Dec 24, 2013

A Time for Reflection, Relaxation, and Rejuvenation

As the year comes to a close and people gather with family and friends to celebrate the holidays, it's a perfect time to reflect on the past year.  It's also a time to develop those January resolutions (I don't call them New Years resolutions because they never last past January...)  But most importantly it is a time to relax and prepare for the 2nd half of the school year!  Those students will return ready to learn (or jump off the walls from their sugar high that hasn't gone away).  Think of a way to harness that energy and put their holiday hangover to good use during the month of January! (remember it's only two weeks till a 3-day weekend, 6 weeks until another week's vacation!)

“Reflect upon your present blessings -- of which every man has many -- not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” 
                   - Charles Dickens

“Sometimes, you have to look back in order to understand the things that lie ahead.” 
                   - Yvonne Woon

“I am a writer of books in retrospect. I talk in order to understand; I teach in order to learn” 
                  - Robert Frost


Nov 26, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

There is a heart-warming side to every holiday.  The love we're supposed to show on Valentine's Day, the cultural heritage and pride expressed on St. Patrick's Day, the religious side of Christmas and Easter, the National pride of Independence Day.  But all of these holidays have a rampant commercial agenda that wants you to buy buy buy and they lose a lot of their heart-warming effect.

Thanksgiving on the other hand, is really a day of coming together and giving thanks... and eating way to much food, watching football, organizing plans for Christmas and starting to plan for black Friday shopping sprees...

Ok, so the picture isn't quite so rosy, but at least it's a day of anticipation where you still spend it enjoying the company of family members.  Until I found out that some stores will be open at 6AM (yes, you heard correctly...) on Thanksgiving Day!  This is insane!

Christmas has been a lost-cause holiday due to commercialism, but it's now so entirely lost that it is attacking Thanksgiving! Following the 1950s Domino Effect theory of communism I can only assume that Halloween will soon be the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and those Dirty Red... Santas? will be out in force.

Alright, it's not really so bad as that, people still have the choice to spend quality time with their families on Thanksgiving.  But if you or your relatives are planning on dining and dashing this Thanksgiving I would ask that you first consider the following:

  • Are the people you're buying gifts for more interested in your presents than your presence? If so, they don't deserve the gifts.
  • If you only buy gifts for people at the cheapest price possible, are you really doing it for the right reasons?
  • Live in the now, not the future, it's the greatest gift of all and that's why it's called the PRESENT.
Wishing everyone safe travels and a truly Happy Thanksgiving!


Thanksgiving 2012           Thanksgiving 2011

Nov 21, 2013

Attending Conferences: A Pep-rally for Professionals

MDSC LogoThis past Monday I had the luxury of attending my first conference for professional development. It was sponsored by the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress (MDSC) and was held at The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA (beautiful campus btw...).  The theme of this conference was teaching students with Down Syndrome, and more specifically, teaching them using the Common Core Standards.

Upon arrival I felt like a kid in a candy shop - teacher resources (BOOKS!) and two exhibit spaces with agencies and specialists promoting techniques and strategies and answering questions about how to be better at the job we've been charged to do.  And all of this was before the first speaker took the stage.

There is nothing more empowering for a teacher than hearing the success story of a student - from the student herself.  One of the keynote addresses was from a successful, 28 year old woman who has Down Syndrome.  She passed all of her MCAS exams, graduated high school, and is is one class away from finishing an associates degree.  She works, has a social life, and does everything a typical young woman would hope to do!  She described how her parents pushed her to be successful and did everything they could to educate her teachers so that THEY could push her to succeed.  In high school she gave her teachers an annual PowerPoint presentation of her strengths and weaknesses, goals and fears. (could our typical students even accomplish this?!) Listening to her speak was a message of never underestimate your students and always strive to make them achieve high expectations.

Recharge Your Small Business Marketing In 2013 image recharge3
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So, it's 10:30am (on an average school day I'm already reaching for that 3rd cup of coffee!) and I'm amped up, ready to learn, and excited to engage with my peers in some real professional development.  The rest of the day was a whirl of great teaching strategies, research-based methods of instruction / behavior modification, and decades of insight that, as a new teacher, I only scratched the surface of.

By 2:30pm the Conference is over and I find myself disappointed that it has to end (even though it's 40mins past the last bell of the school day...).  So many unanswered questions, but too many new ideas to keep track of.  I again feel that same feeling of anticipation and excitement I felt the first time I stepped into a classroom.

I hope I'm able to attend at least one conference each year for the rest of my career.  Thus far, there has been no better refueler for me than this.  My recommendation to you would be, if you haven't attended a professional conference recently - go to one; you may well find that extra boost you've been searching for.


Nov 13, 2013

Managing Classroom Behavior... So Easy With ClassDojo

As a new teacher I'm all about learning - learning how to develop a curriculum, work with colleagues who've been doing the job for decades, learning the ins and outs of a public school, and of course how to be a good teacher.

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There are skills that all teachers need, but one that is most evident when it is missing is classroom management.  You can easily picture that classroom with students blowing spitballs, paper airplanes flying across the room and a group of kids in the back corner with their chairs tilted back talking about what they will do this weekend.  It's a teacher's worst nightmare (or at least the worst one I've had so far... but again, I'm new)!

Every teacher I've ever had or worked with has their own system and style for classroom management.  You've got your "I'll be your friend," easy going teacher; your "If I could use corporal punishment, I would" hardliner; your "so desperate to have these kids behave that I call the principal daily" pass-the-buck educator; and your average, middle of the road, "do your work and I'll try to let you have fun" educator.

In special education there is a particular need for structure in the classroom management style you choose; and student-based incentive is never a bad option for special ed or general ed.  Enter - ClassDojo.  This website (with linked iOS and Android apps) allows the teacher to create a set of classroom behaviors you WANT to see in addition to a set of behaviors you DON'T want to see.  Each student can create a profile with their own avatar (think Monster's Inc character...) and they can access it to see daily / weekly scores (percentages) of positive and negative behaviors.

This app, like all apps / programs, has its pros and cons.  Personally, for my sub-separate special ed classroom (6 students) it makes tracking and modifying student behaviors easy and fun (I have just as much fun using it as my students).  For a class of 25 - 30 it might be more cumbersome than productive.  The fun avatars can make or break this app for you depending on your students' ages.  For many high school students this might be considered a childish program (although I know some high school students who would find it very entertaining...).  My middle-school aged students would've spent 20 minutes of class-time designing their avatars if I'd let them.

Fun avatars can make or break this app depending on your students' ages
The most exciting behavior change I noticed within the first few days of using the app was an INCREASE in positive behaviors such as class participation and paying attention.  Students who would otherwise have been perfectly happy drifting through their own daydreams were attentive and begging to participate (worth 1 point each time they're called on in my setup) because they didn't want to fall behind in points.  Some of the students with negative behaviors are becoming more self-aware of the consequences of their actions, but it is MUCH easier to pick up a new good habit than to remove an old bad habit. (I look forward to updating this post in a few months!)

The best part of all is how easy it is to setup and use! I got my class setup in about 10 minutes and had the program fully implemented in my daily classroom routine by the second day of use.  If you have an existing classroom management style but want to spice it up a bit, this app is for you.  If your classroom management style isn't working at ALL, this app is for you (but it doesn't work miracles or run your classroom on its own... you do have to still be an effective teacher).  If nothing else, it's FREE so there's no risk to giving it a shot, you might be as pleasantly surprised as I was!


P.S. Found this app thanks to a good friend's husband.  It's one of his many good finds! (check out more HERE)

Nov 7, 2013

What's in a Grade?

As the first term of the school year comes to a close, questions arise about grades, how one earns a grade and what that grade really means.

Grade Inflation is a term that is thrown around a lot in both secondary and postsecondary education, but what is it?  Any time we hear the word inflation we immediately think that something is now worth less than it was before.  (The only time we like the word inflation is when it refers to balloons, or a raft that you can lay on all summer in the pool).

In schools across America an average student used to be expected to receive a "C" in their classes; nice and simple located directly in the middle of the 5 point scale A, B, C, D, F. (don't even get me started on leaving out the letter E... system already makes no sense)  But in today's reality, the average student is expected to receive grades of A's and B's.  C's are for underperforming students, and if you receive a "D" or and "F" then you must be a delinquent causing problems in class, and there's clearly no hope for you.

With our expectations skewed to the upper end of the scale, how do we sift through the sea of 'A's and determine the truly high achieving students from the new average student.  Students from the "every kid gets a trophy" Millennial Generation expect A's, want A's, but only in some circumstances (definitely less than the 50% who receive them) deserve A's.

In reality the question is whether or not it matters at all, as long as students are learning.  Do grades, typically based on teacher-made assessments, reflect real student learning or simply the ability of students to regurgitate the information provided to them by the teacher.  What is a genuine assessment of student preparedness for college? Career? Life in general?

So as you fellow educators finalize your grades, send out your comments (equally questionable in their purpose or purposefulness), take a moment to consider what they mean; are you too harsh, too lenient, or just stuck working within the confines of defining student progress with a meaningless number.


For additional reading on grade inflation from people who actually did research click here:

ASCD article "Research Says / Grade Inflation: Killing with Kindness?"