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Building and Anchoring Resilience

Our new principal is bringing a fresh outlook and approach to our teaching and learning. While every change in administration does this for a school, we are filled with hope that things will be even better as we move forward and that we will “fit in.”

Today our principal shared something from her meeting yesterday with other administrators from the district. It is a different angle from what we have seen in the past.  She is  the product of single parent upbringing and has a unique (at least to my current way of thinking) perspective on student lives.

I find it quite interesting how reading something can take us down a wide range of paths. Which we choose to explore becomes our own learning journey. Students make personal connections (at least when the Common Core allows them to) and those connections anchor their thinking and learning in stronger ways. But I digress…

So when the principal shared an article, an interview with Maya Angelou, I searched for one of the references Dr. Angelou presented. It is a piece of art by way of poem/music written by James Weldon Johnson and at one time was even known as the Negro National Anthem. Take a look at the lyrics and maybe  listen to the link while you read them. It is a message of resilience, perseverance, and hope.

In order for me to frame this learning, I needed to read the interview and make meaning from Dr. Angelou’s message which primarily addresses the plight of people who are alienated and mistreated, as is the case with slavery and descendants of slaves. Music was a good vehicle for me in anchoring this message.

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.

Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.”

Here’s a question from the interview that echos the same message I received in, of all places, a math MOOC I participated in this summer. That message is a can-do, growth mindset message.

You’ve lived in several places around the world. Do you think resilience is universal. or does it vary among cultures?”

“If children are given the chance to believe they’re worth something – if they truly believe that – they will insist upon it.”

I am looking to anchor this message more firmly in my own practice as an educator. The students are bundles of potential energy and I need to support them as they maintain a positive charge and activate their learning successfully.

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How Do You Organize the Many Sites With Attention To Skill Practice?

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    I have a ton of sites for my whole KINDERGARTEN class to use during our weekly block on the school’s laptops. What I don’t have is a clear and organized way of using them on a case by case basis.  I teach the site logistics and then the class explores the site.  There’s a new site every week, often more than one site.  We also go back to familiar sites once we have a good bank of them.   Everyone benefits by the group work.

Now we are moving into RTI with 4 kindergarten classes combining the children into many new and changing groups.  Everyone will either receive intervention or enrichment.  I am planning to use technology for both purposes and with different groups throughout the year, 4 days a week, and 30 minutes at a time.

What I have not done, is analyze the sites and organized them so they can quickly be called upon to meet a specific skill practice.  I don’t know how to do that organization apart from creating a spreadsheet, printing it out, and carrying it around with me.  That is the direction I will go unless I find a better tool.  My largest collection tool right now is Mrs. Poulin’s K on Symbaloo.

I would really like to be able to target the specific skill practice the sites allow and then quickly get the kids on those sites without a lot of my one-to-one help.  We always have too many fussy laptop issues pulling me away.  Of course, I will also need to change the activity quickly if it is too challenging or too easy.  And that means quick and on the spot assessments.

One site can have many, many activities.  Some kids will need low-level readiness work, others need letter ID, and still others need sight words and/or reading.  I would like to take what the student’s teacher has told me in the way of needed skill practice, and then plug the kid into the best tool for him, quickly and easily.

Do you know of any tool out there that can fit the bill of organizing website activities?

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New Class – New Ideas!

When September rolls around, teachers wonder what the new crop of students will look like.  How will they interact with you, with each other.  There is no way to tell.

Parents, and students whom I had years ago, will often ask if I am doing a certain project again this year.  They remember it fondly and so do I.  The thing is, a classroom has a dynamic of it’s own and the flow of activities and projects often respond to that.  I like to think that’s what a good teacher does.

After a few weeks together, a class personality starts to take form.  Now that we have reached the 3 month mark, we can really see the dynamic and personality of our group.

This year’s kindergarten class is really warming my heart.  We have quite a range of learners and skill levels.  We have limited English proficient students and others with different language challenges.  We have the over the top energized kid and his great big smile stirring up the rest of the pack.  Best of all, we have the energy that comes from an eager group of learners.  “Come on Mrs. Poulin – Bring It!!” seems to be their call.

Yep, I DO like my job this year. It is challenging and rewarding.

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My Top 5 Gurus

This morning’s reading included the NWP Daily and a post from Three Teachers Talk . The link brings you to a cool reflection by Molly, @finchesrule where she writes, “These people, places, and collections of great knowledge have made me a better teacher.”

Well that post got my own reflective juices flowing and I thought I would work on a post of my own as well. It’s interesting to note that 2 of the 5 are not active in the tech world so they’ll probably never read this post. Here they are – my own top 5 gurus!

#1 Patti Kennedy is a tremendous teacher who gave me my first job. We worked together in a 3 teacher pre-school classroom for 14 years while my kids were growing up. She showed me how a great teacher operates, with children, with parents, with outsiders, and with the community. I struggle with being tactful and this woman showed me the ideal. She also has an amazing sense of humor and is a real class act! She retired long before the advent of blogs and the internet reached into classrooms but if she blogged – she would be in my Reader for sure.

#2 Kevin Hodgson, aka @dogtrax, brought me firmly into the world of blogging, Twitter, and the concept behind building a strong PLN. I am still amazed that this tremendous teacher works just down the hall from me. Many years ago, during one of the first K12 Online Conferences, I happened upon Kevin in my reading. Thinking I was alone in the online world of education, I quickly realized the resource I had at hand. Kevin continues to teach me through his daily posts from his primary blog Kevin’s Meandering Mind.

#3 Twitter I realize now that I am listing these in the order they entered my teaching life. Twitter is a real fount of tremendous value. I visit links shared by others and then venture off to new areas for study, reflection, and entertainment. Twitter has brought me to tons of great reading, #kinderchat, Dailies, TED Talks, and a multitude of useful apps.

#4 Cindy Diemand is the Literacy coach at our school. She is an expert at all things related to literacy instruction. Our school is closely following the Fountas & Pinnell curriculum and this year we will have Cindy back as our literacy coach. I have already participated in hundreds of hours in training in the F&P methods.  Cindy will be providing more in-depth instruction and classroom observations for all of our staff. She is always supportive of us as learners and reminds us that it takes a lifetime to develop ourselves as teachers.

#5  The Edublogger and more specifically Sue Waters, have given me the tools I need for reflection and sharing through blogging. It took many months before I felt I knew what I was doing with this blogging thing. The tools are many and I continue to learn more all the time. I keep The Edublogger in my Google Reader, Twitter, and FB accounts so I never miss the latest tips.

  • Who has influenced your practice the most?
  • Where do you go when you are looking to learn and grow as a teacher?

Why not share a post of your own and please leave a comment with Three Teachers Talk who started this ball rolling.

Reflection in blogging is a marvelous practice.

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10+ Easy Steps To Skype In the Classroom

I was recently reviewing and editing my profile at Skype in the Classroom. I saw a project that I had posted called “Our Own Hometowns.” Soon after my edit, I received an email from Rhonda Metcalf, down in NC, USA. She was interested in the tips I mentioned in my post and that in turn got me thinking about sharing my setup plan with others.

It would have been easier years ago if I’d had a real plan for what I was doing. It can be daunting to reach out to another class and not feel anxious and uncertain about whether it will work or whether you’re going to embarrass yourself. For that reason alone, I try to lighten the load for any teacher I connect with via Skype. My first experience, outside of my personal life, was with Silvia Tolisano of Langwitches and Around the World With 80 Schools. That was a quick call with a very experienced Skyper!

Here is the layout of my plan. You can make adjustments to fit your own technology set-up. Mine is still pretty basic. I have a small webcam, a hand-held mic, and a VGA connection to the TV. My class watches the project on the TV as we don’t have any IWB technology in our class. So “♬This Is How We Do It♬”

  1. Connection is made between teachers by sharing/accepting ID info in Skype.
  2. Teachers can have a short Skype call testing out their systems for any glitches and trying new setup adjustments for best viewing.
  3. Via email or the  Skype call, teachers share what they want to address during class calls. Keeping calls to 10-15 min is reasonable but be ready for them to go on for more time.
  4. I find it best to have an advance list of questions for each side. In that way the other class can assign speakers and practice ahead without having to do it “cold.” The questions are generally shared a few days ahead whenever possible. The class and I create the list of questions we want to ask.
  5. On the day of the call, have your lists of questions to ask/answer and kids assigned to ask/answer them. I post these on an easel for quick reference and usually have my webcam on top of this easel, aimed down at the group on the floor. It sounds formal but really is just for convenience.
  6. Having the camera aimed at the larger class works best with the children coming up to the camera/mic to ask/answer questions individually.
  7. Classes go back and forth asking and answering questions one at a time, trying to stick to the lists in order, as that is how the other class will have prepared. The kids will know who has a turn next.
  8. My class is quiet and shy the first time (every year ;)) needing lots of prompting, but will warm up over time. Once they have experienced it a couple of times, a few kids will bloom and set a good example for others.
  9. Some simple things, just for fun, are singing a song, reciting a favorite poem or rhyme, or other presentation piece surrounding recent learning experiences in class. These are short and make each side giggle and warm up to each other. Last year we marched around the room to a silly song or sang patriotic songs. We once invited the other class to join in marching to “Knees Up Mother Brown.” The kids like to do things as a whole group whenever possible. The audience always gives some wild applause for the other side which feels good and settles the nerves a bit.
  10. Which brings up the question of behavior. Yes, my class always has a few who get distracted and/or want to show off for the camera. It’s just one more lesson for them to learn. When kids have too much trouble settling and not being a distraction, I might say their name and/or give them a nod, or I point to a new spot out of the camera’s view for them to move to.

Another tip is, I always Skype with my 83 yo Mom either before school or a few hours before I connect with the other class. She is my tester – can she see and hear well? is my camera pointed in the right place? can she see us if we move around? It helps to settle my own nerves and makes a nice school connection with Mom ;D

After a Skype call to Hawaii

After the call it is good to talk about what the students learned from the question and answer session. You cement the learning and clarify any misunderstandings.

Don’t be afraid to jump right in. A few steps of advance preparation will go a long way. If technical difficulties arise (and they often do) don’t be too upset. It happens more than we would like and goes with the territory. We have no control over poor connections. More often than not you will be satisfied.

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Reflecting Can Get Us There

The end of the year is anything but routine!

With 14 more school days, we rush headlong into the final assessments, report cards, recognizing volunteers, retirement parties, hot humid weather inside the classroom as well as out, and a final clutch of duck eggs hatching.

The children feel the change coming and seek every opportunity to socialize with friends or connect with teachers. What’s missing is that critical reflecting time that keeps our personal and professional lives going and growing.

I am looking forward to a new classroom next year and just designing the layout is daunting enough on its own. I am also learning new tips and tools every day through my Google Reader and my Twitter PLN.

So with all the new info funneling in, I am creating a vision of what next year will be like. I understand that this vision will change over and over this summer, so I need to establish some anchors in this plan – not even ready to do that yet.

Are you making any big changes next year?
What areas are you working on for professional development?
How do you make a fresh start?

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A Fresh Look At Kindergarten

Gail Poulin and Maria Knee

A visit to Maria Knee’s kindergarten this week gave me plenty to ponder. I liked the flow of activity as the children moved gracefully from one block of learning to the next. Many of the practices are visible in my own classroom as well, including the Math Investigations activities.

Where this class and my own diverge is the abundant use of technology. Centered at the front of the room is an interactive white board for whole class as well as individual work activities throughout the day. There are 3 PCs as well as 4 net books for the students to use. Some children were engaged in a “tea party” with an iPad and 2 others were using iPod touches.

There were lots of adults in the room – an intern who is finishing up her unit of study, and 2 one-to-one paraprofessionals. There were also a number of others who came to work with the students throughout the day for both in class and out of class support services. It was a very busy place indeed.

Central to it all is Maria and her community of KinderKids. Together they make their own kind of magic. The children are confident learners who share their discoveries with others.

Now that I am back at home I’ve taken another look at the KinderKids Blog. I can readily name a number of the children in the videos and slide shows. I recall their personalities and the conversations we shared. I recognize their sliding hill and even the curtains in the room. Thanks Maria, for sharing your experience and teaching tools with me. I continue to learn a lot from you.

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