Am I Wrong? Balanced Literacy and the Science of Reading

Am I Wrong? Balanced Literacy and the Science of Reading

Teachers Need Reflection Too

In international teaching, I’ve noticed the conversation of phonics comes up much more with parents than it does in the US. Especially considering the British system (that I admittedly don’t know much about) places a lot of weight on phonics. So, when I saw this debate light up again on Facebook and Instagram this fall, I wanted to learn more. My background with dyslexia, phonics, and guided reading is really skewed, and I’ve never really known what to think about the whole debate. I never really believe that something is 100% the right way and something else is 100% the wrong way. I think things are more on a continuum. I’m going to share my background story with dyslexia and balanced literacy with you so that you know where I am coming from- a very confusing place. I’m not the most credible and knowledgeable voice in this debate. 

My Background

During the beginning of my teaching career, a new reading specialist came into our building. She was studying dyslexia and would share the information she learned from time to time. I found it interesting because I didn’t know a lot about dyslexia and I LOVE to learn!

She would come into my classroom and tell me that in my class of eighteen, at least five students had dyslexia. Or she would come in to share a quick thing she learned about in an article. It felt normal, and our second-grade team liked our morning chats with her until suddenly things weren’t so normal anymore.

The App Diagnosis

One day she found a fantastic app ever that could diagnose dyslexia in children. I was skeptical of this app at best. I don’t believe that it is our job to diagnose children, and I don’t believe a new app is how to do it. She came in unannounced to test it out on my class during reader’s workshop. Not only was she extremely disruptive to the flow of our classroom during this time, but she also ended up diagnosing my entire class with dyslexia. I brushed this off and continued teaching, surely my whole class didn’t have dyslexia, right?

She then started printing off worksheet after worksheet and dropping off stacks in my classroom to help with my 100% dyslexic class. I was overwhelmed by this. This interventionist was known to blow up at teachers, so I always accepted the worksheets, and they found their way to the recycling. I didn’t want conflict (type 9 enneagram here!), but I did not want all of these resources. My kids were showing growth using balanced literacy, and if they were showing growth, I didn’t see a need to change.

Working Together

Later on that year, we decided one of my students who was reading at a level K in mid-March would benefit from some time with a reading interventionist. They needed to work on decoding longer words and deeper level comprehension. They weren’t too far behind grade level, so the team figured a short term intervention would give them the boost they needed. We also knew they would thrive in a 1:1 setting, and short-term interventions like this had helped them in the past.

The interventionist that worked with our grade level was all booked up, so this student went to the dyslexia researcher. After one session, she came into my classroom screaming (when my whole class was enjoying snack) that the kid couldn’t read at all. She was yelling and blaming me for being a lousy teacher by teaching balanced literacy in front of all of my students!

No teacher wants to hear they’re not doing a good job- especially in front of their whole class. We’re all doing the best with what we have. I was following our district curriculum, and there wasn’t anything else I could have done. What she was ranting about was super confusing to me, too, because they were reading Frog and Toad and loving them. They could decode at a level K and comprehend for the most part. Something happened when they tried an L, and they needed a bit more help. This student was reading Nate the Great and solving mystery after mystery how were they unable to read? What does that even mean? They were reading every single day with me.

What Was the Reading Intervention?

When she started working with them, she focused on teaching them phonics instead of doing the intervention that we had discussed as a team. During our class phonics lessons, they did reasonably well. I’m not sure what work they were doing with her because whenever I asked, she talked in circles and threw out names of programs. She would argue all the time that she was Orton Gillingham trained. I didn’t care about her training. I knew Orton Gillingham and had seen it work wonders with kids. I wanted to know what their intervention consisted of so that I could support that work in our classroom. I would try to ask more specific questions, but she would not break down the 30-minute lesson and explain what she was doing. It was beyond frustrating. 

How Can I Support This Child?

Soon, they had slipped back to a level J and then to a level I. One day I handed them our story during guided reading, and they declared that they couldn’t read books and gave the book back; they asked for a list of words. I didn’t understand what was going on. How could this kid who loved books suddenly refuse to read books? I had my literacy coach come in and observe because let’s be real- I was panicking. I needed to figure out what to do next. My literacy coach was also confused. She was their reading interventionist the year before and said she was shocked by some of the things she saw them doing. 

As I worked with my literacy coach to try to figure out what I could do to support this little diamond, she was also stumped. She asked what they were working on in intervention. I filled her in on all the strange conversations I had and that I didn’t know what was happening. She said that she’s sure dyslexia is underdiagnosed but is also confident that my whole class probably doesn’t have it. And even if this diamond does have dyslexia, this intervention isn’t working.

It Kept Getting Weirder

Even stranger things happened after this. The interventionist went into one of my colleague’s classrooms and took all the Mo Willems books declaring that students should read dumb stuff. She started trying to start rumors about our literacy coach, even coming and asking me if I was being treated ok by her. She went low and said that the lit coach’s daughter had dyslexia, and that’s why she was anti-dyslexia. Our lit coach wasn’t anti-dyslexia but got accused of a whole bunch because she was leading us in balanced literacy. She went into another room and told the teacher classroom libraries were dumb and unnecessary. She launched attack after attack on our literacy coach via Facebook posts. I unfriended her because I don’t want to be associated with teachers who attack each other on Facebook. More things happened, but you get the gist.

To be honest, I never understood why dyslexia and balanced literacy were at war. Why was she so anti our balanced literacy framework? The way I understood it was dyslexic students needed something different than what was provided in a balanced literacy framework. There are, of course, kids who need different teaching than the teaching happening in the classroom. Shouldn’t we accommodate them? 

More Than A Little Confused

As you can imagine, that experience left me more than a little bit confused about dyslexia. All I knew was a kid who was doing well in reading got an unofficial dyslexia diagnosis by a teacher who wasn’t the most stable, and then he got worse and worse as a reader. His reading level at the end of the year was lower than at the start of the year. 

Logically I knew that this was an odd case, and she wasn’t the greatest, but it was tough to get past all of her irrational and abrasive behavior. After this incident, I didn’t think about dyslexia for a long time. 

Phonics P.D.

Then, a few years ago my school (a different one than the school above) had professional development with the principal from a school that specializes in dyslexia. She talked a lot about the importance of phonics. We reviewed phonics rules and I met with her one on one to discuss the teaching of phonics. We had just switched to Fountas and Pinnell Phonics and it was the first time our school had a phonics/ word study program. We talked for a long time about what rules to teach kids and what rules not to teach, how to build in phonics support into the reading and writing workshop. If I could work for this principal I would. She was so knowledgable and I left her session with millions of ideas to pull into the classroom. It didn’t seem as though there was a huge disconnect from what I was doing in my classroom using balanced literacy and the phonics PD that I attended. They seemed to work in harmony which was the opposite of what I had always been told. 

Phonics is a Part of Balanced Literacy

I feel there is a misconception that phonics is not taught in a balanced literacy framework. That isn’t true (if things are happening correctly- I know sometimes they aren’t). Phonics is taught in part of the program, often referred to as word study. The way phonics is taught depends on what program or philosophy a school is following. I’ve used Fountas and Pinnell Phonics, which follows the workshop approach and teaches in on one specific phonics piece each lesson. I’ve also used Words Their Way and Word Journeys to teach phonics through sorting and making connections between other words. I would say the whole goal of word study in balanced literacy is for skills to transfer back into reading and writing. We might not teach all of the cute phonics rhymes we learned as kids. This is usually because the cute rhymes tie in with the exceptions, not the rules. Perhaps people behind the Science of Reading would like a more rigorous phonics component to balanced literacy. I’m not opposed to that, and I don’t think many are. We want to teach transferrable phonics skills to our kids as phonics knowledge is needed for decoding. 

M,S,V and the Science of Reading

Last year I led our school in learning Fountas and Pinnell’s Benchmark Assessment System, and part of that system is MSV. If you don’t know, MSV stands for Meaning, Structure, and Visual. These are considered the three cueing system readers use as they read. When readers encounter an unknown word and attempt to decode it, they ask: Does this make sense? Does this sound right? Does this look right? Often in a balanced literacy approach, more weight is placed on meaning than on phonics for the in the moment decoding while reading. 

While preparing for that training, I came across research that MSV wasn’t valid, and I read it. I knew that there were teachers extremely frustrated by B.A.S., and they would find this research. I also think it is good practice to read things that you disagree with. It furthers your reflection and your own ideas. What I found was fascinating. Researchers show that the English language is much more decodable than we’ve been led to believe. It is a topic that I would like to learn about more. I do notice that children who come into our schools from the British system are much, much better decoders but have limited comprehension skills.

I recently joined a Facebook group for teachers who support the Science of Reading. Currently, I’m disappointed I haven’t learned more from the group as it is right now focused on bashing balanced literacy programs and leaders and less focused on sharing information on the science of reading. Hopefully, I can begin to learn more from them as a teacher.

So, Am I Wrong?

It isn’t a good feeling to think that you’re wrong about your core beliefs on a topic, but it is a good time for reflection. Am I wrong? Should I stop using a balanced literacy approach and focus more on phonics? The Science of Reading people say yes. I don’t know, but I don’t think so at this moment. I want to learn more and strengthen my phonics instruction, and I don’t believe that kids in younger grades should just read decodable texts, BUT I do think decodables are beneficial for some readers. 

Could we include more decodable reading within the phonics portion of balanced literacy? What compromises could be made to support both? I don’t know but I am sure there are some.

This whole debate reminded me of a conversation we had with a literacy consultant at the start of the year. We were providing a scaffolded support tool that the majority of students actually didn’t need. We removed that support from the kids who didn’t need it and kept it for the kids who did need it. I feel like giving all kids decodables instead of the books they currently have would be similar. We would be putting up supports for all kids that they might not need. Dyslexia is underdiagnosed, and teachers need a lot more support and education in this area. I am sure that what works for dyslexic students will work for all students, but is it what’s best for them? I don’t know. I’m going to continue to research and listen to both sides of the argument. We’ll see what I discover. 

Additional Resources

The Science of Reading

Please know that if you’re using a balanced literacy approach some of these may be hard to read because of the teacher-bashing in them. I’m not about that. Couldn’t we have this debate without bashing teachers and name-calling? 

What is the Science of Reading?

Beyond the Reading Wars: How the Science of Reading Can Improve Literacy

The Science of Teaching Reading

The Science of Reading- A PowerPoint Presentation

Timothy Shanahan Blog

 

Balanced Literacy

I’m only including the responses from Lucy Calkins and Irene and Gay Su Pinnell because they’re the only responses I know of right now. If you know of additional responses please share them in the comments.

No One Gets To Own the Term “Science of Reading” -Lucy Calkins

A Word on Phonics with Fountas and Pinnell

Thoughts?

Let’s build a productive conversation around this topic in the comments below. 

What are your thoughts? What does your education and experience lead you to? 

Just a forewarning, any teacher-bashing comments will be deleted. That isn’t productive for either side. Try to figure out a way to phrase your comment in a way that doesn’t bash the teacher but teaches. 

Prep Time: Are you using it wisely?

Prep Time: Are you using it wisely?

Red Nails

When I was in fourth grade we went to PE and when we came back the classroom smelled so bad. It smelled like nail polish. I tried to figure out why and when I looked over to Mrs. Ryan’s desk I saw a bottle of red nail polish and then noticed the color on her fingers. Her nails were not that color that morning. As we worked through math class Mrs. Ryan couldn’t touch anything because her nails were drying. Can you even imagine? She did her nails during her prep!!! As a fourth grader I thought it was so cool that she did her nails in the middle of the day. As a teacher I just wonder… how? 

Now, I love Mrs. Ryan with all of my heart and I have nothing against her doing her nails while we went to PE. She was such a nurturing, kind and compassionate teacher. Nothing like another teacher who shall not be named. Every time my mom runs into Mrs. Ryan at the grocery store she asks about me and tells my mom to tell me that she is so proud of me. Teaching was so different when I was in elementary school. 

What DO I Accomplish During Prep Time?

  • As teachers we have so much to get done! Prep time (aka that time when your students go off to specials) isn’t a break to do our nails. It isn’t a break at all. It’s work time to get stuff done! Here are all the sorts of tasks I accomplish during prep:
  • Plan for teaching
    • Whole Class
    • Small Group
    • One-on-One
    • Reading
    • Math 
    • Writing
    • Word Study
    • Science
    • Social Studies 
  • Adjust instructional plans
  • Go to the bathroom- this might seem strange to list but it is almost always the first thing I do during prep
  • Answer parent emails
  • Answer emails from other teachers
  • Make copies
  • Connect and plan with grade level peers 
  • Collaborate with assistant teachers and paraprofessionals
  • Meet with learning support teachers- interventionists, ELL, special education, speech…
  • Meet with instructional coaches, literacy coaches, math coaches, principals, assistant principals… whoever 
  • Visit storage and retrieve necessary teaching materials
  • Set up for the day’s lessons
  • Read professional texts
  • Write report card or progress report comments
  • Track student progress
  • Plan field trips 
  • Write class newsletter
  • Analyzing student work
  • Approve posts on Seesaw
  • Observe other teachers
  • Put away guided reading books
  • Organize
  • Sub for other teachers

I probably missed a few things but that seems about right. 

Schedule Out Your Time

Times in blue are when students are in the room but it is also technically prep before school. Times marked in red are when classes are being taught in my classroom by other teachers. Duties are marked with an asterisk and our weekly elementary meeting is on day 4 during lunch and recess.

Teaching in Poland I have a lot more prep time than I did when I was teaching in the US but I still schedule it out. In fact, at first I was so surprised by the amount of prep time I had that I didn’t use it well and wasted a lot of time. Now that I schedule out my prep time I am able to get a whole lot more done. Each period lasts 40 minutes. 

Day one

Before school prep is when I set up my week for success. I answer any parent emails I received over the weekend, I make copies and get out guided reading text sets, I sip my coffee, I switch the class leaders board and take note of any special events coming up. I also greet each child as they come into the classroom and ask them how their weekend was. Parents also stop by and I chat with them. 

Prep 1 is usually reserved for my assistant teacher and I to discuss different things. We look at student data and we discuss teaching moves for different students. We catch up on our weekends and plan for the week. We also take time to plan for our RTI intervention block on Friday. 

Prep 2 is spent making copies and writing guided reading plans for Tuesday. I don’t write out lengthy lesson plans and we aren’t required to submit any plans but I still jot down my guided reading plans. 

Prep 3 is when I breathe a sigh of relief! During this prep I usually plan out math for the week. This week I used that time to plan out science. 

Day Two

On day two my before school prep is a meeting every other week. This means my assistant teacher or another assistant teacher watches my class. I have no time to answer any parent emails before the day begins. I will say that Tuesday mornings are a bit more stressful than other mornings. Before school meetings are the worst for elementary teachers. 

Prep 1 is when I answer parent emails and any other emails I have. I also clean and organize during this prep like there is no tomorrow. I put books away and I put up anchor charts that have fallen down. I go to town. I like to have my space nice and orderly before the kids come back during my second prep on day two. 

Prep 2 I leave my classroom and find another place to work. Sometimes it can be difficult watching your kids with another teacher. This is a time when I find another quiet and peaceful place in the school to work. During this prep I typically plan out my social studies lessons. Until the end of April social studies is out because science fair is in. I also have a lot of meetings that take place during this time. It must be a time when a lot of other people are free. 

Prep 3 on day 2 is sometimes peace and quiet and sometimes not. The class that is in my classroom will sometimes go to another classroom that doesn’t have flexible seating because the teacher wants everyone to have a desk. (That is one hard thing about sharing a classroom with so many people with so many different teaching philosophies and beliefs.) During this prep I also check and respond to emails. I make plans for word study during this prep period. 

Day Three

Before school prep is spent saying hello to my students, preparing for my mini-lesson, answering emails, sipping coffee, and mostly talking with my students. 

Day three is a day where I sort of relax on my preps a little bit. That doesn’t mean I am not getting work done it just means I try to chill out a bit. I listen to an educational podcast or watch to a webinar during these two preps. A lot of times I meet with my principal to plan the meeting for that afternoon or the following day. 

During my second prep I set the agenda for the meeting on Thursday and I email it out to all elementary teachers. I use this time to start to prepare anything that I need to prepare for the meeting. Sometimes I lead meetings on Wednesday after school as well so this prep is sometimes used to prep for those. 

During my prep 3 I usually check in again with my assistant teacher. We chat as we prep various activities and lessons for the rest of the week. We check in on certain students and share ideas with one another. 

Day Four

Day four can be a bit of a doozy. While I do have a lot of preps I also lead our elementary curriculum meeting during lunch and recess. This is quite a task and it takes a lot of planning. For some reasons most of my meetings end up on Thursday. 

Before school prep is once again spent making copies, saying hello to the kids, chatting and laughing with them, looking at the stuff they’re building. When kids enter our classroom they have free play until the bell rings and they create quite a bit of stuff. 

Prep 1 is usually spent in a meeting. I meet with learning support to discuss elementary RTI plans for next year, I meet with the curriculum coordinator to discuss elementary curriculum, and sometimes I meet with our elementary principal to go over our plan for the meeting during lunch and recess. It all just depends on the day. Sometimes I have meetings in periods three and four and then rush off to lead a meeting. This teaching life is never boring. I also try to answer all of my emails during this prep.

I always plan to spend period 4 getting ready for my meeting. I review the agenda, I plan out what I am going to say, and I get materials ready. We don’t have a lot of time to meet and we have lots to accomplish during very short time periods so I have to be on top of my game. 

My last prep on day four is spent getting student work ready for Friday Folders. I look at homework from the week, I grade our math spiral review, I prep the newsletter, I file all the work in abc order so it is easy to stuff into the folders. I also get everything I possibly can ready for Friday because I have zero preps until the very end of the day.

Day Five

Day five is exhausting. It is hard to only have prep the last two periods. These two periods are spent writing our weekly newsletter and emailing it out to parents. I also stuff our Friday Folders and put them in student cubbies. Our grade 1-2 team meets on Fridays sometimes to plan our shared RTI periods. Sometimes we meet with our assistant teachers to plan our RTI time. It all depends. 

Now I don’t want to fool you into thinking I always use my prep time wisely! Today I sat and chatted with my assistant teacher for two prep periods. I think it was a good use of my time because the relationships of teachers who work together are so important but it wasn’t my most productive day. It happens to all of us some times. 

 

How do you make sure to use your prep time wisely? Let me know in the comments below. 

Teacher Meeting Time: An essential for teacher and student growth

Teacher Meeting Time: An essential for teacher and student growth

a Quick Aside

First of all, and this is not exactly related to this post, check this stock photo above. I typed in teacher meeting and this was one of the first results on Shutterstock. I found other ones of professional meetings but this one was my favorite. I just like that they’re in some sort of strange classroom situation. Whoever took this photo knows that teachers wear lanyards and have desks in the corners of rooms. There are binders and messy papers around them. A hundreds chart and a few dinosaur and surfboard? nametags are thrown in too. I just love it. Each time I look at it I see something new that makes me laugh. If you haven’t checked out the female teacher’s ID please do so. It’s blank! It kills me!! Now that this is out of the way, let’s get down to business. 

Isn’t this how most teacher meetings begin? Sharing funny stories or events of the day for the first few minutes and then getting down to business. While some people view the chit chat as a waste of time it is actually so important. Teachers need to build relationships with one another in order to grow stronger. Similar to classroom communities a lot of the functionality of a school is based on the teacher community. Teachers need time for chit chat to develop relationships and build community.

In-Service Days

I remember being quite young and hearing my dad talk about teacher in-service days. We had a half day and my dad thought it was ridiculous. Why did teachers need a half day of school to get their work done? Why couldn’t they do their work during regular work days like all other professions? As an accountant, my dad didn’t take time off work to enter data; he did it during the work day and teachers should be able to do the same. They can’t do report cards while children are in school? How incompetent are they? 

Yes, my whole life was filled with these negative talks about teachers. And I did wonder, why couldn’t they get this work done during the school hours? As a current teacher I can assure you that we do complete our report card grades and comments during the school day or likely on our own time on the weekends and after school hours. If we are given time for it during an in-service it is very limited. Teacher in-service time isn’t used for chit-chat and nonsense it is intentionally used to facilitate teacher growth which in turn facilitates student growth. 

There might be a few schools where in-service time is wasted time. I have not worked in any of those schools. I do not know any teachers who have worked in those kinds of schools. Those schools are the exception, not the rule. Let me tell you about the kinds of things teachers accomplish during in-service days and early releases. 

PLC- Professional Learning Communities

A professional learning community or PLC is a data focused group of teachers. At my previous school we met as a PLC every Thursday during early release. In my last district only the elementary had early release as they had the least amount of shared planning time. Middle school and high school PLCs happened during the school day. 

Each PLC meeting would start with some sort of data discussion. Data was our “ticket” in the door.  Data in this case doesn’t always mean an assessment. Perhaps we could have said we brought in evidence of student learning. Sometimes we brought reading logs, pre-assessments, mid-unit assessments, reader’s notebooks, published writing, a quick exit ticket, whatever collected data we wanted to discuss. The what always varied based on the day’s conversation.

Together as a group we shared successes and taught each other new methods that went well. We confided in each other throughout struggles and supported each other to become stronger teachers. We made schedules to cover classes so that we could observe one another.

As we met, interventionists flowed in and out of our meetings. Our math interventionist would come and we could all share how students were doing in the classroom and how they were doing in the intervention. The interventionist would offer up suggestions for our whole class instruction. We shifted kids and made different groups based off of data collected. Our ELL teachers and special education teachers also drifted in and out of the meetings providing input and insight into our practices. We worked together to become better teachers. 

PLC meetings were some of the most powerful meetings I have ever sat in as a teacher. The community of teachers I was with was amazing. The support and focus on continued growth was some of the best I’ve received. You know how sometimes the best learning happens when kids teach other kids? The same can be said for teachers. 

Data Meetings

Teachers collect a lot of data. We complete benchmark reading assessments and students take periodic assessments like MAP or STAR. Teachers then need time to analyze that data and determine implications for teaching. Some data meetings take place during the school day but longer chunks of uninterrupted time are most helpful. 

One district called these meetings Data Retreats and another called them Data Summits. The premise of both meetings was the same. Throughout the year we would get together as a grade level and as a whole school and analyze data together. Through focused questions and activities teachers looked into their teaching and teaching outcomes. Data is a large focus of PLC work so this meeting was sort of like a large scale PLC. 

At times these data meetings span grade levels. When I taught 2nd we would meet with the grade 3 teachers at the beginning of the year to analyze data. We would compare end of year data to beginning of year data. We looked at what stuck over summer and what didn’t. There was no blame placed on any teachers but instead it was looked at as an opportunity for growth. As a team we noticed that we needed to work more on vowel teams and writing about reading. We then made changes to our instruction and reanalyzed throughout the year. We also met with the 1st grade team as we went through our data. They filled us in on any information we might need regarding strategies that worked or didn’t work for certain students. They reflected on their teaching and made plans for the current school year.

Data meetings aren’t always academically focused. At a school I taught at in the US we also had behavior data meetings. We noticed that we referred Black students at a disproportionate rate to their peers. We worked to learn about bias and learned strategies to use within the classroom to teach all students. We worked to refine our behavior policies and create new systems that kept kids in classes. 

Without data meetings teachers don’t have time to analyze what is and is not working. These data meetings need to be focused and intentional. Once we held a data meeting during the school day and substitute teachers floated from grade level to grade level. I was pulled out of over half of my data meeting to deal with behaviors the sub was struggling with. This is why data meetings held on in-service days are better for teachers and in turn better for students. 

Professional Development Sessions

Teachers need professional development in order to grow. The more professional education our teachers receive the better teacher they are for students. Teachers need time to learn new curriculum and strategies for teaching. As a math curriculum leader I lead professional development around answer getting in math and creating problems with multiple entry points. This year as a curriculum team leader I lead professional development on Fountas and Pinnell’s Benchmark Assessment System, mini-lessons, conferring, using writing checklists, writing essential questions, and much more. Without large chunks of time we end up getting half-way through or part of the way and then lose momentum by the next meeting. It can take forever to train or lead people on something if the time needed is not given. Next year my school will adopt a new math curriculum and they’ll need large chunks of time for training. 

Professional development sessions can be so helpful! Once we had a district wide grade level pd afternoon and it was so helpful. We focused on a few areas grade 3 writers were struggling with and how to target those in writer’s workshop and word study. There’s so much to learn as teachers and there’s always room for improvement. 

curriculum writing

Teachers don’t only have to teach, assess, and report on progress. We also have to write curriculum and document curriculum taught. We use Atlas Rubicon to document our curriculum. This year we are working to rewrite all of our science curriculum. We chose to rewrite science to focus on the scientific method and a more hands on approach. We need time to not only document our new curriculum but to discuss curriculum with one another. We’re working on our vertical alignment during the meetings to make sure that each grade level flows into and supports the one after it. Without our in-service time we wouldn’t be able to create a cohesive curriculum for our students to enjoy and explore science. 

It's not work alone in your room time

Imagine a group of students who were just told that they were heading out on a surprise field trip. The excitement would be through the roof. This is how teachers react to classroom work time on an in-service schedule. It is a rare beauty. Our most recent in-service allowed us 30 minutes at the end for independent work in our classrooms. This was a real treat! As you can see in-service days aren’t meant to be work alone in your room kind of days. They’re meant to be engaging professional learning days. So when the opportunity comes to work in your classroom it is so exciting. In fact, I think this is the first one we’ve had all year. That is how rare they are. Usually some sort of committee meeting might be held in this time slot so most teachers wouldn’t even get work time. 

There is work that teacher’s can’t get done in their classrooms while students are there. During many of my preps other classes use my room so I can’t work during that time. I take a teacher taxi to and from school so there is no coming in early or staying late. All I have is the time at school with my students. Some tasks fall away because they aren’t a priority. I wasn’t sitting in my room painting my nails and counting down until the end of the day during my work time. I was in a complete reorganization frenzy. Our organizational system wasn’t working and I was fixing it. Something I didn’t have time to do for weeks. 

why not just have meetings during the day?

We have a weekly meeting during the day. It takes place during our lunch and recess time. We start at 11:40 and it ends at 12:18. That is not enough time to accomplish much. As elementary teachers we have to ensure our kids get ready for recess and watch them until the recess supervisor arrives. This eats away at our time. We have to pick them up from lunch so our meeting ends earlier than other departments- this eats up at our time. After our meeting I rush off to teach math and all but one teacher on our team rushes to teach. Some teachers also teach the period right before. 

Sandwiched into our busy days is this little chunk of meeting time. During our meetings we need to be hyper-focused. We need to enter, forget all the stress and worries of the day, focus on a task and work to complete some sort of learning, and then rush off to teach kids again. Can you imagine a meeting like this? Of course, we all make a commitment to show up as our best selves and collaborate to learn. Sometimes it just doesn’t go that way. 

When students aren’t in school there isn’t any additional sort of pressure. Teachers can fully engage in meetings because there is no running to do list of the rest of the day. There is no stress that in 5 minutes time you need to rush off and teach a math lesson that you didn’t have time to prep because you were at a meeting. It allows time to breathe and relax. I’ll be honest I do find learning on in-service days to be relaxing. Teachers need this stress free time to grow. Teacher growth leads to student growth. 

What sort of scheduled meeting times do teacher have at your school? We have staff meetings after school on Wednesday and monthly in-service days.

What do you do with teacher in-service and meeting time? I’d love to find out more. Leave a comment in the box below! 

Happy New Year! Resolutions for Teachers

Sparkler New Year Teacher Resolutions

Happy New Year! 

I hope this new year brings a lot of great things your way. While I’m not a big fan of resolutions in my personal life, I do always set some in my teacher life. Here are 10 resolutions I think all teachers should have this year. 

1. Build Stronger Relationships

Classrooms rise and fall based on the relationships within. Take time to get to know your students. Each morning or class period when they come in take a moment to greet them by name. Ask them how they’re doing. Acknowledge them when they do great things or when they attempted to do great things but didn’t quite make it. The more positive your relationships with your students the better atmosphere within your classroom.

Create stronger relationships with the adults that pop into your room too. Check in with them when you see them. Say hello with a smile! Get to know a bit more about them. Even if it is just a teacher who pops in for 10 seconds to pull a kid out. The stronger the relationships between the adults in your classroom the better functioning your classroom will be. Remember it takes a village, you aren’t at this alone. 

2. Become More Culturally Responsive

Over the last few years I have learned a lot about being culturally responsive. I am in no way done learning and have so much that I am still learning. I learned a lot in 2018 and I’m working to learn ever more in 2019.

Every educator should strive to be culturally responsive. We have racist educators all over the country and even the world. At Halloween, we had teachers dress up as the boarder wall and Mexicans. As if that’s not bad enough we had more teacher defending what they did because they’re “good people.” Now, let’s get real here, good people aren’t racist. They just aren’t. We can’t ignore the fact that this was blatant racism. Sometimes we like to find comfort in calling racist acts things like “a lapse in judgement” or “insensitive” while it is both of those things it is also straight up racist. Step outside of your comfort zone.

It isn’t enough to not be racist, we have to be actively anti-racist. 

Ok, so how do you become more culturally responsive and anti-racist? Good question. First of all you must understand that it is not a member of the global majority’s problem to fix racism. You also learn about terms like global majority and don’t brush off politically correct terms but learn why the shift in language is important. It is also not their problem to educate you when you don’t understand something or when you feel uncomfortable or attacked. Ok now here are some easy steps to follow to become more culturally responsive.

  1. Follow people of the global majority on social media. We all have social media so do a little review of who you’re following. If you are only following people who look and think like you (or slightly differently but pretty much the same) then this is a place to start. Your social media should be both a window and a mirror. I would argue a window more than a mirror.  If your social media just provides a mirror to you then you must find some windows. I started with my social media this year and it made a world of difference. 
  2. Teach about different cultures year round… and accurately. You better not be pulling out resources about Black Americans for the first time on Martin Luther King Jr Day. Don’t teach that Martin Luther King Jr’s dream has been realized in this country when there is inequality all around us. When I was in college we learned that the old way of teaching went like this… Imagine a storage room near a classroom and in the storage room there are different boxes filled with books and activities related to people of the global majority. During certain points in the year the box comes off the shelf and is taught about and then returned. Oh, it’s Black History Month, let’s learn about slavery and civil rights. Oh, it’s Cinco de Mayo let’s learn about Mexicans. Time to learn about Native Americans because it is Thanksgiving. Oh it’s Woman’s History Month let’s learn about women’s place in history. Let me tell you that I went to college a long time ago but there are classrooms who still pull out the boxes (perhaps figuratively), feature a global majority group, and put the boxes back on the shelf. We have to do better. 
  3. Buy resources created by members of that culture. Is the resource about Black History Month created by a Black American? What better way to make sure your resource is accurate than get it directly from the source. Also what better way to support people of the global majority than to purchase resources from them. Don’t do cute, do meaningful and educational and accurate. 
  4. Examine your own bias and explore your identity. Sometimes I see posts on Instagram or Twitter and they rub me the wrong way. When this happens I reflect a bit and try to decide why that happened. Then I do research and try to educate myself further. We all need to do this. I was raised in a white family in a white conservative neighborhood. I didn’t know much about people who were different than me. I can’t live in that bubble and I need to realize that I may have certain biases because of this. I need to recognize my own bias and work to learn more and confront it. We can all learn more about ourselves and grow. 
  5. Remember: You don’t get to decide what is an isn’t racist. If a First American says using the word tribe or spirit animal is offensive to their culture you stop. If someone says it is offensive to dress in their cultural dress, you don’t. As a person who is not a member of the global majority, I listen to those who are and take the lead from them. Just because you just don’t see racism on a daily basis does not mean that it does not exist. Recognize that privilege and try to do something for the cause. It isn’t enough to not be racist we must actively be anti racist if we want to see true equality in our future. Isn’t that what we want for all of our students? 

3. collaborate More WIth Your Peers

First of all, if you skipped number 2 because it made you feel uncomfortable or because you’re not racist go back and read it- it is 100% meant for you. 

Stop. Collaborate and Listen. Can you ever start writing about collaboration without a little nod to Vanilla Ice? I don’t think so. Collaboration is what makes or breaks teachers. I have learned so much through collaborating with peers. A district I used to work for constantly repeated that the smartest person in the room was the room. Think about that. We can learn so much from each other and I think collaborating is sometimes overlooked. You are surrounded by so many smart, wonderful and brilliant teachers-why not collaborate more with them. Even if you disagree about education philosophies you can always learn something new through collaboration. 

4. Create a Classroom With More Joy

Once when I was teaching in WI we had to write our SLO about reading. We emailed a professor at a nearby university because our district always said students below grade level should move up 1.5 years over the course of a year. We wanted to read more research on this practice before setting our goal. Instead of emailing us back with any research she emailed us to say we should set a grade level goal based on joy within the classroom. While it didn’t work for our SLO, I think creating more joy in the classroom is always a good idea. 

This resolution goes hand in hand with the first resolution on this list. How often are kids smiling in your classroom? Do you hear laughter coming from within? Are kids eager to learn and engage in learning? Are student interests at the heart of your classroom?

5. Use Your Planning Time Intentionally

Sometimes I like to pretend that I always use my planning time wisely but I don’t. Sometimes I spend my planning time chit chatting with my teacher friends who also have prep. Sometimes I spend my planning time catching up with my assistant. Sometimes I use my planning time to walk a lap around our entire school, which is sometimes needed. All of the things I do can be great but they can also get in the way of the work that needs to be done. 

Sharing assessment data and planning next steps for certain students is important to chat about with my assistant teacher. Getting ideas and brainstorming is helpful chatting with my teacher friends. Taking a walk while reflecting on an idea is useful. 

Plan out what you use each prep time for and stick to it. I started doing that at the start of the school year and it has been a game changer. First of all, I am so much more productive during the day. I hardly bring anything home anymore. Second of all my classroom has run so much smoother. Of course from time to time I have to step away from my scheduled out preps due to a meeting or something but it really does work wonders. 

6. Learn a New Skill

When was the last time you learned a new skill? If you are a teacher and you can’t remember then that is a problem. This past year I became a Google Certified Educator, maybe that would be a place to start. Read a book, try something new, engage in a twitter chat, do SOMETHING NEW. 

Right now I am working on my Level 2 Google educator certification and it is tricky. Mostly because I teach first grade with one iPad so I don’t have a lot of use for all the cool Google features but I am learning a lot. Learning is what is important. Seek out opportunities for learning and growth in your professional life. 

7. Organize Yourself and Your Time

A major goal of mine within the classroom is organization. If you only know me outside of school, you’ll think this is hilarious because I am the least organized person in the world. At school, I must have a Sasha Fierce type of alter ego who is extremely organized. (If you do not know who Sasha Fierce is then you need to hit up Google ASAP or unfollow this blog #beyonceforlife) 

This resolution obviously relates to resolution number 5. I do have one schedule prep (not the whole time but a chunk) set aside for organization. When I am organized the world is happy. I don’t have the most organized class this year and we are taking time each month to work on different organizational goals. Currently, we’re working on putting caps back on markers. We’re in the midst of a serious marker crisis. Each day we’re losing upwards of 7 markers due to cap issues. I find this insane! We might have a marker lockdown if this sitch continues into February. Also, if you have any solutions, hit me up! 

8. Increase Student Engagement

More student engagement leads to more joy. (Something I just made up but can probably be proven true.) Please see resolution number 4 about joy. Every once in a while I’ll do a quick engagement survey to see where we’re at. A post about completing an engagement survey will be up on the blog soon. You might want to subscribe so that you don’t miss out. 

Increase engagement by following student interest. We recently read The Quickest Kid in Clarksville and my kids were fascinated by Wilma Rudolph. We then searched our classroom library database and found Wilma Unlimted in the grade 4 classroom library. We had to run to that classroom immediately and interrupt their learning to get it! We were so excited! This story is LONG. Like really long for first graders. It also uses so many hard words. I thought for sure our class was going to give up the quest to learn more about Wilma but we did not. After reading (over the course of 3 weeks) the story they wanted to see if there were any youtube videos of her racing. There were. Now some kids are researching further. This was not in the plans. I just read The Quickest Kid in Clarksville with the intention of focusing on character actions and feelings but we ended up doing a little research on Wilma Rudolph. Instead of learning about characters we learned that readers can find out more about what they read by researching. The squeals of delight that came from our classroom as the kids saw a picutre on google that was also in the text wmade this completely worthwhile. 

9. Use Less Worksheets

Yeah… we gotta talk. It might be time for you and the copier to start seeing other people. I’m not saying you can’t be friends and see each other from time to time but you don’t need what it’s giving you on the daily. Trust me you and your students will be better off if you just take a break. I don’t make many copies at all. We use a lot of whiteboards and scrap paper to work on problems. Recently our school’s copier has been on the fritz and it has caused me to rethink a few things. Maybe just play pretend that the copier is broken. Can you still deliver your content without the paper? Maybe not, then make your copies but maybe you can reimagine your class and find a new possibility. 

10. Create a Better Work/Life Balance

Since living in Poland my work/life balance has hit the ultimate balance. This is partially due to the culture and the expectations of teachers at my school. I wouldn’t be honored as a teacher or be considered so dedicated if I worked all weekend or extra long hours each day. People would be concerned about my time management and just think I was straight up crazy. There is more to life than teaching. Happy teacher, happy classroom. Stressed teacher, stressed classroom. 

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Happy New Year! 

Take a moment to leave a comment with one of your resolutions for the rest of this school year!

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom