Tag Archives: Education

A New Era of Classroom Transparency

Our new post about the necessity of classroom transparency in this age of technology is up today on Education Week Teacher. Check it out!


Maternity Leave

I am going back to school after being on maternity leave since the birth of my second son in October. I worked up until the day before I have birth (on the way to the hospital I had two bags: my hospital bag and my work bag–waiting to hear if I really was in labor.)

There has been nothing more rewarding than being home with my son, but I have missed my other kids, too. One had a birthday yesterday that I was happy I could remember even though I wasn’t “in the loop.” Some of these kids I’ve had since third grade–it’s been hard to miss some of their milestones in class–I missed the 2Pac lesson! Constitution essays!–but I know that they were taken care of as well as or better than I could have done myself.  This is a thank you to (first and foremost) Shara, Debra, the administration of my school, and everyone else who picked up the slack when I was gone. I am excited to come back, to see my “other kids,” hear about what they’ve been doing, and to apply some of the awesome ideas I’ve picked up on Twitter while I’ve been on leave.


Parent Communication

Parent communication is a huge key to the success of the student and the teacher. Most parents have differing levels of expectations for this.  Some want to know every single thing that happens in the classroom, some want to know if their child needs extra support, and some feel already overwhelmed with the number of daily emails they get and want minimal communication–just the “important stuff.” As a teacher, it’s important to make sure that your means of communication meets each parent where they are. Though this may seem like an overwhelming feat, here is an explanation of how the two of us communicate with parents.

Building positive rapport with parents is something that you must focus on in the first month of school.  Once parents know that you have a personal investment in the life of their child, they will much more supportive of your action plans, should their child need more help later on in the year.  Parent teacher cooperation is one of the easiest ways to improve student outcomes. Our middle school director encourages us to make positive connections as often, or more often, than calls dealing with problems; we find this to be invaluable. These positive connections help build that rapport, and can be as small as “I saw your son show kindness to a friend,” or “your daughter clearly spent a lot of time on this assignment.” In the first two days of school, the student’s advisory teacher calls each parent, touching base about student needs and making sure that the parents know their child has an advocate–even though school has just started.

It can be hard for parents to hear negative things about his or her child, but it can be a lot easier for parents to process feedback if they know it is coming from a teacher who has their child’s best interests at heart. We make a point of contacting parents once we see a student start to academically falter; we notify parents after the first month of school if their child is earning a B- or below. This way, if there are any interventions that can help the student, they can be acted upon while there is still time to raise their grade. Additionally, after grading a test or large assignment, we notify the parents of students who earned a C or below, who showed significant progress, and who did exceptionally well. These e-mails are usually only two to three sentences long, and though they do require a small time investment, they could prevent small problems from becoming big ones.

Much of teaching, especially in the younger grades, is attending to the social and emotional needs of students. We teach middle school, and only see the students for short increments of time. Often, we will notice that a student seems out-or-sorts, or had a falling out with a peer, but will not have time to address it before the bell rings and the student moves onto their next class. In this case (and depending on the family), a quick e-mail home can be invaluable. Though it is nice to have a paper trail to help you remember the communications you have had with a particular family, some issues require a phone call or face-to-face interactions–also, sometimes an issue is complicated, and will take less time to explain over the phone. We usually default to e-mail, but it is not always sufficient.

Some parents want access to due dates, assignment details, their child’s grades, course materials, etc. For parents who want this level of access, it is not practical to communicate this information to them individually. Rather, make this information available to them online. We do this through a learning management system called Haiku purchased by our school, but there are many free Internet tools to make a class website or blog; teachers can also periodically send home score reports.

This may seem like a huge undertaking, but creating a good relationship with the parents through relationships goes a long way toward improving student success.

Crafting Lesson Plans

Many teachers struggle with the line between crafting good lessons plans and staying spontaneous in the classroom–whether or not to allow students’ needs to dictate the lesson.

Having gone through the DeLeT program, we are, of course, huge proponents of constant reflective practice.  Therefore, having reflected, we’ve gotten into a groove of lesson planning that works for us.
Step One: Big Picture
We pretty much follow Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design process–starting with the enduring understandings, essential questions, and assessment, then working our way backwards to the lesson plans. 
We do a unit overview for each unit that includes these bigger picture items and then get into the meat of the lesson planning.

Click here for access to any of our unit overview pages for U.S. history; please understand that these are, as always, works in progress. We would love any constructive feedback anyone has for us.

Step Two: Smartboard

We are lucky enough to work in a school that has Smartboards installed in every classroom; this is, of course, not the case for everyone. Smartboard software is great for scripting out lesson plans because it allows for a screen-shade to hide and then reveal parts of a lesson on a single page.  Another collaborator we worked with to craft these units and lessons (giving credit here to Aaron Brock for helping to craft this U.S. history curriculum) scripted these lessons out in Powerpoint for use in his classroom.

We script our lessons out on Smartboard software because it allows us to stay on track–unless we purposefully decide to take the lesson in another direction for clarification purposes or student need.

Another MAJOR advantage of scripting lessons out is that students are able to see the question that is being asked, as well as hearing it. Teachers don’t have to turn their backs on students to write directions out on the board and don’t have to remind students of what question they are meant to be discussing over and over. We have found this to be incredibly helpful with all students, but obviously most for students who have auditory processing challenges.

A usual lesson will contain an anticipatory set that is usually constructivist in nature (not always of course)–something that will get students’ attention, activate prior knowledge, and give a thematic taste of the lesson’s contents.  Then, the meat of the lesson is scripted out using the Smartboard software. A copy of a “normal” lesson can be found here.

Our lessons tend to be experiential and collaborative; students work together to uncover information. The teacher is not seen as the source of information, but rather a facilitator.

The lesson ends with some kind of closure: a discussion, reflective writing, exit cards etc. in order to assess and wrap-up the day’s concepts. The closure, as with the rest of the lesson, is scripted out so that any directions the students are following,  or questions the students are answering are right there.

Lessons are always scaffolded so that the smaller parts of the unit come together for the larger assessment at the end; it is the goal that each lesson is a smaller piece in the larger unit puzzle. This culminates in the unit assessment.

Step Three: Haiku

Our middle school utilizes the Haiku Learning Management Program (more about the benefits of that later) in order to convey course material to students, and to provide a platform for in class and out of class interactions.  As such, all of our course materials that are intended for students (lessons, handouts, directions, readings, images, videos, links, etc.) are found on our course Haiku page.

This allows for students to review lessons, activities, or catch up due to absence.

As the UBD overviews are not for students, they are not made available for them to see.

Step Four: The Purple Notebook

For such big proponents of tech, our method of reflection is decidedly “old school.” There is a purple notebook on Shara’s desk in our shared classroom where we write changes that we need to make to the lessons based on what went well, what didn’t, etc.

From past experience, we have learned that it is vitally important to be as specific as possible when explaining to your future self what changes you want to make.  Too often we have been flummoxed as to what we meant by “change the rubric” or such vague entries, that we were, at the time, so sure were self-explanatory.

There are so many parts to lesson planning processes that we left out of this post; it was getting too long as it was. The factors that go into crafting units and lessons are innumerable; please let us know if there is any point we can expound upon or clarify!