Sunday, August 30, 2009

Unplugged. Offline. Uni-tasking.

This weekend I spent Saturday on the McCready homestead in Chandlersville, an Ohio Century Farm, canning tomatoes, picking grapes and canning juice, and later, exhausted but content in the porch swing on the gazebo watching the sun go down. No cell service. No email. No texting.

In this über-connected 24/7 culture (there's even my BlackBerry app called ÜberTwitter), I'm working to give myself at least one day a week unplugged and offline. My department and I have vowed to allow weekends for respite, with at least one day of "no emailing" allowed. A genuine sabbath, rest and renewal, so we can return to work recharged.

That's hard in a society that admires multitasking.

I suspected I'd crossed the line of multi-tasking and constant e-connectivity when I started keeping my laptop on the breakfast table. You know, just to check emails and online news.

Here we have a small made-for-two drop leaf table in the kitchen with coffee mugs, cereal bowls, newspapers. And my computer.

Friday morning Bob says to me, "Do you need fish oil?"
"What's official?" I reply, not missing a Tweet, but missing the conversation across the table.

I've been reading recent research that shows not only the ineffectiveness, but even the dangers of multitasking (like using the cellphone while driving). We now know that multitasking may not lead to higher productivity.

Today's NYT carried a fun and sardonic (okay, snarky) article on the editorial page. The title: The Mediocre Multitasker. Ouch!

So, I'm working on slowing down and uni-tasking. Won't you join me? Let's take small steps toward slowing down, showing up, and doing just one thing at a time.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Instructional Season

Two-A-Days. If you've played high school football or marched with the high school band, you're already familiar with this term. If not, let me explain. Towards the end of summer vacation and the beginning of the school year, teams and bands often practice twice a day: once in the morning and again in the afternoon or evening. The purpose of Two-A-Days is not to tire out the kids (although that can be an added benefit!). Coaches and band directors structure this double dose of practice to help kids get into shape for the season and to give ample opportunities for players and musicians to learn new routines and procedures.

Maybe we should pay attention to what our extra-curricular colleagues can teach us. Here are a few practical ways to use Two-A-Days to create the kind of classroom you want, the kind your students need.

  • Have a routine or procedure in your classroom that just isn't going as smoothly as it should? Try a Two-A-Day. Practice once in the morning or at the beginning of the bell, then rehearse it again at the end.
  • Want to reinforce a student's appropriate behavior or praise a child who needs encouragement? Give them a double dose. Two-A-Days will let the student know that you care and that you're noticing their efforts.
  • Need to build your students' background knowledge for an upcoming unit or challenging topic? Create some new schema by reading short content-area text to your guessed it, twice a day.

The list could go on and on. Two-A-Days are a reminder to us that redundancy is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it gives students an extra chance for needed practice, and gets us all in shape for the "instructional season" ahead. Let's get on the field and play!

For more ideas about academic routines and managerial procedures, check out this link from Scholastic. The research and practical tips given are perfect reading for this time of year. Maybe you should even read it twice!



Monday, August 24, 2009

Wired for Learning

Google, Skype, My Space, You Tube, Twitter, Wikis, voice threads and the list goes on. How did our students become so tech-savvy? Were they born that way? Sometimes it seems so. Today's students certainly know their way around the digital world, but are often forced to "power-down" at school.

The ability to use supportive technologies for inquiry- and problem-based learning is a critical skill for 21st century learners. As a result, critical literacies have been redefined. Basic literacy skills of decoding, predicting, and summarizing are not sufficient for today's students. Instead, students must become critical consumers of information from multiple sources, questioning the contexts, purposes, biases, and applications.

As a result, today's classrooms must be "elastic," going beyond the confining walls of physical space. Today's classroom environments must integrate virtual learning experiences, on-line learning, and cyberspace learning communities.

If you are like me, with one foot in the twentieth century and another foot in the twenty-first century, this requires a reality check (not to mention the acquisition of new skills and new ways of thinking). If you dare to join me on this digital learning journey, check out the links below.

Click here for a digital version of Bloom's Taxonomy (I LOVE this!)

Click here for Larry Ferlazzo's list of Top Tools for Learning (You have to look at this!)

Click here to learn more about 21st century skills

See you in cyberspace!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Build Classroom Community w/ Read Alouds

The first week of school is made of lesson plans, forgotten bus numbers and piles of emergency medical forms. It's a week filled with new routines & procedures, a week with not a minute to spare.

In spite of the crazy-busy pace we keep during the first week with our students, we know that one thing trumps all else when it comes to getting our classrooms up and going: building classroom community. The choices we make during this formative period of the school year influence everything that happens afterward.

Naturally, our new students want to know who their teachers are and what time their lunch period begins. But what they really want to know is, "Will my new teacher care about me?" Poet Kalli Dakos says it best in her poem, The Best Thing I Can Say About My Teacher.

"She did not care
As much about
Page 55,
As she did

Of course we can start to build community with our students right away.We can learn their names quickly and make connections with their families. We can plan activities that allow us to uncover their interests. We can also choose books to read aloud that emphasize the community values of our classrooms and foster personal, purposeful conversation about what matters most

Looking for a few great titles to read aloud during the first few days of school? Titles that strengthen classroom community? Look no further. Follow these links and you'll find books that emphasize persistence, cooperation, creativity and more.

Choice Literacy

Mad Hot Literacy

Education World

When the school year has started and the dust begins to settle, reply to this post and let us know what titles you selected for read alouds during the first week of school!


PS Thanks for being part of our little community.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Small Moments

It was a departure like many others throughout the years. Mom and Dad standing on the driveway waving good-bye, me fumbling around pretending to check the gas gauge while fighting the lump in my throat. After all these years, saying goodbye was still not easy.

And then I saw it. I looked up and saw my mother in a way I had never seen her before. She seemed more frail than I remembered. She looked smaller and a wisp of white hair hung down on her face. Her eyes still twinkled, but there were lines and a hollowness to her face that I had not seen before. I knew in that moment things had changed. I knew I would call her more often. I knew I would try to be a better daughter.

Small moments like this can teach us if we are open to learn, even in our professional lives. When August 24th arrives children will spill out of the buses, into our classrooms and into our hearts. We will be busy all year long... pouring over pacing guides and indicators, planning short-cycle assessments, making parent phone calls. We will arrive at school early and go home late. And we will continue to work at this frantic pace for 184 more days.

But within those 185 days there are thousands of small moments waiting to be discovered. Small moments with great lessons just waiting to be learned. Maybe it will be a lesson about you as a teacher. Maybe it will be a lesson about you as a colleague. Whatever the lesson, here's to wishing you many small moments throughout the 2009-10 school year. I hope you laugh, I hope you have a lump in your throat. For these are the small moments that make us real.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Celebrate the gate


There. I said it.

I have a love/hate relationship with this month. I hate it because it means less time with my family, less leisure, less sleep. To everything there is a season, however, as Ecclesiastes reminds us. My family will soon be moving into their busy new Fall schedules, anyway, and I'll start to treasure the extra leisure and sleep the weekends bring.

I love August because it signals an entrance to new learning, new experiences, new relationships. Since we're on a traditional schedule here at West Clermont, August is like a gate for us. It marks the time when we begin to write "2009-10" on every document, when we talk about last year like it was an eternity ago. It's a welcoming gate, unlocked, that bids us in with the promise of better times ahead.

I'm glad I have friends to walk with as we enter this month, friends in West Clermont and beyond. Let's stick together this year through email, telephone conversations, blog posts and Starbucks meetings, of course. Let's go through the gate together.


(Photo of Tanny's gate, this year's birthday present from her family. As seen through her kitchen window.)