Student Reflection … YES … but how?

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”

~ John Dewey

Nice View . . .

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We added an unconference-style element to our in-service today with breakout sessions, lead by various staff members. I facilitated a breakout discussion on Reflection’s Role in Learning. I chose this as a topic of discussion, not because I’m an expert in it, but because I want to get better at eliciting reflection in my students. I recognize the importance of reflection in my own learning process, so naturally, I want teach my students how to use this tool. In fact, my goal is to embed it so effectively into my classroom process that it becomes an automatic response for my students.

However, achieving buy-in with students can be a challenge. Reflection can be viewed as busywork by some, as Erin Konecky, pointed out today during one of the sessions, so teaching students the WHY behind reflection is important. As the blog post “Scaffolding Student Reflection” by my Twitter friend, Rusual Alrubail reminds us, “relevance=motivation.” (However, how to gain buy-in exactly is a mystery at this point!) Erin also pointed out that students reflect all the time–it’s not necessarily a conscious act though. It more often takes the shape of a fleeting thought rather than a formal response. Moreover, these momentary reflective thoughts are not always as deep as is necessary for the full benefit of reflection. And, some students are more adept at reflection than others. So, like in all classroom processes, we must teach what we want to see.

Throughout the course of two breakout sessions, a few things became apparent:

A. We reached consensus that reflection is an important part of learning.

B. We found that we all ask students to reflect in different ways–on a wide spectrum of depth and formality. None of us have perfected it, but we’re all seeking to improve it.

C. We can’t assume that students will come to us knowing HOW to reflect. We must teach them how to reflect or formalize their existing reflection process.

D. Reflection can take different forms and offering students choices in demonstrating reflection can be beneficial for teacher and student. It can also be a very personal process, so finding ways for students to share reflection comfortably will also need to be a priority.

E. Personal growth in students is sometimes overlooked because “the system” is so focused on number grades. Reflection may be a way to honor personal growth and give a better overall picture of a whole student rather than distilling him or her to a number in the grade book.

In the first breakout, we used a variation of the “Save the Last Word For Me” discussion technique to examine Rusul’s post (linked above). We delved into the WHY student reflection is important and WHY we should be incorporating student reflection into our classroom practices and assessment. The article also gave us an opportunity to discuss what role personal growth should play in defining success for students.

In the second session, I approached the discussion a little differently. We started with the above-linked article, and then spent some time writing responses to the following questions in a padlet that I’ve embedded below. After that we used the same discussion technique as we did in the first session, but compacted the time a bit.

Made with Padlet
We had limited time today to answer the question, HOW do we use student reflection in a way that is useful to teacher and student? But it was a start!
Here are some additional questions for you to ponder in your reflection about reflection:
  • We know reflection is an important component of the learning experience. How can we convince students of reflection’s importance? 
  • How are you already using student reflection in your practice?
  • What are your concerns about using reflection in your classroom?
  • Have you seen anyone else use it successfully?
  • What were your takeaways from our brief discussion today?

Little Things

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Often it’s the little things that make life in our classrooms easier.

GOLF PENCILS. One of the biggest roadblocks to getting down to business is the old “I don’t have a writing utensil” problem. Instead of getting all uptight and letting it derail a portion of a class period, I keep lots of golf pencils on hand. It removes the hassle. “I need a pencil” + “Okay here” is a lot less stressful than “Goll dangit kid! Can’t you just be responsible? I guess you’ll have to go to your locker or borrow from a friend or give me your shoe so I get it back!” (Who really wants a high school student’s shoe? I mean … really.)

CARPET SQUARES. I listen to lectures better when I am a doodling. Some people like to have something in their hands to play with to help them focus. Other people are tappers. While doodling and fidgeting are usually not distracting to others, tapping can be, so I keep carpet squares on hand. The students can drum them with their hands or a pen or pencil and it pretty much muffles the sound altogether. My tappers and the people around them can all be happy at once.

WHISPER PHONES. Reading aloud is helpful to some students. It’s one more kinesthetic layer to their learning. Obviously, if you have a room full of students trying to read, some prefer quiet though. Reading aloud isn’t quiet, unless you whisper into a whisper phone (which can easily be made with two PVC elbows). You hold it like a phone and whisper it into one end and the sound travels to your ear through the “C” without broadcasting to the room. I can have a room full of silent readers with a handful of students quietly reading to themselves out loud. This works well too for students who are checking their own writing for errors in a quiet room and need to listen for errors (because we often catch errors with our ears that our eyeballs miss).

DRUM. Reading your own writing aloud in front of peers is for some reason less scary when you have a drum accompaniment. Weird, but true. Also, if you teach English, the drum is vital for any reading of “The Telltale Heart.”

None of these ideas are mine. I’ve learned of them from other educators over the years, and like a chef using someone else’s recipe, I’ve tweaked them to make them work in my classroom.

reason 5,495 why it is an honor to be a high school English teacher

We are finishing out the year with To Kill a Mockingbird. One of the test questions asks the students to identify the three most important events/issues in the book (which is FULL of important events and issues) and justify why they are the MOST important of all. One of the reasons I love this book is that I learn something new every time I read it and by reading the students’ responses, I am learning new things again, after reading this story again for the (literal) twentieth time. Students are so insightful and can zero in on the smallest scene that I’ve been glazing over for years and give it new meaning. One of the biggest takeaways from this book (no matter how many times I read it) is that people get caught up in looking at things their way and forget that everyone brings a unique set of experiences that shape the way they see the world and subsequently affect the way they behave. It’s the human way. Sometimes, we have to make a conscious effort to be empathetic to others. Atticus says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Teaching allows me to see things from these brilliant young people’s points of view. What a unique career perk. This is just one of many reasons why I am happy to be a teacher.

Loquacious

03 Jonathan Zawada, Big Mouth Zine

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One time I heard one of my third grade teachers telling one of my classmates that he was loquacious. (This was the same teacher who threw her giant textbook as hard as she could on the ground in response to her frustration with this same student, so I tended to pay attention to all of their interactions. It was one of the juiciest teacher-student relationships I had ever witnessed.) I didn’t know what loquacious meant, and I was certain it was something horrible so I looked it up. As it turns out, it means “talkative.” Not so horrible, and I remember thinking, “Well, I am NOT loquacious (in school).” I think of that teacher and that classmate every time I happen upon that word, which up until very recently was not a frequent occurrence. However, all of that changed this semester, when the word loquacious showed up as a vocabulary word for my 10th graders. I guess this is one example of why you SHOULD use big words with your own children (and students). Most students don’t want to be left in the dust, so if they don’t understand what a word means, they will ask you, or even the quiet ones (like me) will find out meaning on their own. Even if they don’t immediately, at least they will have a layer of context to work with the next time they hear the word used again.

when breathing isn’t part of the curriculum


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On Tuesday, a bunch of students were gone for track and drama day during my 6th hour class, so the remaining students proposed that we go outside.

“Is it nice out?” I asked.

“70 degrees,” several said in unison. In unison.

“But I was going to give you time to read today,” I said (half-heartedly trying to build a case for staying put).

“We will read at home,” one spokesperson stated, with authority.


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We went outside. We ran around in the grass. We made funny faces and played with a magical substance. We admired the color of blue in the sky and the puffiness of the clouds. In other words, we made the right decision.

No regrets. This simple deviation from the schedule is something they were still celebrating on Wednesday. Most of the kids read the assigned reading too. Even if we had stayed inside, some of the students would’ve read the assignment and some of them wouldn’t have read it.

Tuesday was a good reminder that I need to build in more time to breathe, to soak in sunshine, to move, to be silly for the sake of it. It doesn’t necessarily connect to our curriculum. Building this time in will help improve relationships with students AND add to our overall health as individuals.


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Email: Courtesy Vs. Efficiency. Please, help me with my feelings.

Buenas noticias - email marketing

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Dear Reader,

I am interested in hearing from people who use email in all sorts of capacities–business, education, social, other stuff that I can’t think of right now …

When a student sends me an email like this …

“Why did I get a 93 on my book review?”

(No opening, no closing, just a question demanding answers moments after posting a grade online … I don’t even want to talk about online grading or grades in general … that is a completely different conversation … )

… do you think it would be good to teach that student (or maybe a mini-lesson in class because it’s not just one student who does this. It’s probably about half and half) about greetings and closings for written correspondence?

OR

Am I just projecting my need for the niceties of written communication on my students?

If the student had written,

“Dear Mrs. M, I noticed that I scored a 93% on my book review. I was wondering if we could talk about how I earned that grade. Thank you, Your Student.”

Then I had responded with,

“Hello My Student,

Let’s talk about this in class after break.

Take care,

Mrs. M.”

And then the student responded with “Sounds good,” (sans greeting/closing) I wouldn’t bristle because at that point, it would be more of a conversation rather than a formal exchange … But the demanding email with no courtesies bothers me.

Do I need to get with the times, or is it still expected that when you’re reaching out to someone in the digital realm that you are writing a “letter” so to speak? Or is courtesy giving way to efficiency?

I realize that if this student was sending an email to a friend, it would be more acceptable to just come out with a question like this … but most likely this student wouldn’t email a friend. This student would text a friend, and the email this student sent was very texty in nature.

Tone is a problem in all written correspondence. As a Facebook friend pointed out, a student who sends an email like the one I opened this post with probably meant no harm. This student was probably sincerely trying to figure out how this grade came to be, but without the greeting and closing, the tone could easily be misinterpreted.

On the other hand, if a colleague sent me a question in the middle of the day like “Do you want to go to lunch?” or “The meeting started. Are you coming?” this wouldn’t bother me. Why?

HELP ME WITH MY FEELINGS, friend.

Sincerely,

Jodie M.

Nate’s Blankie, a Photo Essay (Oh! And we made State!)

Today, one of our speech team members had to leave district speech early because of a previous obligation, but he made finals, so he left in a rush and accidentally abandoned his childhood Bob the Builder blanket on the speech van. The two remaining teammates and I, having nothing better to do with our copious free time between finals and awards, naturally, decided that a photo essay, featuring said blanket was in order. We chose the hashtag #NatesBlankie and we went to town on Instagram.

Congrats to Nate and Christy for making State. I couldn’t be more proud of you two! You are both so hard on yourselves, but that’s part of what makes you good at what you do. I also want to say congrats to the entire #vikespeech team! I am so proud of you. As a first-year coach, I could not have asked for a better group to lead me! Love you all! Special shout out to Grace who put in more hours than any other member–in prep, in reworking, in reflection. You are laying the foundation for your future speech career!

And now on to the aforementioned photo essay:


#NatesBlankie #HurryUpAndWait #vikespeech #WeHaveTooMuchTimeOnOurHands


Speech meet? What speech meet? Raymond who? Central what?

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Good thing we had Nate’s Blankie so we could go camping while we waited.


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I even had time to sneak in a nap.


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Super Dani


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We weren’t sure if Nate finaled, since there doesn’t appear to be a record of Entertainment finals … very mysterious …


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This was a close call. Don’t worry, Nate: Bob the Builder is safe.


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All hail the queen.


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#NatesBlankie made our final moments so much cozier.


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Congrats to Nate B who is going to State Speech in Entertainment!


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Congrats to Christy C who is going to State Speech for Informative speaking!


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life: magic and adventure

This is cross-posted HERE.

Last night I was fortunate enough, along with my husband, daughter, and father-in-law, able to see Dr. Jane Goodall speak on the opening night of her lecture series in my hometown of Omaha. The tickets were free to the community thanks to the sponsorship of Dr. Goodall’s good friend, Omahan and fellow conservationist, Tom Mangelsen.

My mini-takeaways from Dr. Goodall’s lecture:

  • Life is full of magic.
  • Don’t squander opportunity.
  • Books. Read them. Read, read read.
  • Social media can be used for good!
  • Risk leads to learning.
  • Learning is everything.
  • Love and compassion DO make a difference.
  • Dogs are great teachers.
  • Life is an adventure.

Press Conference by UN Messenger of Peace

United Nations Photo via Compfight

A mix of takeaway and reflection:

Apathy is a problem today–for adults, but of even more concern–for young people. (I am a teacher, so this is something I see everyday.) One thing that Dr. Goodall said that touches on this is: “When youth loses hope, there is no hope.” Something that I would love to be able to do is to tap into my students’ passions and ensure that apathy is not an option for them. I want them to care about something–anything–so much that they can’t be apathetic about the world. I have felt the sting of apathy in my own life. It is easy to become numb. It is easy to brush off the things that we care about because sometimes caring about things hurts. Apathy can be a form of self-preservation. When you know that there are people out there hurting animals, when you know that there are people out there raping the land, when you know that there are people out there who don’t care about other people, sometimes it’s easier to steel yourself to avoid the pain of awareness. The pain of awareness can force one to act. Action isn’t easy. Apathy is. This is exactly why apathy is so dangerous.

When youth loses hope, there is no hope.

~ Dr. Jane Goodall, March 11, 2016, Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha, NE

It’s hard to be one person trying to make a difference, especially when it feels like, as an individual, you can’t make one. Last night, Dr. Goodall addressed that. She reminded us that there are people in this world who do care. The reason we have 500+ whooping cranes in the world right now, when not too long ago we only had 12, is because people cared about them (and what it would mean to lose them).

Dr. Goodall spoke of the children she worked with through Roots and Shoots. (Some from the Omaha group were in the audience last night.) She talked about how kids “get it”. She talked about a young person who made sure to turn off the tap to conserve water, instead of allowing the tap to run unnecessarily. That one young person might not make much of a dent in the water conservation movement, but if that young person and other individuals band together, it does make a difference. When there is a network of people working toward the same goal, a change will be made. Sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture when you’re just existing in your own little bubble. But that shouldn’t stop you from doing what is right. When you do the right thing it adds to the sum of all the other people doing the right thing. When you give up, it subtracts from the good of the cause.

There are so many things that we do every day that are detrimental to the world around us. When you go to the gas station and you buy a disposable beverage container, that’s a decision that is detrimental to the environment. That’s a decision that I make far too often. When you decide to drive somewhere when you could easily walk or ride a bike, that’s detrimental to the environment. When you give in to societal pressures on food choices, on the vehicle you drive, on how you spend your time and money, ask yourself if it’s something you need, or how it might affect the environment.

There are four things that give Dr. Goodall hope. 1. youth (As long as we have young people who care, we have a fighting chance.) 2. the human brain (The human brain can be used to think up all sorts of awful things, but it can also be used to think up amazingly wonderful things too. It’s the wonderful side of things that give us hope!) 3. the resilience of nature (Dr. Goodall’s discussion of Gombe National Park’s regeneration is good example of this.) 4. the indomitable human spirit (Dr. Goodall herself is this personified!).

She shared with us stories from her time on her grandparent’s farm. She grew up in London, so although she was able to interact with pigeons and earth worms, she didn’t have much face-to-face time with animals, until she spent some time on her grandparents’ farm. She says she was born loving animals, so this was nothing new, but this face-time awakened the young scientist in her. She recounted wondering from where an egg was issued, since she couldn’t observe a hole the size of an egg anywhere on any of the hens she’d encountered. No one in her family seemed to have a satisfying answer, which spurred her to seek the truth on her own. This led to her hiding out in the coop quietly, (much to the astonishment of her family, who had no idea where she was) long enough to find the answer to the question that no one seemed willing to give her.

She also had no problem naming some of the things that are harming our world in a scary way (in her word’s “Climate change is real. Science tells us so.”)–reckless burning of fossil fuels, cutting down trees (something that gets worse and worse each year in Nebraska–the supposed “Tree Planter’s State”), and the consumption of cattle. She said, “It’s strange that people believe in unlimited economic growth on a planet with finite resources.” She mentioned all of the similarities between chimpanzees and humans and noted that humans are the smarter of the two species. Our DNA is very similar, but humans are superior in intelligence. She noted sadly, “The creature with the most intellectual capability is destroying its own home.” The message here? Ask yourself, “How will what I do today–in this very moment–affect future generations?” It seems so lofty, but if we work toward a better future, we will have a better today.

Dr. Goodall’s lecture last night made me feel so much better about Truth Farms CSA. We started this business three years ago. We had fantasized about it for long enough. I finally told Caleb that if we weren’t going to do it, we could no longer talk about it, so we did it. He quit his job (big risk) and we shifted our focus to learning everything we could about responsible, sustainable farming. (He already had a background in horticulture, but there is always more to learn.) Then we put what we already knew and what we learned into practice as best as we could. We made our mission to treat our animals kindly and with compassion and to be stewards of our land. Even though we’re doing many things right, there are so many more things we could be doing. Dr. Goodall touched on the detrimental effects of agriculture, which is not a popular stance in Nebraska, understandably, considering how much our economy relies on the industry. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about how to make it better. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t act on making it better. We don’t make very much money running our CSA, but we believe in what we do. Our hope is that one day all of our customers will have gardens of their own and we can share and barter the way people used to.

Hearing Dr. Goodall speak of her hope for the future gives me hope and it also reminds me that apathy is not an option. Even though it hurts to build awareness of all of the ugly things going on in the world, it is up to us to confront it and to take small steps to add to the network of small steps that people are taking around the world.

Seeing one of the people that I’ve admired since childhood speak last night was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I don’t want to squander her message. Apathy is the enemy because apathy makes it easier to ignore the things that you can do better. I am happy to think of the things that my family and I do right, and I am overwhelmed to think of all of the things we do wrong or could do better. The hard part is keeping that fire alive so that we continue to care and continue to strive to do better.


I encourage you to learn more about the Jane Goodall Institute and consider supporting this worthy cause.

Also, if you live in southeast Nebraska, or are visiting, please stop and see Tom Mangelsen’s amazing art gallery too. Tom, if you’re “listening,” know that you gave Omaha a huge gift when you sponsored Dr. Goodall’s lecture. It’s easy to look at Dr. Goodall’s body of work and be inspired by it from afar, but it there’s no comparison to seeing her speak in person–the compassion in her voice and the kindness of her posture. A sincere thanks to Tom Mangelsen and anyone else who made it possible for the Omaha community to see her speak in person. My daughter, who is 13 will remember this for a lifetime.

The Truth Farms CSA crew: Steve, Caleb, Jodie, and Adeline

The Truth Farms CSA crew: Steve, Caleb, Jodie, and Adeline

Griffin’s electronic symphony

Griffin has been working on his electronic symphony. He took three old floppy drives and programmed them to play a variety of songs. He did this for fun!

He explained it better than I will, but the program controls the little motors’ rate of speed. The motor’s rate of speech controls the sound that comes out of it. If you alter the speed you alter the sound, thus allowing for different notes, thereby making music.


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A little Adele …