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Good Teaching > Fidget Spinners

Over the weekend, I lost a bit of my patience with practitioners, y’all.  I’d just finished listening to a teacher rant and rave about “today’s kids being lazy” and “those damned fidget spinners.”  What I kept thinking during her rant came to life in the form of this Tweet:

 

I must have touched on a nerve because the Tweet took off — and not everyone was buying my central notion that good lesson planning is the best classroom management strategy.

People called my opinion “ridiculous” and “insulting.”  They said that I had “deprofessionalized and dehumanized” teachers.  They described my Tweet as “sententious BS” and called out my “neoliberalism,” whatever that means.

#goodtimes

So I figured I’d articulate a bit on my central argument here in a series of “I Believe” statements.  Choose one and tell me where I’m wrong:

I believe that it is the teacher’s job to create lessons that are so engaging, kids aren’t interested in their distractions.  Plain and simple.  Bored kids fidget with spinners and phones and pencils and their bodies.  Kids who are engaged by challenging thoughts or provocative questions or tasks that are developmentally appropriate fidget with ideas.  If we know our kids and know our content, we OUGHT to be able to fill MOST of our lessons with MORE of those challenging thoughts and provocative questions and developmentally appropriate tasks.

Is that an easy task?  Nope.

But you can’t tell me that it’s an IMPOSSIBLE task.  All of you have taught lessons that left kids completely riveted.  Those are the moments that we live for, right?  And in those lessons, your kids aren’t flipping spinners or texting their girlfriends.  They are following your lead and listening to your every word and tackling whatever challenge you drop in front of them.

Can you create a riveting lesson every single day?  Probably not.  After 24 years of teaching, if I can wrap my kids in the perfect lesson two or three times every week, I feel like I’m doing pretty good.

But I also won’t be satisfied knowing that forty to sixty percent of my instruction is engaging, either.  And neither should you.

I believe that fidgeting kids are a GREAT source of feedback for classroom teachers.  I’m no expert at this teaching stuff, but one of the things I’m good at is being honest with myself.  In fact, I’m constantly trying to figure out whether or not my instructional practices are working for the kids in my classroom — and when I see kids fidgeting with spinners and phones and pencils and their bodies, I don’t get angry with the kids OR disappointed with myself.

Instead, I make a mental note that the lesson I am teaching needs improvement.  Maybe there aren’t enough opportunities for kids to interact with one another.  Maybe the content I’m presenting is too challenging — or not challenging enough.  Maybe my questions aren’t terribly provocative.  Maybe I haven’t worked hard enough to help my kids see the connection between the topic we are studying and their own needs and interests.

Whatever the issue, fidgeting is the symptom.  My job is to recognize it, diagnose the reason for it, and rethink my plans.

I believe that together, my peers and I can make ANYTHING more interesting.  Over and over again, teachers chirped at me that it’s unrealistic to believe that a teacher can make EVERY topic interesting to kids.  “What about punctuation?” they’d say.  “How do you make kids pay attention when you are teaching THAT?”  Or, “Some lessons are valuable but not interesting.  Like feminisim.”  Or, “Some lessons are just boring. That’s the way it is.  Life is boring.  Kids should get used to it.”

Those comments drove me nuts simply because I really AM convinced that there are ways to capture the attention of kids regardless of the topic — and while I may not always have the best ideas on my own, I teach with brilliant peers and I’ve got a digital network filled with thousands of like-minded colleagues who are willing to brainstorm with me at any hour of the day.  If I’m willing to reach out and tell other people when I know that my lessons don’t resonate with my kids, I’m GOING to find a better solution worth trying.

And if I’m NOT willing to reach out for help, I’m failing my kids by holding on to instructional practices that I KNOW aren’t working.

I believe that teachers face a thousand limitations that make high quality instruction challenging — but those limitations can’t become excuses:  I think the strong reactions that people had to my original Tweet stems from the fact that teachers really DO work hard on behalf of their kids.  We aren’t intentionally TRYING to create boring lessons for students to sit through.  Instead, we are slammed for time and slammed for resources and slammed for ideas.  Coming up with dozens of engaging, differentiated lessons for increasingly diverse student populations IS a darn near impossible challenge — particularly when your 25 minute planning period is spent arm-deep in a broken photocopier or answering YET another email from YET another aggravated parent.

And some of the crap in our required curriculum IS pretty boring.  And nothing meaningful ever seems to show up on the standardized tests that we’re held accountable for anyway.  And our bosses have stuff they are making us do.  And we teach kids who have grown up in a world where paying attention for fifteen minutes is required just about as often as juggling fourteen chainsaws to raise money for dinner.  And did I mention those damned end of grade exams yet?  They matter, you know!

I get it.  Remember: I’m a teacher, too.  I have all of those same challenges.

But the minute those challenges become an excuse to avoid reflection and continuous growth, we are failing the kids in our classroom.

#trudatchat

#steppingoffsoapbox

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Session Materials: WCPSS Summer Leadership Conference

For the first time in it seems like forever, I’ll be making a presentation close to home!  On Tuesday, August 2nd, I’ll be sneaking out during my planning period to talk about student involved assessment at the 2016 Summer Leadership Conference hosted by the Wake County Public Schools.

Here are my session materials:

Our Students CAN Assess Themselves

In the spring of 2012, Canadian educational change expert Dean Shareski issued a simple challenge on his blog when he wrote, “So I’m wondering if you’re ready to let your students assess themselves. Not as some experiment where you end up grading them apart but where you really give the reigns over to them?” Dean’s challenge resonated with sixth grade teacher Bill Ferriter, who had always been dissatisfied with the grade-driven work being done in his classroom. This session will introduce participants to the tangible steps that Bill has taken to integrate opportunities for self-assessment into his classroom as a result of Dean’s challenge.

Session Slides

Session Handouts

Make Copies of All of Bill’s Student Involved Assessment Handouts in Google Drive

Nicole Ricca has developed a unit overview sheet for Kindergarteners that she is giving away for free on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Read more about Ms. Ricca’s work with unit overview sheets here on her blog.

Download Ms. Ricca’s unit overview template here on her Teachers Pay Teachers page.

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Related Radical Reads:

Turning Feedback into Detective Work

Activity: Feedback Action Planning Template

Activity: Where Am I Going Reflection Sheet

Feedback Should Be a Work For/Work On Process

My Middle Schoolers LOVE Our Unit Overview Sheets

New Slide: Prioritizing Grading over Feedback

I’m more than a little spent tonight. Not sure why, but I don’t have a ton to give.  Whenever I get to that point, I like to work on slides.  Something about tinkering with words and colors and layouts leaves me refreshed.

So I whipped up a slide for a thought that has been sitting in the back of my mind for a while now.  I think it reflects an uncomfortable truth about what schools have become in our quest for accountability.

Hope that it challenges your thinking.  More importantly, I hope that you use it to challenge someone else’s thinking:

Grading over Feedback

(Click here to view original image and download on Flickr)

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Related Radical Reads:

New Feedback Activity:  Not Yet/You Bet Lists

New Feedback Activity:  Feedback is a Work For/Work On Process

New Slide:  Turning Feedback Into Detective Work

Making Room for Uncertainty in the Required Curriculum

Poking through my feed reader this morning, I stumbled across a Mindshift KQED article that I think every educator ought to read.

Titled How to Spark Curiosity in Children through Embracing Uncertainty, it makes a simple argument:  Instruction centered on facts that have already been settled fails today’s students.  “Without insight into the holes in our knowledge,” author Linda Flanagan writes, “students mistakenly believe that some subjects are closed. They lose humility and curiosity in the face of this conceit.”

Slide - Scientific Discovery

I worry about that argument because I’m held accountable for teaching a massive curriculum that is slam-packed full of settled facts.

While I believe in the importance of developing students who are willing to grope and probe and poke their way through moments of uncertainty — who are as comfortable NOT knowing as they are with having the right answers — the simple truth is that facilitating experiences that allow students to wrestle with uncertainty takes time that I just don’t have.  If moments of genuine discovery are going to make their way into my classroom, something has to give — and that ‘something’ is going to end up being content that is currently listed in my ‘required’ curriculum.

And THAT’s what drives me nuts about being a classroom teacher in today’s world.

There’s a constant tension between what we SAY we want our students to know and be able to do and what we LIST as priorities in our mandated pacing guides.  Almost twenty years into the 21st Century, we continue give lip service to the importance of things like creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking, but we create no real space for that kind of content in our school, district and/or state curricula guides.  Worse yet, we do nothing to assess those skills.  Instead, we are still holding students and schools accountable for nothing more than the mastery of settled facts.

That has to change.  Plain and simple.

#truDATchat

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Related Radical Reads:

How Testing Will Change What I Teach Next Year.

Walking Moral Tightropes ISN’T a Reform Strategy

Bulldozing the Forests

Session Materials – Solution Tree PLC Institute

Over the next few days, I’ll be working alongside the super motivated educators at Solution Tree’s PLC Institute in San Diego.  The goal for most of the participants will be to find ways to polish their collaborative practices in order to help kids learn.  Together, teams from individual schools will study everything from the core beliefs that support learning communities to the nuts and bolts of making collaboration more efficient and effective.

I’ll be delivering three different breakout sessions at the Institutes.  Here are the materials for each session.  Hope you find them useful:

How to Use Digital Tools to Support Teachers in a PLC

For professional learning teams, collaboration can be nothing short of demanding.  Developing – and then organizing – collections of shared materials, making important decisions, and communicating with colleagues across grade levels and departments often requires additional time that classroom teachers just don’t have.

As a result, many teachers question whether or not the costs of coordination outweigh the benefits of collaboration in Professional Learning Communities.  In this session, full-time classroom teacher and Solution Tree author Bill Ferriter introduces participants to a range of free digital tools that 21st Century learning teams are using to make their collective work more efficient – and therefore, more rewarding.  Participants will also discuss ways that tools that facilitate collaboration can be used to make differentiated instruction doable.

Download Session Slides

Download Session Handouts

Student Wiki Sample

Zaption Sample

Student VoiceThread Sample

Using Digital Tools Quick Guide – A series of tools for facilitating collaboration between teachers.

BYOD Quick Guide – A series of tools for facilitiating learning in a BYOD classroom.

Teaching the iGeneration Quick Guide – A series of tools for facilitating learning with technology.

#kinderchat and @mattBgomez – Oftentimes, participants in this session want to see examples of digital tools being used in primary classrooms.  The best source for those examples is the #kinderchat hashtag and Texas Educator Matt Gomez.

For more information on using digital tools to facilitate collaboration or classroom instruction, check out Bill’s newest books —How to Use Digital Tools to Support Teachers in a PLC and Teaching the iGeneration (2nd Edition).

 

Small Schools and Singletons:  Structuring Meaningful Professional Learning Teams for Every Teacher

The PLC concept resonates with most educators, but making collaborative learning work in small schools or for singleton teachers can be challenging.

In this session, participants will explore four different models for creating meaningful professional learning teams for singletons and teachers in small schools:  The creation of vertical teams studying skills that cross content areas, designing class loads that allow teachers to teach the same subjects, using electronic tools to pair teachers with peers working in the same subject area, and using student work behaviors as an area of focus for nontraditional learning teams.

Download Session Slides

Download Session Handouts

Sample of a Student Survey as Common Assessment

 

Our Students CAN Assess Themselves

In the spring of 2012, Canadian educational change expert Dean Shareski issued a simple challenge on his blog when he wrote, “So I’m wondering if you’re ready to let your students assess themselves. Not as some experiment where you end up grading them apart but where you really give the reigns over to them?”

Dean’s challenge resonated with Solution Tree author and sixth grade teacher Bill Ferriter, who had always been dissatisfied with the grade-driven work being done in his classroom.  This session will introduce participants to the tangible steps that Bill has taken to integrate opportunities for self-assessment into his classroom as a result of Dean’s challenge.

Download Session Slides

Download Session Handouts

Download Editable Copies of Materials and Activities

Download REVISED Unit Overview Sheet

Download Student Sample of Unit Overview Sheet

Nicole Ricca has developed a unit overview sheet for Kindergarteners that she is giving away for free on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Read more about Ms. Ricca’s work with unit overview sheets here on her blog.

Download Ms. Ricca’s unit overview template here on her Teachers Pay Teachers page.

 

And don’t forget:  You can read all of my PLC related posts on the Radical by clicking on this link.  

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Related Radical Reads:

The Power of PLCs

Five Resources for School Leaders Starting PLCs from Scratch

These are OUR Kids