Monday, May 18, 2009

What Do Professional Educators Do When School Is Out?

I know what I do over the summer months when school is out, but what is it you do? How much time do you spend decompressing and how much time do you spend preparing for the next school term?Do you go to workshops or learn online?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Students Making Decisions for The Biome Project

Here is a post I wrote for my class blog, Mr. C's Class Blog. I am also posting it here because I wanted to share what my class has become. In the past I spent lots of time teaching content. I had my students do questions in their textbooks and lots of worksheets. Through my connections online with great teachers I evolved. I am a better teacher because of these connections. My students have a better opportunity to succeed because of these connections. In a few short years I have become less of a teacher and more of a facilitator for learning. My students are taking a responsible role in their own education.

My students are working on their biome projects now. Throughout this project they had to make choices based on what works best for them. Here are some vids of my students talking about what choices they made.

Here is Seth explaining what strategy he used to gather his information for the project.

Here Rosa talks about what strategy she used to gather her information for the project.

Here is Megan explaining what biomes she chose and which project she will do.

Here is Nathan explaining what biomes he chose and which project he will do.

Here is Parker explaining why he likes to be given choices with his work.

Monday, May 11, 2009

When Is It the Right Time to Focus on Vocabulary?

I am doing an action research project with my students the last two weeks of school. What I want to learn is when is the best time for students to spend time with vocabulary from a textbook.

I would think that learning the vocabulary words first would be more helpful when it comes to understanding the text. I also think their is a possibility that going over the words at the end may make the students' short term memory work better for the test. I also want you to note that this assessment, like most textbook assessments, is heavily weighted with vocabulary questions.

Here is my procedure: I have three different fifth grade science classes so I split them into three groups. The first group is a control group where I will teach two sections in our science book without a special focus on vocabulary, just the normal worksheet provided in the student materials. The second group will begin the short unit doing two of the vocabulary skills outlined in Allowing Students to Differentiate with Vocabulary Strategies. The third group will end the unit with doing two of those vocabulary skills.

Ultimately, this small sample won't completely answer the question, but it may give me some insight into this. Would you teach a unit's vocabulary at the end if research shows the students would score better on the test that way? Or would you teach the vocabulary at the beginning?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Our Thoughts on International Blogging Collaborations

@jkmcclung and I sat down Friday after school to make a video for @jlamshed about blogging internationally and its impact in our classrooms. Forgive us for rambling....

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Allowing Students to Differentiate with Vocabulary Strategies

As I become a more professional teacher, I become a more directed learner. Having read Marzano's Classroom Instruction that Works several years ago as part of a book study conducted in my building, I was particularly interested in the chapter on non-linguistic representations. Basically non-linguistic representations mean visual, but not verbal representations. For several years I have included doing as many of these in my classroom as I can. I even incorporated webbing into one of the note taking methods I teach my students.

Last year I was given A Handbook for Classroom Instruction that Works also by Marzano that our school used again for a book study. Last semester I was reading through parts of the book that hadn't been covered by the book study when I came upon a section on vocabulary. In that section there was a five step process that was recommended for teaching vocabulary. Basically, it asks the teacher to give an everyday definition of the word and then draw a graphic representation (picture aka non-linguistic representation) of what the word means to the teacher. The student is then directed to write the word's definition using their own words and draw their graphic representation. I required my students to not draw the same picture I drew.

A few months ago I noticed our reading class was getting stale. In fact, we were all bored. I decided I needed to do something different so I decided that I would add some extra work to the week. I gave my students an extra assignment tied to the story and added both skills and vocabulary options. Here is an example of a weekly reading cycle my students completed. Notice the vocabulary assignments.

Because I have been emphasizing students choosing what works best for them, I decided to allow them to choose two strategies they thought would be best for them. (We had extensive discussions about learning styles and what works well for the students before I implemented this.) Below are the choices I gave my students to use. I even allow them to use something not on the list if they ask me about it first. Every strategy here is used by at least one of my students!
  • Create graphic representations of each vocabulary word
  • Write definitions of each vocabulary word
  • Create a flash card with definitions for each vocabulary word
  • Use in graphic organizer as outlined in Skills section
  • Create a word web with synonyms of the vocabulary words
  • Create a word web with antonyms of the vocabulary words
Here is Gavin explaining what he does to learn the vocabulary words in reading.

Here is Megan explaining what she does to learn her vocabulary words for reading.

Here is Zac explaining what he does to learn his vocabulary words for reading.

Here is Slendy explaining how she learns her vocabulary words for reading.

This is an example of how students are becoming responsible for their learning. They are trying to choose the best strategies for them. Obviously, this is what we as educators should strive for, students that understand how they learn best using tools that best fit their learning.

I am sure you also noticed that two of the four students admitted they had not transferred these skills to other content areas. This is a big concern of mine, and I hope to address this very issue school wide next year. While the short term goal was to increase vocabulary in reading, the long term goal is to teach my students to become reflective learners.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Are Our Students' Day Too Structured?

I know that students need structure. My question is do they have too much structure? Their days are completely scheduled out. Unless they are fortunate enough to have a few minutes for recess, they are watched and expected to sit, be quiet, and work. I can say that as a teacher I could not work under these conditions. Why do we expect our students to?

When do your students have time relax a little? Do you rely on recess, art, or PE for your students to have "down time", or do you keep your classroom more relaxed where students can work comfortably?