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.

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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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.

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”.

The W.I.N. Philosophy

A memorable post written Aug 17, 2008. I bring it back once in a while because the W.I.N. philosophy is so valuable to me. I like to share it.

Well, I start back teaching tomorrow. It’s been an incredible summer with a trip to Vegas, to Magic Mountain, and several other small awesome places that my wife and I adore. My kids were out by the pool all summer which was really gratifying to watch. It makes all the hard work really worth it when you see your kids lost in the fun of it.

I’m going back to work (well, I did teach summer school for 6 weeks so it’s not like I was 100% off) tomorrow with a mantra and the W.I.N. philosophy. It stands for “What’s Important Now.” In teaching one is constantly bombarded with new demands and deadlines and sometimes it gets downright overwhelming. By focusing on the “WIN,” you are more effective over the course of a year. This could apply to anyone anywhere but it really helps me as a teacher. I use it in my blogging work as well.

I Met my Wife 12 Years Ago This Day 8-30-2002 (Slide Show)

Without Sarah, none of my teaching would be possible. Dedicating this post to her, and us. May we have many more years ahead like the past 12.

Sarah and Damien Met on this Day: 8-30-2002 by Slidely Slideshow

CD Hovercrafts – A Fun Science Craft Idea

A science lesson can be such a great part of the teaching day. Unfortunately for some, it can also be the most boring. I am always looking for innovative ways to get kids’ attention while teaching them science. Bill Nye videos are very useful and they are titled by standard which makes it easy to select one for your class. But video can’t be the sole thing you rely on when igniting interest. I discovered in the last few years that crafts or experiments can awaken even the most sluggish learner.

I’m currently teaching guitar in Summer school and I saw a science craft another teacher did I want to share. It shows how one force can work against another in unison to create movement. In this case, it is a hover craft. The materials needed are: 1) an old CD you don’t want anymore 2) a balloon 3) The “pull top” style water caps (see image) and 4) a glue gun.

As far as the lesson goes, the sky’s the limit. Do you think you could do something with this idea? I’d love to hear about it.

Financial Aid Options for Teachers

Paying for schooling can be hard for aspiring teachers and teachers who are trying to continue their education. However, there are many different forms of aid available to help cover education costs. Here are some of the most commonly used financial aid options for teachers.

Student Loans

There are two fundamental types of student loans: those sponsored by the federal government and loans taken out through a private lending institution. There is a third alternative, peer-to-peer lending, which is becoming more popular each year. Before you decide on the type of loan that will work best for you it’s essential that you research the benefits and potential downside of each.

Federal Government Loans

Student loans taken out through the U.S. government are called Stafford loans or Perkins loans. The money comes directly from the United States Department of Education. If you qualify for a government loan, the money will come to you through a participating school. However, you must meet certain criteria before you’re considered eligible for a federal loan. The first thing that you need to do to qualify is to be enrolled in an accredited college or university. You can also qualify by enrolling in a trade, career, or technical school. As a general rule, Stafford loans don’t have to be paid back until after you graduate from college. However, if you leave school without earning a degree, it’s possibly that you could be required to start paying the loan back immediately. You will have to fill out an FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and go through a review process before being accepted. Another federal loan program, the Perkins loan program, is need-based, and carries a fixed 5% interest rate throughout the length of the loan term, which normally runs for 10 years.

TEACH, a Federal Program

TEACH (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education) is aimed at those who would like to teach at a public or private school for low-income families. It is a grant program designed to help defray the cost of receiving your teaching degree. To qualify, you must be willing to teach four full academic years out of the next eight at a school that encourages enrollment by low-income family members. This money is in the form of a grant, so it won’t have to be paid back unless you don’t meet their criteria. If you back out of the agreement, that money will become an unsubsidized student loan and the funds will need to be paid back, with interest. Part of the criteria for TEACH is that you must be willing to instruct low-income children in high demand subjects such as mathematics, foreign languages, reading, science, and special education. To be considered eligible for a TEACH Grant, you have to fill out the FAFSA. However, there is no need to prove that you have a financial need in order to be eligible.

Private Loans

A private loan is the type of loan you would get from a private financial institution, such as a bank or credit union. Money from a private loan need not be designated specifically for your college education, it is merely money loaned to you with the expectation that it will be repaid, with interest, at agreed upon terms. While the terms of a federal loan are pretty standard, the terms of a loan through a private lender can vary quite a bit. A private loan is almost always determined based upon your credit rating. If you have a good credit score, your interest rates can be fairly low. If you don’t have good credit, your rates could be very high–you may even be asked to provide a cosigner. The terms for a private student loan are left entirely up to the financial institution you’re dealing with–you either take it or leave it.

Peer-to-Peer Lending

Peer-to-peer lending is fast becoming a popular method of securing a student loan. Essentially it is a financial agreement between two parties–a financial lending institution is not normally involved–whereby one person borrows money from another. Once the terms are agreed to, the borrower is expected to repay the loan within a predetermined time frame–with interest. A peer-to-peer loan is a formal agreement, usually requiring the borrower to sign a contract laying out the terms of repayment. Most people that take out a peer-to-peer loan instead of borrowing from a bank or the government have a poor credit rating or low grades that aren’t high enough to qualify for a government loan.

Guest post from Karen Schweitzer. Karen writes about online schools for BestOnlineColleges.com.

Best Reader Trophy

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Do you give out recognition for your top readers? I do. We run Accelerated Reader at my school which makes it easier to run reports and identify who is passing their comprehension tests. In other words, we know who the top readers are. It’s important to publicly recognize these kids and on doing so let the school know that reading for meaning is worthy of reward. Continue reading “Best Reader Trophy”

Obsolete Technology

Obsolete TechnologyHow many Windows operating systems can you remember? Mine go way back. I think the first time I was aware of an upgrade available was in 1993 or so. They were really growing and changing back then. I won’t get into my critique of Windows 8. I’ll throw this question out though: Since when is shutting down a “setting?” I suppose there are strengths in that operating system as well so I’ll move on. Nowhere can you feel the obsolescence of technology more than in the public schools. It seems districts either throw way too much money at technology kids can’t understand or they hang on to the antiquated stuff in fear the former will be true. I have a friend who collects age old machine keyboards. Some are made by IBM and others he has are made now for gaming and such. He has an affinity for the old machine feel of the keys. They give more of a resistance than the new ones. Continue reading “Obsolete Technology”