Tuesday, August 29, 2017

More Matters

I decided recently that I need to get a stronger upper body. So, I bought some small hand weights and I asked my husband to show me some weight lifting exercises. And then, I tried a couple of the exercises but I wasn’t doing them quite right. So we both decided that since he was good at it and I wasn’t, he should just lift the weights for me. All the time.

Hahahaha!!! Nooooooo, not really!

You’re thinking, “Tracy, that’s ridiculous! The only way to get better at weight lifting is to ...actually lift weights.

But I do think that’s what many of us do with reading in Social Studies. We want the kids to improve their reading, so we ask them to read something.

And then, they don’t do it very well because they are all kids and because some of them are not strong readers and others are not very into Social Studies and others are intimidated by the term “Amendment” or “Timbuktu” or “progressivism” and others looked at the single-spaced long (to them) piece of text and gave up before they started.

And then we say, “OMG! These kids can’t read!”

And then we say, “Since they can’t read, I had better do the reading for them”.

And then we put it in a powerpoint or a handout or in bullet points or fill in the blank or another actual language (for ELL students) ...

And then the kids don’t actually have to read.

We do all the reading for the kids.

And then we are frustrated when their reading doesn’t improve.


I read recently a PSA campaign about fruits and vegetables that says “More Matters”. The idea behind the PSA is that just eating an apple a day isn’t enough. The more fruits and veggies you eat, the healthier you are.

They’re probably right. I should increase my fruit and veggie consumption if I’m not going to lift any weights myself  

But I would like to suggest that you apply the “more matters” philosophy to your students and pieces of text.

More TEXT matters.

Kids should have the opportunity to have their eyes on text every day in your class -- and  different texts. They should have maps and charts and graphs and textbook-style readings and primary source documents and secondary source documents and articles and political cartoons and artworks ...

All. The. Time.

And if your kids stink at reading?

Then they need to read MORE!! (It’s called productive struggle and it’s a powerful thing)

Of course, you will have to bust out all your strategies:

  • Chunk the text
  • Have kids mark the text
  • Have them talk about the text.
  • Have them write about it
  • Have them think about it
  • Have them read it again
  • Have them respond in writing
  • And about 1000 more reading strategies...

And when they aren’t good at it?

Try it again.  They need to read again!! That’s how they improve. Productive struggle is how we grow. Don’t take away that chance for kids to struggle for themselves.

I’m going to go work with my weights. And see if I can improve.  

How about you? How about your kids? Can you have them try “productive struggle” with text every day? Different text, different strategies, but stil working with text.

More Matters.

Email me! newmantr@pcsb.org

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Start With Skills

It’s the beginning of the year. You’re still learning kids’ names. You’re still teaching classroom procedures. You’re still waiting for everybody to have their supplies. You’re still feeling the back-to-school total exhaustion.  

You’ve just started content and realized that your kids have no historical thinking skills. They look at you blankly when you even suggest that such a thing as “historical thinking skills” exist (even though you KNOW their social studies teacher from last year and you KNOW that they learned those skills.)

How do you know that they have no historical thinking skills (yes, those skills do exist!)? People who struggle with historical thinking skills often...
  • ...Believe that there is only one answer to historical questions
  • ...Talk about history in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys”
  • ...Think history is boring and are bored with facts
  • ...Wonder why  we need to learn history at all
  • ...Think that all history is knowable (and that it’s all in the textbook)
  • ...Believe that there is only one side to the story
  • ...Can’t distinguish a good source from a blog by a weirdo
  • ...Don’t have evidence to back up their claims

It’s time to adapt

The Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) has put together some fantastic, adaptable, brief mini-lessons that are fun and engaging -- and that teach historical thinking skills.

Some you could do in 10 minutes as a turn-and-talk and then debrief. Some would be more in depth.

But if you want to set the stage for the year and teach your students historical thinking skills explicitly and intentionally -- I would try these.

--Side note! These will make everything you try to do with historical thinking easier throughout the year. The will give the kids the skills they need in your class and on The Test.  

Check it out.
*Disclaimer. You will need to set up a free account with SHEG, if you haven’t done so already. Don’t worry. They won’t spam you or annoy you with email.

  1. Lunchroom Fight: A fight breaks out in the lunchroom and the principal needs to figure out who started it. But when she asks witnesses, she gets conflicting accounts. Helps students understand how we know what we know about history and gets into using and evaluating sources.
  2. Snapshot Autobiography:  What is history? And why do historical accounts differ? In this lesson, students create brief autobiographies and then reflect on the process to better understand how history is written.  
  3. Evaluating Sources:  Are all historical sources equally trustworthy/ How might the reliability of a historical document be affected by the circumstances under which it was created? In this mini-lesson, students sharpen their ability to source documents and learn to think critically about what sources provide the best evidence to answer historical questions.
  4. Make your case!: This lesson is about the skill of corroboration. To practice this historical thinking skill, students  evaluate and corroborate different accounts of who vandalized a locker room and who started a fight in a lunchroom.
Like building your classroom culture and your relationships with students, building historical thinking skills is something that takes a little time in the beginning of the year but that pays off greatly as the year goes on.

Try one and let me know how it goes! As always, I love to hear from you! newmantr@pcsb.org

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

New Year, New Eyes

New backpacks. New shoes. New, sharpened pencils. New bulletin boards. New schedules. New software.

New eyes.

Wait, new eyes? Where the heck am I going to get new eyes?  

Before that one kid says something rude. Before that other kid stops showing up. Before a different kid refuses to put her name on her paper.

Let’s start fresh and new. Put on new eyes for tomorrow.

Each kid today is checking his new backpack, putting on her new shoes, checking out an outfit in front of the mirror. Each kid is nervously thinking about the new school year.  Each kid is taking a deep breath before tomorrow.

Each kid shows up hoping THIS will be a great year. Maybe even the best. Each kid’s parent or caregiver says a little prayer or thought that this year, hopefully their kid won’t struggle so much.

You have done a lot of preparation in the past week and a half. You have had meetings, trainings, room set-up. You have learned new software, new textbooks, new procedures, new content, new colleagues.

Now know that not much of that matters if you don’t believe that your kids can learn and grow. Those meetings, trainings, software, and set-up don’t matter if you don’t believe that each student can increase his or her capacity for learning and growth.

Go look at your class rolls. Look at each name. Think about how this year you can increase each kid’s brain power.

Your job isn’t to fill an empty bucket of a brain with content. Your job is to grow the bucket. By the end of the year, I hope most of the kids you teach have “bigger buckets” and a larger capacity for learning.

In case you’re wondering, one of the best ways to do that is to get to know your kids. Kids will grow their capacity for learning more when they feel safe and have a solid, dependable teacher-student relationship.

When you see them on the first day, have them fill out something to help you get to know them. Whether it’s their own paper, your handout, or digital forms, ask them for their name and interests. Ask them who they live with. Ask them what kind of music they like. Ask them their favorite book genre. Ask them what they like about school and what they don’t like. Ask them their favorite subjects or teachers from the past. Ask them what extracurriculars or hobbies they have.

Then, be diligent and purposeful in using that info to get to know them. Group them based on their favorite music, or similar hobbies. Group them based on neighborhood or favorite subject. Help them to get to know each other so you and they have better class dynamics and better behavior.

Use your new eyes. Every kid who walks through your door tomorrow is hoping for a great year. Every kid is hoping that this year, they will be academically and socially successful. Every kid is hoping that this year doesn’t suck.Every kid wants this year to be good.

Take a deep breath before you walk in tomorrow and do two things.
  1. Expect the best of each kid (no matter what you heard) and
  2. Get to know your kids so you can grow their capacity for learning.
Oh, and
3. Rock your first day!

Have a great one! I love to hear from you! Emai lme at newmantr@pcsb.org

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Summer Reads! Makes Me Feel Fine!

Summer READS ... Makes me feel Fiiine. Blowin’ through the Jasmine in my MIIIIII-IIIIIND.....

It’s about that time, y’all. After today, there are six more student days. And then....


Ahhhhhh..... The time of year when teachers find they can read for fun and learning again. Beach time. Family time. Frosty beverage time. Travel time. Go-to-the-PD-you-actually-choose time.  DIY house project time. Free-time, time.

With regards to reading, I like to send out my summer reading list. I’m sure you have one, too. If not, feel free to borrow any of mine!

I plan to spend some hammock time and maybe some couch time with my ...

(sing it now!) “Summer Reads.... Make me feel smart! Flyin’ through the book stack on my NIIIIIIIIGHT-STAND!”

Ahem. (cough).

Sorry. That note was a little high for my voice.

Anyway. Here’s my reading list. What’s on your list?

  1. “Why Students Can’t Google Their Way to the Truth” article by the always-brilliant Sam Wineburg, rockstar in the study of students and historical thinking. To discuss how students look at news and the internet and information at their fingertips... http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/11/02/why-students-cant-google-their-way-to.html
  2. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari -- a “Big History” book  about the history of humankind from the beginning through the age of Empires. I need to broaden my perspective of World History. This might do it for me. https://www.amazon.com/Sapiens-Humankind-Yuval-Noah-Harari/dp/0062316095/ref=lp_9_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1493385541&sr=1-4
  3. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space by Margot Lee Shetterly.  I haven’t seen the movie -- and I tend to not see movies until forever after their theater release -- so I really want to read the book. Fabulous history story I didn’t know much about! https://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Figures-American-Untold-Mathematicians/dp/0062363603/ref=sr_1_16?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1493386070&sr=1-16
  4. Unshakeable: 20 Ways to Enjoy Teaching Every Day...No Matter What by Angela Watson  I know teachers have incredibly frustrating jobs. I know how easy it is for teaching to stop being fun. I want to hear how other teachers keep or bring back the fun and enjoyment in their own teaching careers. Maybe it will help me when I encounter other teachers who are feeling that way. https://www.amazon.com/Unshakeable-Enjoy-Teaching-Every-Matter/dp/0982312733/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1493386107&sr=1-1&keywords=teaching
  5. Mindsets in the Classroom: Everything Educators Need for School Success Those of you who know me know I’m really into Growth Mindset. But how can a teacher create growth mindsets in his or her classroom? This book looks like it will give some practical, tangible ways. https://www.amazon.com/Ready-Use-Resources-Mindsets-Classroom/dp/1618213962/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1493386204&sr=1-3&keywords=growth+mindset
  6. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys  I love a good historical novel! This novel is about WWII East Prussians trying to flee to freedom. The author was here in Largo a few months ago and I missed her. But the book has been on my digital bookshelf since then. Supposed to be powerful and amazing!  https://www.amazon.com/Salt-Sea-Ruta-Sepetys-ebook/dp/B00YM34WM8/ref=lp_17437_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1494960371&sr=1-4
Image result for what's in your bookshelfWhat’s in your bookshelf? What are you reading this summer (it definitely doesn’t have to be work-related!)

As always, I love to hear! Email me at newmantr@pcsb.org

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Survey Says?

It’s the week before exams. 12 School days left.
Right now your students have one thing on their minds.

Grades, Grades, Grades.

Those “greedy” kids. They’re all about their OWN grades.

At this time of year, the kids are taking tons of tests and exams and trying to cram 10 months of work into the next two weeks to “make up” work (or even beg for extra credit) so they can pass your class.

What about the TEACHER’S grade?

Don’t you want feedback on how YOU-THE-TEACHER did this year too?

Give yourself your own teacher-version of end-of-year feedback.

Give your kids a survey about your class.

I say this every year, so I hope you’re ok with another annual reminder.

Survey. Your. Kids.

Make it anonymous. I promise that 95% of their feedback is useful. (There are a few goofballs in any class/crowd, I admit it). The kids really can tell you what no one else can about your class. They can actually help you with useful information, no matter how many times you caught them with their phones out this month or how many bathroom passes they asked for.

Their feedback is still helpful to you.

You don't have to share it with your administrator if you don't want to.

Make it paper-and-pencil or make it digital. Print it out or have them answer on their own paper.  Do it on an index card! Use the iPad lab or have the kids use their phones. The HOW is up to you.

The what  you ask is a little trickier. Here are a couple of thoughts...
  1. Ask a question, with a question mark. People are more honest with a question mark for  some reason.
  2. Ask them about pedagogy, environment, expectations, engagement, and support
    1. HOW well they learned in your class
    2. How kids behaved in the class
    3. How much encouragement they received in class
    4. How much the student participated
    5. How does this teacher help you
  3. Ask kids to rate how they felt about class activities, homework, projects, the subject of the course.
  4. Leave a few open-ended questions, like
    1. What was your favorite part of this class?
    2. What did I do to help you learn this year?
    3. What could I have done to help you learn more?
    4. What could YOU have done to help you do better?
Then, read their answers. I am a big fan of anonymity. Kids answer more honestly if they don’t put their names on it.

After you read their answers, jot down for yourself a few major takeaways. They can be trends, specific comment or answers unique to a specific class period or group.

Use their answers to reflect on your year and set some goals for next year.

One of the most reflective and honest and helpful things I did all year was to survey my students. Try to catch them before they disappear in an exam schedule craziness.

Try using one of these for inspiration. Then, make your own.

Questions, thoughts? As always, email me! newmantr@pcsb.org