Friday, September 25, 2015

Image of the Child

From Lisa: Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Here is what I know: What the adults believe about children determines everything.  Everything!

The new instructional coach in our building, Sean Henseleit, sums up what he believes about children into five words. He says, “I believe children are capable.”  He’s right. I don’t think you need to say much more. Children are capable.

If this is what I believe, and I absolutely do, I don’t limit them to only what I know and understand. I believe I learn more from them than they from me. Let me give you an example:

Mercy, our youngest child, is a delightful spirit. She believes she is completely capable. She became inquisitive about hedgehogs. She did her research. She saved her money. She went to the Hamilton County Exotic Pet Show and bought a hedgehog born on July 4 that she named Sparkle. She was rapt as the ASL interpreter communicated what the pet owner explained about how to care for Sparkle. She came home. She set up the cage, the wheel, the food, the water.

Soon she had to clean the cage. How do you get the poop out without having to toss out all the shavings? Problem-solving occurred. A new use for chopsticks was invented. The next day a colander did the same job—much to her mother’s consternation.

Mercy and Sparkle
Mercy is completely capable and she knows it. She’s profoundly deaf and some might see her as “disabled” or “incapable.” She doesn’t believe that. Neither do I.

My job is to turn her loose to let her curiosity take her places I don’t expect. My job is to give her freedom to solve problems in ways she sees that I might not. Mercy is capable, and as Dr. Seuss says, “She has places to go.”

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own.
And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...
--Dr. Seuss in Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Stephanie and Meg: Children Are Capable and Want a Challenge

Stephanie: False Rescue

We are born to conquer. With challenge and conquer comes confidence.

Generation X
Generation Y and
Generation Rescue?

How many learning opportunities do we minimize each day with spoon fed support? In an effort to support, might we be creating a generation of students that did not experience the learning opportunities and level of application to generate a generation of confidence?

From Meg:  Students Want to Take a Challenge

My student exclaimed with satisfaction, “That’s the hardest thing we’ve done this year!”

Students love the success that comes from taking a challenge.  In this case, the challenge was for students to reflect on how they had been transformed by a Rube Goldberg study unit.  When I was planning, I didn’t think this would be a particularly hard assignment.

I started by modeling types of transformations and how to provide evidence to support the transformations.  Students seemed ready to go.  They were working in project teams since this reflection activity was the first of its kind. It was an open-ended response, meaning they could present the information in any format. I didn’t even require an essay format.  Easy, right? 

No, it was challenging for me and my students!  It took group conferencing with questions such as:
  • How can you find a more specific example of an activity in the study unit that changed you?
  • How is that activity an example of a trait?

When some groups looked a bit frustrated, additional brainstorming and discussion eased the strain, but they did the work.  I pointed to student-created themes on the front board: “Transformation = Potential + Power” and “Transformation through a Growth Mindset.”

Scaffold and support, but don't rescue!

These words reminded students to consider common vocabulary developed earlier in the year and to be risk-takers. Mid-activity interruptions to share student examples of transformations were an opportunity to celebrate and spark a new line of thinking for other students.

Clearly, the activity took a lot longer than planned. It was worth the additional time.
The students rose to the challenge. All teams were successful with differentiated scaffolding.

Students earned the right to be proud of their hard work. 

“That’s the hardest thing we’ve done this year!” was not a statement of frustration.  It was a statement of pride and accomplishment.  When students are challenged and supported—not rescued—they rise to the occasion.

Have a great week.

HSE Teaching and Learning Team (and Guests)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Discovery of a New Classroom

Support and Get Out of the Way

Project-Based Learning (PBL) leverages students' inherent wiring to wonder and focuses that energy on curriculum and content. It challenges teachers and students to move academics into action, reaching higher-order critical thinking by applying and using content. The teacher role is re-defined to facilitator, creating the conditions for group and/or individual inquiry that moves students toward collaborative problem-solving.

The key is to provide just enough structure, guidance, and shared accountability to target shared learning goals, and then get out of the way. This makes for powerful moments of instruction in classrooms, but the most powerful moments often connect the classroom and all that happens there with an authentic context.  In this case, the context is the community in which students live and our schools serve.     

The New Classroom: How can Steve and Lori turn
this garden into a real-world learning experience
 for elementary and high school students?
To start our Project Based Learning, adult stakeholders gathered to brainstorm a variety of ways in which our outdoor lab could provide learning, service, and community opportunities for students, families, and service organizations. We had lots of options from which to choose: studying soil samples to determine necessary additives to encourage growth, reviewing crop yield in order to create a rotation plan, or planning and implementing the design process for the new space. 

The connected, higher level learning opportunities are endless, especially when we empower students to give their input or voice and then listen to what they have to say.

The Planning: A full length white board in the FHS College
and Career Academy was covered by the time the
planning session ended. (Or perhaps it just started!)
The Planning Process

In our PBL, teachers will guide students to create original and sustainable solutions that serve the community and meet the needs and expectations of all stakeholders. For example, these are two needs or problems for the project:

Need/ Problem #1: Community partners want the garden to be handicap accessible.

  • Driving Question: How we can make this garden handicap accessible using ADA guidelines?
  • Collaboration: We will design a system to partner elementary students with high school students to solve problems collaboratively, implement solutions, and create authentic audiences for sharing.
Need/ Problem #2: The soil we have is not suitable for the crops we intend to grow.

  • Driving Question: How can we improve soil health for the types of plants people want and enjoy eating?
  • Collaboration: High school students will serve as experts for elementary soil research, and all groups will share their information with community stakeholders.
Process Over Product

Our journey on this PBL is just beginning, and we are excited to continue with this process and see the authentic, relevant, collaborative partnership unfold. At this point, we have no idea how it will all turn out, the direction students will take the project, or the impact it will have on the community.  The important piece is the process, not the product.

We look forward to learning along with our students.  Stay tuned for updates later in the school year….

Steve and Lori

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Decisive Element Part II

This week we provide two different stories that validate Haim Ginott's contention that teachers are the decisive element in the classroom.  Before beginning, consider a few more words of wisdom from Ginott as well:

From Beth Shepperd: One Conversation Changed My Life

My schedule at the beginning of my freshman year of high school included Basic English with Mrs. Kpotufe. I’d been in similar classes in middle school, with many of the same kids. I didn’t mind that I already knew the material, and I liked that many of the other students were neighborhood friends.  Looking back, I realize that I’d been “tracked,” which likely started when I transitioned into the sixth grade.  Entering high school was simply an extension of my middle school placement.

My parents divorced in the third grade, and the resulting years were tough for my family. As my mom searched for affordable housing and better paying jobs, I moved in and out of six different schools and three school districts.  I wasn’t a bad student in sixth grade, but the inconsistencies and skill gaps that came with frequent moving resulted in my placement in one of the lower tracks.
By the ninth grade, I had more stability in my life.  The skill gaps had closed, but no one explained that to me, and it didn’t occur to me that anything should be different—until I showed up in the classroom of Mrs. Kpotufe.

Beth still has the picture of Mrs. Kpotufe,
the teacher who changed the course of her life.
One day she kept me after class and spent some time explaining to me that she thought I was not a good fit for her class.  She wanted to know what I thought about moving into a different English class. With her help and guidance, I was moved out of a few Basic classes and into a few Honors classes.

This one conversation changed the trajectory of my life.

I still don’t know what she saw in me or what motivated her to get involved. Perhaps it was only a small thing in her mind, but this change in placement allowed me to access curriculum, peers, and teachers who fostered a collegiate culture. Curriculum included conversations about SAT scores, college applications and AP courses. I wouldn’t have been exposed to this information any other place in my life. I was the first person in my immediate family to graduate from high school and the first person in my extended family to graduate from college. I went on to grad school and beyond.

For me, transformative education is certainly about great curriculum, but it is more than that.  It is about fostering a growth mindset.  It is about having a student-centered approach.  It is about modeling self- advocacy and soft skills, and it is about seeing opportunities and creating change for our students. 

Mrs. Kpotufe was a transformational teacher in my life. She wasn’t teaching a course that would challenge my current belief systems or shift my world views, but her impact was absolutely life-changing.

From Phil: Yes, Ma'am

In the fall of 1967, when I was in fifth grade, my family moved from Northern Indiana to Winston Salem, North Carolina, a city that was home to major cigarette companies and often covered by the sweet smell of uncut tobacco. 

We moved to Winston Salem in 1967, a difficult year
for the city and, at times, for our family.
That year, my father was completing his pastoral and counseling studies, and my mother worked the night shift in a local hospital.  In the fall of ‘67, the city was smoldering from racial tensions, occasionally erupting into violence, and in the spring of 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in Memphis.  My family has numerous stories to tell about that year, but I will tell you only one today.

It is a story about my first day in school at Dalton Elementary, a segregated school in Winston Salem.  In fact, it is about the first ten minutes of my first day of school.

While I had moved to new elementary schools before, my first day at Dalton was the most memorable of all my first days.  The teacher—and for the life of me, I can’t remember her name—took attendance in what seems a traditional way, by calling out names.  Students responded by saying, “Here.”  It all seemed normal until it was my turn.

This is my first conversation with my new teacher:

Teacher: Phil Lederach
Me: Here
Teacher: You’re new here, right?
Me: Yes
Teacher: Yes what?
Me: Yes, I’m new here.
(Long Pause)
Teacher: We don’t like smart aleck Yankees here.  Go sit in the hall.

I was stunned. 

I had no idea what had just happened, or why I was being sent to the hall, but to the hall I went.  I closed the door, fell to the floor, and burst into tears.

Fortunately, the rest of the story isn’t so traumatic.  The principal of Dalton Elementary School came down the hall and asked what was going on.  Between sobs, I explained what happened, and he said, “Come with me, son.” 

He took me to his office, sat me down, and explained that in Winston Salem it was important to say, “Yes ma’am” and “No, sir.”  It was a lesson I learned well that day, and it was a lesson I took with me every first day of school when I was the teacher.

Today, I wonder about our unwritten rules at HSE.  Every organization has them.  Are we aware of what these are and how they might impact our students? 

Yes, Sir, that is a thought worth considering….

Have a great week, HSE.

HSE Teaching and Learning Team

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Decisive Element (Part I)

Using Haim Ginott's words of wisdom as our guide, we offer the following stories from the HSE Teaching and Learning Team that defend Ginott's argument:

From Laura Rinderknecht: Barbies, Eggs, and Grit

I "played school" really well.  I’ll admit it: I was a great high school student, straight A’s and cruising along, until I hit the wall.  This wall was called Calculus-Based Physics.  It was the hardest thing I ever did academically and was really the first time I had to figure out how to learn.

Fortunately for me, the teacher was outstanding.  She provided a classroom that was completely engaging, encouraged me to work hard (maybe for the first time ever), and allowed me to make mistakes and struggle without penalizing me for my failures.  We dropped Barbie dolls attached to Slinkys over stairwell walls, parachuted eggs off the back of football stadiums, and took CBL’s on roller coasters at Cedar Point.  We even created catapults to toss toilet paper into the calculus teacher’s front yard.

We aren't quite sure how Laura added the Barbie, but....
The engaging activities made the hard work worth the effort, but I also had opportunities for penalty-free failure.  My teacher allowed us to struggle and fail until we got it right. I have no doubt that her class helped give me the “grit” I have today.  My experience was full of learning, trying, failing, adjusting, and trying again:  Applying the big theory (gravity at 9.81 m/s2) to new concepts (eggs attached to parachutes).  Failing miserably (the eggs breaking).  Trying again by tweaking the parachute dimensions and material.  Having more success.  Adjusting again—and again—until I got it right, and by the way, learned the material.

This may be a bit of revisionist history, but my memory is that as long as we kept working and trying, our grades reflected time and effort.  Eventually, the engagement, hard work, and supportive teacher paid off, and I also mastered the content.

So now I work in special education, but the lessons I learned in high school physics still apply.  I get paid to read about nerdy special education theories and then try to figure out how to help make them work in a teacher’s classroom.  I merge evidence-based practices into practical classroom applications. 

Grit, Growth Mindset, Stamina: It's a disposition we can teach!
Theories don’t always work—kids are different than physics experiments—so we adjust our approach. What works for one may not work for another. When a student isn’t growing as we expect, we make adjustments and try again.  We change what we do to make sure we engage the student, we support the student, and we keep the student working.  We certainly don’t penalize the student during the learning/failing/adjusting cycle, but do encourage development of stamina and grit. 

From Stephanie Loane: Charlie Townsend Changed my Life. 

In kindergarten I received a set of Charlie’s Angels action figures. Living life as an Angel in the Townsend Agency became my moderate obsession.  My parents showed no concern for my strange behavior—and were likely unaware that the show was generally inappropriate for their young daughter. 

Each day I transformed the blacktop playground at school into a crime fighting arena, as I assigned missions to classmates at recess. Each assignment followed a sequence of spying, investigating, and acrobatic endeavors to apprehend bad guys. The Angels were called back together as a team for a congratulatory high five before I freed the bad guys from their jump rope shackles and the bell called us back to class for the “real” learning.
This is Stephanie with her favorite toys as a little girl.
How can imaginative play shape a child's life?
Unfortunately, my Angel persona was an unwelcomed character at Holy Trinity School.  It was not the kind of angel they were going for.

Even so, I do believe that the collaborative team work and thirst for social justice required in this game playing contributed to my general beliefs about teaching and learning. I think Boswell would still say to those little girls on the playground, “Well done Angels!”

From Jan: Can Big Feel Small?

I attended a small Lutheran elementary school in rural Michigan.  I had 98 classmates in grades K-8.  Surrounded by farm land, it felt a lot like Little House on the Prairie.  We had multiple grades in the same classroom, went ice skating at recess, and brought our lunches in a lunch box (there was no cafeteria or hot lunch program).  I spent nine years in school with the same fifteen classmates.  We were the “big” class!

This is where Jan went to elementary school.
How can relationships make big feel small?.
At the end of the eighth grade I headed to high school where my graduating class numbered over 550.  It took a little more than a few minutes to adjust!  The first thing I had to learn was that I needed to put my last name on my paper, something completely unnecessary in my elementary years. 

Eventually, I did adapt and grew to love the size, people, diversity and opportunities of my high school.  I learned that there are advantages to both large and small.

Since arriving in HSE, I have heard lots of talk about how large we have become.  We certainly have, but I sometimes think I’m in Texas, as in “Everything is bigger in Texas!” We have large schools at every level, large class sizes, large everything! 

Our challenge is this:  How do we make BIG feel small? 

I was at Fishers High School the other day for their staff meeting, and they started their time together with an activity designed to provide an opportunity to get to know each other a little better.  Their theme was “Making a Big School Feel Small.” 

That is the challenge for each of us.  Let’s all think of things we can do to help our classrooms and schools feel smaller as we foster a strong sense of community through relationship and a sense of belonging. 

That way, even though we are big enough that students must put their last names on the paper, we feel small because our students and their families feel known.

Have a great week, HSE.  Enjoy the long weekend, and come back ready to be the decisive element for our students.

HSE Teaching and Learning Team