Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Hacking Homework: Favorite Quotes, Tips, Advice from the Introduction & Hacks 1-4

Are you familiar with the Hack Learning Series of professional development books? Back in March of last year, I participated in the #D100bloggerPD Crew's book study dedicated to Mark Barnes' and Jennifer Gonzalez's book Hacking Education and then, more recently, another book study dedicated to Michael Fisher's Hacking the Common Core. Both books were amazingly helpful in navigating what teachers are faced with in the classroom. 
Currently, I am part a Voxer group created by my colleague Leah O'Donnell from Responsive Literacy. She and I are co-leading the discussion on Connie Hamilton's and Starr Sackstein's book, Hacking Homework: 10 Strategies That Inspire Learning Outside the Classroom. Anyone who assigns students homework must read this book. It certainly provides other perspectives and valuable insight on homework and what truly matters when trying to extend students' learning outside of the classroom. If you're interested in joining the Voxer group, click HERE to request access from Leah. :)
Below are a few of my favorite quotes, tips and/or advice found on Twitter, within the Voxer group, as well as throughout the first half of Hacking Homework

I'll be honest. When I was a classroom teacher just over 8 years ago, I was guilty of assigning homework just because it was part of the supplemental material packs in the basal and math programs at the time. The work sent home wasn't always meaningful and it certainly wasn't differentiated. That was the norm back then for many educators. The assigned homework was pretty much geared toward those students who were considered on grade level. A lot has changed over the years, especially in terms of differentiation, peer collaboration, flexible seating, technology use in the classroom, and now homework as well.

Nowadays, as a Reading Specialist, mother and educator who has grown a tremendous amount professionally over the past 21 years of my career, I can genuinely say I now know better. Since I know better, I do better. My journey in becoming a more impactful teacher will never cease because I have a passion and inner-drive to use research-based best practices. I'm hoping this post will guide you in reconsidering what is best practice for homework assignments. 

Introduction: It's Time to Reimagine Homework
  • If homework is assigned, it must be purposeful, transparent, and tied to learning experiences (p.17).
  • Homework is one of the most misused tools in education (p.19). 
  • After being in school for seven hours, shouldn't a child have the opportunity to reflect in a manner that is meaningful to him or her, allowing new learning to sink in before adding more practice (p.19)?
  • Traditional homework is an insidious practice that often ruins the learning process for children and puts a damper on playtime and learning as a positive experience (p.20). 
  • We strive to shift the perspective on learning at home to be more exciting and relevant than what we experienced as students (p.20). 
Hack 1: Break Up With Daily Homework- Work Around the Policies
  • We send mixed messages to families when we promote family time, extracurricular activities, and student jobs, then infringe upon that time with nightly required homework (p.24).  
  •  Expecting children to continue their "work" after long school days, {which} doesn't support what we know about child development (p.25). 
  • Distinguish between "required homework" and recommendations to support learning (p.26). 
  • Being explicit about your intentions and rationale helps parents and students understand the reasons for deviating from the status quo (p.28). 
  • We can shift parents' perspectives by explaining the purpose and expectations of the new policy, arming them with clear strategies to support learning both when assignments are and are not provided (p.30). 
  • Investment is the most important thing parents can give their children. For a kid, spending time enjoying his or her family's company is more beneficial to the home environment than being stuck at the kitchen table completing required assignments (p.32).  
  • Expanding the definition of nightly homework allows us to celebrate the learning that occurs in a diversity of formats (p.33). 
Hack 2: Teach Organization and Responsibility in Class- Ramp Up Accountability and Time Management Skills
  • Of course we want students to be able to manage their time, meet deadlines, do quality work, and take ownership of their learning, but simply doling out assignments doesn't achieve these goals (p.37). 
  • In order to effectively tackle poor habits, we should provide direct instruction and models of best behavior, teaching students how to keep track of deadlines and class materials; how to manage time efficiently; and how to be accountable for their work (p.39). 
  • ...let's look for opportunities to introduce and strengthen organizational and accountability skills, expanding beyond the traditional approach of assigning homework (p.40). 
  • If you find yourself saying, "I shouldn't have to teach my students to _____; they should know how to do it by now," that's a good indicator that you do have to teach or re-teach expected behaviors (p.45). 
  •  ...organization is a precursor to the ability to hold oneself accountable and act responsibly (p.54).
Hack 3: Cultivate Rapport- Establish Positive Relationships to Motivate Learning
  • When learning is viewed as "work" and students are expected to do it to avoid negative consequences, the message about learning becomes twisted (p.56). 
  • Teachers who connect with students are more likely to get quality work from them. Authentic conversations about progress and growth occur when there is a trusting relationship (p.56).
  • Stop praising students for their intelligence. Compliments like "You're a genius" suggest students either have the ability or they don't. These comments do not promote hard work or desire to become intentionally thoughtful about learning (p.58). 
  • Fair doesn't mean equal (p.61). 
  •  There is a missed opportunity if we don't find some time to guarantee that all students have reflection time on their academic progress (p.61).
  • It's not always an expensive speaker or new curriculum that helps students see the value in learning, including learning at home (p.69). 
Hack 4: Customize to Meet Student Needs- Be Flexible With Assignments and Timelines
  • Understanding the broader purpose and the transferable life skill helps students see how their work connects to short-term learning goals and long-term outcomes (p.72).
  • Delaying out-of-class assignments that require application of a new skill- until there is a high level of certainty that students have sufficient foundation to execute the task- makes students' time more productive (p.73). 
  • When teachers are clear- not only about the task and how to complete it, but about why the task helps them learn, what they are expected to learn from it and how they will know they have learned it- students focus more on the learning intention and less on completing the task (p.77). 

  • Invite students to contribute to the conversation about customizing their learning and the pace in which they learn (p.79).
  • Each day we should be assessing for learning, taking what has happened and adjusting accordingly the same way we expect students to do (p.80). 
  • Most students will consider traditional homework a waste of time when it isn't relevant, is redundant, or is beyond what students can do independently and appropriate scaffolding isn't available (p.84).
Have these quotes sparked any new thinking towards homework? I'll be back for another post to share additional favorites from Hacks 5-10. Check back at some point, if you found this post helpful in some way.

Are you on Twitter? If so, join the #D100chat on Hacking Homework coming up next week. It's a chance to change your views on homework. Co-authors Connie Hamilton and Starr Sackstein will be joining us, too! Make sure to also check out the hashtags #HackingHomework and #HackLearning on Twitter for little tidbits  of useful tips that can alter the way you view happenings in Education.
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tips on Reviewing Content with Engagment

If you follow my blog, you know how much I love Kristina Smekens from Smekens Education Solutions, INC. I went to the Literacy Retreat 2016 this past summer. So informative. I took detailed notes on six different sessions, as usual, but am just beginning to share them out to you all. Kristina's sessions overflow with ideas, so it takes me a bit of time to process all of the information. I've written previous posts on the various workshops and sessions I attended. If you're interested in reading posts from the Literacy Retreat 2015, click HERE, or HERE for a 3-part series on Dynamic Mini-Lessons for Teaching Reading. 

As you may already know, I am a Reading Specialist working with mostly young, struggling readers who benefit from practicing how to decode or consistently use Fix-Up and fluency strategies. Even though I work with small, intensive RtI groups using the F&P LLI Kits and am not a classroom teacher (anymore), I am finding a few of these engagement strategies useful. I say a few because my time spent with the groups is jam-packed with strategy instruction and is also very limited. However, I'm certain these strategies would benefit classroom teachers of all grade levels and ages, so let's talk engagement strategies!
Need help engaging your students when reviewing content? I think we've all had times in our teaching careers when we would answer a shouting, "YES!" to this question.  If you don't have some *pep in your step* when teaching or a little added #tlap in your lessons, students can and will get bored. 

When reviewing content, you must be quick and engaging. Typical review sessions require students to raise hands, while one or two students share answers, but that doesn't tap into all students' thinking. Teachers must honor the knowledge level of every student. In order to do that, ramp up the energy, but without it being a competitive game. Use a variety of tools and resources, add mobility/movement and make it fun! Easier said than done, right?

Addressing previously taught content is crucial. To be effective, it's important to incorporate quick reviews regularly in your classroom, while providing validation and clarification for students. Make sure to allow time and opportunities to *fix up what didn't stick* with students. Above all, honor the knowledge level of students. Below you will find some engagement strategies discussed at the Literacy Retreat that support effective content review. 

In the Stand Up-Sit Down strategy, the teacher poses open-ended review questions to the class. Students discuss the answers to the review questions all while executing the designated method of delivery (Smekens, 2016). The steps to this strategy are below.
Teachers need to change up the method of delivery options for students to make it more engaging. For instance, students may need to stand on tippy toes with hands up while speaking to their partners, or pretend to be jumping rope, riding a horse while lassoing, or even pinching their noses while speaking. Get the idea? The suggestions below are images taken from a bookmark passed out at the Retreat. Case and point: Make it fun!
The 1-2-3 Show Me strategy is sweet and to the point. Students respond to a teacher's questions by silently showing their answers to the teacher, not speaking aloud. It allows the teacher to gauge who is understanding the content and who is needing additional scaffolding. 

There are a variety of options for students to use when responding. For teachers without technology, create a class set of hold-up cards labeled, for example, A, B, C, and D, or use whiteboards and markers for students to display their answers. A further option is the site called Plickers. Click the hyperlink or image below to learn more about Plickers. Download a free set of hold-up cards HERE
For classrooms with access to 1:1 technology, try using Whiteboard Apps or instant polling websites like Kahoot! and Quizizz. Make sure to give students time to investigate the answers to the questions. Refrain from giving students answers to the questions. Make them work for it! :)

The Answer of the Day strategy is similar to playing the game Jeopardy. Teachers place the following prompt on the board, The answer of the day is____. The blank space reveals a term, phrase or person the class has been studying. The students are then asked, What's the question? 

Before students can begin taking ownership of generating questions, teachers must explicitly define what a *teacher-like question* looks and sounds like. 
  • The stronger questions demonstrate the student knows a lot about this term (or phrase, person) because it's packed full of lots of information and details.
  • Describe what a weak/non-teacher question sounds like. Ex: What's a word that starts with /p/ and is important in this chapter? (Smekens, 2016)
Once students have participated in whole group practice, they are then able to generate questions where the term, phrase or person is the answer. For example, let's say the answer is Helen Keller. Students generate questions that make Helen Keller the answer. For instance, Who is the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree and is the author of The Story of My Life from 1904? Smekens stated,
Rather than writing definitions for terms, students are pulling on anything and everything they know about a specific concept. This strategy allows students to demonstrate what they know- no matter how much (or how little)- by asking a teacher-like question.
If you are wanting to review more than one term, Smekens suggested handing out colored index cards. You can repeat the process for each term you want to review, using a different color of index card per term. Tip: If you are choosing to review more than one term, don't review the color cards in order. Mix them up and don't allow the students to see the color of the cards. Try to stump them!
Before I go into detail on the ABC Chart Carousel strategy, this is a collaborative exercise, so Smekens recommends acquiring and using multiple ABC Charts. Each group should have access to their own laminated chart. Laminate for durability! Purchase packs of different colored dry-erase markers, too. Prior to the activity, pass out a specific color of dry erase markers to each group, making sure no groups have the same color. The marker colors are what bring accountability to the group! 

Once the above logistics have been taken care of, each group begins to brainstorm any thing they know about the topic being reviewed (or introduced), then writes down their answers in each square on the chart. For instance, if the topic is Weather, students may write lightning, low pressure, lake effect in the L square and snow, stratosphere, smog, sleet in the S square on the chart. 

After students have had a chance to write down their brainstorming results, they stop, cap markers, stand up and rotate, bringing their markers with them. Students then read what the previous group members wrote on their chart and add to it. If students see something they think is wrong on the chart (for example, drought means rains a lot), teach them NOT to erase, but to strike through it with their groups color dry-erase marker. They can defend their thoughts at the end of the activity. Students should have the chance to rotate through all ABC Chart stations, as well as discuss what they added, changed, thought, etc. as a class. For a previous post discussing this chart and how I used it with my RtI groups, Click HERE
Image from Literacy Retreat
For the Graffiti Wall strategy, students are called to the board, three at a time. Say to students, Decide upon a word you associate with (name the topic). Come up and write it on the board. No word on the board may be repeated. This activity offers choice and differentiation. Students can choose their marker colors and how they want to write the word they associate with a larger concept or topic the being discussed. Allow them to get creative with the font style and size! 

In regards to differentiation, to better support struggling students, you may want to allow them the opportunity to write their words first. The longer a student waits to go up to the board, the harder it is to decide upon a word, since the words are not allowed to be repeated. If students waiting to be called see a peer write the word they're thinking of, they must think of a new word. If you have students that need to be challenged, have them go towards the end. ;) Once every student has had a turn to write a word, have them pair up to discuss the terms from the Graffiti Wall.
Images from Literacy Retreat

Think, Ink, Pair, Square (T.I.P.S) The independent portion of this strategy is Think-Ink, where students are asked to think about an answer to a posed question then write (ink) it down on a sticky note, in a notebook, etc. Once students have written their answers, have them Pair up with a partner to share what they wrote. For the Square portion of this strategy, students should be placed into small groups, then share out with their group members what they have written down on their sticky notes, notebook, etc. Students then create a sentence using the best parts of their individual answers and write it with a dry-erase marker in the Square on their T.I.P.S laminated placemat. The final step is to regroup as a class to discuss the sentences placed in each group's Square.

Keep in mind, before this activity can be successful, students must be explicitly taught how to pay attention to each other's responses, find the differences and similarities among the responses, discuss/feed each others' ideas and identify the best details of each person's response, as well as underline or circle the words and details the group finds the most crucial to their understanding of the posed question. If you would like to download your own copy of the T.I.P.S placemats, click HERE.
The Top 5 strategy is more suitable for intermediate students in a large group at the end of a sizable unit or novel study containing a fair amount of content. Students are independently required to list their Top 5 or most important ideas they learned in the unit, novel study, etc. During the sharing portion of the activity, anything that is newly mentioned, is written down for all to see. However, every time something is repeated, tally mark it. This will help students figure out or identify the Top 5 important ideas. It was suggested NOT to divide up the load into partners or small groups because there is power in large group student discussions!

Well there you have it...additional strategies to add to your engagement tool box. I hope at least one of these strategies can be used with your students. Keep me posted if you try one. I'd love to hear about it. A huge shoutout to Smekens Education Solutions, INC. for sharing their engaging strategies at the Retreat! 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

#D100bloggerPD's Book Study on Hacking the Common Core, Hack 10: Involve Parents- Clarify Their Role (with Parent Resources!)

Welcome back for another #D100bloggerPD crew book study! I like starting the book study posts with an introduction of the crew. We consist of an assortment of Berwyn South School District teacher and administrator learners who enjoy blogging, are smitten with social media and make use of their PLNs as an irreplaceable source of powerful content, hence the hashtag #D100bloggerPD. We devote ourselves to staying globally connected. The crew embraces change, strives to better themselves professionally and desires to join forces with others to share what we learn because...Together we are better!

This #D100bloggerPD book study is dedicated to Michael Fisher's Hacking the Common Core. To read the hacks already discussed in the book study thus far, click HERE. You will be able to access crew members' reflections and discussions leading up to this final post in the study.

Before I jump in, I must first say Michael Fisher is one of the most down-to-Earth people I've ever had the chance to meet virtually. He has been nothing but sensational throughout this book study, offering resources, commenting on crew members' posts and even taking the time to be part of the #D100bloggerPD #D100chat co-moderated by Kristin Richey and me. Click HERE for the Twitter chat Storify (Thanks, Leah!). He's extraordinary. #ThankYou

If you haven't already read Hacking the Common Core, I recommend you do. It's yet another invaluable book in the Hack Learning series. Just as Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez conveyed practical and user-friendly ideas and tools for each hack in their book Hacking Education, Michael Fisher dispenses solutions to problems that seem to go hand in hand with the Common Core. He "debunks the mythology surrounding the standards and provides amazing strategies that will help you bring fun back to learning, even in our standardized world (p.11)." I believe Fisher's hacks have the power to unlock student engagement and enlighten teachers and parents about the Common Core. Who wouldn't want that?
This post is dedicated to Hack 10, which is different than Hacks 1-9. It's slightly less geared toward just the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), but still delivers resources to support parents with them. Hack 10: Involve Parents- Clarify Their Role is more about teachers and administrators building positive relationships with parents (and the community), as well as informing them on their responsibilities in supporting their child's learning. According to Fisher, Everyone needs a seat at the table (p.114) when discussing the Common Core. In order to do this, teachers and administrators need to build significant relationships with parens and invite them into the CCSS discussion. 
If you're in the field of Education, you know how impactful it is for teachers, administrators and parents to collaborate and clearly communicate with one another. For this reason, it is beneficial for educators to resolve any confusion or sweeping misguided information parents may be faced with. Since the CCSS and their breadth can be overwhelming, parents may be unclear about their role. No longer can students just memorize and repeat information. They need to be able to analyze, discuss, synthesize and apply their learning to the real world, which is perhaps different than when parents attended school. Nevertheless, it absolutely makes sense. We have to prepare students for jobs that don't even currently exist!

As we know, social media platforms have become quite popular as a go-to place for information. Fisher states, 
With new tools like Twitter and Facebook, parents have found efficient and convenient ways to communicate their opinions about standards, schools, evaluations, and assessments. Some of the information has been accurate, but much of it has deteriorated into hearsay, conspiracy theories, and widespread misinformation (p.113).
Since this is the case, educators need to find ways to correct and/or prevent these types of roadblocks because fabricated hearsay has the ability to sour our efforts in joining forces with parents and building crucial connections. A former (now retired) colleague named Marilyn McManus always said, If you can predict it, you can prevent it. The image below is posted next to my desk at school and serves as a useful reminder in many life situations, but is also applicable to the CCSS.
Fisher mentions his colleague, Marie Alcock, and what she calls having a *culture of connection*, rather than a *culture of correction*. He states, 
If we were to focus on students and preparing them for the future, consider what would change in terms of our conversations. Perhaps our essential questions would center on invitation and collaboration. Perhaps instead of identifying roadblocks, we could figure out how to move past them (p.114).
With this being said, if we shape positive relationships with parents, it will establish the foundation for all other parent involvement. That's our goal, right? Preparing students for the future is going to take everyone's best efforts. Children are always the only future the human race has, so we need to be committed to building strong partnerships with everyone involved.
Involve Parents:
Fisher offers a handful of good practice tips on what educators can do (starting tomorrow!) to invite parents into the Common Core conversation:
  1. Believe that parents are on your team. Figure out how to engage them.
  2. Become a customer service specialist. Make positive calls home, including personal invitations to school events.
  3. Share your work. Transparency is a must-do. Show student-created work and successes. SHARE! I'm a huge fan of using Twitter to highlight classroom happenings and resources.
  4. Model the behaviors you desire. Administrators should model collaborative behaviors with the community at large the way they want their teachers to collaborate with parents (p.115).
After reflecting on these four good practice tips from Fisher, I feel the teachers and administrators in my school (and district) have been successful in our efforts to invite parents and the community into the schools. We provide a variety of ways to keep the community abreast of the happenings related to school events, as well as curricular decisions. 

Besides monthly opportunities to attend School Board meetings, we offer Parent University courses, in addition to monthly Parent Coffees, to communicate details regarding academic programs being implemented, measurement of student progress, standards-based grading particulars and more. Additionally, we have a Parent-Teacher Association and Parent Liaisons program where parents and community members are welcomed into schools to provide all types of support. Most recently, we had our very first Bring Your Parents to School Day, which was a huge success! 
Thanks for the pictures, Ms. Bailey!

Our program called Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) and Super M.O.M.S. (Moms of Marvelous Students) has really sparked engagement with the parents in our school. Dads and Moms sign up to attend school on a particular day to help out in their child's classroom and throughout the building. We especially love when they make return appearances! We also offer opportunities for parents and community members to be Guest Readers in the classroom. Both of these programs are fun, informal ways to promote positive home-school relationships. 
As a Reading Specialist, I am particularly fond of promoting literacy. I love reaching out to parent volunteers to organize a date and time for them to be a Guest Reader in my classroom. The 3rd grader in the white Cubs shirt below (Go Cubs!) was thrilled to have his grandmother be a Guest Reader during his group time in my classroom. He was beaming with pride.
Clarify Their Role:
Since teachers and parents have an obligation to prepare kids for the real world, schools need to provide clear, consistent expectations of what their child should be learning at each grade level. Teachers need to be resourceful by providing parents with helpful information that better prepares them in supporting and reinforcing the skills defined by the CCSS. The CCSS help facilitate conversations between all members sitting at the proverbial table.

A vital component of student learning is what and how they learn at home, not just in a school setting. The CCSS define exactly what students need to know, so parents need to be in-the-know. The Instructional Shifts for Students and Parents resource below is from Fisher himself. He shared it to pass along for the book study. See what I mean? He's awesome. :) Click on the link or the image below to download a copy of your own to pass along to others. 
While doing additional CCSS research, I came across two further resources below to support parents. The first one outlines the CCSS Shifts in English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics, on top of explicitly informing parents what they can do at home to support their child in school. The resource was extracted from the Parent & Family Library on a site called EngageNY.   
The second resource I obtained is the National PTA's Parents' Guide to Student Success. It is broken down by grade level, sharing precise activities for both ELA/Literacy and Mathematics, and explains how parents can talk to their child's teacher regarding academic progress. Hope you find at least one of the three resources in this post helpful.
For further information on clarifying the role of parents in schools, as well as on any of the information found in Hacks 1-9, I highly suggest you buy, read, highlight and tab the book. In Michael Fisher's words, It's more of a 'practice informs better practice' book (p.15). I utterly agree. After reading this book, I am both enlightened and relieved about teaching and impacting student achievement with the CCSS. I will end this post with some first-rate tips from Fisher's Blueprint for Full-Implementation and Overcoming Pushback sections in Hack 10:
  • Plan events multiple times throughout the school year to share information about standards, curriculum, and assessment, and conduct panel discussions and question/answer sessions (p.116).
  • Clarify any concerns or questions the parents have (p.116).
  • Anything they {parents} are able to offer--showing up for a teacher meeting, participating in a school-wide event, joining the Parent Teacher Association, speaking at a board meeting, whatever it is--sincerely appreciate it and make that parent feel like royalty for contributing to the betterment of the school (p.116).
  • Also worth mentioning is that the Common Core is about divergence in thinking, not just the way the vendor or teacher is teaching. Students need multiple ways to solve problems, not just a predictable way (p.118).
  • Students can't "Think, Pair, Share" their way to successful creative problem solving in a job setting (p.119).
  • Teachers should be considering how they can become more contemporary in practice, whether these standards are impetus for change or not. We do not want a Race of Mediocrity, nor do we want a nation of compliance (p.125).
A sincere thank you for stopping by Literacy Loving Gals to learn more about inviting parents into the conversation surrounding the Common Core. When parents, teachers, administrators and the community band together for the betterment of students, everyone is the victor. 
Happy Hacking!


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