It is hard to believe that my 4th year of teaching is coming to a close. Being completely transparent, this year has challenged me in ways I have never experienced, both resulting from professional growth opportunities that I have voluntarily taken on and from the quality and quantity of needs among the students in my class. There have been glimpses of joy and rewarding moments that have of course made the year worthwhile, but I have also experienced my fair share of difficulty in a variety of ways. Even though I know it is my job to meet my learners where they are, it has felt discouraging at times to modify and even totally change routines and activities that have worked for past years. With many years ahead of me in my career and only a few behind me, I predict that there will be many “types” of school years, each unique in growing my practice and building the educator stamina that I have been building since year 1.
I have been aching to introduce my class to my brand new cart of 7 Chromebooks, devices recently rolled out to WCPSS classrooms at the end of this school year. But for several weeks, the feelings of a challenging and overwhelming school year, combined with continuous end of year literacy and math testing, prevented me from jumping right in with those devices. But with 6 days left of school and a newfound inspiration to take a risk, I decided to go for it. All year, I had planned to facilitate the creation of digital portfolios for each student in my room, and I was determined not to let that goal slip away. Student digital portfolios are a new push in the district, as a means of student housing of and reflection on work over time. The Kindergarten team and school leaders at my school believe that this should start for students at the beginning of their school experience in Kindergarten. So here is how I used our new Chromebook devices to make this happen on the Kindergarten level!
1. Practice logging in right away first quarter.
Yes, there is QR code option for younger elementary students to log into their Google account (a very long, time consuming process), and yes, that makes it faster. But in the long run, if students have been logging in the same way since Kindergarten, they will be faster in 3rd grade rather than having to learn “the long way” then. My team has learned the value in this over the past few years working alongside our ITF Chris Tuttell, and we have learned and evolved in our practice of working with Kinders in Google over the years. This was the first year we started the logging in process right away first quarter, and it has paid off! And now that we have our Chromebooks, several steps of this process (computer login + going into Chrome + entering web address) are eliminated and will allow us to move even more quickly next year!
Google, here we come! Ts learn from past yrs- Ss work in small groups, and only log-in to computer/practice moving/clicking mouse day 1! pic.twitter.com/8nT1teDlG6
These kinders have logged into their google drives! Next steps: create our K folder, add content/projects to our folders, and take home information for logging in and working in drive at home! #kindersCANpic.twitter.com/ELKNliw003
Digital portfolios are really just a reflection on favorite pieces of work from the year, including work done in Google Drives. As the group prepared to create their Sites, they completed work in their Google Drives that would be linked to their sites, such as an animal picture and shape replication in Google Draw and an all about me Google Slide.
3. Advance student leaders in the digital portfolio process.
We have used upper grade student mentors while logging in and working in Google over the years, and I highly recommend this with younger students. With ambitions of having students create digital portfolios on Google Sites to link work from throughout the year, we started with a small cohort of K students from a couple of classrooms. This had 2 benefits: we could provide greater support to a small group of students as they created, and then these students could be tech leaders to assist the whole group in creating theirs.
With my own uncertainty about how to structure the use of 7 Chromebooks for 21 students, coupled with never having used a Chromebook myself, I decided that our after school program with 5 Kinders in my room would be the perfect setting to try them out! Starting small gave me the comfort I needed to go big!
Look at these kinders independently logging in and using our brand new Chrome books during the after school program! Searched around our campus for signs of spring and made a Google Draw to represent our findings! We ❤️our new devices @WCPSS !!!#kindersCANpic.twitter.com/1iW8KTJEdH
5. Create and add work to sites in small groups, with student tech helpers.
After reviewing Chromebook etiquette and procedures for taking out and putting away, students were put into 3 groups of 7. Student leaders who had already made Google Sites portfolios were strategically dispersed into each group. Groups of 7 rotated to 3 learning centers, one of which being Google Site creation on the Chromebooks. In this first step, students created a Site through their Google Drive, using the New Google Sites option. They worked specifically on the home page, typing their name and site title, customizing colors and background images, and linking in an all about me Google Slide. Next, we will add a Kindergarten page and link in more work!
Thx to 7 new chrome books, station-based rotations, amazing S tech leaders, and the growth mindset and intrinsic motivation each learner displayed today, every S in my class now has a Google Sites digital portfolio up & running!More than ever I am reminded that #kindersCANpic.twitter.com/TGPh7I96eV
After a tough school year, and with only 6 days left with this group of students, this was just the joy that I and they needed. Having 21 Kindergarten students successfully get their sites up and running reminded me of my strong belief in the capability of young learners. Each year brings a new set of challenges, talents, needs, gifts, and unpredictable circumstances. But I am reminded to embrace change and challenged to find the structures and modifications so that each year, #kindersCAN continue to do amazing things.
Opportunity context plays a large role in a person’s confidence, and therefore, learning. I was lucky to grow up in an environment where all influences encouraged me to pursue my dreams. Not only was I taught to go after my dreams, I was told that I would reach them if I put my mind to it with practice and determination. I could be anything I wanted to be with the right amount of studying and schooling. I never had to question what I was capable of because of the mindset instilled in me since birth.
As early as Kindergarten, it is clear who comes in with a work ethic to persist through challenges, who is learning that practice leads to growth, and who already believes that “you either have smarts or you don’t.” Growth versus fixed mindsets within students not only affect their overall confidence, the type of mindset a child carries also affects his or her level of academic achievement. Students who don’t believe they can grow come in believing they will not be successful, and their mindset causes the outcome to be a “self-fulfilling prophecy”- what they believe about themselves comes true. For many students entering Kindergarten, school is a foreign concept. Not only is picking up a pencil a new thing for some, but following multi-step directions, asking for help, and independently taking responsibility for personal items are all brand new concepts. It takes practice for many students to adapt when they have not been to school at all, did not receive quality preschool with valuable Kindergarten preparation, or did not go for the length of time of their peers. Children are aware of this gap, and many of those who have not had as much school and academic exposure seem to believe that they will always struggle. Many are scared to try new things…like tracing the letters in their name or raising their hand to respond to a question. They see others doing it with such confidence and believe “they just don’t have it.”
Here are some quotes, some amidst tears and hyperventilation, that I have heard this year reflecting a fixed mindset:
“I can’t do it.”
“This is too hard.”
“I’m scared…I can’t….”
“But I don’t know how.”
“Oh I wasn’t raising my hand…I wouldn’t know that answer.”
“I’m always gonna have bad days and everyone else is always gonna have good days.” (referring to behavior)
This fixed mindset in students becomes a problem. And Kindergarten is the pivotal age to begin addressing this issue of mindset, as the achievement and opportunity gap begins dividing students from the first day of K on. Their beliefs about themselves are holding them back from where they could be. Research shows that when we practice a skill, our brain gets stronger and more proficient with that skill; and the more we get into the habit of absorbing new information and taking part in the struggle of the learning process, the better we get at new skills and at learning in general. Contrary to what was believed for many years, there aren’t “math” people or “word” people…we can all be any kind of people we want if we practice and persist through challenges.
This year more than years past, it was clear that I needed to teach students about the science behind their brains. Many students weren’t going to do much growing until they believed they COULD grow. So here are some ways that we are learning about and practicing a growth mindset on a weekly basis:
–Morning Meeting: Morning meeting is a time to come together as a class each morning, greet one another, share out, and focus our day for a successful start. Morning meeting has provided a lot of outlets for focusing on growth mindset. We have used this time to learn about a growth mindset, and that intelligence is not fixed. Additionally, when sharing out, students often respond to mindset prompts and share with others what they are proud of, something that is a challenge for them, something they can’t do YET, etc. We also use morning meeting to reflect on growth and show new student work compared to previous student work, giving students visual evidence that their brain has grown.
–Class Dojo Videos: This is where the bulk of growth mindset instruction took place and how students learned about the secret behind their brains. Even if your school does not use Class Dojo, these videos can be located on youtube as well. These videos have given us the language (matched with visuals) to talk about how our learning can change, rather than our learning being fixed. The first video showed us Mojo’s (the main character) original thinking: that you’re either good at something (like math), or you aren’t. His thinking isn’t resolved until the 2nd video. After watching the first video, I took a vote to see who believed that “smarts” are either something you have or you don’t; and who believed you could get better with practice. Only 2 students originally believed you could get better with practice.. A couple weeks later, I took the vote again, and everyone unanimously believed practice helps you improve and learning is not fixed. Below is the first of the five growth mindset videos, and the first of three perseverance videos.
–Language: The videos we have watched and conversations happening in our morning meeting have transformed our overall language. Now you might hear an “I can’t do it…YET.” And if that yet doesn’t make it to the end of the phrase, you can bet the people sitting near that student will chime in with a YET to remind their friend of a growth mindset. Another phrase we love and have adopted from the Class Dojo videos is to “take the challenge,” rather than run away or give up. That has really taken the place of “this is too hard,” as students are now inspired to “take the challenge” and get better at whatever skill they are practicing. A fellow K teacher on my team, Claire Morrison, does an amazing job instilling a growth mindset in her students! She has also adopted similar language with her students through the Class Dojo videos, and they took the phrase to the next level and made it their class motto (see below). It is hanging in the front of the room signed by all the students in her class. Also, check out her anchor chart (see right) on transforming language to reflect a growth mindset! This anchor chart is our next step during Morning Meeting this week…thanks, Claire!
Earlier this yr a S said "Look Ms. Morrison, I took the challenge!" & it has since become our class motto. We talk often about the power of 'yet' & these awesome kinders wanted to pledge to challenge themselves to always try their best! #wetakethechallenge#kindersCANpic.twitter.com/QnvdGUYbfZ
–Focus on practice: We talk about practice all the time now. Students are seeing that the learning activities we take part in throughout the day ARE practice that help us learn. Tasks are no longer scary, they are practice. And students are less scared to take risks, because they know that trying it is how you learn. This has been a big mindset shift. A couple of students have used the phrase “practice makes perfect,” and are usually now stopped by other students who remind them, “there’s no such thing as perfect…we can always get better!” Once recently, a student got an answer wrong, and another student giggled. One student got very defensive for her peer who had gotten the answer wrong, and said “It’s not funny! He is learning, and you have to try it to learn!” In another instance, a couple of students were questioned by another student for having to complete their work at a teacher’s table for extra support, an outsider listening in again jumped to their defense, saying “They may not have had as much practice as you before…sitting with the teacher helps them get better practice to learn!” As a group, our language has transformed, and when we go back to “old language,” you can see how other students jump to the defense.
–Activities where learning isn’t easy: Various 4C/STEM activities have helped us practice using a growth mindset. These activities really show students what taking on a challenge feels like. And we have seen, just like in our videos, that just because you take on a challenge does not mean you’ll get it figured out in the snap of a finger. You have to persist through the challenge even when it continues to be difficult, or even when you sometimes fall into “the dip.” We are finding that learning can feel like a struggle, and not to run away from the struggle.
–Reflection: After these challenging STEM activities, it is always important to reflect on the activities and on student mindset. We ask what was easy, what was hard, and next steps. Students are now identifying times when they went into “the dip,” or when they really had to show perseverance to get through a challenge, or how they still need a little more practice to master a skill. Reflection is also what we do in our Morning Meeting, when sharing personal experiences or responding to Mojo’s experiences in the video clips we watch. We reflect orally often, and at this point in the year, have also started reflecting using self-assessment exit tickets after a lesson. We’re seeing how reflection helps us identify areas of struggle so that we can improve.
Taking some time out of the day to teach growth mindset has been critical to my students’ learning this year. You can see through the above example descriptions the new and improved ways students are talking about and approaching learning. Growth mindset, in essence, embodies the #kindersCAN movement – a belief in the capabilities of our youngest learners, and consequently, a belief in all learners and ourselves.
During my first year of teaching (around 3 years ago), growth mindset was a big district push, and I learned a lot about it; but this is the first time I have shared about it with my students, and the outcome has been amazing: students are learning how to think of themselves as learners, but also learning character strengths that will bring them success in life. I believe that growth mindset is a springboard for overall confidence which, in many senses, is vital to a person’s success. Confidence- a belief in oneself- is what makes someone unstoppable, and confidence starts building from birth on. Often, confidence makes the difference between thinking you have value or not, being able to effectively defend yourself or not, creating aspirations you want to live up to or not, turning that tassel or not, going to college or not, following your dreams or not, maybe even taking a path no one else in your family took or not. It is easy to take confidence for granted when it was instilled in you since birth, but more than any other content I learned in school, I recognize that confidence is what got me where I am now. Growing up, I didn’t realize how privileged I was to always know in my mind that I would be successful if I put my mind to it (aka confidence)….and to never worry about whether taking a risk could result in complete failure, or whether I’d have to defend a questionable choice I made, or whether I’d be capable of making it through school. I always had confidence I could do it all, and it is vital to remember that not everyone’s experiences instill that level of confidence! Building up confidence in learners from day one is really more important than anything else they could learn; and it is part of what many groups or students need in order to be on an equitable playing field with their peers. So before assuming students “can’t do it,” help them believe that they can; give them the right level of instruction, tools, and opportunities for practice; have them reflect on what they can do when they have a growth mindset; and work with them to build confidence that pours into all the areas of their lives. That’s one of the best ways we can ensure equity and genuinely change lives in this profession.
I became a teacher to make a difference in our world and the people living in it. Make a difference…we’ve heard the phrase a million times, but my “why” has deep meaning for our society: the world needs change, and who better to serve as active agents for change, than those who work directly with the future adults of our world? I get to work with the young citizens of our country when they are just 5 and 6 years old, for 10 consecutive months of their lives, seeing them for more hours in the day than their parents even get to see them. And even though I may only work with an average of 20 students each year, I can use my voice to help impact education at my school, in my district, and abroad, through the tools we have access to in this day in age.
When I picture myself making a difference, I envision a class of Kindergarteners with no more tattling, because they’ve learned to work out their differences without my help. I envision a group of students who can build and create to display their thinking, because they aren’t one-dimensional students who need paper/pencil every time. I envision students who collaboratively put their different strengths together to solve a problem, rather than preferring to work alone because it’s easier. I envision students pursuing their personal passions, even if no one student’s learning path looks the same as another, to become experts in what matters to them. These are ways I envision myself making a difference…creating group after group of prepared and thoughtful citizens, who will eventually become the adults and leaders in our society.
These are the thoughts and visions that led me to get my degree in Elementary Education, but these are also the thoughts and visions that temporarily came to a screeching halt when I was thrown out on my own during my first year of teaching. In our district, state, and nation, there is a large emphasis on the curriculum standards, particularly CORE standards (English Language Arts and Math), that students are expected to master by the end of each year. In elementary schools throughout the state of North Carolina, we have even transitioned to Standards Based Grading, where students are given a 1, 2, or 3 in each particular curriculum standard. I became a teacher to make a difference in our world and the people living in it, but without even realizing it, my focus had shifted to standards, standards, and more standards. As a first year teacher, and really as a teacher with any level of experience, the amount of “standards” that need to be taught and assessed each quarter seems astronomical; so naturally, this becomes the focus, and for me, it overshadowed the whole reason I became a teacher. At this point in my career, teaching the standards became like checking off a mandatory checklist that drove all my instruction. When teaching becomes centered around checking off boxes, our lessons lose relevance for the learners; and for me, I lost sight of the big picture, my why.
Teachers can’t get rid of the curriculum we’re expected to teach; in fact, we do need a curriculum to guide us and to ensure that our students are getting similar experiences, are being held to a set of common, high expectations, and are learning content skills that will help them be successful in the real world. But finally I realized…there are effective teachers out there finding a way to get it ALL in, not just the standards, but the real-life, 21st century learning skills also. After a year of building a comfort level with the curriculum and taking baby steps in 21st teaching and learning, I was ready to bring back my “why,” and more than before, make a real and true difference in the lives of students. Teaching the whole child isn’t simply about training a book-smart society, it’s about teaching the standards AND MORE.
Things are Looking Up
I am honored to be a part of the Instructional Leadership Team for my school, where we hear directly from our district, take part in learning about components of our district’s vision, and discuss as a team how we will tie these components into our school’s personal plan for improvement. It has been so refreshing to be a part of our district’s movement to #becomebetter for students, and to understand our new emphasis on both the standards and the 4Cs (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity). The 4Cs really are the foundation of relevant, 21st century learning…the 4Cs line up with all those visions I mentioned above. And even our district is now saying that these 2 things are linked together, so when I’m teaching the standards, I should be having the students learn and practice the standards by communicating and collaborating with one another, thinking critically, and coming up with creative solutions and ways of displaying their learning. When digging into our district’s vision, there is a new emphasis on teaching the WHOLE child…this is music to my ears! Teaching effective life skills is no longer something I feel like I have to creatively sneak into my day; I am actually being asked to align my why with the standards I am expected to teach.
Standards AND 4Cs
So how are we doing it in Kindergarten? Now that we’re starting to get over the first month of K beginning of the year hump, we used a fun project as a springboard for introducing the 4Cs as our foundation for the school year. This is a project that Linnea Gibson introduced me to and co-taught with me during my first year of teaching, but doing it again year 4 has allowed me to really link the standards and 4Cs, make it my own, and be even more intentional with the goals and learning I want students to walk away with. We worked with the story Spookley for about 2 weeks, thinking critically about the key ideas and details from the text (standard RLK.1). Students responded to the text in writing by completing the picture and illustrating a scene from the story (standard WK.3). We compared the story Spookley, a fictional story about a square pumpkin, to a nonfiction story about how pumpkins grow and change (standard RLK.5).
It is easy to see how we linked this story to our reading and writing standards over these weeks, but to culminate our unit with the book, we focused in on a key detail from the story: the problem with the fence in the pumpkin patch. The fence broke, and many pumpkins rolled out of the fence into the ocean during a storm. Spookley helped save the day by using his square shape to block the crack in the fence. Our job was to create a new solution to the story: using a chosen material, students were put into groups to collaboratively build a fence with their material. Students were asked to build a strong fence that would not break when the storm came and shook up the pumpkins.
Before making an official plan, we focused on communication and critical thinking. Students first chose the material they wanted to use. Then in their group, they took turns thinking critically about and communicating their individual ideas for the fence, and responding/giving feedback to the ideas that were shared.
Shout out to my teammate Claire Morrison for taking the risk to jump in and try this project with her students too (during her first year of teaching)! This open-ended element of the project is something I would have been so scared to try my first year…how would Kindergarten students have productive and effective conversations without an adult present to facilitate each group? But with a structured protocol and role play modeling beforehand, they CAN! You just have to let them try it, even if it seems like organized chaos!
To make their official plans, we focused on collaboration and creativity. Students each took on a job in designing the plan they had communicated about the day before, and made their own creative, collaborative plan. I also completed our 4C anchor chart shown below.
Shoutout to another teammate, Kelsey Clarke, for intentionally integrating the 4 Cs with her kinders on this project also!
After breaking the large task into smaller daily sub-tasks, with explicit modeling and instruction on the 4 Cs, each group successfully built their fences! We tested them with pumpkins, I shook up their fence for a storm, and every fence was strong enough to hold the pumpkins inside!
It could’ve been easy to skip the fence building part of the project. We had already checked off standards RLK.1, RLK.5, and WK.3…why do anything else with the story? But if I chose to skip out on opportunities like this culminating Spookley project all year long, I would deprive my students of practicing and building on the skills they will need to be valuable and effective citizens in society. If all I did was teach the standards, I would be creating one-dimensional learners, who may or may not even be interested in learning the standards without the relevance the 4 Cs bring. Most of us did not sign up for education to teach standards, but to MAKE A DIFFERENCE. If we don’t bring relevance to how students are learning, practicing, and problem-solving through the curriculum, our learners will not be empowered, and we will NOT make a difference in the way our society functions. The WCPSS district is encouraging us to link the standards and the 4 Cs together, so those of us in this district don’t even have an excuse to deprive students of this connection that brings relevance to the curriculum. Educators, let’s not forget our why….let’s communicate with one another; collaborate to think of projects like these; and think critically about how to get it all in; so that we can help create a multi-dimensional, well-rounded group of problem finders and solvers that help make our world a better place.
Every year is a chance to become better! When I first started teaching, I was surprised that I wasn’t the only one in the building there before August, already setting up, cleaning out, and preparing for a new class. Being a brand new teacher, it was obvious why I was there: I had a new classroom to de-junk; new management systems and procedures to create; new tools, programs, and protocols to learn; and a million things to wrap my head around. But as I enter into my 4th year of teaching, I’m starting to see why all teachers, not just first year teachers, have hours of work ahead in order to re-start a school year.
A teacher’s summer usually comes to a rude awakening when she enters her classroom for the very first time of the new school year, only to find every piece of furniture piled in 1 corner of the room. After days of rearranging and cleaning out junk you find that you didn’t know existed, your mindset shifts to the “list.” You know…the one that you made during the school year of all the things you would do during the summer when you had all that extra time that no longer exists. You start quickly prioritizing the list, knowing that you’ll never get it all done before the students arrive. Wait. THE STUDENTS?! Amidst all the paperwork and crazy beginning of the year deadlines, you have to prepare your room for your new class of STUDENTS. And then it hits you (particularly in the world of Kindergarten)- these are BEGINNING OF THE YEAR Kindergarteners….most of them won’t be able read or write, much less sit still for 5 minutes! Then you start digging into old lesson plans just to remember what to even teach the first week of school. And all these stresses exist even WITHOUT changing other factors like school, grade level, teammates, and classroom. There are hardly enough hours to get your room ready for a new class, much less to get everything ready with improvements to the year before.
Experience definitely makes things easier. It gives you a structure to start with and a comfort level with the responsibilities of day-to-day teaching. But throughout the school year, little things jump out that need improvement in the classroom, whether it be an issue of management, organization, or instruction. And in the moment, it’s hard to make those improvements. That’s why there will probably never come a year when I don’t spend parts of summer thinking and planning for the next year. So I’m learning that the beginning of the year cleaning, stress, and preparation does get easier; it just doesn’t go away. You shift from thinking about how you’re going to create something out of nothing, to how you’re going to tweak something to make it better.
I want to hold myself accountable to yearly change, so here you have it: my first annual post where I will reflect on aspects from the last year, and set goals for how I want to improve them for the next! These action steps are works in progress…but as I put them in place and these aspects of my classroom transform, I plan to go into more depth, reflecting on these changes and sharing resources that might be helpful along the way!
1. Buzzworthy Work Bulletin Board
Rather than my current bulletin board with 22 clips holding up 22 pieces of student work, this board will now display pictures of student collaboration in action and QR codes with digital creations that students have made! I want to use the bulletin board in my room to showcase student learning, creations, and projects in a new and improved way.
2. Furniture: Out with the Old, in with the Innovative!
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been gradually de-cluttering my classroom and moving furniture to make more room for spaces that impact student learning. This year, I moved out a teacher desk and some shelving. With a more open room, I am excited to bring a Makerspace/STEM corner to my classroom, where old recyclables will be stored and reused and where students will get opportunities to problem-solve and create.
3. Wonder Wall/Friday Genius Hour
I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around how I’m going to begin Genius Hour- a weekly time for students to pursue and learn about their personal passions- with my kinders; but I know that as the year progresses, we’ll get there together! I’m excited to create a Wonder Wall in my room, where students can post curiosities or questions they have. This new classroom feature can serve as a spring board for Genius Hour research, and also for whole class project based learning throughout the year!
4. Re-vamped Morning Meeting
As part of our school improvement plan action steps, our school is going school-wide with morning meetings this year! I hope to learn some new ideas to revamp this morning time my students and I use to start our day. Some ideas I’m already thinking about: Rather than always getting individual student responses around the circle, I’d like to incorporate more productive partner talk, so that we can cover more topics and have more discussion, with a little less sharing out. I’d also like to diversify our topics for discussion, for example: class mission/rules, compliments, concerns, what students are proud of/working on, feelings, academic goals, content review.
This year, rather than just using CMAPP (Wake County’s curriculum guide) as a resource for homework (worksheets), I have created a homework grid. The purpose of this optional grid is to provide flexibility/choice (16 tasks, all month to do it, pick the task you’re in the mood for), teach responsibility (students practice “school” skills at home to get better at them, and color the box after completion), and make homework and learning fun (tasks that get students moving and working on academic/social skills in play-based, collaborative, and family oriented ways). This homework grid will give students a resource to engage in practicing skills across the curriculum.
6. Nonfiction Leveled Readers for Research
As we work toward more voice and choice for students and more opportunities for students to research what they are passionate about, I need a greater variety of information sources for students to use. Digital tools are always great, and we have many at our disposal. But there will always be a place for books too! One challenge with K students is their (sometimes) limited reading skills. So this year, I hope to find some nonfiction leveled readers, varied in topic and also rich in information, for students to have as another research tool.
7. Easier + More Effective Data Tracking System
This one scares me, because it is a big undertaking! With K students, another challenge is conducting assessments: they usually have to be done one-on-one and take anywhere from 3-20 minutes per student depending on what is being assessed. It is a huge time waster and keeps classroom teachers from actually teaching the skills that need to be assessed. However as educators, we really need formative assessment to drive our instruction. My goal is to look at our quarterly curriculum standards, how they tie into the broad report card clusters that parents see, and for each quarter, to create a series of quick assessments/checklists that will drive our teaching and more clearly tie to report cards. As I figure out how to ensure that this new system aligns with district requirements, I will continue to share on how our new data tracking system goes!
8. Digital Portfolios
What if, by the time that each student graduated high school, he or she had a portfolio of work, all in one digital location, displaying both learning over time and showcasing his or her best work throughout the years? Rather than placing a grade on the child, a portfolio shows the potential and growth in any learner; increases motivation as students write and create for an audience; provides an opportunity for practical, 21st century learning; and saves student work collectively in a portfolio that can be shared with others. Our goal as a Kindergarten team is to have our students each creating their own digital portfolios through Google Sites, where they link their work (in Google or other forms of media) to showcase learning over time; and hopefully students will continue to add to their portfolios over the years as they learn and grow!
So here I go into year number 4! To my 2017-2018 batch of students: I am so excited to meet all of you, and to learn & take risks with you this school year!! Let’s do this!
In the past, my Kinders have always participated in “shared research.” With a whole or small group, I have modeled how to use various tools for research (W.K.7), I’ve shown how to scan through the text to seek out the important parts, and I’ve shared how I can use this information (W.K.8) to write informational text all about a topic (W.K.2). From there, students used the information that we collected in our shared research to follow my modeling and also write all about that same topic.
And I recognized that while I was on the right track, showing students the importance of research in 21st century learning, I was the one picking the topic, doing the work, giving the information, and modeling the writing. Students, rather than gathering their information through research, were gathering their information from me to write all about a topic. Additionally, students were learning about a topic as a group – a topic that I chose for them to watch me research and potentially one that they had no interest in. I was the one doing, rather than them.
When I asked myself how to change it up and make this a more valuable experience, I was overwhelmed: overwhelmed with the idea of how to give a class of K students choice in what they researched, overwhelmed with how students would be able to independently gather information through research with limited reading skills, and overwhelmed with the idea of how to effectively organize personalized research for 22 Kindergarteners, where they have access to a variety of tools,
It was a risk, but one that I wanted and needed to take. In this post, you’ll see the steps I took to make it happen, the sharing and collaboration that started to take place among teachers along the way, and my reflections on the success of the project.
I broke the project into a 3 week time span.
Week 1- the research
Week 2- the “all about” books
Week 3- green screen informational movies
Week 1: The Research
I knew if students were going to be researching different topics, they would be working in small groups with common interests. So I figured that learning stations would be the best way to organize the research that went into the project. While I wanted to give voice and choice to students in this research project, I also knew that to make the project more effective for them and less scary for me, there needed to be some structure also. I narrowed it down to animal research, and from there, picked a diverse variety of animals students could pick from. On a simple, hand-written slip of paper, students ordered the animals 1-5, based on their research preferences; and from there, I was able to group students into research small groups. Students’ choices and interests were varied, allowing me to give them either 1st or 2nd choice.
5 animals meant 5 learning stations, and student small groups would rotate through all the different stations in 1 week: the 2 teacher-led stations (by me and my TA) would be the stations where the bulk of the new learning took place, and the other 3 would be more observational-based learning stations. We did one rotation per day during our 20-30 minute writing block each day. Each animal group had a folder, which gave them their task/materials for that day’s research. This is how I kept the stations organized, and, after thorough modeling, how students knew what to do during their station. Students knew that after all of this research, the goal was for them to know the characteristics of their animal, their animal’s habitat, what their animal eats, along with any other information that they find to be interesting about their animal and what it can do. Participating in these research stations would allow me to assess W.K.7, how well and effectively students participated in shared research.
Station 1: Brainpop/Make a Map: I led this station, as students would be logging into their individual Brainpop accounts, watching an informational video, and using the “make a map” tool to show their new learning.
Station 2: Habitat: Students observed pre-printed pictures of their animal’s habitat (located in their folder), and from their observations, spent time drawing and labeling the parts in their animals’ habitats.
Station 3: “Nonfiction Boxes”: This is one of my “work on writing” centers that students are already familiar with, which is why I thought it would fit perfectly into an independent research station. While looking at pictures/info about their animal, students wrote down observational facts about the animal.
Station 4: Informational read-aloud/puppet making: My TA led this station. She read them information about their animal using an animal encyclopedia, asked several comprehension questions for discussion after the reading, and then monitored while they made a “puppet” of their animal. This is the puppet they would use in the culminating green screen project.
Station 5: Pic Kids app: Students used a grid within the tool Pic Kids to insert photos of their animal and write can, have, are facts about their animal collaboratively.
Students rotated through the stations during week 1, periodically reflecting in their journals along the way.
Week 2: The All About Books
After a week of research, it was time to apply their learning to write informational text. Students were now going to organize their learning onto a planning sheet, and from there, create their all about books. Their planning sheet contained 4 sections for them to organize their information, indicated by pictures: characteristics, habitat, diet, and other interesting information. Students worked for a couple of writing blocks to plan, and a couple of writing blocks to make their books. This was the section of the lesson that addressed the majority of the learning objectives: W.K.8 (recalling information from research) and W.K.2 (write informational text).
Once we finished the planning and writing of our books, students buddied up to peer edit their “all about” books: they gave each other feedback, and checked each book with a writer’s checklist. This was the first time I had my students use a writer’s checklist collaboratively, rather than independently, and it was the most successful my kinders have ever been using this rubric tool! 2 brains are better than 1!
Week 3: Green Screen Informational Movies
As an extension of W.K.8 (recalling research), I wanted students to work together to create informational green screen movies on their animal, and consequently create a teaching tool so that others could learn about their animal. Again, I was overwhelmed. How were small groups of Kindergarteners going to take their individual notes and information to make collaborative, collective green screen scripts. I wracked my brain for the best way, and thank goodness I ran into Chris Tuttell that morning! She took the best of my ideas, added her own ideas, and we had a plan.
Each animal small group worked at a table, with each student holding their individual scripts. Students in the 4-5 student animal small group formed smaller groups by partnering up and taking on 1-2 sections of the planning sheet. They partnered together to share their sentences in their particular assigned section (for example: habitat), and from there, partners circled the sentences between the 2 that best summarized and taught others about that section. Then, the partners in the small group came back together as a whole, and shared their circled sentences with a recorder in the group, who made the official script for each section.
To make it kinder-friendly, the script template was structured very similarly to their original story planning sheet.
Once the script was completed, we made copies for each team member and highlighted their respective lines. Students rehearsed and were ready to make their informational movies.
As we wrapped up this project, I was left with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. I had taken a risk, it actually worked, students actually learned, and best of all, they had so much fun. In listening to their sweet voices in these green screen movies, I can hear a confidence and maturity in some of my students that I’ve never heard before. I love how certain tools can excite students in ways that I, nor they, ever imagined.
Click here to see our final green screen informational movies!
Collaboration Along the Way
Collaboration is where I should have started with this project, but since I had never tried anything quite like it with Kindergarteners, and struggled to find online resources/information of other K teachers who had tried it, I felt like the idea may not work and wanted to try it before mentioning it to my team. Once I started my research learning stations, I got excited that it was working and, with that boost of confidence, started sharing with my team! They were immediately excited about the structure, yet voice and choice, in the research project and started the project in their own classrooms, with slight adjustments/differences that helped fit the project to the learning and needs of their own students.
Kelsey Clarke, one of my teammates, and myself had meanwhile been anticipating a visit to our classrooms from Lisa Poirier, a K teacher we have connected with this year through different PD, events, and of course, Twitter! It so happened that Lisa was coming to observe our literacy blocks, and was able to see both of our projects in action. She got the perspective of my project, as we wrapped up the all about books and started making our green screen scripts…
Lisa, also excited about personalized research for her littles, took back some ideas as she began the project in her own classroom! Each of our projects had slight differences in implementation and outcome, but were all derived from the same common theme and idea.
After we all finished up the project, we used the green screen videos from each class as teaching tools: students teaching students about their animal. To amplify overall student learning, we gave students the opportunity to view the green screen movies of all 3 classes, and then Kelsey, Lisa, and I connected through Google Hangout for some student reflection.
It was amazing to hear students speak to what was easy and challenging in the project, what they really enjoyed about the project, along with the similarities and differences that they noticed between the 3 projects. Lisa’s class even asked for some tips for collaboration, to which students from the other 2 classes responded saying things like “Don’t fight…be kind! Listen to all members. Remember, it’s not just about 1 person’s idea…it’s about what everyone thinks!” These student-created green screen movies became authentic teaching tools, and gave us the chance to connect and reflect with others for added relevance and excitement.
My Own Reflections
What would I change next time?
>Next time, I would start with collaboration, rather than end there. Collaboration up-front will help finalize those challenges/intimidations before starting. Now that this project won’t really seem like a risk anymore, it should be easy starting here next time.
>Brainpop jr. is such a great tool with lots of new features. I had created individual student accounts, so that students could watch the video and make-a-map in their individual accounts. Little did I know that the video software was out of date on half of my desktops and would not play the videos. So we got creative. Sometimes, we would watch the video as a whole group, then go into our individual accounts to make a map. Sometimes, for sake of time, we’d watch the video together and then students would make a map as a small group, taking turns with the dragging and typing. Next time, I would have my students already familiar with how to login and utilize Brainpop in their individual accounts, and also ensure that the proper updates were already put in place on the desktops.
>I would love to make my stations more rigorous and more learning-packed next time. This time, I had some stations where actual learning and research took place, but other stations were more observational, simply looking at pictures to gather information. When taking a risk, sometimes we add in elements that bring a sense of comfort and make a task seem more doable. That way, when attempting it again later, those original risks seem less scary, and make room for new risks you might take the next time around. So next time, I would like my kinders using additional tools in their research stations, for a wider variety of experience and learning. Maybe youtube kids? NC Wise Owl? Pebble Go? Discovery Ed? Adding a variety of nonfiction easy readers to my classroom library? Not only would I like to add new research tools, but have my students already accustomed to using them when they get into their learning stations for a research project. As research is such a relevant skill, I’d love for student research to become a consistently-used skill, rather than a skill simply used for 1 big research project.
>Quality-wise, Google Hangout was a bit lacking when it came to the visual and sound elements. We’re wondering if there’s a way to connect and reflect more clearly?
>This time, I gave voice and choice on what animal students researched. As I continue trying this project in future years, I can’t wait to see how it will grow. Some possibilities I’m contemplating: How could I structure it for students to choose their research tools? Rather than having everyone complete a green screen movie as their culminating teaching tool, how could I give student choice in the teaching tool they will each create? These are all possibilities that would have seemed overwhelming during my first trial run of the project, but possibilities I now feel inspired to consider, in collaboration with my teammates.
As always, my little ones have proven to me that #kindersCAN. Throughout and after the project, I shared my hesitations with them in trying this research project, and how it was scary for me to turn it over to them, knowing how chaotic all of the different topics and tools could get with a room of little people. But I told them that I believed in them, because they had never given me a reason not to. And as they worked, they took part in similar reflections. Throughout the week, we took time to reflect and describe what we were finding easy and hard in our research. Seeing my students’ awareness and grasp of their own learning, just as I had shared my own reflections with them, was powerful.
Each time I do this project, I believe that it will get better and more effective. And at some point, maybe research will stop being referred to as a project in my classroom, and become a frequently and consistently integrated tool for learning and exploring our personal curiosities……maybe #geniushour is in our near future!
It’s amazing how mindset – a single word and concept – can be detrimental to teaching and learning, but can also be the reason for teacher and student success. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on mindset, how it affects success, and how teacher and student mindsets also affect one another.
My mindset- that of the educator:
Working many hours outside of the 8 hour day, taking the time to connect to a PLN of other educators, voluntary PD, educational reading and book studies by choice – all signs of an educator who is continuing as a learner, and consequently, an educator with the right mindset. For some, dedicating extra time throughout the week to plan, share, and learn is a priority; but for others, these things are just “more to add to the plate.” So what’s the difference between the teacher volunteering extra time to learn and the teacher who refers to these same actions as “too much” or “overwhelming”? It’s a mindset.
Just to clarify, there are times that any job can become overwhelming; and teachers definitely experience this feeling at times throughout the school year. But when “overwhelming” turns into an excuse to avoid risk-taking, that’s when it becomes more of a mindset issue. My own mindset has been transforming from the beginning of my journey in education. To give a small example, when I started my student teaching over 3 years ago, I remember being initially surprised there was a weekly grade-level planning time (boy, did I have a lot to learn)…I assumed that teachers who had been teaching a while would just use last year’s plans to get them through each week. Those thoughts reflected my current mindset: not only did I have so much to learn about the importance of collaborative planning, but these thoughts also revealed my thinking that teachers could dedicate less time and effort to the job if they just re-used the same plans each year. Finding ways to save time can be very valuable for educators, but again, should not be an excuse to deny your students of the experience they deserve. Reflecting now and having learned so much since carrying those initial misconceptions, it’s scary to think where students today would be if we all just used “last year’s plans” every year. Sadly though, this detrimental mindset does exist; and there are teachers in our own district and beyond teaching today’s students with yesterday’s lessons and tools.
A big part of what has helped transform my own mindset over the years are other inspiring teachers and leaders constantly striving to #becomebetter. Educators are more likely to think and act with a growth, learner’s mindset when they are inspired by a leader who has one. The amount of hours we put in doesn’t define our mindset, but our thinking, along with the questions we ask ourselves, do. Every educator out there should be able to explain the steps they are taking to continue learning, and if not, then how do you expect your students to be a learner in your classroom?
So are we satisfied where we are now, or are we dedicating time to become better for our kids?
Their mindset- that of the learner:
The learner’s mindset is related to and affected by the teacher’s mindset. If you’re bored with a lesson, they probably are too. If you’re doubting your students’ ability to successfully reach your expectations, they probably are too. If you aren’t taking risks and learning more, why should they take risks and learn more? We have to model the mindset we want for our students. When teachers inspire a classroom culture of joy and innovation, combined with a strong sense of community where “mistakes” are part of the process, a growth mindset for learners will start to take shape.
I’m open with my students when I’m taking a risk with an activity they’re working on. And at the end of the lesson, after asking them to personally reflect on how it went, I often share my own “teacher” reflection with them: What went well with the lesson from my perspective? What surprised me? What would I do differently if I were going to teach this lesson again? In being transparent with my kinders, I’ve seen an increase in student self-esteem and less fear of making mistakes in the classroom. By modeling my own truthful reflections, I’ve also seen more honesty when they reflect on their success with a lesson.
We all have someone along the way who helps inspire this mindset within us. Even as educators, we look to leaders who model this type of mindset. It is my hope that each day as I strive to model this mindset, I will inspire my students to take risks and become better too.
I set my alarm to wake up at 6 a.m. yesterday. Yes, yesterday was a Saturday, and no, I was not forced to do so. And as I sit here reflecting today, I can officially say that I GET IT – I get why all of these other educators want to spend their Saturday together learning at EdCamps. Yesterday’s EdCamp Wake experience was full of amazing learning and connecting; and EdCamps, by design, set themselves up for these genuine experiences: attendees write down what they want to learn about, and sessions are generated based directly off of these ideas. These sessions are packed full of great information…we ask questions, share thoughts, and simply learn from each other! I attended sessions on podcasting, technology for young learners, and PBL, leaving with many takeaways in addition to takeaways gained through collaborative session notes and following the #EdCampWake twitter hashtag during the day.
But what resounds inside me most after yesterday’s experience is a thought that is in many ways new to me, and one I’ve kept coming back to for the past month: the value in being a connected educator and the excitement and learning that it brings.
We, as educators, are so much more powerful together than we are individually. Without sharing and connecting, we would each have to do all of the inventing and work ten times harder. And there is so much going on beyond the walls of just one school. During this day in age, connecting with those at your school in meetings/collaborative planning times isn’t always enough. The more people we connect with, the more fresh ideas we have access to. George Couros’ words resonate in my mind: Isolation is now a choice educators make.
So here are the ways that I am working to stay connected in the ever-changing world of education.
A month ago, I joined the Twitter world, and my biggest regret now is that I didn’t join sooner. I have learned so much from educators in my own school, in my district, and all over the state and beyond since creating a twitter account a month ago. How much more could I have shared and learned by getting on Twitter sooner? Outside from connecting with your own team and school, twitter is the first step to connecting on a larger scale. I have genuinely enjoyed expanding my PLN, spreading the #kindersCAN movement, and meeting and learning from so many awesome educators I never would have known, all through Twitter.
And another George Couros inspiration…
Looking forward to starting our own Twitter challenge at WES, in hopes of increasing staff motivation to connect on Twitter and join in the fun!
2 weeks have passed since my first blog post, and here I am on post number 3! Even in this short amount of time, I’m realizing how little I was taking the time to sit down and ask myself the same questions I ask my students to ask themselves: How did it go? What could I change for next time? Where am I in my learning? When you look at blogging as a reflection, it’s a lot less intimidating. And really, people learn the most from hearing the thinking behind an idea or the challenges someone faced in an experience. Blogging connects educators on an even deeper level, as we take the time to share, read, and respond to one another’s personal reflections.
Awesome PD that doesn’t feel like “PD”:
Convergence. NCTIES. EdCamp Wake. These are the experiences that bring innovative educators together and inspire us to keep raising the bar. These are the moments that we get to learn together face-to-face, while building and expanding our PLNs with new educators we meet and interact with. In addition to connecting us, PD like EdCamp Wake gives educators the personalized experiences we want to provide for our students: it groups us together by common interests in what we are seeking to learn and opens up the floor to discussion-based wonders, questions, and sharing.
We should never underestimate the value in class-to-class connections and opportunities for students. My kinders are currently connecting with kinders at nearby elementary school Underwood GT Magnet (teachers-Star and Tanya), to learn about community together as they seek to improve the community in some way. We’ve done a Google hangout, used Google maps to view and compare our schools, and have each student buddied up with a member of the opposite class to reflect and share with. (I’ll be sure to keep you posted on our kinder #20Time project and where it ends up taking us!) I share a little bit about this class-to-class connection to to say, that even just in these beginning stages of the project, it has been so exciting to see the meaning it has for the students and how they are so engaged in this authentic learning experience. Thanks to EdCamp there are lots of new ideas in the works for more collaborating across classrooms!
This is my weakness…I’ll go ahead and call myself out- it’s that same old excuse of not having the time. But it ends here. I usually keep an ongoing list of all the books I plan to read to further my professional growth, knowing that during the summer, I’ll order them all and read them when I have time. But I know I’m missing out on learning by waiting till summer. So I’m MAKING the time, and I’m starting today. I can’t wait to connect with educators by reading their stories and their learning. And by taking this step, I open myself up to the opportunity for additional book studies with other educators.
This whole idea of being connected is something Kelsey and I just shared about at a staff meeting this past Thursday…in hopes that more would want to become part of this awesome, connected world of educators – a world that I am newly discovering. So one of my biggest joys this weekend was seeing 2 of our staff members, Hayley Parker (3rd grade teacher) and Sarah Kichefski (P.E. teacher), get twitter accounts and join us at EdCamp Wake! While our profession is all about the kids, our fellow educators are also teaching kids. So it’s just as important for us to spread the fire of passion and innovation to other educators, as it is important to implement passion and innovation with our own students. We want to increase the overall impact we’re having on kids. To me, our school is now 2 steps further from isolation with 2 new teachers on board to connect and learn more.
Being connected is all part of how we reflect on our practice. I used to make excuses about the time commitments of being connected, but in reality, we make time for what is important to us. Being connected is a new priority for me…and I can’t wait to see where it continues to take me in my teaching and learning!