Saturday, June 28, 2014

How My Students Rated Me This Year

End of the year reviews from my administrators? Yep. They matter. I've gotta say, though, I'm a pretty reflective teacher, and I inevitably end up with an entire page of things on my own that I'd like to improve upon in the upcoming year. Chances are, I will have beat my admin to the critical punch, but I appreciate the insights from another lens.

What really have made a difference for me are the reviews from my students, which I will share in just a moment. First, I'd love to send a shout-out to a virtual colleague and mentor I admire: Larry Ferlazzo encouraged me years ago to take my year-end student feedback a step further, which I did. This year marks the first time I'm taking it public, though!

With elementary students, it's a fine balance to encourage their critique without feeding them ideas. The relationships built with them throughout the year helps them understand the need for honesty, too. We do several mini-ratings throughout the year, when they have the chance to practice being honest with how they are feeling and the extent to which an activity was academically useful. Of course, they are 8 and 9 year olds, so while they have a knack for keeping things real for you, some of their answers will delight and entertain you.

If you ask for, and encourage honesty, you should be ready for it. ;-)

So, here's how the feedback form is set up: (Again, thank you, Larry, as several of these elements are modified from your ideas)

  • A list of activities that are common in our class (differing each year)--rated on a scale of 1, 2, or 3, with one being the lowest, and 3 the highest. 2 is obviously in the middle. 
  • The first time these activities are listed, students are asked how much they like them. 1=hated it, 3=loved it. Examples include: reading in class, when Ms. Wendi does interactive read-alouds, writing extended responses to questions, meeting other students via technology (Skype, hangout, blogging, etc.), reading at home, playing games, drawing visuals, and when Ms. Wendi creates visuals.
  • The second time these activities are listed, students are asked how much they learned from these activities. 1=you didn't learn much from it, 3=you learned a lot from it.
  • They were then asked to rate me, again with 1, 2, or 3--1=ooh, needs some help, 2=alright, 3=awesome ;-).
  • Other questions asked about the pace of the class, whether they would be interested in having me as a teacher again, and 2 things I could do to be a better teacher next year. 
Results: (drumroll!) (Donning thick skin!)

(I feel it is useful to read it all aloud because of my students' language proficiency levels. Of course, you may choose not to.)

The least liked activities were: reading at home, writing extended responses, and reading in class. Other activities that had a handful of 2's: games and drawing visuals. 
All other activities were rated with 3's.

About half responded with all 3's for how much they learned from the activities. Those who claimed otherwise, rated reading at home and playing games (surprisingly honest!) the lowest. Writing responses to questions came in a close third. The plusses and smiles came with their ratings for when I create visuals!

The areas I need to work on most? According to my little experts, I talk too much and need to work on class discipline, although the pace of the class is "just right". Points taken--although this is where the proof  lies for me in the value of these surveys--it really makes me think of when I talked "too much" and how to tweak my instruction and management accordingly. Makes for far deeper reflection than any administrative eval, at least for me. 

A couple of other 2's told me I could be more patient, fair, and friendly. At the same time, I also had notes in the margin for "be more nice", "asome saus", A-, and "All 3's". It's helpful to know they believe I know what I'm doing, am organized, prepared, and work hard. But I know I also need to work on getting to know them better, earlier--and yes, I need to temper my expectations in a friendlier ("nicer") way, and express frustrations calmly. (which I thought I tried hard to do--but like I said, kids will keep it real for you!) 

And the final question? 2 things I can do to be a better teacher next year? Well, let me give you a sampling. :-)
  • give more hugs more often
  • keep trying good
  • don't be mean
  • make them all read
  • be nice
  • do better in writing, reading, "tung twisted"
  • do more activities
  • more poetry and nice
  • learn from kids
  • give more things
  • love more people
  • be nice and keep help people
  • read us more books
  • teach us Spanish
  • give us free candy
  • give us lots of hugs
  • read better (hmmm?)
  • she so cool
  • she can be cool and happy
  • shut everybody's mouth
  • how to talk in Spanish
  • give us notebooks 
  • give us free pencils
So, you get the idea. Honest, and although basic, you can see where the concerns of the kids lie. And again, their comments get in my head to serve as superior reflective catalysts. 

But, the kicker this year? Apparently I was focusing my efforts in the very wrong place, as evidenced by some final pieces of advice. :-)

And yep, definitely saved the best for last here:
  • "geting new shose"
  • "find a men"
  • "put make up"
Kids, thank you for definitely keeping things real for me!  

Don't forget to be awesome this summer!
Ms. Wendi

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Meet the Authors

Posted by Dave Orphal on Saturday, 06/21/2014 (Co-written with Ms. Wendi Pillars)

“Oh, my God!  Mr. Orphal!  They are so f*#@ing cute!”
I glared at Ashley, horror and shock on my face.  Was she far enough away from the computer we were using to Skype with the 3rd graders?  Did they hear her?
To her credit, Allison was just as horrified at her slip.  Both her hands leapt to her mouth, her eyes growing wide.  “I’m so sorry, Mr. Orphal,” she whispered.  “It just slipped out.”
At the computer in the front of the room, Analicia had Ms. Wendi’s class capitivated and engaged.  While her book was written for much younger children, being about the numbers one through ten, she had an active audience asking after each number, “I’ve drawn six flowers.  What do you have six of?”
This is the power of virtual collaboration.  Ms. Wendi’s classroom is on the other coast from my students in Oakland.
This day, my class had arrived at the penultimate experience in our Children’s Book Unit.  After weeks of researching Burkina Faso, reading professional children’s books, designing our grading rubric, story-boarding, character development, and drawing, our books were done.
I was on the phone with Wendi Pillars, my colleague and co-facilitator in the NEA/NBPTS/CTQ Teacher Leader Institute.  After talking about our cohort of nascent teacher leaders and our up-coming webinar, we got to just gabbing about shop.  I was sharing with her about the children’s books that my students were writing and about how their final drafts were due the Monday after Spring Break.  I had even sent all of my students a meme via text message…

That’s when Ms. Pillars had the idea.  “Do you think your students would like to read their books to my kids?”  It was brilliant!
So we each got to work.
Ms. Wendi’s students were excited to hear from “real authors”, and to see what real highschool students in California were like. “That’s a long way away!”, one exclaimed. Her students just so happened to be reading some poetry the week before about a boy who had moved from El Salvador to San Francisco, so their thinking was primed. Although, one of the illustrations depicted the boy flying over the city with his friends--which in turn prompted P to ask if people could fly in San Fran. Clearly some clarification was needed, and a little more context, but the motivation was high.
In Oakland, I presented the idea of reading our books to a group of 3rd graders.  Since only 4-5 students would be able to read, I made it an extra-credit assignment and asked for volunteers.  In each of my two Introduction to Education classes, we had five students who wanted to read.
For some of them, that meant even more finishing touches on their books.
For others, they felt that they needed to polish their dramatic reading skills.
For the two teachers, it meant practicing with Skype to make sure that the connection would actually work on the day of the performance.
Ms. Wendi’s kids were a little nervous about “meeting the big kids”. So, they practiced. They practiced introducing themselves, and more importantly, asking appropriate, pertinent questions that would relate to what Mr. Orphal’s students were reading. They also had graphic organizers for each story to help them focus and remember;  they wrote down the title of each book, one question they had for the author and a favorite part. Following each reading, her students asked questions of each of the authors. Sometimes demonstrating comprehension and pertinence. And...sometimes not.  “What’s your favorite sport?” one asked. “What is it like to be in highschool?” “Can you tell us about the EOC’s?”
And although slightly embarrassed by the disconnect between some of the questions and the stories the 3rd graders had just heard, it was also insightful to realize how they felt a) the desire to reach out and b) comfortable enough to do so. We could definitely tell what concerns were uppermost in their minds.
I was so thrilled with my volunteers.  Our first reader was courageous, but read too fast, and didn’t hold the pictures up to the computer’s camera long enough.  My other authors learned from her mistakes and did much better.

In reflection, I could not have asked for a better day.  My readers had a great time.  The class laughed and cheered one another.  Wendi’s third graders didn’t hear the expletive, and Ashley learned a powerful lesson about being a role model for younger children. Both groups of Ms. Wendi’s kids also learned that kids can be “real authors”, too, and recalled surprising details about some of them and their stories. Their reflections included comments about the story content, about the authors themselves, and even about their writing process, with unabashed admiration.
Collaboration definitely takes extra time and preparation, but in the end, the connections forged are what make the learning memorable, what make the learning stick. Ms.Wendi’s kids learned a tremendous lesson--that even kids can write real stories that teach real lessons from their own lives, like working hard, finding your own talent, and using your imagination. “I couldn’t have asked for more from this experience”, she said with excitement. “My students really got it.”
At the end of each period, I asked for a show of hands from students who wished that they also had the opportunity to read their books.  As every had shot up, I thought, “This is why I’m a teacher.”
Ms. Wendi teaches 3rd Grade in NC; David teaches at the Education Academy in CA.  She and David co-facilitated one of the NEA/NBPTS/CTQ Teacher Leader Initative Cohorts this past year.  

Monday, June 9, 2014

Flat Stanley: A Visit from MA to NC

Guess who came to visit us?!

Flat Stanley arrived in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago and has enjoyed a few little adventures. He's been a lot of fun, has met lots of kids and animals--and he's even flown on an airplane!

Keep reading to see some pictures from his visit. 

Day one with us--welcome to 3rd grade in the south,
Flat Tic-tac-toe Stanley!
Flat Stanley scored some points playing indoor golf during
Physical Education (PE) class. 
Here he is, getting ready to tee off.
Fore!!! (Five? He was confused, and
thought he had to count higher.)
Flat Stanley definitely needs some work
on his camouflage skills. 
Flat Stanley tries "bus-surfing".
(Please don't try this at home. FS is now a
trained professional.)
Flat Stanley wows the crowds on a nearly
"Carolina blue day". 
Flat Stanley joined the third graders in setting
goals for their summertime. 
Flat Stanley and Ms. Wendi arrive in Washington, DC,
and this is the first thing they saw! Do you know
what the name of this famous landmark is?

F.S. found inspiration in Ms. Wendi's favorite
D.C. monument. Can you guess which one
this is?
FS took a piggyback ride with Ms. Wendi on her
morning jog, and this is what he saw.
President Obama heard F.S. was coming, so he left the porch
lights on. (Can't talk about the visit--very secretive stuff,
you know.)
Another view of the Washington Monument and the Capitol
Building in Washington, DC. Can you guess where FS is in this
picture? Hint: look closely on the left and right of the photo!
FS really loved the plane ride. This was when
we were almost back home in North Carolina.
What landform did he see?
Flat Stanley learns about honeybees in North Carolina!
No fear, and no stings--but lots of honey!! Sweet!
Brave, brave FS!
 First bees at Ms. Wendi's, then a killer parrot,
belonging to our phenomenal music teacher.
He remained unscathed and ready for more action.
(Flat Stanley, that is.)

Flat Stanley jammed out on some African drums
at school. Notice that no one else is playing--the
kids were pretty enthralled by his skills. 

Flat Stanley's talents know no bounds. Here
he once again demonstrated his surprising
musical talents. Looks like a natural to me.

Flat Stanley met our Lion Cub. He really liked the saying
about Courage, and he says he's going to remember that from
now on. He wants to keep trying, because there are so many
things he wants to do!

Thank you for sharing Tic-Tac-Toe Flat Stanley with us! He had a pretty incredible time here, seeing so many different things. We wish he could report back to you later this summer about more of his adventures. Is it ok if he stays to play with us longer?

Dear readers, what suggestions do you have for us to do with Flat Stanley?
North Carolina readers, what are some great places YOU love to visit that you think we should visit, too?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

We're not done yet!!

As we head into the last few days of school, it's
muy muy importante to stay motivated and Keep On Learning!

Tell us some interesting projects and learning activities you are doing to keep on learning during your last days of school. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Georgia O'Keeffe: Art and Literacy

It all started with our unit on The Moon. Near the end of the unit, we focused on poetry about the moon, from the 1800's to the current age of space exploration. 

We read about a lot of changes--in technology, attitude, and thinking!

We really looked at how ideas about the moon were expressed differently before and after actual space travel. Georgia O'Keeffe was just one person who believed in the power and draw of the Moon's mystery, especially her Ladder to the Moon. (click the link to see how we started with observing and wondering.) 

We read two biographies about her, and also listened to another biography about her on Brainpop. We learned about and discussed several of her popular pieces of work, and what made her style of painting so unique.

Here are some favorite facts from the kids:
Did you know she loved to look at and paint objects super close-up?
Did you know she painted with her emotions, not just what she saw?
Did you know she liked to paint skulls with flowers? And they're not creepy?
Did you know she lived in New York and New Mexico?
Did you know she painted until she was very very old?
Did you know she had a ladder leaning against her house in New Mexico?
Did you know that she loved nature?

As a culminating activity we practiced comparing and contrasting by creating a replica of O'Keeffe's Ladder to the Moon. There were some stipulations, though. 
1) They only had 10 minutes.
2) They could only use hands and construction paper.  No scissors. (crayons were also used if there was time)

As you can see, their interpretations of O'Keeffe's work were similar but also very different. And the kids enjoyed the challenge of their art task. The focus remained on writing, but the art happened between the brainstorming and the final written piece for comparing and contrasting. 
As usual, students taped or glued their brainstorming notes and graphic organizers on the back of their art. 

Ultimately, we experienced firsthand how the act of creating can help us with our thinking, writing, and understanding. 

How do YOU integrate art and literacy? Who are some of your favorite artists and pieces of artwork?