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June 1, 2014
Vol. 71
No. 9

Tell Me About … / A Small Change That Made a Big Difference

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Building a Family Feeling

The culture at Sparkman Middle School has improved dramatically over the past two years, and one notable factor contributing to this change has been morning meetings. Each week, all students come together by grade level for a 15- to 20-minute meeting with teachers and administrators, during which we watch the student news broadcast and talk about issues that are important to all of us. From current events and important dates to a quiz show and student recognition, the morning meeting has it all. "It makes us feel like a family and like what we have to say is important," says an 8th grader. Since the implementation of morning meetings, student discipline referrals have been cut in half and test scores have gone up.
—Jennifer Whitt, teacher, Sparkman Middle School, Toney, Alabama

Blending Instruction to Increase Student Autonomy

Implementing blended instruction in precalculus class was the answer to my differentiated instruction challenge. Students who typically understood topics after initial instruction were able to move on to the next topic after demonstrating proficiency. Students who often asked follow-up questions became more independent as they began referring to their videos before asking me. But the most profound benefit was for my lower-performing students. They were able to pause and rewatch videos without the criticism of their peers—which has increased their mathematical confidence. Test scores rose 18 percent, and most students were pleased with the change.
—Stephanie Dillard-McClain, math teacher, Tarrant High School, Tarrant, Alabama

Expressing Appreciation

The WOW journal we implemented this year has been an inexpensive way to encourage and inspire our team. The journal circulates among our staff, enabling us to share positive things we have noticed and appreciated, such as a great lesson, a creative bulletin board, a great lunch in the cafeteria, and so on. The team loves this practice, and the journal has stayed in circulation since the fourth week of school. I have heard comments like, "I feel validated. I'm honored. I never knew that meant anything to anyone." We will make the WOW journal a tradition.
—Karen Norton, PK–6 principal, Carlisle Elementary School, Carlisle, Arkansas

Taking a Daily Health Break

My school teaches adult students in Laos who are preparing for study in Australia. The students have a packed daily schedule: four 90-minute classes, plus a one-hour self-directed learning period. Although all the teachers in our school have always tried to get students up and moving in class, this year we have actively promoted a program we call Stand Up for Your Health. We ask teachers to find a way every 20 minutes or so to get students to stand up. This might mean changing seats for pair work, having a one-minute stretch time, or simply engaging in a group discussion while standing instead of sitting. We encourage students to initiate the Stand Up time if teachers forget. We also have posters in all classrooms to serve as a visual reminder. The response from teachers and students has been overwhelmingly positive. The level of focus and engagement in classes has increased, and it provides a much-needed moment to pause in a class.
—Kristina Peachey, academic supervisor, Vientiane College, Vientiane, Laos

Recovering Credit—And Self-Confidence

The question we need to ask as educators is not "Can this student learn?" but rather, "How can this student learn?" For many at-risk students, our district has found the answer in our online credit recovery program. Students who have failed courses in English, mathematics, and social studies can retake them online. They work at their own pace, and the responsibility for learning rests squarely on their own shoulders. Since the program's inception, 86 percent of the students enrolled have succeeded in recovering credit for the courses they attempted. More important, they are recovering the self-confidence that will help them be more prepared for post-secondary life.
—Kip Pygman, RTI director, Leyden High School District 212, Franklin Park, Illinois

Turning Students On to Computer Programming

Hour of Code is a new initiative that falls during Computer Science Education Week, with the goal of inspiring K–12 students to learn computer programming. But during Computer Science Education Week this past December, I taught computer programming to students in 7th and 8th grade not for an hour, but for the entire week! Students learned vocabulary associated with coding, such as source code, tags, commands, troubleshoot, debug, syntax, execute, program, special symbols, and GUI (graphical user interface). They were introduced to writing HTML code in Notepad and saving it as an HTML file. By the end of the week, they created simple webpages and animated holiday cards. Most important, students took ownership of their programs and wanted to write more code. Many of the students continued to learn about coding from the Computer Science Education Week website and Khan Academy. Next year, I will definitely teach coding again.
—Kimberly Mattina, technology integration coach, William Davies Middle School, Mays Landing, New Jersey

Gearing Conferences to Parents' Needs

Because parent-teacher conference attendance was so low in our high school, we polled parents to get suggestions. In response to their feedback, we moved conferences to the gym, where parents could more easily locate the teachers whom they most needed to talk with about their child's progress. We also presented 15-minute informational sessions on topics like the college application process, ACT testing, academic supports in our high school, and college course offerings for students. In addition to changing the format for conferences, secretaries and administrators teamed up to call and schedule appointments for individual parents whose children were struggling. These efforts resulted in a 20 percent increase in parent attendance, and the feedback from the parents who attended conferences was positive.
—Trent Grundmeyer, interim principal, Carroll Community School District, Carroll, Iowa

Increasing Teaching Power Through Technology

As a wheelchair user, I couldn't reach the upper part of the chalkboard, so I used the overhead projector almost exclusively—until I discovered the pen-enabled tablet PC during a study I was involved in at Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Haverford College one summer. I saw its potential immediately. I could be anywhere in the classroom and write on the tablet, and because it was wirelessly connected to a projector, my notes would appear on the screen in any color or width I chose. I could also simply hand the tablet to a student to have him or her "show us how you would solve the problem." And because it is a full computer, it can visit websites and play DVDs. Also, the notes can be clipped and e-mailed to any absentees, so no one has to miss the lesson. I've been proselytizing the use of tablet PCs ever since.
—Alan Bronstein, science teacher (retired), Philadelphia School District, Pennsylvania

Providing At-Risk Students with Team Support

I coordinate my high school's teacher student assistance team, which includes four teachers (a representative from each academic area); our principal; the school social worker; and the school counselor of the referred student. We meet weekly during an 80-minute block, seeing 3–4 students per week. Students experiencing difficulty are referred to the team, and parent involvement is welcome. We currently serve approximately 30 students, meeting with each one throughout the year. What makes the team effective is the connection we make with each student. Suddenly, the student has a personal relationship with seven or more adults who come together to support him or her. The students quickly learn that we are truly interested in their success and personal well-being and that we are there to problem solve with them, not for them.
—Donna Laich, school psychologist, Mark T. Sheehan High School, Wallingford, Connecticut

Making Students Earn Extracurricular Fun

In my first year as principal of our grade 6–8 middle school, our student body did not seem eager to show their knowledge by making passing grades. The staff brainstormed and came up with a program called Clear to Dance/Participate, which changed the culture of the school over the next seven years. Students now have to be passing their courses to stay after school for extracurricular activities or to attend school dances. Students who are not passing must write a plan that discusses areas they will change so that by the next grading period they will be meeting their goals. As a result, students now take their academic responsibilities more seriously.
—Lori Broughton, principal, Clear Creek Independent School District, League City, Texas

Engaging a Musically Talented Student

Among my 8th grade students is a 13-year-old girl who has spent three years in foster care, moving from home to home. She is very bright, musically talented, and thinks she's 25 years old and knows it all. We've had many struggles in the classroom, and for a while she would not speak to me. As part of a unit on poetry, I had the students compose their own lyrics to a song called "Love Me Right." I told them I would help them make a music video if the lyrics knocked me out. She dove right into it, sang lead on the video, rehearsed the other kids, and pretty much produced the whole thing. The kids did the whole song in three takes. It brought the class together and gave her purpose, and she's been a dynamo ever since. Look for her soon on The Voice!
—Gregg Clayton, language arts resource room, William Davies Middle School, Mays Landing, New Jersey

Using Technology for More Timely Feedback

As a teacher educator trying to prepare K–12 teachers, I found that feedback is central to my students' success. Previously, I provided feedback at the end of a paper or project. Although many students said they reviewed the comments, it wasn't until I changed my approach that I saw improvement in their work. I modified my approach by incorporating track changes to highlight specific areas of their work, posing questions, offering suggestions, or providing resources for them to explore, which show up as bubbles on the right side of the paper directly linked to the specific part I want to comment on. I am also incorporating Jing videos to provide auditory feedback either in addition to or as an alternative to the written feedback. This new approach is improving my students' experiences. And more important, I've observed that they are also using more varied feedback strategies with their own students as teacher candidates and beginning teachers.
—Alicia Wenzel, assistant professor, Western Oregon University, Monmouth

Providing Differentiated Supervision to New Teachers

To help me supervise new teachers, I have developed a Supervision Pensive–a binder in which I keep observations, anecdotal notes, walk-through information, and resources. I observe and evaluate teacher effectiveness using Charlotte Danielson's four domains and work with each teacher to identify a desired area for growth. Once we collaboratively establish this area, I put the teacher's name and area of growth on a spreadsheet in my Supervision Pensive, which enables me to see which teachers are working on developing the same areas. When I find useful information through my own learning–for example, through reading books or articles, participating in Twitter chats, or discussing ideas with colleagues–I forward the information to the group of teachers who are striving to grow in that area. It's differentiated supervision to help us all learn and grow.
—Matthew Strine, assistant superintendent, Shippensburg Area School District, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania

Donating to DonorsChoose.org

Fifteen of our amazing STEM students at the William Davies Middle School earned $750 in DonorsChoose.org credits by mastering all 27 of the concepts in Code.org's K–8 Intro to Computer Science course. And because 9 of the 15 students were girls, we were awarded a bonus of $250 in DonorsChoose.org credits, for a total grant of $1,000 in classroom funding to enhance STEM education. We're now in the process of choosing a project to fund that will demystify computer science and show students that it can be fun, collaborative, and creative. We are excited to motivate students and educators to continue learning computer science.
—Malika Green, STEM teacher, William Davies Middle School, Mays Landing, New Jersey

Embedding Academic Vocabulary

Vocabulary is crucial to comprehension, and for students to truly learn vocabulary, it must be taught multiple times and appeal to different learning modalities. Our school literacy coach has trained our teachers to embed high-frequency academic vocabulary terms into the curriculum through classroom discussion, constructive responses, and multiple modality graphic organizers. It is enlightening to hear students use these words in their everyday classroom language. Although this initiative is in its early phases, we feel that if it's successful, our students will be closer to achieving college and career readiness.
—Rebecca Garofalo, reading specialist, William Davies Middle School, Mays Landing, New Jersey

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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