Common Core Testing Next Week – All Aboard, Ready or Not

all-aboard-common-core2Well, it feels as if we are finally “here” at my small school up here in the high desert. Common Core is at our door and other states are reporting rocky starts. I have tested the format via Smarter Balanced testing samples. I have tried to translate the standards I have used since 1997 into comprehensible Common Core language. I have been to the trainings and hope to go to more. I still feel a bit incomplete, a bit in the dark as to how my students can master this test. A letter went out from the district office about how this test will not be scored in a traditional way. Instead, the scores will be used only to analyze the test and tweak as necessary to meet the goals of the Department of Education. It feels as if all the rules have been thrown out and new ones enacted in only one short year. I have trepidation about Common Core but no fear. I welcome this change. It gives the kids a broader plane to visualize problems and solutions. I have called it a national word problem. I like that visual of a child working through a scenario in words rather than a rote ABCD fill-in answer.

Some grade levels at my school will begin the testing (on computers) next week. Mine starts at the beginning of May. This is an exciting time of change and evolution in our field. We will do better if we do away with sarcasm and criticism, which I have heard and read a lot of. It is okay to question and even challenge things from time to time. I have not held back my belief that this test is too hard too quickly in the transition from the old standards test style. But progress waits for no man. I am told this will be a flat year with no scores being published. Next year will be a “baseline” year with scores being publish and the third year from now will be an API AYP generating year where schools will go back to being “graded” in the press and the public by the State adopted standards test. Fasten your seat belts and be ready for anything. Embrace the change, progress awaits.

A Snapshot of How I Make Lesson Plans

Every weekend, after the laundry and wrestling with the chores, I am faced once again with the same professional challenge: making a weekly lesson plan schedule. The obvious reason for this is to have a backbone for the activities and learning that go on in my classroom all week. The other reason is to ensure to myself and others that I am not just “winging it” without a plan. Good teachers make weekly plans. I have been at this for 16+ years and I won’t say I am a “good teacher” I will let others say that if they wish. I have found that making weekly plans yields smiles and growth returns from my students. Finding the weaknesses of my students’ scores as well as the way I have taught up to this point is the goal of my weekend planning time. Here’s a very broad presentation of how I sometimes do it.

NOTE: In this field, while I seek only to help teachers from a peer-to-peer perspective, there are an abundance of snooty types who seek to criticize and devour ideas different from their own. I would like it known that this is a very personal sharing post and is certainly not meant to be perfect nor the “only” way one can prepare for a powerful week of teaching. For you to get something out of it, you may have to do a bit of “reading between the lines.” having said that, I would not be as excited to share this with you were I not extremely excited about what I do and they way I do it in this particular situation. Thank you for having an open mind as you continue. Incidentally, why are so many teachers the “snooty” type? Hmmm. I’ll let you address that in the comments. Now for: “How to Make a Weekly Lesson Plan Schedule.”

I Start with a rolling cart. I put a minimum of books and TE’s I need into the rolling cart so I have the access I need at home on the weekend. You may not be sure what to bring. In that case, let me give you my choices as an example: a math TE, the district pacing guide, ELA curriculum (Mine is a PDF so is always at home with me), a Google Calendar printout from the week below (read about how I make the Google calendar printouts here), the state standards blueprint, the state standards released test questions, and finally a printout of my students’ most recent assessment scores. (Photos are not the most recent Common Core standards that I use in accordance with district standards.)

I start with their assessment scores. 1) I identify the lowest standards and write them daily into the lessons. This is often called “backward mapping,” whatever they tested low in, teach again. 2) Then I find matching curriculum and write that into the Google Calendar lesson plan. The former is pretty simply since I have access to Oars.net. This is a great online program that aggregates assessment data for teachers. I can see in an instant what standards are high and need only be spiraled and I can also see the low stuff needing intervention. The way I go through my day teaching these lessons in in almost constant evolution. Having said that, watch for a post in the next week or two where I will share how the weekly lesson plan looks in a given teaching day. What do you think about my art of planning a teaching week? Have you anything to add? That would be great. I comment and link back!

Teachers, Testing, and the Coveted Pat on the Back

There are times as a teacher when you get no glory and seek no recognition. In fact, if you are doing it right, these are really the majority of your time. In theory, if you “keep your head down” and teach the objectives as you have mapped them, you shouldn’t need to get any pats on the back, or “second wind” along the way. It should just work and the kids should get high scores at assessment time. That should be the reward.

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It is one of the most exciting things in the world to get your students’ scores back and see they did well. At the same time, it can really be a bummer when they don’t perform as well. For me, the challenge when they don’t perform is to just keep my head down, in other words: “teach without recognition.” Only I as a teacher can know where my kids are and what I need to “backward map” and/or reteach. This is a photo of me with then California State Secretary of Schools Jack O’Connell and San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, Herb Fisher. They were there to watch a few teachers at my school do an EDI lesson. That was the year we became a Distinguished school, only partly because of test scores. This was one of the biggest “pats on the back” I’ve received in my career. I did a lesson on cause and effect, 4th grade.

Teaching has a lot of small “instant gratification” moments where you can assess kids right there in the lesson and see if they “get it.” I have kids write on white boards and hold them up for me. At that point I can see the percentage of mastery.
There is no better feeling in those informal assessments than telling the class they have “100% mastery.” They clap and say “yesssss.” It’s really a great part of the job.

Harder moments are after your kids score low and you don’t have a chance to assess again. In the past I have made the error of reviewing quickly and reassessing hoping for high results. The hard truth is that in those times, you must spend a length of time keeping your head down teaching without recognition. All the while you should hold on to the hope that your quiet labors will pay off in your students’ public scores. As you proctor those tests you have a lot of stress about getting everything done the way the state wants it. You can’t talk about the test content with anyone and you especially can’t give any instruction while in motion. As I enter my 18th year of public school teaching, I can tell you the system is imperfect. When testing works, it is the most amazing high five. When it doesn’t you just have to grin and bear it. The key is to keep trying year after year whether you teach or develop these tests.

My opinion is that the primary motivation should always be to foster lifelong learners who develop rewarding lives as adults. The test is just the test. Lest we forget that …

Don’t get weary though while teaching without recognition. Doing the right thing consistently always pays off in the long run and you will get that coveted pat on the back..

Until then, you get a virtual pat on the back right here from me (via these guys)!

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Teacher Tips for Relieving Anxiety

Teachers sometimes experience high levels of stress. Of course, all professionals do to some degree. Usually it doesn’t last long but when it does, it should be addressed. It can be a small deal or something that prevents you from relaxing at work or at home. Everyone has some measure of anxiety. When you are anxious, it is difficult to relax and when you can’t relax it can produce ill side effects. Mental health treatment centers are best avoided since you have to be at work each morning teaching your students! I am a big proponent of “mental hygiene” to keep one mellow.  For me that includes a fairly regular habit of relaxation. I try to get in 10-20 minutes a day in addition to exercise. Here are some healthy tips my doctor gave me for coping with everyday anxiety. If you are not able to relax, talk to your doctor:

Control your worry. Make a time to worry each day for 30 minutes. Try not to dwell on what “might” happen but rather focus on what is happening. Then let go of the worry and go on with your day.

Learn ways to relax. These may include yoga or deep breathing.

Use muscle relaxation.

Exercise.

Get plenty of sleep.

Avoid alcohol and drug abuse.

Limit caffeine to 1-2 cups of coffee a day.

Steps to deep breathing: 1) Lie down on a flat surface. 2) Place one hand on your stomach, just above your navel. Place the other hand on your chest. 3) Breathe in slowly and try to make your stomach rise a little.

Meditation and relaxation has medical healing benefits just like exercise. These are some tips for coping with anxiety.

Activate Prior Knowledge

The step in teaching where you should talk about what students already know to make a connection.

IAB_CL1_PX01572I tell my kids they should love this part of the lesson because ?prior knowledge? means basically: ?Stuff they already know.? All I am doing here is getting them to fix on something they understand. I will use this quickly to bridge to what they have yet to learn. For example, if I am doing a lesson to 8th graders on consumer documents I can explain to them how skateboards come with a warranty.

I can get them very involved in sharing stories of ?prior knowledge? about pasts that have broken and got replaced within the terms of the warranty. Then I can bridge from that to the lesson objective which might be analyzing the various terms of a consumer document. The learning objective can be restated throughout the lesson reminding the students that each thing we are doing has a place in getting towards that learning objective. I thoroughly enjoy the elaboration from kids during ?APK? or activate prior knowledge. They have a lot of enthusiasm in telling me what they know. I think the ?dynamite? advice for this step would be to pick an APK subject that they know and enjoy. Getting kids comfortable at the beginning of the lesson through prior knowledge is a dynamite tool. Here are some sample lessons.

Creative Teaching Must Return

ccss-sbacIt doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. It lives in the minds of those who want to teach kids more effectively. You can do this browsing the shelves at a teacher store and you can also do it by sitting in a jacuzzi and thinking about solutions with an open mind. Most of us have accumulated massive piles of teaching materials that we rarely use. Most of us also use the curriculum our district browsed and found and told us was the “holy” usage material. I am no knocking that by the way, I treasure my pacing guide handed down from the district office.

peanuts-comic-1ixwv2b-e1365293844540The challenges of Common Core in 2014-2015 are real. They are daunting on some levels. The time of rote delivery of uniform materials is long gone. We are the goal setters, we are the guides. Time online practicing emulation tests is non-negotiable. Beyond that, we must come up with daily routines that embed problem solving IN GROUPS. An illustration might be the way most people do their actual work in our world. Do policemen do work in a vacuum? Are they lone rangers? No. The same is true for butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. No man is an island. The way there is not well lit but one thing is sure, the most creative teachers have the greatest assets. Follow them, be them.

Suggested 3 I’s of Education Reform

My article below was first published as Three “I”s Suggested for Education Reform on Blogcritics.

Public education in America is in a state of flux. In 26 states, including California, legislators are adopting the “Common Core” standards and curriculum to teach our nation’s kids. As a teacher for the past 14 years, I have taught mostly from the multiple choice assessment standpoint. It has its pros but there are certainly many aspects where it just doesn’t work. What I would like to see is a more “real world” curriculum where kids are nurtured in their individual ideas and inventions. Currently I see this in education reform California. We don’t just want kids that can pass tests, we want kids who can invent the next iPad and help save hour healthcare system. Inspiration, innovation, and invention

Most agree with the thought above. Unfortunately however, the path is not as clear. I don’t have many ideas on how to make every school successful. I do, however, think there are some universals that should be taught in the public school classroom. The first one is inspiration. The simple question teachers should ask themselves here is: “What things inspire ME to be productive.” I don’t know how everyone would answer that question but I can tell you my answer: music, movies, restaurants, travel, the beach, just to name a few. Listening to great music empowers me and makes me want to do amazing things. All the other things do as well. We need to help kids identify passions and then make the connection to inspiration so they can lead productive lives. Students that have been shown the inspiration connection will make a larger contribution in their early adulthood.

The second classroom “must” is innovation. We need to put kids in situations where they can make solutions in adversity. A great way to do this is to show them how we do it as adults. This can include bringing in successful grown-ups as guest teachers to share how they get through their day to day, not just paying the bills, though that is important, but creating inspiration for themselves and others through solving problems. Kids who learn how to innovate and solve problems in school will be more productive members of society. In the advanced cases, these are the types that will cure cancer or create pathways to peace.

The final part of classroom curriculum we should focus on in education reform is invention. Bill Nye the Science Guy has an amazing episode on this topic. He shows how important it is to every day life. When I put a piece of tape on my alarm clock button, it makes hitting snooze easier. That is a simple example of human invention. Students who have coaching and practice inventing will invent better things in their homes, communities, and worlds. If a teacher can inspire invention in her/his students, they can truly change the world.

Once again, there is much disagreement on what education reform should look like. At the same time, I think all Americans want to see higher productivity in our land. I really feel that as well look to alternative frameworks, we should consider these “three I’s” as equivalent in value to the “3 R’s:” Inspiration, Invention, and Invention. Our kids, the future citizens of America will thank us if we make urban education reform a reality.

Darn, I Was Gonna Say That

tony-anticipates-his-next-classI’m convinced that teachers who are starting out need to learn this lesson with time. It makes little logical sense to tell kids the answers but it serves a powerful function toward mastery when you are starting a new concept. Students often don’t answer because they do not know what is being asked of them. This can be the actual math or language arts of the thing or it could just be the manner and style in which the teacher expects the answer. Sometimes when students say the predictable phrase, “I was gonna say that,” they aren’t lying. They didn’t know what you wanted from them and that is a simple problem to remedy. At the introduction of the lesson, go around pucking random non volunteers by your chosen method, I use cards. Use this pattern: 1) Say the answer 2) Ask the question and 3) Ask the question again and pick a random non volunteer. This will inform them how to listen and answer questions and get you more familiar with their process. It sounds silly to give the answer and then ask someone to say it back but it really decreases their affective filter and makes them more comfortable branching out and taking risks. In short, they become more comfortable with you so you can ease into more higher order questions like “why is that the answer?” Continue reading “Darn, I Was Gonna Say That”

Higher Order Thinking

Psychology is about critical thinking, evaluating situations and conducting mental experiments whose results can then be translated to written communication in the form of research papers, journal articles and reports. Students who do not succeed in one or more of these aspects of psychology may not have been instructed in higher order thinking.

Higher order thinking helps students think more creatively when solving problems. In addition, students who are provided higher order thinking tools are more critical and make better decisions than those who do not. Independent consulting providers provide assistance to educators to help them create explanatory modeling activities that help students develop reasoning activity, often through an online source. Psychology instructors who visit this website can obtain exercises and activities designed to teach students higher order thinking.

Activities and Exercises

The types of activities and exercises found on the websites include those that help students:

Justify the decisions or course of action taken by thoroughly explaining those actions;
Generate, invent and design new ideas and products while also explaining their plan and the circumstances that triggered the idea;
Divide information into parts in order to understand all aspects of the problem;
Compare and organize those parts in order to develop solutions;
Implement, carry out or execute solutions;
Develop the ability to recall information, recognize similarities and apply solutions.

Concept of Higher Order Thinking

Simple thinking skills involve learning simple facts and recall, but in a 1956 publication entitled “Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives,” the concept of higher order thinking skills was introduced. Since that time, many forms of education reform have used higher order thinking methods, including standards-based mathematics and whole language. Many standard based assessments now use open-response questions that require a student to use higher order analysis and writing. Some have eliminated multiple choice questions as these do not require a student to use critical thinking skills to respond, but simply demonstrate they have memorized information.

Although there is a place for traditional learning methods, including a focus on the facts and simple memorization, especially among students who are behind academically, there is growing evidence that higher order thinking puts students at an advantage, especially those who are working in the field of psychology, as those who enter psychological based professions must use higher order thinking to address the needs of those for which they are providing services.

Ten Ways to Say Good Job!

As teachers we often focus on the constructive words like “change that and turn it in again.” We are often guilty of not building our students up enough. Here are just ten ways to say good job. I invite you to put your ideas in the comments. Thanks for being positive with learners!

“1. Rock on! 2. That’s awesome! 3. I can tell you’ve been practicing. 4. That’s very colorful. 5. I like how neatly you’re working. 6. You really followed directions. 7. Way to show what you can do! 8. Bravo! 9. That’s fantastic. 10. Great work”.