Mistakes and Mindset

I love when my education worlds collide!  This weekend, I worked on session 3 of #HowToLearnMath, which is "Mistakes and Persistence," I finished chapter 5 of Embedded Formative Assessment, which is all about providing feedback, and I created something for our new teachers to introduce them to our school's path to differentiation...and all 3 of these projects involved mindset!  

For those participating in the course, or if you recently studied Carol Dweck's work, do you hear and see the word mindset everywhere you turn?  (I do!)  During the past two years, I talked to my students a bit about the brain research, the importance of making mistakes, and how to foster a growth mindset, but I need to do much, much more.  One of the questions in #HowToLearnMath asked what should a failure/mistake poster say, and we talked about that same idea in an #efamath discussion.  Since I am a floater teacher, the wise @druinok suggested a power point, rather than a poster, so that's what I did.

Since there has been so much talk about mindset, mistakes, and failure, I found great quotes to create the presentation embedded below.   Several of the images came from Krissy Venosdale's wonderful site of free posters.  I found a few other posters on Live Life Happy, and several quotes came from this post on the Practical Savvy blog.  I plan to show this slideshow to my classes during passing periods or during other transitions, and I want to ask my students to contribute their favorite quotes about mindset, mistakes, and failures.

If interested, feel free to use/modify the presentation.  I believe you can download the presentation as a power point, but I doubt all of the fonts will transfer.  If you prefer, I can share the Google doc with you.

Larry Ferlazzo's blog contains countless ideas on motivation, mindset and learning from mistakes and failures, so if you would like additional videos, articles, or studies, you will certainly find them in his many lists of resources.

It has been a great summer of learning, and I am looking forward to sharing everything with our teachers and students!  What will you share with your students about mindset and mistakes?


Classroom Tour 2

At the beginning of the past two years, we have had room decorating contests, so I compiled a lot of pictures of classrooms.  (Our principal provided prizes for the best rooms, by the way.)  I shared some of the best pictures on this post, but this presentation (created for our new teachers) includes even more pictures, so I thought I would share here, too.  Enjoy!



Watch and Win!

As usual, a recent Twitter chat motivated me to write this post.  It definitely fits into my differentiation theme, and I wanted to explain this school initiative, but our recent #efachat prompted me to pick up the tempo on sharing the idea.

Several years ago, we received staff development "credit" for observing two teachers' classrooms. Earlier this year, I heard, "Hey, do you remember when we were required to watch other classrooms? That was great! I wish we could do that again.  I would love to see Mr. W's class or Mrs. N's class."  The department chair replied,  "Why don't you just ask if you can watch their classes? It doesn't need to be a requirement for you to watch and learn."

A few weeks later, the department chair and I (with admin approval) decided to create an opportunity for teachers to feel more comfortable about visiting other classrooms.  We called the initiative "Watch and Win!" and we created this brief reflection form for teachers.  We knew brief was important, and we definitely didn't want the visit to feel like an evaluation, thus happy face clip art and cute font.  (The fun font is KG Seven Sixteen.) 

Our principal first promoted the initiative, and we sent follow-up emails that encouraged teachers to simply watch any other classroom and win teaching strategies, lesson plans, and classroom set-up ideas.  We emphasized the observations did not need to take the whole class period--visit any portion of any classroom. We also reminded teachers to ask permission before visiting.  We did not require teachers to return the reflection form, but our principal was kind enough to provide a prize as an incentive for visiting and reflecting. 

For the upcoming school year, the district is now encouraging (requiring) teachers to visit other classrooms, but schools will have the option to choose to what extent.  We are so happy that we can expand our Watch and Win initiative and slowly work on changing the culture of our school.  (One option from the district was to participate in Japanese Lesson studies, but we are not ready for that kind of intense observation/reflection!)

We will begin the school year with version 2.0 of Watch and Win.  We will first encourage teachers to open their classroom doors as often as possible.  Using scrap wood, our construction class made door stops for all rooms, and our Girls Service League's summer project was to paint all of the door stops.  We are also printing and laminating these signs for teachers' doors, so when a teacher is up for visitors, he/she hangs the sign on the door.  We hope that as teachers walk down the hall and see green signs, they'll be motivated to drop by and visit the classrooms.  (I created my very first iMovie as a somewhat staged "commercial" for this school plan, so if you're dying to see my amateur video of some of our teachers and classes, I can send you the link.)

KG Only Hope font
We are also going to encourage teachers to share (via departmental or mass email) invitations to observe particular parts of a lesson.  "Hey, I'm using the Socrative exit ticket app today, so if you would like to see a demo, please feel free to stop by B112 during the last 10 minutes of 1st, 2nd, or 5th periods."

We hope teachers win a lot of ideas from these observations, but we also believe visiting classrooms will help build our school community of teacher-learners.  We hope teachers will more frequently say things like, "I just saw this cool idea in Mr. G's room, and I thought it would be great if our class tried it, too!"  (a la "I just read about this great idea on another blog," or "My twitter friends were talking about this lesson.")

Once teachers realize the observations are not evaluations, our next step will be to facilitate how observations can be used for learning.  We realize that not all teachers are there yet, but we hope Watch and Win is a step in the right direction.

  • I'm trying to improve my questioning techniques.  Will you please visit my classroom and record my types of questions?
  • I would love some help with keeping my 6th period students engaged.  Would you please watch that class and provide feedback about your observations?

Another Twitter reminder--Krissy Venosdale shares her lovely, free posters on this amazing site!
If you are not (yet) in the position to create a school-wide initiative, what about convincing others in your subject-team or department to observe each other?  Or ask your lunch friends to commit to observing other classrooms?  Observing other teachers is one of the favorite parts of my job, and I learn something new every time I visit another classroom.

Is visiting other classrooms encouraged in your school?  How can we convince others that classroom observations are positive learning experiences and not a waste of time?

To be continued...

Growing List of Summer Educational Reads:
5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions, Margaret S. Smith & Mary Kay Stein
Embedded Formative Assessment, Dylan Wiliam
Engaging Teachers in Classroom Walkthroughs, Donald S. Kachur et al
Essential Questions, Jay McTighe & Grant Wiggins
How to Assess Higher-Order Thinking Skills In Your Classroom, Susan M. Brookhart
Leadership for Differentiating Schools and Classrooms, Carol Ann Tomlinson & Susan D. Allan
More Good Questions, Marian Small & Amy Lin
Teach Like a Pirate, Dave Burgess



My DI Journey

Differentiated Instruction (DI) is nothing new in education-speak, but for me, it is a recent classroom changer, so I want to share my (limited) wisdom about DI.

In a previous post, I mentioned our district is doing our DI initiative right, which means slow implementation, training for teachers and administration, extra staff/support, and continuous professional development.  As a campus instructional specialist (IS) I was part of the initial training, and I helped roll-out the plans to our departments, common planning teams, and campus.  Our year-3 framework and goals are now in place, and this summer, I am working on a new-and-improved classroom.

My First Ah-Ha Moments…
#1: One of the first things we learned was the DI is NOT a set of strategies, but it is a way of thinking about teaching and learning.  It starts with Mindset.  It is about being proactive.  We plan to share this video with our new teachers to get them motivated about DI:

#2:  One teacher used the analogy that she previously thought of teaching as triage: kids who need the most help get a blood transfusion and transplant, but those who already “got it” would be fine with a band-aid.  But DI means to move kids, where ever they are, from one level to the next.  So that means if after the first week of school I already know a student would make a 5 on an AP exam, I must find a way to move her beyond that.  And when a non-English speaking refugee enrolls in my class, I cannot let him keep falling behind, but I must find a way to move him forward, even if by mere millimeters.  DI is teaching up.

#3: DI does NOT always mean “activities” and group work.  Parts of the lesson will be whole group instruction.  When you do utilize group work, the groups should be flexible.  (I intend to explain that part of my journey in another post!)

The non-negotiables of DI are high-quality curriculum, supportive classroom community, continuous assessment, flexible grouping, and respectful tasks, but all components are intertwined.  Texas is not a CCSS state (we have TEKS) and our district provides curriculum for tested subjects, so our district/campus focus is the remaining 4 non-negotiables. 

Side-note: I teach pre-AP pre-calculus, which is not tested, so one summer project was to transform my old curriculum to one of “higher quality.”  I researched Essential Questions and Understanding By Design to write my KUDs (know-understand-do).  (The “do” part is what I will differentiate!)

DI and Assessments…
I completely believe in the power of continuous assessment, so what happens next?  What does it look like in my classroom?

My students complete a pre-assessment/exit ticket/quick classroom check for understanding (which is why I’m lovin’ #EFAmath) and I realize that most kids are ready to move on, but a few are still stuck on one concept.  While the majority of the class is working on something else, I call those few kids to the board at the back of the room, and we hold a “10-minute tutorial” on the missing concept.  (One example of flexible grouping is to group by readiness.)  And because we have established a sense of community and respect in our classroom, no one has a problem with being a tutoree.  We have this sign hanging in our classroom, and students realize we will do whatever it takes to make each person successful!

Real-life example: one master teacher at our school was ready to “DI-it” from day one, and her level 3 students completed a pre-assessment during the first week of school.  She realized 1-2 students lacked a bit of knowledge, so she created an opportunity in class to pull those kids aside for a review.  The problem: one student was so upset and proclaimed, “I know why you’re pulling us aside! You took our quiz from yesterday and put us in groups! I’m not dumb!”  Teacher and student continued the conversation in the hall, and the teacher quickly soothed the student.  When the teacher reflected on the situation, she said she had not yet had time to build the community in her class and establish trust with her students.  Bingo!

DI Goals…
This process all makes sense in my head, and I can’t wait to try it out in this year’s classrooms.  I will have high quality, engaging lessons (thanks to EQs and TLAP).  Because I am familiar with the curriculum, I am aware of the typical tough spots, and will be proactive in my planning.  Formative assessments will be a regular part of the curriculum (thanks EFA) and I will immediately use the results to plan for and respond to students’ needs. I will create a supportive classroom community.  Students will understand that when grouped, their teams will change regularly, depending on their needs, the lesson, or activity. 

It sounds so reasonable, but there are so many other components that are part of this whole process. 

Whew, what a journey! To be continued…

Summer Educational Reads:
Embedded Formative Assessment, Dylan Wiliam
Essential Questions, Jay McTighe & Grant Wiggins
How to Assess Higher-Order Thinking Skills In Your Classroom, Susan M. Brookhart
Leadership for Differentiating Schools and Classrooms, Carol Ann Tomlinson & Susan D. Allan
Teach Like a Pirate, Dave Burgess



Flipping Over Made4Math

Happy (belated) birthday, #Made4Math!   Because of #Made4Math, how many teachers progressed from simply reading posts to tweeting and/or creating blogs? (me!)  And because of these amazing resources, how many different teachers tried a new idea, changed/improved a lesson, collaborated more with colleagues, read a new book, or took a risk?

One of the popular summer reads is Teacher Like a Pirate, so I decided #Made4Math = a treasure hunt and a chest of gold.

Because of #Made4Math, my blog list exploded! Each time I find a new blog, it's a treasure hunt of additional links, pages, tabs, downloads, and ideas.  Because of #Made4Math, I learned a bit about ColourLovers and creating graphics, Vistaprint, and how to cut composition notebooks.  Bloggers shared everything from posters, to organizing ideas, to 1st day activities.  I work with all of our teachers and I help plan our staff development, so I frequently share your posts with our faculty.  The assessment ideas, such as this post (which inspired me to buy Embedded Formative Assessment and to use similar exit tickets) and the video blog on post-it exit tickets were both favorite blogs for many people at my school.

Because I now have a giant treasure chest of gold ideas, I need a better way to organize all of my blog reads.  Since I've had my iPad, I've used Mr. Reader, which I love, and I'm so happy it now syncs with Feedly.  I'm also using Pocket, but I am still not doing a good job of organizing favorites.  I also tried Pinterest and keeping lists on Google documents, but those options were not working for me either.

Enter Flipboard, which is making me very happy.  I'm not using it for my blog feeds (or Twitter or Facebook); instead, I'm using it as a way to organize my favorite posts and to find new content.  I created quite a few different "magazines," so when I find something I love, I add articles to the appropriate place.

For this week's #Made4Math, I created "Math Goodness," so if you have the Flipboard app, you are welcome to browse my magazine.  If you haven't tried Flipboard yet, it is available on iOS and Android devices.  I learned about it and watched the videos here and on the Flipboard site, and it is very easy to set-up and use.  For my math magazine, I included some of the links mentioned above, but I also tried to add quite a few posts that weren't necessarily math but could be easily adapted to math classrooms.  (Next I need to create a magazine just for assessment ideas!)

For me, one advantage of this format is that I can preview most of the articles.  "Academic" articles do not always include images, so Pinterest isn't the best option for these types of posts.  (And I'm a "words" person, rather than a visual person, so I guess that's why it appeals to me.)

It is easy to share articles via Flipboard, and you can also collaborate on magazines.  If you're still looking for a Google Reader replacement, you can use Flipboard for reading blogs and for your social network feeds.

I have flipped over all of the wonderful new resources I found this year, so thank you #Made4Math and the math blogging community for being such a treasure trove of ideas!  Thank you for encouraging me to share and learn!


Learning Profiles vs. Learning Styles

I know I've neglected this blog, but after a recent #efamath chat (and a little hint from @druinok) I'm ready to dive back in and am ready to share, reflect and learn!

Over the past two years, our district has wholeheartedly embraced differentiated instruction (aka DI) and they are doing everything right to make certain that we know, understand, and do everything to embrace it, too.  In my role as an instructional specialist (an instructional "coach" for our school) I have participated in all kinds of wonderful additional professional development, have planned training for our departments and school, and have tried a lot of new things in my classroom.  These struggles and successes have provided enough material for at least 10 new blog posts, and I hope to use this forum as a place to help reflect and sort through what I've learned.

On to Learning Profiles...
In Embedded Formative Assessment, the author discusses the "myth" of Learning Styles and the lack of research to substantiate the use of learning styles to improve learning.  Several teachers mentioned this misconception in the recent #efachat, and I will raise my hand to admit that I've given kids quizzes at the beginning of the year to assess learning styles!

Thanks to some amazing training (first at a DI Institute with Carol Ann Tomlinson and then with a lot of follow up from my district) I now have a better understanding of a learner's profile, rather than a learning style, and have used learners' profiles a bit in my classroom.

It has taken me almost 2 years to comprehend and begin to implement the DI philosophy into my classroom (DI is not a set of strategies, by the way!) so a blog post will not do it justice.  However, for the sake of getting to the point, one of the non-negotiables of DI is flexible grouping.  According to Tomlinson, you may group students based on readiness, interest, or learner profile (or random) and each grouping achieves different goals.  Readiness leads to growth, grouping by interest increases motivation, and grouping by learner's profile improves efficiency.

The DI gurus use either Robert Sternberg's Theory of Multiple Intelligences (analytical, creative, practical) or Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences Theory (which I believe more people know) to address learning profiles.

To introduce the idea to our faculty, we used this brief activity during a staff development (which we modeled from something we saw at our DI Institute.)   After teachers completed the task individually, we asked them to group together with one person from each group to share their responses.  (Hold up a finger 1, 2, or 3, and find the other two numbers to form a group.)

We then shared the slide to show the green group was analytical, yellow was the  practical group, and purple was the creative group.  If we had grouped by like intelligences, the discussion would have been very quick, thus the efficiency.  (One person read the definition, yeah, we all got that, too.)  

Now to stretch yourself, what if you complete the same activity using the prompt from another group?  Or what if we asked teachers to write the definition in 3 different ways?  (That idea reminds me of a Frayer model.)

In a math classroom, a quick example (or exit ticket) could be something like "Explain what a function is," choosing one of these prompts: a) write a definition that you might find in your textbook glossary; b) write a list or examples of the attributes of a function; or c) draw a visual representation or metaphor of a function (not necessarily a graph).  I only did this a few times, but a goal for next year is to make this type of quick assessment more of a norm.  "For concept _________, either write a definition, write how you could explain it to someone, or draw a representation."  Students could turn in their work, share with their table, or share with "unlike" intelligences.  (Wouldn't this be an easy assessment for any level, any content area?)

For my classroom this year, instead of the good ol' learning styles quiz (auditory, visual, kinesthetic) that I had used in the past, I tried assessing my students on Gardner's multiple intelligences.  With my class blog post, I found several surveys (online and paper copies), included videos and definitions, and had the kids complete a Google form with their results.

I then created a seating chart based on their intelligence preference (as best as I could) and let the kids try those groups for a few weeks.  I did notice the discussions, questioning, and explanations were quite different from each of the groups, so that was interesting, but I didn't design enough tasks that catered specifically to their strengths.  (Another post for another day...)

In Embedded Formative Assessment, the conclusion to the "Learning Styles" section was simply to be aware of different styles and encourage all students to use as many styles as possible.  So I don't think the old learning style idea is completely wrong, but perhaps it's just incomplete and can be strengthened by adding a bit more information.  This document is something from our district, but I do not know where it came from, so I cannot give the appropriate credit (and it's a PDF, unfortunately) but it is an example of a very thorough learner's profile.  In addition to the intelligence theory, DI also requires building the community in your classroom and with your students, which means the importance of learning students' interests.  (Another post for another day...)

I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of the book, and the book is about using assessments, not the small tangent of learning styles/profiles.  But in learning about differentiation, I really see the connection and importance of both.  Isn't the bottom line that we must know our students?? 

Once again, thanks to @druinok and #made4math to motivate me to start blogging in the first place.  I've been an avid blog reader for several years, but writing about practices really helps me solidify my thinking.

I loved this post by @pamjwilson who challenged us to "Model What We Wish To See" and who now posts her great reading list on her blog.  So to follow her lead...

Summer Educational Reads:
Embedded Formative Assessment, Dylan Wiliam
Essential Questions, Jay McTighe & Grant Wiggins
How to Assess Higher-Order Thinking Skills In Your Classroom, Susan M. Brookhart
Leadership for Differentiating Schools and Classrooms, Carol Ann Tomlinson & Susan D. Allan
Teach Like a Pirate, Dave Burgess

Interesting Posts:

Thanks for reading!  Anything to add?  What else do you know about learning profiles?

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