Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Blog of My Own

Over the past several months I've been contemplating my blogging habits, or lack thereof. It occurred to me that if I am not interested in what I'm writing, no one else will be either. So I think what I will begin is a transparent classroom. I will enlist the help of students with interest in writing, reading, technology, or just being heard to comment on the content, methodology, triumphs and tragedies of my classroom in the form of a blog post. It will be a truly collaborative venture, and I think it will give me insight into my teaching. Hopefully it will give other teachers and students a window in which to glimpse to see what is happening in my little corner of the world. It could work. Thoughts?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Old Habits. . . .

I gave up long ago fighting the fact that I am an idealist. It is one of those things that I accept about myself, although sometimes I prefer to think that I am an idealist because I have such a great sense of vision, imagination, and courage. That makes it sound so cool, doesn't it? It takes away the air of flightiness, flakiness, and naivete which, I do not, but others like to equate with idealism. What I don't accept and often tend to forget even happens is how quick that idealism fades and turns to reality. I am fighting against calling this failure and taking my shrink's advice to look at these instances instead as opportunities to grow. But right now, failure is looking more accurate.

Getting to the point. . . .

My school district has introduced an initiative this year for all teachers to move to using the "gradual release of responsibility" instructional model. I applaud this. I cheer for this. I wholeheartedly support this. In fact I have been trying to more faithfully teach using this instructional model for about three years, and see myself making progress each year. However, now that it has come down as an edict, and I know that it is an expectation, I am a bit terrified. I felt no pressure when I viewed myself as a trailblazer, a rebel against the traditional establishment. It is an expectation now. Now I worry about failure.

As I try to plan collaboratively will by grade level colleagues, I am realizing how easy it would be to fall back into the traditional, "sit and get," "guess the answer I'm thinking of," teacher-centered classroom. I think I am hardwired by a lifetime of being a student, growing up with a teacher, modelling what I am familiar instruction. It is easy and comfortable to fall back on that. "Turn to page 375, and read 'The Interlopers,' then answer the critical thinking questions for homework," I'm afraid these words will come from MY mouth! Remembering that we don't all have to read the same story to master the standard. Reminding myself that we do not even need to read the entire story in order to collaborate and work independently on our own reading seems harder to do. And it's only approaching the first full week of school. How fast the idealism seems to fade.

I think it's going to be lonely out there, as I continue to chart my course and remain faithful to what I know is right and what the district wants. It's easy to fall back into old habits, old habits that were born decades before I was a student and continue to hold on to well-meaning educators today. And so I prepare for the new week, with teaching point of view, and monitoring comprehension on my plate, without even a clear vision of what the reader's notebook will look like. The poor idealist in me is struggling against what is easier and what appears to be more popular. So, in addition to planning my lessons, this weekend I work on finding my footing to keep from stumbling back into those old habits.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

To begin the new year a-right

Does that sound a bit Dickens-ian? Egads, I hope not! (My apologies to lovers of C.D.) Shall I get to my point?

A new school year is fast approaching. I have registration on Wednesday and 6 wonderful students coming to help me settle in to my new room. My mind is full of ideas and knowledge of some wonderful technology applications. I've got an interesting opportunity to teach 95% of the students that I taught last year. (I only have 5 students I haven't previously taught.) I purchased classroom subscriptions to Edu Glogs, and Voice Thread--I am not sure what to do with them now that I have the capabilities, but I have them. I am on Twitter and Facebook and believe both can be helpful for instruction. I created Adamsland Ning for my students, so they have a space for blogs and discussion forums that remains a bit controlled by me.

I think this is where I am struggling--how do I make my beliefs of being a middle school English teacher--helping students find their reader's identity and write'rs voice while teaching them the state standards--with all of the wonderful tools that technology affords us? I need to make everything mesh before August 17 when the students arrive, so I can present to them a technology plan as well as a reading, writing, and research plan. I need to balance my focus and get all parts of my ELA instruction working together like the proverbial machine, so I am not left feeling guilty that one is taking the place or more importance over the others.

This is what I will be focusing on for the next two weeks.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Reflection on EDUC 6714--DI, UDL, and Technology

         “Grow slowly—but grow,” (Tomlinson, 1999, p. 97). This quote from Tomlinson’s 1999 book, Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners, resonated with me. My teaching had grown a bit stale with regards to differentiated instruction. I was one of the teachers that Tomlinson (Laureate, 2009b) referred to, a teacher that could talk about differentiation, make it sound good, know the philosophy and thoughts behind it. I could even take it a step further and give the students choice in in their learning. But I stalled there. It took this course to give me the needed jump start. It is now time for me to step up and use what I’ve learned about differentiated instruction and what we’ve shared in our Differentiation Station discussions, as well as continue with my learning about Universal Design for Learning.
         As willing as I am to take responsibility for my lack differentiation in more aspects of my instructions, I will also add that until this course, I did not have all of the information I needed in order to differentiate well. I understood that I could differentiate the levels of texts we were reading, I gave my students choice in writing topics, even choice of audiences and genres. But I did not know the extent that I could differentiate: content, process, product, affect, learning environment, and according to readiness, interest, and learning profiles (Laureate, 2009a). Now that I am equipped with this information, I have no choice but to use it to grow and change my instruction.
         I do have the tendency to grasp on to something and want to change everything right away, right now. I think it is good that I have approximately six weeks to continue to process this information. Tomlinson also cautions teachers to take differentiation one step at a time, to think it through, and to plan it out well (1999). As I reflect on past lessons and units, I see that although my intentions were lofty, they fell short of their potential because I did not plan it out as completely as I should and could have.  I hope to bring my knowledge to, at the very least, my grade level English department. We already design common assessments, and we plan collaboratively. If I can effectively share what I have learned with them, we can all strengthen our instruction by differentiating, and we can design our lessons together, each differentiating parts of the lessons.
         Some things that will make differentiation of all aspects of instruction less daunting are the resources that my group shared in our Differentiation Station social media group. Before I get into the resources themselves, I would like to comment on the group itself. This group felt much less structured and gave us a greater sense of control and autonomy as compared to our discussion boards. This showed me how useful such a space for my students would be. Although each week were given a task or a topic to share with each other in our group, it appeared to me that we felt much more free to elaborate on the parts that interested us, stray a little bit from the official topic in our replies to one another, but still learn what we need to each week. It is my Differentiation Station group that prompted me to explore Diigo more fully, and it ended up being my biggest and greatest discovery of our class.
            In addition, the Differentiation Station group led me to some awesome resources that I know I will keep returning to. For differentiated instruction alone, some of the best resources we found were  Everything DI, Differentiation Central, and Dare to Differentiate. These three resources contain tools, resources, general support, lesson ideas, and much more to help teachers of all contents differentiate their instruction. Not only did we share great resources for differentiation, but we also shared some great technology tools and sites, as well: Audioboo, Twitter Live BindersEdu Glogster, Storify, and  Diigo (not to mention further discussion about Voice Thread). These are just the websites and technology applications that I have been able to explore and that I plan to use next year in my classes as I differentiate more effectively. Twitter and Diigo alone have helped me define areas of professional development and have helped me shape where I need to go with that development.         
Where I need to do some further learning is with UDL, Universal Design for Learning. I understand the principles behind it, and understand the three learning networks: the recognition network, strategic network, and affective network (CAST, 2011). I understand providing different avenues for students in all three networks in order to break down barriers students bring to class. I understand that the avenues I create will help not only the students that need them because they have a specific issue, but also the students that do not necessarily need them. (As in they do not have an IEP, for example, but will benefit anyway from UDL.) What I cannot verbalize right now is how differentiation and UDL are different. I do know that there is an entire philosophy and belief system that underscores differentiated instruction. UDL is based on the belief that all learners be allowed access to the curriculum, but it seems it is the actual design and putting into place the pieces of the lessons that are universally designed. That is defining the word with itself. I need to study it more. In the end, it may not be that important to distinguish, but I will not feel I have a grasp on UDL until I can explain why it is not synonymous with differentiated instruction.
            This course provided me with answers that I had been looking for regarding differentiated of instruction. It provided me with support to back the beliefs I have held for many years.  It provided me with resources and ideas to use immediately in my instruction. It provided me with ideas for technology use, both for me and for the students. It provided me with direction for further study, and with questions that I still need answers to. It also provided me with colleagues that are interested in learning and growing more with me. Most of all this course provided me with a fire to improve my instruction even more than any of the courses have. It provided me with an impetus, a place to start the improvements. It also provided me with a command, to “Grow slowly—but grow”!

Center for Applied Special Technology. (2009) UDL guidelines, version 1.0. Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2009a). Differentiating instructional elements. [Video file]. Reaching and engaging all learners through technology. Baltimore, MD: Author
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2009b). Managing the differentiated classroom [Video file]. Reaching and engaging all learners through technology. Baltimore, MD: Author
Tomlinson, C. (1999). Differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development. 
Retrieved from the Walden Library ebrary.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reflection on GAME Plan and Instruction

Step 1: Reflect on the GAME plan you developed and followed throughout the course.

I am pleased with my GAME plan, not so pleased with my progress. I have created summative assessments involving technology for third and fourth quarters. The multi-genre project my students create each year will now be more focused, and the technology that the students use will be varied. I will use the gradual release of responsibility model with a lot of the technology instruction as well as the straight English content instruction. My second goal of using the LexConnect Page more fully for communication and instruction is not fully realized. Like I said in an earlier post, I just need to carve out a time and make it a priority. I am still working on this goal and am planning on improving each week.

Step 2: Summarize any new learning that resulted from your following your GAME plan and explain what impact your new learning will have on your instructional practice.

I learned about more technology applications that can aid in assessing student learning. I do not know how long it would have taken me to learn about Animoto, XtraNormal, and other digital storytelling applications had it not been for this class. I knew about universal design prior to this class, but this class offered a refresher on it for me. Until this class I had not considered using technology as a form of differentiation of instruction. I will now use technology more as a way to help my struggling learners. I have students that struggle with writing that will dictate their thoughts and then transcribe what they've recorded. In addition I will use IPods and even Kindles to help the students who struggle with reading. My view of technology has changed to include it as a tool of intervention and accomodation.

Step 3: Describe any immediate adjustments you will make to your instructional practice regarding technology integration in your content area(s) as a result of your learning from this course.

I think the most immediate adjustment I will make is an adjustment to my planning. Although I have always used technology as much as possible, I always viewed it as a means to a finished product, as something extra to enhance final products. I now view the use of technology as an instructional tool. When I plan, I decide which standard and indicator we will be learning. Then I think about how to use reading to teach it, writing to teach it, and now I think about how to use technology to teach it. There has been a shift in the way I view technology. I now do not see it as an extra, but I see it as an essential. I think I have believed that for several years, but my practice did not reflect this belief. I now hope that my practice does mirror my belief.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Student GAME-Plans

Well, I already began working with my students on GAME-Plans. I had them create a plan for reading, writing, behavior, and technology. I think this is something I'm going to need help with from my learning community. Now, I didn't show them the NETS-S standards when we did the plans. So, I can have the students revisit their GAME-Plans after viewing those; however, my students right now are lost when it comes to technology goals. There is still a huge disconnect between the technology they use--some on a daily basis--and what we do in school. There needs to be a huge shift before this becomes not the case. So, y'all, any ideas to help me encourage them and show them that technology can be and is an integral part of their education???

As far as my goals are going, pretty good, I guess. Revisiting them and reflecting on the goals each week has left me a bit frustrated because I have not been able to make quite as much process as I wanted to due to schedule, work load, and other assignments for Walden. Is anyone else feeling like I am right now??

Friday, February 11, 2011

Week 6--Additional Goal? Am I crazy?

OK, right now I have developed my summative assessment for 3rd and 4th quarters, I have infused technology in my short-range planning as much as possible, both for my use and the students. Finally, I have made the step to re-activate Adamsland Ning because the blog application with ANGEL does not allow the students to create their own blogs, but only respond to my blogs, thus rendering it not much more than a discussion board. I feel like I am on the right track.

My second goal is to use my class' LexConnect page more effectively for instruction and learning, and for communication with the parents. What I need to do in order to continue this is to carve out time to work on the the web page each week, and make that time sacrasanct. Right now I have all the good intentions, but things keep devouring the time. I need to take the time, and I need to make it a priority. I have all of the essential elements in place. I just need to continually update it.

I will admit, I have not had much time to focus on those two goals this week. And as information about new mandates and plans begin to come to us for next year, I see that I need to create a new GAME Plan and create a new goal. For this one, I am going to step back from looking at just my classroom, and broaden my sphere of influence. I am choosing a goal with the 5th standard. 5. Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership: Teachers continuously improve their professional practice, model lifelong learning, and exhibit leadership in their school and professional community by promoting and demonstrating the effective use of digital tools and resources. Teachers:  b. exhibit leadership by demonstrating a vision of technology infusion, participating in shared decision making and community building, and developing the leadership and technology skills of others. I am going to begin with my 7th grade ELA department, and spread out from there in my discussions about educational technology and offer to help teachers that need help breaking from their comfort zones. I think ultimately it would be cool to work with my TIS, then other TISes from across the district to create a bank of ideas, applications, templates, lists of resources, etc. so that across the board, more students can benefit from engaging, relevant lessons infused with technology.