July 31, 2013

Social Studies Craziness!

     Thank goodness my technical difficulties are now completely finished!  I got my computer back from the repair shop and now it charges and I can type without my fingers messing up on the j and u!  Pure heaven!  But, then again, maybe I’m just going the other way too.  At least I feel that way at this point of the day!  It’s been Social Studies Craziness all day today!

     Here’s what I’ve been working on.  I know it is a rough sketch of a crazy idea, but it is totally coming together in the document I’m working on.  It is a Government Project made from foldables.  Homeschoolers know it as a lapbook.  The idea is that you create a folder and put all kinds of fun stuff inside while you are learning about a topic.  The foldables inside the folder make it fun to read and learn.  What a better way to learn about the not-so-hot topic of government!  I think the kids are going to just LOVE it!  They will get to use computers to research some of the information, do some drawing, and learn at the same time! Here are a few sneak-peaks of the pages!

     The craziest part was I decided to build in some formative assessments as I went. That was not in my original plans, but, when I looked at the road maps (that, my friends, is such a dreaded word to me), I decided they were a necessity!  I found this cool little website on some quick formative assessments:

I decided to try out the one called “As I see it…” for one of the quick assessments at the end of the lesson.  Here’s a sneak-peak of how it looks!

      Overall, I’m really excited about this project.  I haven’t been able to print it off and build it, so it won’t be up this week.  I would like to get it up as soon as possible, because this is our first unit of study for Florida!  I just have to make sure it all fits. The nicest thing about it, the kids do the work.  There is nothing better than facilitative teaching in my opinion.  And this will be one of those moments!

Hope you like it.  Leave me a comment to let me know what you think so far too! My next crazy Social Studies project-Explorers!

Julie :O)

July 26, 2013

An Opportunity to Grow!

   Today is the day that most Florida teachers dread and despise like no other day-School Grading day.  Yes, no matter what level of ability or economics your school is associated with, it is a day of dread.  Today, the worst case scenario happened.  My district, already in a state of upheaval because of poor management, scored very poorly.  17 elementary and middle schools received a D or F score based on the "new" system established by the state.  It doesn't matter what my school scored, it matters what is being done to all students and teachers in this district.  We have undergone pay cut after pay cut that promised to protect jobs.  Then, jobs were cut-lots of them-300 teachers alone!  Our neighborhoods are changing.  My former school is now a Title 1 school.  It sits in what is considered one of the wealthiest areas of town.  What was once farm and woods to the east is now an elite society, master planned to be just that.  Everything has shifted-jobs, housing, wealth-to this outer areas of our county.  Our system is now headed by a very different regime, one who is finally doing away with many of our district level problems, through job loss or movement out of the positions once held by friends of friends of friends.  So many changes!  So many moments of loss and, now, this. 
     It also offers hope, if you can find it in this kind of moment. Real change comes not from the same ideas, but from new ideas.  Many are upset by the idea that one set of good ole' boys is being replaced by another.  I, in my willingness to embrace change, am seeing it as an opportunity to improve and build.  I am very impressed by many of the leaders that are coming into our system, their resumes are impressive-let them live up to it and do the same changes here in our county as they have in others.  Today, as dreaded and despised as it is by us, today, may this be the last day that we face this news.  May it be the final hole that is dug.  May it be the hole that is filled with fresh soil, fertile for change and growth.  I look forward to seeing what will grow and grow and grow!

July 25, 2013

The Struggle to Keep Up!

     Sometimes, that's what life gives you.  A struggle to keep up. Between vacation, technical difficulties, and my son starting the adventure of his life so far, I just haven't been able to keep up!  My youngest is currently experiencing his first week in his new school.  His school specializes in autism, and so far, it's everything we had hoped it would be.  He's extremely happy and wants to go every day!  I've helped out a little, working to get the library back in shape.  It also gives me time to work on some reading materials to discuss here! 

     I am still dissecting Mechanically Inclined, and, have to say, it is really a wonderful source of ideas!  One of the best ideas comes in the form of brain based research. In our Quantum Learning training at my school, we learned the principle of 10/24/7.  This means that you review a concept within the first 10 minutes of the lesson, 24  hours after the lesson, and within 7 days of the lesson.  Anderson suggests the repeated use of grammar and mechanic instruction to build patterns.  The repeated exposure of the skill creates a pattern-share mentor text examples, put it up on charts, revisit often, and practice within student work.  He uses the first 5 minutes and the last 10 minutes of his language arts classes to do just that.  The amazing thing is he points to this use for only upper elementary and beyond.  However, this can easily be adjusted for any age group in my opinion.  The simple principle could be used for any type of grammar.  One of the best parts of this instruction is the fact that he targets skills through fun games and searches! 

     So, where am I going with this in my classroom. First, I will be devoting the large bulletin board in my classroom as a "Writer's Secrets" space.  This will become interactive, where kids can add to the information that will be displayed.  I am going to work on ideas for skills that do need to be covered in 4th grade.  That would be the only concern with the book.  I have discovered, though, that the lessons that are in there are not ones that can just be passed off as middle school skills.  They just need to be adapted to meet the needs of elementary students. I will also be searching out mentor texts. This is where the time out of my house during these summer sessions for my son will pay off.  I've been spending time at the public library!  That is a whole lot of available mentor texts! 

     Do you have a great mentor text??? If so, please add a comment about your favorite to get me started!

July 17, 2013

Summer Reading #2


     I’ve also been reading Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson.  There’s some really great stuff in here.  It also fits into the current trend of brain-based learning.  We are using this a lot on my campus.  Last summer, we were involved in a week long inservice based on how the brain works and best practices that follow this theory called Quantum Learning.  It was excellent.  I also participated in a number of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) on our campus where we learned more about this.   Anderson’s book touches upon a number of these concepts.  One is called the linguistic data pool theory.  (Harst, Burke, and Woodward, 1985).  This theory is about how all visual and aural language experiences flow into a personal data pool that they access over and over again.  They use this “data base” to pull past experiences with reading and writing to form their own.  I TOTALLY agree with this idea.  You can see it in so many kids writing.  Good readers write well.  Kids who read struggle less with writing.  It can even come down to they way they put words on the page.  Favorites go into that data pool and are pulled out as thought patterns for kids!  I just love this idea!

      Another really great brain idea shared is from Vogotsky.  This idea is that “conceptual development” (OH!  There it is again and I wasn’t even looking!) “evolve out of piles and heaps we try to form when grasping for meaning.” (1986) Wow, piles of information!  I totally want to check out this idea.  It may guide me to that knowledge needed to develop more knowledge about how our conceptual development works and grows!  Thanks Jeff Anderson!

      Anyways, I’m really enjoying Anderson’s book and plan to use some of his ideas this coming year.  As I try them out, I’ll be happy to share some successes, ideas, and even failures!   In the mean time, here is a freebie for writing.  I use this writing tracker with my kids.  They keep track of their writing scores.  There is a lot of research out there that supports the fact that when students track their own progress, they are more successful.  It also is a quick view for me as to who is growing, who has stabilized, and who needs intervention, including differentiation!

July 16, 2013

Nothing New Under the Sun

     Nothing, really, is new, ever.  As I continue to look at what needs to be done to assess conceptual standards, I’ve investigating “new” and old resources.  The first idea formed when I began to, really, assess my students toward the end of the year.  The class was really hitting written response hard.  Most things were done through short or extended response.  Now, if you are an oldie like me, you have already inferred where I am going with those two terms.  Way back in the day, FCAT actually assessed students through written response and the two levels of this form-short and extended response.  While Lisa and I discussed the idea of conceptual standards and how best to assess them, we came upon this:

If you click on Bonsai, which is the first downloadable pdf, you will find the explanation of how the two rubrics work in scoring!  Well, to say the least, they are still pretty good at scoring a conceptual standard!  That will be the starting location, the formula to follow, as I grow in understanding what and how to do this. 

     Many of you are probably wondering, “Why all this work when it’s the last year of FCAT!”  Well, I haven’t left that off my list either.  You see, all of this is the up and coming testing of Common Core State Standards.  Take a look at this:

From the PARCC Website not my own design

That is the chart from PARCC that shares what the general flow of expectations is for 4th grade.  There is one for every grade, along with your grade info, on their page as well.   Scary, isn’t it.  Yet, REALLY, examine it-closely!  Do you see it???  Do you see that the old is becoming “new” again!  That’s right, we are bringing back written response!  The expectations are so similar, and there is a “sample” rubric.  To be honest, I don’t like the rubric.  It is vague and not developed enough to really cover the depth and complexity of written response.  So, for this year, I’m sticking with the FCAT “oldie” rubric! 

     Yes, this is beginning to tie together nicely, new with old, and old with new.  As I continue to look at this information, I will be looking more into PARCC and trying out things with Common Core all year. I will be working to tie new with old, and concept standards evaluation will be an ongoing quest.  And, just to be clear on my stand with Common Core-I LOVE the Language Arts standards and feel this is really a step in the right direction.  As you can tell, math has not been as easy to share as reading.  I’ve gone through them and they hold some very enlightening finds as well.  I’m just really stuck on how to lay them out, even for my own understanding.  They will come, in time.  And when they do, I’ll share-I promise!

July 15, 2013

Charting Progress

            As I continue to investigate what it means to assess conceptual standards, I feel like I also need to understand where and what I’m starting with.  I really need to look at my students from the perspective of the end in mind.  Where do I want them and how can I get them there.  With my newly found knowledge, I developed a chart to get me started.  With the chart, I will record what data I have, right from the beginning.  I will want to know both their level and their scale score.  The level is important, because this is what a parent understands.  However, by looking at the chart from yesterday, the scale score is more important to the teacher.  This scale score will help me determine how much they need to grow.  I will take their score and subtract it from the next level of scores given by the state. That will help me know what number of points they need to have to jump to the next level.  (Ex.   A student with a level 3, having 200 points, will need to gain at least 10 points to become a level 4!)  I will also record their vocabulary, reading application, literature analysis, and informational reading scores from third grade. 

            Again, however, what will this mean for the huge jump from skill based to conceptual standards based understanding.   It goes back, yet again, to O’Meara’s book.  First, I need to know whom I need to remediate.  Yes, because that’s all these scores tell me.  The district and school based goals are to remediate these kids, but they label it with the term RTI.  I now understand that is the wrong term for these students.  These students did not understand the skills presented in 3rd grade and need to be caught up on these skills.  It does not come from data I’ve gotten, but that from the previous year.  Once I get them going in remediation, then I can collect data from the work we are doing THIS YEAR for my RTI.  Will many of these kids end up with RTI needs, most definitely.  Will they need to go back to basics, possibly. Can they surprise me with understanding a skill but just didn’t get it on a test-MOST DEFINITELY!   That always needs to be part of the consideration when looking at test scores and class work. 

            So, with that being said, I have one more thought to share tomorrow, with a link to where I am going and what I am going to do with it.  I think it is the basic idea of what and how I’m going to assess these conceptual standards.  For any old timers out there like me, you will find it rather familiar! 

Until Then,

Oh, and here’s the charts: 

July 14, 2013

Off Balance

            Yes, that’s what I’d call it, off balance.  While I was enjoying the last drive-in in Florida last night, this little visual “came” to me.  You see, I have a hard time turning off a train of thought if that train of thought impacts me greatly.  And, this does. I won’t go into the possible impacts on my VAM score, or the push for higher test scores that my district is heading toward (not that we weren’t before, but it is amazing what a change in leadership will do).  It happens because I am type A-there, I admit it!  Just like my dad, I’m driven to do my best and look at what I do as not being complete till it meets my standards of “the best” in my eyes.  That’s what is so amazing about it.  I don’t need to be everyone else’s “the best”, I just have to be my “the best”!  So, enough about this, and back to the topic-off balance!
      While I was thinking about the topic of conceptual concepts, I was also thinking about how, and why, we are given so many areas of conceptual concepts.  How, as you can see, there would be so many for such an age where the kids aren’t ready for it.  That seems to be the primary concern that I have, as well as so many others, I’m sure.  In 4th grade, kids are transitioning from skill understanding to this higher-level thinking and understanding at a conceptual level.  Not every kid is ready for it, so, state wide, 4th grade always seems to dip in reading test scores.  Yet, in Florida, that is the reporting grade they tend to use as a bench mark over and over.  There’s always the big hype over the promotion of 3rd graders, but when the rest of the scores come out, 4th grade tends to be a focus-with 8th and 10th.  It helps, in some ways, for me at least now, to know why!  Why the dip occurs.  But this is also only the first glaring reason.  

            In my investigation as to why, I also discovered this!

This shows the expected growth in reading scores from 3rd to 4th and then from 4th to 5th!  Another clear reason why there is such a dip from 3rd to 4th!  Not only do they hit them with conceptual challenges, but then they up the expected growth by A LOT!  I won’t go on, I could, but I won’t!

            Now, back to the conceptual concepts.  In O’Meara’s book, RTI with Differentiated Instruction is, finally, the definition of something that puzzled me this year.  The magical “80%” expectation.  I kept wondering, “Where in the world did they get this number?!”  Somewhere, the powers that be, determined that if students could score 80% or higher, they are considered successful.  Then you target your kids that aren’t doing that.  We must be paying attention to that number-80% or better!  That doesn’t mean that we need to put these kids into a remediation group and skill and drill them!  This means it’s time for DIFFERENTIATION!   Oh, how I love that term and how Jodi pointed me in this direction.   Instead of hitting these kids with things that don’t work, at the same level as everyone else, we start looking at how to meet their needs in smaller group settings, through things we are doing, in a different way!  We tract their data, we check to really see what’s going on and what growth is happening, and, when it happens, we RELEASE THEM!   Not every kid needs to be an RTI kid.  Sometimes, when conceptual concepts aren’t hitting them, we need to differentiate and help them see and grow.  Because, let’s face it guys, concepts aren’t something that just come to everyone!  They need this time to be caught so they can be released! 

            How does this tie all together?  It is still that question that lingers. In all of this stuff, how do we REALLY know a concept has been successfully met?  How, besides being able to score it through a multiple-choice answer, do we know they do it?  I don’t know if I can even answer that, besides being able to say, “I just do.”  I know when their writing reflects the skill and it is correct.  I know when supports are present.  I know I’ve scored it using the Marzano Rubric for Learning.  I also know I adjust my expectations from time to time.  So maybe that’s what is really eating at me.  How do I stabilize my expectations of a concept?  Just like Jodi points out in her book.  If you have any ideas, feel free to leave me a comment!  

Here is a link to the Off Balance Graphic.  I'm putting it in TPT simply because I don't know how to link documents to the blog yet!  Also, it will have the full scale score chart I made for both math and reading expectations!