Category Archives: EduCon

Reclaiming PD in Philadelphia

One of the hardest things about working in a large school district is the unique combination of proximity and isolation that schools have to one another. There are over 200 public schools in Philly, but I’ve only been in a handful of them (and much of that happened the year I was in graduate school getting my teaching degree). Teachers can take an “observation day” to go see another school, but this needs principal approval, and with the current substitute fill rate, I expect administrators are loathe to release teachers from their classrooms. As a result, we’re all on our own islands. It can be tough to get into a colleague’s classroom next door, much less a different school.

But! There are not one but two fabulous events taking place in the next couple of months that do much to connect and enrich the professional lives of educators.

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The first is Educon – Friday, January 29th to Sunday, Jan 31st.  Here are a few highlights:

  • Smack in the middle of your school year, this is a place to dream. We have conversations, throw out ideas, challenge each other, and get to hear from some fabulous speakers (including Philadelphia’s newly appointed Chief Education Officer Otis Hackney.)
  • Folks from both around Philadelphia AND around the country come to visit SLA for a weekend. The opportunities for cross-pollination are huge.
  • Virtually everybody from SLA will be presenting, so if you’re interested in x y or z aspect of the school, there is a session for you. My session is going to be a workshop on how to build the right online tools for your classroom.

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The second is the February 26th Professional Development Day, where SLA will be hosting a Collaboration of Educators. Here are a few highlights:

  • Can’t make it to EduCon on a weekend? Many of the SLA sessions (as well as sessions from other Philly schools) will be repeated here.
  • Entire schools will be attending — if you would like your school to sign up en masse, let me know and I can issue your administration a formal invite. Ask now!
  • There will be specific time for teachers from different subject areas to get to know each other, trade contact info, and share best practices.

I hope to see many of you at either (or both) events.

What do you need to know about the SLA model?

Today is the first day of EduCon. The school is full of visitors, getting tours from students, poking their heads into classrooms, observing the teaching and learning that goes on, finding inspiration.

It seems as good a time as any to announce that, if all goes at as planned, there will be a book published about the SLA model by this time next year!

 (ASCD approached SLA about the project last summer, and they’ve been fabulous to work with. Our goal is to have it published in time for EduCon 2015.)

The overall goal of the book is to provide a how-to for both individual teachers and schools/districts to transition to this kind of learning model, especially when they are taking the leap of going 1:1.

I feel incredibly humbled by this task. At SLA, we already have a culture of transparency and sharing, but the project has given me a good reason to do some extensive exploration the practice of my colleagues. Technically, I’m the “author” of this book, but I feel more like a compiler of the collective knowledge and practices of the school.

Of course, the book isn’t for us — it’s for all of you!  To those ends, I would love your answers to this question:

What would help you understand and implement the SLA model in your own school?

Folks often walk away from EduCon feeling inspired, and this book is intended to give people the advice an guidance needed to kindle that inspiration back in their own buildings.

I feel a little bit funny publicizing a manuscript so far in advance — but any thoughts from potential readers would be appreciated. Leave your comments here, or track me down on Twitter or in person at EduCon this weekend.

EduCon Session: Reading Writing Workshop Gone Digital

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Sometime last summer, I decided to set my sophomore English students free.

Well, that’s not entirely true–it started earlier than that. Heather Hurst put the thought in my head last year, when I got to read her dissertation based on research in my classroom and it blew my mind a little bit. She had already used a workshop model back when she was a classroom teacher, which made it seem less impossible to me.

And then I spent a couple of weeks communing with Nancie Atwell’s “In The MIddle,” which, as Lehmann put it to me sometime this fall, is the book that everybody reads in graduate school, thinks it has great ideas, and then shelves it in favor of a more traditional approach.

That was me for five whole years. I was exactly like Atwell herself, before she transitioned into the workshop model. And her assessment of that life rang true to me: “I didn’t learn in my classroom. I tended my creation.”

So, after a lot of hard thinking (like, the furrowed-brow-this-hurts-my-brain kind) and sketching out of routines based on the “In the Middle” model, I decided to take the plunge. On the first day of class, I told my sophomores:

This is going to be a grand experiment that we embark on together.

Here are the next four things I told them:

  1. This year, you will read what inspires you and write about what moves you.
  2. We (Ms. Pahomov, Mr. Kolouch, and your Student Assistant Teacher) are here to instruct and support…
  3. …But you are in charge of your own learning and improving as a writer and reader.
  4. Constant Check-ins = more feedback and help when you are learning, instead of when the project’s done.

Of course, I meant to blog our progress starting in September… but now, in January, I’m happy to report that we are still living in (and loving) reading writing workshop.

If you had told me even two years ago that I would be doing this, I would have unequivocally responded: you are crazy.  And yet, here we are. Students participate in independent reading full time. They contribute pieces of writing to their portfolio each quarter, and they decide what genres and topics to tackle. I get to give more individualized, formative feedback that students actually use. More than ever before, I can say that I really know my kids.

Interested in learning more?

A whole group of us will be talking about this “grand experiment” during our EduCon Session this coming Sunday, January 26th at 10:30 AM Eastern. We encourage you to join us in person, if you are attending live, or via the live stream that will go out via the website.

Additionally, we would love to hear what your particular questions or areas of interest are for our presentation. Here are two questions we plan on addressing so far:

  • How do you scale this model for a public school classroom of 30+ students, and an overall grading load of 120+ students? (The workshop model is often seen as viable only in a smaller private-school setting.)
  • How do you blend digital and analog tools to make the model more meaningful and efficient for students? (The most recent edition of Atwell’s book is from 1998, so reference to technology is minimal–I think there’s a mention of having students word process their final drafts.)

Feel free to send us your thoughts in advance, via this site or the EduCon write up. Or just show up and join in the conversation!

Project Based Learning, Session 4

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Most of this session was centered around Brad Latimer, Math teacher at SLA. He shared a downloadable collection of lesson plans and materials with us, which included project descriptions and rubrics for both Algebra 2 and Calculus projects. And then we peppered him with questions for an hour and a half.

What makes group work happen?

  • Classroom set-up matters. In Brad’s class, students are always in pods of 4 or 5 except when quizzing. At the start of a regular class, they work on their warm-up in groups, and are also assigned to occasionally present the warm-up in those groups. They are used to doing structured class work and presentations all year, so getting into group projects is less of a challenge. By the time they get into projects, they know who they do and don’t work well with.
  • You have the flexibility to both have students pick their own groups and pick for them.

How do you deal with the group work “disasters?”

  • At the first day of a project, he asks students: Have you ever done a group project? Have you ever worked in a group where someone hasn’t carried their weight? Students then talk about what makes a good partner.

Do your projects have clear roles for each group member?

  • The short answer: Sometimes. Most of the time he lets people figure out their own roles, so they figure out how to best work together.
  • You can be surprised about what tasks might “wake up” a student, so that can be an advantage to not assigning roles.
  • It can be great to have a project that relies on individual work that is then combined into a group final product / presentation. There’s more interdependence.
  • But there’s also a struggle between giving students independent autonomy and also getting them to deeply collaborate with each other. Too much freedom can encourage students to just create in separate bubbles and slap it together at the end, without integrating and proofing their work.
  • For one project, Brad had an 80/20 point value split for group/individual points in a project — so students were individually motivated, but the majority of the grade still relies on the group project.
  • From Jaimie: One way to help track progress is to have students self-assess on a chart each day: what do they think the goal was, and how well did they meet it during that class? The teacher can then do a quick check-plus check-minus on the day. This also becomes a part of their process grade for the project, so they are motivated to hold on to it.

How do you scaffold students who are new to group work?

  • Very, very carefully and with repetition!
  • For freshmen, big projects usually have a clear deadline after each class of work. Sometimes the master plan for the project isn’t even revealed until halfway through the work (or even later) to prevent students from the “sticker shock” of a big project that they think is insurmountable.

What would you do differently? What are project based traps?

  • Try to give out the rubric quickly with the project description. THey need to see exactly how it’s going to be scored and what the point breakdown is.
  • Break the project down into intermediate deadlines.
  • There is a lot to be said about showing examples from previous years. There are different ways to do this — share it briefly, let them peruse for a set period of time, or longer, but let them know you know it well.
  • Do the project yourself!
  • Be flexible with changing projects mid-stream. Or seeing a glimmer of good work for the next round of pojrects. Or tossing one when it really didn’t work for students.
  • Let students pick three students they’re interested in working with, and the option of a “no go” list for people that would be bad matches. This gives them freedom while also giving you the ability to control for productive groups.

Next week, we will be sharing and peer reviewing our draft lesson plans.

Related posts: Project Based Learning, Sesson 1 / Session 2 / Session 3

Independent Reading: Process and Product

A snippet from the assignment write-up:

Reading is something we do all the time — so much so, that we rarely really think about how and why we read.

Your task with this benchmark is to take a close look at your reading — the personal history behind your readership, and also your skills as reader today.

Notice what you read and why those were the choices you made.

We spent about one week just on the building blocks of this project — the scenes from their history, and the annotations for their current book. Once those were complete, it was time to insert those into Prezi.

When we started the work, I did a snapshot poll of the class — and it turned out that, like me, the majority of them had not used the program before. This presented us with a classic situation in project-based learning — integrating content and skills.

At SLA, we try out many different mediums for visualization of projects, and it always takes some time to learn the ropes of a new program. If you look at your classroom strictly as a conveyer of content, this process gums up the works: students have to tinker, and discover, and teach each other, and focus on something other than the book at hand.

Luckily, we don’t believe that at SLA. Presentation is one of our five core values — so turning the raw materials into a final product that was both easy to follow and pleasing to the eye, with a mix of visuals and text.

To better aid the students, I built partial models of the project. I say “models,” because the first one just had me dragging and dropping without much of a plan. Once I had learned a few things, I developed a second one — and then showed both in class, and summarized my findings in the last slide of the “improved” Prezi:

We then spent several full class periods in “benchmark work mode,” which would include mini-lessons as needed for particular tips and tricks (“does everybody know how to rotate a frame?”) I was also available to scan pages of books students wanted to include, while others used their in-screen cameras.

The best projects were ones where students were already confident in their content, and students could develop a unified vision of how annotations grow out of the text on a page. Here are a few examples.

Roberto Abazoski – “Every Day” by David Levithan

Jalisa Smith – “Lies My Teacher Told Me” by James Loewen

Roger Bracy – “Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell

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Independent Reading: Personal History Project

If you visited my classroom on the Friday of EduCon, you saw students working on the final version of this project — aka peer editing their Prezis.

That was the tail end of a two-phase project, where students first had to write detailed annotations of their current independent reading book, as well as a few scenes of their “reading history.” Then, we used Prezi, a dynamic presentation program, to style the material.

The goal was to link together some of the close reading they were already doing in their weekly reading trackers, as well as tap into their own triumphs and struggles with reading over time.

Posted below is the (lengthy) project instructions. Students were not responsible for every prompt — the idea was to give them many springboards for their own thinking. I will post some final projects and reflections on the process in my next post.

Personal Reading HIstory

Reading is something we do all the time — so much so, that we rarely really think about how and why we read.

Your task with this benchmark is to take a close look at your reading — the personal history behind your readership, and also your skills as reader today.

Notice what you read and why those were the choices you made.

Here are the pieces to the benchmark:

1. Three Scenes from your Personal Reading History

First, it is your job to go into the past and share three scenes from your development as a reader. These stories can be stories of triumph or struggle–and should probably be some combination of both. Here are some prompts to help you identify important scenes from your life:

– When do you first remember reading? How did it feel?
– What’s the first book you read? Why was that important to you?
– How is reading treated in your house? Does your approach to reading “match” what your family does?
– How is reading treated by your friends? Does your approach to reading “match” what they do?
– How do you feel about reading in school? Is there a teacher who was made reading amazing, or awful? How did they do that?
– How do you feel about choosing a book vs. assigned reading? How have these options influenced your reading in school vs. in your free time?
– How do you feel compared to other readers? (As a teacher, I don’t want you to compare yourself to anybody, but I know this happens.)
– Have you ever been labeled a “struggling” reader? How about an “advanced” reader? What did this do to your reading?
– What’s the last book that you read that you enjoyed? What’s been going on with your reading since then?
– What do you read in secret? Why has that been a secret (until now)?
– Any other key moments where you saw a development or shift in your mindset about reading.

2. Eight Annotations for your Independent Reading Book

Next, it is your job to illustrate your current skills as a reader by describing what your brain does while you read. Pick a few pages from a book you’ve read during the Independent Reading Unit, and create written annotations in eight different ways. Annotations could be as short as a couple of sentences, or as long as a couple of paragraphs, or even a drawing or visual annotation — it depends on what you’re writing about. It just needs to be thorough, and that means explaining WHY this annotation is relevant to understanding the book.

Here’s a PARTIAL list of what you could annotate:

o   Identify and apply the meaning of new vocabulary.
What does that new word mean, how did you figure it out? Why is this word relevant to the book?

o   Identify and apply word recognition skills
What unusual word did you already know, and how did you know it? Why is this  word relevant to the book?

o   Make inferences and conclusions about what’s happening in the text
Refer to the text on the page, previous parts of the book, and your own knowledge. How do you know what you know?

o   Identify and explain main ideas and relevant details
What’s going on in the book? Why does it matter?

o   Identify, describe, and analyze genre of text
What qualifies this book as historical fiction, fantasy, mystery, politics, how-to, etc.? Has to be more than just the title!

o   Interpret, compare, describe, analyze, and evaluate components of fiction and literary nonfiction For example: Character, Setting, Plot, Theme, Tone, Symbol, Mood, Symbolism. More types available on the literary devices website.

o   Make connections between texts.

What books, movies, TV shows, other texts relate to this book? How does that enrich your understanding?

o   Identify, interpret, describe, and analyze figurative language and literary structures in fiction and nonfiction: For Example: Personification, Simile, Metaphor, Hyperbole, Satire, Imagery, Foreshadow, Flashback, Irony.  More types available on the literary devices website.

o   Identify, interpret, describe, and analyze the point of view and effectiveness of the point of view used in the text.

First, second, or third person? Maybe a combination of both? How do you know, and how does it influence the reader?

o   Interpret, describe, and analyze the characteristics and uses of facts and opinions in the text.

If it’s fictional, you can analyze the feelings and opinions of the characters. If it’s non-fiction, focus on the text itself and what it’s presenting.

o   Identify, compare, explain, interpret, describe, and analyze how text organization influences the text.

Look at the structure of the chapters, each section, different categories, or other organizational methods. How do they help the reader understand what’s going on?

3. Concluding Reflection

Lastly, you will need some closing reflection on everything you have done. By doing this project, what deep understandings have you gained about your attitude and approach towards reading? What did you learn that you didn’t know before? And what skills do you need to work on in the future? Where do you think our reading history is going?

EduCon Resources: Standards Based Grading for Social Studies.

There was a lot of interest in my last post about Standards Based Grading and Reporting at SLA, so I thought I would share more from that session from different disciplines.

I should also mention that, while these standards were developed at SLA as a kind of pre-emptive response to Common Core, they were more heavily based on the written standards of our respective professional organizations than CCSS. English teachers, for example, pulled from the NCTE standards.

Additionally, we are in our second year of implementing standards-based systems at the school, and the process is definitely still being tinkered with (as all good educational systems are). Below are the five categories that our history discipline uses in their classes. Note that it overlaps two categories with English — “Discussion” and “Research.” Science uses “Research” as well. Should we streamline our language across disciplines? Or maybe make them less similar, to emphasize the difference in each version of the skill? Is it a problem that “research” is also one of our school’s core values, but other values on that list aren’t included as categories for standards?

Just a few questions to get your brain started. I feel very lucky to be in an educational setting where we get to tackle these ideas. Without any further ado:

History Standards

The SLA History department focuses on five main areas for the standards at each grade level: Sources, Research, Perspective, Discussion and Content.  Throughout the four years at SLA the skills gained in one grade spiral forward to the next course.  By graduation, the goal is for students to develop the ability to effectively analyze primary source documents, research independently, express the impact of perspective and bias in history, meaningfully contribute to classroom discussions, and evaluate the connections between the modern world and history.  Assessments for this work are embedded within the day-to-day coursework, as well as within the quarterly benchmarks.

Grade 9 Grade 10 Grade 11 Grade 12
Sources Student can analyze a variety of source documents including visual representations of information. Same  Same  Same 
Research

 

Student is making progress in producing independent research-based projects. Student can construct independent research-based projects. Student can independently locate a variety of sources to effectively incorporate into research-based projects. Student can independently locate a variety of sources to effectively incorporate into research-based projects.
Perspective Student seeks to understand and fairly present the ideas of others, even when they disagree with the point(s) being made. Student can begin to express the impact of perspective/bias in history.  Student can express the impact of perspective/bias in history.  Student can express the impact of perspective/bias in evaluating political systems. 
Discussion Student consistently presents his/her own idea(s) in a constructive and useful manner.  In daily class activities, student can represent their ideas (all class discussion, online forums, small group, etc.) on history using sources to back up their contentions. Same  Same 
Content Student uses the content of the class to explore and expand their understanding of the world.  Student uses the class content as a medium to build understandings and make connections between both various systems and the past and present. Student can evaluate connections between the modern world and American History.  Student can evaluate connections between the modern world and the basic elements of political theory.