Thursday, August 7, 2014

Words Their Way (2014 Edition)

Back in July 2011, I wrote a post about using Words Their Way as my spelling assessment. It never ceases to amaze me how, three years later, I still get comments and inquiries on that post. It's kind of unbelievable.

It is, by far, my most viewed post. Check this out:
This is the page views for August 6 as of 4:44 pm EST. 67 page views in ONE day...3 years after the post was written!

This is the page views for all time, since the post was written. Crazy, right?


I am not a Words Their Way expert by ANY means. In fact, I haven't even used it in the last three years. It isn't because I don't like it, it is because we got a new reading program and it was just EASIER to use the spelling patterns that came with the program. Alas, I can tell you right now, that was a VERY stupid decision for me to make.

Over the past two years, as I have worked primarily with 4th grade again, I have noticed my students' spelling stinks. It is really horrible. They still can not spell sight words correctly, they don't bother to use the word wall, etc. No matter how much we practice and drill, they just don't get it. Why would this be?

Because I am not meeting my students where they are. I am not screening them as I did with WTW and able to group them based upon the place they are with their word knowledge. If you read that post and look at all 55 comments left over the years, you will see some people HATE WTW with a passion and think it is the devil and others want to know how I used it, want more information on it and want to hear what I think about how they will implement it. It's flattering for sure.

Again, I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. But I know that it works when you do it with fidelity. I did not use all of the games and things because I didn't have the time within my day to do that. But we always did the sorts, always. The two years I used the program from the beginning of the year, my students' word knowledge growth was immense. They understood the patterns and thus were able to spell even more difficult words because they had internalized the pattern.

Most of the negative comments on that post discuss how students aren't learning to spell. I will just go ahead and say this (even if it offends):

IF IT IS NOT WORKING FOR YOUR STUDENTS, YOU AREN'T DOING IT RIGHT

There. I said it. Sorry if you are offended but it is very likely that if your students aren't getting it, you have lost a step in the process, most likely a very meaningful one.

Let me remind you...I work with English Language Learners. Most years, as the ESL teacher in my grade, I get the lowest students because they are the ELLs and are still grasping English in school when they mostly speak only Spanish at home. Usually there are several non-ESL students whom I take because they fit into a group with my lower ELL students. I also work with a population that, unfortunately, do not read at home as much as I would like. (You always get the few who, no matter what, will pick up a book because they love it -- not a surprise they are the best readers in the class too.)  High poverty, inner city, you name it and it probably describes my district.

And I have had success with this program. I think people who don't are skimping on it. I'm not blaming them, just pointing out my opinion. You have to do the sorts and you have to do them teacher-led in a small group so you can model it. That is ESSENTIAL. I truly know how hard it is when you have 4,982 things to do but only 6 hours to do them in. I get it. Believe me, I do.

Alas, if you want success with this program, you have to follow the program. You definitely do not need to own all of the books that include the sorts but they sure are helpful because the sorts are already there and made for you. Once you have given the screener and make your groups, you can literally just start within whatever color book they are and go from there.


This year, as I finally begin to prepare myself for back-to-school, I will be using Words Their Way again. It may get me into some hot water with my district (a few people in my district found my blog and read it *waves to district people*) but I will stand by my decision as I know darn well that my students have ceased to make growth in spelling once I stopped using this program. 

What I plan to do this year, which I haven't done before when using it, is color-code each group and make copies to keep at school and copies to send home so the children can practice. It will be part of their homework every night Monday-Thursday along with their math homework. 

Once I can get into my building, I will be picking these materials up (they are in my classroom) and bringing them home so I can begin to plan for implementing the sorts into my classroom this year. It may well look different than it has in years past but I am certain that my spelling scores will go back up with this program compared to the same old rote memorize and forget lists that we have with Reading Street.



The Caffeinated Teacher

Monday, March 31, 2014

TLConf 2014: Charlotte Danielson - Teacher Evaluation

This post is in a series about my experience at the inaugural Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, DC March 13-15, 2014. These posts are not endorsed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards nor the fine folks at the Teaching and Learning Conference. They consist entirely of my opinion. To read all of the posts in this series, click here.
 
March 14, 2014
Charlotte Danielson - Teacher Evaluation

This session specifically focused upon Teacher Evaluation and the Common Core with the key focus: "Accountability and the Common Core: Are they Compatible?"

This was a panel session with Ms. Danielson, principals and National Board Certified Teachers. Below are my notes from this session.
 
It began with a picture on the screen of two trains colliding and the key focus question. Ms. Danielson pointed out that the Common Core and Accountability/Teacher Evaluation could be seen in one of two ways:

1) A train wreck (hence the picture)
2) Two huge, parallel initiatives
 
Let's see them as a Merger. This involves:
  • understanding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)
  • considering instructional implications
  • creating a version of the Framework for Teaching (FFT) that reflects teaching to and of the CCSS
Why assess Teacher Effectiveness?
  • ensure teacher quality
  • promote professional learning
 
Accountability is not enough. We have to move the curve [bell curve] of teaching so the majority are effective to highly effective. 
 
Evaluation system becomes a numbers game which is not what the systems were designed for.
 
"We have become trapped in a vortex of rating and ranking" -- Charlotte Danielson
 
The FFT is generic but CCSS are specific to a discipline/level
Most principals are experts at running a school but not at all pedagogical practices
 
Vast majority of teachers are at an acceptable level
 
Challenge becomes moving a few teachers from mediocre to good but moving many more from good to great--this will move the curve
 
Generic tool like this (the FFT) can and should be used for discharging Human Resource requirements of evaluation. We need to produce smaller, discipline specific tools for coaching rather than evaluation.  
 
Wyoming Accountability Act (shared by a panelist who is an NBCT)
  • Tying student achievement to Teacher of Record
  • adapted the Common Core at the same time and had to decide which was the most important to develop first
  • Teachers are stressed out wondering if their ranking will end up in the newspaper

Another NBCT on the panel proclaimed "My students are not a number. My teaching is not a number." (Amen, sista!)

What about teachers who are struggling? What about evaluators who are biased? (Sadly this has happened to teachers I know -- their administrator doesn't like them so they are basically found at fault for many things and/or given the short end of the stick. Grade Level Shuffle anyone??)

To truly change it all, we need coaches on site for all subject areas. Evaluations are, sadly, mostly punitive. 

What do we want our kids to be like when they graduate? Metacognitive and know-how in Arts/Technology 

PLC model -- you will get more out of it when you truly have some ownership in the model. We want to create reflective practitioners with reflection not tied to evaluation. 

Coaching so all teachers can see good teaching and transfer that teaching. Don't penalize teachers for trying something new that flops or doesn't go well. 

One panelist shared that  they use multiple raters (teacher colleagues) who observe, take notes, look at the evidence and then have a conversation to mutually determine the teacher's rating on that ONE lesson.




I have long said that in order for teacher evaluations to truly be meaningful, we need to let teacher's evaluate each other. I know that scares some people but think about it. I'm teaching 4th grade and have a 1st grade and 5th grade colleague come in to do my observation at the same time. They both take their own notes and after the observation they sit together and compare what they saw, the actual evidence they gathered and determine a rating for the teacher on that particular lesson only. I have always thought it was a total gyp to have my entire evaluation be based upon two measly observations. (My very first observation at my current school, when I started there 4 years ago, lasted 5 minutes. Seriously. 5 minutes. And my administrator wasn't in my room again until May when she did my last one. How do you know what I'm doing, ever, if you have no presence?)

People are afraid of this idea. I know they are...BUT I also know how much more effective it would be to truly have someone who does the same job I do all day evaluate a lesson I taught. No, maybe that 1st grade teacher wouldn't necessarily know my content or have any idea about teaching the big guys if s/he had never done it themselves, but they are in the trenches of teaching every day -- so much moreso than an administrator is -- and would be more realistic and have a better idea of current best practices. In addition that rating should ONLY reflect THAT LESSON. Because let's be real...we all have crappy days. I have had days as a teacher (even though with that coveted NBCT behind my name) where I know I wasn't at my best. I'm just a person. I'm not a miracle worker. I get worn down too. I wouldn't want an evaluation to show I was minimally effective or even ineffective because I had an off day and that's what they are getting at here. 

Honestly, while it's nice to hear something I did well during a lesson from someone else, I take the whole evaluation process with a grain of salt...because it usually has focused entirely upon rating me based upon ONE observation or TWO if I'm lucky. (Sidenote: not true this year, Mr. Principal visits our rooms quite often and leaves us notes about what he is seeing us do well or will leave a "wondering" if he isn't sure how what he saw is tied to anything meaningful. In other words, he doesn't want to walk by and see you randomly showing a movie mid-day Tuesday...to which I wholeheartedly agree.)  I got dinged in one area on my evaluation this fall but I knew it was an area I've struggled with and I have busted my butt to improve it all year...and I did and will continue to do so. It was more because I knew that this thing was something that didn't need to be the way it was...had my admin been on my case about it, I probably would have viewed the whole thing differently. It was approached as a way for me to reflect on what I was doing and how. And I have made it a personal goal to do better there and I did. It wasn't punitive, it was a way for me to better what I'm doing for kids. That's how it should be always, everywhere but we know it isn't. (If it was, there would be no need for a session like this one.)


The Caffeinated Teacher

Friday, March 28, 2014

TLConf 2014: Fighting Urban and Rural Poverty

This post is in a series about my experience at the inaugural Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, DC March 13-15, 2014. These posts are not endorsed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards nor the fine folks at the Teaching and Learning Conference. They consist entirely of my opinion. To read all of the posts in this series, click here.

March 14, 2014 - Plenary Session
Fighting Urban & Rural Poverty

This session featured McDowell County, West Virginia which is the 8th poorest county in West Virginia and a program they have called "Reconnecting McDowell County". This session featured a panel that discussed the trials of the district of McDowell County and the solutions they are putting into place to combat these trials.

It was stated that every state has its own "McDowell County". Student success depends upon the right curriculum but also the resources to overcome the challenges the students face.

In order to address multiple issues in poverty, you have to be willing to address all the issues.

It was stated multiple times: "Teachers can not do it all."

Poverty matters when it comes to student achievement. 

Spotlights:
--AT&T provided a grant for 20 high school juniors to be mentored
--Save the Children providing monies for after school programs and early reading intervention

There is a grade wherein 40% of the students in that grade hold a current Individualized Education Plan (IEP). 

Community School Model is what needs to happen for all poverty-level children. The Community School model provides multiple resources to help families living in poverty get the help they need.

During a reward lunch at school, three girls were eating with the principal having a sort of "book club lunch". These young girls enthusiastically shared about the books they were reading and then casually changed the subject, as though commenting upon the weather and began to discuss the drugs they had watched their parents do the night previously. For these girls, it was just normal. 


There was more to this session but I took a walk shortly after writing down the above information. Before the panel began, they showed this short video.




Watching the video and then hearing these stories, I had to leave the room and just take a walk for a moment. Not because I don't care of course...but because it hits home. It boggles my mind -- even though I know it is a reality in far more places than we think -- that still in today's society, your zip code matters. You can seriously LOSE the "Statisticks Lottery" simply because of where you happened to be born.

It bothers me. I know that West Virginia is not unique in this. Most of WV is very rural (even the college The Oldest goes to is still considered to be in a rural area) and they have a lot of poor families. I don't teach in a rural area but rather an urban one and sadly, our problems can mirror the situation shared by this county and the work they are doing.

All kids, regardless of where they are born and to whom they are born, deserve a rock-solid education. Unfortunately, your zip code plays a role and children from wealthier communities have better schools, more resources and thus tend to have a better life. 
 
I will tell you that when I left this session, I was humbled. I posted on my FaceBook and Twitter accounts that if you ever wanted to complain about your teaching job again, to please consider 40% of one grade level requiring students to have an IEP because of fetal alcohol syndrome, drug use and who knows what else. How sad for those kids. I don't have the easiest job (is any teaching job really "easy" in this day and age?) but it is nothing compared to what some of our students face and even on the worst day, I think that fact needs to be remembered. 

It could be so much worse. Thank God it isn't. 


The Caffeinated Teacher

Friday, March 21, 2014

TLConf 2014: Teacherpreneurs

This post is in a series about my experience at the inaugural Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, DC March 13-15, 2014. These posts are not endorsed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards nor the fine folks at the Teaching and Learning Conference. They consist entirely of my opinion. To read all of the posts in this series, click here.
March 14, 2014 - Teacherpreneurs Session
 If I could have only gone to one session total during this conference, this one would have been it.  I have never felt so inspired as a teacher before. There were four people presenting the session: Barnett Barry, Ann Byrd, Lori Nazareno and Jeff Charbonneau (2013 National Teacher of the Year). [Can I just geek out and say that Lori and Jeff follow me on Twitter now...insert me squealing like a 10 year old because to me it IS a big deal.] This session was based upon the book Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don't Leave which was written by Barnett Barry, Ann Byrd and Alan Wieder.

Here are some notes/insights I gained from this session:
  • Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) (teachingquality.org) has a Collaboratory of teachers who want to lead without leaving their classrooms.
  • CTQ has grown from a "Think Tank" to an "Action Tank"
  • The concept of Teaching2030 -- what teaching will be like in the year 2030 if we make change now
  • Teacher-Led School -- Lori Nazareno is my new hero because she started one. She says, "1 in 3 teachers in America could do what I do under the right circumstances." Amen sista!
  • Teacherpreneurs are leaders who still regularly teaching children but still find time, talent and reward to lead.
  • 3 Barriers to Teaching
    • Organizational Schedules (Teachers in China teach about 9 hours per week -- which is full time -- so that they have the rest of their time for planning, collaboration and leadership)
    • Cultural Belief that all Teachers are the same
    • Political Reality that many teacher leaders aren't seen positively
  •  Jeff Charbonneau -- 2013 National Teacher of the Year
    • Adjunct professor at three institutions so all of his students can earn college credits for taking his classes in high school
    • We have to bridge barriers to lead other teachers
    • Lead by doing the work together (in other words, lead from the floor)
  • Lori Nazareno
    • Started an organization to help and support NBCTs
    • Found the opportunity to meet with like-minded people
  • Question from Audience: How can we do this at the elementary level?
    • Teacher-led school is an elementary school
    • Teacher-led school has no "formal" administrator. Teachers spread the leadership around and absorb the duties that would normally be handled by an administrator/principal. 
    • Lori says she would hire a business manager to do some of the duties that proved to be a bit too  much for the teachers (I assume this means things like payroll and whatnot).
    • PD is decided upon solely by the staff
    • It is not a charter school but an entity within a public school district
  • Think like Business People -- how can we teach "them" that what we do matters as teacherpreneurs. Adopt a "return on investment" type of model. 
  • There is a stigma holding teachers back -- we are the "humble servants"
  • Question from Audience: How do we get the administration to trust us to do this? Jeff responds: Treat them like your students. Teach them. (LOVE!)
  • How can you sustain leadership when you are full-time in the classroom?
    • We need hybrid roles wherein teachers are face to face with children regularly (ideally daily) but have release time to work on leadership roles
    • Push for a coaching role that ties specifically to a classroom and puts you in a classroom frequently
    • Building Capacity -- everyone in your building should know how to do those "extra roles" 
      • In other words, one person shouldn't be wearing all of the hats. At my school, there is a need for Social Committee chair, Safety Sponsor, Tech Coordinator, etc. Their point is that EVERYONE should know how to do these roles just in case the person who started in them leaves or is no longer available/capable of doing it.
  • Audience Question: Who comes in when a teacher leader is out of the classroom? 
    • Co-teachers may be hired to relieve each other so both teachers can pursue leadership roles
    • Release time grants may be available to allow teachers to continue to lead but also teach

Let me tell you that these people were definitely speaking my language!! I have such a desire to make changes in the educational arena (specifically K-5 education, possibly K-8) but it's so hard to do that when you teach full-time. If you also have a family of your own, you truly do become burnt out trying to do it all. One thing that Barnett Barry kept saying was that teacher leaders really need time, talent and reward to be able to spread their gifts around to others through leadership and coaching. I have to agree. When they showed us the schedule of the teacher from China (I think I was China but I could be totally wrong), I think my jaw may have hit the floor. 9 hours per week of teaching?? I do more than that in 2 days. I can only imagine how refreshed I would feel with half a workload, the same salary I currently make and the time to spread my knowledge around to others. 

Once I got home, I joined the Teacher Collaboratory at CTQ and bought the e-book version of Teacherpreneurs. I'm excited to jump in and see where this takes me because truly it is everything I would want -- to still be able to teach children every day but also have release time to work with other teachers and/or fulfill policy/leadership roles in education elsewhere.


The Caffeinated Teacher

Monday, March 17, 2014

TLConf 2014: Holocaust Museum Pre-Conference Workshop

This post is in a series about my experience at the inaugural Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, DC March 13-15, 2014. These posts are not endorsed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards nor the fine folks at the Teaching and Learning Conference. They consist entirely of my opinion. To read all of the posts in this series, click here.
March 13, 2014 ~ Holocaust Museum Pre-Conference Workshop
I chose this workshop, out of many available, because I had never been to Washington DC and knew this was a museum that I likely wouldn't be able to visit if I didn't "double dip". Our workshop consisted of the exhibit "Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust". 

We began our session in a small classroom area in the lower level of the museum. Our facilitator was a wonderful lady named Christina Chavarria. She taught for many years and now works full time in the Education Division at the museum. She presented a short introduction to the exhibit we were going to tour and then led us into the exhibit area. We were then free to wander and roam as we saw fit to gather back in the classroom area for a debriefing.

I'm especially sensitive to any form of racism or discrimination being that I was raised by an extremely belligerent man who was also very racist. (Honestly, people often wonder how I turned out so "normal" when raised by someone who was such a prejudice jerk...and that's being nice.) It was one reason why I also knew I had to see this museum. It was important for who I used to be, who I have become and who I want to be in my future.

Following are some notes I took while touring this exhibit. This exhibit focuses upon whether or not certain people were complicit in the Holocaust by what they did (or didn't) do. (Note: these are truly notes I took by hand as I toured this exhibit, knowing that I wouldn't possibly remember everything I saw. They may seem scattered for this reason.)

  • Did individuals have choices in the Holocaust? YES.
  • Many Germans didn't "support" Nazi policies but complied by following along anyway to benefiting from following.
  • "Nobody did anything about it" -- Saying from a Witness
  • School groups, accompanied by teachers, were willing (or unwilling?) witnesses to bonfires
  • Propaganda "toys" were created to inculcate pro-Nazi attitudes
  • "Brownshirts" (Jews) found little support
  • When one is banned from a public place -- are people who go to that public place, such as a swimming pool, complicit in the discrimination?
  • Sign above a store front reads, "This Market cleansed of Jews"
  • Man was imprisoned for "laziness" because of his religion (Jewish)
  • A video was shown of a woman and a man, one Jewish the other not, being publicly humiliated for having an intimate relationship. They were made to wear brown sacks for clothes, had a sign around their neck proclaiming their "crime" and had their hair shaved off in public
  • Principal distributed sweets to children to publicly taunt Jews
  • State organized and legalized the looting and theft of Jewish owned stores
  • Property Taxes simply for being Jewish (first 20%, then 25%)
  • Local German police officers complied with their orders--they didn't intervene in beatings or thefts
  • As Jewish people were deported, people looked on. What were they thinking? Are they accomplices because they didn't intervene?
  • Jews were marked with armbands and moved to areas called ghettos
  • Many people relied upon extortion techniques to make life miserable for the Jews
  • A quote written on a wall from a Dutch Shopkeeper in September 1942 ~ "Try not to think about it too much, because it only makes you miserable. At the moment, a human life does not account for much, especially if it is a Jewish life."  <---- :="" ever="" have="" i="" li="" read="" saddest="" thing="">

While this exhibit showcases a very serious and horrible thing (that sadly still happens today whether or not we want to believe and acknowledge it), it was a great way to begin this really awesome conference. You can't go into an exhibit like this and come out the same person you were when you went in. It's just not possible.

The best part is that if you can't get to DC anytime soon but want to know/see more about this exhibit, you can do so for free at the Holocaust Museum's website. Click here for information about the exhibit and to find the online exhibition.
The Caffeinated Teacher

Sunday, March 16, 2014

TLConf 2014 + Epic March (continued)

Just before I became a National Board Certified Teacher, I began to get a slew of emails regarding many different topics. One of those topics was the Teaching and Learning Conference to be held in Washington DC. Having never been to DC, I knew that I had to go. I didn't know at that time that this was actually the inaugural conference.

My district paid me a (very modest) stipend when I earned the letters NBCT behind my name and I was determined to use that stipend to fund this trip. Basically the second that I found out I had certified on my 2nd try, I signed up for the conference (with the special NBCT rate) and booked my hotel and flight. (Let me mention here that I'd never flown before. Ever.)  About a month after I did all of this, The Husband was kind of in a bit of a tizzy and finally I asked him what his problem was. He was jealous and wanted to come too. (Sidenote: The Mister is so non-committal about pretty much everything so I didn't bother to ask because I never get a straight "yes" or "no" until its usually too late.)

Multiple events began to pile up for March and thus I coined the phrase "Epic March". And let me tell you, so far this month has been truly EPIC. 

Skillet Concert on March 6 which really was the most EPIC event of my life...and probably will always be. Teaching and Learning Conference this past weekend. I have never in my life felt so energized and so renewed as a teacher. 

I'm a bit of a rebel. (I know, you're shocked.) I tend to push buttons. I tend to lead with my passion and apologize later. And this conference gave me SO MUCH validation that I am on the track I need to be on.

I tweeted many of my sessions (you can follow me on twitter here) as I was in them. Alas, I will be sharing my notes on the most important sessions I attended (I did skip some to sight see and walk barefoot in the grass because let's face it--it's DC and it was 64 degrees there on Saturday....when I left Michigan, it was 4 degrees.)

Over the next week or so, I will blog about my experiences in DC, most likely one session/event per post because it just wouldn't do them justice to try to cram more than one awesome thing into a post. 

I shall leave you with my feet in the grass....which I haven't seen in Michigan since November. It was kind of exciting people!

The Caffeinated Teacher