Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A New Planning Process

Today's training session was mostly giving us time to plan the first 20 days of school, in math.  I was sooooo excited to finally get some planning done so I could be ahead of the game when classes began.  However, my attempt at a 20-day rough sketch didn't quite go as planned.  I only managed to crank out focus points for three days.  Now it doesn't take a strong mathematician to know that 3 out of 20 is a failing grade, but I'm telling myself not to look at this as a failure because I did learn some things during the process (and it's all about the process, right?)

Lesson planning has been a struggle for me since the beginning, but it's gotten easier as the years went on.  It used to take me hours just to do one week's worth of plans, and I was constantly changing my templates and approaches, always looking for a way to make it easier and quicker.  See, I'm a very detailed-oriented person, I tend to think sequentially, I over-analyze everything, and I don't like to make wrong decisions.  Combine these traits together and you can pretty much imagine why lesson planning can be such a headache for me.

Well, today I came into the session knowing these things about myself and coaching my mind not to go there. I started out well in the beginning, but as more things were explained and more teachers were asking questions, my old habits started creeping back.  Eventually, they took hold and I became stuck.  I didn't know where to start, I didn't know where to go next, I couldn't figure out "the right order" and I was so fixated on not planning the unit out correctly.  The instructional coaches offered solutions such as grouping things together, not planning out an entire day at a time but just getting an idea here and there of where I want to go, making a list of the goals then shuffling them around to make them fit, etc.  Towards the end of the session I was starting to get somewhere, and I managed to jot some things down for the first three days.

I also figured out why lesson planning all of a sudden became hard again when I felt like I had mastered a system that worked for me last year: I was having to plan something new.  For me, it was routines, and mixing those routines in with content.  For the past three years I've only been taught how to plan content, so when routines got thrown into the mix, I panicked.  Well, now I know what my new challenge is, and I will have to keep working with myself and giving myself some breathing room to take longer than usual at the beginning.  I'm going to allow myself to struggle through this new planning process because I know by the end of the year, this will once again be a breeze!

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Reform Symposium

I'm a bit behind the rest of the edu world, but I'm glad I was able to watch at least a couple of the presentations from The Reform Symposium.  I enjoyed the two that I saw and they've both given me ideas for my classroom.

First, I watched George Couros' (@gcouros) presentation on "Identity Day", which sounds like a super cool event and a wonderful way to get to know students better.  I love his passion on developing relationships with the entire school community and hope to grow in that aspect in my own teaching.  I'd like to try having an "Identity Day" in my classroom too.  If it is a success then I hope I can help expand it to the whole school, just as George as done.  Even though his school holds this event near the end of the year, I wonder if it is something I can do in the beginning of the year, at least on the smaller scale of just my class.  I'm very concerned about student relationships (with me, but more so with one another) and am looking for ways to help them build a sense of community where they will want to be kind towards one another.  My school is big on responsive classroom, and this seems like a great way to accomplish that.  So right now I'm toying with the idea of making this one of the first assignments for the kids to do (with their parents), and then I can invite the parents, administrators, and other classrooms in at the beginning of the year to learn about my students (as well as them learning about each other).  I need to outline it a bit more, but I think this could be a really great experience.  Thanks George!

Second, I watched Silvia Tolisano's (@langwitches) presentation on "Skype Around the World", where she talked about why and how she uses Skype in her classroom.  I clap my hands for her because her students are doing some pretty amazing things!!!  At the end of last year I pretty much told everyone that I wanted to use Skype in my classroom this year.  I didn't really know how I wanted to use it, except to connect my students with other students across the globe.  At this moment, I still haven't hashed out a specific project or how I'm going to accomplish that and tie it to our learning goals, but the collaborative chat going on in Silvia's presentation did give me a couple other ideas that are swirling around my mind now too.  One is to have virtual career days.  I've been thinking about doing career days with parents and community members, but with Skype the sky is the limit!  As many of the teachers said during the presentation, I might be able to connect with real experts, in our local community and beyond, and they can share their careers with the kids (hopefully in their actual office!)  Someone else in the chat mentioned giving interviews too, which I think would also be fun and a great experience for the kids.  Another person mentioned meeting the author of a book the class is reading (sorry I can't remember the specific names these ideas came from).  I'm getting excited just thinking about what we can do with Skype this year!  I need to start planning (and keep my fingers crossed that our Internet connection is functioning properly now).  Thanks Silvia!

Even though I only saw a couple of presentations, I am glad that I was able to catch what I did.  I love how social media has taken teacher collaboration to a new level!  I'm hoping that this year I can be better about connecting with the teachers in my PLN and bring all of these wonderful things to my school and all of our students too!

Back to School

After a wonderful and relaxing summer vacation, today I am officially back in the working world.  This week I am attending a summer institute focusing on reading and math.  I have chosen to participate in the new teachers session because this will be my first year as a general education classroom teacher (previously was an ESL teacher for 3 years).  I'm going to teach 3rd grade and I have a mix of emotions that range from excitement to fear.  I am looking forward to the challenges and all the success that I know is to come.

I wanted to get back to my blog, as I have abandoned it pretty much all summer.  I cannot make any promises on the frequency of my updates, as I am not an avid blogger who updates on a consistent basis.  In fact, I'm at the point where I am really blogging more for me than for my audience (sorry folks), but I appreciate those who read and leave comments, especially when sharing personal experiences or offering ideas for my classroom.

Anyhow, I just wanted to give myself a quick reflection of today's training.  I want to push myself to reflect frequently this year on what goes on in my classroom so that I may continue to improve.  Today's session focused on math and the components that make up the math block.  Our presenters modeled many of the activities we would be doing in our classroom and encouraged us to experience them from the perspective of our students.  We started with Morning Meeting (singing songs and everything), then went through most of a math block, participating in the problem of the day, a building number sense activity, the mini-lesson, and reflecting at the end.  What I appreciated about today's session was that it gave me the jolt I needed to get my head back in the game, and the ideas started flowing.

For the past few weeks I've been trying to do some educational reading and planning, but often felt stuck.  I would start but then come to a point where I wasn't sure where to go next.  Being in a room full of teachers once again, and having the instructional coaches take us through a math block modeling and discussing what we noticed was just what I needed to set me in the right direction again.  Tonight, I even came home and watched a few presentations from The Reform Symposium, which sparked some ideas for other activities I'd like to do with my class this year.  I hope this feeling lasts and that it will fuel me during tomorrow's planning sessions so I may map out the first 20 days of school.  Sometimes I bog myself down with planning because I am so detailed and focused on "doing it right".  But that's another topic for another day.  Overall, I left today's session feeling that I have a good understanding of how the math block is structured and what goes in each component of the block, so I can begin to incorporate that into a concrete unit plan tomorrow.

Welcome back to school y'all!