Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wayback Wednesday

So, picture fourteen-year old Tracy. Literally. See below. (eeep! Hahahahah!!!) When I was a teenager, grunge was awesome. I wore flannel daily (Yes, even in Florida. What?! The A/C is always on!). I didn’t wear glasses yet. I was a little artsy/drama-y and no teacher really understood what I was all about. I may have crushed on a boy or two. I may have had a home perm. I thought I was Daria. I was really this.

IMG_20150224_142111054.jpgBe nice! I bet your pictures from age 14 are just as dorky!

So I definitely wear less flannel in 2015. I am a little artsy but more craftsy. I am pretty sure that some of my teachers definitely DID understand (at least) part of where I was coming from. I 

don’t crush on anyone but my awesome husband.

But as I sat in a not-so-hot training recently, I was suddenly zoomed back to being fourteen again. Here are the thoughts in my head: “Ugh! Why do we have to do this? Is this teacher aware of how much I don’t want to be here? How can I make the clock move faster? All this stuff is stupid anyway... I have so many better things to do!”

Have you ever had a WONDERFUL professional development/training? (please don’t tell me whether or not I was your presenter)

Have you ever had a so-so one? How about a lousy one? (No, REALLY don’t tell me if I was involved!

Recently, I sat in that that training and tried to be a good adult learner, and not a little punk of a teenager. But, it turns out, that I’m not always a good adult learner. Sometimes, the snotty brat of a teenager still comes through.

Since I didn't really love the training, I slacked off. I tried to multi-task. I checked my email. I checked my phone. I whispered to the person next to me. I looked up the book the presenter was talking about on Amazon to see if I could order it. I tried to put the strategy into practice immediately and started to write a lesson or an activity to use it. I giggled and got off task. I used to grade papers; now I just make To Do lists and plan future stuff.

It occurred to me that sometimes, I have a motivation problem. Sometimes, I just don’t know how I will use a Thing that I am learning -- and so I don’t know WHY I have to learn it!  So instead, I don’t give it my all.

So what makes me BEHAVE better and LEARN in a training?

1.    I like/respect/have a relationship with the instructor
2.    I can figure out how to use the info. It’s relevant.
3.    The training is engaging. It’s interesting. It’s fun.

Then, it occurred to me that many of our students have motivation problems, too.

I wise colleague once said, “a well-crafted lesson can prevent a good chunk of behavior problems”

It’s true.

Teenage Tracy acted better for some teachers than others. So does Adult Tracy. It’s all about relationships.

Teenage Tracy acted better when the lesson or skill was useful and relevant. So does Adult Tracy. It’s all about relevance and usefulness.

Teenage Tracy acted better when the lesson was engaging and interesting -- for the learner, not just for the teacher. So does Adult Tracy. It’s all about engagement.

We know about building strong relationships with students. It’s the other two pieces our kids are begging from us -- with every under-the-desk-text and every daydream and every conversation-with-a-neighbor.

So why do kids misbehave? They’re not that different than I was.
·         Sometimes kids misbehave because they don’t have a strong relationship with the teacher. It’s hard to work for someone you don’t care about or respect
·         Sometimes they misbehave because they have “stuff” going on -- home issues, boyfriend/girlfriend issues, friend drama, hunger, bullying, illness, frustrations in other classes with other teachers. Maybe they didn’t make the soccer team or their dad is in the hospital or they didn’t get the job they wanted or they fought with their mom or their baby niece kept them up all night. Outside stuff.
·         Sometimes, they misbehave because they’re lost or frustrated. They can’t keep up with the reading or the assignment or the content. They aren’t good listeners or readers and they don’t know what’s going on. So 

they act up.
·         Sometimes, they misbehave because they’re bored. They’re not interested in your content. Or they’re tired of the usual class routine. Or they don’t like to sit quietly for that long (neither do I -- that’s why I’m a teacher!). Or it’s too easy.

So how do we make an environment where kids are more likely  to behave? I say more likely because I cannot control everything and I can’t do much about the boyfriend/hunger/flu/home-drama issues. I also know that despite my winning personality and huge relationship effort, I will not connect in a powerful way with EVERY kid who crosses my path every day.

1.    Keep trying to build that relationship. Even if it’s almost March. Even if the kid drives you nuts. Keep trying. You might be the only teacher who hasn’t given up on that kid in March. Or improve the relationship you have already begun.
2.    Make it relevant. I know, I know. Ancient History is tough to make relevant and useful for 6th graders. 7th graders are not going to vote for another few years. To 10th graders, the Cold War IS ancient history. Seniors can’t yet figure out how to use a lot of economics other than personal finance. But all of these things tell us why WE are the way WE are and how humans are alike (and different) over space and time. So help them see the connections -- how WE (today) are like THEM (back then) and how WE (today) have hopefully learned and changed and grown from THEM (back then). Help kids see the beauty and contributions of different groups. Help them understand how the world works today.
3.    Give kids choice.  Even choices that don’t seem that important to you can be empowering and engaging to a kid. Work with Devonte or Ashley? Make a poster or a power point? Use a Venn Diagram or a T-chart? Giving kids a little choice can go a long way toward their engagement. It’s amazing how far this can go toward engagement.
4.    Let kids talk to each other -- about content. Even the most boring topic is more interesting if you can debate or negotiate your way through it. Let them turn and talk, argue, construct, and discuss the content.
5.    Hook them. If you can find a hook -- a good question, a 3 minute video clip, a song, a funny story, an embarrassing picture of yourself (a-hem!!) -- then you can “reel them in”. A good hook can make the whole “so-so” lesson worth participating in simply because it’s more fun and interesting.
6.    Challenge them. Your “low performing” kids are not usually as low performing OUTSIDE the classroom as they may be INSIDE your classroom. A level one reader can be VERY clever and creative if the question is “Can you find a spot in the school with no cameras to get up to trouble?” instead of “What is the main idea?”. Challenge these kids with a task or problem that includes competition and higher level thinking.

How can you help engage kids in your class? Is it bad Wayback Wednesday (or Throwback Thursday) pictures? Are you digging my home perm Way Back When? As always, I love to hear how you engage kids! Email me at

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Diets and Vocabulary

After putting on a bijillion pounds of baby weight, I have discovered that it sure takes a long time to get that baby weight off. My baby is over a year old now. Which means he’s not a baby. Which means I don’t have baby weight anymore. I just have weight. :)

Thankfully, there are plenty of healthy, reasonable diets, programs, and regimens out there.

The one that seems to work best for me is pretty flexible. It lets me eat a lot of the foods I like - -provided I budget them well. So, if someone brings in donuts in the morning (fist shaking!) and I splurge (yum!)-- then I don’t get to eat something ELSE I like later in the day. Like skim ice cream. If I exercise, I get to eat a little more. If I don’t exercise that day, I don't get to eat as much.

If I don’t follow the rules, I don’t lose weight. I’m not successful that way.

If I do follow the rules, I am successful. And slowly but surely I am finding success.

It’s all kind of logical, but I am the person who needs to count and have a program help me do that budgeting of food and calories.

I would like to think of the budgeting of calories and the budgeting of vocabulary as similar ideas.

If I eat too many poor food choices -- I’m not healthy.
If our kids have too many poorly-chosen vocabulary terms -- their vocabularies don’t stay healthy.

What I mean is, if they try to digest too many vocabulary terms, they won’t be successful. Just like if I try to digest too many Valentine’s candies, I won’t be successful at my goals either.

Kids -- particularly lower-performing readers, ESE, and ELL students -- can’t handle too many vocabulary words at once. The more we give them, the less successful those struggling kids will be with them.

So here is my plea today -- figure out which words kids really, really can’t live without. And teach the heck out of those words. Make your kids OWN those words. Like a BOSS.

And then build on those.

So how do I figure out which words to teach? Well the bold words are a good place to start. But they shouldn’t be the only place you start. You’ll be amazed at how rarely our kids look at non-bold words and try to decipher their meaning.

Here are some ideas about how to choose good words, according to the brilliant Dr. Anita Archer’s book Explicit Instruction.
  1. Choose words your kids don’t actually know.  This sounds obvious, but it’s hard for us to know what words came up in reading class or a rap song or in the Big Bang Theory that everyone  in your class knows. Give informal formative assessment and ASK your kids what words they know well.
  2. Choose words that your kids actually need to understand the passage. “Manifest Destiny” is pretty crucial. “Compromise” is pretty important. “Bleeding Kansas” is secondary.
  3. Choose words that will come up again. Choose words that are not one-hit-wonders but are words that will come up again in your class, in conversation, in other classes.
  4. Choose words that are tough to learn. Many (not all) kids will get “isolationist” from “isolation”. So maybe that word isn’t worth as much time as you think it is.
Like my current eating habits, teaching vocabulary is a budgeting process. You can’t give struggling kids a big list and ask them to master the whole thing. They won’t be successful at much -- if any of it.

There is no magic number of words that kids will or won’t master. Some lower-performing students can handle fewer than their more academically successful peers.

I don’t mean that we shouldn’t challenge our kids. But I do mean that we should focus more on less. Give them fewer words and then make sure our kids really, really master those words.

WE’ll talk soon about some bang-for-your-buck vocab strategies. But in the meantime, look at your next unit of vocabulary and see if you can figure out which words to teach to mastery and which ones to just “touch on”.

Any thoughts on vocabulary selection? As always, I love to hear from you!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dittos, Wars, and Encoding

About a decade ago, I had a colleague find a “ditto” machine that had been lost in a box in a closet for forever. It turned out, that while we had strict copy limits at my school -- there were no limits on the Ditto machine (until we ran out of ink -- can you even still buy that stuff?). So we went ditto-crazy and made dittos of everything after we used up our copies for the month. (Man, those dittos smelled good! :)

Sometimes, technology changes. While I might still use a ditto machine after I ran out of copies, I might also now project more on my projector, I might now email handouts to students, I might use write-and-wipes. There are a lot more options than dittos-and-overhead-projectors.

Confession time:
During my first year as a teacher I taught “Florida Challenges and Choices” to 8th graders. My entire curriculum was six squares on a single sheet of paper with a different topic each six-weeks grading period -- like “Florida Geography” and “Finance Park” and “Wars and Conflicts” and no textbook or notebook of resources. It was catch-as-catch-can. During that last unit, “Florida in Wars and Conflicts” my veteran colleague gave me a 22-page typed packet with outlined  notes on every conflict Florida had ever been involved in-- from the Spanish assault on Fort Caroline (1565) to Florida’s role in the Persian Gulf War (1991).

The students literally were expected to sit quietly and copy the 22-page packet of notes -- for weeks.

And I, being a new teacher, not knowing any better, assigned it to my students. And then struggled with the classroom management and the ensuing student revolt. In April and May!!

And then gave them an open-note test. Which they bombed, of course.

If you know any of those students -- please apologize for me. I’m pretty sure those kids didn’t learn ANYTHING about Florida Wars and Conflicts. Or anything!

So, with full disclosure of my own prior note-copying practices I want you to look deeply at your own.

There is a time and a place for students copying down information. I get that. But as professionals, we need to really examine our practices of copying.

Why do we have students copy?

If it is for students to get information, we might think about using the copy machine. Or the ditto machine (does anyone still have one? :) Or the books. Or let kids take photos with their phones.

If it is for students to interact with information, we might think about having students make notes instead of taking notes.

Research shows that copying notes does not support retention of lecture content. So why do we do it?

Here’s a great quote from “Exemplary Instruction in the Middle Grades”, by Diane Lapp and Barbara Moss (2012), reading coaches and teacher-educators at San Diego State University -- stay with me, high school folks. This can apply to your kids, too! They cite teachers in a PLC at an “urban neighborhood school”.

Mr. Rappaport, a social studies teacher, tells his colleagues that he cannot understand why his students perform so poorly on the section quizzes and unit tests. He explains that he has developed Powerpoint presentations for each chapter that include many visuals and notes, which he has his students carefully copy down. He reveals to his colleagues, “And for my English language learners who can’t read the textbook and for those students who won’t read the textbook, lecturing and note taking seem to be the only way that the students will get the material. Most of my students can’t take notes on their own. They can’t write fast enough, and some of them have poor listening skills. Copying down the notes should help the students remember better than just reading or hearing the material. I like to have them copy the notes because it keeps them busy and on task during the period. Even so, they are still doing poorly on the tests.

With exasperation in her voice, Mrs. Grim, the science teacher, said, “I have the same problem, except that instead of having my students copy the powerpoint slides, I prepare graphic organizers, which the students follow as I lecture and we fill in together. If they study the graphic organizer, the students should do well on the quizzes -- but they don’t. (p. 292-293)

Does any of that sound familiar? It sure does to me! I swear, I spent hours every Sunday afternoon crafting clear, easy to read powerpoints with lots of historical art and engaging visuals. And still, my kids didn’t do so hot on my tests and quizzes.

According to Lapp and Moss, notetaking has two main purposes: recording information and promoting reflection. We record information like grocery lists and phone numbers every day. We get that.

Reflection, called encoding, is when students use notes for more sophisticated purposes, like summarizing, interpreting, making connections, etc. “When students actively generate relationships among parts of information and between this new information and their prior knowledge, comprehension is improved. When students re-process information in some way, whether through summary writing or self-questioning, long-term memory is improved and material is better recalled. ... The more the information learning process involves understanding and transforming operations, the greater the intensity and effectiveness of the learning process.

The keys are in the making of notes, not the taking of notes. What do I mean?

According to Robert Marzano, kids need to interact with information. They’re not sponges anymore. They’re potters who need to squoosh and smoosh and squish and manipulate the content until it fits the way THEIR brains want to store it. Encoding...

Research says that “The mere fact of copying information does not ensure that students will remember or truly understand the information provided. Research has found that the act of copying does not aid recall. For true learning to occur, students need opportunities to engage in tasks that go beyond copying.

SO, how do we do that? How do we help kids encode content? How do we get it to stick in their brains?

They’ve got to process it. First, they shouldn’t copy too much -- certainly not 22 pages! Let’s use the copying piece sparingly. Here are some ideas on processing.
  • Kids can encode content when they discuss it. They need to do the discussing, not us-we-the-teachers discussing it for them. Try a turn-and-talk or sentence starters.
  • Kids can encode content when they summarize it. Kids doing the summarizing, not us-the-teachers summarizing for them.
  • Kids can encode content when they write claims and find evidence from their notes or readings. Again, they have to write the claims and find the evidence. We can’t do it for them.
  • Kids can encode when they argue about something in their notes or readings. We can’t argue it for them.
  • Kids can encode when they make connections to other information. Again, they have to make the connections for themselves. We can’t do it for them. d
  • Kids can encode when they re-work or interpret the content into their own visual, graphic organizer, foldable, or whatever. We can’t rework it for them.
So what if my kids are lousy discussers, summarizers, claim writers, arguers, connectors, or interpreters?

I use gradual release to teach the skill. First, I show them how to summarize. Then, we summarize all together.  Next, they practice summarizing in groups. Finally, they practice summarizing independently.

Let’s find better ways to use notes -- and let’s not be a ditto machine but be judicious with copying of notes. Let’s find ways for our students to encode our content so they really get it.

How do you have your kids encode content? Any ways you can increase your encoding and use your copying more judiciously?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

OMG! The FSA is a DBQ! SMH...

When I started teaching, in my New Teacher packet,  I got an awesome list of education-industry acronyms. This was a super helpful list as I tried to sort through the VE, EBD, ESE, and/or ELL kids who did or did not have ABC or ABS or OSS at the MS or HS or even the ES. I knew what PE was and who TAs were but not STEM or PMAC or SWBAT.  I was confused by DWT, IPDP, NCLB, IDEA, but knew I didn’t want to go to OPS. I wondered about the NAEP, FCAT, SRI, SAT, AP results of my students. I joined PCSS, FCSS, NCSS and PCTA. At least I could ask for things ASAP and learned to CYA and MYOB.

All that was before text messages and twitter further shortened our world of acronyms.

Isn’t it funny how we can write entire sentences where we use more acronyms than words?

So here’s my acronym speak for the week.

FYI, the FSA is a big DBQ.

Ok, so that isn't’ nearly enough acronyms in one sentence to go in my acronym hall of fame, but seriously, here’s how it works.

The kids read a couple of documents (generally of social studies and/or science topics) and then write either an informative or argumentative essay about a big overarching question.

Sound familiar?

Sure, there’s no hook activity or buckets, but that is the basic gist of a DBQ: Read multiple texts, connect common themes, answer question in written essay form.

So -- do me a favor. W8...don’t do me the favor, do a favor for your students -- ESE, ELL, AP, EBD, or whoever --

Do one more DBQ in the next month to help prepare your kids for that Writing FSA.

OMG, it will be so helpful!

Seriously, your ELA (English/Language Arts) and Reading colleagues are teaching their butts off to make sure the kids are familiar with the format, the computer program, the standards and the essay planning before the FSA writing test next month.  Preventing as many IDKs as possible ... SMH ...

We, as social studies teachers can be super huge helps to our students -- and to our school grades -- if we do one more DBQ this month before Writing FSA.

If you’re wondering if this is really a part of your job, BTW, when you have your own EOC coming up, go  to CPALMS (SRSLY -- go there, pull up your course, and click on the standards. The beginning ones that say LAFS...RH or LAFS ... WHST -- those are for you.

LAFS stands for Language Arts Florida Standards and RH means Reading History while WHST stands for Writing History, Science, Technical subjects.

Those are the ELA standards that go with your NGSSS. They are in your course directory from the FLDOE and they are an important part of your course.

Here’s a reminder of the alignment between the DBQ, the LAFS and the FSA.

The DBQ, LAFS, and FSA Match-up!
*Ellipses (…) are used in place of grade level band for Florida Standards. For grades 6-8 LAFS, the ellipses mean 68 in the traditional coding. For grades 9-10 the ellipses stand for 910. For grades 11-12, they stand for 1112. For example LAFS.1112.RH.1.2 or LAFS.68.WHST.2.2
Parts of a DBQ
Corresponding Florida Standards
Corresponding FSA
The Hook Exercise
Where the DBQ introduces the main concept in the DBQ and hooks the students’ interest
·         The Hook Exercise does not explicitly address the Florida Standards in reading and writing, but it does address the Florida Standards in Speaking and Listening. It is also an essential part of setting purpose and engaging the students.
·         Not explicitly FSA but the Hook is a great part of setting purpose and engaging the students.
The Background Essay
The students and teacher read a background essay to “even the playing field” and put everyone literally on the same page. This is a textbook-style secondary source to give students context for the documents ahead.
·         Introduces the academic vocabulary  
·         Helps students practice finding the main idea (LAFS…RH.1.2)
·         The background essay is like one of the informational texts in the FSA test. Working through the background essay helps kids practice reading strategies
Understanding the Question/Pre-bucketing
The students make sure they completely understand the over-arching question of the DBQ and all terms within the question.
·         Produce clear and coherent writing …appropriate to the task, purpose, and audience
·         On the FSA, students will need to thoroughly understand the question before they respond to it in writing.
Document Analysis
The students deeply read and analyze several primary and secondary non-fiction documents on the same topic, showing various viewpoints, types of text, and
·         Analyze primary and secondary source text
·         Determine main idea of primary and secondary texts (LAFS…RH.1.2)
·         Analyze in detail a series of events in a text/text structure  (LAFS…RH.1.3)
·         Analyze how a text uses structure to make a point (LAFS…RH.2.5)
·         Integrate visual information and charts and data with print text (LAFS…RH.3.7)
·         Assess whether the reasoning and evidence support the author’s claims (LAFS…RH.3.8)
·         Compare and contrast the treatment of the same topic over multiple primary and secondary sources (LAFS…RH.3.9)
·         Read complex text (LAFS…RH.4.10)
·         On the FSA test, students will read and analyze several varied sources on the same topic and will need to understand them well enough to respond in writing.
Argument and Thesis
Students argue or “thrash-out” the topic, as a pre-writing strategy. They then write a thesis statement and a “roadmap” for their argument paper.
·         Compare the points of view of multiple authors (LAFS…RH.2.6)
·         Compare and assess whether the reasoning and evidence support the author’s claims (LAFS…RH.3.8)
·         Compare and contrast the treatment of the same topic over multiple primary and secondary sources (LAFS…RH.3.9)
·         Introduce a claim (LAFS…WHST.1.1a)
·         Support a claim with evidence (LAFS…WHST.1.1b)
·         Gather and use relevant evidence from multiple sources (LAFS…WHST.3.8)
·         On the FSA test, students will need to construct clear and coherent arguments based on the multiple sources they have read and analyzed. Four out of ten points are based on organization and focus.
Writing the Argumentative Essay
Students write formal, argumentative essays from their thesis statements based on evidence from the documents and on reasoned historical and political arguments.
·         Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content (LAFS…WHST.1.1)
·         Introduce claims and thesis (LAFS…WHST.1.1a)
·         Support your claim with evidence (LAFS…WHST.1.1b)
·         Write clearly, make appropriate transitions, and use formal style (LAFS…WHST.1.1c and 1d)
·         Write a thoughtful conclusion (LAFS…WHST.1.1e)
·         Produce clear and coherent writing that is appropriate to the task and audience (LAFS…WHST.2.4)
·         Gather relevant information from multiple sources and assess the usefulness of each source (LAFS…WHST.3.8)
·         Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis and reflection (LAFS…WHST.3.9)
·         On the FSA, students will have to write a strong, argumentative or informative essay using the multiple sources they have read and examined. Four out of the ten points are based on student use of evidence and elaboration

PLZ -- do a DBQ. ASAP. DYI. The Writing FSA is next month. The Reading FSA is in April. Give your kids another great opportunity to hone their skills and prepare!

What DBQ are you doing in February? Email and let me know!