A funny thing happened tonight. I was at an educational committee meeting at my church waiting for the meeting to get started. Everyone was engaged in small talk. Soon the discussion turned to parent teacher conferences (the committee has four teachers--including me). They started to talk about how they were going to student led conferences at two schools this year. I listened, as we started this process last year. They seemed a little scared. The two parents listened as well. After a few minutes, I asked the one parent (non-educator), what she thought about the idea. Her response to me was a question: "What is the point?" I explained that the main idea is "to give students ownership over their learning." She then replied, "I like the idea". I think most parents agreed that last years student led conferences were a positive experience. Student led conferences have the following positives for students: 1. Goal Setting: Students need to learn how to set realistic goals and establish ways to achieve these goals. 2. Empowering: Students are given control over their education
. 3. Ownership, Responsibility, and Accountability: Students have to see they are in control of their learning and take ownership for the results.4. Technology: Students use technology to create an "authentic" presentation to share with a real audience.
Plus, with online grades, it is very easy and clear why grades are what they are. 5. Engagement: Parents, teachers and students engage in honest dialogue (many kids will say what I might have had a hard time stating). 6. Attendance: Over 80% of our students and parents found time to head to school for the 25 minute conference.7. Meta-cognition: Students learned how to self-evaluate and think about their learning. 8. Organizational and oral communication skills: They are prepared, have an agenda to follow, and have to explain their strengths and weaknesses to a "live" audience. I am sure that there are other positives of student led conferences and some drawbacks not mentioned. However, I think that the positives far outweigh the traditional conference. When we moved to student led conferences, our staff had similar concerns about how conferences would work and if it was a good idea to change the format. However, after the conferences were over, the staff agreed it had positive effects for our students. A good link to check out for more on middle school student led conferences: MiddleWeb. You can also see several examples of student led conferences on Youtube.
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Made free on Motivator
School started this week. Just like the last 16 years, I could not sleep for the first two nights. Tired and that funny feeling in my stomach, I made it to work almost an hour early. The room was set up and the lesson plan ready for day one. The students were smiling and bouncing from room to room. At 12, they still are excited to start a new year. They seemed open and ready to engage in learning. By the third day (after a pretty good sleep), I interviewed each student on video into my computer to save for later use. I asked them three questions: 1. What are two goals you have for this year? 2. What is one long term goal you have for life? 3. What are two things I should know about you?
First, I was shocked how many came into the hall with sweat dripping from their foreheads because they were scared of being on film. I encouraged each student and gave them some positive feedback. My goal was to save these files until the end of the year for them to view and comment on. BUT, of course the new cloud server did not really save them, all were lost. Oh well.
What I found most interesting were the comments: yes, some talked of all A's, Honor Roll, and wealth and fame, but most talked about one word: confidence.
I was stumped on this one. I did not expect these students to say "I lack confidence in my ability." I don't know why this hit me so hard, but it has forced me to think about how to move forward. I know kids gain confidence from doing a task well, taking pride in it. So, I have to find ways to provide chances for my students to gain confidence from doing great things with our content. I have a feeling this is going to be a harder task than I thought.
I wonder what else they would tell us about learning, if we really listened?
Valley View, Ohio: Today I am at a conference at the CCERC (Cuyahoga County Educational Resource Center). Jim Luteran
is running the conference with Mark Tebeau, from Cleveland State History Dept.
The objective was to help prepare teachers to present a workshop at their own schools.
The topics were "Sounds" in the teaching of History.
As I listened to Mark and Jim, as well as 15 teachers from Portage, Summit, Cuyahoga, and Lake county, a few things "hit" me.
First, teachers in general are not using technology in many districts.
Teachers said, "At meeting we present these ideas and several teachers point blank state, I will not use technology in my classroom."
They talked about how many teachers in their districts did not know how to make powerpoints, let alone use the web as a learning tool.
This could be caused by many factors: lack of resources, tradition, and their own education.
However, several teachers pointed out the district got smarthboard/projectors and still they are not seeing new ways of teaching emerge, yet. Second, it became clear we "cover" history.
What I mean by that is we attempt to cover tons of information in our standards to achieve success on state mandated exams, but really don't teach students how to understand history or study history (or any content). Do we
teach them how to critically think to understand material? Do we teach students how to analyze materials (readings/cartoons/images/newspapers/etc..)?
Do we teach them how to connect ideas and or historical facts? Do we teach them how to relate what they are learning to the world around them? The third hit came from a young women who teaches in the Cleveland Area
, she talked about the need for teacher leaders.
We need teachers who model how to implement the technology and share that knowledge with their staff.
They mentioned this over and over, how if they did something with students and people would hear about it they would come and ask questions.
Then they become the go to person for help and willingly led them down the road toward the integration of technology.
That is something we need more of: Teacher Leaders.
Near the end of the presentation they showed a classroom wikispace…here is a teacher leader at First Grade doing it all with her students--see images below. Check out her site
I will have to think about this day a little longer and then comment on some of the new website they presented.
Getting the right answer: This idea has been an issue for me since I began teaching 16 years ago. I started teaching in NY and used many resources given to me by an "experienced" teacher. The guided reading question sheets followed the textbook word for word. Just fill in the blank. I knew from an educational standpoint that "higher level questions" were a better option for student growth. However, from the first time I asked students to response to open ended questions their eyes got bigger and then panic would set in, a look of total fear. You mean you want me to think? You want me to have an opinion? You want me to share my ideas? I soon realized they had not been asked to think, how to read for understand, how to question, in school before, but they did understand how to skim and find a fill in the blank answer and then memorize that one answer for the upcoming test. We have trained millions of students to find the one correct answer. The one answer that is right: December 7, 1941. But what good is that? How does knowing a fact engage students in learning? Change the course of a individual? Help them to achieve in the modern world?
Take at look at this exam
given to 556 seniors
at major univesities (Brown, Harvard, Princeton
). Only one student earned a 100% and the average from these Ivy's a poor 53%
. What this tells us that the factoid is not really relevant in the world today or something that powerful minds will remember. Anyways, who need to memorize them now AG (After Google)--another topic.
It did not take me long to change the way I was teaching. No more fill the blanks, no more one word answers. This was not an easy task and after 15 years, is still not an easy task. Students are trained to want to find the one right answer--the less said the better. They have to be taught the difference between "Skinny" (closed) and "Phat" (opened) questions. They need to understand how to answer each type of question. They need to be trained to read between the lines for ideas hidden in text. They need main skills for the modern world that filling in the blank will not teach them.
This is a topic I will come back to, but today when a student said, "Is that the right answer, Mr. Holman?" I had to comment.
Beachwood, Ohio: I arrived in Beachwood in the 2001-2002 school year. I had worked five years at ESM in East Syracuse New York as a 7th and 8th grade social studies teacher and two years at Newark City Schools in Newark, Ohio where I worked as a gifted interventionist. Beachwood was a different world for me. I came to a place where the community really cared about education. I do not mean that ESM or Newark did not, but Beachwood supported the schools like nowhere I had seen before or to this day. The students came to school to learn and the community and local tax base supported the schools. It was the ideal setting for progressive education.
However, one person really opened my eyes to a new ideas of education. Edward Bernetich, BMS principal, was and is a visionary of what education can be. He focused on building solid relationships with all stakeholders. This is the foundation for an good educator. Ed also had a way with his staff, he presented new and exciting ideas about education and fostered and environment for risk-taking. He encouraged, nurtured, and inspired me to try new and unique things. For this I am forever grateful. I am sure his values, comments and ideas will be embedded in my postings on this blog.
Ed hired me to try something out. His vision was one laptop for every child at Beachwood Middle School: I would run the test program. I was given a classroom with a wireless lab of 25 mac books that could be used at any time and for any reason. My job, sounds simple, was to figure out how to use them in the social studies classroom. This was not an easy task. No books and few websites talked about what to do with that much power in your room. I was on my own, but supported, to try new things and see where it led. The first year was very difficult. My first task was to build a webpage and develop webquests to work from--both things I had done before. Time was the issue, one 3 year old and a newborn on the way (Oct of that year) and living in a region/city that was all new to my wife and me. However, over the year I began to find new and interesting ways to use technology to engage kids in content and teach them at a higher level, I believe. I will use this site to explain some of those experiences and provide insight in how computers are used today in my room and at BMS. What is happening at BMS is good and worth others hearing about.
The posts that following will not be in any order, but just posts of how my students have been doing things over the last 8 years. I hope someone finds this information useful to what is happening in their classroom.