Friday, February 22, 2013

Proximity and Movement

Are You Stuck At The Desk?

I've been asked about my vision of schools and classrooms of the future several times over the past couple years.  Each time I answer this question a few things always come out:

1) Student Engagement

2) Technology

3) Individual Pathways

4) Open Classroom Environment

5) Cheerful, Inviting Atmosphere

6) Teachers facilitating and moving from student to student or group to group

This week I want to focus on #6, or more specifically teacher movement and proximity.  My belief and philosophy is that this is a critical teaching piece that sometimes gets overlooked and "de"- emphasized.  This is why it should not.

My first couple of years teaching I had a teacher desk and I constantly rotated my classroom configuration around.  I was always in pursuit of the magic potion!  I thought I could simple change the setup/desks and my behavior issues would vanish.  I tried rows, groups, you name it, I tried it.  What I learned in this process is that groups worked best for me, and it allowed me the freedom to move.    

During my third year of teaching I took a class at Spring Arbor University and the graduate professor absolutely captured me.  He was dynamic, energetic and engaging.  I watched him week after week and I thought to myself, this is how I need to teach!  So this is what I did, I began to avoid my desk.  I began moving about the room on a constant basis.  I taught in the back of the room, on the side of the room, in the middle of the room.  There was no set place I always taught from.  As I increased my movement, I found my energy level increased and I had a "jump" in my step.  This excited me, I began to express my joy and enthusiasm for teaching.  I was becoming the engaging, dynamic teacher I knew I could be.

As all this happened I noticed a significant trend.  My behavior issues drastically dropped.  My use of teacher/student movement was working wonders.  My proximity to students significantly helped with student engagement.  I loved what I was doing.  Day in and day out my students were learning, behaving and growing.  I loved my job!  I felt as though I owed a lot of my style and philosophy to my Spring Arbor University Graduate Class Professor (his first name was Tim).  Tim transformed my teaching.

As I reflect on these moments I think of how Proximity and Movement impact a classroom.  First, I believe wholeheartedly that teacher movement is essential.  Second, I believe teachers that utilize proximity will increase engagement and decrease classroom misbehaviors.  If you want more proof check out this article :  Effective Room Arrangement , by Dr. Fred Jones, in this article the author points to three zones. (see below)

As I reflect on my own schooling, I can visualize the teachers that were "stuck" at the desk.  My advice, don't let this happen to you.  So this week's big questions, do you find that proximity helps your classroom management?  Does frequent teacher movement/rotation throughout the room increase energy and enthusiasm?  What's more important, the classroom configuration or teacher proximity and movement?

Next Week at a Glance:

Tuesday, February 26th:  TEAM meeting at 9am
Tuesday, February 26th:  String Team 4pm
Wednesday, February 27th:  Grades 3-5 assembly
Wednesday, February 27th:  2:45 mandatory PLC meeting in Library (bring your iPad and install Skype app)
Wednesday, February 27th:  6:30 February Board Meeting
Thursday, February 28th:  Ben is visiting Stockbridge El. to observe Project Based Learning
Thursday, February 28th/29th:  Happy Birthday to Nancy Bunker and Deanna Struck
Friday, March 1st:  Carnival in the Middle School!

Articles Worth Your Time:

Has the Principal job become too much?   shared by @NLHSprincipal

The next trend in schools?  shared by @KleinErin

Supporting Students with Autism  shared by @behaviordoctor

iPad iNformation:

Videos Worth Watching:

This is one cool 3rd grade Science Project! (4 min)

Inspiring Video of the Sports Illustrated, Kids of the Year!  (5 min)  (Worth Your Time!)

How does a Town get its name?  (4 min)  
One of my favorite websites  (check it out)

I laugh at this every time! (20 seconds)

9 year old weatherman on the Ellen show! (6 min)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Boys versus Girls

I recently read an article in Time Magazine by @erikachristakis the link is here: Do Teachers Really Discriminate Against Boys?  This article forced me to research some things and this is what I discovered-

*  A 2006 study found that boys are almost twice as likely as girls to have a learning disability (10% vs. 6%) and almost 3 times as likely to have a diagnosis of ADHD (11% vs. 4%)

*  Boys represent 90 percent of discipline referrals

*  80 percent of high school dropouts are male

*  Males make up fewer than 40 percent of college students (Gurian, 2001)

*  Boys earn 70 percent of Ds and Fs and fewer than half of the As

*  The 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress finds boys one and one-half years behind girls in reading/writing

As I read the article and the statistics one feeling came over me...sadness.  I wasn't completely shocked, I wasn't angry, the feeling I couldn't shake is being sad.  As educators we may say, "I teach everyone the same."  Well this wouldn't be correct or appropriate.  I mean, I'm sure at some point I uttered those same words, but if I was truly doing my job I WOULDN'T teach all students the same.  I'll admit, the young studious girl that listens, follows along, and participates is much easier to teach than the rambunctious boy that is constantly trying to get in the last word.  As teachers we don't teach all students the same, we differentiate, we accommodate and we modify for student differences.  Sometimes the differences are ability and sometimes they are gender.  

I think back to my schooling, I was an average student.  Some days I felt engaged and excited to learn, other days I simply went through the motions.  I was a well-behaved boy that put forth decent effort, I was polite, and I was friendly.  I got the impression that my teachers usually liked me.  I did have a teacher that I struggled dearly with.  For anonymity purposes we will call him Mr. Easyen.  Early on in his room I was intimidated, maybe scared.  He positioned boys in the back and sides and all the girls in the front and center tables.  He would laugh and joke with the girls and with the boys he was very strict and authoritarian.  I did not care for his room.  One day my neighbor and I completed an assignment that was leading up to a Frog Dissection.  We were discussing how we couldn't wait to dissect the frog.  It was likely the first time in class that we were looking forward to something.  A second later that was gone.  Mr. Easyen walked up to us, scowled, grabbed our papers and ripped them in half.  He said cheating is not tolerated.  Immediately Doug and I looked at each other with open mouths...I then began to blurt out, "But We..." Mr. Easyen said, "shut it!"  You both just received a zero for cheating.

From that day forward I busted my rear to get my grade up.  Not Doug, he gave up and said he hated school.  I think back and this was the most blatant experience I ever had where a teacher was teaching to the opposite gender.  This isn't exactly what the article states, but this is an example of why boys sometimes lose interest and get "turned-off" to education.

Over the past couple weeks I have focused on Student Engagement, the research states that boys typically need - 

*  Use manipulatives to promote fine motor development. Boys are behind girls in this area when they start school.

*  Make lessons experiential and kinesthetic

*  Keep verbal instructions to no more than one minute at the elementary level

*  Use male mentors and role models, such as fathers, grandfathers, or other male volunteers

*  Let boys nurture one another through healthy aggression and direct empathy

So this week's big idea, how are you engaging all learners?  Is there a difference in how you approach male and female students?  Should there be?  Look at your data, is it similar to what the statistics say?  How could you make a difference in the gender disparity that we are seeing nationwide?  

Next Week at a Glance:

Monday, February 18th:  No School
Tuesday, February 19th:  SIFE Healthy Eating event at Warner Elementary 7pm-8pm 
Tuesday, February 19th:  String Team 4pm
Tuesday, February 19th:  After school SIP (40 indicators)
Tuesday, February 19th:  Practice Lockdown mid-morning
Wednesday, February 20th:  K-2 assembly
Wednesday, February 20th:  Kim Powell will be back for PLC time from 2:35-3:35
Friday, February 22nd:  Interest Fair set-up at Bean El. 4:00-5:30pm
Saturday, February 23rd:  Interest Fair at Bean El. 9am-12:00

iPad iNformation:

20 apps for struggling readers shared by @DrLaPrairie

Top 5 apps for Kids (week of Feb. 11-15)

Using Your iPad to Help Deliver Your Lesson shared by @YCS_Tech

Articles Worth Your Time:

Gender bias in teaching?

With boys and girls in mind

Project Based Learning Academy in our neck of the woods  shared by @dreambition

10 Wonderful Common Core Standards Cheat Sheets shared by @DarrinPeppard

10 ways to Fake a 21st Century Classroom (Is it really faking it?)  shared by @MrPowersCMS

The Book Whisperer gives thoughts on Acc. Reader shared by @donalynbooks

Videos Worth Your Time:

You must watch this video, "Not cool Robert Frost!"  (3 min)

Unbelievable image of a meteorite flashing across the sky! (1 min)

John Wooden, it isn't about sports and basketball.  Great video on life, philosophy, and character.  Highly recommend you take the time to listen.  (17 min)

Laughter is the best medicine! (4 min)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Grades and Student Connections

How important are grades in elementary school?  I ask the question because I'm curious.  I believe there are three scenarios that drive people's thoughts. 

Perspective 1)  Grades matter!  The person that believes grades matter typically uses grades to motivate and occasionally punish.  What I mean by punish is the big red marks with check marks everywhere, to a kid this feels like a punishment.  If grades matter to you, you aren't alone.  Grades matter to many parents, it is a way for adults to relate to their own educational experience.  Grades are not always a bad thing.  Grades can inform parents and students of their overall understanding.  Grades tend to be more general in nature.

Perspective 2)  Grades are vague, Standards Matter!  Essentially this is the lower elementary philosophy.  Standards tell teachers, parents and students what has been mastered and what needs improvement.  The shift to Standard Based Grading is an example of Standards over Grades.  The biggest trick to shifting to Standard Based is this, "A student's attitude and effort are null and void."  This is tough for some parents and teachers to grasp.  I've been in that seat, you see little Johnny who typically struggles and he is working so hard.  Inside you want to reward this, but if you are truly basing it on knowledge of the standard you cannot look at the rubric and base it on effort.

Perspective 3)  The eyeball test!  This is where your personal knowledge is most valuable.  I'll use my son as a perfect example.  Drew is bright, he reads at a very high level, his brain works systematically.  He understands science on a deeper level.  His understanding of history is average.  His writing skills can be strong, but it all depends on the topic and his level of interest.  Finally, he is an average math student.  Mathematically he gets answers correct, but he is not fast.  Let me be clear, I know my sons strengths and weaknesses, I truly do not care to look at his report card.  But I did.  The first thing that caught my eye was his reading grade.  Drew received a B- in reading.  I chuckled inside.  His reading grade DOES NOT reflect his true reading ability, level of comprehension, fluency, or deeper understanding.  Drew and I read together and he discusses issues that tell me he has taken his reading to a "deeper" level.  Ultimately I can't let the B- get Drew down, I blew it off, and told him that he is a phenomenal reader.  Sometimes grades mean nothing, sometimes it is best to use the eyeball test!

So how do we figure out how to assess students strengths and weaknesses and also properly motivate students to give their best effort?

Research says students that connect with their teachers put forth the best effort.  Seems so simple, but it's not.  I remember being in the classroom and I'll never forget two separate situations.  The first situation was with a student named Lauren.  Lauren came to me in 5th grade after missing almost half of her 4th grade year with various illnesses.  Lauren was a sweet girl, but I could tell she lacked self-esteem, peer connections and some concepts due to absences.  From day one I made it a priority to help Lauren connect with her peers.  I set her up for successful moments in class, I worked very hard at building a classroom community, and above all I conferenced with my students regularly.  This helped me truly understand each student's interests (what motivates them, what is challenging, and what their dreams are and what they fear).  I valued my one-on-one conferences, I learned to be very patient, flexible and to be a good listener.  Once I began to understand my students on a deeper level I was able to motivate them more efficiently.  When I saw a student put forth mediocre effort I would immediately pull them aside and try to figure out what was going on.  I guess this was my way of truly differentiating.  Lauren really came out of her shell during 5th grade.  She is now attending college, and I couldn't be more proud of her success.

It wasn't always peaches and roses.  I'll never forget a student named Kevin.  I tried very hard to connect with Kevin, he loved basketball and I even coached him in an after school program.  What I discovered with Kevin is that his home life was a tremendous stresser.  Kevin brought so much baggage to school that I had a very tough time getting through to him.  Midway through 5th grade my efforts with Kevin and his parents blew up in my face.  Kevin's mom was very hurt by her ex and hence did not care for men in general.  Thus, I had no shot.  I did my best with Kevin, but sometimes you can't win them all.

Research says students that connect with their teachers are more engaged and this leads to enjoying school.  Students that enjoy school tend to do better than students that do not enjoy school.  That is a simple fact.  

My question for all of you is this, do you have students in your room that you are struggling with?  Ask yourself this question, have you connected with this student?  If you are true to yourself and you said no, what could you do to start connecting?

Next Week at a Glance:

Monday, February 11th:  Mobile Dentist
Monday, February 11th:  iCreate Poetry Assembly 9am Grades 3-5
Tuesday, February 12th:  Panther Pride Lunch
Tuesday, February 12th:  Happy BDay Shirley Campbell
Tuesday, February 12th:  2pm Red Wings Assembly in the Gym
Tuesday, February 12th:  PTO Meeting 7pm
Tuesday, February 12th:  School Improvement 3:45 (attendance optional)
Tuesday, February 12th:  String Team practice
Wednesday, February 13th:  No assembly this Wednesday (IEP's and Technology Steering Committee Meeting)
Thursday, February 14th:  Happy Valentine's Day
Thursday, February 14th:  9am 3rd grade Barter Day
Thursday, February 14th:  Sign-up day for Interest Fair
Friday, February 15th:  Happy BDay Amber Bacon

Articles Worth Reading:

The Skinny on Accelerated Reader  shared by @colbysharp

*What is the purpose of Accelerated Reader?  Is it a motivator?  Is it used to assess?  Should Accelerated Reader determine grades?  I've got my opinions, what are yours?

74% of Educators Support Technology  shared by @MrPowersCMS

iPad iNformation:

Videos Worth Your Time:

Shawn Achor: The Happy Secret to Better Work (12 min)

Perfect for Valentine's Day!  I love this clip...(1 min)

Sami Stoner's courageous experience. I showed this video at the last assembly, touching and inspiring (10 min)