Teaching Strategies: Are They Worth It?

img_0384Teaching strategies is a topic I give a lot of thought to. Hattie’s Visible Learning and effect size is getting much of my attention as of late. The FIT teaching approach as a framework for growth and leadership piques my curiosity. Carol Dwerks’s Mindsets make mind sense. And, the teachers throwing out grades (#ttog) movement has me focused on feedback versus letter grades.

Finding effective teaching methods has been a goal of mine for the past five years. I have to admit that I go into most teaching situations with an idea and content that has to be covered. Rarely do I have time to think about how to best help students learn the concepts, ideas, and content with a scaffold that helps provide structure and support in order to move learning forward.

So, I hunt for the elusive silver bullet that will help me make a difference for my students and colleagues. Recently, I purchased a book of strategies that had examples and processes for over 50 types like anticipation/reaction guide, discussion partners, mind maps, think-pair-share, jigsaw, etc. I know that I will be able use many of these with success in my classroom.

One of the problems I’m trying to solve is how to effectively teach vocabulary. img_0383I teach three sections of 9th grade theology and there is a lot of new vocabulary that then represents ideas or concepts that are highly elusive in the best of times. So, I was searching for strategies and came across a website for Marzano research that offers access to over 300 teaching strategies for $30.00 per month yearly subscription. I was wondering if anyone has used this subscription service and whether it is worth the price?

You Might Be A Teacher If….

Happy Birthday to the world’s newest teenager!


I have been working on my theology 9 curriculum a lot this summer. So far no vacation yet nor in the near future. Maybe next year. I really enjoy writing curriculum so this is by no means a chore. However, it does take humongous blocks of time to think through and process the sequencing of learning experiences and aligning them to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops Framework for high schools.

In my spare time I’m taking an online course toward a graduate certificate to teach online (can we see where the future of education is moving?). Oh, let’s not forget professional development via social media along with research about how the brain works, mindsets, visible learning, vocabulary strategies, and FIT teaching. It’s a good thing I gave up all my hobbies years ago. I do love what I do and I know the payoff will come in being prepared with intentionally designed lessons when the kids come back to school.

If all this sounds familiar or you have found yourself nodding along, then you’re probably a teacher. If you’re thinking nope, work begins at 8 am and ends at 5 pm, then you’re probably in a different occupation and I thank you for visiting my blog. I actually dated a girl in college who really believed that teachers could just be done for the day when school got out! If the only time you can go on vacation is when the airlines are charging the most, then you’re probably a teacher. If you have the luxury of pulling your kids out of class for a week or two during the school year (most likely the week before a quarter ends) because you found cheap tickets to Waldo’s World, then you’re probably not a teacher.

I would just love to meet some of those people who say that teachers get to have the summers off. Or, and I love this one, teachers get twelve weeks of vacation in the summer, plus two weeks at Christmas, and a week long spring break. And the always charming, teachers are overpaid.

The old adage, “those who can do, those who can’t teach,” had to have come from someone who never spent any number of years teaching. Now I’m not angry or jealous of those who think these thoughts or those who might even express them, because I truly love what I do and I am blessed to be able to touch the future every day. To those of you that don’t understand a teachers life, I pray for you every day. And to those of you that have been nodding as you’re reading, I pray for you too. Let’s keep the profession classy and never stop being there for one another.
 

30 Goals Challenge: Exercise 2

Quite a while back I began Shelly Sanchez Terrell‘s The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers: Small Steps to Transform your Teaching (I carry the book with me everywhere Shelly). I have been so busy that I tend to look at the cover and sigh, saying, “I will get back around to you one of these days.” Well today is the day! And I am going to Blog about it. My posts might not be real lengthy, but I hope to cause you, dear reader, to pause and think. Think about how we can become the best darn teachers in the world for the world’s best kids.

As part of exercise 2, I am creating goals and my teaching manifesto. I’m not sure of being at the manifesto part yet, but I do have goals. I used a tool called Buncee to create the stunning visual below. I also have a copy posted in my classroom for all to see. What are your goals for this school year?

My 2016 30 Goals Challenge.

My 2016 30 Goals Challenge.

 

One Block at A Time: I’m Just Learning

Following education, technology, pedagogy, brain research, as well as a plethora of other educational trends and issues has been a passion of mine over the past half decade (does the seem to look like a lot more time?). What has been weighing most on my mind as an in the trenches teacher for the past three years is, how can I become a GREAT teacher?
img_0475 I don’t want to just settle for average. I mean, my kids have enough average teachers every day. I want to be up there with elite teachers, teachers like Paul Solarz, Dave Burgess, Michael Matera, Nicholas Provenzano, Starr Sackstein, Shelly Sanchez, Alice Keeler, Joy Kirr, and Vicki Davis. These teachers are passionate about what they do and make a difference for not only the students they teach but also for the teachers that teach other students. These elite teachers have an impact on my classes here in Iowa City.
One of the things that I am coming to realize this year is that many of the trends and issues I was following didn’t or haven’t mentioned the six fundamental teaching strategies that form the basis from whence great teachers spring. My current research into the realm of educational psychology and how we learn began with reading just a bit of John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. I got just a little ways into the book before I realized that I needed to read Hattie’s and Yates’s book Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn. While reading this book, going through a number of highlighters, and taking many notes, I began to realize that there was something missing from my educational foundation!

Back in college we didn’t really have any textbooks that I can recall ever buying or reading that really focused on how people learn. I recently came upon the following articles in my Flipboard feed;

The Internet Makes Us Stupid and Here’s Why, We Need to Rewrite the Textbook on How to Teach Teachers, and How Has Google Affected the Way Students Learn? These all helped to lead me to the following documents:

  1. Deans for Impact (2015). The Science of Learning. Austin, TX: Deans for Impact.
  2. National Council on Teacher Quality (2016). Learning About Learning: What Every New Teacher Needs to Know. 
  3. Behnke, Rachel. The Fundamental 5: The Formula for Quality Instruction: A Guide for Administrators. TCEC Conference.
Now that I know the basics, I feel that I can move forward and better understand how to become a GREAT teacher. What was missing from my own teacher prep program has been located and I can rectify the deficiency and finally move forward. And, so I begin building, one block at a time (I knew there was a missing piece somewhere).

Make the Most Important Things the Most Important

I would like to become an expert at teaching and learning. I can find a lot of research about how to become an expert artist, musician, or athlete, but nothing about how to be at the top of my game in teaching.  
Can a teacher become an expert? What should they become expert in? Content? Psychology? Assessment? Curriculum? Relationships? There is so much conflicting research out there that I can’t make up my mind about what to focus on.

Since I have four distinctly different courses that I prepare for every day and some research says that it takes 10,000 hours of intense study to become an expert, where would I be able to find 40,000 hours to become expert in each area? When will I be able to find the time to make a lasting impact on our profession, like writing a book?
Even if I completely ignored my family and just focused on becoming an expert, I don’t think I would have the time (my work/life balance would pretty much suck too).

So I guess my question comes down to, how does one decide on what is most important? Is Visible Learning more important than understanding formative assessment? Should being a team player come before shoring up my own skills or vice versa? 

EXPlore Like A Pirate, Teach Like a Pirate, Learn Like a Pirate, Standards Based Grading, Throwing Out Grades, quizzes, tests, UBD, PLC, lesson planning, research, professional development, genius hour, innovation, creating versus consuming, portfolio assessment, priority standards, technology.

If you have a suggestion, drop me a line, I’m drowning any way 😉 

                                 

What Makes a Catholic School Catholic?

This is my first Blog about Catholic schools and theology. I am a teacher at heart, but the BIG eternal questions have begun to dominate my time. The seriousness of trying to get others to Heaven has been weighing heavily on my mind as a new school year has begun.
Catholic School

First and foremost a Catholic school should be the face of Christ to the world. The very first question we in Catholic education must ask ourselves is, will what we are doing help our students to become saints? A very close second question should be, what are we doing to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life? I teach high school theology, junior high religion, a college and careers class, and a mobile computer science principals class. I teach in a Catholic school! But, how is a Catholic school any different from a public school or a charter school? According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are three types of Catholic elementary and secondary schools.”(There) are parochial schools, which are associated with particular parishes; diocesan schools, which are associated with the larger diocesan unit; and private order schools, which are associated with specific groups within the Catholic church, such as the Christian Brothers, Dominican, Jesuit, and Marianist Orders (see full statistics here).”

In choosing to send my children to a Catholic school as well as 20 percent of my meager income, I expect that they will have theology or religion class on a daily basis because we all know from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that our purpose here on earth is to know, love, and serve God in this life so as to be happy with Him eternally. I choose not to send my children to public schools because most public schools are bigger and I want my children to be part of a smaller albeit strong academic community of disciples responding to the call of Christ. I also expect my children to learn charity by serving the culture of life through total giving of self. I expect a Catholic school to ground my children in the mission, sacramental life, and magisterial teachings of the Church. I want everyone of my students to be able to combat social relativism, know what and why the Church teaches what it does, and then be able to defend and apply that teaching to their lives.

I came across the following article recently by Jason Adams, “Raising Religious & Moral Standards for Catholic High School Students,” and after just one year of teaching high school theology I concur with his findings. I am especially disappointed that theology (the study of God) is not given the same academic status (rigor, or as I prefer, vigor) as the rest of the curriculum. This all begins and ends with the culture of the school. If the culture in a Catholic school is not clearly focused on Christ, if it is at all caustic, negative, or even doubtful about Church teachings, then students will pick up on this and theology or religion will become a touchy-feely-everyone-sing-kumbya-and-be-happy class because the tenants of our faith really don’t matter. If all a Catholic school does differently than a public school is pay lip service by “looking” Catholic and praying, then is it really a Catholic school?

In my opinion, theology is probably the most academically challenging course a student can have. In theology we are trying to understand God, to prove that He even exists. I have a lot of priest friends and one of them told me about a class where he was talking about concepts like eternity, God being outside time, and the uncreated creator. At one point he stated, “I only began to be able to understand this concept enough to explain it to others about five years ago.” His advice to me that same day was, “we all should be aware that if we don’t practice what we preach, then we begin to lose that which we once knew.” Theology is definitely not like learning to ride a bike. We will never fully understand God in a lifetime of committed theological study, but we can begin to know Him better and be able to evangelize others through this study.

One of Adams’s solutions for making Catholic schools more Catholic is,

          “Students should be made accountable for learning, retaining,
           and applying the content of the faith. They should read primary
           documents, research matters of faith and morality, write in-depth
          analytical papers, take notes frequently, and give quality individual
          presentations. They should be exposed to adult thinking about the faith
           from their teachers, guest speakers, and other sources such as articles
          from Catholic periodicals and audio/video presentations from orthodox
          theologians. Accountability for learning also means frequent testing and
          honest evaluations of the quality of students’ work. Religion courses
          should be anything but cupcake classes, considering the volume and
          complexity of theological concepts that they survey.”

This is a serious charge to undertake and sometimes stake holders at Catholic schools get sucked into the idea of the school having a “Catholic identity” but get distracted by numbers of graduates attending college (don’t get me wrong here as I want all my students and children to attend college, but not at the cost of their eternal happiness), numbers of students taking advanced placement or honors classes, or even numbers of students scoring high on state achievement tests. Many Catholic schools have a Mass, pray, and have kids wear uniforms, but does this alone make the school truly Catholic? Most Catholic schools have theology courses but at many of those schools people continue to see theology as a fluff class. The question often is, how can you assess my son or daughter on religion? So, the conclusion is that it’s a feelings course with an automatic A attached. We cannot afford to do this to our children especially in an era when Catholic church numbers are dropping drastically. In May, the publication Crux published a finding from a Pew Research survey which showed that only sixteen percent of Millennials (those people born between 1981 – 1996) identify as Catholic (see article here).

Religion should be at the heart of every Catholic school’s educational program and research has proven that Catholic schools, religious orders, and the priesthood begin to thrive when there is a commitment to the Magisterium, the principles of Catholic faith, and the moral life of the church. Students need to be exposed to the roots of our Catholic Faith and its relevance and application to contemporary living and faith issues. If Catholic teachers and administrators really took to heart what the Church teaches and the eternal implications of what we do here on earth have on the next part of our journey, then we would be on our knees daily as a staff praying for the students and families we are privileged to serve. As St. Theresa of Calcutta was fond of saying, “I see and adore the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

Technology, A Blessing and A Curse

Always on, connected 24/7 always carrying more technology than the astronauts involved in the Apollo moon landing can be both a blessing and a curse. As I tried to follow along with the #NotAtISTE2015 group and all the wonderful presentations from ISTE 2015 I realized that I could not keep up. It was too mentally stimulating. I felt like my mind was on information over load. I realized that I need a break!

It seems as though I have lived, breathed, and soaked in social media and education for six years straight. I believe that everyone needs to take a vacation or even a staycation (is that even a word?). Needless to say, I’m taking the month of July off. No social media, no blogging, no Voxing, no Twitter. Unfortunately, Email never goes away. If I didn’t keep up with that at least every other day, I would most likely have over 1,000 Emails by August 1st.
July 2015 Calendar
One of the first people I began following on Twitter was Dr. Doug Belshaw. He (@dajbelshaw) started taking a month away from social media in 2007. He called it Belshaw Black Ops. Doug has the right idea, we all need to take a break from our always on society. I too am going to focus on reading books during July and spending time with my family (Coach D – I will also NOT be following news stories).

Yesterday I read a blog post written by another Twitter friend of mine, David Geurin (@DavidGeurin). He is a high school principal, blogger, and moderator of #MOedchat. You can read David’s post here. One thing from his post hit home and it hit me hard. He said, “I will pull back as I completely restructure my time. You see, there are five people in my life who are counting on me more than anyone else. They call me husband and dad.” I don’t know why Mr. Geurin’s post resonated so profoundly with me. Is it because we are both married and have four children? Is it because I too feel that my family had been getting whatever dad has left over in the tank after ed chats, school, grading, and student events?

Whatever the reasons, I have these two men to thank for my disappearance from the Twitterverse and digital social media. I’m going to live in the moment, try to dream, relax, and connect with people face to face. I’ll be back in August with #CathTheoEdChat and start gearing up for fall presentations and the 2015-2016 school year, but I’m hoping I can be a better resource to my PLN upon my return.

25 Books to Gnaw on Over the Summer

Games 65986_Barnes_Assessment30 3D-LLAP-254x300 The New Teacher Revolution

Looking to up your game, keep up to date with current trends and research, or develop professionally? Well, look no further because these 25 books are on fire. Quick reads with a plethora of opportunities to step out of your comfort zone into a world of meaningful learning. All of these authors practice what they preach and every one of them is personally approachable and helpful.

Don’t wait for the beginning of next school year! Add some personalized PD to your summer months. You cannot go wrong with these 😎 Please add your summer books to the list in the comments!

Anderson, Mark, and Jackie Beere. Perfect ICT Every Lesson. New York: Crown House, 2013. Print. Save to EasyBib

Barnes, Mark. Assessment 3.0: Throw out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning. Print. Save to EasyBib

Barnes, Mark. Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-centered Classroom. Print.

Bender, William N. Project-based Learning: Differentiating Instruction for the 21st Century. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2012. Print.

Bonk, Curtis Jay. The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009. Print.

Clarke, John H. Personalized Learning: Student-designed Pathways to High School Graduation. Print.

Davis, Vicki A. Reinventing Writing. the 9 Tools That Are Changing Writing, Learning, and Living. New York: Routledge, 2014. Print.

Dueck, Myron. Grading Smarter, Not Harder: Assessment Strategies That Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn. Print.

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:. New York: Ballantine, 2008. Print.

Ferlazzo, Larry. Building a Community of Self-motivated Learners: Strategies to Help Students Thrive in School and beyond. Print.

Gee, James Paul. The Anti-education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning. Print.

Grant, Peggy. Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology. Print.

Gray, David, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo. Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly, 2010. Print.

Hirumi, Atsusi. Online and Hybrid Learning Trends and Technologies. Print.

Horn, Michael B., Heather Staker, and Clayton M. Christensen. Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. Print.

Keeler, Alice and Miller, Libbi. 50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom. Print.

Miller, Matt. Ditch That Textbook: Free Your Teaching and Revolutionize Your Classroom. Print.

Meloy, Judith M. Writing the Qualitative Dissertation: Understanding by Doing. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print.

Ricci, Mary Cay. Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools. Print.

Solarz, Paul. Learn like a Pirate: Empower Your Students to Collaborate, Lead, and Succeed. Print.

Stumpenhorst, Josh. The New Teacher Revolution: Changing Education for a New Generation of Learners. Print.

Terrell, Shelly Sanchez. The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers: Small Steps to Transform Your Teaching. Print.

Tucker, Catlin R. Blended Learning in Grades 4-12: Leveraging the Power of Technology to Create Student-centered Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2012. Print.

Wettrick, Don. Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level. Print

Please add your summer books to the list in the comments!

YAY! School’s out for Summer ;)

You have probably seen the teacher countdowns to the end of the school year. You may have seen or discussed plans for summer vacations. Now taking a break in the form of a vacation is important, but recognize that teachers don’t get the summer off!

IMG_0136

For all of you new teachers or pre-service teachers, let’s hope you aren’t joining the profession for June, July, and August. I will give you a little insight into this teacher’s plans for summer. A little backstory here, I have taught off and on since 1995 and my background is in the social sciences. I was hired this past school year to teach theology, religion, college and careers, and mobile computer science principals (MCSP).

Every content area was new to me, the building and staff were new, and the culture/traditions were new. Needless to say, it has been just like being a new teacher again.

At my school we have finals next week and the school year officially ends May 28th. Woo Hoo! Schools out for summer……. Not really.

I have already been researching and planning differently for next year. One of the online summer courses I’m taking is already running with assignments due NEXT WEEK! I also have a six week online course to help me prepare for the mobile computer science principals class. There goes 1/2 of June and all of July. If that isn’t enough, I will spend another four weeks online from the last week of July until mid August. So that’s six credits over the summer and I will get a stipend instead of credits for MCSP.

What time is left? Time for moving my family to the area, setting up accounts, and maybe a day or two at a water park. I’m not complaining either, I just want people (especially people outside of education) to know that all summer is NOT a huge vacation in the life of a teacher!

Ending Strong

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimjarmo/6011264840/

Creative Commons via jimjarmo

I don’t feel on top of my game today. I know that old adage, “you choose your attitude.” I want to feel good, excited, motivated, inspirational today, but I am literally drained. Some people say, “well it’s that time of year.” Others say, “how many days do we have left?” And still more say, “get ready for your schedule to be disrupted.”

What should we do to make even the small moments of time we have left with our students meaningful? How can we re-charge and motivate ourselves and our students to end the school year strong? I feel as though I have been flying by the seat of my pants all year and now I want to end strong.

This is my first full-year back in the classroom after a five year hiatus and I want to end the year with excitement for me and my students. They don’t want to read any more, they don’t want to do vocabulary or discuss religion any more. It seems as though the kids’ heads are already in summer vacation mode. It feels like pulling teeth just waiting for them to respond.

What will motivate us for the next three weeks so that we can end the school year strong?