Saturday, December 19, 2015

Am I an Innovator? 

Dear Readers,

I see and hear the word "innovator" on a regular basis lately in the academic/educational world. Many definitions, examples and names have been associated with innovation.  But, what is an innovator?

My latest professional read by George Couros has my wheels turning. It has caused me to stop and reflect. Am I an innovator?  I like to think that I am a risk-taker, with a growth mindset, who thinks outside the box. Does it make me an innovator or just creative? Regardless, these are some of my favorite practices inspired by others!

Friday Flowers with The 7 Habits

I have always loved the concept of handing out Friday Flowers. I first saw it in a colleague's 4th grade classroom a few years ago. She would hand them out, or have students hand them out, to another student and share a compliment about him/her. I took the idea and started handing out Friday Flowers to students I saw implementing the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. It has been a huge success! The next step is having them hand them out to each other.

Lead Like a Pirate Admin Challenges

The concept, from Shelley Burgess and Beth Hauf, to drop anchors to teachers/staff in classrooms, caught my attention. I took the idea and starting dropping anchors of appreciate and notice to students and colleagues. One of them even said, "Oh, is this one of those anchors?" The smile on one student's face made my day!

Google Docs

I started using Google Docs in the classroom this year and have loved the ability to share and exchange documents with students. It has also allowed me to interact, using the comment feature, with the entire class or on an individual basis as often as they need or want me to. They can respond back to my feedback, ask questions, etc. Additionally, it has allowed the students to have peer conferences in an entirely new format! 

Professional Reading Circle

My principal hosts a monthly professional reading circle. She includes bookmarks with dates and chapters to be read. When forming student book clubs, I borrowed and revised her idea. I showed the students her bookmark and then put them in small groups. They were charged with the task of creating norms and determining the reading for each discussion date. They did a fantastic job! I went one step further and let them choose their second book, from a selection I had chosen based on their interests, just as my principal does. It has allowed my book clubs to be more student centered and driven.


Although I am unable to participate in this weekly chat, co-moderators Sean Giallard and Natalie Krayenvenger, have inspired me with their love of music. My students also love music, as do I, however selecting tunes to play during class took up too much time. I created a class playlist, that we add to, which provides them a "musical menu" to choose from. Consequently, I can choose a class DJ to be in charge. It has helped instill the love of music into Language & Literature!

Amazing Chats and Educators

I think about the chats that I regularly (or semi-regularly) participate in and the amazing connections and educators I have met around the world. (#tlap, #read4fun, #whatisschool, #leadupchat, #satchat, #satchatwc, #nt2t, #g2great, just to name a few) Thank you for always pushing my thinking, challenging me and supporting me. It is sincerely appreciated!

I wish you all a safe, relaxing and wonderful holiday season! 


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Developing Independent Learners

Dear Readers,

As many of you know, I am an avid reader. I spent my summer exploring the idea of how to foster the development of independent learners in my classroom. I gained many ideas and strategies from the following resources:
  • Teach Like a Pirate (Dave Burgess)
  • Ditch That Textbook (Matt Miller)
  • Pure Genius (Don Wettrick)
  • Learn Like a Pirate (Paul Solarz)
  • 50 Things You Can Do in a Google Classroom (Alice Keeler)
The two questions that have been at the forefront of my mind while planning are:
  • How do I create learning experiences?
  • How do I implement instruction that allows for students to be in control of their learning?
Book Clubs

I am currently using Book Clubs as my instructional model. I wanted the experience to be as student driven as possible. My first step, of course, was to determine the components to be taught based on our school curriculum. I then started reading. I had a few titles in mind that would fit the unit, but wanted more options. The more I read, the better I am able to fit students with books they will be engaged in.

Choosing Books

After reflecting on the unit and essential learning, I chose three titles that I felt would engage my particular group of students. To my pleasant surprise, they were ALL excited about their book choice! (Presently, they are engaged and enjoying the texts as they work through them.)

Forming Groups

I compromised. I did not allow students to choose the groups, however I based my decisions on who I felt they would feel comfortable engaging in meaningful conversations with. I also kept the groups to 3 students per group. Now, I have the flexibility to keep them in small groups or combine them with the other group reading their title for a group of 6. (I have done this during their first Check-In which worked well. They started with their "base group" and then joined together.)

Book Club Expectations

This was the area I wanted students to have ownership over. I provided them due dates for the books and an outline. Their task was to:
  • Create Group Norms 
  • Write in Check-In and formal Discussion Dates
  • Determine the Reading Log (what chapters would be read by when)
As a model, I shared a Bookmark from a Professional Reading Circle I am a participant of. They did a fantastic job working together!

They were then able to choose their meeting space in the classroom. The chart paper posters were hung in their meeting area.

The students are provided a list of leadership roles (such as the facilitator) and independently assign roles within the group. They can change and rotate from meeting to meeting. 

Group Meetings

While reading the resource pictured below, I came across a wonderful idea! The students will have both Check-Ins (5-10 minutes each) and full Discussions (15-20 minutes each).  It also provided an idea to "kick off" book clubs. I made a Ziploc Bag for each student with post-its and a sweet treat. They loved it!

Modeling and Coaching

I have chosen a separate book to read along with them. I model the skills and strategies in my own book that they practice with me, in groups and independently. 

Additionally, I keep a writer's notebook. My planning also includes writing in response to reading and keeping my notebook updated. Students have access to my notebook whenever they need a reminder or to use as a guide.


As we head into week two of book clubs, some reflections I have as their teacher:
  • It is such a joy hearing them say, "This book is really good." It excites me that I made those literary connections.
  • It is difficult, at times, to sit back and allow them to problem solve on their own when they are struggling. It has made me a much better coach in offering guiding questions and modeling strategies for them without doing the work for them or giving TOO much direction.
  • My patience level is extremely high as I release responsibility to my students. Sometimes I sense frustration that I have to help them work through in order to coach that development of independence. 
  • When I do the work alongside them, I am better able to anticipate difficulties they will have. It also allows me to instruct more effectively because of my personal experience.
I want to thank my 8th grade students for being risk-takers. I want to thank them for challenging me and asking questions that push my thinking. I want to thank them for being a wonderful group of students to work with every day.

I also want to thank the authors, colleagues and educators who have inspired me to think outside the box.