Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Problem With "Buy-In": When it comes to increasing student achievement, word choice matters

This week, I had the distinct privilege of hearing Dr. Anthony Muhammad speak at the Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) At Work Institute. Dr. Muhammad is a world-renowned speaker, educational consultant, and author. His work centers largely in school culture and organizational climate and connecting both to the PLC ideology. I attended two of Dr. Muhammad's sessions addressing the topics of culture and collaboration in our schools. I was particularly interested in hearing Dr. Muhammad's words of wisdom on overcoming frustration and push back from staff members who are resistant to the shifts we are making in our PLC work.

Let me just pause this post right now and say this: If you ever have the opportunity to hear Anthony Muhammad speak, do it. He is engaging, intelligent, insightful, and tells it exactly how it is. There's no possible way I could recount the points he made so perfectly as he put them, but I'm going to attempt to because they were really, really powerful and so spot on.

When it comes to PLC work, I often hear (and, full disclosure, have even used myself) the term buy-in - as in, "We are trying to create buy-in from our staff". Anytime we are talking about buy-in, we are generally referring to a population of staff who are holding out, resistant, or reluctant to embrace a shift or change for any particular reason.

What I learned from Dr. Muhammad is there are some problems with this term buy-in:

  • Buy-in implies the idea is something that is to be bought and - consequently - returned if I don't like it. 
  • Buy-in begs the question "What's in it for me?"
  • Buy-in says "I have not been sufficiently entertained to be convinced this is a good idea in which I will agree to. "
  • Buy-in feeds what Dr. Muhammad refers to as a "Descriptive & Deflective" toxic culture.
  • Buy-in is weak and subjective.
The goal of PLC work is to better meet the needs of our students. If your school or district has adopted the PLC methodology, it's pretty safe to say that what you've been doing hasn't been working. When it comes to improving instruction and learning of our students, we don't want buy-in, we need commitment: 

Commitment is an essential sign of a healthy school culture. It's prescriptive, not deflective. It's going all in, saying "We are devoted to increasing learning and achievement for all our students."

The thing about commitment is you have to do it whether you like it or not. It's not about what you like or don't like with commitments. Commitments are things you have to do regardless of how you feel about them. Think about your year-long gym membership commitment, or your credit card commitment, or even your relationship commitment. We don't always like these things, but we do them because we've committed to them! There's no "buy-in" when it comes to paying my monthly gym's a commitment I agreed to, and I pay it whether I like it or not!

This isn't just true for PLC work. Any steps that are intended to increase student achievement for all learners need to have the buy-in factor erased. There's no buy-in needed to follow a student's IEP accommodations, so there shouldn't be buy-in needed to incorporate engagement strategies into your instruction.
So when it comes to increasing student achievement in our schools, why are we still waiting for buy-in, when it's commitment that we actually require to make any sort of progress? We are public servants, not independent contractors. Our specific purpose is to educate all children in our community. There's no buy-in needed; it's a commitment we agreed to when we became teachers. So let's stop asking for buy-in and start requiring commitment.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

#AllMeansAll: How are you engaging your English Language Learner students?

Quick question: what are you currently doing to elicit feedback from your students? I'm talking about anytime you want a response from them to check for understanding. I'll give you some think time...

Did your response include any of these:
  • Ask a question to the class and call on students with their hands raised
  • Pull from the cup of popsicle sticks which have students' names written on them
  • Cold call on students 
We'll come back to this in a bit.

As innovative educators, we are always looking for ways to incorporate future-ready strategies and tools to make learning more engaging and meaningful for our students, and to better address the needs of a student in a classroom in this century. But have you ever thought specifically about your English Language Learners when you are designing lessons incorporating those tools and strategies?

According to the California Department of Education, there are approximately 5 million English Language Learners in United States public schools today. That's 1 out of every 10 students in the U.S. classified as an English Language Learner. In California (where I live), we have the highest number of English Language Learners in the country. The California Department of Education reports 21.4% of CA students are designated ELLs, more than triple the U.S. average.

English-language proficiency is taught and measured in four domains: Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. 

Obviously, this means high quality English Language Development instruction incorporates these domains throughout a lesson so that ELL students are continuously practicing them in meaningful ways. 

Let's go back to the question I posed at the start of this post. Hand-raising, cold calling, and "Equity" sticks (side note: the word "equity" is in "quotations marks" for a reason...because it's not equity! It's luck of the draw!! If you're going to use these, please do me a favor and STOP calling them "equity sticks" and call them something else! "Lottery sticks", maybe.) are all default strategies still being used by many teachers to elicit feedback from their students. But if we look at these strategies through the lens of addressing the needs of our ELLs and the Four Domains of Language Fluency, are we doing a good job?

Focusing on hand-raising in particular for a moment. When you ask a question to the class and ask students to raise their hands, what usually happens? Does your classroom look something like this, maybe?
Note: students who are having side conversations, throwing stuff at one another, and getting up out of their seat have been conveniently cropped from this picture. #MiddleSchoolTeacher

When we call on students and use hand-raising as our only source of engagement. The only student practicing their Speaking domain is the student who gets called on. What are the rest of the students doing?

Listening. Or...listening? Maybe? In our utopian teacher brains, they're all, of course, absorbing the information being shared in deep, meaningful ways. But here's a probably more accurate depiction of what's going on:
Amiright??? Where my middle and high school teachers at? You know exactly what I mean by these images.

So now I want you to go back to that class picture above and think of each and every one of those students as an English Language Learner, and the Four Domains of Language Fluency. There are far better ways to be engaging students in their learning that relying on these old school, ineffective, and, frankly, publicly humiliating strategies.

Here are three ways I've used innovative strategies/tools in both my content classes as well as my Designated ELD classes to make sure I am engaging ALL of my learners:

Google Forms
Google Forms are a quick and easy way to elicit feedback from 100% of your students. Literally 100%, as in something you could point to and proudly say I got feedback from 100% of my students. One of my favorite reasons to use a Google Form to get feedback from my students is it comes with a super low affective filter. My ELLs (and everyone else, TBH) don't have to worry about "looking stupid" or not having the perfectly crafted response prepared to share out loud and face public ridicule from their peers or their teacher (yes, public ridicule from the teacher still happens).
This was a quick exit ticket I threw together in 60 seconds and posted to my Google Classroom. I could see each student's response, have tangible data to determine my teaching next-steps, and I gave every one of my students an opportunity to share their voice. To better include the Four Domains, I might allow my students to practice their response with a partner first.

Whole Class Google Doc
You haven't really lived until you've had your entire class on one shared Google Doc at the same time. It's a bit like the wild, wild west until you get the kinks out and lay some ground rules. But once you get through the initial excitement, this strategy can offer your students a unique opportunity to share their voice without being completely drown out by their more vocal peers.

A few logistics: I set up a Doc with a table that includes space for students to put their names, and I always include more rows than needed. Before the form goes "live" I tell students to scroll down a few rows and then claim one for themselves by typing their name in the Name column, not to all try to claim the first row (There's always that one though. You know what I mean) After that, they respond to whatever questions I pose in the subsequent columns.  I then leave the last column for comments, where students can comment on one of their classmates' responses (heavily moderated by me, obvi). Here's an example:

What I love about this strategy is my ELLs or other reluctant participants can see their peers' responses, and can either align their response or have the moment of realization that their response wasn't as far off base from everyone else's as they may have feared. And again, this is 100% student voice and participation. I can have students work with partners and orally share and craft their response before adding to the Doc, I can have students come back to the Doc and share with a shoulder partner a response they want to respond to or what changed their thinking...the possibilities are endless!

Interactive Journal
This last strategy is the most involved and time-consuming on this list, but by far has the best payout. An interactive journal is basically a two-way conversation between student and teacher that takes place on a shared Google Doc. As a teacher, you can model conversation skills and letter writing, but what I feel is the greatest gain to be had by using this strategy is in relationship building. Through an interactive journal I can have a meaningful 1-on-1 "conversation" with a student who may not feel comfortable talking to me verbally. Bloggers know it's almost always easier to write what you are thinking than actually say it out loud, and this is true for students as well.
I've gained some incredible insights from my students when I used interactive journals with them, things I probably never would have learned about them in our typically day-to-day classroom interaction. What's also great is they are able to learn things they want to know about me, and we can highlight and celebrate the things we have in common in a more authentic way.

Interactive journals may not necessarily meet the Four Domains of Language Development, but I am a firm believer that good teaching and learning CANNOT happen unless it takes place on a solid relationship foundation. When our students - our ELLs in particular - know they are being listened to and genuinely cared about, it can translate into a more productive approach to meeting their academic needs in the classroom.

All kids are our kids. When we say we want all students to achieve, we need to mean ALL students. To me, these are the two essential messages I am conveying when I say all means ALL. Not just my English-only speaking students, not just my reclassified students, not just my high achieving students, but ALL of my students need and deserve high quality instruction that gives them access to the what they need in order to be successful global citizens.

What ways are you embracing #AllMeansAll in your work? What does innovative engagement for ELLs look like in your classroom? I would LOVE to hear what you're doing to make sure you are meeting the needs of all of our students! Tweet at me @beardsleyteach and be sure to include the #AllMeansAll hashtag! 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Why I Give the Kid a Pencil

This post was originally written on 6/12/2016 on my old blog.
Pencils are the necessary tool of most schoolwork...and are the bane of most teachers' existence. In eight years of teaching I've tried pretty much every sing Pinterest-suggested trick there is to solve the various problems associated with pencils:
  • "sharpened" and "unsharpened" baskets. You take one, you give one! (yeah right...)
  • a cup of pencils per group. Turn it in when you're finished with it! (yeah right...)
  • handing out a class-set of pencils at the beginning of the period and collecting them all when the period is over. You don't leave unless you turn in a pencil (yeah right...)
  • having students buy pencils out of a prize box with their classroom tickets (ugh...)
  • writing a kid's student number with a Sharpie on his/her pencil (which then switched to writing first names instead when I realized how annoying it was to find a pencil on the ground and then have kids shouting out "Who's number 8?!" )
  • writing MY name in Sharpie on all my pencils
  • putting cute washi tape around all my pencils
  • telling students I'm not supplying any more pencils, they have to bring all their own supplies or ask a friend for one.
  • telling students to search the floor for a pencil if they don't have one. If there aren't any on our floor, go to a neighboring classroom and search THEIR floor for one.
Countless procedures I've implemented, announcing to my class  time and time again that we have a "new rule" about pencils. And yet, none of them ever stuck around longer than a month or so.

Then one day, I stopped all the madness and just started giving kids pencils. I can't remember why or how I arrived at this epiphany, but I do remember the shift in my thinking.

You see, the issue here wasn't pencils -- the issue was mindset.

I adore Jennifer Gonzalez and her website Cult of PedagogyI was sitting on my couch with my cup of coffee, scrolling through my Facebook feed, when I came across a post of hers where she shared an article titled Where Have All the Pencils Gone? 29 Tips for Classroom Pencil Management Anything endorsed or suggested by Jen is usually pretty great, and this being a huge pain in my side anyway, I clicked for further reading.

Here are some examples that were shared in the article:
  • "We didn’t give parents a choice and went to community supplies."
  • "Each student is to make sure they are ready to start the day with 2 sharp pencils. I keep a can of sharp pencils close to the front on the teacher station and also one for dull or broken. The trade off is that when their pencil is dull or breaks they have to bring that and make the trade."
  • "I bought pencils w/ their names on them. They get 10 for the YEAR. One new one each month. If they want more they bring them from home. It’s THEIR responsibility to be prepared with a pencil."
  • “My class...can have no more than two in their desk at a time (helps with the horders (sic) and when it breaks they can switch it out for another quietly. They cannot sharpen during the school day. Only the “pencil sharpener” (assigned class job) may sharpen during the day. If there are no sharp pencils they have to borrow until the pencil sharpener sharpens pencils.”
  • Each student had two pencils with their number on it. They must make sure they have 2 sharpened each morning by turning them in to exchange for one of my loaner pencils. I sharpen all pencils turned in at end of day and return students numbered pencils. They are only allowed to trade dull or broken ones in by asking."
  • "I have an incentive program in my classroom and the kids have to purchase a pencil and or school supplies. They learn quickly that they need to keep their stuff. They also have to purchase a pass to use the restroom."
  • “I give students three pencils at the beginning of the year with 3 pencil cap erasers and random ones for holidays from (the) dollar store. Then about 2 Fridays a month, we do pencil check when they have to show me three pencils and three cap erasers otherwise they use their class cash to pay for new ones. At the end if each day, they can put pencils “Four, no more” on their name tags for me to sharpen after school. They can trade throughout the day but since we just use the boring yellow pencils, they don’t tend to hoard.”
  • “I do 5 pencil Friday – that shows me you will be ready for the week to come. After you earn 4 stickers (one every Friday) you get a mini ice cream sandwich. It’s a little costly but well worth it."

As I read through those teachers' responses, I couldn't help but notice a few things. For starters, all of these suggestions are high-maintenance solutions, meaning they require quite a bit of teacher energy and consistency (and, in some cases, even money) to sustain. I am not about that life whatsoever, and if I'm going to bat for something, it's going to be for something far more significant than just pencils.
Secondly, if you examine these responses carefully, you may notice how they are all heavily tinged with the "old school" mentality that the teacher holds all the power (or, in this case, all the pencils) and it's the student's job to please the teacher by being prepared to his/her standard. You're not doing anything to teach the kid about the responsibility of maintaining their supplies, you're just training them to respond to your wishes. That's not life-long character building.
The vast majority of students understand and realize they need a pencil every day in order to do their work. They are the ones who show up to the first day of school with all the suggested supplies, and maybe a little extra. We teachers typically refer to these students as the ones who "get it", or the ones who "do school".
However, there is always that small percentage of students who never seem to have it figured out, no matter which grade they're in. It's no coincidence these are also typically the ones who still haven't gone supply shopping after the second week of school, still haven't returned the signed parent forms you sent home, and - if I'm generalizing here - are usually the "shovers", meaning they don't have a delicate filing system of folders or binders in which to place their paperwork, but rather rely on the "shoving" method for putting things away. Teachers get on these kids over and over, telling them they need to "figure it out", chastising them for not knowing their basic student needs and solving their own problems (I'm guilty of giving these lectures more times than I care to admit). Needless to say, this is the main population of which most pencil woes take place.
The amount of time, energy, and effort it was taking me to nag these kids was starting to weigh me down, especially once I acknowledged that no amount of lip service from me was going to suddenly whip them into shape and cause a magical moment where they see the light and go skipping off to Staples. It was also pointless to train an entire class to respond to my personal procedure for pencils when most of them already had something that was working for them. Again, if I'm going to invest valuable time and energy into something, I want it to be the most bang for my buck.
Kids who are constantly losing and asking for pencils obviously have some greater issues going on, whether it's executive functioning issues, home life distractions, or, frankly, because they just don't care. Having a pencil and being ready for class is teacher priority, but not always a kid priority, especially if that child comes from an environment of trauma or poverty.
I saw this poem come up in my Twitter feed one day:
I took a step back and looked at the greater issues going on with these kids and came to this conclusion: just give the kid a pencil.

Pencils aren't made of gold. A box of 30 high-quality ones costs me about $5, which I can probably get reimbursed for. I start the year by having a wish list of extra supplies, and I always put Ticonderoga pencils on there. Anytime an eager parent asks if I need anything for the classroom, I always ask for pencils. Pencils are sort of a basic need in the school world, akin to food, water, and air. So give the kid a pencil.

A kid realizing he or she doesn't have a pencil can be a small hiccup in the learning process, not a major diversion. Without a pencil, student productivity comes to a grinding halt. It's a well-known fact that a kid who doesn't have a pencil = a kid who is now causing disruption, either to themselves or to the rest of the class. I personally would rather have my students stay on this course of productivity and move past the No Pencil dilemma as swiftly as possible, as opposed to capitalizing on the moment for some arbitrary life lesson about responsibility. Ease the pain of this by giving the kid a pencil.

Giving a kid a pencil when they have the courage to admit they need one goes more deeply than you may think. I highly recommend taking a look at this blog post on the Teaching Tolerance website. I love this professor's insights about this topic, especially this quote:
"Of course there is the chance I will be taken advantage of. I welcome this chance. I resolve to remain a patient advocate for the child even if he is testing me. When I hand him the 50th pencil and remind him there is always one here, what will be his likely impression? Has humiliation worked so far in his educational experience? Has the status quo resolved the issue? Imagine the impact of endless advocacy. We should all be extended such grace."
Here's a link to my favorite brand of pencils. For less than the cost of a pizza, you'll have a decent supply of pencils to start off your school year.

Of course, you could eliminate the pain and suffering of pencils all together by switching to a more paperless classroom and having your students complete the majority of their work using digital tools, like Google Apps for Education. But that's a blog post for another time.

How about you? What's your stance on the Great Pencil Debate? I'd love to read your insights in the comments below.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

#BookSnaps + Google Keep = professional reading that sticks!

My current thing I'm super excited about: #BookSnaps. These are pictures people take of a portion of text they are reading, only ramped way up. The picture then gets imported into an app that allows photo editing (usually Snapchat) where the user can then mark up the picture with anything from circling important quotes, re-typing a favorite line in bold text, adding Bitmojis and stickers for flair and connection, and more!

The creation of #BookSnaps is attributed to Tara Martin. Tara defines #BookSnaps as "Digital, visual representation to annotate & share excerpts of a book using Snapchat and other apps". Tara has a wealth of information about #BookSnaps on her blog, including a helpful how-to with videos. She's created a Twitter account specifically for #BookSnaps where she frequently retweets all of the amazing #BookSnaps people are sharing on Twitter using the hashtag.

Every summer I like to read at least a couple professional development books. The problem is I generally don't know what to do with all the great learning and take-aways I get from these readings. I love book clubs and talking about what I'm reading with other people, but it's hard to sync up with people and nobody wants to be on a timeline in summertime! I could take notes on what I'm reading, but the chances of me returning to them are slim to none, and even if I did, then what? What do I do with those notes besides read them again?

I was camping in the El Dorado National Forest and about 3/4 of the way through The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros and read a fantastic analogy he included about social media being like a "dipping your cup in a stream of information". I loved the quote and didn't want to forget it, so I quickly opened up the camera on my phone and took a picture of it. I instantly remembered seeing and reading about #BookSnaps and decided to try it out. Check out my very first #BookSnap ever:
The creation of this single snazzy #BookSnap then ignited a whole series of "ah-ha" moments for me on how to take this experience to the next level, and then the next level beyond that, and then even further beyond that.

Ah-ha #1: #BookSnaps and #Sketchnotes
A funny thing happened while I was creating my #BookSnap. While I was getting creative with my Bitmoji search words and trying to think about what image to add to this picture, I realized I was basically creating a sketchnote. There is a ton of research out there that prove how doodling helps the brain to retain information. And it's true! The image of this kinda-sorta stream that I badly drew with my index finger, along with my "cup" Bitmoji, appear in my mind when I go back and re-read this portion of the book. What could have been a fleeting moment of reading a good quote and then moving on has now transformed into concrete imagery in my mind.

After creating this first #BookSnap and making this realization, I was hooked and continued to create #BookSnaps as I read on.
I then started to expand on my #BookSnaps. In addition to highlighting favorite quotes or key points I liked, I also started making more annotations or notes on my thinking surrounding the text.
Ah-ha #2: #BookSnaps and Close Reading
Each #BookSnap was taking me somewhere in the 5-ish minute range of time to create, which wasn't a huge problem except that it was kind of disruptive to my reading time, which is already pretty hard to come by in the first place. I decided that a better approach to creating my #BookSnaps was to take a picture of the part of the text I liked, and then revisit it later when I had more time and create my #BookSnap then. I realized that by doing this, I was doing a form of Close Reading. Before #BookSnaps, I'd read the text one time through, think to myself "that's a great idea!" and then pretty much never read it or act on it again (except maybe to mention to someone else and idea I'd read here and there). By going back to the pictures I had taken with my phone and annotating them after-the-fact, I was revisiting the text for a second time, digging deeper for meaning as I pulled out which parts stood out to me and pairing them with Bitmojis, stickers, text phrases, etc. that represented my thinking. My thinking about the text became deeper, and as a result my retention of the information shared is more solidified than if I had just read it one time through.

Ah-ha #3 (the big one!): #BookSnaps and Google Keep
Here's where I REALLY started to get smart! Up to this point I had about a half-dozen #BookSnaps saved to the camera roll on my phone. I knew there had to be a better way to sort and store these images all in one place so I could see them together instead of obnoxiously scrolling back through my camera roll every time I wanted to look at or reference them. Right about then I saw this awesome post on Twitter from Alice Keeler talking about using Google Keep in place of handouts. In her post, she mentioned taking pictures of resources and adding them to the Google Keep note. DING DING DING DING!!!! Lightbulb moment! Could I import my #BookSnaps to a Google Keep note?
YUP! Talk about perfect! You can see in this note I had already started by taking manual notes of pages and quotes I wanted to go back and #BookSnap to add to my collection. As I said in my Twitter post after this huge realization: GAME CHANGER!

Ah-ha #4: #BookSnaps and Google Keep as a Book Club
I knew from Twitter that a few other teachers from my district were also reading The Innovator's Mindset around the same time I was. I reached out to them on Twitter and mused about how cool it would be to do a mini-book club. Well, as I said at the beginning of this post, summer is sacred time for teachers. Though I do love a good book club, the idea of coordinating and organizing people isn't always fun. Plus, we were reading The Innovator's Mindset for crying out loud! There had to be a more innovative approach to this book club thing!

That's when I decided to play around with my Google Keep note and see if the Share feature did the same thing other GSuite apps do. And guess what I discovered? Yes, control your shocked face for a minute but it turns out you can add collaborators to a Google Keep note the same way you can a Doc or Slides. Operation: Innovative Book Club had commenced!

Our Google Keep Book Club now has contributions from three of us, and it's a phenomenal mixture of #BookSnaps and Sketchnotes. What I REALLY love about this is seeing the thinking from other people. Oftentimes the quotes or portions of the book they chose to focus on for their #BookSnap was a part I also loved or related to, but maybe visualized in a completely different way! I also pick up ideas and inspiration on design by checking out other people's #BookSnaps as well. Such as Janet highlighting "change is constant" and drawing an arrow to caterpillar and butterfly emojis...frikkin brilliant!

Even without the book club element, I'm so glad I figured out how to incorporate Google Keep with my #BookSnaps. Having all of my thoughts in one place to scroll back through will make me more apt to revisit them later on down the road, or to share them with other educators when topics of discussion arise. I'm onto my second PD book of the summer and I am already excited about #BookSnapping my way through it!

Have you tried #BookSnaps and Google Keep together? I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas as well!

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Birth of a Blog.

I am pretty sure I have started and abandoned no less than 5 blogs in my lifetime.

I tried starting a musings-on-life blog right out of college (where my best post was probably "Why Christmas Candy > Halloween Candy"). I tried writing a fitness journey blog when I was training for a half-marathon...except I gave up on my training about halfway through (still did the race though, which was interesting). I tried to get a corner of the Mommyblogosphere for a minute, but couldn't quite find my niche (Fitness? Recipes? Life hacks? There are a surprising amount of subcultures in the Mommyblogosphere world, you'd be amazed.)

"Start a blog" is always on my list of "shoulds", as in things I *should* do, but never quite seem to get to (other things on that list include: organizing the junk drawer, getting my car washed, exercise more...). Truthfully, I feel like blogs are a dime a dozen, and I didn't feel like I had anything worth contributing to the world that wasn't already being said multiple times over by other people with way more time and talent than me (have you SEEN some of those teacher blogs on Pinterest? How the heck do they have time to make those adorable cliparts and fonts AND teach?!)

It wasn't until I read The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros that I got it: blogging isn't about adding my voice to the millions of voices already out there, it's about adding my voice so I can hear what I have to say. My intention behind this blog is to serve mainly as a reflective tool for myself, and also to have a place to put all of the metaphorical post-it notes that are all over inside my brain. If you happen to be reading this and happen to learn something cool as well, then that's ok too. :)

I have always enjoyed writing and using my own voice to do it, and I intend to keep this blog as honest and true-to-myself as I can. I'll try to censor the swear words as much as I can, since we're trying to keep a professional decorum around here and all. But no promises.

In addition to being a busy teacher, I'm also a mom to two little boys (#workingmomhustle), so most of my writing will be done at night after their bedtimes. This serves as my official release of responsibility for typos, poor grammar judgment calls, and excessive comma usage (I really, really love a good comma placement).

So let's get blogging!