much more to say about the Julie's teaching--I will share what I observed from her in a post in the near future.

Just after morning meeting I flew down the hall to Maria McCormack's room where I watched her students using iPad apps as a way to target their specific needs.  They could choose between the Multi-touch Math app or the Number Rack app.  Not only did Maria invite me to observe her students but she opened her own vault of resources by sharing her team's website, her curricular wiki, her email address, and her twitter handle.  I will certainly be checking in on all of her digital gifts.

Later I met with Carol Huntington, Allen Brook's literacy coordinator.  My hour-long conversation with her made me feel connected to a larger community of literacy leaders.  Her words were reassuring--just the reminder I need as I prepare to head home and do important curricular planning for the 2012-13 school year.  Carol said that she tries to get the most bang for her buck in her work.  In her school she began by defining balanced literacy, looking at the schedule to find time for a 90-minute literacy block, and agreeing on standards of practice for each team.  She also reminded me that the WHAT of what we teach is non-negotiable, but the HOW is debatable; we must not get derailed by the "side conversations" that drill down into minutia or veer into complaint sessions.  I look forward to meeting with the K-6 teams to discuss the standards of practice for our reading instruction.

I ended the day with a visit to Jessie Stein's second grade Writing Workshop.  Her students were using Scribblepress to publish their realistic fiction stories.  Her students were so eager to share their stories with me and show me how to use this app to create books.

It was another whirlwind day, one that highlighted the importance of organization, forethought, and assessment in instruction.  I am sad that my visit will end tomorrow, but I will bring home ideas, plans, and connections that will enrich my long-range vision and day-to-day work.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Best Professional Development: A School Visit

This week I am lucky enough to be spending three days at Allen Brook School in Williston, Vermont with Sharon Davison and her kind and generous colleagues.  Back in November I found Sharon's class blog when I was doing some research for our kindergarten's Jan Brett author study.  One look at Sharon's jam-packed blog and I knew she was a dynamic, creative, and passionate teacher.  Now that I have had the privileged of spending one day in her clasroom, I understand that she is a remarkable teacher driven to deliver only the most sound, effective, and meaningful instruction to her students. 

Sharon immediately welcomed me into her class, introduced me to her students and co-workers, and then got busy teaching so that I could see all that I came to see (and more).  She knew I was particularly interested in language arts and technology, so I saw her class use the Smart board, iPads, and computers.  I saw the students sort letters, write words, and draft blog posts.  I watched them enjoy the newest addition to their class blog, a slide show Sharon put together using Smilebox.  I heard them ask when they would get to compose their daily tweet, helped two students return the iPads to the technology room, and listened with them as Sharon explained the concept of pinboards on Pinterest.  Students in Sharon's class are at ease with technology because they have learned how to use it and understand how it enhances their learning--it is not a gimmick or a mere substitute for pencil and paper.

Taking pictures during Explore Time
Sorting letters during Explore Time
Morning Message
Fundations with Smart Board and iPads
Nonfiction text displayed via ELMO

Sharon spends a lot of time with her students--I was amazed by her schedule (below).  The students only had one special today: the end of the day!  Although her days are exhausting, Sharon is grateful for the amount of time she has with her students each day as she layers her teaching, always knitting content, process, character, and metacognition into her work with the children.  It is all fluid.  Not a moment is wasted, not an opportunity overlooked to teach her students how to think, act, and reflect. 

In addition to spending hours in Sharon's class, I also had the chance to talk with Allen Brook's technology integration specialist, Bonnie Birdsall, over lunch.  I loved sharing our experiences and look forward to talking more with her on my final day in Williston.  My conversation with Bonnie further solidified how lucky I feel to work at Flint Hill School, where our 1:1 iPad/MacBook program makes embracing technology so easy.  Our challenge continues to be using technology to transform our instruction; I hope my visit to Allen Brook will help me bring back new ideas on how to do that.

Monday, April 2, 2012

What Writing Teachers Know

This list captures what parents need to understand about how we teach kids to write.  If only the parents could trust us!