February 1, 2014

Twitter 101 Part 2: Twitter Chats

*Click on the pictures for a larger, unobstructed view.

Twitter chats have become the go-to place for educators to make immediate connections with like-minded educators interested in the same topic.  The conversations that occur in these chats are often high quality because resources are shared through links, solutions are discussed, and connections can be made that result in transforming one’s own practice.  In preparation for the upcoming #wvedchat I decided to put together this short tutorial on participating in a twitter chat.  Here in WV we’re relatively new to the table and hopefully this becomes beneficial to some educators wanting to learn but not sure how it all works.


Twitterchat 101

As you can see from the picture, you can easily locate a specific hashtag by using the search bar.  Just type in #wvedchat and Twitter will collate all tweets using that hashtag and display them for you.  You don’t have to follow a person in order to see their tweet.  As long as they have used that hashtag in their tweet, Twitter will display it.

Twitterchat 101a

Above is a screenshot of what you may see when you type in #wvedchat.  By default Twitter only displays what they consider “Top” tweets using that hashtag.  You will need to click the “All” button to display all of the tweets using that hashtag during a chat.  The tweets display in chronological order starting with the most recent.  Beginning at 7:30 February 6, you’ll want to search #wvedchat and display this page to start seeing the tweets from the chat.


Next, what will the chat look like?  #wvedchat will be using a Q1, A1 format to help participants organize the conversation.  @jfrashier46 and @whosaflook will be moderating the chat.  This means they will determine the timing of when questions are thrown out during the chat.  At some point, one of those moderators will propose a question.  For example (just an example), it may look like this: “Q1: In what areas do you feel teachers in WV need more training and why? #wvedchat”  You only get 140 characters so tweets are short and targeted.  As soon as educators that are following the #wvedchat see that question, they will begin responding with answers.  One example may look like this: “A1: Edus in WV need more training on building their own PLN. Too much potential to be had by all. #wvedchat”  Occasionally participants will include a link in their response.  This link may take you to a blog post related to the topic being discussed.


The image below may be helpful in seeing a snapshot of a popular chat #satchat.  The notes in red are my notes.

Twitterchat 101b

I use Tweetdeck to participate in chats.  Using Tweetdeck will streamline your experience during a Twitter chat.  If you participate in a lot of chats, you definitely want to use Tweetdeck.  Access Tweetdeck at tweetdeck.twitter.com and sign in with your Twitter account.  Search #wvedchat using the magnifying glass on the left.  Add a column and I think you’ll find this chat experience much friendlier.

Twitterchat 101d

As you can see, Tweetdeck allows you to create columns that organize your Tweeting experience.  The columns can be added and organized in a variety of ways.  To add a column click on the plus sign along the right side of the screen.  The options will appear.  I generally add a column using the search feature and I search for the specific hashtag I want to display.  On Thursday, February 6 at 7:30, you will want to add a column for the #wvedchat.  Without Tweetdeck, users sometimes get irritated having to bounce back and forth from their connections (notifications) and the hashtag (chat).  Tweetdeck removes that irritation and allows users to see their notifications and the chat happening on the same screen.  Tweetdeck is a great tool that will allow you to filter your newsfeed once you begin following a diverse group of educators.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment on this post and I’ll respond with my best answer.  I hope this is helpful to some educators experiencing a Twitter chat for the first time.


January 22, 2014

Have you lost your curiosity?

When we think about what innate qualities each person possesses that allows them to learn, curiosity is often overlooked.  When thinking about how each person learns, is there ever a time when curiosity is never present?  Isn’t there at least a small measure of curiosity present when someone learns something new?  Without curiosity, will learning occur?

Dr. Bill Daggett, International Center for Leadership in Education, wrote recently that the rate of change in the world is outpacing the rate of change in schools.  No doubt, the rate of change in the world in which are students are now a part of is a rapid rate of change.  The world we live in has never changed so rapidly in all of history.  We can’t expect to equip students with the skills they’ll need to be successful in this world because we can’t fathom what skills our students will need.  Many of the tools our students will use in the workplace have not even been created yet.  The best schools can do is to equip students with a lifetime of curiosity.  That requires our classrooms be led by self-directed learners.

Curiosity breeds learning.  The enemy of curiosity is status quo.  If the distance between the rate of change in the world and the rate of change in our schools is growing, perhaps our schools have lost their curiosity.  Successful schools have at least one thing in common: they’re led by learners.  Learners have one thing in common, they’re curious enough to look.  Where are you looking?


December 28, 2013

Goals for 2014

I have a hard time condensing my posts to a couple paragraphs so I’m really going to try to keep this one short and to the point.

  • I want Edcamp Parkersburg to become a reality.  I know it can happen.  I’ve got some hurdles in the road but I think some people have stepped forward that can help me knock those hurdles down.  I’ve connected with individuals that have hosted successful Edcamps and I’ve got an appointment to speak with Edcamp foundation chair Kristen Swanson January 7.  I think this could become an annual event showcasing the best learning experiences for teachers.  There is a tremendous need and tremendous potential for this event.  It could be a game-changer for classrooms in this region.  
  • I have developed a passion for giving my students unique learning experiences that are often neglected in my traditional classrooms.  Activities of higher-quality are more difficult to measure and activities of low-quality are often easy to measure, thus low-quality learning activities are what our students get 99% of the time.  I suspect that teachers are used to these low-quality learning experiences because they are easy to measure and I’ve found that a lot of teachers only invest time into things that can be measured.  I personally feel that the things which aren’t easily measured are probably more important in life.  I would like to invest more time and energy into activities that improve communication, problem-solving, perseverance, and self-directed learning.  Maybe this will come through more meaningful projects chosen by the students.  Maybe it will occur through more communication and discussion from problems like these.  I’ve not arrived at a definite solution here, but I’ll keep trying.
  • I want to continue to refine my grading practices.  For example, since I started SBG, I have realized that I actually need to assess more often and reduce the number of standards present in my official tests.  I had started doing this, but I think I need to go even further.  I need to not be concerned with the number of grades in my grade book but rather the quality and validity of what those grades represent.  Organization is not my strength, but I need to be more organized with my tests, retakes, etc.  I need to incorporate more writing and communicating into my tests somehow.  This is a big part of my classroom, but is nearly absent from my assessments.
  • Entertain the idea of having a radical type of parent-teacher conference.  I’d like to engage parents in a what’s coming up learning experience for Mr. Oldfield’s math class.  I’d like parents to know how they can help their student and what to look for from my class.  I learned from our last student-lead conferences that there are still a number of parents who want to be actively involved in their child’s learning, they just don’t know how.  I’d like to show them some ways they can be active and carry some weight in this partnership.
  • Reach more homes during school orientation, August of 2014.  I always reach the homes of my homebase students and they get a full dose of how to communicate with me.  I always miss out on the other homes from other homebases.  Since I still have those students as part of my classes, it’s imperative that they get a more worthy dose of my communication lines.  I actively employ several lines of communication and I’d like to have more homes on board.  I just have to find a way to reach them first.
  • Reach every student and home with a positive note at least once during the second half of the school year.  I’ve also got to do a better job of documenting this somehow
  • Last, I want to continue doing the things I’ve started in 2013.  I know if I can just continue engaging in the learning experiences I started this year, I’ll continue to grow as an educator and a leader.

*I reserve the right to add to this list as I see fit.  For now, these are my goals heading into 2014.

December 16, 2013

My experience with flexible grouping

I began the school year with a fair amount of homogeneous grouping of my students.  I was notified of this prior to the school year so it wasn’t a surprise.  I’m writing this as a reflection of the process and how I’ve made it a successful one.  This subject is extremely sensitive among educators and a quick Google search will reveal advocates and opponents with relatively solid arguments.

It didn’t take long before I realized which class of students could be described as those students who previously had struggled in math class.  I invested a lot of time and energy trying to empathize with them about their prior experiences in math classes.  Their experiences in math classes were far different than mine, so it was important that I try to get an accurate picture of their feelings towards math.  I could imagine how awful it must be to walk into math class feeling behind everyone else (in a heterogeneous class).  I could imagine how hopeless it would feel sitting down to take test after test I was not ready for.  I could imagine how frustrated it would be to receive a homework assignment that I had no clue how to do and no one at home to help me with it.  I could imagine the fear and embarrassment of being called upon in math class when I really didn’t understand what I was asked to do.

In the first few weeks of school, I went about my teaching just as I had every other year.  I was trying my best to keep every class at the same pace, on the same schedule.  After all, it’s a pain when your classes are all at different levels, right?  You’ve got to plan a different lesson for each class, design appropriate instructional materials, identify weaknesses and determine efficient ways to address those weaknesses.  It finally dawned on me that I was fighting the very thing I had asked for in the first place.  I also realized I was part of the problem for those classes of students best described by the previous paragraph.

I made a silent commitment to myself and to those students that I would change their feelings towards math and would stop the relentless battering of fear, embarrassment, and frustration.  Early in an 8th grade math course, it doesn’t take long to realize which students aren’t proficient in adding and subtracting negative numbers.  I’ve taught 8th grade math long enough to know that a weakness in a fundamental skill such as adding and subtracting negative numbers will lead to a fearful, embarrassing, and frustrating year of 8th grade math.  I had to make a change in my classes.

I realized that until these fundamental skills like adding/subtracting and multiplying integers were strengthened, there was no reason to race through the curriculum covering concept after concept because I knew my students would never see mastery or proficiency with their current skill-set.  I also realized that I needed to reverse their perceptions about math.  This became a turning point for me and those students who had previously struggled in math class.

I decided to spend a week on skills that I knew those students could perform with a measure of proficiency.  We practiced reducing common fractions.  We practiced turning a fraction or decimal into a percent.  This completely changed the outlook on what I was able to do next.  Now my students had experienced some success.  They could feel the tide was finally turning.  I was able to get more of them talking in math class.  They were so appreciative and responsive to my attempts to give them something they could complete!  This set the tone for the weeks to follow.  I began to really differentiate my plans and preparation for these classes.  I felt relieved of the pressure and demands to maintain pace and cover the material.  Now my students could come to math class with hope and a positive attitude.  Now I could come to class with hope and a positive attitude.

I know what you’re thinking.  “Do the students realize which classes are the ‘slow class’?  How do you implement flexible groups without stigmatizing students?”  Developing that trust and honesty with students is crucial.  Students need to know their teacher is out for the best interests and wants them to succeed.  Albeit, this is true no matter how your students are grouped, but it is even more important to develop this early when students are grouped by ability.  Give your students a chance to succeed.  That chance needs to be much different than the one they were previously given.  Students need to see that you’re willing to adjust the pace of instruction so give them the opportunity to provide feedback about how the class is going.  See a version of my students’ responses about my class.  When you come to a fork in the road and not sure what to do, ask the students.  I also incorporate Standards Based Learning and Grading, which allows my students to retake assessments designed to demonstrate mastery of standards.  When I hear students who have historically struggled in math say “I finally got a 100% on something” or “I haven’t got an A on anything in math since fourth grade” I know that the student appreciates my efforts.

I’ve identified a few things that have made this transition successful for me and my students:

  • Adjust the pace!  One-size does not fit all.  The same target is OK, but use a variety of vehicles to get there.  When I get to a fork in the road and not sure whether to move on or stay put, I ask the students.
  • Let your students feel successful early and often.  This is very important and will help remove any evidence of the stigma that clouds ability-grouping.
  • Be open and honest about what skills need filled in and what needs demonstrated in order to move.
  • Actually move students.  This is NOT a static group.  Students need to flex and be moved to classes where they’ll remain challenged.  To date, I’ve moved 11 students with the help of my school counselor.  Students will catch on if no one’s schedule ever gets changed.  Be wary of the stigma.
  • Give students a voice and receive their feedback.  Students respond more positively when they know they have a voice in the process.  Every student in my lowest class understands they are there to succeed, I believe in them, and the focus is learning.  The alternative has not been forgotten.
  • I feel this is the knot that ties it all together: communicate communicate communicate.  You can’t be too positive.  I send at least 15 positive messages via text, email, card, or pat-on-the-back every week.  It’s actually easy to do once you start.
November 22, 2013

Knocking Down the Walls

How many lines of communication do you have with students’ homes?  Are the walls of your classroom transparent?  Or do they even exist?  In public education, there seems to be a lot of diversity when assessing effective communication from one class to the next.  Perhaps this stems from the wide range of prior experiences from when teachers were in school.  When I was in school, the primary means of communication was a letter or report card that I took home in my backpack.  Many times my mother went an entire 9 weeks without hearing much feedback about what was happening in class.  Occasionally she would run into a teacher at the grocery store.  I wasn’t a student that had behavior problems or grade problems, so perhaps that’s why my mother didn’t complain.  I think, though, that I went to school in a different age where the primary and most effective means of communicating to homes was to send a letter or phone call.

The internet has taken communication to a new level!  The following means of communicating did not exist when I went to school:

  • Email
  • Text Message (@Celly or Remind101)
  • Web-based grade reporting
  • Edmodo
  • Web-based learning management systems
  • Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Blogs)

What does effective communication look like?  How many attempts should be made to communicate important information with homes?  These are serious questions that should be considered by all educators.  I worry that we still have buildings full of educators that believe that one attempt to communicate with homes is enough and effective.  In today’s age, we should bombard homes with important information.  There are so many effective, easy, and quick ways to communicate and reach people, why use just one?  We live in a society where people have hundreds of “friends” they can communicate with in a matter of minutes.  Why is there such poor communication between homes and classrooms?

First, I think part of the problem is this antiquated attitude towards communicating with homes.  Second is the inexperience or lack of knowledge by parents on the available lines of communication to classrooms.  Last, there seems to be a huge inconsistency by educators on how to effectively communicate with homes.

On my team, we’ve got 52 parents signed up for Livegrades, our web-based grade reporting/communication system.  That means, at best, 52 homes are actively viewing homework assignments, receiving messages from teachers, accessing discipline reports, and keeping up with their child’s grades.  Let’s say we have 30 teachers in our middle school.  At best, 30 teachers are effectively communicating with homes using a variety of communication tools.  Which scenario is more likely?
I have 95 students right now, so 43 homes are unaccounted for on Livegrades.  The only other method of communication that remains for those homes not on Livegrades is a phone call.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with a good ole 20th century phone call.  However, most teachers and homes are more likely to send a message via email or Livegrades than they are to pick up the phone and hold a conversation.  If you want to know important information such as how your child is behaving in a particular class, his/her relationship with a particular student, or why he/she received a poor grade on a particular assignment, it becomes easier and more convenient for a teacher to send a quick message home rather than a phone call.  I also know several teachers who wouldn’t dare call home and speak to a parent about an issue.  For better or worse, it’s a fact that more open communication will occur when alternative methods of communication exist and are actively used.

What handicaps teachers effectively using 21st century communication tools?  Teachers that are not effectively using 21st century communication tools.  How is a parent to know which teachers use which tools and which tools to learn and become comfortable using? Every teacher communicates information in a different way, and some teachers communicate only the bare minimum.

“When my child is absent, how can they find out what they missed?”  Is this a common concern in your school?  It is in mine.  On my team here at Blennerhassett Middle, we post the HW daily in all of our classrooms.  We also send the HW as a message via Livegrades.  My students have additional means of communication because I’ve broadcast my Twitter handle to all of my students.  Occasionally my students will message me in Edmodo and ask questions there.  I often communicate to students and parents using @Celly.  Celly has become my favorite means of communication and I couldn’t imagine teaching without it.  It allows a safe environment to exchange text messages between myself, students, and parents.  There are other effective means of communication in place in schools today.  With all of these available methods of communication in place and used actively, I wonder how that would transform classrooms?


November 12, 2013

Blended Learning with Khan Academy

I use Khan Academy’s system of exercises in my classroom.  My students receive a blend of instruction via the feedback provided by Khan Academy exercises and face to face time in my classroom.  We typically spend 2 days a week in a computer lab setting and 3 days of the week in my classroom.  The time in my classroom is predominantly driven by what has occurred on Khan Academy.  This type of approach is referred to as blended learning.

I often rearrange the seating in my classroom to put students in the best possible position to succeed.  I don’t have assigned seats, but I like to keep it fluid and dynamic.  When we are in my classroom, I try to incorporate more task-based problems that require my students to develop and demonstrate a deeper understanding in order to complete.  I also try to keep my classroom student-centered.  My assistant principal recently completed an observation in my room and estimated that I did about 5% of the teaching and the students did the other 95%.  A lot of my preparation is designing lessons that allow students to collaborate, talk, and learn freely and from each other.  Often my classroom looks chaotic, but lend an ear to the conversation for a couple minutes and you’ll find that students are busy solving problems, communicating, and thinking.

Some days the data provided to me by Khan Academy dictates that I need to do more direct teaching.  Some days the data suggests that my students are ready for something tougher.  Often, the following actions may be on display simultaneously during class:

  • 4-5 students are completing a paper/pencil assessment or a retake of a prior assessment
  • 10-12 students are at the computers working on a variety of targeted and personalized exercises
  • 3-4 students are walking around with dry-erase boards acting as support for the students who are working.


I don’t let the curriculum map influence my pace at all.  I used to be a slave to that map and I was constantly assessing whether I would make it through the end of the map by May.  Student learning came second to the emphasis I placed on getting to every topic by May.  I have completely let go of that and my students are benefiting.

During our parent-teacher conferences, I’m often asked “So just how do you use Khan Academy in your classroom?”

Recently my classes began a new section on Exponents.  The standard related to this material literally reads “I can use properties of integer exponents, including zero and negative exponents to evaluate and simplify numerical expressions containing exponents.”  The following standard reads “I am able to derive and explain the properties of exponents.”  During this section, I like to introduce the material at the computer lab using Khan Academy.  I’ll take my students to the lab and direct them to a specific exercise.  Below you’ll see an example of what a student may see during that day.  This particular exercise is very basic and allows the student to demonstrate a shallow, procedural level of knowledge related to that standard.  Quite simply, can students identify what to do when like-bases are divided?  Or multiplied?  Or when an exponent is raised to another exponent?



Keep in mind that this particular concept is very new to the students.  At this point, I haven’t introduced the concept at all.

Pardon me while I try to step into the mind of a student seeing this problem for the first time.  I can imagine that they apply a bit of problem solving strategies here and simply try to apply something that comes to mind.  In the problem above, it appears this student tried to add the two exponents and Khan Academy told them to try again.  Three seconds later this student decided to subtract the two exponents and Khan Academy indicated to them they had arrived at the correct answer.   The very next problem can be found below.

Khanacademy2This time the student decided that he should use a hint for help in solving this problem.  Of course, there is a very specific procedure that can be applied here when raising one exponent to another exponent, but the students have not yet learned this, nor have they had any instruction on the concept.  You can’t see it by looking at the screenshot, but this student used the hints and eventually used enough hints until the correct answer was given to him by Khan Academy.  So the student enters the correct answer and moves to the next problem.

Skip ahead 12 problems and you see that this particular problem (see below) appears very similar to the one the student saw earlier.  You can also see that he needed to use the hints to help him arrive at the correct answer.  Apparently the student didn’t remember the feedback that was provided to him earlier.  This is typical at this point in the learning process.  Note that while using the hints, the student can stop asking for a hint at any point when he/she has seen enough to allow them to provide the correct answer.  If needed, they can ask for enough hints until Khan Academy gives them the answer.  Either way, Khan Academy doesn’t award credit for that answer when determining proficiency.  What you can see in the problem below is that this student hasn’t yet developed permanent recall of the specific rules; when to add the exponents, when to subtract the exponents, and when to multiply the exponents.  Earlier, the student employed his own problem solving strategies, but now you can see that he’s employing the hints in order to help learn the procedure in hopes that he can apply the correct procedure to a future problem.

khanacademy3What happens during a class period such as this one is the students begin to develop their own procedures, methods, and strategies for problem solving by using the feedback provided by the system.  Without much assistance from me, a number of students will actually correct their mistakes, use the feedback, the hints, or maybe even a video and in a 45 minute class period will actually get enough consecutive problems correct that Khan Academy will deem them proficient and classify them in a “practiced” level, indicating to me and the student that they have earned enough consecutive questions correct to be awarded that category.  On the other hand, those students who don’t earn this classification have still been introduced to the concept and provided enough feedback that they will come into class the following day with a better understanding than they had the previous day.  In fact, a number of those students will have partial understanding of the correct procedures.  For example, they may be able to correctly identify when to multiply the exponents, but are still shaky on when to add or subtract those exponents.  All of this is provided to me in a multitude of data.  Below you’ll see an example of class data available to me today, immediately after 2nd period.

KACoachreportsFast forward to tomorrow.  We’ll spend all class period in my room, not the computer lab.  At some point before class tomorrow I’ll review this screen again and determine which students have already demonstrated a level of procedural knowledge and which students haven’t.  The students who have demonstrated enough proficiency to earn that “practiced” level will most likely end up helping the other students iron out the wrinkles in their own procedures.  Students will be talking about what they tried in the lab and why it failed.  I’ll give students an opportunity to respond to the class about what a peer instructed them to do.  Whether they admit it or not, everyone has developed some procedure, but not everyone has the right one yet.  The students under the red column benefit because most of them will end the class period tomorrow feeling like a 3 or 4.  I employ a very simple informal assessment procedure where my students give me a 1-5 at the end of the period.  1 represents a student who feels lost.  3 represents a student who knows what to do but couldn’t teach it to anyone else yet.  5 represents a student who knows it so well they could teach it to someone else.  The students under the blue column benefit because the best way to retain information you have learned is to teach it to someone else.
What I’ve described to you has proved to me to be the quickest way to move students to that first, most basic, and most shallow level of understanding in a concept such as this.  Tomorrow in my class you’ll see me explaining to the students that x times x times x times x times x divided by x times x yields x^3 because two sets of x/x cancels to make 1.  We’ll use dry-erase boards to practice solving similar problems.  I’ll allow students to check answers while I check answers.  Half of the period I’ll spend down on a knee next to a student or groups of students.  I may place a group of 5 students who appear under the red “struggling” column all at one table so I can focus my attention on those students.  I’ll give them problems like (4^?)(4^-8) = 4^5.  Students will apply previous concepts like 1/x^-3 = x^3 to help them solve problems that involve the quotient rule.  Together, with the help of the data provided to me by Khan Academy, the students and I will work to move everyone to that basic procedural knowledge of exponent rules.

In the upcoming days and into next week I’ll provide this class with activities that allow them to develop a deeper understanding of the concept, one in which they won’t forget.  After passing my assessment, students will be instructed to write a blog post deriving and explaining the properties of exponents.  Some students may choose to include a picture from their dry-erase board to help the reader understand their explanation.  Other students may choose to create a video of them instructing from the board in the front of my room.  Still, other students may exercise their strengths in writing to explain to the reader their understanding of the properties of exponents.





November 1, 2013

But that’s not one of my standards!

My autistic son is lost in a sea of standards.

I am not a special education teacher, nor do I have any autistic students in my classroom.  That letter, however, hit a nerve with me because it seems that more and more the things which students need the most are being pushed further and further from classrooms.  They are being crowded out by the emphasis of standards and testing that has become over-important in public education today.  My heart went out to the educators working with Jackson because I know how easy it is for educators to lose sight of the big picture.  It seems that teachers are being bombarded with ever changing strategies at improving student achievement on standard x, y, and z.  Every department meeting is filled with talk of student strengths and weaknesses, according to “data”.  How are we going to assess student growth in applying the Pythagorean Theorem in a real-life situation?  How can we get students to analyze data and display the results in a box and whisker plot?  I recently asked my math department if we could all make a push for all of our students to learn their times tables by the end of the school year.  It’s amazing how many of our students grades 6-8 do not know their times tables and have given up on ever learning them.  My eager proposal was met with “I don’t have time to teach that.”  Not all of my colleagues felt that way, but some did.  The discussion quickly changed gears and there still hasn’t been much follow-up on my proposal.

Has the emphasis on test scores, standards, and grades reduced the quality of learning in our classrooms?  Has it reduced the quality of teaching?  Armed with an optimistic view, consider what our students could be doing in classrooms that were liberated of the demands that standards and testing place on teachers.  Consider what skills you’d like to see your child learn that aren’t in the curriculum.  What about empathy?  Tolerance?  Perseverance?  Drive?  How about the ability to teach themselves?  To create?  To explore?  To pursue their own interests?

I’ve wrote before about how unprepared I am to prepare my 8th grade students for the world they will enter after high school.  I’m unprepared because I can’t even begin to define the skills and tools that will be most necessary in the world of 2018.  Here are a few of the breakthroughs in technology in the last 5 years:

  • Android (2008)
  • Tablets (2010)
  • Next generation electric cars (2008)
  • Motion Sensing game consoles (2010)

I believe the most important skills students can learn in school is undergoing a tremendous shift.  To be competitive and successful in the world our children are entering they are going to need a skill set that few are learning in many public school classrooms.  That doesn’t mean the standards and testing need to disappear completely.  I do wonder, though, just what our students could do if their teachers were relieved of the demand to cover the entire curriculum by the end of the school year, often at the expense of the students.  I wonder what our classrooms would look like if more emphasis was placed on the skills that are tougher to measure.  Could students create portfolios, collaborate with their peers, and pursue their interests?  These things can be done in classrooms today, but I fear that most educators are too ill prepared to lead students through a journey of schooling that isn’t based on time, or standards, or analyzing test scores.

I never intend for my writing to bash the very institution that I chose to make my career.  I hope that doesn’t radiate from my posts.  I love what I get to do and I work with amazing students.  I can’t see myself doing anything else.  I see the potential they hold if given the opportunity to release it.  I consider myself one of those educators that are ill-prepared to lead students down a path that will best prepare them for what is ahead.  It has taken some time, but little by little I feel myself letting go of the pressures of test scores and standards, and narrowing my focus to learning.  Not everything in my classroom is easily measured, but I see it.  I see students persevering, problem solving, and leveraging the power of technology to shrink big problems into small ones.  But there is so much that my students are still missing out on and that’s why I engage other professionals in my spare time.  Without the aid of my network of peers pushing their students in the same direction I’m pushing mine, I would be shooting at a blank target.   I’m not alone, there are others.

What are your thoughts?  My daughter is not quite 2 years old, so I can admit that my perspective of schooling is restricted to being a teacher.  Leave a comment about what came to your mind while reading this post.  Thank you.

October 29, 2013

No Rules, No D-Halls, No Reminders, No Zeroes

The training and structuring that has developed in my classroom is the best it’s ever been.  I’d like to share with you some of the ways I’ve developed a positive classroom culture with no rules, no D-halls, no reminders, and no zeroes.

Every teacher has moments in their career when they feel as if their students aren’t motivated.  A teacher feels that no matter how hard they try, they just can’t get the students to buy in and express any concern for what is being done in the classroom.  In fact, some may feel that way all the time.  Can you imagine how it must feel walking into a classroom with 20-30 students looking at you that could seemingly care less about what you’re about to ask them to do?  I can say it’s miserable!  Never has there been an effective teacher that didn’t like their job.  All effective teachers are happy teachers, and it’s difficult to be a happy teacher when your students appear to lack any motivation or concern for what you’re trying to teach.

I have dedicated a considerable amount of resources, energy, and most importantly, time, to creating a class that students enjoy, but one in which they are challenged.  Challenging students and motivating students are not an easy task.  Every day I’m reminded of how directed my students are, and how aware they are of what they’re learning well and what they’re not learning so well.  Does this describe every student?  Not yet.  But it does describe most of them.  Below you’ll find some techniques I’ve found to be successful in motivating and engaging my own students.  Most of these efforts are also intended to develop more personal relationships with my students.  All of these efforts are accomplished without rules, D-halls, reminders, or zeroes.

  • @Celly: I use celly with my students and parents as a means to communicate.  This also allows my students and I a safe place to exchange comments, positive reinforcement, and questions. You’d be surprised at what a simple text broadcasted to students and parents will do for my class the following day. One evening I texted a list of names who had been working hard online that evening. The next evening I had twice as many students working hard from home.  If you don’t know about Celly, definitely check it out!
  • Email is still effective.  I make an attempt to email personal messages home to at least 2 students each week.  At the beginning of the year I made a strong attempt at gathering an email from all homes represented by my students. I used a simple Google form to accomplish this. Sending a positive, personal message home bragging about a student requires about 5 minutes.  This has been a high – yield strategy for me this year.  I’ve received great feedback from students and parents.  One student came in the next day and said “Mr. Oldfield, will you send another message home?  I got my phone back last night and I’m not grounded anymore!”
  • We have Blennerhassett Bobcat cards at my school. They’re postcard sized, with a spot to write a short note. These have become an amazing tool and they require very little time. In 30 seconds I can write a positive, encouraging note to a student. I try to hand deliver the notes too. Since I started doing this I’ve heard from other teachers telling me that a student stopped by their room to show them the card he/she received from me. The students are so proud of these cards.
  • I have a wall of fame in my room. Students appear to be working hard to gain recognition on my wall. I admit, I need to invest more into this attempt at improving student motivation in my classroom.  I have not publicized what is required to gain a spot on the wall.  I find that doesn’t restrict students to only doing what is required. IMAG3081
  • I have also made a strong effort this year to leverage the power of social media to connect with my students at the place where they spend a ton of time.  I’ve broadcast my Twitter name to my classes and my parents.  Twitter has provided me the opportunity to share student success in a place that is important to students.  I imagine most students would prefer I praise them in front of their peers, rather than in private to their parents.  How strong is your voice?
  • I use Khan Academy with my students. Thankfully, it allows me to monitor student use/activity extremely effectively. It takes me about 5 minutes to access Khan Academy and check to see which students have been active.  If I stopped there, I’d be missing out on a tremendous potential.  Checking on students activity allows me to touch base with them, either via Celly, Twitter, or face to face the next morning.  Even a simple “Hey I saw you working really hard last night, how did it go?” sends a strong message to my students that I care about what they’re doing.  Is there a stronger message to send?  One morning I perched myself outside my door, waiting for a young lady to come around the corner because I noticed she finally passed adding and subtracting negative numbers the night before.  She completed a total of 234 problems over the course of the 9 weeks grading period.  This was a skill that presented her with a ton of difficulty.  I had exhausted myself with scaffolded support, working 1:1, researching interventions and strategies, etc.  That morning she came around the corner, I just pat her on the back and said, “Congratulations!  I see you passed last night!”  She started crying tears of joy over me acknowledging her hard work and success.

There are, no doubt, many effective ways to improve student motivation, show students that you care, and broadcast student success.  These are a few of the things that have affected my classroom tremendously!

October 23, 2013

More HW does not equal more rigor

I just want to update parents, students, and educators on how my experiment with Standards-Based Grading and less homework is going.  Today marks the end of our first grading period here at Wood County Schools, WV.  I created a Google form where my students answered one question: what class was your hardest during this 1st 9 weeks?  I know my results are based purely on student opinion.  It’s tough to measure what class is really the “toughest” to students.  But nonetheless, it was a short, easy survey and students had every opportunity to answer honestly as the survey was completely anonymous.  All I did was make sure students didn’t answer more than once.  I was curious about how they would respond.  Would students consider my class one of the easiest because I give far less homework than the rest of my teammates?  Does assigning more homework increase rigor in a classroom?  Is there a correlation?  I think the results speak for themselves.  As of 4:00, Wednesday October 23, there were 77 total responses.

  • Reading: 5
  • Science: 12
  • WV Studies: 13
  • English: 17
  • Math: 30

Now, I don’t think it’s right to apply this data to any other class and base any conclusions off of the specific homework/grading procedures represented in those classes.   For example, I wouldn’t suggest that since I assign less HW, my class is more rigorous.  Nor would I suggest that since English assigns the most HW, that class is less rigorous.  I can only apply my students’ responses to my experiment with SBG and no HW.  I do think it’s ok for me to conclude that, according to the data, my students do consider my class challenging.  It appears that I don’t have to assign HW to make my class challenging.  Challenging students doesn’t have to be related to the amount of HW.  Unfortunately, I wonder how many educators would agree with that statement?

September 13, 2013


This came across my Twitter recently from some ed leaders that I follow.  I thought it was necessary to share it with everyone.  I hope it serves as encouragement to feel comfortable standing up for your child’s education.
Derek Oldfield

Parent Pushback

Lately, I am seeing a troubling trend that I am sure is not new, but as a “younger” parent I am starting to take notice of. Many of my friends have kids starting back at school as well as countless members of my PLN online. My inboxes, streams and updates are flooded with great back to school pictures but also some complaints. It appears that lots of parents have experienced things with their child in school they are not happy with. This is not a terribly new occurrence but some of the reactions are not sitting right with me.

Parents are loathing the fact they have to sign a paper indicating if their child doesn’t turn their work in on time it will be marked as a zero. They post updates about the absurdity of a teacher’s homework calendar and insane amount of packets that are coming home nightly for completion. Some are even sharing personal stories about signing off on classroom rules and policies they completely disagree with. Another trend is children being injured at school and parents not being notified. This troubles me. If parents are upset enough to post and share about these things, then why are they not taking steps to change it? Why are they not at least making it a point of conversation with their child’s teacher or building staff?

When I begin questioning these individuals, they all have excuses about why they do not step up and push back on the classroom teacher. The most common answer is they don’t want their words or actions to be held against their child. There is a fear if they become “that parent” their child will be singled out and treated differently because of it. Another reason I have heard is many of these parents are teachers in their child’s district and have a level of anxiety over their jobs. If they push back as a parent, what will that mean for their role as a teacher?

I wish I had an easy answer to those problems because the sad reality is both of those things happen in some cases. I have seen this first hand and it is something in the back of my mind as a parent. I can’t defend those teachers and yet many teachers would welcome the parent feedback and others just may need to be pushed. As a teacher if I am doing something that is upsetting to a parent or family, I want to be aware of it. If not, I can’t change my practice or at least have an opportunity to explain my actions. On the other side of the fence, as a parent I feel that my children deserve the best education possible and will advocate as such in a professional and appropriate manner. If parents are not willing to standup for what they know or think is right, the inevitable outcome is more negative updates and inboxes.

Just as I feel teachers have a moral obligation to stand up for every child, do we not expect parents to do the same for their own? Yes, I recognize that many educators fear parents will be unreasonable or inappropriate in their perceived demands. If we as parents stand by and allow things we disagree with to be done to our children, we are part of the problem. On the other hand, if we as teachers do not provide opportunities and situations for parents to provide that feedback, then we are the bigger problem.

What are you doing as a parent to constructively push back on your child’s school or teacher? As a teacher, how are you providing a forum for this discussion to take place?