Sunday, December 27, 2015

Variety and Choice: The Spice of Life in Education

Variety in life is a good thing.  Variety and choice are a couple of things that make our country and this time in our lives great.  For some as adults, the different variety and choices that we have take time to get used to.  But for our students, this is the only life they know. 

Our students take advantage of variety and choice everyday.  The only problem is, in education, we don’t take advantage of that.  For years in our educational system, we have tried to avoid variety and limit the amount of choices for students and teachers.  Why? That’s for another blog post.  For now, the fact of the matter is as educators, we need to offer different opportunities for our teachers and students.

When I meet with teachers and discuss preparation, instruction, and assessment of students, one of the biggest opportunities for growth with educators is using assessment data and assessment choices.  As educators, it seems that it is ingrained in us to assess students the same way students have been assessed for years.  The mindset is, “It is has worked for this long so why change?”   That may have worked 10 to 15 years ago, but as stated above, our students and society have changed.  Our students need choice.  Whether it’s good or bad, our students expect choice.  Students have different needs, learning styles and abilities.  In education, we need to cultivate their desires for differentiation allowing them to demonstrate growth based on their styles.

Differentiating assessment choices may sound intimidating to many in education.  We are just not accustomed to doing it because it is not how we learned when we were in school.  The great thing is, by making subtle changes in the classroom and in our mindset, we can make differentiation a smoother process:
  • Change your Instruction

Instruct differently.  Maybe not everyday and every lesson, but try some new approaches.  Changing your instructional mindset allows your assessment mindset to transition.  At that point, you're not taking a risk.  You’re simply changing your assessment based on a change of instruction.

  • Increase Student Resources

The correct type, amount, and use of resources leads to more student creativity.  Allow students to use their resources and creativity to show what they know.

  • Increase Student Choice

Students have good ideas.  Growing up in a society that offers so much choice and variety fuels creativity.  Ask students how they would like to be assessed.  Trust me, they will surprise you.

  • Utilize Professional Resources

Ask others (outside of your classroom) for their opinion.  Allow them to share their creativity and ideas with you.  There are many different resources to use (blogs, social media, department meetings) to gain more knowledge about assessment choices. 

  • Practice More   
Give students more opportunity to practice.  Use more formative and diagnostic assessments each day in class.  We can accumulate a great deal of data and use it quickly with the help of technology.  Analyzing data allows educators to identify student strengths and needs immediately so class time is used effectively and efficiently.

We need to change our mindset.  A great place to start is how we deliver instruction to our students.  Taking small steps to deliver and assess instruction in a different way will create learning opportunities for a number of students.  Let’s match our instruction and assessments with our students needs instead of matching them with our comfort level.  What do we have to lose?  Not as much as we have to gain.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The GPS in Education: Meaningful Measurable Objectives

Goals are an important part of life.   Without them, we often are just treading water.  As Earl Nightingale said, "People with goals succeed because they know where they're going."  There are many different examples in life where we can point to the importance of goals: athletics, behavior of children, academic success, business success and so on.  

Often during pre-conferences and observations, a discussion centering around the focus for student learning takes place.  In this discussion, we often recognize the importance of measurable objectives in daily lessons.  As educators, we need to establish goals for our students.  Creating goals gives our classes more structure and are easier for students to comprehend because they know what is expected.  Think of it as a GPS; we type in our destination, receive directions and we eventually end up where we need to go.  Our classrooms should look the same way.

There are 4 areas of focus for creating measurable objectives:

1. What is your goal for day, the week, the unit?
As stated above, all students need goals so they can be successful.  What do you want students to learn when they are in your class?  Establish a goal: it can simple (five parts of the design process or steps to create a brochure).  Each day there should be a goal.  It may be an extension of a previous lesson, but there should be a goal nonetheless.

2. What knowledge do you want the students to gain?
This is accomplished by creating learning targets or "I can…" statements that identify the learning level where students should end.  A good resource for determining the level of knowledge for students is Bloom's Taxonomy.  Some lessons or projects require different levels of learning for students ("Identify the five parts of the design process" compared to "Demonstrate the steps necessary to create a brochure").

3. Choose your words carefully
You have to know exactly what you need in #2 above in order to complete #3 correctly.  The learning level of students will depend on the correct verbiage used for the behavior at hand.  A great tool to use is an objective builder such as the one featured on this site.  It allows you to choose the correct term so your students know exactly what they need to do.

4. Make sure to add your destination
Students need to know how they are to demonstrate they have reached the end goal.  Its much like our GPS example above, if we don't put in the destination, the GPS won't guess where we are going for us.     Let students know if they need to illustrate they know what they are doing in an assessment, project, paper, lab or whatever the educator is looking for to show mastery.  Referring to one of the examples above, asking a student to demonstrate the necessary steps to create a brochure doesn't tell the student how they need to do this to show mastery.  Adding how you want the student to "Demonstrate the necessary steps to create a brochure by creating a brochure in MS Office" does.

Measurable objectives are a basic part of our daily lives.  We need them in education so our students have a path.  A goal without a plan is just a dream.  Help our students get from Point A to Point B and be successful by taking the time to create meaningful measurable objectives that give students and parents clarity.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

5 Steps to Personalizing Professional Development without Technology

Teaching can be a lonely place.  As educators we need to do a better job of connecting with others especially fellow educators in our buildings and districts. 
Many educators and educational experts talk about educators connecting through social media.  I would agree with that.  Educators should connect through different tools and applications such as Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and others.  But to grow as educators in our buildings and district, I believe peer-to-peer communication and interaction is most beneficial for overall growth of local educators and students in our communities.

Relationships, along with efficient and effective learning environments, are vital pieces in the foundation of outstanding schools.  As educators, we need to use the growth possibilities that exist in our own schools and districts.  The growth possibilities are created by the relationships with other educators in the buildings and district.  As educators, we eat with each other, work with each other, but do we really reflect and utilize each other’s practices and methods?  Do we take the time to go into other teachers’ classrooms and learn from them?  Do we gain knowledge from other educators’ instructional methods and provide them feedback on their methods? 

We need to make teaching a public act and open ourselves to learn from each other.  This is easier said than done due a number of reasons.  The most prominent is usually the lack of time educators have to instruct, plan, research, and develop professionally each year.  So how can we help educators grow from their peers?  Let’s look at five areas to focus on to find this growth:

Talk with other teachers
See what teachers in your building are doing.  Listen to what other teachers are doing.  Find out what you want to do in your classroom and who already does it well in your building.  Hosting a building or district EdCamp is an excellent way to do that.  There will be a variety of sessions on different methods and tools that will expand your instructional practices.

Make it a point to take the time
As mentioned above, we are all looking for more time.  Take time out of your day, whether it is during your lunch or conference period, to visit other classrooms.  Do it for no other reason than helping students.  Work with your department team to create a schedule where each of you may be able to visit other educators and learn something new from them.  Learn from observation and don’t leave any excuses on the table.  If you want to get better, make it happen!

Go cross curricular
Stretch yourself and visit classrooms outside of your department.  Observe what the educator and students accomplish and visualize how you will use the same thing or something similar in your classes.  Build partnerships with other teachers for the greater good of the building.  Again, EdCamps are a great way to start leanring from others in your building.

Share your experiences
Let other educators know what you experienced.  Share it in a building email, staff meeting, department meetings, or even in the hallways.  Sharing our experiences helps the overall growth of the building and again allows others to visualize.

Change the culture
As more and educators take the time to learn from other educators in the class setting, the professional development mindset of the building will change.   Make it a part of the vision of the building and model for others.  As more teachers begin to visit other classes, trust begins to play a larger role around the building and fosters growth for all.

Teaching can be a lonely place if you don’t allow your teaching and others teaching to become an observation of work.  Work with other educators to share practices and methods to help our students grow by utilizing all of the educators in the building, not just the ones they have each period.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Effective Strategies for Teacher Evaluations

As we begin a new school year, many schools will focus on student growth and improving student learning.  While these are great ways for our schools and students to get better, it is also important to not lose sight of teacher and administrator growth during the school year.  Districts will focus on educator professional development during the year as a way to grow staff.  At times, we seem to forget that teacher evaluations are a great way for teachers and administrators to grow and become better at what they do.  Let's take a look at some effective strategies for teacher evaluations that will help both teachers and administrators grow during the school year:

1. Clear Communication
Clear communication between administrators and teachers is imperative.  Open dialogue including meetings before the observation, conversations with staff in the hallways or at lunch, or using applications such as Voxer to communicate with staff members will allow all parties to excel.  Its important to focus the conversations on teacher growth, administrator expectations, and the building's educational philosophy.  What the administrator expects to see in the classroom each day (whether it is an observation or not) should go hand-in-hand with the building educational philosophy as a whole.  This will develop a cohesiveness amongst the staff because they will know what it expected of them in each observation and evaluation.  
2. Attention to Detail 
Too many times administrators go into observations intending on writing everything down that is said and done in the classroom.  This practice allows administrators to refer to it when they are completing the paperwork for the evaluation.  As administrators, we need to turn our attention away from scribing and more towards focusing on the environment and relationships in the classroom.  Those two areas of education are the most important part of strong instruction.  If there is not a positive environment and quality relationships in a classroom setting, the instructional methods used are insignificant.  Focus on student engagement and generalize what you see and what stands out to you.  Yes, at times this will include collecting what is said as your evidence.  But don't get too wrapped up in recording evidence when you could be missing the most powerful part of the classroom experience: the learning environment and relationships that allow our students to grow as learners.

3. Timely and Positive Feedback
Observations and evaluations are a waste of time if there is no feedback involved for both the teacher and administrator.  It is important for administrators to share feedback with teachers as quickly as possible.  Think of it this way, the quicker an administrator can get feedback to a teacher, the quicker the building has a chance to grow.  This is really something that is overlooked by many administrators.  Teachers work and communicate with each other every hour of every day.  They discuss many things throughout the day and often into the night.  As administrators, we should encourage these discussions. Not only does it keep each teacher informed, but it also allows them to grow and learn more especially when it comes to observations and evaluations.  The sooner an administrator can share information with  a recently observed teacher, the quicker the feedback can be shared amongst the staff.  This will allow more teachers to try different instructional methods that the evaluator thought was positive and not use as much methods or resources if they were viewed as something to build upon for future observations.  

It is also important as an administrator to make suggestions for improving areas of need.  Do different things like suggest mentors or recommend class visits to other teachers in the building or district.  This allows educators to experience different educational settings that may help them learn more methods and resources to use to improve their instructional background.  

4. Learn Something Yourself
As an administrator, don't let the evaluation process take away your opportunities to grow as an educator.  Use the evaluation process to learn more about your staff and yourself.  Get educated on different content areas that are offered in your schools.  Become familiar with the different teaching styles that are utilized in your building.  Collect methods and resources to share with the rest of the staff and other buildings in the school district.  Go into evaluations with the thought process of, "I'm going to improve myself and assist the teacher in getting better too."  Its different than what many of us are used to in education, but it will help our students and that is really all that matters.

Administrators need to use the evaluation process as a way to improve your craft and solidify your place as an instructional leader in the building.  If teachers can see that the evaluation is a tool for them to get better and not remove them from their position, our entire educational system will improve.  Focus on the four areas above to allow yourself as an administrator to dig deeper into evaluations and use them for their original purpose: to help people get better so the overall product will improve.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Guest Post by Noah Dennison: Another Freshman Experience

While there are some who grew older and remember high school as a place that filled their time before college and the rest of their lives, I think as graduates of GLHS our seniors have done a little more than fill their time.  But with all of the accolades and accomplishments of high school, the reality is, we all need to change at certain points in our lives because the world around isn't going to sit still.  As seniors, you will find out that change is good and it sometimes comes with pain and frustration.  The good thing is, the pain and frustration are only temporary and eventually lead to success.

I recently asked '14 GLHS graduate Noah Dennison to write a guest post on my blog about his first year in college.  I thought the best way to send the Seniors out into the world was the same way they came into GLHS: with a Freshman Experience.  Take it all in Seniors: #WeAreLions

As much as you may be academically prepared for college, with the help of great high school teachers and countless hours dedicated to your studies, or maybe your  talent for guessing really well on multiple choice tests, one thing is certain: college is a different ball game. Sure, you'll more than likely take an entire schedule full of general education classes required by your school, but you've probably also heard that college professors are quite different. After all, how couldn’t they be?

Compare your class size of 20 to 30 students now and understand that some (but definitely not all) of your college class rosters will contain ten times that number of people. And when you think of the average student, you think of one of your friends, the kid that sits next to you in stats class, or someone like them. In college, literally anyone of any age group can be sitting next to you. This might not seem too crazy in writing, but imagine sitting down in a lecture hall for your first college English course as a 65-year-old woman takes the seat next to you. Her name was Marianne. She admitted to taking the class, "because it’s free for senior citizens to apply" and because she "wanted to be better at arguing with her husband." Towards the end of the course, as we approached American literature in the 1950's, she was able to actually give real life examples of similar themes from her childhood.

Really weird stuff will happen to you in and out of the classroom because, simply, college is a totally different arena. Because of all the crazy and typically very new stuff happening literally everywhere, you will definitely develop a sense of self-awareness like you've never had. By the time I finally moved out of my dorm, I actually felt like a different person. It's insane how differently you look at things like your family, home, and your friends after spending almost a full year in another place. That, of course, doesn't only apply to students leaving home, either.

There is a huge sense of independence found during freshman year. You start to realize that you can actually make real decisions on your own. Like, for example, when to file your state taxes, or even whether or not your 7:30 Biology lab is really all that important to you as a graphic design major.*
Going to college is a big step in a person's life. It definitely isn't something that should be taken for granted, especially if you're going to a state school (I mean, it's like $20,000 per year at the very least) and you should definitely try to go out of your comfort zone as much as possible to experience everything it has to offer. You'll learn a ton in your lectures and labs, but college is definitely not just inside the classroom.

*Go to classes, seriously. If you want a 1-Step Plan to failing a class: Don't Show Up.

Noah Dennsion
GLHS Class of 2014

Thursday, March 26, 2015

BYOD/1:1 and Differentiation

If you are thinking about or contemplating a BYOD or 1:1 initiative for your school, you should do it just for the amount of differentiation that will occur in your building and/or classroom. Teachers and students will find new & original ways to use the devices to master content. Some interesting ways that students & teachers use devices to learn content are:

1. Video & Pictures
Using video is a great way for students to demonstrate how they understand content. Students will amaze you by the number of ways they use video to demonstrate mastery. Students like to use apps such as YouTube Capture, Videolicious, and Screencast-o-matic to video projects & use as assessments to demonstrate mastery. Students also enjoy using Collaaj and ShowMe to use whiteboard functions and voice-overs. Students also use different video applications like Kahn Academy or EduCreations to watch videos to learn different material.

Students also use pictures to tell their stories. There are many apps out there that allow for collages & poster creation. One app that is a good poster app is Phoster. App allows students to create posters and save them as images. Teachers need to be flexible and allow students to demonstrate mastery in different ways than just summative assessments. Be flexible because your students are.

2. Peer-to-Peer
Following up on videos above, students love working in peer-to-peer environments and devices allow them to do this. Students can use the apps mentioned above and Google Drive to share documents with each other, edit documents at the same time, and create forms for input. There is nothing better than watching student collaboration & student discussion that creates critical thinking and growth.

3. Learning Management System (LMS)
Another great way to create differentiation is using an LMS such as Edmodo or Schoology. Students are able to express themselves on a platform that is similar to Facebook. Students can blog, ask questions, download documents, and communicate/collaborate with the teacher & other students. Students can post blogs and participate in discussions that allow them to demonstrate their knowledge of the content. Students have a voice and are members of a learning community. Collaboration can be a form a differentiation when students get support from their peers.

4. Basic Research
Sometimes students just use basic research as a form of differentiation. Students research answers or questions on the devices and find answers & explanations. Students improve their research skills & find different ways to learn content other than in the classroom.

Devices really do open doors for students. The apps I listed above are just a few that are used. Don’t get caught up in the reasons to fund or not fund or support a BYOD/1:1 initiative. If differentiation opportunities for students is important for you, then you have a great reason to go BYOD/1:1.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Instructions on how to sign up for GahannaThon Donor Drive

GahannaThon is scheduled for Saturday, January 31st starting at 6:00 pm.

Below are the instructions on how to sign up for Donor Drive for GahannaThon:

- Go to
- Click on “Find an Event”
- Scroll down until you find “GahannaThon” and click on it
- Click on “Register Now”
- Fill out information required and start fundraising!

Remember you need to raise $15 in order to get into the dance!!