Time to un-hibernate

The weather in this corner of the northeast has been a real challenge. Since January 1 we’ve accumulated 4 school snow day cancellations; thank goodness this week was a school vacation week or we’d be adding at least one more snow day to the list.

Spending your vacation at home is not very exciting. Yes, we got some things accomplished, but there were no adventures for us this week. Unless you find shoveling heavy, wet snow up and over your head onto snowbanks the size of Mount Washington adventuresome. Or you think chipping 3 inches of ice off the driveway is fun.

It is hard to be spiritually uplifted when everything around you is the color of slate, crusted with sand and embedded with the roadside detritus torchidossed by commuters on the way to somewhere. The endless supply of grey, overcast sky seems to be a constant lately.

Yesterday, badly in need of a break from all this winter ambience, I took a detour from my to-do list of errands and ended up at a local garden greenhouse, miraculously open at this time of year. Oh, the beauty of the greens – ferns, prayer plants, coleus, African violets. There is something about the smell of the wet soil that is heavenly.

And so, I’ve declared this the end of my winter hibernation. We are moving toward spring, even if the spring is within the walls of a greenhouse.

And my soul is filled with promise and hope.


A Lesson in Discussion in Mathematics

It wasn’t exactly where I had anticipated directing the discussion yesterday. And as it turns out, that was not only a moment of revelation, it was a glimpse into good things that can happen to mathematical discussions.

Have you seen a problem that is something like this one?

31 students are going on a field trip. They travel in cars holding 4 students and a driver. How many cars will they need?

With second language learners, I expected that we would have a discussion about what should be done with the remaining students.  We never actually got to that.

At the Summary point in our lesson, I asked volunteers to explain their thinking and computation for the problem. Three student volunteers stepped up to the document camera and explained their thinking: student one divided 31 by 3; student two divided by 4 and student three divided by 5.  Which one was correct?

The rest of the students kept turning around to me to see which of the three students had the right – as in which student had the one correct solution.  I’ve been working on this area of my teaching for a while now, and fortunately I did not take the bait.

Because had I stepped into the discussion as “teacher as the holder of all things correct” , I would have missed one of the all-time great moments of teaching — the time when the students follow all those discussion norms we’ve worked on and have a debate about which student had the most logical interpretation of this word problem.  I wish I had filmed it!

What did these fourth grade mathematicians decide? Although student one’s  interpretation made sense to him, there was general agreement “4 students and a driver”  did not mean divide by 3. Student two pointed out that bus drivers don’t go inside on field trips, so neither would car drivers; if the students were fourth graders, divide by 4. And student three? Student three is steadfastly holding the position that if the students were high school aged, one of them might be able to drive; therefore, divide by five.

And my question – what to do with the remaining students? Well, we’ll work on that one on another day.

Unintended consequences

Most of the time when I see this phrase, it’s not a good thing. Today, however, there was an unintended consequence that fell into the plus side of the education balance sheet.

In anticipation of state testing, my students have been practicing writing to a prompt for a couple of weeks. This week, we practiced using this prompt from MCAS:

Think about a memory you have of a teacher. The memory could be something funny your teacher said or did, something your teacher taught you, a field trip you teacher took you on, or a time that your teacher made you feel proud.

Many children wrote about their Kindergarten teacher, or First or Second Grade. But one of my quietest students, unexpectedly wrote about me! Since the essay is about 6 pages long – dialog included – I won’t subject readers to the full writing. I certainly did hear my own voice projected through this student’s writing – some of the dialog describing a multiplication lesson seemed to come right out of my mouth with amazing accuracy! Hmmm, maybe I should be checking for recording devices?

But the words that this child wrote, the words that expressed this child’s feelings about me were that Mrs. Bisson “teaches in a funny way and gives you advice on how to remember important things”. What more could a teacher want than this?

After a difficult, stress-filled week at school, this child’s test prep (!) essay had the unintended consequence of lifting one bone-tired teacher’s spirits.

Beginning student led discussions

“I can” statements are part of our lesson planning. I craft these statements for each segment of our day, direct student attention to them before, sometimes during, and after a lesson.

One of the mini lessons I planned this week was to introduce students to an FQR organizer (Facts-Questions-Response). Of course that included a link to the Common Core AND and “I can” statement.

After the mini lesson, students were directed to work in partnerships to read a nonfiction text found in our Reading Street books (not a fan of basals, but a great way to find multiple copies of a text) and with the partner jot on the FQR. Mindful of the role that academic language plays, I planned for students to collaborate in partnerships to complete the FQR and then use Turn and Talk to encourage discussion with another partnership.

I usually go into discussion-based activities expecting glitches and expecting that I may need to reteach and redirect students who enjoy social language a lot more than academic language 🙂  This time, however, as I moved from group to group, I heard…. actual discussion of what facts were learned, wonderings, questions, and reactions to the text.

Mindful attention to the “I can” helped me to think about what my students would need to become successful. We not only worked on the process for an FQR, we reviewed our norms for discussion. And that allowed me to be an observer on the sidelines.206Books

I can turn and talk about facts, questions and responses to a nonfiction text. YES!

A New Voice for Education Reform

A colleague and friend shared this article from the Washington Post this week.

James Meredith, a hero of the Civil Rights Movement, is proposing another kind of education reform – one that is based on equity, on the idea that everyone – not just those who can parse the vagaries of charter school or private school lotteries and applications or financial good-standing – is entitled to a quality education.

Notice that high-stakes, one shot tests aimed at further alienating the haves and the have-nots is not on the list of the America Child’s Bill of Education Rights.  Of the 12 points – and I agree with them all – Number 12 is, for me, the most critical:

12.  A 21st Century Education: A school and a nation where children and teachers are supported, cherished and challenged, and where teachers are left alone to the maximum extent possible by politicians and bureaucrats to do their jobs – – which is to prepare children for life, citizenship, and careers with true 21st century skills: not by drilling them for standardized tests or forcing a culture of stress, overwork and fear upon them, but by helping them fall in love with authentic learning for the rest of their lives, inspiring them with joy, fun, passion, diligence, critical thinking and collaboration, new discoveries and excitement, and having the highest academic expectations of them.

Are you listening Mr. Obama and Mr. Duncan?