Integration Nation

As schools are feeling the push for more technology usage, many teachers are becoming buried and left behind in all that tech.  How should you implement student usage of those shiny new iPads? What’s the best way to integrate that software program your administrator can’t stop talking about?

Focus, literally. Find one item you feel confidant you can learn. Focus on becoming an expert on that one item. Even the great, master teachers at every school know that you can have TOO much on your plate.

So, what thing, what item? Well, technology in a classroom works best when its an integrated part of your instruction. What does that mean? Your class still runs as it did before but technology is just enhancing one aspect of it.

For example, maybe, your class is known for collaborative grouping. Your only wish is to add a technology piece and make it easier for groups to work at home. You may want to explore having groups work in Google Docs.  Different members can access and edit the same document at the same time. This means that no matter what time it is any group member can go online and work by themselves or collaboratively with their group.

Or, maybe you’re like me and the towering stacks of papers to grade reminded you of a giant tree that once lived.  I couldn’t stand all the papers and mess and… well, let’s just say I have an OCD problem. Enter Edmodo. Edmodo is an online site that allows students to post assignments to a teacher created class. The class is secure. Only individuals invited can enter and post. Students cannot email or post to each other without the teacher viewing it. You can also allow parents access to see their child’s work and any assignments you have posted.

Still struggling? Well, you’re on the computer with Google at your fingertips. You can do this. Find something simple, you believe you can achieve. And if you’re still struggling, here’s a great article by Linda Starr that has twenty-one super easy ways to start your classroom integration!

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I Believe

My students are some of the brightest, most creative individuals out there.  I say some of because I have yet to meet next year’s group of students.  Even though my state has labeled these students as “low-achieving” and others may claim that they are “not capable”, I know that I will be once again be blessed with the privilege to teach some of the best students in the world.

Teacher

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High Fidelity

I recently had a chance to speak with individuals from another school about their curriculum. The term “with fidelity” was used so often during the discussion to describe a program they used that I was left with an overwhelming belief that the word “fidelity” should be barred from education.

This has become a disturbing trend in education. New programs are introduced in which the teacher is the smallest part of the equation. The biggest? The computer. It decides what is best for the student. These programs are touted as a curriculum anyone can teach and worthy of big bucks because of big gains. But only if the program is followed to the letter of the designers’ laws.

The people I spoke with described how teachers, by using only the allowed programs, went through a prescribed number steps each class, choreographed to the minute, where students had whole group instruction, small group instruction, center work, and computer time. Each day, the same schedule. Now, to be fair to the school, they are under a lot of scrutiny from those above them. They spoke jealously of how I could create lessons more loosely based on programs purchased.

As I listened to the individuals describe the classroom setting, I felt myself becoming depressed, as a teacher and for the students. When I create my lessons, I become excited by my materials. My students, in turn, become excited because of my enthusiasm.  They want to learn and try, if only because I’m so effusive about how cool everything is. I couldn’t imagine a classroom following such a rigid schedule with little motivation for the students to work and learn, or for me to teach at my best.

This is what education has come to: in the name of rigor, of raising low level students, we are going to create a one-size-fits all class room where anyone can teach in that room. We have let a salesman pitch us a quick fix when there is none.

Yes, the program creators will always argue that their programs level the material to the specific student. But does a computer know when a kid is blowing off a test because he’s taken 6 other tests? Or struggles through the test because there’s family turmoil at home? What if she hasn’t been able to eat or sleep? Does the computer know that?

So I listened  highly skilled Educators talk about using their programs “with fidelity” hoping to change minds. When I prompted them, to bring in more teacher choice, more fiction, more real world projects, anything that would make students love learning or motivate them, I was told “We’re looked at too closely.”

So, as many things do, it boiled down to fear. Fear of getting in trouble with higher-ups if rules weren’t followed.

But I ask, how does that benefit students? If we are to truly keep kids engaged, to prepare them for the real world, then why would we bow down in fear instead of speaking up for what we know is right?

A teacher should be the heart and brain of any class. He or she should know the data on their students. They should be the ones to judge what is necessary for their students to learn at any given time otherwise precious school time is wasted. He or she should have a rapport with their students built from mutual respect. They should be able to make instant class decisions for the whole group or individuals based on teachable moments or just human moments. I believe in education we call this “withitness”.

What have I seen that works? Using these programs as secondary materials. Finding a standard or concept the students are weak in, and creating a real world task or project for students to accomplish. Have them argue on a forum post, create a proposal, or debate. Then teach the steps the students need to be successful on that standard and that task. If there is no end goal, no purpose, no real world buy in, most students won’t give it their all. A good many won’t even do the work.

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Think of the Children

As a Middle Grades teacher, Teacher Appreciation Week usually comes and goes with a couple of hugs, a thank you breakfast, and a gift from my school. I don’t get the big “Hurrah” Elementary Teachers receive but the occasional student gift has always made me feel I’m just slightly higher on the totem pole of appreciation than my High School Colleagues. It came as a huge surprise when I received candy, flowers, and cards this year.

I was reading through the cards when I discovered one by a particularly difficult student I’d taught for two years. Difficult, because she knew exactly what to say to get under a teacher’s skin. She had mentioned once that it was easier to be in trouble instead of doing the work. Her card thanked me for making her laugh instead of argue, for making her work, for helping her learn.

Her card, and everything that her and I had gone through in the last two years, made me think of the fights going on today in education. Mention Common Core and the verbal weapons are quickly drawn. I’ve been called an indoctrinated teacher with no training, a naive socialist, and an idiot.

Okay, sometimes the last one is true. I’ve slung my fair share of insults. But, in a world where we teach our children that everyone’s opinion is valid, and that we should back up our arguments with logical facts, when did it become okay for the adults of the world to say, “Do as we say, not as we do.”

I believe in Common Core. Do I believe it will work for every child? No. Do I believe it has been rolled out to teachers in a helpful and effective manner? Not to everyone, although I think many have given it the good ‘ole college try. Do I believe this is a government taking away states rights? No.

Feel free to argue with me. Bring facts. I want to hear where I might be wrong. I will argue back with my own facts and together we can grow.

Together, we can show those who sling insults as their weapons that we are working to create the future for children.

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Why I support Common Core

Last week I was eating lunch with a group of colleagues (something every teacher should be doing to stay sane) and one asked me, “Do you believe in Common Core?” I was so taken aback by the question, I didn’t think she was talking to me. Do I believe in Common Core? It was like asking me if I believed in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny.

There are a lot of arguments to be made in favor or against the Common Core State Standards, with many arguments being screamed at opposing side while no one listens. And I stand, firmly stating my support. I never said I was the sanest person.

From the day Common Core was rolled out to me, I have been a supporter. That’s not to say I haven’t cried, cursed, or become angry. And I know the arguments, valid or not. The standards can be hard. I am a parent and have watched my own children struggle. I know the complaints about Race to the Top. I know there are teachers who weren’t trained but just told, “Add more rigor.

So, in a raging sea of arguments, why do I sail the Common Core colors?

For many years, what I taught and when I taught it was dictated to me. I was told what was best for my students, and when it was best. If I wasn’t on the same pace as Teacher A and Teacher B, I was told I wasn’t doing what was right for the students. “Fidelity” was the buzzword.

These last two years, I’ve been the one making those decisions.

I saw my students were weak in comparison, cause/effect, and struggling in their Civics classes. So I created two units using historical documents and the Bill of Rights. This allowed students to discuss the evolution of United States history and what equality means.

When it came time for testing, students analyzed their own strengths and weaknesses. They were taught how our state test was made and then asked to make their own.

Students went on virtual Field Trips and read (and debunked) local Urban Legends to better understand story elements, logical reasoning, and narrative writing.

I chose and wrote these lessons. I looked at the Common Core Standards, identified which standards my students needed to be taught. Next, I created what real world project they were going to complete and every step I would need to teach to get them there. This made me a better teacher.

I did it. Not a textbook. Not a computer. Not a program.

I can give statistics on how my students have done on state tests. But the thing that matters most to me? I enjoy my class. My students enjoy my class (well, until I assign homework).

I understand my students and can respond to their needs quicker than before. One size did not fit all.

It’s no longer a “Reading Class” but “Mrs. Craig’s class”. Common Core gave me that freedom.

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I am

I am a Public School Teacher teaching the kids that everyone else says they can’t. I am the Teacher who says I believe. I am the Teacher who says, “I don’t know” and “Nó se” are just excuses for not learning the answer. I am the Teacher who says my students are brilliant and funny and creative and caring. I am the Teacher who believes all kids can learn. I am the Teacher who can help.

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