Tuesday, April 18, 2017

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Please Welcome Sharon Skretting & Rubrics Made Easy

Rubrics Made Easy

   Why don't teachers like to make rubrics? Because it's difficult and time consuming. But that all changes with this tool!

   Wow! I am pumped! I just returned from the Google Summit in Lethbridge and couldn't be more excited about the multitude of new tools available with Google for Education. At the summit I presented a session highlighting new way to use Google sheets to lighten your work load when it comes to making rubrics for any classroom activity! Intrigued? Read on!

   In my role as Assessment Coach for our school division, it's my job to help teachers implement best practices when it comes to assessment. To this end I've been using doing a lot of research and having great conversations with teachers about how to involve kids in their own assessment. Can our students be involved in the process of collecting, organizing and presenting their evidence of learning. Better yet, can they be responsible for it? Yes. Yes. YES!

   How? First of all we have to let them know what their learning goals are. This is where outcome or standards based assessment shines. When we share with our students the targets we want them to hit it gives them confidence to streamline their efforts toward those goals. Clearly identifying those goals and communicating them to your students is the first step to success.

   One way to accomplish such a lofty goal is to break open the rubrics! (And yes, it is just one of our goals, but an important one.) Well built rubrics use specific language that allow students to see clearly defined expectations of work quality and depth of understanding. Rubrics are useful, however, not as an after thought for marking student work. Instead rubrics must be used at the beginning of the learning process as a means to involve the students in identifying their learning goals and being invested in the assessment process. When used in this way, rubrics provide the road map for learning success.

   The challenge? Designing well built rubrics is downright difficult! Time and time again, teachers express to me how difficult it is to come up with the right wording for their rubric. It's a time consuming process that must be repeated and tailored to each new activity, project, unit or lesson. My question is... why keep re-inventing the wheel? What if we could have a bank of rubric descriptors that we could use for a variety of different purposes. What if we could use that descriptor bank in a myriad of combinations to populate and make a custom rubric for each unit or all the performance based activities within a unit. Yes... what if? That was my thinking when I decided to make interactive rubrics.

   These rubrics are: (use slides)

   Interested? Here's how the interactive rubrics work. Watch this:


   Can you see the possibilities? Could this same process be applied to make other useful tools for assessment in the classroom? Absolutely!

   The response from teachers throughout our school division,—to this time-saving tool— has been phenomenal. They love it! It's so good that we can't keep it to ourselves. I' want to pass these helpful tools on to my subscribers. If you are interested then subscribe here to my newsletter and I'll send you a very special access to a pre-built science rubrics for any grade 1 - 9 ( Disclaimer: They are built for the Alberta Curriculum, but I suspect that with some minor tweaking in the wording they can fit your curriculum, too. They are totally editable but not edible.) You'll also get access to a prebuilt blank rubric, and step by step video instructions on how to use them to make your own interactive rubrics for any subject.

   As always, those who sign up will find these language posters included.

   It's my goal to empower all of you with the tools you need to make it easy to implement best practice assessment in the classroom. I'm here to help anytime. Just email me at sharon@questteaching.com



   P.S. I'd love to hear how you use these rubrics in your classroom. Respond in the comments below or drop me a line!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

It's Time to Tinker at School

     When asked why the US trails behind other countries in international testing scores, Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist, states that a child's inherent creativity is put on a leash in our current educational system. Tyson's idea for better schools is that kids should, (a) feel comfortable enough to ask questions, and (b) be rewarded for asking them. “You don’t want to raise a kid in a culture where the kid who asks the most questions is annoying,” he said. “You want a culture where the kid who asks the most questions gets awards and gets another piece of cake."

What would you think about a tinker time for your kids at school?

a. Never waste instructional time.
b. Kids can not tinker around. We don't have time to squander...remember our state exam numbers.
c. Ridiculous... a tinker time is not useful to students. It is all about frivolity, frippery and fuss.
d. Fantastic!

                                  Hopefully, you said, d. "fantastic", like I did. 
But, how does tinker time really relate to life in the real world?

    Look at the very prosperous company, Google. Google’s philosophy is, “to create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world,” stated by spokesman, Jordan Newman. If one took a tour of Google, would one see close corridors and rows of cubicals or desks two inches apart? Processed and frozen lunch foods ready to be heated up or microwaved? Dull and dreary surroundings?
    Nope, sorry.

   How about free gourmet food and lounge chairs to work outside in the sun? Large spaces to interact and to roam? Interior surroundings full of whimsy...secret bookcase passageways to reading rooms? Are there lego station play areas? How about periodic scavenger hunts? Can one bring a dog to work or self-design one's own large tinker toy desk?

   The answer is YES.  But, Google must be doing all of this for some very good reasons. We will explore some possibilties in a moment. Although companies that go so far as to create a fun and exciting work place might be rare, maybe we should reconsider how we design our schools and schedules for our kids.

 The  Horrible Dangers of Being a Creative Kid

   Being a tinker person might become dangerous in school. When I was a kid, I disliked having to add together large amount of numbers, say 25 + 78 + 19 + 38 = ? So, I'd add up the ones first, add up the tens and then added them both together. As I didn't solve the way the teacher showed us, I was afraid to show my teacher how I found the answer, thinking she might not like the idea and in front of the entire class. But, I did it in my own simple way. But, oops...she did find out. I suddenly became a below par math student that year. Little did I know that I used the partial sum strategy used today from second grade on up. I still like to be creative in many ways, as almost every child does.

Constant Teaching Regiments
   Kids love to use their creativity. However, some schools seem to have a constant teaching regiment where learning must take place at every moment (or maybe a school personel's answer might be... a, b, and c to my very first question?) I speculate if true learning can actually take place every moment, each day for 7-8 hours in an crowded classroom with a dull and dreary school setting. Or might it be called... information overload?

                       So, what is information overload and how might it effect us?

     Daniel Levitin, psychology professor, believes that the conscious mind might be able to focus on three or possibly four, things at one time. But, “...if you get much beyond that, you begin to exercise poorer judgment, you lose track of things and you lose your focus,”. Imagine how an average student feels when so many common core objectives in each subject matter must be learned in one day.

       Yet, Levitin goes on to speak of the skill of daydreaming and how it can be effective.

"Daydreaming allows creating links between things we might not have seen as linked before, and from that may come the solutions to problems."

The Value of Actively Practicing the Art of Creativity
    Some researchers believe that if imagination isn't practiced as a child, adults end up losing the skill altogether. Then, we have to find a way to recoup. The art of creativity has much value with great possibilities such as, practicle solutions to everyday or complex problems, job prosperity, extreme enjoyment, active engagement, and a purposefulness to life.

         So, what can be done during a half hour to one hour tinker time in school? 

   These are just some of many tinker time ideas. But remember, tinker time does take organization, preparation, budgeting and funding. Tinker time should not be confused as a replacement to recess. Recess is a must do.

                                             Tinker Time Ideas

Tinker Beautification Committee

   Develop committees that endeavor to enhance school interiors, surroundings, playground, work areas and floras. This might involve kids, parents and concerned people within the community. Budgeting and fundraisers may be the first must do's on your to-do list.

Tinker Mural Stations
   Why not beautify your school with changeable, themed wall murals that have accessories to use as a tinker station? See the above castle with clouds. This kind of art would be a joy to view. Possible accessories at the station might be ogre face masks, a castle to build and a mat to sit on. Notice I said changeable. Just like we adults, kids love artistic changes and new murals every so often. I suggest at least 4 mural replacements per school year.

Tinker Tubbing

   I taught Kindergarten for several years and kids absolutely loved what I called, tubbing time. Why not for older kids, too? A plastic tub might contain interesting objects that kids can tinker with. You might come up with ideas for students to try and print them out for each tub. I suggest that you don't make your ideas a necessity for each tinkering tub. Small groups of kids can make up their own tubs, too. For example: A fourth grade student might develop a weigh and measure tub with actual items or other ideas.

Tinker Garden Co-op

       For kids who love to play in the dirt, plant and dig, a garden cooperative might do well at your school. A garden cooperative allows people and parents from the community to assist in building a productive garden. If the garden flourishes, each volunteer might split up the produce to take home. If your area is cold country, as mine once was, a greenhouse might do the trick.

A Tinker Model Train/Lego Room

   Some kids would love to create and arrange things. Miniature railroad tracks could be slowly pieced together with mini stations, stores, people, houses, ponds, and bridges during tinker time. The room could also change themes throughout the year, such as, A Ride Though Fall Foliage,  Holidays In Our World to Fairy Tale Forest, or UFO Trails. Hey well, Google has a lego room. Another thought.

Tinker Mini-Time Sports
   Develop leagues to play team sports, such as kickball, basketball, tag, soccer, hop scotch, etc. during tinker time. Kids could even develop new games or twists on the old.

Lights, Camera, Action....Tinker Role Play

   Kids could dress up  in costumes and role play different characters during tinker time. From movie stars to cartoon characters to fairy tales, the sky is the limit for role play. It would be great if home economics classes still existed, as kids could learn to create their own costumes.

Tinker Set Designs

   Imagine building a set design for role play or other tinker activities. Sounds expensive, right? Actually, it can be done with papier-mâché, large cardboard boxes (like the size of refrigerator boxes) and paint. I did this once with a drama club. We built the set designs for Snow White and Rumplestiltskin and with a spinning wheel accessory. With the help of others, the two sets came out fine.

Tinker Cultural Exchanges

   Why not develop a cultural exchange with a different country? There are teachers from the US that teach abroad. Why not make these type contacts for school use (and for safety reasons)? Kids could develop many skills and gain understanding for others by conversing via email or other measures and with adult supervision.

I will leave you to consider Ken Robinson's insight on the topic of imagination.

 "...And the only way we'll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future." 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

FREE Earth Day Word Search

   Ecology, recycle, sustainable... a free Earth Day worksheet appropriate for learners 3rd to 6th grade. This word search contains 21 Earth Day vocabulary words. Happy Earth Day.

Your feedback is very much appreciated. Thank you!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

New Teacher 007 & Entity Analytics

                                             On the Hunt 

    So, you've almost graduated from teachers college and your are in your internship ....congratulations! Teaching can be a great career with the support of a principal and other peers. I had my internship for a year with a special education teacher, Mrs, M., who had her PH.D in Early Childhood. She was my inspiration for additional schooling. When I began teaching in the public school system, my mentor teacher, Mrs. L., a Native American, was absolutely fabulous. We had such a connection. Recently, I found out that my dad had Native American, Canadian and British mainly in his DNA, hmm... interesting! Anyway, no other mentor could ever fill her shoes. Mrs. L. was kind, fair and always a professional.

    So, now that your are a certified teacher, what should you look for in a new school?

   A new teacher needs to find a school that is the right fit for them. You need a school that (a) has the same philosophy as your own, and (b) is willing to learn from your experiences, or other new ideas that you might have read or written about.

   Your selected school should welcome you as one of their very own!

   Here are some tips for positions that might be a good fit. It is good to be wise in your choice, as your selection might be crucial to your teaching career. So...what kind of school should you look for when you hunt for a job?

  • There are so many teaching positions all over the world. 
   You might want to go to a different country that you know well, of course (knowing the language, and is the country safe?). Then, bring back a wealth of cultural knowledge that you could share with teachers, students and parents in US. Here are some places where you can apply.

Teaching Jobs Abroad

Teaching Abroad Direct UK

  • Philosophy - Do you agree with the school policies?
       Each school has a philosophy. Some schools lean more to progressive values and others have traditional methods. Most of us may have grown up with the traditional method. The progressive movement in education began about a hundred years ago. So, progressive instruction should be called traditional by now, but it isn't.

Progressive Approach

  Let's look at a type of progressive teaching method. The multiage approach, a Montessori type of learning, is utilized by the High Meadows School in Georgia. The multiage approach uses these types of pedagogy.
Students learn at their own pace.

Teachers and classmates support students in advancing social skills.

Students don't memorize data, but pursue conceptual, critical thinking skills.

Students learn together rather than independently.

The child’s learning is emphasized, and not so much the adult’s teaching skills.

  •  Professional Quality- Does the school system make a habit of finding and keeping great teachers?
   Some schools are constantly on the look out for new and great teachers to be. You can see how the employees and kids are being treated while you are there at an interview. Hopefully, we have the same answers.

 Are the teachers and kids happy and smiling?  Yes
 Do teachers have hall duty, lunch duty and bus duty? No
 Do kids have a longer lunch than 30 minutes? Yes
Are kids and teachers able to socialize, at times? Yes
Does every teacher seem to get support? Yes
Does the school use corporal punishment? No
Does the entire curriculum change every year? No way

   On the other hand, some schools continually hire (and for generations) within their own close clanish system. A couple of years ago, many states had statutes against hiring of family members and even close friends into the same public school system. This type of purposeful hiring places the rest of the community at an obvious, grave disadvantage. Not too long ago in one state, persons were asked to step down from their teaching positions, by law, if they were found to have held their position based on relationships to clans people. This statute no longer exists in that state, and a newly revised code, very much unlike the former, is now in place.

   Thanks to technology, there are now systems able to solve these and other type of public school mysteries. If a public school system isn't interested in any kind of entity analytics, there might be many secrets to hide. These are schools to avoid altogether. Luckily, technology can easily turn this wheel around with entity analytics sold by companies, such as IBM.

                                       What is entity analytics?

   Entity Analytic Solutions- Anonymous Identity Recognition and Relationship Awareness is able to identify who people in organizations are. The system can also show relationships between people and organizations, and many other beneficial tidbit types of information (IBM, 2007). The system can even be taylored to meet the needs of your school.

                 So, what about being employed by a clannish school system?

       Unless you are part of the clan, this teaching position might turn out to be a nightmare. If  teachers are hired based on relationship status, guess how the rest of their lifetime careers might be like? Need I say... easy? Well, think about it. How might they be evaluated by their childhood best friends or family members? How will they rate you, an outsider to the clan? How might they evaluate your child? Probably not too well, because the education personnel's main interest might not be in teaching your children to begin with.

      Well, let's look at this from the point of view of a business with Conflicts of  Interest Clause for Yelp business (2007).

   "Your contributions should be unbiased and objective. For example, you shouldn’t write reviews of your own business or employer, your friends’ or relatives’ business, your peers or competitors in your industry, or businesses in your networking group. Business owners should not ask customers to write reviews, or example, does not allow family and friends to rate a storekeeper's shop to avoid customer bias." Yelp, 2007

    ,,,And that is just only the beginning for schools. Schools deal with physical health, mental & emotional  health, intelligence and the whole child. Besides being biased, a clannish school system might bestow serious socio-economic and detrimental affects on the rest of the future community, which might ultimately impact the state. The workforce, for example, might be under-educated, low-skilled and with poverty line income.

   Unlike business, the lives and futures of the children can not ever be taken back. Just as business companies use entity analytics for their small business owners, this kind of big data could be lawfully utilized in schools for the benefit of the community, state and even the nation.

    I hope that this eye-opener of what is out there helps you on your quest for the best teaching job for you. No, finding a great job is not a bed of roses, There are very, very good schools, and then there are not so good schools. You can find a great one out there, if you know what to look for.

For more information about entity analytics, contact my brother and sister at.... just kidding!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Please Welcome Sharon Fabian, Teacher-Author

               Sharon Fabian is back with some middle school teaching tips for English Language Arts. I am so happy to have her here for the second time as a guest! ~Lynn
Sharon, Classroom inthe Middle
                        About Sharon
   Hi, I’m Sharon from Classroom in the Middle. For most of my teaching career, I’ve taught English and reading, mainly in the middle school setting. My primary focus has been on teaching language skills to students who need extra help. Now that I’m retired, I still focus on middle graders as I design and write language arts materials for middle and upper elementary school. I also enjoy having time to do some individual tutoring. 

                          Incorporating Parts of Speech into Writing and Revising Lessons

   Knowing the parts of speech helps kids with their writing and revising. Becoming familiar with the elements that make up a sentence gives them an awareness of more options when they are composing their own sentences and making revisions to their writing.

  On the other hand, writing and revising activities can be the perfect tool for teaching kids the basic parts of speech, as well as other sentence elements such as phrases and clauses. Choosing among a selection of verbs or thinking of ways to incorporate a subordinate clause into their own sentence can be an engaging activity that helps kids improve their writing and learn the basic sentence parts at the same time.

  Sentence construction activities are great for young writers who are still learning to compose sentences; sentence renovation activities help kids who already have the basic knowledge improve their writing skills.

Sentence Construction
   At the basic level, kids can practice filling in missing words in a sentence, either by selecting from a word bank or by coming up with their own words. A cut and paste activity using the word bank can make it more fun. A word bank with a mixture of several parts of speech to choose from will make the assignment a bit more challenging.

   Kids can get a close look at how parts of speech are arranged in sentences by analyzing a few mentor sentences. First, they can sort the words in the sentence by parts of speech, and then follow-up by writing sentences of their own that follow the same pattern.

   A challenging activity for more able students might be choose among several sentences to select the one that matches the pattern of parts of speech in a sample sentence.

   “Refrigerator magnets” provide another fun sentence construction activity. First the kids sort out the “magnets” by their parts of speech, and then use them to create various types of sentences, anything from “a sentence with one noun and one verb” to “a sentence with an adjective, an adverb, and a prepositional phrase.”

Refrigerator Magnets
 Revising by Adding or Replacing Words
   Revision activities often involve modifiers, especially adjectives, and adding adjectives to a sentence or replacing common adjectives with more interesting ones can help students to expand their vocabulary. For a bit more of a challenge, try adverbs as well.
   Students can also practice replacing words in sentences to be more exact, or just more interesting. Replace common verbs with fresh, vivid ones. Replace general nouns with more specific ones. Or, for a different activity, have the kids replace some of their nouns with pronouns and some of their pronouns with nouns to see how that changes the flow of their writing.

Revising with Phrases and Clauses
   Once your kids get to the point where they can begin to work with phrases and clauses, then things can really get interesting. Kids incorporate prepositions as they add phrases to their writing. They use coordinating and subordinating conjunctions to combine sentences. Students can experiment with different conjunctions to see how just using a different conjunction can change the whole meaning of their sentence.
   This is another good stage for incorporating mentor texts. For an example of narrative writing, give students a classic story that you can find easily online, such as a traditional fairy tale. Or for informational text, use a page from their history or science text. The first activity shown below was set up for “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and the second one for any page from a student text.

Analyzing mentor texts
   Revising activities can also be done with picture prompts or with “refrigerator magnets” similar to the ones used in easier sentence construction activities. For the picture prompts, ask students to revise a sentence about the picture by adding or replacing specific elements such as adverbs or dependent clauses. For the “refrigerator magnets” provide cutouts with a few basic sentences plus more words to cut out and use for revising.

Revising with Picture Prompts   Any of these activities can easily be set up with materials that you probably have on hand or can find online (such as the fairy tales), or if you are interested in ready-to-use printables, check out Sentence Construction and Sentence Renovation in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. 

                                Warm Regards, Sharon
Visit me at my blog and my store, both called Classroom in the Middle.

Sentence Renovation Activity Sheets

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Wolk's Joy in School

   "Children typically spend from six to seven hours each day in school for nearly 10 months each year. During the school year, children generally spend more time interacting with their teachers than with their parents. What happens inside schools has a deep and lasting effect on the mind-sets that children develop toward lifelong learning." Wolk, 2008

   Wow, kids really spend so much time in school! I know that teachers try very hard to do the very best that they can to encourage their students. But, according to Wolk (2008), there are at least 11 ways that we can try to make school an even happier place for children. I would like to share with you some thoughts about Wolk's fascinating piece on 11 ways to make your classroom joyful. Most of us plan to do some of these activities each year. Yet, Wolk has some invaluable insights that we might all wish to add to our planning. Wolk's philosophy may stem from the humanistic style of learning.

    Nurture the Human Beings

   Yes, nurture your kids! Kids really want and need to be taken care of.  A humanistic teacher emphasizes these principals to include students:
a. self-directed learning
b. who'd like to learn and understand
c. self-evaluation
d. feelings are very vital and connected to if and how they learn
e. should learn in a setting that is not intimidating
(SUNY Cortland. Edu, n.d.)
   More information about the humanistic style of education can be read in the works of Carl Rogers, John Dewey, the "Father of Education" and others (see links at the end). In this way, children should find gratification in learning. Every teacher should take a considerable interest in what their children like to learn about, and then find or create lessons on the subjects or themes. Not every lesson can be made at once, but we can start out with a small repertoire and then build up our lesson plans.

    Allow an Hour of Exploratory Work

   What is exploratory work? Exploratory work allows children to be inquisitive. Each student works on a project that interests them. The teacher aids each student in developing inquiry-based learning skills. Asking purposeful questions is very much valued here. Students might be researching the work of Tesla, another might be learning about Japanese poetry and creating an original Haiku, and two learners could be studying the history of baseball. Exploratory learning shows students that school can be a place of interesting possibilities.

     Let Design Class Begin!
   Your students can participate in many original works. Your kids could use a variety of ways to show their knowledge. Students might use resources such as newspapers, picture books, murals, interviews, models, blueprints, role-plays, mock trials, songs, documentary videos and other activities.

   And, This is Mine...
   Hallways and classrooms should be filled with student work. There should be zero worksheets. Photographs or self-portraits of your students can be posted around the room or other places around the school.

      And...The Real Truth about Pipe Dreams and Tinkering About

   Even at school, kids should be permitted to daydream. Your students can be inspired to come up with wild, crazy, and even silly ideas! A creative teacher can stir up a student's imagination. So, there has to be much more freedom within the school schedule for this to happen. A rigorous school agenda is often much too prepared and organized. For this reason, there may be very little exposure to inspired ideas and innovations in the classroom. Thus, teachers should also be able to take chances, invent pedagogy and other methods of teaching (rather than the textbook way).

      Attractive School Spaces

   It is important to have your school, inside and out, to be as inviting as possible. From the campus grounds to the school's interior, learners need welcoming areas to work (and to tinker). For that matter, we teachers need a beautiful environment to work in, as well! A foyer with a mural or plants can make all the difference about how students (and teachers) might feel when they come into the school. Attractive outdoor spaces brings so much joy to kids. Spaces that have gardens, an intriguing playground (not the run of the mill plastic units) and places to walk and play are needed. Ask the kids if they prefer natural surroundings such as grass, vegetation and trees as opposed to plastic, metal and concrete.

    Let's Take It Outside

   More of the school day should be taught outside in nature. Students are then exposed to a little sun, breezy air, blue skies and maybe even a low sound of guitar strings. Need I say,  joy?

      Kinds of Genre

    Learners should be emboldened to read many types of books. Tell your kids about a variety of books that they might, after all, decide to read, such as westerns, mysteries, sports, animals, diaries and even, pop culture.

      Need Much More Time

   Principals should extend the time that students spend in the arts. Once time a week is just simply not enough! There is a great importance to art, theater, music, instruments and sports. First, some kids may show a talent in an area or two and wish to develop this gift even further. Others may just feel happier and healthier than they would be sitting most of the day.

    10. Reduce Quantitative Assessments

   Narrative assessments, portfolios of student's work, presentations and performances should be a valued part of any student report. Your learners can self-assess and talk about their work with you. They might discuss how they have improved in class and what they can work on for next time. Students may present their progress at a teacher-parent conference and... just the progress, of course!

   11. Have More School Days of Fun

   Caring relationships can be supported and developed by classes gathering together to go to sporting events, movies, potlucks, talent shows, school sales, plays, concerts and more.

   Lastly, many teachers would mostly likely agree with this following statement by Wolk.

      "If the experience of "doing school" destroys children's spirit to learn, their sense of wonder, their curiosity about the world, and their willingness to care for the human condition, have we succeeded as educators, no matter how well our students do on standardized tests?"
                                                                                ~Wolk, 2008

TiePlay Ed. Presents...