Professional Development Goal: Every year each teacher at PDS participates in a yearlong conversation with his/her administrator and colleagues that includes the following components: reading and research, reflection, goal setting, planning, collaboration, implementation and feedback.
As part of this process, each teacher will identify a professional development goal that relates directly to classroom teaching and learning. It should have practical application and impact in the current year, and it should align with the school’s broad institutional goals and/or institutional philosophies about teaching and learning. The goal should be measurable. Teachers who fully achieve their goal will earn $500.
Goal: Work together with the other members of the 6th grade team to transition from our departmental approach to reading, social studies, and English to an interdisciplinary approach to humanities that will merge the essential skills and understandings from the original classes.
Steps to Achieve Goal: (Please include a list of books/articles/ videos that you plan to read or view during the summer.)
1. Read the following texts to decide their appropriateness as reading selections for the course:
Morpurgo, M. (2007). War horse. New York: Scholastic Press.
Wiles, D. (2010). Countdown. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.
2. Meet as a Humanities team 2-3 times this summer to plan for the upcoming school year.
3. Meet weekly as a team during the 2014-2015 school year to continue developing curriculum, to check our progress, and to make revisions.
4. Coordinate our plans with the STEM team to ensure seamless implementation and begin considering how reading and writing can be threaded into science and math instruction also.
Final Product: Our product will be ongoing observations and conversations with Susan and the team with a culminating discussion at the end of each trimester about the progress.
Note: I submitted this goal to my administrator in May before the end of this past school year. I’m just now getting around to posting it here as I attempt to re-establish my writing practices. Two of my teammates share this goal with me, and we are working on it together. I’m posting this on my blog for my own personal documentation and accountability. I also hope to track my personal progress toward the goal by blogging about it over the course of the 2014-2015 school year.
06/08/2015 Update: Alice and I were asked to share this session again tomorrow at the Martin Institute 2015 Summer Conference.
Today and tomorrow Alice M. Parker and I are learning and sharing at the 2014 Martin Institute Conference. Alice and I are facilitating a session entitled “What Were You Thinking!?” Our goal is to help teachers learn and grow in their ability to develop students into the critical and creative thinkers they will need to be to thrive as citizens in the rapidly changing, information-rich world in which we now live.
Session Description: Blank stares. Ask your average middle school students what they are thinking, and all you’ll receive are blank stares. As teachers our primary goal must be to move beyond simply teaching content to helping our students develop the critical and creative thinking skills they will need to thrive in the modern world. This session will explore the value of critical and creative thinking and examine how to develop student thinkers by using visible thinking routines and creative thinking techniques across the curriculum and in all disciplines.
Examining the importance of critical and creative thinking in today’s information-rich world
Insight into what critical and creative thinking looks like in a classroom
Familiarity with visible thinking routines and creative thinking techniques
Awareness of the 4 aspects of creativity and how to scaffold them into instruction
Reflection on current practice and transformation of classrooms into places that promote students’ creativity and critical thinking
So… This morning, my friend Bill tagged me in a “Homework” blog meme. I have no idea how this whole thing started, but according to Bill, “this meme has an important purpose: To give readers a look behind the digital masks that writers show outwardly to the world.” So what masks am I wearing as I share in this space? Hmm. I guess I need to spend some time reflecting on that. After all, the goal for this blog is to have an open, honest space where I share about my life and professional practice. I’m going to need to come back to this idea in a future post. For now, I have a homework assignment to complete (and papers to assess, too), and I’ve needed to update this blog anyway. (Okay, task number one is complete.)
The second task of my assignment is to share eleven random facts that readers of my blog probably don’t know about me:
1. When I was 13, my dad took our family to Los Angeles for the 1984 Summer Olympics. We were in the stadium for the women’s 3000 meter final, and I was less than 50 feet away from the spot where Zola Budd and Mary Decker had their collision.
2. I am a total chicken when it comes to horror movies. I absolutely refuse to watch them. In fact, I’m still traumatized by the original movie versions of Carrie and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
4. I love teaching 6th grade, which is funny because I always wanted to teach high school seniors and then become a principal. I struggle with a tension between wanting to teach students and wanting to lead a school.
5. I start reading lots of books that I never finish. I feel a sense of shame about it. What is that all about?
6. My wife is a better reader than I am. I love to read, but she’s a voracious reader. In fact, I dream of being able to read like she does. Seriously, she’s amazing. She’s also a better teacher than I am. It’s not a competition; if it were, it wouldn’t even be close.
My third task is to respond to eleven questions from Bill:
1. Grande Soy Green Tea Frappuccino with Extra Whip or House Blend Black? I’ll have the black coffee, but I’m hoping you have enough sense to serve this.
2. If you were going to write a book, what would its title be?Shut Up And Keep Spinning the Plates (Honestly, I have no idea.)
3. Rate graphic novels on a scale of 1-10, with 1 representing “useless” and 10 representing “simply amazing.” 5. I’m kind of indifferent in this debate. I’ve never seen a graphic novel turn a reluctant reader into a passionate reader, but some people may find them useful so I don’t have a problem with them.
4. What member of your digital network has had the greatest impact on your professional growth? I cannot differentiate between my digital and non-digital network any more. I just have a network and those relationships develop in many places. I cannot name just one person either. After all, one cannot quantify learning no matter how hard he might try. Having said that, I admit the folks that immediately came my mind are Michael & Melanie Semore, John Spencer, Bill Ferriter, Hadley Ferguson, Alice Parker, and Jill Gough.
5. How do you feel about the holidays? Stressed.
6. Rate the following movies in order from best to worst: Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version).Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street (the original), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version)
7. What is the best gift that you’ve ever gotten? Romans 6:23
9. What are you the proudest of? Debbie and I have been together for 9 years. We will celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary next June. I’m crazy about her and our family.
10. What was the worst trouble that you ever got into as a child? As a teenager, I told a whopper of a lie to my parents. It was a big deal and it was awful. I won’t share the details. I just won’t. It was a day I’ll never forget, but I wish I could. I did other things that were stupid and/or mischievous, but this one haunts me. Now let’s move on.
11. What was the last blog entry that you left a comment on? What motivated you to leave a comment on that entry?I left a comment on Bill’s blog primarily because he called me out in it. Sometimes Justin Stortz’s posts resonate so deeply in me that I feel compelled to comment.
The fourth task is to create a list 11 bloggers that now have to answer eleven questions from me. Here’s my list:
July and August have been wonderful and hectic. In July, I tried to focus on family and resting, but I spent all of August in the craziness that is the start of school. We have 4 kids, and Debbie and I are both teachers. This year there are four different school schedules and calendars to coordinate, and I am the family’s Chief Transportation Officer (primary taxi driver). In addition to that, my school and classroom were renovated over the summer. Woohoo! But I wasn’t able to get into my classroom until the week I started in-service. That’s a little later than I typically prefer to get started. Also, we made some adjustments to the daily schedule and our approach to reading at school, and I started training for my first marathon. (Hello 4:30 AM alarms.) All of these changes are good, but they’ve left me feeling a little scrambled, and I’d prefer to be more sunny-side up!
Unfortunately, something had to give, and I decided I just couldn’t give time to this blog over the past few weeks. I’m hoping to write more in September, but for now, let me share with you some “supreme” posts from my PLN that resonated with me over the past couple of months.
“I make a lot of lists — it’s one of my favorite habits — but this list seemed to have a magical power. It was a list of the things I was grateful for. Amazingly, there were a lot of things on the list, from things about my wife, kids, relatives, and friends, to things about my job, about nature around me, about my life.”
“I wish I could tell you that we had an emotional heart-to-heart in the hallway that repaired our fractured relationship. I wish I could tell you that he began respecting me for the rest of the year. I wish I could tell you that he finished the year with a bang. But I can’t.”
“I know that some people market a PLN as a great place to go for ideas. And maybe it is for some people. Maybe a PLN is what you make of it. Maybe it’s a place where you offer what you can and you get what you need.”
“But tell me one flaw. I mean quietly over a beer, you know, just admit you cry while watching Oprah or you sometimes struggle with porn or you’re jealous of your boss and suddenly there’s a bit of velcro on your soul and we can connect. I’m not sure why it happens except maybe it helps me believe I’m not alone, that I’m flawed and you’re flawed and we are in this thing together.”
“When connected with the visible thinking routines word clouds, digital posters, videos, podcasts, slideshows, digital sketches, online concept maps, cartoon strips, timelines, and much more can be used to help students provide evidence of their thinking and understanding. With a bit of strategic planning it’s possible for teachers to integrate the curriculum, use of technology to promote thinking and learning, digital citizenship, and 21st century skills into a single activity built around a thinking routine.”
“The challenge for teachers and staff is to determine an appropriate balance of movement, noise, and quiet, calm time. My concern is that we confuse our needs with student needs and sometimes observe behaviors as a choice to act out and misbehave rather than a message of what their bodies need.”
“Not wanting to surrender my place among the social elite, I toughed it out in boxers for the better part of a painful decade. I wasn’t happy about it, but tightie-whities weren’t going to win me any friends and I knew it.”
“Being called a geek used to be an insult, but we all know it as a badge of honor and a label we willingly self-apply. Especially given the challenges of institutional education, fostering geekiness is often an intentional choice to get out of the way of our innate joy of learning.”
“Don’t get me wrong. Reading and writing is valuable me. Project-based learning is powerful. Class discussions are insightful. Simulations can drive home a point, and I still benefit from the occasional lecture, too. But I find walking and talking truly transformative. I had several walk and talk ”sessions” at ISTE, and they were some of my favorite learning experiences. I’m trying to figure out how to merge more of them into my learning now that I’m home.”
What about you? What have you read that’s resonating with you? What’s happening on your blog?
June has been a busy month. School hasn’t been in session, but teaching and learning has occupied a significant amount of my time. During the first two weeks of the June, Alice and I prepared and offered a Classrooms of Understanding workshop at the Martin Institute Summer Conference. I spent the next week helping with Camp Read-a-lot at PDS. Then, I immediately flew to San Antonio for ISTE 2013. (I’ll write more about ISTE later as I’m still working on my reflection.) My regular reading (especially my RSS feeds) has suffered a little due to all the busyness and I’m still several days behind where I’d like to be. Nevertheless, several posts and articles resonated with me and have been on my mind. So, here are the supremes for June 2013:
“I believe we need to honour and highlight achievements and student learning but I wonder… is an awards ceremony that recognizes only a select few, and is often held a few days before our students leave, the BEST we can do?”
“The music of this year is fading. The laughter is turning into echoes, and the voices are growing distant. I’ll close the blinds and turn off the lights one last time. And I’ll count myself blessed for being able to teach and learn from this very special girl.”
“Education 3.0 is a constructivist, heutagogical approach to teaching and learning. The teachers, learners, networks, connections, media, resources, tools create a a unique entity that has the potential to meet individual learners’, educators’, and even societal needs. Education 3.0 recognizes that each educator’s and student’s journey is unique, personalized, and self-determined.”
“Sometimes I get frustrated that I’m coming up on a decade and I’m still making huge mistakes. I feel like I should be closer to my utopian dreams. And yet, just like learning to play an instrument or writing a novel, the journey takes time and has pockets of boredom and frustration.”
” Collaboration with colleagues has helped me to become the teacher that I am today. My best instructional practices were polished with — and by — intellectually generous peers. But I’m more than a little convinced that my “me first” thinking is nothing short of an inevitable by-product of working in a state that has decided that competition between teachers for contract protections is a good idea.”
“This daily practice, of appreciating their love for you, will make your life better. It will help you be the role model they need, because someone who appreciates the love of others is a beacon of gratitude and humility and mindfulness.”
“This year, I am more realistic. I have picked three professional learning books and four young adult novels, but I’m also planning to use the audio versions of a couple of the books to keep me company this summer while I train for the my first marathon, run errands, chauffeur my kids, mow my yard, and complete other daddy chores.”
What about you? What have you read recently that’s resonated with you? What’s happening on your blog?
Now that the project is over, I admit diving into project-based learning was beneficial. The students and I learned a lot, and I don’t think I would have taken away as much had I chosen to simply dip my foot in the pool. Not long after we completed our project, my principal asked if it was worthwhile and if I would do it again. My first response was “I don’t know…maybe.” Planning and managing the project was really challenging, and the daily classroom chaos stretched my comfort zone significantly. And yet. . . project-based learning engaged my students. They felt a sense of ownership toward their learning that I hadn’t really seen before. So yes, I’ll be doing it again. In fact, I’ve already submitted my professional goal for next year, and it’s once again focused on project-based learning. (I’ll share more about that later.)
In addition to accomplishing my own professional goals related to PBL, I want to do the following things next year:
Partner with another teacher so that I am not the only teacher providing feedback and guidance throughout the project.
Have my students identify and define the driving question for our project-based learning.
Provide more time and opportunity for presentation, peer feedback, reflection, and revision.
Spend some time early in the year teaching my students the social media skills I want them to have. I want to turn them loose with our class Twitter account, their own blogs, and perhaps even a class Pinterest account and let them promote their own work and learning.
Be extremely purposeful and thoughtful in identifying the “needs to know” to help guide the students’ research.
Identify a person or group that my students can formally present their projects to that will serve as a more authentic audience.
I also had hoped to have several students write guest posts about our dive into project-based learning. Several boys agreed to do it, but unfortunately, the end of the school year and sixth grade graduation prevented them from getting posts together before we parted for summer. Without the guest posts, I decided to offer the next best thing and share some of the comments they made about their work on our Google Feedback Form.
Here’s what the students had to say:
What was the most challenging part of the project?
“The most challenging part of this project was finding what we were going to do for our project.” – L. L.
“The presentation, I had to restart and do the entire PowerPoint all over.” – J. P.
“To me, the hardest thing was making posters from scratch and not copying off another image from the internet.” – G. B.
“I think the most challenging part was when we kept thinking of different pages or ideas and where we should put them. Also, we had to wait on the other groups to finish their projects.” – W. M.
What are three things you did during this project to help your classmates or your team?
“1) I researched the matter and did what was to be done. 2) I showed others how to do this or that and showed them sites for research about their project. 3) I stayed on task about 90% of the time and used my time wisely.” – T. M.
“1) I tried to come during Flex time to work on the project for my partner. 2) If my partner was struggling, I helped him do his part. 3) I cleaned up the messes that we made while doing our project.” – S. S.
“I edited all the videos. (Insert imaginary bullet in head) I overlooked all the presentations, (wrong things, grammar, spelling, etc.) I also interviewed many people, and set up some more interviews.” – H. D.
“I made all the emails we sent to organizations. I made our presentations. I brought the group together to stop arguing.” – A. G.
What made the biggest impact on your learning during this project? Why?
“Finding out all that I did about homeless people during the research part of this project, and how many homeless people are really out there. It just completely changed how I thought of these people, before that I did not think that there were actually that many homeless people out there, but now I am more than happy to help out as well as overwhelmed by how many people who are out there that are actually homeless.” – A. J.
“It is finding that so many people today are still affected by racism because there are still groups even in America that are still as racist as they had been in the 1800s.” – J. H.
“The research made the biggest impact on my learning during this project because it taught me more about sweatshops and how it affects the people who work for them and their families.” – T. H.
“Working as a team I could not do it all by myself.” – P. M.
“I used to think that homelessness was just a small portion of the world and just happened in 3rd world countries. But from research, I realize now that it is everywhere.” – H. P.
If you could go back in time and start this project over, what would you do differently?
“I would go back and change the way we formatted the website. I do like our design that we have now though I think the pages could have been in a different order and we could have taken out a few.” – J. M.
“Work more on my research.” – H. U.
“Come up with a better slogan, I don’t think the ones I came up with were my best.” – L. A.
“I would have done more research for Diigo, and I would have learned how to cite my photos before I found a lot of them because I lost 5 photos and a lot of my time because I did not cite them right when I got them.” – W. P.
“I would have spent more time working on my research. I think I could have commented more on other people’s bookmarks.” – R. C.
“I would organize our priorities better and manage time better.” – A. C.
What is something you accomplished during this project that makes you proud?
“This project is going to a fantastic cause. It will truly help the people who are less fortunate.” – A. R.
“I think that I made something that will teach someone else about sweatshops.” – W. S.
“The one thing that I accomplished during this project that made me proud was actually trying to do something other than raising awareness. We found a chance to volunteer that really did make a difference in someone’s life. I have never done that before, so it really makes me proud.” – W. Q.
“Finishing the video made me proud. We had worked so hard to finish filming and find facts and the song we used at the end.” – D. B.
How did you apply what you learned from your research in your project?
“I applied the stuff from Diigo to help with our website design, and I used the facts page to put lots of facts on our page. I also used the quotes, pictures, and much more.” – J. F.
“I applied most of the facts and stats from our research into our infographic to make it as detailed as possible.” – C. F.
“I used my research in my project by making my logo. The cycle in the logo I came up from the research I did. Chronic unemployment is a cycle which is hard to stop, so we want to stop the cycle.” – E. N.
One thing that interested me most about project-based learning is the idea of student’s sharing their work with an authentic audience. Most of the work my students have completed through the years has only been seen by me. In fact, the only reason they bothered to complete it was because I was going to give them a grade. Other people weren’t going to read those research papers or view those book projects. I can think of a few wonderful exceptions like our Wikipedia project at Millington High and the year my eighth graders performed Shakespeare at Harding’s Renaissance Fair but at least 95% of the learning my students have accomplished has never been seen outside my room.
My students created everything during our project-based learning unit with the plan to share it online. They even scanned the original, hand-drawn artwork into PDF format so that the students could share them on the websites they built. They wanted to share their projects with the world, and we had grand plans, too. Unfortunately, time got the better of us, and we didn’t finish several of the projects or didn’t transfer the work to the real websites. I stretched our project-based learning two weeks beyond the end of the trimester, but I wasn’t willing to give it any more time. (The third trimester is already pinched for time.) We left for spring break and really never found the authentic audience we’d hoped to find.
One of the things I wanted to do was to have my students tweet about their projects from our class twitter account. Unfortunately, I didn’t start the year teaching them how to effectively use Twitter so that I could turn it over to them. I failed miserably here. Next year, I want to do a better job of having my students share their learning via our class account and not trying to do it myself. It’s another thing I need to let go and allow the kids to do. A second thing I wanted to do was to connect the boys with non-profit leaders in our area so that they could present their projects to local experts. Unfortunately, I got too busy trying to manage the day-to-day, and I completely let these plans slip. Another fail. So some of the students’ work made it online, but it wasn’t really finished and we didn’t publicize it like I would have liked so it never really found an audience.
In all honesty, I still struggle with sharing work that is still in progress. That’s an area where I need to take more risks. So I guess this is another area that I really need to refine in the future. I wanted an authentic audience for the students’ project-based learning, but finding a public was more challenging than I anticipated.
What do you think about going public with student projects? What has been your experience with promoting student work outside the classroom and school? What other ways might we create authentic audiences for student work? I’d love to know what you think.
The month of May has been, well, crazy. Not only have I been trying to wrap up the school year, but I’ve also been taking care of a few family issues that have arisen. Things are better now, but I just couldn’t give blogging much attention for the past few weeks. I also had to taper much of my reading. It was THAT kind of crazy. However, there were still several articles and posts that resonated with me this past month, and I’d like to jump back into my blogging schedule by sharing them. I should be back to my regular postings on Monday. I have a couple of posts that I want to add to my “Diving into PBL” series and I’d like to write a reflection on the year and a letter to this year’s graduating class, a group I have grown to dearly love.
“Rather than compete against others, work with them on a common goal. Use your combined insights and talents to achieve what none of you can alone. Real personal growth and learning occurs through relationships, when the competitive spirit is replaced with a collaborative one.”
“As I drove home, I lost it again, though this time it was in the form of tears. I felt like the worst teacher in the world. I felt like my students deserved better. I weeped over the thought that after ten years, a chatty group could still set me off.”
“For me, the opinion of any single critic is becoming less and less meaningful as I choose what to view or engage with. And the aggregate opinion of masses of anonymous critics merely tells me that the product or content is (or isn’t) mass-friendly. I’m far more moved by the insistent recommendation of a credible, raving fan than I am the snide whispering of some people who just didn’t get it.”
“What all my kids don’t know is that I do it for them, every single day, no matter how little sleep I got, no matter what standards are pressing on me. Every day I come to school to teach for them, every day I cannot wait to get here to be with them. That’s what these kids don’t know.”
“‘The first reason to read aloud to older kids is to consider the fact that a child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until about the eighth grade,’ said Trelease, referring to a 1984 study performed by Dr. Thomas G. Sticht showing that kids can understand books that are too hard to decode themselves if they are read aloud. ‘You have to hear it before you can speak it, and you have to speak it before you can read it. Reading at this level happens through the ear.'”
“A significant portion of their time at school is spent taking tests. State-mandated tests. District-mandated tests. Grade-level tests. Classroom tests. I would guess my daughter takes a couple of tests each week, on average. She’s nine.”
“He told me that if someone had a physical illness that we would give them medicine. So, if someone had a mental illness, why wouldn’t we give them medicine too? I’m no more capable of thinking my way to a cure for depression than someone with the flu can think themselves healthy.”
“… our help has to be responsive to the recipient’s circumstances: it must balance their need for support with their need for competence. We should restrain our urge to help unless the recipient truly needs it, and even then, we should calibrate it to complement rather than substitute for the recipient’s efforts.”
“And if you’re a new arrival to the Midwest or Southeast, tornado survival 101 is something you should definitely take the time to learn. Also, just because you don’t live in a tornado-prone part of the country doesn’t mean this bit of lifesaving know-how doesn’t apply to you; tornados have occurred in all 50 states, and you never know when one might touch down on a 14,000-foot mountain or come roaring through the Big Apple.”
“You can be more likeable. Identify two of the actions from the list above that would most help you in your current situation. A great way to start would be to ask for feedback and ask team members to identify which activities would have the most value to them. Make a plan, identifying some specific steps you will take to improve, and then stick to it. Ask others for feedback on your progress.”
“Your blog security should be a top priority to you and I can assure you that this is quite easy to do, but most of the time we neglect and overlook some of those minor security loopholes that can cost us the loss of a lifetime work (our blog).”
“I needed a partner, someone with whom I could collaborate and troubleshoot. I also needed an extra set of eyes and hands. I didn’t feel I couldn’t give a group my full attention because I was so busy trying to make sure everyone was on task. Unfortunately, Alice was teaching the fifth grade at the time. Even though Alice was willing to listen and make suggestions, she couldn’t offer first-hand observations about what was happening in my room. She simply wasn’t there, and I needed someone who was.”
What about you? What have you read recently that’s left its mark on you? What’s happening on your blog?
I love to read. I also love learning, and I’m pretty passionate about teaching. I love to read about teaching and learning. I’m also a little geeky so I spend a fair amount of time reading about teaching and learning online. Some might consider it work, but I find it interesting and fun. I also like to share what I’m reading and learning especially if it might help a friend or colleague. I read a lot, and I share a lot–particularly on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I will occasionally share things on Google+, too.
A couple of weeks ago, a colleague asked me where I find the articles about teaching and learning that I regularly read and share. In response to her question, I explained that I rely on several aggregators to collect articles and blog posts for me, but she looked confused. So, I thought it might be helpful to explain what I mean and share my “go-to” aggregators for professional reading and learning.
What is an aggregator? Collins English Dictionary defines it as “a web application that draws together syndicated content from various online sources and displays it in a single location for the user’s convenience.”¹ In other words, an aggregator grabs articles, blogs, podcasts, or videos from around the web and puts them in one place for me, and it keeps them there until I’m ready to view them. I don’t have to scour the internet checking all my favorite sites. Aggregators bring them to me, and they don’t fill up my email inbox either.
So what aggregators do I use? Here are My 3 “Go-To Aggregators for Professional Reading:
Google Reader – I know. I know. Google is planning to kill Reader this summer. It’s in its last days, and I’m still trying to decide on a replacement. I’ve tried several including Feedly, Good Noows, and NetNewsWire, but I’m leaning more toward Newsblur² or The Old Reader (TOR). My RSS reader is my first stop for professional reading. Through Google Reader and now Newsblur and TOR, I subscribe to over 220 blogs and websites. Honestly, that’s too many, but they aren’t all updated daily. If you don’t use an RSS reader, I suggest you give it a try. You can subscribe to this blog by adding http://feeds.feedburner.com/PhilipCummings to your feeds. My RSS feeds are my first source for professional reading and learning.
Paper.li – I use this aggregator to pull links shared by my professional learning network on Twitter. (I primarily use Twitter as a professional tool.) Unfortunately, as a full-time classroom teacher and a father of four, I don’t have time to hangout online and read Twitter feeds all day. Paper.li allows me to create a daily newspaper that highlights items posted by my network. I don’t manage to read this aggregator every day, but I do read it when possible. (Note: This is one of the reasons I am particular about who I follow on Twitter. I don’t want too much irrelevant, uninteresting, or inappropriate material finding its way to my reading list–even if I choose to ignore it.) Paper.li also works with Facebook, Google+, RSS , and YouTube feeds.
Zite – If I’ve managed to read my way through my RSS reader and my Paper.li, my last stop is the Zite app on my iPad. In Zite I’ve identified topics that interest me. Zite identifies the content that matches my selected topics and shares them with me in a magazine-like format. Currently, my topic list includes: teaching, learning, educational technology, critical thinking, creativity, reading, literacy, and mindset. I also read articles in Zite related to running, faith, and Memphis. The more you “like” articles in Zite, the better their algorithm becomes at finding content related to your interests.
There you have it. That’s my 3 go-to aggregators for my professional reading. What about you? Do you use aggregators for professional reading and learning? If so, which ones do you use and why? I’d love to hear what tools you use.
As a teacher, I found project-based learning incredibly chaotic and difficult to manage. I had four classes each investigating a different topic. In each class I had 7-9 different projects in development, and each project was unique. I wanted to help my students–finding resources, asking questions, suggesting options, but as soon as I focused on any one group another would demand my attention. Instead of feeling every day was a productive, meaningful day of inquiry, I left school most days overwhelmed that the classroom looked disheveled, the learning seemed scattered, the students appeared distracted, and I felt disorganized. Were we accomplishing anything? I knew project-based learning was going to require a paradigm shift on my part, but I didn’t expect to feel so beat up by it. I needed some quality feedback, and I knew from conversations with Mike that the boys needed feedback from their peers as well.
At the end of many days I found myself sitting on the couch next door in Alice’s room bemoaning the way things were going and trying to re-design plans for the next day. I needed a partner, someone with whom I could collaborate and troubleshoot. I also needed an extra set of eyes and hands. I didn’t feel I couldn’t give a group my full attention because I was so busy trying to make sure everyone was on task. Unfortunately, Alice was teaching the fifth grade at the time. Even though Alice was willing to listen and make suggestions, she couldn’t offer first-hand observations about what was happening in my room. She simply wasn’t there, and I needed someone who was.
Fortunately, my friend Jill Gough had scheduled a visit to my school. Jill and Bo Adams are famous (at least in my mind) for designing and implementing a project-based class called Synergy at their former school, and I had relied heavily on their work in designing my classes’ projects. Jill spent two days visiting PDS, and I had several opportunities to pick her brain about her experiences with project-based learning. (The image at the top of this post has my notes from lunch with her.)
Jill gave me some fantastic suggestions that I tried to carry out immediately. First, Jill suggested that I have the students complete a survey/reflection and give me some feedback on their own learning. My first plan was to give them a handout to complete that would encourage them to reflect on their learning and evaluate what they’ve done. I showed the handout to Jill and she gave me some great feedback on it. She also suggested that I use a Google form and not a handout to collect the data. You can view the Google Form I used to collect feedback here. Jill also spent about an hour in my room observing as I interacted with the boys. She took the time to point out to me all the good things that were happening and how engaged the students were. I needed to hear it. She gave me some constructive feedback, but she also built me up and offered specific examples of how quality learning was happening in my room. Sure, it was active and noisy, but it was still learning. Jill’s observations and encouraging words gave me the shot in the arm I needed.
In addition to the idea for reflections and the feedback on the class activity, Jill shared with me how, with Bo, she would have students do Ignite-style presentations on their products and allow other students to offer them feedback. Jill suggested “Ignite Lite” presentations (4 slides, 30 seconds per slide) to allow plenty of time for feedback in our shorter classes. I liked the idea and decided to combine it with Mike’s suggestion of using “critical friends” and the Ladder of Feedback from Project Zero.
I have Ladder of Feedback Anchor Chart that I use with students in my room to guide us through the feedback process.
For our Ignite Lite session, we used the Friends’ Feedback Ladder handout below to record our feedback on each presentation so the presenters could refer to it as they began revising their products and presentations.
I walked the students through the process and kept reminding them to use the language the anchor chart and handout provided to keep the feedback positive and constructive. We’ve use the Ladder of Feedback all year, but I think it’s too easy to fall into the mode of being critical (meaning negative) and not more constructive. I also wanted to make sure we celebrated the good in each project. the boys really were doing some great work.
Once the boys had presented and received feedback, they began revising their projects and making them better. They weren’t required to make every suggested improvement, but they had to consider the feedback. Overall, I know our project-based learning improved because of the Friends’ Feedback/Critical Friends process that I got from Jill and that the boys gave each other. Now, I’m beginning to think about how I can use this type of feedback into other aspects of our learning.
What do you think about the friends’ feedback/critical friends process? what experience have you had with it in your classroom? What other ways might it be useful? I’d love to know what you think.