Saturday, August 27, 2016

Thinking Qs.

Good morning colleagues!

As many have figured out (or just assumed), I am having a rough start to my school year. I am still trying to pinpoint what is causing me stress, but something that stands out, that is nagging me at the back of my brain, is "Why is this so hard?" I am still trying to figure it out, but I'm wondering if it comes back to how we get kids to think. I am stepping outside of my box with the QFT Process. In theory, it would make the kids think and process through their thoughts. In action, the kids are frustrated and are somewhat refusing to think. This leads me to have more questions than answers.
  • How can students think for themselves? 
  • Why don't students care about their education? 
  • How can we help? 
  • What can we change?
One very frustrated afternoon, I did what every person does in America, and I Googled it. "How do we get kids to think?" And Google gave me a lot of results; results from Edutopia, ASCD, Teaching Channel, Teach Thought... Then I thought to myself, how do teachers even have time to figure this out?! But my stubborn little self started reading some articles, and I stumbled across a great quote.
When grown-ups tell them how something works, kids don't question it. They act as if the adults have told them everything they need to know, and afterwards the children show less evidence of critical thinking (Bonawitz et al 2011; Buchsbaum et al 2011). 
The crazy thing is that I know this. And I've been trying to make my kids question, and think, and write, but it's sort of been to no avail. They have been taught their entire lives NOT to question, so when they aren't spoon-fed, they rebel. These mini-rebellions this year have been driving me crazy!

Any normal teacher with thick skin would have brushed this off, but I internalized this statement and tried to figure out why she was saying this and how I could make changes so students wouldn't say this. Why were they rebelling against me not lecturing and telling them the answer? Have they never had a teacher do this?

So I reflected on what I've done so far this year, what has worked, and what hasn't. Then I stumbled across another post that said something interesting, and sort of groundbreaking for me.
Of course, there are limited ways in which it is possible to learn things from others. Others can often help us get started. They can frequently point to or model the way. They can create environments, which help shorten the "figuring out" process. The anchor point is this. There is no way to teach what requires understanding so as to eliminate the "figuring out" process for the learner. When a teaching mode attempts to by-pass the processes by which each person individually figures things out, a mere illusion of learning takes place. When students do not engage in intellectual labor, they do not meaningfully learn; their learning is falsified. (The Critical Thinking Community)
I think the struggles have been due to me creating an environment that is not supportive enough (almost too open-ended) to let them figure out how to think. Students will get frustrated and will struggle, but there has to be a healthy balance, and my classroom is not balanced. I did try to add in more supports while questioning and researching this week, as it seemed to help. It's tough because the students this year are very different than last year, and I am trying new things that I haven't done before, so I don't have any answers and am figuring it out as I go. 

I'm guessing that more experienced teachers would tell me to survey my students for feedback. The problem is these kids are frustrated, and I worry what they will say. I do not have thick skin and internalize the negative comments, and I struggle with seeing the real feedback. I almost feel like I need a feedback manager who can wade through the comments for me!

I'm still thinking this year through. I like where the QFT Process is going, but I need to figure out how to make it less monotonous and engage the students while secretly making them think. I know that I am doing what's best for students in the long run, but it is a challenge to get them to see the big picture. Let's hope that this coming week is another step forward.

Thanks for reading! I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website
Donate a Google Cardboard to my classroom!

Saturday, August 20, 2016


Good morning colleagues! I am apologizing now for not writing a full blog this morning. I got home last night (i.e. this morning) at 2 am from the Cubs v. Rockies baseball game at Coors Field. My brain feels like it's being squeezed in a juicer, so I'm just going to leave you pictures from last night instead. Go Cubs!

My husband and I before the game (before the temperature dropped to 48 degrees Fahrenheit).
The reason for the 90 minute delay. 

Thank goodness for delicious caramel macchiatos at 8 pm. It helped us make the drive back at 1 am.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

40 hour work weeks???

Good morning colleagues! I was scrolling through Twitter this week when I stumbled across a post about teachers saving time.

I thought the article was quite good, and it made me think about how I've learned to save time over the last ten years of teaching. 

Once I started teaching with iPads, my work life balance went completely out the window. I felt like my teaching career was going down the drain (i.e. I had concerns that I was going to get fired), so I put more time and effort into my job to be the best teacher I could be. That meant that I was working 10-11 hours a day through lesson prep, teaching, and grading/feedback. I was trying to do it all, and I was burning myself out quickly. I really had to take a good look at what I was doing to find a healthy balance and cut out what I didn't NEED to be doing anymore. Having 1:1 technology in my classroom worked in my favor to make these changes. 

This last week, I was still working 10 hour days, but that was because of meeting with teachers who needed support in their class. Hopefully this next week slows down. But here are some things that I'm doing to support myself in having a life outside of my profession. 

  1. This summer, I finalize my flipped learning. Part of this was to get it posted on Teachers Pay Teachers, but part of it was to simplify my life. I realized that I was having the students take quizzes, create sketchnotes, post reading discussions... and I couldn't keep up with all of the grading. The reason I was doing flipped learning was to ensure that students were accessing content information, and a quiz could easily tell me if they were paying attention. Schoology quizzes aren't perfect, but they work fine for what I need and it grades the quizzes automatically. Problem. Solved. Now I just do a quick check every morning to make sure students are completing the quizzes, and then send weekly missing assignment notices and D/F e-mails to keep parents informed (Infinite Campus is not the best, but their messenger functionality is top notch! Such a time saver!). Keeping parents informed is incredibly important as it sets a tone that I communicate with parents and care about my students.
  2. I've started using Socrative in the classroom a lot! I've heard of Socrative for five years now, but never understood the hype and never really gave it a shot. Last year, I would use Kahoot as a formative assessment, but ISTE and GAFE hit home why Kahoot is not all that great. Yes, it is fun, and I will still use it for fun in my class, but some students are slower processors. Why am I punishing them for not being a fast clicker? Anyway, Socrative is amazing as I can do quick checks or exit tickets, or can do full on quizzes or a Space Race. I can then download reports of their answers, and now I am in the process of moving the information to a massive Google Sheet to show their growth over a unit. I am finally figuring out how to progress monitor, and have data that I can show my evaluator!
The blog post also listed five ways to save time, so I thought I would break those down as well.
1) Eliminate unintentional breaks.

I've realized that I cannot have much going on in the background when I work. I definitely CANNOT have the tv on as background noise because I will watch whatever's on tv. The best thing for me (and my coffee addiction, but not my wallet) is to go to a coffee shop and work for 3-4 hours. This also ties in to #5 below as I have a set time where I work.
2) Figure out The Main Thing and do it first.

I'm pretty bad at this one as I do all of the simple tasks first to avoid what I really need to get done. The big thing that I procrastinate the most at is grading, so I need to make sure grading gets done at school and use weekend time to plan for the next week of school. I have started to schedule meetings with people, so I don't let them do a "fly by" to my classroom to ask me a question. "Need video, blogging, Google help? Let's find a time this week for you to come by." This way I am using my plan time for what I need. And if a teacher doesn't want to schedule that time, then the question probably was not that important. AND this sets boundaries with my colleagues so they know I am not always available (plus I am not an instructional coach anyway!)
3) Work ahead by batching and avoid multi-tasking unless the work is mindless.

I am pretty inefficient with batching work. The best example of this is that I leave my e-mail open all day and reply to e-mails as soon as I can. I need to close my e-mail so that I reply to all e-mails at the beginning or end of the day where I'm focused on the task at hand: e-mailing.
4) Look for innovative ways to relax any standards that create unnecessary work.

I am a perfectionist when it comes to my classroom and curriculum, so I need to relax my standards. Step one for this this year was to allow flexible seating and make my students clean up the classroom at the end of each day. I do not need to do this for my students - they can be responsible for moving a chair to a stack in the classroom, or putting a yoga ball under the table. AND not everything has to be perfect at all times; I have to decide what the priority is and focus on that.
5) Use scheduling to create boundaries around your time.

I am started working on this last year, and am trying to amp it up this year. I told myself, leave school at 4. 7 am - 4 pm is a 9 hour day. I don't need to work more than 9 hours a day. I will have days where I leave later, but I should not have to take more than 9 hours to get a task done. That requires me to create boundaries with my colleagues, and requires me to schedule weekend time to get extra work done, but I need to have free time myself. I am a teacher, but that is not the only thing that I am. 
Wow, this was a rather lengthy post, but I felt like it was important for me to think about the changes I am making and how I am growing as a teacher. I hope some of this advice is useful, and some of these thoughts spark some ideas for your own classroom. 

Thanks for reading! I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website
Donate a Google Cardboard to my classroom!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

First Week Recap

Good morning! It has been an EXHAUSTING week as it was the first full week of school! Welcome back to Skyview! Because I am so tired, I struggled with coming up for a blog topic this week. I figured a recap of my week would be best, to try to reflect on how everything went. 

As I blogged last week, I was quite excited to try flexible seating in my classroom. To NO ONE'S SURPRISE, my students ate it up. The first day, I had them switching seats every 5-10 minutes to try all of the the different seating options. They actually did not care for trying all of the options (because I think they didn't want to move), but in the end, it was better that they did because some of the students are picking new seats every day. I have found that the students like the yoga balls, so I may have to purchase more further down the road. They like the big fluffy floor pillows, and some of them use the pillows with the camping chairs. I need to find a way to get donations, or tell the students that they can bring in more seating options too. Yesterday, I ended up taking 18 desks and chairs out of my classroom (I don't think my janitor was too happy about them all being out in the hall after school). My room looks quite large and rather empty, which is exciting! I kept an extra four desks in my classroom as I am going to lower the legs so they can sit on the floor and use a desk. Many students may prefer that option, so we will see how it goes over the next couple of weeks. 

I do think I will have a bit of a hill climb when it comes to using QFT (Question Formulation Technique) with these students. I'm not sure how the students will react to it. My classroom tends to be a bit different than other classrooms at Skyview, and I'm not sure how much choice they've had over the years. I worry that having such an open-ended curriculum will throw them for a loop, and they will react badly. But, if things are not going well, I know that I need to provide structure and support. 

I think we do have good students this year. We're both feeling each other out, and I think my students are trying to determine if I am being genuine and sincere. Middle school students usually wait for the inevitable (i.e. bad) to happen, so I think they're waiting for me to "flip". 

It has also been a great week for my mentee and myself. I know I haven't talked about my mentee much, but we had communicated a bit over the summer, so I was pleasantly surprised to have him as a mentee. We are communicating very well. I am trying to provide support in any way that I can, and he's great about coming to me when he needs something and he's been asking a lot of questions. Starting your first year of teaching is super stressful, so I'm just trying to help out when he needs it. I don't want to overwhelm him, but I think we already have a good enough relationship that he'll tell me when he just needs time and not help. 

I'm also excited for all of the new teachers in the building! We have a number of new staff members and a handful of student teachers. Their excitement and eagerness are spreading through the school and I feel like the culture of SMS is changing (slowly, but steadily). It's exciting for me because I feel like I'm helping change the way. It's a good feeling. 

My other big excitement is that my 10 Google Cardboards are on their way to my classroom! They're supposed to be delivered next Saturday (but the building will be closed), so I should get them on Monday, August 15th. When I went to purchase them on Thursday, I noticed that instead of paying $15 each, I could get two for $25! I posted only social media, and got another $75 in donations. That was a nice boost for the end of my work week :) I can't wait for my students to try Cardboard in the classroom. I hope that it's exciting and interesting for them!

I can't think of much else other than that I have a lot of work to do this weekend, and the cat sitting on my lap and the cup of coffee next to me are helping me stay focused. 

Enjoy your weekend and Go USA! I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website
Donate a Google Cardboard to my classroom!