Friday, November 30, 2012

EdcampNJ is Tomorrow!!!

EdcampNJ takes place tomorrow at Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick.  I am extremely excited about this event.  I have been to several Edcamps over the past year and it is amazing for the one with which I am involved to be only hours away.

If you don't know what an Edcamp is, check out the post that I wrote after attending Edcampphilly this past spring (I've Been Edcamped!).  In short, it is a conference where the participants are the presenters and learning occurs on your own terms.  You are not at the mercy of the conference, it is yours to craft!  If this is intriguing to you, I encourage you to register tonight and go tomorrow on a whim or just show up, you won't be turned away.  You have nothing to lose and I assure you a great deal to gain.

The morning will start off with a live #satchat.  Scott Rocco and Brad Currie will be moderating and there will be participants from all over the country and all over the world.  Having taken part in a live #satchat before, I can say it is both exciting and informative.

I have had the honor of working with some amazing New Jersey educators as this unconference has come into being.  I marvel at the passion with which these folks do everything from EdcampNJ planning to teaching in and running their schools and districts.

I hope to see you tomorrow.

#EdCampNJ | Dec 1 2012 | Linwood Middle School | North Brunswick NJ

Linwood Middle School

25 Linwood Pl, North Brunswick Township,NJ 08902

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Daily 5 - Faculty Book Study

This month we kicked off a book study of The Daily 5 by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser (the 2sisters) at our faculty meeting.  I am devoting 25-30 minutes of each faculty meeting to discussion of short sections of this book to allow for some in-depth discussion of the structure.  I have to say that the 30 minutes we spent this past Monday were fantastic.  It was wonderful to be a part of such rich discussions around a topic that is so vital to what we do in the elementary school.

I have found over the years that moderating a book study can be stifling.  It puts a great deal of onus on the moderator and it can limit the direction of the discussion.  So we are using a method that has been successful for us in the past.  I asked the staff to read the first two chapters before the faculty meeting and put three sticky notes in the book with questions or comments that they would like to answer and/or discuss.  Once at the meeting the staff breaks up into groups of 5-8 teachers and all members of the group are equal contributors to the discussion.  After the first 2 minutes of the first meeting it always seems to flow nicely.

I chose to move to each of the groups and take part in all of the discussions.  I must say that it was amazing to see that the teachers were discussing so many of the same things in different groups.  One of the major topics of discussion revolved around how to fit all of the pieces of The Daily 5 into our two hour language arts block.  The great thing about these book discussions is that the answers are generally all right there in the collective experiences of the groups.  I listened to teachers who have been working with this structure explain some of the techniques that they have used to accomplish their goals in that time frame.  Additionally, members of all of the groups were spit-balling different methods for doing the same.

Another big discussion topic was assessment of skills.  In the book the sisters talk about how they moved from worksheet driven "busy work" to skill driven practice when the teacher is working with a group.  It is difficult sometimes to see that there are a variety of methods for assessing students' mastery of skills and concepts that do not involve making them fill out a worksheet that we need to later grade.  The prevailing idea that came from some groups involved keeping a skills chart for each child and assessing their mastery during small group reading instruction.  This would be a much more authentic assessment than a contrived worksheet that is completed partially to practice skills and partially to ensure that students are accountable.

The other major discussion topic was the idea of trusting the students.  We work very hard to create community in our school and classrooms and our children are given many opportunities to demonstrate that they can be trusted to make appropriate choices; however, during our reading block we still have some difficulty letting them have control of their learning and trusting that within the framework and parameters set, they will make the right choices.  I have seen it firsthand in classrooms that are structured around The Daily 5.  Students are engaged and making good choices.  The key is teaching the choices, setting the expectations, and then scaffolding the students to the point where they can stand on their own and the teacher can focus complete attention on the small group or individual instruction/conferencing.

Is all of this easy? No.  But, I think that the work that is done in the first weeks and months of school to set up the routines can lead to a great deal more valuable instructional time as the year progresses.

Needless to say, I felt that the first installment of our book study portion of the faculty meeting was a success.  It was heartening to hear dedicated teachers truly sharing their ideas and providing one another with support and ideas for moving forward.  There was so much more discussed than I can write here. I can't wait until next month's meeting to be a part of these discussions of chapters 3 and 4!

If your school is using The Daily 5, please comment and let me know any important successes, struggles, ideas, or caveats that you think I could share with the staff.  I always enjoy learning from the experience of others.  I have gained a great deal from reading some of The Daily 5 posts from Jessica Johnson's (@principalJ) blog "Reflections from an Elementary School Principal."

Other great resources include:

The Daily Cafe
The Daily 5 - Pinterest Board
MNWelementary-daily5andcafe wikispaces
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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Yes, Another "I Love Evernote" Post

I know, it's nothing new, but I have really started to hit my stride in using it and wanted to share. I know that I don't even use half of the features that Evernote includes yet I am still blown away by this phenomenal principals' companion.  Let me start by saying that I have tried many note-taking apps and programs in search of the one with which I could finally settle down and have a long and happy life.  I may be overstating this a bit; however, among tools for doing my job more efficiently, Evernote is one of the best that I have found.

photo.JPG There are many reasons that I have gravitated toward this tool as a staple in my electronic toolbox.  As a principal I work with immense amounts of text, media, and information.  Having a place to organize this is essential.  I am working to transition from the lovely piles on my desk to a virtual set of piles, files, and baskets.  Evernote gives me a place to store everything.  At this point, I actually get a little annoyed when I am handed paper.  Eventually, I will pull everyone else along.

If you are interested in how another principal has encouraged teachers to use Evernote as a tool in the Balanced Literacy program, check out this post by Tony Sinanis (@Cantiague_Lead).   I am focusing solely on administrative uses.  Hopefully you will find one that makes sense to you.
  1.  Principal's Log -  I have always had trouble keeping track of my office notes.  These include my call log/notes, investigation notes, and general notes on daily events.  One of the difficulties that I always found with the old paper notebook method of keeping a call log was that I needed to remember the date or sift through pages of notes to find the notes for which I was looking.  With Evernote I keep my notes in folders by year and each note is named using the same convention "PL-Month-Day-Year."  So if I know the date, it is easy to find.  However, when I don't know the date, I can simply type the name of the student in the search box in Evernote and it will bring up all notes with that name in it.  This function is priceless.  Additionally, the notes that I keep for disciplinary investigations are easier to search and store.
  2. Meeting Notes - When I go to administrative meetings I use Evernote to take and store all of my important notes.  I can tag them so that they are easier to search later.  If I don't get an electronic agenda and I don't want to add the paper one to my pile, I take a picture of the agenda and put it right in the note.  I always leave meetings with action items, so making bulleted lists in Evernote is a lifesaver.
  3. PD Notes - Evernote has changed the way that I take notes at workshops and PD sessions. With my iPad, I have a true multi-media note-taking system.  I add photos from presentations in real-time.  If the presenter is moving through slides too quickly this can be a great help.  I can also use the voice recorder if it is late in the day and typing is not high on my list.
  4. Idea Bank -  I use Evernote as a bank of ideas for all aspects of my professional life.  I have numerous folders as you can see in the screen shot to the right.  When I have time I go through the folders and sift through the ideas for use at a later date.  The most valuable feature in making this happen is the Web Clipper.  When ever I am online on my computer, iPad, or iPhone, I can "clip" an article, a webpage, or a link and put it in an Evernote folder.  This makes it easy to keep all notes on a particular topic, like "faculty meeting ideas," in one place.
  5. Always With Me Notebook - I think one of the best features is that it syncs across all of my devices.  I have Dropbox, which does the same thing, but in Evernote, I can take the notes, whereas in Dropbox I can only store files.
I have not found a need for the paid version.  I didn't think that 60megs of uploading per month was very much; however, I haven't even come close to using it.  I am sure that would not be the case for many people.

As I said in the beginning, Evernote is nothing new and there are plenty of posts out there about how great it is, but this is mine and I hope that just as I stumbled across someone's post and found Evernote could work for me, you may find some uses that you did not see before.

I would love to hear some of your uses for Evernote.  If you have any to share, please post in the comments.


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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Depths of Knowldege (DOK) is More Than an Acronym!

It has been several weeks since I spent a wonderful Saturday in New York City learning with my colleagues at the  Teachers College Readers and Writers Project 83rd Saturday Reunion.  I attended several energetic and informative sessions that day with colleagues from my school district who decided it was a great idea to spend a Saturday sitting in workshops learning how to enhance and improve their craft.  I just love that!!

One of the best workshops that I had the pleasure of attending was Chris Lehman's session entitled: Depths of Knowledge (DOK) is More than an Acronym: Use this New Lens to Revise Our Teaching so That Students Are Working at the Top of Their Game.  I must say that this was the first time that I had the pleasure of attending one of his workshops and I look forward to attending future sessions.  One thing that I have learned after many years of attending PD sessions is that the presenter is as important as the subject matter and in this case both were exceptional.

Webb's Depths of Knowledge Wheel is familiar to many of us as a way to look at student understanding that is a bit different than Bloom's Taxonomy; however, it basically still amounts to a list of verbs. Not so! While the session focused on Webb, Lehman spent some time explaining the connection between the two, including Webb's work with Bloom on the taxonomy.  But, most of the session focused on how educators could use Depths of Knowledge to reflect upon their students and themselves.

Here are some of my takeaways from the workshop.  I was typing furiously, so I hope I caught everything.

1. Most assessments do not necessarily assess what we think they do.  The majority of assessments are at lower levels (levels 1 and 2).

2. Chris Lehman used a wood shop analogy that helped me to understand the levels of DOK more clearly.

  • Level 1 - Recall is largely teacher dependent. 
    • "This is a hammer.  This is a saw.  Now go back to your stations and name your tools."
    • Here we have very basic factual retrieval
  • Level 2 - Skill/Concept is also largely teacher dependent 
    • "I am going to show you how to hammer two pieces of wood together." I show you and explain steps and repeat.  I send you back to your table and ask you to hammer two pieces of wood together.
    • This level assumes a basic knowledge of vocabulary and concepts.
In levels 1 and 2 students do things whether they are right are wrong.  They essentially don't necessarily know why they are doing the task just what it is and how to do it.

  • Level 3 - Strategic Thinking is highly learner dependent.
    • "I am going to show you how to make a bird house.  You are going to make any kind of birdhouse you want based upon my instruction."
    • In this level students must put together concepts they already know and steps they already know, but they must also make choices with that information.
  • Level 4 - Extended Thinking is also highly learner dependent.
    • "There is a flood coming and we need to close the workshop and build a dam for the town."
    • In this level the teacher is expecting the students to make their own plans, think strategically, and create something.
    • This level essentially asks students to "problematize things."  This is a skill that we need to teach children.  It causes questions along the way and then students must come up with the solution(s).  (The dam could leak, what do we do?)
3. DOK allows us to see our students more clearly.  Looking at their thought processes by questioning them about it gives us a glimpse into their thinking.  We should be teaching children to think meta-cognitively.   We need to know what they are thinking, even from the start in September.  "We have to think of September as not the first month of school but the 11th.  It is the 11th month of everything else they have ever learned before."  We need to see what kids are drawing on to do today's work. We do this through questions:
  • Can you teach me how to...?  Show me an example of what you were just talking about.
  • Have you done this before?
  • What have you learned that can help you complete this learning task?
4. If students cannot talk meta-cognitively about what they are doing, are they learning?  This concept is key in the classroom.  We don't want students who can simply mimic what they have seen demonstrated or heard in a rote fashion; we want students who understand what they are learning, how they are learning, and how they can build upon previous learning skills to learn new and different things.  With this understanding of their own learning process, they have the capability of tackling the level 3 and 4 tasks because they have more than facts and concepts, they have deeper thinking skills.

5.  DOK allows us to reflect upon our students and in turn upon ourselves.  This involves building a reflective cycle.  The teacher teaches something and then looks to the students' DOK levels as an assessment of how they taught it.  This leads the teacher to ask the questions, "what did I do? what can I do to move you forward from your current level?"

6.  Before having students start independent work, get them in the habit of writing two things that they already know that could help them do this work.  This is a kick start to thinking about thinking.

7. Apply Webb's Depths of Knowledge to the questioning used during Writers Workshop conferencing to determine the students' level and then base each conference on the appropriate level.  This method allows for differentiated conferencing.  The example used involved conferencing about character development.
  • Start at level 4 - "What are you thinking about as you revise today?"  If the student takes off into a well thought out explanation of their process and how they intend to move forward in revision, continue the questioning at this level and extend.  If not, move down to the next level.
  • Level 3 - "One thing I think about is, 'do my characters seem like real people?'  There are many ways to do that.  What are things that you already know how to do to make your characters seem real?"  With this question, the conference is at the strategic thinking level and if the student can respond to this prompt the conversation can remain at this level.  If not....
  • Level 2 - "One way to make your characters seem more real is to describe micro-actions, you first picture the scene, then...."  This is much more skill based and it does not ask for as much thought process.  The teacher takes the child through the process of visualizing and then the student can work through the character development.  If the student can do this, then the conference stays at level two, if not...
  • Level 1 - "Let's talk through doing this for your character.  First, what was the scene? Tell me what you see.  Okay, write that."  At this level of conferencing the teacher is holding the hand of the student and helping them work through the character development.

In this 50 minute workshop Chris Lehman moved quickly though Webb's Depths of Knowledge, provided real examples of how DOK is a useful tool for reflection, and culminated with an application in Writers Workshop conferences.  It is important for teachers to understand the level of their students and help them along the continuum as they grow in their writing and in their thinking.  I am looking forward to learning more from Chris Lehman through twitter (@ichrislehman), his blog,  and future workshops!

(Everything in this post is based upon my notes from Chris Lehman's presentation at 2:00pm on October 27, 2012 at Teachers College in New York City)

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Let's Support our #NJED

Be sure to click on the medallion above to see how you can help New Jersey schools in need after Hurricane Sandy.  It is important that we ensure that the students of New Jersey have everything that they need to succeed in these difficult weeks ahead.

Whether you are a school/teacher in need or someone who wishes to help, please check out the link.  If you have trouble with connecting, please paste the URL below into your browser.

Many people in our fine state are suffering the after-effects of this devastating storm.  There are schools and homes without power (with estimates of 5-10 days and more for relief).  The photos and video of our shore towns that have come across the news and all social media are simply heartbreaking.  As we move through the next weeks and months we will need your thoughts, prayers, and support.  Thank you for taking a moment to view my blog and even greater thanks for clicking on the link to see how you can help.

Be well and be safe.

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