Monday, August 20, 2018

Deep Thoughts: How are writing skills taught in other languages?

Week 4 is in the books and I'm getting prepped for Week #5! I'm really glad that I started working with another 2 students this past week - it's provided a foundation to develop relationships with them as well as helped me to determine their exact need - which is mainly confidence in their speaking skills. They are both super quiet students and hesitate participating with the whole group. I'm hoping that with our 2 on 1 practice they'll feel more comfortable speaking with a larger group.

I know that other students would benefit from small group work as well; I just am having a difficult time figuring out how to make it all work with teaching skills AND monitoring their course work for other classes - all with only one hour a day. I am thinking that there might be some time next week to conference with them about their latest writing sample. I'll keep my fingers and toes crossed for that!

This coming week, I'm introducing grammar and phonics skills. We'll practice some decoding skills with prefixes and suffixes. And even though I've observed students getting frequent grammar practice in their English classes, their writing samples do not reflect the level of proficiency I would expect with said practice. 

This week has got me thinking about the types of written language lessons that are taught in other countries. I just assumed that if a student had decent writing skills in one language that it would transfer over to a secondary language. For example, aren't capitalization rules consistent across various languages? Is this taught in the schools in their native country? I guess that just goes show that I really shouldn't assume ANYTHING! Ha!

And now for what I created and want to share with you, if you think it'll be useful for the students that you work with. I found that my class could make use of a scaffold to support writing paragraphs that helped them think of additional descriptions for the details of the main idea. The following document is what I came up with. You can get it as a Google Doc HERE.

I found that my students were typing their thoughts into Google Translate and then simply copying and pasting the translation into the Google Document without thinking about the sense of the sentence. I figured if they're going to do that, they might as well be forced to write by hand the words, phrases and sentences that Google provided. So rather than sharing the Google Doc through Google Classroom, I ran paper copies of the worksheet. I'll eventually get to demonstrating for them the imperfections of Google Translate. 

If you find that this structure for adding descriptions to the details works for your students, it's easy to change the writing prompts to suit your needs. 

I hope that your week goes well for you.
Offering my BEST -

Friday, August 10, 2018

New School Year, New Role

It's unbelievable that practically an entire calendar year has gone by since I have last posted on this blog. Yikes! As I reflect on the reason why it simply comes down to what took place last year. 

Sometime during the first quarter of the 2017-18 school year, I was asked to take over a class that I had never taught before. If you have ever taken over a class from another teacher(s), you know the challenges that can present themselves in regards to teacher expectations vs student behaviors, student work ethic, and student skill levels. But to no fault of their own, this group of students had as many as SEVEN different adults managing the class in a four week period of time. Such is the facts of life in a hard-to-fill teaching position (high school science) in a state that is now known nationwide for its low teacher pay (Arizona). 

While I was happy to fill in, I was not anticipating teaching the class for the remainder of the year, which is exactly what ended up happening. And I just wasn't ready for it. But I had to do it, it was now my assigned job. 

If I am being completely honest, I intentionally left the classroom full-time because I was completely emotionally drained. I love teaching and was willing to put 100% of myself into fulfilling my position with the best of my ability. But after 18 years, there wasn't much left in my tank. I had to make a change. 

Fortunately, the position of Technology Integration Specialist opened up at an opportune time and I was selected to fill it. I loved the fact that I could focus my energies on teachers and making a difference in a different way than I had ever before. 

But circumstances change and I had to adjust, no matter how difficult it was to do so.

And so, I find myself three weeks into the 2018-19 school year, once again doing something I wasn't anticipating, but thankfully, a bit more energized.

The title of my responsibilities has changed to Instructional Coach for Secondary Teachers. I get to work primarily with new teachers (Yay!) and providing professional development (Double Yay!). AND...I am still teaching one hour a day, but doing something I have never done before, providing support to our English as a Second Language learners. 

The group of students I work with are at various levels of English acquisition and are from multiple countries, mostly Spanish speaking regions. By the way, did I mention that I am NOT bilingual? The group of students is small compared to regular classes (Whew!) and they are all supremely pleasant to work with (Hallelujah!) I am finding that I STILL have time to balance my other responsibilities of working with new teachers and planning PD, something that I couldn't balance last school year.

My goal for this year, is to be intentional about blogging more regularly, both for reflection and sharing purposes. I want to continue to grow as a professional as well as connect with other educators. 

I wish you all the BEST for the 2018-19 school year! 


Have you ever been re-assigned in the middle of the school year? How did you handle it? What are you most looking forward to for this school year?    

Thursday, August 31, 2017

An Empowered Learner is...Motivated

What are you an expert at? Maybe you’re not a world-class expert, but you know more than enough about a particular topic or you have a specialized skill set that not many other people possess. I have teacher friend who within the last few years has developed a gardening skill that produces some magnificent vegetables. She’s done her homework in learning what season is best for growing particular foods. She’s dedicated the time necessary to care for her plants. She literally enjoys the fruits, and vegetables, of her labor. If I ever decided that I wanted to learn how to grow my own food, she’d be the one I’d go to first.

When asked about her backyard garden and what got her started with this hobby, she simply just tells me that she wanted to know if she could do it. The challenge of doing something that she hadn’t done before intrigued her. She needed something to redirect and refocus her thinking after a long day in the classroom. And the potential of saving a few dollars at the grocery store was a little bit appealing too.  No one was telling her that this was what she needed to do. It all stemmed from an inner desire to develop a new skill. She’s intrinsically motivated to do her best.

An Empowered Learner displays motivation to learn.  Our students are often motivated in many areas of interest that we rarely see because they are not written into a state standard. We teach student athletes, musicians, artists and even gamers who spend hours of their own time developing skill sets that provide for them a sense of empowerment.

Maybe our students aren’t able to articulate why they do what they do, but researchers who have studied what motivates people find that when a learner is intrinsically motivated the learning that occurs is authentic learning. It’s learning that sticks because the individual has found a way to make multiple connections within their existing schema. The neural network is literally rewiring itself when we see how one concept relates to another. The more connections that are made, the deeper the learning that occurs. And once the rewiring takes place, we are able to apply that new knowledge in different ways, to make reiterations of it. This transfer of learning is what prompts us to ask ourselves, “I wonder how I could…”fill in the blank. We ask more questions when we are intrinsically motivated, and when we ask more questions the creativity that exists in all of us flourishes because we want to find solutions. But we don’t simply seek to get to the final discovery, we thrive on the exploration and the experimentation that takes place along this journey. For us, the destination isn’t the end, but the beginning of something else. Through this process of learning, we find deep personal satisfaction. While encouragement, compliments, and awards are appreciated, an intrinsically motivated person will continue to pursue their passion even if no one pays attention.

While life does provide us the opportunity to be adventurous and explore new territories, there are things that we just have to learn how to do, because it’s part of life. For these instances, our motivation is extrinsic, and the learning is usually just enough to get us by, or surface learning. Oftentimes, what we supposedly have learned can’t be recalled long after the the need for it passes. Our interest in the topic or skill only goes as deep as the requirement demands and please don’t ask us to invest much of our precious time, energy, or effort. Just tell us what we have to do and we’ll do it and be done with it. The final destination is all we care about and the straighter the path to get there, the better. After all, we’re only learning how to do something in order to satisfy someone else’s requirement.

Can I be honest with you about something? This is exactly how I felt about completing the SEI requirements that the Arizona Department of Education stipulates in order to have a valid teaching license. I remember nothing about that learning experience. But, in order to cope and be compliant with state law, I’ve figured out who in my school district does know and I refer to her as my source of information. This allows me to keep my mental activity on other areas of interest.

Our students are no different. If they are learning something in school that they have difficulty mustering up the motivation, they will simply do the bare minimum requirement and find other resources to help them stay compliant.

It is our job to create learning experiences that draw on their interests, that support them in the neural networking process, and light a fire within them so that the learning that takes place is authentic. We accomplish this by giving them a VOICE and a CHOICE in our classrooms. This is what drives an Empowered Learner.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Five Ingredients for Inspiration

What causes us to be inspired?

A connection. Whenever I have listened to an "inspirational" speaker, the framework of their message is based on their ability to connect with the audience. The speaker describes a circumstance in which a majority of the listeners can relate to in some sort of manner. A stand up comedian is able to generate laughs because we've "been there and done that" too. The ability to uncover similarities is what sparks the connection between you and me; it's the beginning of a relationship. The more ties that we can create, the stronger the connection. 

Vision. It is said that Michelangelo could look at a block of marble and see the sculpture that was meant to be discovered with his hammer and chisel. Being able to see what yet does not exist requires us to shed personal biases through which we currently view our experiences. A vision-caster has the ability to deliver a perspective for the future that is fresh and innovative. A clearly stated vision can show us the filters and blinders we have and how to remove them in order to begin stepping in a new direction.  

Potential. The belief that a new vision is possible is core to being inspired. Have you closely observed a droplet of food coloring into a jar of water? What about when the water was cooled compared to when it was heated. The color dissolves much quicker in the heated water because the water molecules have more space in between due to the added energy. A vision-caster heats the water so to speak, creating energy and building potential in order to instill the belief that a new vision is achievable. 

A Plan. Without a plan, inspiration fizzles. The vision simply becomes framed words on a wall. It can be repeated at every gathering, but without a course of action, it is meaningless. Inspiration gains momentum when the people directly affected are involved in the development of the plan. Empower the stakeholders to determine their own path to achieve the new vision. 

A Network. Nothing is quite like being surrounded by your supporters. Knowing that for better or worse, you have a team that will stand behind you amplifies inspiration. Not only that, but a solid network of others expands the available talent pool of resources from which to draw. I might be able to do one thing well, but with nine others who have a variety of skill sets, a great many things can be carried out. 

As the 2017-18 school year commences, how will you inspire the people with whom you work the most closely, whether it be Kindergartners, 12th grade Seniors, the Technology & Transportation Departments or the entire staff at A+ school?

This is the year. Let's be inspirational! 

Offering my BEST to you!

Friday, July 7, 2017

What I Learned From: Start.Right.Now.

Yesterday I finished reading Start.Right.Now.: Teach and Lead for Excellence by Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas.

While I could provide you with a summary or even a review, I want to get straight to the point of what I learned from reading the book. 

My big ah-ha was sparked at the end of the book, page 203 to be exact, where the authors state in their own words, that excellence is achieved by being determined to accomplish a goal. 

Here's why this is a big-ish deal right now: I believe that when considered within the context of my One Word for 2017 - SHIFT - this mindset of being determined to make "it" non-negotiable is how changes happen. 

I'm reminded of the Yoda quote from Star Wars, "Do or do not. There is no try." 

When you only try - there is no commitment, no emphasis on what's valuable, no eagerness to be different. 

I probably suffer from perfectionism. I am hesitant to make changes unless I am assured of the outcome. But here is where this all comes together for me. When I am shifting (small nudges towards something different), I can be more confident in the results. And even if the results are not what I had hoped, I'm not set back that much. Whatever it is that I aiming for is still recoverable, especially if I make it a point to learn from the failure. Knowing this, I can be determined to take small steps towards a goal. Any reluctance I might have pales in comparison to the potential that might result. 

This mindset is massively empowering!

Offering my BEST to you!