Parks Online Resources for Students and Teachers, or PORTS, is a phenomenal and engaging program for K-12 students and their teachers. It’s offered through the California State parks, and is open to all classrooms! Yes, even y’all outside California!
Last year was my first opportunity to participate in PORTS. My classes talked with Ranger Jennifer at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, and learned more about weather and climate. Although her program was geared for grades 3-5, she was excited to speak with older students and have slightly different conversations.
This year, my 7th grade science students had the opportunity to video chat with Ranger Francesca from the Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach, CA about habitat protection and restoration. Just like Ranger Jennifer, Ranger Francesca was delightful to work with! She was engaging, patient, and excited to share her park with our class. Students were attentive as she showed us around her park, displayed and annotated graphics, and answered their questions. At the end, we even had time to ask Ranger Francesca about her college experience and why she picked this career.
The video chat was done through Zoom, which was perfect because Ranger Francesca was able to show and annotate graphics during our presentation.
To prepare for our video chat, I modified some of the provided lessons in the unit, and adapted them for our needs. I also let the ranger know ahead of time what we had studied so far, to make our time more efficient. For example, for habitat protection and restoration, we were already ⅔ of the way through our ecology unit, and had studied ecosystems, food webs, and resource availability.
Although it isn’t required or suggested in the program, I also asked my students to write thank you letters to our guest speakers. Many have little experience writing thank you letters, so we brainstormed sentence frames and what to include together (“Thank you for talking to our class about… “ or “Thank you for taking time to talk to us…” or “My favorite part was…”). Many students also drew pictures showing what they learned.
Example thank you letter to Ranger Francesca
Example thank you letter to Ranger Francesca
I highly recommend PORTS to all K-12 teachers! It’s a ton of fun, and the kids love it! They’ve been talking about it non-stop for the last 2 weeks!
Many have asked about example Mastery Tasks, and what this looks like in my classroom. I’ll be entirely honest that this post is a little intimidating to write, knowing I’m not the only one who does Mastery-Based Grading, and I still have a lot to learn. But, you know what, that’s the best part! I model a growth mindset for my students in that I am always learning and finding ways to improve.
Day-to-day in the Classroom
Our day-to-day doesn’t look too much different than it did before. However, I am more focused on the end product as we do lessons, labs, and activities. In my first post, I detail the overall Mastery-Based workflow in classroom instruction.
Since I don’t grade anything other than Mastery Tasks, many have asked how I hold my students accountable for their classwork and homework. For homework, that’s easy–I don’t assign homework (except on the very rare “if you don’t finish it in class, it’s homework!”). For classwork, I do a mix of stamping and checking work before students can leave. Even the prospect of being dismissed 30 seconds after their friends is enough to motivate students to get work completed correctly before the bell. Additionally, after a while, most students realize that what we do in class is directly related to our Mastery Tasks, and therefore will benefit them.
If you’re thinking, “this will never work for my students/my school!” please stop for a moment to reconsider. My school is one of the lowest performing in our district, we have attendance and behavior challenges, and parent engagement is almost non-existent. But. My students work hard, because I believe in them and we have created a classroom community where they are safe and supported. I rarely have behavior challenges in class, simply because my students believe they can succeed.
Planning for Mastery Tasks
With my PLC, we start with our Next Generation Science Standards, and try to distill down exactly what my students need to know and do. The Crosscutting Concepts and Science and Engineering Practices guide us to the “how” of mastery. Since writing Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) paragraphs is one of our essential skills in science, many of the Mastery Tasks have students write a CER based on a lab or activity. Other Mastery Tasks are videos, lab reports (usually using Google Slides), or digital/analog creations such as comic strips or mini posters.
The rest of my 7th grade science PLC has not implemented Mastery-Based Grading…yet! They are interested, and are hoping to introduce it next school year. The 8th grade science teachers are using it, so thankfully I’m not entirely alone.
That being said, many of my Mastery Tasks are still common assessments, even though they are graded slightly differently.
Example Mastery Task
Below is a screenshot of a Mastery Task on Google Classroom. Attached to the assignment are instructions, the Doc students will edit, and sentence frames to support struggling students (provided on the day of the lesson to specific students, then added to the assignment later to help students with revisions).
Students did a lab on the Law of Conservation of Mass, where they mix baking soda and vinegar in a flask with a balloon over the top. This lab was glued in students interactive notebooks, and students wrote the first draft of their CER in their notebooks.
Then, students traded notebooks with a partner, and used 3 colors to underline the claim, evidence, and reasoning. They also identified how their partner did based on the rubric. This was both an informal assessment of the partner’s CER and of the grading student’s ability to identify claim, evidence, and reasoning. When students received their notebooks back, they then went to Google Classroom and typed their CER into the Mastery Task Google Doc.
This Mastery Task came about a week after another CER on chemical reactions, where almost every student initially earned an In Progress grade. This led us to add in the additional draft, peer feedback, and finally their Mastery Task draft.
I love mixing in analog projects as well, such as One Pagers and 11×17 mini posters. While watching “The Lorax” movie, students analyzed it for how humans impact ecosystems and created a One Pager based on what they learned. You’ll notice there’s a spot in the corner for a stamp. This allows me to check the One Pager in class and stamp it. Then, students take a picture and submit it to the Mastery Task. If I see a stamp, I know it’s automatically Mastery. If there isn’t a stamp, then I know I need to check it (zoom in a bit, usually), and provide feedback either way.
Some Mastery Tasks are entirely skill-based. I have chosen to include notebook checks as Mastery Tasks because my students are working on their organization skills. They self-check their notebooks and answer a few reflection questions, then turn in pictures of both. I know some teachers may disagree with this, but it’s what works for me and my students.
Each 18 week semester comes down to about 20 Mastery Tasks. It’s not always one per week. Some weeks have none, while others have two.
Advice for getting started
Don’t be afraid to jump in and try! Use an assessment you already have, add a mastery rubric, ask students to complete the assignment, provide feedback, and allow them unlimited opportunities to revise and resubmit their work. Take it one step further by asking students for feedback on how to improve the assignment, and what lessons or activities were helpful in preparing them for the mastery task.
As I said in my first post, one of my next big steps is using One-Point Rubrics, simplifying the feedback process, and allowing me to give more targeted and individualized feedback. I love that I can grow as a teacher as my kids grow as students!
What was do you use to assess mastery in your classroom?
All that has led me to write a few follow-up posts. This one is more of the nitty-gritty how-to’s that have worked for me. I hope I can help some of you keep better track of your students’ grades for Mastery-Based Grading!
I use Google Classroom + Jupiter Grades (fairly traditional gradebook) + this spreadsheet to keep track of my students’ progress and grades. I know that’s a triplicate of each grade, but each place serves its purpose within the resources available at my school. So, I don’t mind a couple seconds of extra work if it benefits my students.
In this post, I’ll break down how each is used in my workflow.
All Mastery Tasks are posted in a Google Classroom that all 3 of my classes are enrolled in. It’s personal preference–for me, it makes it a bit faster to grade all my students at once, rather than separate classes. As I said in my original Mastery-Based Grading post, I also have separate Classroom for each class, where I post announcements and classwork (all ungraded).
Each assignment is assigned a topic based on unit, and I try to put in as much of the instructions into the assignment as possible–this helps absent students or students doing their revisions.
On this particular assignment, I also attached sentence frames (thanks for making them, Amy!) after the original assignment. During class, we passed out sentence frames to students who needed the writing scaffold. I attached them after the first submissions for students who earned an In Progress grade, and needed to revise and resubmit.
I change the point value on each assignment to be out of 1. I provide feedback on the assignment in private comments and/or within the assignment (if in Docs or Slides), then enter the corresponding numerical value. A 1 = Mastery (M), a 0 = In Progress (IP) — this is a binary on/off signal, not a point value.
After I’ve graded an assignment, I return it to the students. If they earn Mastery, they don’t need to do anything. If they earn In Progress, they need to read my comments, revise, and resubmit. Sometimes this takes many cycles of feedback before a student earns Mastery!
Jupiter Grades is an online gradebook that our district pays for, and all teachers at my school use. (This is a loaded sentence. We have Infinite Campus for grade reporting, but I find the gradebook difficult to navigate. I only use it to post progress & final grades. We also have Canvas as an LMS, which has its own gradebook. So many options…)
I post M and IP grades in Jupiter because this is where students and parents check their grades.
Here’s where my nerd shines through. I have a massive “Mastery Student Data” spreadsheet where I track my students Mastery and In Progress. Generally students don’t see this spreadsheet, unless I call them up to show them their row.
I love the quick visual of how a class is doing, who is missing multiple assignments, and the total number of masteries per class. All this gives me quick data on which students need more help and attention, and which students are ready to move on.
It’s super easy to customize data for what I need to know about my students. For example, I can create additional columns where I add student tags, such as EL or IEP or GATE. Then, I can use filters to check on how subgroups are doing. Or, I can create graphs for how a specific class is doing on an assignment, unit, or overall–then, I can copy & paste this into our daily Slides for some whole-class data analysis.
My Sheet also calculates students’ current grade based on how many Mastery (green) vs. In Progress (yellow) + missing (gray).
All it took was a little conditional formatting and a lot of formula-ing to make this magic happen.
As much as grading is a tedious and sometimes frustrating process (like those assignments when only 8/86 students earned Mastery…yeah, that has happened…last week!), looking at this nerdy spreadsheet brightens my day.
How do you keep track of mastery data in your classroom?
PS. Stay tuned! Next week’s blog post will talk about creating and implementing Mastery Tasks, and feature examples!
There are many grading methodologies out there, and I’m sharing what is working for myself and my group of students. Remember, we are all working to do what is best for our students!
A few years ago, I switched from a traditional points-based grading scale to standards-based grading. Our district had recently adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and a couple of us realized we needed to adapt our grading practices to better meet our students’ learning needs. Standards-based grading went just fine because students were accustomed to the 4-3-2-1 grading scale from elementary school. What was factored into their final grades was only standards-aligned assessments.
I wasn’t entirely comfortable with standards-based grading. Our online gradebook worked off a traditional platform, and I still needed to report a letter grade on progress reports and report cards.
An even greater issue was that my students would turn in anything in order to make their missing assignments disappear. They would turn in half-finished work just to get their parents and teachers off their backs for the red “missing” next to an assignment. (Honestly, the parents were conditioned to coerce their student to do anything to get rid of “missing assignments” too!)
With standards-based grading, I’d give my students thorough feedback, ask them to resubmit their work, and even provided time in class for revisions. But, hardly any students took advantage of this! They saw a grade, and stopped there.
I knew I had to make a change.
Trying out Mastery-Based Grading:
I got hooked on the idea of mastery-based grading after playing around with Badge List, and online badging platform that allows me to issue microcredentials for mastery of a subject or skill. I decided to try it out with my students last year. At first there was some confusion for how to submit work, but students quickly got over that, and learned to read through their feedback, then resubmit.
This year, I ultimately decided to switch to Google Classroom to stay consistent with other teachers at my school.
Benefits to my students:
Almost immediately, I noticed a fundamental shift in how my students approached both classwork and “Mastery Tasks.” When students didn’t earn a “Mastery” grade on a Mastery Task, they willingly went back to work to make revisions and resubmit their work.
They adopted a growth mindset without much external encouragement!
And, I saw some of my struggling students working even harder, knowing that it wasn’t too late to prove that they had mastered our science content. By the end of the semester, I saw my students believing in themselves and their academic abilities!
Additionally, I found it much easier to make accommodations for students. It was easy to hand a student some extra sentence frames or a cloze paragraph template or allow students to pick a different way to show mastery. Some of my students with IEPs rose to the top because finally they were being assessed against their current abilities, rather than one set standard for the whole class.
As for the students who would submit anything just to have that “missing” disappear. They quickly learned that an “In Progress” grade showed up in red too!
About 2/3 of the way through the spring 2017 semester, I received multiple emails from an angry parent wondering why her son was not passing science. “He turned in all his work!” she kept saying–it took both myself and our Community Relations Facilitator to show her that her son was turning in work far below his ability level, receiving detailed feedback (each time with the date of feedback), and making only minimal changes with each revision. Suddenly, her son began turning in work at his ability level, and I didn’t hear any more from her!
How Mastery-Based Grading is implemented in my classroom:
I use Google Classroom to push out Mastery Tasks to my students. They are all enrolled in the “Mastery Tasks” class and then each class period is in their own “Science 7” class. The only thing posted in the Mastery Tasks class is Mastery Tasks. The Science 7 class is used for announcements, period-specific assignments, and classwork.
Just as with standards-based grading, each Mastery Task addresses one standard. Some larger standards are separated into multiple assessments.
Classwork, including direct instruction, station work, activities, and labs.
Students work on and submit their Mastery Task in class. Mastery-Tasks can include CER paragraphs, videos, pictures of work in their interactive notebook, Socratic Seminar discussions, Slides presentations, etc.
I review students’ work and provide detailed feedback. On Google Classroom, a Mastery = 1 point, and an In Progress = 0 points. Please note, this is not a point value, but rather a binary on/off for mastery.
If students earn a “Mastery (M)” grade, they don’t need to do anything else.
If students earn an “In Progress (IP)” grade, they use the feedback to revise and resubmit their work. Sometimes this takes multiple cycles before they finally achieve mastery.
In the gradebook, I report M for Mastery, IP for In Progress, and / for Missing. These are set to “info only” rather than point values.
Students are able to calculate their current grade with the following formula: A = 0 In Progress or missing | B = 1 In Progress or missing | C = 2 In Progress or missing | F = 3+ In Progress or missing.
As the semester goes on and we end up with 18-20 Mastery Tasks, I expand the B and C ranges to be 2-3 and 4-5 respectively.
As a teacher, I’m always learning! My students recognize this, and respond back with loads of empathy as I try new things. They readily give me feedback to help us improve our class.
As I grow with Mastery-Based Grading, here are two of my goals:
Use more effective and regular student self-feedback and peer feedback before students turn in a Mastery Task. (Got an example? I’d love to see it!)
Try out Single-Point Rubrics. I’ve used 4-3-2-1 to be consistent with department and district rubrics, and switched over other assignments to a simple Mastery/In Progress rubric. Single-Point Rubrics seem to be everything I am trying to do. Thanks Ben Kovacs for the nudge!
How do your grading practices seek out the best in your students? I’d love to get some new ideas to push me further!
Love this post, here’s how I track data & create Mastery-Tasks (coming soon!).
Social media is a big part of many young people’s lives. Instead of fighting against social media in our classrooms and schools, we can come alongside our students and join them on social media! When we bring the learning into their court, we make school more engaging and relevant.
How I use social media in my classroom:
In my 7th grade science class, I use Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat to share what we are learning with my students and their parents. This is an optional and extracurricular activity for my students; in order to participate, a student’s parent must sign our classroom social media contract to give their student permission to participate.
At the beginning of the year, we discuss appropriate posting and interactions on social media, the purpose, and the benefits of using this in our classroom. My students generally love having their work and activities highlighted, especially on Snapchat and Instagram. When posting photos or videos, I am careful not to post individual student faces or names (unless I ask the student for permission first).
As we are doing labs, I will frequently bring my iPad to students to have them take a picture of their work, caption it, allow me to check it, then post the picture to Instagram. Other times, I’ll take a video of students working, then ask a student to write a caption for our Snapchat story. (Bonus: I’ll allow my students to pick a school-appropriate Bitmoji for the Snap, too!)
Sometimes when I travel for conferences or for fun, and I go to a museum or notable location, I will share a picture with my students. They enjoy learning about the world, just like I do!
Last year, we had the opportunity to interact with some experts on Twitter via the class account. After doing a whole-class read aloud of We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen (learn more about the read-aloud here), we tweeted to the author to ask her questions about the book and about her writing process.
Personally, I think Instagram is the easiest entry point if you are new with social media. Many students and parents use it;it is easy to keep a private account (users must “request” to follow you), and it’s user-friendly. You simply post and caption pictures.
Before you establish a class account, it is essential to check with an administrator to see what your school or district policies are on social media. Many schools and districts have their own accounts that you can connect with, too, if you’re looking for guidance.
You can also use my simple social media contract to alert parents, invite families to participate, and collect student’ usernames. Once students request to follow you, you can verify who they are and if they have permission before accepting their request.
Creating a positive “digital tattoo”:
When considering whether or not to integrate social media into your classroom, it is also important to consider digital citizenship. One of my favorite resources when it comes to digital citizenship is the Common Sense Media digital citizenship curriculum. I use the lessons in my class and at my school to help our student see that what they post online will follow them for the rest of their lives.
While many call this a digital footprint, I prefer to call it a digital tattoo because it is extremely hard to erase something once it goes online — you never know who took a screenshot or saved the image! However, not all tattoos are negative! A tattoo can tell a positive story and have an uplifting message.
As I use social media in my classroom, I reinforce the idea that we need to create positive digital tattoos for ourselves as we post online. My students’ future colleges and employers will Google their name and examine their digital tattoo as a routine part of the acceptance process.
Social media is one of the fun parts of my day! I highly recommend that you create a classroom account and share your classroom highlights!
Digital citizenship is a hot topic, and there are a lot of high quality resources out there. I knew I wanted to do more with my students, but I felt overwhelmed and paralyzed into inaction because of how awesome others were doing in their schools and classrooms. (I definitely was should-ing myself.)
I wasn’t even sure where to start. I checked out the Common Sense Media lessons, and decided to give it a shot. Since then, it’s a constant growing and learning process.
Becoming a Common Sense Media Certified Educator
In the 2015-2016 school year, I taught my way to becoming a Common Sense Media Certified Educator. I implemented Common Sense Media lessons in my AVID 7 classes, had discussions in my Science 7 classes, and ran a few parent engagement opportunities (including a presentation from our School Resource Officer, sent home CSM Family Tip Sheets, and posted resources on the school website).
Now, the process is much more streamlined and simplified. Teachers must complete 2 hours of learning (digital citizenship + digital teaching), 2 hours of teaching, and write a reflection. Plus, they ask that you join the Common Sense Educators group on Facebook–this is a phenomenal community of dedicated and inquisitive teachers.
For the past 2 years, I’ve upped my game, and extended my certification to become a Common Sense Ambassador. I love the access to extra professional development, resources, and encouragement to share digital citizenship with my PLN.
Journey to Becoming a Common Sense Media Certified School
This school year, I finally got everything together to get us ready to become a Common Sense Media Certified School! As of right now (February 2018), we are in the process of completing our certification requirements.
The requirements are similar to that of the certified educator program, just on a school-wide basis. We are teaching 5+ lessons across 2 grade levels, engaging parents/families in at least 3 ways, and I am providing PD to all our teachers. All 4 core content classes (math, English, science, history) plus PE are teaching lessons. Our elective teachers are teaching lessons if they choose to.
It is essential to note here that we have two self-contained special education classes. And, these classes are participating too. I am teaching four lessons from the K-2 curriculum to each class. It’s developmentally and academically appropriate for these students, and the teachers and I are differentiating as needed. Many of our students in moderate-severe will have cell phones in the future and regularly use tablets and computers. Our students in the moderate class frequently play video games online (including PS4, XBox, etc) and many already have cell phones.
Each department and grade level is responsible for one 45 minute lesson. I used the Common Sense Media lessons and turned them into Pear Deck presentations (read more about how Pear Deck engages students!) that incorporate some content too. The reason I did all the leg work here is to build buy-in from my teachers; the majority are more likely to implement these lessons if they can just project and go. As I shared these lessons with each individual department during our weekly PLC meeting, I saw faces perk up, both for the content and Pear Deck.
I am also using our poster printer to print Common Sense Media posters for any interested teachers. I created a Google Form for teachers to put in their requests, and I will print and deliver the posters in the next couple weeks.
Similarly to when I completed my CSM Certified Educator certification, we are engaging families with a presentation from the School Resource Officer, sending home digital & paper copies of the Family Tip Sheets, and hosting Parent Tech Breakfasts to talk about digital citizenship.
Cyberbullying and digital citizenship are issues on our campus, and I am confident our students will benefit.
We are going to have our certification complete before the end of the school year. I set a goal to have all lessons taught before spring break, and I will complete the certification application after spring break.
I am packaging up the lessons I created on Pear Deck and compiling some additional resources so the rest of the middle schools in my district can implement what we are already doing.
In the next few years, we’re going to become a Common Sense Media Certified District!
How do you address and implement digital citizenship in your classroom and school?
One of my favorite tech tools in the last year has to be Pear Deck! I had heard about this tool at a bunch of EdTechTeam summits and participated in the Demo Slams–finally I bugged Nick about it and got a personal demo between sessions. I quickly went from “oh this is cool” to “hold on, I gotta update my Monday lesson to include Pear Deck!”
Pear Deck is an “AND” not an “OR” for me. It seamlessly integrates into what I’m already doing in my classroom, rather than something extra to implement. We are 1:1 iPad, and my kids had no problem joining into a session. After using Pear Deck a couple times, I asked my students what they thought. Overwhelmingly, they liked it!
For my students in the back, they were able to see what I had projected. And, it made it easier for them to take Cornell Notes. Assignment instructions were right in front of them, eliminating excuses for not knowing what to do.
And Then the Add-on was Released…
The Google Slides Add-on was a total game changer. My only initial frustration with Pear Deck was editing my slides after I had imported them into Pear Deck–I always make mistakes (sorry 1st period). This was 100% fixed with the new add-on!
Bigger bonus: our IT department pushed out the add-on to all teachers this week! That’s huge! I’m hoping it’ll up the usage district-wide, and provide more opportunities for engagement. Some of our high school teachers are huge Pear Deck fans, and my fingers are crossed that (1) more will get on board, which means (2) more effective & engaging use of 1:1 laptops in high school. For a teacher looking for a way to begin to integrate technology, Pear Deck is an excellent starting point.
A Few Reasons Why I Love Pear Deck:
I project from a laptop, but can have the presenter dashboard on my iPad. This frees me up to walk around the room, while checking in on student responses. It’s easier to interact when I’m not tied to the front of the room. Teaching feels more conversational when it can happen anywhere in our room.
Seeing student responses in real time on the presenter dashboard (premium version — 100% worth it!) makes it’s easy to address misconceptions or student questions. I can also check for understanding by adding in questions on the fly.
It gives every student a voice, especially the introverts. Reading their responses followed by simple eye contact makes them feel valued and heard, without them saying a word! I get so many returned smiles when I read a response and give a silent thumbs up from across the room.
The premade interactive Slide templates make it ridiculously easy to up student engagement!
Student-paced mode is a life saver when I unexpectedly have to be out. I got called in for Jury Duty last week, and had to quickly adapt my Wednesday plans to work for a sub on Thursday (block schedule). With student-paced mode, my kids were able to login and complete the lesson. I went in later to check their responses.
The Biggest Reason I Love Pear Deck
The people. The people who work for Pear Deck are the kindest individuals, both those I’ve hung out with in person and those I’ve met on the Twitters. Knowing they’re approachable, willing to answer questions, receive feedback, and hear how I’m using Pear Deck in my classroom makes me want to use it and spread the word. The personal touch is the huge difference!
Thank you, Pear Deck, for being awesome humans who care about our students and teachers!
What are your favorite tips and tricks with Pear Deck?
That became my motto last semester, as I navigated myself through my first time as a Guide Teacher*.
I had such a phenomenal experience as an apprentice teacher (the year before student teaching) and as a student teacher, I always knew I wanted to give back and be a Guide Teacher someday. And that someday happened last August, when my principal walked into my room and asked if I’d like a student teacher.
It’s not easy to invite a stranger into your classroom, share the space, share the kids, and give them room to make mistakes. For me, it was so worth it!
Getting Mentally Prepared
I’ll admit, I was super nervous to host a student teacher. How do you even teach someone to teach?!
Thankfully, my good friend Doug Robertson was just finishing up his latest book, A Classroom of One! (Stop what you’re doing, and go buy yourself a copy on Amazon. No matter your experience level & role in education, this book is for you! And, I promise he’s not paying me to say this.) This was a life saver, it gave me a starting place, and some tips for building this teaching partnership.
The first thing I did was go out and buy a pretty notebook for Amy. As Doug advised, I wrote her a letter to start the notebook and our journey together. Letter writing is my jam, so it felt natural. And, I have to admit, I think this really impacted Amy. She talked about the letter multiple times, and even showed it to her mom–a retired Kindergarten teacher! It also helped me welcome her into our classroom, and set the foundation for our work together.
Before the first day, I called my Guide Teacher from when I student taught. Once a mentor, always a mentor! He gave me some great advice and questions to ask Amy on her first day.
The Start of Our Journey
On our first day together, Amy observed my 1st period class and I had her take notes. I introduced Ms. Ellevold to my class and explained she would be hanging out, observing, getting to know them, and helping out–and, I made sure Amy walked around and interacted on that first day!
In our first debrief, Amy asked a lot of great questions that made me reflect on my own teaching, the decisions I made, and how I view our class. In turn, I asked her questions about why she wants to be a teacher.
I found my superpower teacher senses also applied to having Amy in my “Classroom of One”. On her 2nd day in my classroom, she met her class (we’re on block schedule). I introduced her, then asked her to do the warm-up. I had given her about 5 minutes notice that she would go over the warm-up with the kids; she looked (and sounded) nervous, but I also knew the sooner she interacted with her class, the quicker the transition from me to her would happen. It was fun to get to write my observations in her notebook. As Doug suggested in Classroom of One, I created 3 columns: likes, suggestions, other.
We agreed that the next time she saw her class, she would do the warm-up and notes with them, then I would do the final activity. As it turned out, she was on a roll with her class, and they were loving her–so I didn’t stop her, I gave her the “keep going!” eyes, and she taught the whole block period!
She took on more and more responsibilities, including grading, attendance, and discipline. I didn’t have a set timeline for when all this would happen, but instead went by her cues for when she was ready. I also started stepping out for a couple minutes at a time, gradually increasing the time and distance away from our classroom.
As the semester went on, we got into this rhythm of one of us teaching, the other observing, and a big debrief after the lesson. Amy attended our PLC meetings, went with me for supervision, attended trainings, and asked a lot of questions!
By the end of the semester, I left her completely alone for the last 2 weeks. While this is not a requirement for her program, I saw it as her next step in growth. I can’t help myself from giving the “teacher look” to a chatty student or being available to answer a question. She needed to teach without me in the room! So, I parked myself in other classrooms or the library to work, and only popped in if I forgot something essential.
It Takes a Village
During our semester together, I encouraged Amy to observe as many teachers as she could. I made her a list, including the whole science department and multiple math, English, history, and AVID teachers.
I also went to observe the other 2 student teachers from her cohort, took detailed notes, and debriefed with them after. This experience helped me realize that each of us have different strengths as a teacher, and also as a guide teacher. I was able to provide a lot of feedback on classroom management and student engagement. (Don’t worry, the other 2 Guide Teachers have excellent management too! I just seem to have a particularly good eye for it, and a knack for teaching it with student teachers. They’re both better at teaching discussion and questioning strategies.)
I also invited the science department, administrators, and other teacher friends to come observe Amy as frequently as possible. They would leave her written or verbal comments at the end. Not only is this healthy for her to have multiple eyes watching her teach, but also it builds comfortability with having people walk in at any point during a lesson.
I Became a Better Teacher!
One of the best part of having a student teacher is having someone constantly observing me teach. There were multiple times the lesson didn’t go as I planned, and I’d turn to Amy mid-lesson and ask for feedback. We’d come up with a plan to change the lesson on the spot or for the next class.
Having a student teacher is a significant time investment. I know some teachers take on a student teacher, then immediately leave the room to get more coffee and chat with a friend. I was constantly observing, and our post-lesson debriefs + planning were often 1-2 hours–thankfully my prep and technology resource period directly followed both the class she observed and the class she taught. Effectively, I lost my prep periods for the first few months. However, this was a time-investment well spent. As I stepped out more and more, I got the opportunity to pop into other classrooms to observe and collaborate!
I will gladly take on another student teacher in the future! Even though I didn’t get one placed with me this semester, there are 2 with other teachers, and I look forward to supporting them however I can.
I’m also planning on recording myself teach more frequently this semester. I won a fancy Swivl at ISTE 2017, which was used a ton last semester to record Amy and another student teacher. I know it takes time investment (and a lot of vulnerability!) to record and watch the video playback, but I know it’s worth it for me.
While writing this post, I can’t stop smiling! Amy, you were a pleasure and a joy to work with! Thank you for an incredible first Guide Teacher experience, and for building so many classroom memories with me. You’ve made me a stronger teacher!
*Note: I use Guide Teacher throughout this post. Some people/programs call them Master Teachers, Cooperating Teachers, etc.
Overall in life, I’ve been trying to be better balanced between my personal and professional life, take more time for myself and the people I love, and be more present each day. It hasn’t been an easy journey, and it’s far from over yet.
I picked JOY as my 2018 word because it represents something I’ve found that’s missing from some parts of my day. There are tons of happy moments, smiles, and things I enjoy doing; however, I notice myself frequently just going through the motions.
Joy is an attitude, not a feeling.
I love teaching, I love my kids, I love what I get to do every day. Some days, I find myself trudging along, planning lessons and grading, and trying to get from Monday to Friday–I forget to stop for a moment and enjoy the ride.
I’ve spent the better part of the last year allowing others and situations to dictate how I feel. I get frustrated or hurt because of what people have done to me, said about me, or done around me. It’s not up to them to dictate how I feel about situations, or about myself.
I am bringing back my own joy!
One way I’m going to seek out joy each day is by keeping a gratitude journal. Each night, I’ll write down at least one good thing that happened that day in my Passion Planner monthly calendar. This will help me reflect back on all the great things happening, rather than get stuck in the teeny tiny annoyances.
Another way I’m going to bring my joy into my daily life is by making sure I am keeping my life in a better balance. This balance includes work and home, as well as my physical, mental/emotional, and social health. (Yay health triangle, for all my health teacher friends!) I’m going to be intentional about scheduling time for all of these! Part of my personal weekly reflection will look at how I have taken care of all of these areas.
I’m looking forward to whatever 2018 brings, and most of all, keeping an attitude of joy!
2017 was a good year for books. I finished a total of 55 books! Here’s the breakdown: 26 audiobooks, 29 books (8 books, 21 ebooks). The two major categories I read this year were YA (21) and Nonfiction (20). Surprisingly, I only read 3 edu-books this year.
This year I kept a bit more data than I have in the past. Previously, I just listed the books I read. Now, I’m keeping track of completion date, number of pages or hours (although I usually listen to audiobooks on 2x speed, which I take into account in my data), format, and genre. My favorite part of all this data is the graphs I create to go along with it. I like the visual trends for genre and books completed each month. Click here to make a copy of my book tracking spreadsheet for your own use.
Here are some of my favorite books I read this year: (they’re in chronological order
I love love love the Lunar Chronicles, and Heartless was just as awesome. This one is based on Alice in Wonderland, which brought in some of my childhood magic. I’m a bit sad it’s not part of a series, because I’ve loved everything she’s written!
This was recommended by my dear friend Jess Loucks, and her keynote is based on improv. This isn’t an improv how-to book, but rather the ideas behind improv and how they can make us better creators and collaborators.
This story is fantastic, complex, and heartwarming. It addresses the real issues around us, including life, love, and loss. He also wrote Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which I read in 2015 — bonus for my Hamilton Nerds, the Aristotle & Dante audiobook is read by Lin-Manuel Miranda!!
I can’t blog about 2017 books without talking about this, I’m still so proud of myself for pulling together Fueled by Coffee and Love. It’s a collection of teacher stories written by teachers all around the world! Please pick up a copy for yourself and a teacher you adore–all proceeds go to classrooms!
This book hit the world by storm when it was published in February 2017. I finally got a copy over summer, and binge read the entire thing in just a few days! It’s heartbreaking and eye-opening at the same time. It really framed police violence and BLM in a way that is accessible to a wider population. I highly recommend this book!
I listened to the audiobook, then watched the movie (*gasp* I watched a movie!). So good! I’ve always been a huge space fan, and in middle school I wanted to be an aerospace engineer; however, why am I just now hearing about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson et al now?! They were left out of history, and I didn’t even know to look for them.
Another gem by my friend Doug Robertson. One of the three edu-books I read this year, and it was by far the best! It prepared me for my first guide teacher experience, and helped me become a stronger and more reflective teacher overall. I highly recommend this to anyone in education!
This is my second favorite John Green book (first favorite is Will Grayson, Will Grayson). This new one definitely didn’t disappoint. I appreciate how much it dove into anxiety and how it affects Aza’s life–but, it’s not forced or overdone.
I’d love some recommendations on books you think I’d like. Please leave me a comment below!