Thursday, February 21, 2019

Powerful Shifts in Learning

When technology started to become an integral part of our lives, I used to tell my students that the jobs they would get had not been invented yet.
This season, over turkey and eggnog, I realized that the time had already arrived. Chatting with my children, nephews and nieces, and other family members, I realized that I had no idea what their job titles meant and that I could not have imagined that job even a decade ago.
My next thought was – what are we doing to keep up with our students and the world that they will inherit? Are we making the necessary changes so that they leave us ready to take on the world and be successful in life and career? I started to think back at my teaching career and how each year meant one more layer of something – cooperative learning, multiple intelligences, literacies and technology, etc. – and how unwieldy it became as all these little pieces added to an already crowded and difficult timeline.
Just in time, I saw this article by Terry Heick (January 3, 2019) and it mirrored my feelings about the future of the classroom, and it also gave some pointers towards a path for making the necessary changes to meet those future needs. What the pragmatist in me liked is that it referred to “shifts” not “changes” and that “the most compelling and powerful trends, concepts, and resources that represent its promise” were already available (and didn’t require tons of money and hours of training).
Even the title Tomorrow’s Learning Today: 7 Shifts To Create A Classroom Of The Future didn’t leave me breathless and exhausted but curious and hopeful.
Before even getting into the meat of the article, the author acknowledged the biggest challenge that teachers face: IMPLEMENTATION. By addressing this first and stating that “many of the elements of a progressive learning environment…work together…and, that collectively they can reduce the burden on those managing the learning because they place the learner at the center…” gave me a feeling of I Can Do This. The new shifts use “integration” not “tacking on”.
The seven shifts made sense to me, but the last two made my heart sing… “Spaces and places matter”… “authentic learning experiences allow learners to self-direct personal change in pursuit of social change–and that starts small, at home and surrounding intimate communities” and finally “self-directed learning is at the core of the future of learning”.
Small changes make for big results in the end. I can teach to this end.
Happy New Year!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Blended Learning - New Idea or Trend?

Blended learning is one of our new “go to” pieces of educational jargon.  It seems everyone is either doing it, thinking about it, or planning to do it.  It sports different names – blended education, hybrid learning, flipping the classroom and is being touted as the new way to deliver instruction. 

So what is blended learning?  It is a model of delivery of instruction that combines classroom and online education.  This trend is propelled forward by the reality of the way we live - surrounded by technology.  Why only last evening, I asked Siri to wake me up at six; then asked her to send a message to my children and set a reminder to take the potatoes off the stove.  I also dictated notes to myself about new ideas for my lesson during my daily walk and had Siri e-mail them to me. 

As teachers we incorporate and apply theories; design lessons using varied strategies; and look to meet the needs of students that have different learning styles and requirements.  It’s part of the job and the only differences are the tools at our disposal.  When I started teaching we relied on mimeograph machines, overhead projectors, and books for research. Now we have wireless printers, smart classrooms, and instant access to information via the internet. 

The tools have changed. 

What hasn’t changed is the fact that we still need to teach our students to think critically and to evaluate what they read, regardless of where the information comes from.

For our students to be engaged, we need to keep pace with them and embrace the ways they use to communicate.  The tools for education and the way we use them must be relevant in order to engage students in the importance of the content.  If the way we deliver the message is antiquated, then why would our students think that the subject is any less so. 

Tapping into prior knowledge, frontloading, and all the tricks of our trade have just had a face lift.  Watching a lecture ahead of time, engaging peers in an online discussion, uploading assignments to the teacher’s website and receiving annotated responses is only the next level of using the tools at our disposal.  The need to move our students to higher and deeper levels of thinking hasn’t changed.

So….is blended learning a revolutionary new idea or just the latest trend in our educational pendulum?

Maybe it is either or both.  It doesn’t matter.  What we do with it is what matters.

And, by the way, the potatoes came out wonderful !  Thank you Siri.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Chasing Beautiful Questions

“What if you found that creative genius does not lie in knowing all of the answers?”  That’s how a relatively boring flight to visit family became an adventure in revamping some of my favorite lessons.  As I rapidly approach the beginning of the school year (for the 40th time), I am starting to think of lessons, activities, and how to motivate my students for yet another year.

When I started teaching, I felt that my main purpose was to provide my students with the correct answers to their questions.  The problem turned out to be what whatever was the correct answer to the question one day could very well be the wrong answer the next day.  I also became troubled by the idea that I was producing clones of myself as my students adopted my “interpretations” of literature, events, and life, in general.  I then started to think about the power of questions – but not just any questions – the ones that matter and to which we don’t have the answers.

About the time I started training teachers, I had given up on the futile attempt of giving answers and announced to my students that if they came to my class looking for answers, they would be disappointed because I had none.  Instead, we could spend our time looking at questions that are interesting and see if we could find some answers that made sense.

The article “Chasing Beautiful Questions” started me thinking of how – forty years later – we are still engaged in providing answers instead of promoting questions in the classroom.  “What is a beautiful question?  It’s one that challenges assumptions, considers new possibilities, and has potential to serve as a catalyst for action and change.”  Organizing our thinking around what we don’t know is a perfectly plausible way to start each year, each semester, each day.  We can generalize about our student population, look at census data and test scores, but any answers we get are more likely to generate more questions rather than point to a definitive path. 

As teachers, we may feel uncomfortable with the idea of not having all of the answers and therefore discourage our students from asking too many “open-ended” questions.  It is also difficult to grade answers when each student is coming up with a different answer to the same question.  We are a system based on getting the right answer, and that answer needs to be known to us (the teachers) ahead of time.  Thus we shy away from “beautiful questions” because we are not certain that we have any beautiful answers.  But are beautiful answers what our students expect from us?  Or do they just want an opportunity to explore their own beautiful questions and all they want from us is encouragement and a bit of guidance?

Looking at how innovators come up with new ideas, the article shows us that questioning is a key to innovative thinking.  “To question well and productively requires stepping back from habits, assumptions, and familiar thoughts; listening to and closely observing the world around you; being unafraid to ask na├»ve or fundamental questions; and being willing to stay with the questions as you endeavor to understand and act on them.”

So maybe we need to start focusing on our questions and challenge our assumptions on a regular basis because, as Warren Berger states at the end of his article “answers have a way of becoming insufficient or obsolete over time.  Only the question endures.”

Monday, July 22, 2013

Additional Resources Added

Summer always seems to bring not only a time of reflection but a time of "spring cleaning" and preparing for the new school year. For me personally, it is also a time of packing and moving this particular summer...As I have been sorting and resorting, I decided it was time to add some resources to our blog in order to round out our "collections" for teachers.

That being said, I am distracted from our postings on the Common Core, but will be back commenting in future posts.

So...some recent additions to the blog include  under Picture File Cards. Cut and paste a passage and it will lift vocabulary and find sources for images. Great for making chants and poems more comprehensible.

Tag Galaxy finds images for you when you type in key words, and don't forget both National Geographic and National Geographic for Kids Photo Gallery kids.nationalgeographic/kids/photos/gallery/.

Two other recent picture file card additions include Kitzu - collections from Orange County Dept of Ed. and Calisphere - collections compiled by the University of California.

Other additions are GLAD units found on school sites like Forest Grove and North Clackamas. Find their links on the right-hand side of our blog...

And there is MORE!

I also added the GLAD resource book from Los Angeles Unified School district. Thank you Main Street teachers! It is a handy little booklet of GLAD strategies and pictures of those strategies from different grade levels. Many teachers have commented about how useful this little booklet is.

And last, but not least...Marcia Brechtel's book -- Bringing It All Together...a handbook on GLAD strategies written by the creator of the model.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

More Reflections - Common Core and English Language Learners

One of the reasons my partner and I started this blog several years ago was to provide resources for teachers that we were training in EL strategies, especially since nothing was "out there" for our particular audience at the time. Since then, we developed our website (which is a continuing work in progress) which also lists resources for teachers. Teachers find our sites incredibly helpful, especially when we are doing follow up and/or coaching.

I was recently reminded of the importance of mentioning authors of resources and links by Larry Ferlazzo, an ESL teacher based in the Sacramento, CA area who posts constantly about what is working or not working in his ESL classroom. He has some of the best sites for ELs listed on his blog site and tweets resources 30-40 times a day, believe it or not! Well, I have yet to get there. :)

Here is the title of one of his "bests" lists - The Best Resources For Learning About Common Core Standards and English Language Learners. The link is:

I have yet to peruse all of the articles listed on Larry's best list, but will pick out a couple of my favorites for my next posting. Since Common Core is on everyone in the teaching world's minds right now, I think it is an appropriate place to start when thinking about the new year that is fast approaching. Can't believe we are mid-way through the summer already!

I think another appropriate theme when thinking about the new teaching year and about Common Core is year-long planning--how to develop one and how to then develop units with strong common threads and connections.

So, thank you Larry Ferlazzo for your lists and fabulous resources and for inspiring me to keep on posting for the teachers and colleagues that I work with! Next post -- continuing with the Common Core and then on to year-long planning....

Friday, June 28, 2013


One school year has ended and the next is (hopefully after a time of rest) soon to begin. Summer is a good time to reflect upon what worked in my classes and what did not. What will I keep? What will I change? What will I eliminate? What would I like to tweak or try?

Reflective practice... is the habitual and judicious use of communication, knowledge, technical skills, reasoning, emotions, values and reflection in daily practice for the benefit of the individuals and communities being served. (Epstein and Hundert, 2002)

 Introduced in 1987 by Donald Schon, the concept of reflective practice is a way for beginning teachers to match their own practices to those of successful practitioners and for experienced educators to reflect on the effectiveness of their lessons and to be aware of the need to change practices and/or direction as their student population changes. As the concept grew in popularity, many schools, colleges, and departments of education began designing teacher education and professional development programs based on this concept.  
Unfortunately, in our need to reduce everything to its most basic components so that we can do it faster and have more people doing it, ended up giving us what Boud and Walker (1998) refer to as a “checklist” or “reflection on demand” mentality, where the reflective processes have no link to conceptual frameworks, and teachers are required to reflect without an established context for their particular teaching/learning situation. Reflection then becomes just another piece of “fluff and stuff” that teachers must do in order to maintain their status.

And yet…. reflecting on teaching is frequently cited as a fundamental practice for personal and professional development (Biggs, 2003; Boud et al., 1985; Lyons, 2002), although few see it as more than a time-consuming, abstract concept with no real practical benefits.

Reflecting on my practice as a teacher is what allowed me to spend over 40 years in education without burning out.  Teaching is complex and, as practitioners, we are faced with hundreds of decisions during our lesson planning as well as during delivery of said lesson.  It is the perfect example of “ongoing assessment” as we are led from the pre-assessment (or what our students know), to interim assessments (how the lesson is going and what our students are deriving from it), to summative assessments (what have we accomplished and what do our students know and are able to do).

The ability to reflect on what we do, how we do it and, especially, why we do it and then to develop, adapt, and change our plans to fit our particular student population – a population that is becoming ever so diverse in its composition and its needs – is what takes us on the road from newbie to expert.

Why do we need to make time to reflect now more than ever? 

The major changes in education make it necessary for us to rethink our role as teachers, to focus on curricular integration, teaching for meaning, interactive dialogue, socialization, and collaboration within the context of the classroom.  The move from the teacher-directed classroom has been in the making for many years, and yet we are, on a daily basis, bombarded by models, programs, and books that take away our ability to interact with our teaching environment and our students, by providing us with canned and scripted lessons that are only superficially interactive or meaningful.

If excellence in teaching, and improved educational outcomes for all students is what we aspire to achieve, then we need to regularly make time to evaluate our approaches to teaching and learning.  This includes knowing WHO are our students are and what their needs are; building partnerships within our schools, communities and businesses; establishing flexible learning environments utilizing those partnerships; creating new contexts for learning and revamping the old ones; and exploring what our students need to learn and how best to expose them to that learning.

Critical reflection allows us to become expert teachers, relying on a large set of skills and strategies that we often weave into our teaching instinctively.  Reflection allows us to look back at our choices and actions to remind us that they are based on sound educational principles and the knowledge that we have of our students.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Another Game Site

We've added a new game site to our resources listed on the right-hand side of our blog. This site is a great source for creating board games with your students. Enjoy!

Powerful Shifts in Learning

When technology started to become an integral part of our lives, I used to tell my students that the jobs they would get had not been inven...