Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What is #Rigor?

I'm very excited to announce that I am now hosting a radio show for BAM Radio Network on rigor.  There will be a new one every other week, and topics include Rigor for Students with Special Needs, Rigor in the Band Classroom, Rigor for Gifted Students, etc.  First up, What is rigor?  What is it NOT?  Join me as I interview Dr. Abbigail Armstrong from Winthrop University for an 8 minute talk on rigor.  And please provide feedback for me here in the comments.  Thank you!  Barbara

Monday, May 25, 2015

Keeping a List of Successes

Do you keep a list of successes?  Earlier I recommended that you reflect on success as part of your reflection for the year, but today I want to focus on this one point.  My first couple of years, I waited until the end of the year to to write them down.  The problem was, I forgot a lot of them, especially
the small successes.  It's important to remember all on them, including those that are tiny, but make a difference.  For example, I forgot to write down that Ronnie actually smiled when I helped him read the driver's manual.  And I didn't remember that Susanna fussed, but was then appreciative when I referred her to the counselor because of family issues.  Finally, I always forgot that look in a student's eye the first time they "got it".  I almost took them for granted. 

But we need to track all our successes, or we do forget them.  And then, we begin to think we don't make a difference.  I learned to keep a success journal, which allowed me to reflect on things I did, things my students did, and comments or quotes I liked to keep.  You can get my blank success journal here (scroll down).  

Tracking your successes helps you remember something very important:  You make a difference everyday--even when you don't feel like it, especially when you don't feel like it!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Getting Organized this Summer

Today's post is again from Dr. Frank Buck, author of Get Organized!, due out early fall from Routledge (links at the bottom of the post).  This one is on using the summer to organize all your information.  When I read the draft of his book, I immediately thought, "I need to do that!"  I think you'll respond the same way.

Your Summer Project: “Develop an Elephant-Like Memory”

They say elephants never forget. What if you could have one with you at all times and let it be in charge of remembering all of the reference information in your life?
  • ·      Your airline frequent-flyer numbers, hotel rewards numbers, the code for the copying machine, and the size of the air filter you need for your home, just to name a few.
  • ·      Details from important conversations, information from the faculty meeting, and the good ideas from that workshop.
  • ·      Supporting information for your current projects.
  • ·      Articles from the Internet which seem to be of lasting value.
  • ·      Checklists for preparing for field trips, your own vacation, or tasks to perform at the end of each grading period.
  • ·      Notes from doctor visits for yourself or your children.

Trying to remember it all is enough to give you an elephant-sized headache. Writing it on sticky notes is no solution. The truth is most people don’t have a good system for keeping up with the information
in their lives. If this scenario sounds like you, help is on the way. You can have it today and have it for free. The answer is Evernote.

Why Now?
Teachers are busy people. While we look for ways to take our game to the next level, we often lack the time to learn the tools which will help us do it. In this profession, summer offers the largest block of discretionary time we will ever have. Summer presents the opportunity to invest time in a project that will pay dividends later.

Why Evernote?
We rely heavily on our mobile devices. The perfect warehouse for our reference information is one that we can access from our phone or tablet. Furthermore, we need to be able to edit and create new information on the go.

Secondly, our mobile devices have terrible file structures. They don’t provide the hierarchy of folders within folders we are used to on our computers. Evernote, with its system of notebooks, provides the much-needed file structure.

Let’s Get Started
If you are convinced that Evernote is worth a try, you can get up and going in minutes:
  1. Create a free account at Evernote.com.
  2. While at the Evernote website, look for a link to “Download.” What you are downloading is the desktop client. Your Evernote information will be physically stored on your computer via the desktop. The desktop client will automatically sync to your Evernote account in the cloud.
  3. Look for a link to download the “Web Clipper.” To find the link, you may need to perform an Internet search for “Evernote Web Clipper.”
  4. On your other computers (school, home, laptop), log into your account at Evernote.com and download the Evernote desktop client. Depending on your browser, you may need to download and install the web clipper.
  5. On your mobile devices, download Evernote from wherever you download apps for those devices.
  6. Watch this less-than-a-minute overview of Evernote.
  7. Watch this 6-minute video where a teacher shows how she uses Evernote. She even shows use of the Web Clipper. Note that the appearance of technology tools changes over time. Her Web Clipper will look a little different than yours.

Create Some Notebooks
The 6-minute video you just watched showed some of the notebooks one educator has constructed. I suggest you read this blog post. There, I talk about the notebooks I use. Don’t worry about getting your notebook structure perfect at first. You can always create a new notebook at any time. Moving a note from one notebook to another is also easy. Much like learning to ride a bicycle, you get on and ride. You get better as you work with it.

A Glimpse at the Possibilities
1.     Forward emails to Evernote. Suppose you have an Evernote notebook devoted to a particular project. As you receive emails related to that project, wouldn’t it be great if you could forward a copy of them to that Evernote notebook. Evernote gives you a special email address. Go to your Contacts and create a new entry. Call it “Evernote,” and paste that special email address. Anytime you receive an email which you want to store in Evernote, simply click “Forward,” choose “Evernote,” and send.
2.     Send emails from Evernote. You can right-click any note and choose to share it via email with anyone you like.
3.     Share a note. Right-click and copy the link. Every note has its own URL. Sending that URL to someone else allows them to view your note. If you make changes to your note, the same URL allows the person to see the most recent version.
4.     Save photos, voice, and notes together. Imagine a 1st grade teacher who wants to record a student reading a short passage. She also wants to include a photo and add her own typed comments about the student’s progress. Evernote allows all three types of data to be included in a single note.
5.     Keep lesson plans. In this post, I talk about how you could keep lesson plans in Evernote and be able to access them from anywhere.

Make Your Summer Count
How would you feel if you could access instantly and edit easily the reference information that is important to you, and do it from anywhere? How much time could you save if your information was in one, searchable location? How will others view you when you seem to be able to put your fingers on needed information instantly?

Perhaps you have found yourself exclaiming, “I’ve got to get organized!” With Evernote, you will have the tool. With the summer approaching, you will have the time. Make your summer count.

Frank Buck served as a middle-level band director, principal, and central office administrator during a career of almost 30 years. He now speaks and writes on the subject of organization and time management. He is the author of Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders and Organization Made Easy!: Tools for Today’s Teachers, both published by Routledge. You can read more of Dr. Buck’s work at FrankBuck.org.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Reflecting on the Year: Four Questions

As the school year is winding down, take some time to reflect.  It's easy to forget this, because there are so many tasks to do now, but I found this was important.  We need to ask ourselves four questions:
1.  What worked?
2.  What do I want to change next year?
3.  What were my successes with students (nothing is too small)?
4.  What do I want to do to prepare for next year? 

If you take the time to answer these questions now, it will prepare you for next year.  In August, pull them back out and use them to start your year!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Catching Up on New Resources

Check out my newest article at Middleweb, Virtual Field Trips Spice Up Learning.  Here's the intro:

Virtual field trips are a great way to excite your students and incorporate technology into instruction. In today’s budget-conscious and time-stressed schools, this is particularly helpful. Imagine the activities you can integrate into your classroom with, for example, a virtual tour of one of the Smithsonian Institution’s many museums, galleries or past exhibitions.
However, it’s important to remember that the field trip itself should not be the end result. Any tour should be linked to your standards, and the activities should result in increased learning related to your objectives. In the sample below, a visit to The Louvre was linked to a study of Egyptian history in grade 6. With adaptations of the assignments, it could easily be used in an art class.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Displaying Student Work

A final way to provide positive recognition is to display student work. However, it’s important to do this in a way that students don’t view it as a competition in which only the best students get their work posted. Everyone needs a fair chance to have his or her work on display. At Frank Buck’s school, each student has his or her own “spot” in the hallway outside the classroom. “That spot is labeled with the student’s name and often includes a photograph of the student. Throughout the year, that student’s work will appear in that same spot. Parents can walk through the hallways and know
exactly where to find the work their children have produced. Our hallways are lined with cork strips, which makes the process of posting and changing out work easy.”
However, students should also have a choice. If they truly don’t want to post their work, they shouldn’t be forced to display a product. Suzanne explains,

I have them select their work or have input; if they choose not to have anything displayed, that’s OK, but I want to figure out another way to highlight some success for that child. Some are uncomfortable about handwriting or artwork, and I don’t want to force them to put out in front of world something too personal to share. Some are such perfectionists; they are never satisfied with their work. And what you don’t want is for something that is intended to be positive to turn negative and engender bad feelings (such as, “mine looks so much worse than everyone else’s”). That’s when I turn to something that is a team effort; maybe display group work. That way, the members of group are all listed, but if a child is uncomfortable with written work, his [or her] ideas are included but not in the form of writing.

Finally, here's a great quote from @larryferlazzo:

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Getting May Right!

Today's blog post comes from a good friend, Dr. Frank Buck.  He is a specialist in getting organized, and is the author of the book, Get Organized!, which is coming out at the start of the school year.  I highly recommend it! Enjoy his recommendations for finishing the year right.

Getting May Right

One of my vivid memories from junior high is the first ride on the “Scream Machine” at Six Flags, a wooden roller coaster towering over 100 feet traveling downhill at almost 60 miles per hour. The ascent up the tall incline was slow and deliberate. But when the coaster crested that hill, the bottom fell out. All around me, smiles turned to looks of panic. Laughter turned to screams as my comrades and I were thrown from side to side and jerked up and down.

Ninety seconds later, the coaster came to a stop just as quickly as the thrill had begun. We had survived! Nothing had prepared us for the sudden transition from calm to panic.

The next time I would experience something similar was also in junior high—only this time, I was a first-year teacher experiencing my first May. Nothing had prepared me for what was about to happen.

What about you? Do you find the final month of school to be overwhelming? On the other hand, are you in your first year as a teacher or principal and have no idea what is about to hit?

Here are five tips to help you navigate May productively:
1.     Make two lists. Tasks arrive at warp speed during this final month. Get really good at recognizing which ones must be handled before students scatter for the summer and which ones can wait until the “roller coast ride” is over and the pace is less hectic. Begin every day with a list of pre-defined work. Keep that list front-and-center throughout the day. Whittle it down during every spare minute. Other good ideas will surface. Trap those on a second list, one that you can work on at your leisure during the summer.

2.     Work ahead of deadlines. If the frantic pace of year’s end has not yet hit, do yourself a favor. Look ahead to the tasks which have May deadlines but you could work on now. The more tasks you can tackle while things are relatively calm, the easier the final week becomes.

3.     Expect the unexpected. On April 1, your agenda for May doesn’t look that crowded. Just wait. Other people procrastinate, and their failure to plan means work gets dumped on you at the last minute. If your dance card is already full, get ready for long days and lots of stress. But, if you are working ahead of headlines and judiciously postponing non-urgent tasks until the summer, you leave yourself breathing room.

4.     Trap repeating tasks. We close school every year, and the tasks which lead up to the final day repeat themselves every single spring. When one of these repeating tasks lands on your radar, you should never have to think about it again. Any good digital task list will allow you to specify that a task needs to be done on a certain date each year. My favorite is Toodledo.

5.     Enjoy the ride. The groundwork you have laid all year long is coming to fruition. First-graders are reading well. The French I class has an unbelievable mastery of the language. Those shy students in Drama now take the stage like champions. Savor the moment as the coaster speeds down the hill and roars around the curves. Experience the thrill of a job well-done. Relish in all of the end-of-year celebrations.
When the roller coaster comes to its sudden halt, some exit the cars physically and mentally exhausted. Others exclaim, “Wow! Can we do that again?” For those who are in the profession for the long-haul, you will do May again, and again, and again. Getting May right is a gift to both you and your students.

Frank Buck served as a middle-level band director, principal, and central office administrator during a career of almost 30 years. He now speaks and writes on the subject of organization and time management. He is the author of Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders and Organization Made Easy!: Tools for Today’s Teachers, both published by Routledge. You can read more of Dr. Buck’s work at FrankBuck.org.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Using Symbols for Praise, Part Two

Monday we looked at a classroom-based symbol to praise students.  Today, Frank Buck, former principal at Graham School in Alabama, tells of a school-wide effort to recognize students:

The need for a student recognition program is clear. On the other hand, the paperwork associated with them can be enough to make one think twice. The system we have used is called the “Recognition Log,” which consists of a 3-ring binder with lined paper.  There are three columns:  Name, Teacher Who Recognized Me, and What I Did.

The notebook is housed on a stand in the main office so that it is easily accessible to students who need to sign it or visitors who would like to view it. The process is very simple. When a staff member or volunteer witnesses a student doing something worthy of positive recognition, he or she directs the student to go to the office and sign the Recognition Log. That’s it! There are no special forms to distribute to staff members. Any adult, [whether] a teacher, a lunchroom worker, a custodian, an aide, or a parent volunteer, has the authority to send a student to sign the log.

About once a week, I select a name at random from the Recognition Log for inclusion on our morning intercom announcements. I read the student’s name, why the student is being recognized, and the name of the adult who sent [the student] to sign the log. The student gets to come to the office to select a prize [which is usually one of those] free promotional items we all receive in the mail or pick up at conventions. I really believe our Recognition Log has impacted the culture of our school. Children routinely bring to the office money they have found, because being able to sign the Recognition Log is more meaningful than the dollar they find on the ground. They are also quick to pick up paper dropped carelessly by someone else or stop to help a student who has dropped her books all over the hallway. For a system that takes virtually no time to administer and pays such large rewards in terms of student behavior, we could not be happier with the Recognition Log.

What a great way to work with students on a school-wide basis to reinforce positive behavior and achievement!