Second quarter, I was stuck. My class was reading the book Monster by Walter Dean Myers and it has so much timely content that I knew I had to get my students talking about it. I put together these elaborate (but very pretty) reading guides, put the kids in small groups for discussion, assigned roles, and set the expectations. Ready, set, discuss!
A mere two minutes later, I head those dreadful words… “What now? We’re done.”
After multiple tweaks and failed attempts, I went to my Instructional Coach, Ellen Harford, looking for help with making these discussions work. She said to me, “I have this book that relates to your problem. Look at this...”
Enter: The Best Class You Never Taught by Alexis Wiggins.
I love trying new things; I’m usually up for anything. I read this book over winter break--it was fast and easy to read. I came back from break ready to plan out my implementation of Spider Web Discussions (SWD).
At this point, you may be wondering just what this "SWD" is. Here’s the gist: it is a whole class discussion guided only by the students with no input or direction from the teacher. The entire class gets the same grade (in the gradebook, but no count) based on pre-established criteria and post-discussion debriefing. What does the teacher do? Write all the students’ names on a paper and note where they are sitting, listen to the discussion, and draw lines from one speaker to the next.
Starting in quarter 3, our class was reading the book Night by Elie Wiesel, and there is plenty of fodder for discussion in that book. I spent part of a class period introducing SWDs including the grading criteria and showing an example video. The next day, we got the desks in a circle, I took up my position at a student desk just outside the circle, started the timer, and told the students to start discussing the question.
I had two different sections doing the same discussion that day, and both can be described as…rough (to put it nicely). Both classes received an 'F'. They filled the 20 minutes, but did not meet almost any parts of the grading criteria.
Here’s why it was still incredible: we debriefed after. I took a picture of the diagramming I had done, put it up on the board, and let the kids take a look. It took a minute for the kids to understand what they were looking at, but when they did and they compared it to the criteria… light bulbs went off. They all had instant, individual feedback.
We did SWDs four more times for the book Night, plusI brought it into my writing class. We evaluated sample essays based on the essay rubric. The SWD had the same criteria and was graded every time. The kids flowed naturally into it in writing class because we’d had such consistent exposure to it in reading class while we were building the skills.
We just finished our final SWD for the year. The question? Who’s to blame for the death of both Romeo and Juliet? Both classes earned their first 'B' on the SWD and there were cheers by all.
The kids had had such quality feedback from me AND from each other in the debriefing that they knew what to focus on in the discussion. I didn’t have to point out the important details: they did that. I didn’t have to draw their attention to flaws in thinking: they did that. I didn’t have to encourage the quiet kids to speak: they did that for each other. I didn’t have to shush the dominating talkers: they did that themselves.
SWDs have changed the landscape of my classroom. The students know what to do for each discussion now, they enjoy having so much time to talk and debate, and they get the academic speaking practice they need in an authentic way. I have never read a book about my teaching practice that I could literally implement the next day until The Best Class You Never Taught. If you think it can’t work because Javier never talks or Samira never stops talking, Wiggins problem-solves that with you and it works! If you think it can’t work because the kids might miss the big ideas, the group grade forces them to be prepared, which allows them to reach the big ideas.
I’m telling you, this will be one of the first strategies I implement next fall because we’re going to do it all year long.
This post brought to you by Bridget Bordelon, English Language (EL) teacher at John Marshall High School
Feel free to connect with Bordelon via email
It's never easy being the new kid, but at the start of eighth grade, that's exactly what I was. At my new school, I was amazed to find a Newcomers Program for assisting students whose families had just moved to the United States because there hadn’t been one at my old school.
I remember one day after the bell rang to start math class, one of my classmates ran in out of breath and plopped down in front of me. She turned to the boy sitting next to her and said, “Oh my gosh! Don’t you just LOVE newcomer girls?”
“No,” he said, before immediately turning back to me and adding, “No offense.”
Despite my not being a newcomer, I knew his “no offense” was well-meaning, so I just shrugged and gave him a half smile. I am a Somali woman and wear a hijab: my classmate had made the assumption that I was a newcomer based on those characteristics alone. I wasn’t offended, but I was surprised that he’d made such an assumption without a second thought about its accuracy.
We all make assumptions, and in and of itself that is not a bad thing. When we’re lacking details in a situation, we sometimes have to make assumptions. They help guide our thinking and our judgements. Everyday we make assumptions that, had we not made them, we would face major setbacks in our day; for instance, we get in our cars with the assumption that other drivers will follow the rules. Can you imagine how we’d get around if we didn’t operate under such assumptions? Obviously, assumptions serve a purpose.
But sometimes we operate under false assumptions, unfortunately. In these situations, our assumptions still guide our judgements, but they might result in negative consequences. With these false assumptions, we often don’t realize they’re false--or even that they’re assumptions. They are things we’ve regarded as true for our whole lives. These are also assumptions we tend to cling to when challenged, because it can be difficult to admit our faults.
As a person of color, people are often curious about my ethnicity. I remember sitting outside the library after work one day when I was joined by a middle aged woman. She smiled and induced herself, so I did the same. After making some small talk, she asked me, “Where are you from?”
I told her, “I’m from Minnesota.”
She stopped for a beat, confused, and asked, “No, no, where are you--where are you really from?”
I said, “Well, I was born in Dallas, Texas.” Then, I added jokingly, “But in the seventeen years I’ve been alive, I’ve had to endure sixteen Minnesota winters.”
I hoped that’d get a laugh, but no luck there; we proceeded to sit in awkward silence until my mom picked me up.
The question “where are you really from?” is one people of color are used to hearing. In her article "Where are You Really From? Try Another Question", CNN reporter Tanzina Vega explains why the question is often offensive. She talks to Professor Derald Sue who explains that, “the impact to the person receiving that persistent questioning is that you are not a true American, you are a perpetual foreigner in your own country.”
I believe this woman who was outside the library that day was well-intentioned in her inquiry. Like my eighth grade classmate, she meant no harm by her actions. She was operating under the assumption that only people who look a certain way can be truly be from Minnesota. She was also probably unaware that she was making this assumption, as well as unaware of how offensive her question was to me.
It is crucial that we make efforts to be mindful, because we often aren't aware of our incorrect assumptions. We are all human. We all make assumptions. We are oblivious to some of those assumptions.
I know it can be difficult to identify an incorrect assumption, but by making a conscious effort, we can change our cognitive patterns. When in the middle of a train of thought, we can stop and ask ourselves if we’re acting on any assumptions. We can also help others keep their assumptions in check. When someone asks me where I’m from, I know they’re really asking about my ethnicity, but I answer the way I do to force them to acknowledge their assumptions.
If you would like to explore this idea future, check out this helpful Word document that is filled with examples of common questions asked in an educational setting and important questions that educators should often ask themselves (it was created by Michael Depietro in his work the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence at Carnegie Mellon University).
This post brought to you by Sumeya Jeilani, Senior at Mayo High School
Feel free to connect with Jeilani via email
So, it’s May. Many students are counting down the days until the end of the school year—maybe you are too (by the way: 12). Teachers are drawing units to a close, students are gearing up for final exams, coaches and advisors are hosting awards banquets and end-of-year celebrations... Yet, at this time of year when so much is focused on resolution, we also must look ahead and plan for the future. One way to do this is to collect feedback from today’s students to help you plan for tomorrow’s learners.
There are a wide array of reasons why teachers find it helpful to have students take a survey at the end of the year/semester. Jennifer Gonzalaz outlines five commonly cited reasons on her Cult of Pedagogy blog in the post “5 Reasons You Should Seek Your OWN Student Feedback.” Gonzalaz notes that these surveys can help teachers with future:
Personally, I have also found that such surveys have helped me with:
Choose your questions with care. When creating your survey, consider asking questions about the classroom environment, the course content, the ease or difficulty of course material and assessments, the approachability of the instructor(s), or even how the students themselves contributed to their own successes.
If you are looking for inspiration as to where to start, check out Rachel Lynette’s “20 End of Year Reflection Questions,” Noelle Pickering’s “Student Surveys: An End-of-the-Year Reflection,” ThoughCo’s “End of the Year Surveys: Quick Teaching Tip, or my personal examples (shown below).
Keep the outcome in mind. Knowing what kind of information you want to obtain will help you draft a better survey:
Structure matters. Surveys can take many different forms, with much depending on your desired outcome, time constraints, available technology, and so forth. Some common formats to consider are:
SOME COMPLETED STUDENT EXAMPLES FROM PAST YEARS
SOME STUDENT EXAMPLES FROM PAST YEARS
The how and when you collect your responses matters. Simply handing out a survey will provide you with responses, but they may not be the best ones. To ensure that data you gather is helpful, consider the following:
As educators, we have access to all kinds of data, but data alone does not create change. It's what we do with that data that is so critical. Therefore, the key is to sift through the data collected, really look at it deeply, and then decide how it might inform or even shift our practice moving forward.
Okay, so there are 12 schools days left. Now, how are you going to use them?
This post brought to you by Heather Lyke, Secondary Implementation Associate
It was about a year ago at this time that I found myself adjusting to the thought of not only a new position within our district, but a whole new world within education. If I only knew then what I know now!
For the sake of context… I was a high school German teacher for five years, then a building administrator for nine years, and then a district-level administrator for three years. The closest I ever came in those 18 years to Career and Technical Education (CTE) was as a building administrator, but my level of understanding of the depth and importance of these program areas was limited at best. Additionally, it is safe to say that I was blissfully unaware of the workforce needs that currently exist within our region or the amazing opportunities our students have to gain valuable knowledge and skills that don’t require a four year degree (I recently came upon this MPR article that speaks directly to this very issue).
Fast forward one year and I count myself lucky to have been selected to work not only with our outstanding CTE instructors, but with a growing group of business and industry partners committed to the success of our CTE programs. As the cherry on top, I get to work each and every day in a facility that serves as a statewide model for innovation and collaboration within CTE. This school year alone we have facilitated over 30 tours of CTECH, from middle and high school student groups to statewide CTE administrators and other Minnesota and Wisconsin school districts looking to replicate what our community has created for our students.
Here is just a taste of the opportunities our students have within RPS career pathways:
Students can take coursework in both plant and animal science as well as biotechnology. Plus, in 2018-2019 RPS will be offering a second level Veterinary Studies course designed to prepare students for an entry-level position in a vet hospital and to take the certification exam for veterinary assistant.
Our students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with basic engine systems, auto repair and technology, as well as in-depth vehicle repair. Just last week students visited the Minnesota Department of Transportation to learn about transportation careers and earlier this year, as a result of a teacher externship with a generous business partner, several automotive students received job offers as well as post-secondary scholarships.
Courses offered focus on both finance and marketing, including a Sports and Entertainment Marketing course. As a capstone course, students can enroll in Entrepreneurial Strategies, working directly with industry partners to solve real-world business challenges.
Computer Science and Information Technology
Students have the opportunity to take coursework related to both programming as well as infrastructure. Newly added are courses that allow students to earn concurrent enrollment college credit in Mobile App Development and Java Script.
RPS Construction students complete their coursework alongside post-secondary students in the RCTC carpentry lab, accessing two levels of coursework focused on residential construction. Currently our construction students are working on-site at Mayo High School to complete a shed construction project.
Available courses cover the areas of Robotics, Civil Engineering, and Architecture and culminate in a capstone course where students engage in a comprehensive research and design project. In 2018-2019 we will be introducing an Apprenticeship with a national engineering firm that will provide a first-of-its-kind learning opportunity for a small cohort of students.
Effectively our first official career pathway, existing for nearly 20 years, Health Sciences offers students the opportunity to study Medical Lab Science, Pharmacy Technician, Therapeutic Medicine, and Certified Nursing Assistant. We are currently exploring the addition of a course in Phlebotomy in partnership with the Mayo Clinic where over 400 phlebotomists are employed in Rochester alone.
Student interested in Culinary Arts have the opportunity to take a menu of courses the expose them to international cooking, commercial culinary skills, baking, as well as employment in the restaurant industry. Starting in 2018-2019 students at the capstone level will have the opportunity to complete ServSafe certification, required by most restaurants as a basic credential for restaurant management staff.
Two distinct pathways exist within the manufacturing program, Welding Technology and Machine Technology. In machine technology students work closely with CNC mill and lathe machining while welding students learn and work with multiple forms welding. Students who complete both levels of welding are eligible for a tuition credit through RCTC for their one semester welding certification program.
Through the University of Minnesota’s College in the Schools program, we now offer two courses for students interested in becoming teachers. These courses are a combination of classroom as well as practicum experiences within RPS schools and programs.
In addition to those opportunities listed above, here are a few of the conversations that are currently happening as we look to expand our career pathway opportunities for our students:
I fully acknowledge that my blog post comes across as an advertisement for the CTE pathways and CTECH, but I believe that when we find and experience something as powerful and meaningful as I have this year it only makes sense to share it with others. I would strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t previously had the opportunity to see firsthand our CTE facilities to reach out and schedule a tour. It is truly amazing what our students are doing on a daily basis and I look forward to seeing what they do in the future.
This post brought to you by Brandon Macrafic, POSA focusing on Career & College Readiness and administrator at CTECH
Oprah Winfrey often asks people, “What do you know for sure?” As my retirement date fast approaches, I find myself reflecting about my career, the people I have met, and the impact I hope to leave behind. After 40+ years of working in various settings with children, here are my thoughts on that question.
This post brought to you by Carol Lucido, the K-8 District Math Coordinator
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