journal

**this is a work in progress

Things on my mind: Self-awareness, Competition,  Failure, Focus

During the last couple of weeks as the school year was winding down, the demands on my time were increasing exponentially. While this may seem a bit exaggerated,  there really is no other way to describe it. Granted, I take a lot of extra things on personally and professionally, when most people meet me, they ask if I sleep. I do, some. So why do I, or educators take on so much? For me, the reason is because I truly am a lifelong learner. I don’t want to miss opportunities, especially when that might mean I miss out on creating opportunities for others.  I don’t want to say no to someone that needs my help, because I realize that for some people, asking for help required that they be vulnerable and step out of their comfort zone. So I will always try to help someone else, even if it means delaying my own goals or veering from some path that I am on. And I am good with that, but I also realize that there is only so much that I can do. 

 

Self-awareness

Being self-aware means you recognize your strengths and weaknesses, emotions, thoughts, and have a deeper understanding of what motivates you, at least this is my way of defining it. I can somewhat identify my strengths, but it is uncomfortable to openly admit my weaknesses.  I have no problem admitting mistakes and failures in front of my students. The more that I can do this with them, will help to dispel that misconception that failure is final. Personally or among friends, for me, admitting weakness is tough, but the first step in trying to improve is acknowledging that there is a something to improve upon.  I’m well aware that I have certain areas that I need to devote some time to in order to become more effective and consistent and possibly attain some level of balance. If balance is really a thing. Maybe it is because I set demands on myself that are too high or overly ambitious, but I have reached a point in my career and my life, where I feel I need to engage in activities that I am passionate about being involved in. Even while I was in law school,  my friends would often laugh at my ability to multitask and my methods of over-preparation for class. I did then what I try to discourage my own students from doing now. I would take notes on the computer, write notes on paper, listen to the lecture and grade papers all while sending text messages throughout the class. And somehow while doing all of that I still managed to answer a question when called upon. I survived the four years of teaching full-time and four nights a week of law school. When I think back and compare schedules of then and now I feel so much more out of balance now than I did back then. It just does not make sense. 

 

While this post has started off as random thoughts,  they do have a point, which will present itself sooner or later. (perhaps not even in this post, as I am between a few projects).  These random thoughts are my reflections, and how I become more self-aware. As some of my friends know, I tend to not sit and type but rather speak my thoughts into a document and then go back and revise and reflect in the process. It simply works for me and it makes me more productive, at least I think that it does.  We don’t need to make big gains each day, it is in the small wins, ongoing progress that we achieve more. Reading this post yesterday, reminded me of this fact.  I got away from reading the posts by Thomas Oppong, and this quote helped me through some of my reflections. “It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small gains on a daily basis.” 

But lately, I have not felt as productive as I would want to be. Yes I’ve made lists, checked items off as I completed them, kept up with email only to have two or three emails pop in as soon as one is sent. I have opened Voxer to find four or five hundred messages waiting and many other notifications from other forms of social media. So how does one find balance? How does one keep focus when surrounded by and consumed by so much “connectedness.” In the pursuit of learning, how much is enough and how much is too much?

What I mean is I think as educators we need to involve ourselves in a variety of learning possibilities. We no longer need to leave our homes to go out for professional development, nor be limited to that which we have at our schools. There are so many options available that meet our needs as far as goals and time and passions. But it seems that more and more time is consumed by social media like Voxer or Twitter, just for a few examples. Don’t get me wrong, these are tremendous tools for becoming a connected educator, for breaking away from the isolation that can happen. But how do we keep up with everything and everyone?  If you know, please share.

 

Competition

It is tough “keeping up” lately. I read a lot of blogs, books and stay active through Twitter and Voxer, and have a pretty good routine for keeping up-to-date with information. Reading has never been a problem for me. The area in which I need to improve is with my own writing. Some days I feel like I just can’t keep up. I feel like I’m falling behind, that I’m not meeting the goal, not pushing myself enough to accomplish things. But today I had a moment to pause and think, and it came after reading  some of the The Path to Serendipity , by Allyson Apsey and also “What School Could Be,” by Ted Dintersmith.  After reading these, it occurred to me that I am doing the exact same thing that I try to stop my students from doing which is push myself so hard, judge myself so critically, to the point where my desire to work and to get things done becomes consumed as soon as my eyes focus on that ever-growing list of goals. I put up a wall and that inner voice tells me that I will never get things done. The inner voice convinces me that I can’t, so I don’t even try.  And then I remember the quote  “the only thing standing in your way is you,” so I need to get out of my own way. 

My list is full of things which are not part of my daily work as a teacher, but rather tasks that I have voluntarily pushed myself into becoming a part of. Maybe it’s my fear of missing out, maybe it’s my drive to keep doing better, to keep pushing myself to do one more thing, take one more step, to see how much I can handle and how much I can learn. But in recognizing this, I realize that my students do this as well. I’ve seen them push themselves and worry that they won’t finish something in time, that they won’t get into the college that their parents want them to, that they won’t get the highest grade, that they won’t be as smart, as quick or as good as somebody else in the class.  Pressure.

How many times this year I have said to them “You don’t need to worry about anybody else. You only need to worry about yourself because you aren’t in competition with anyone else but yourself.”  I came across an anonymous quote a while ago that said “I’m in competition with no one but myself.” The power of this quote really hit me. These are the reminders that I give to my students, but yet are ones that I have failed to be cognizant of within myself.

In reading “Path to Serendipity”, so much of what Allyson says resonated with me, especially when thinking back to when I first started teaching. And in reading “What School Could Be,” I am thinking about the structure of school, the “game” of school and all of the pressure that exists. Pressure which is placed on students whether by the school system itself, the testing, parents, teachers or the students themselves. How do we break this cycle? Wanting the best for someone should be more about supporting them with whatever decision they make, and being there if they find out that it was not the best decision to be made. That’s the risk we take when we step out of our comfort zone, when we go against the grain and do something that is different, that may not be the traditional way to do something but it’s the way that we want, it’s personal to us, it’s our passion.

 

And I know I have derailed a bit in this, maybe more than a bit, but sometimes it’s good for me to just sit with my computer, and thanks to the voice to text, I can close my eyes and talk through what has been going through my mind, and then edit the writing. Lately it’s been that I just can’t get enough things completed. Countless presentations, proposals, webinars you name it, I am doing and experiencing the same thing that many other educators are experiencing as well. However the difference is that my perception of others is that there are no struggles. Blogs are being published, podcasts are being recorded, books are being written, speeches are being given, and my question is where do you find the time? How can I find a time? And I am so impressed and inspired by the work of my friends and my colleagues who share their stories and seem to have a lot of balance, but then again how do I really know? My perception is not necessarily their reality.

A good friend of mine Mandy Froehlich has written a book which just came out today, called “The Fire Within”, in which she shares personal stories as well as stories of educators who talk about the different struggles that they’ve gone through. We don’t often hear of the struggles and the negative experiences that we as educators may have, but there are a few things that I’m sure of. We need to start with relationships. We need to be open and vulnerable. We have to tell our stories. It is from these stories, whether they are stories of great innovations or epic failures, where we can connect and provide the inspirational redirection that someone else may greatly need. And while telling our story makes us vulnerable, there is great power in vulnerability. Vulnerability does not mean weakness, as defined by Brene Brown in her book “Daring Greatly”. It is “uncertainty,risk and emotional exposure.” My favorite quote from Brown is that vulnerability is “the courage to  show up and be seen even when you have no control over the outcome.” This quote is one I read last summer, and I kept in the back of my mind while preparing for different events in which I felt completely out of control. I didn’t think I had the courage and was ready to back down, but this served as a reminder to me that it was better to try and fail, than to never try at all. The interesting part about this book is that she came up with the title after reading a quote by Teddy Roosevelt from 1910, where he spoke about the man who enters into battle valiantly, and at best he has success and at worst he errs while daring greatly.

 

Focus

So there is nobody pushing me to get things done but me. Nobody adding more items to the list but myself. And there is nobody that I’m in competition with. I have to accept that I will accomplish the things that I need to accomplish in my own time and in my own way. Pushing the publish button on this was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I’ve been thinking a lot and decided to put my thoughts out there. 

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Originally Published on Kidblog,

Getting ready for the start of a new school year – new students, new curriculum, and new tools – means teachers have a lot of preparation ahead of them. Whether new to Kidblog or a veteran classroom blogger, these tips will help you get the most out of your class blog this year.1) There is no better way to start the year than by way of introductions. Blogging can be a great way to get your students comfortable with you as their new teacher, as well as, their new classmates. In my classroom, I also use this time to cover expectations in the classroom. This is all done in a “Welcome back to school” blog post. Choose a fun theme for the class, add some links and include helpful information. Share information about you, including some fun facts, and encourage students to then respond to your post. You can begin to develop those vital relationships for your classroom.

2) Get parents connected. Make the decision to use blogs as a way to keep parents informed about what is going on in the classroom. Set a goal to write a blog post with a weekly update and share what is going on in the classroom, give highlights of upcoming events and activities the students will be participating in. Also, use the blog as a way to share student work with parents, which will really connect the home and the classroom, and involve all members of the learning community.

3) Involve students in planning for blog posts. Encourage students to come up with their own ideas or to work with peers to brainstorm some writing prompts to use throughout the year. Gather their ideas and then draw from their prompts. Involving students in the decision making process in the classroom helps to provide more authentic and meaningful learning experiences. It promotes student voice and choice in the classroom and helps students feel more valued and empowered. By actively engaging them in classroom decisions, students will feel more connected to the content and their peers.

4) Create a bridge between content areas by doing some cross-curricular blog posts. Find time to talk with and encourage other teachers who may not be using blogs, to work with you to create some cross-curricular opportunities. The blog can be a way for students to complete some writing assignments or projects for communicating their ideas and showing their learning. Students create their own personal space to share ideas and really have an opportunity to practice their skills for multiple content areas in a comfortable manner.

5) Try adding some other tech tools to app smash with Kidblog or use Kidblog as the means to share student work! Implementing other tools will help students develop their technology skills and digital literacy. For example, have students create a Buncee and write about what they’ve created, or, they may share it with a peer to create a story. These apps can be easily embed into Kidblog for their classmates to comment.

6) Have a routine for sharing student blog posts and set aside time in class for the students to work together to share their blogs, offer feedback and learn to reflect on their work. Making time for students to work with peers will build those positive classroom relationships and help students to become more confident in their learning. Their confidence will increase through the writing process and also by communicating and collaborating in the classroom.

7) Be sure to have resources available for students so they understand how to use the blog, how to write a post and to properly cite any images or other information they add to their posts. A great way to do this is by screen-casting a tutorial available to students, as well as, creating a “guide post” that gives students pointers on how to publish a post, the required format, and other information related to your expectations. By providing all the information in a place which is accessible, the process will be much easier for students throughout the year to have the support they need when they need it.

 

  1. Empowered Learner
  2. Digital Citizen
  3. Knowledge Constructor
  4. Innovative Designer
  5. Computational Thinker
  6. Creative Communicator
  7. Global Collaborator

 

The Student Standards reflect the skills that we want the students of today to develop, so they can become more connected with their learning and prepare for their future in an increasingly digital world. The use of blogging is a good way to address the ISTE Standards for Students. The new standards, which were released in June 2016, focus more on what we want for students – The pursuit of lifelong learning and ways in which we can help to empower students in their learning. The emphasis is on providing opportunities which promote student voice and choice and help educators to implement technology in ways that will increase student growth and readiness for the future. The ISTE standards represent the skills and qualities that students need for su​​ccess in the 21st century.

Supporting the standards with technology
There are many educational tools (both digital and traditional) available to promote student voice in the classroom. Blogging is one tool that serves to support and meet the ISTE standards. Educators can refer to the standards as a guide for selecting tools to use with students that will amplify learning and promote student choice. The goal is to support students so they begin to take ownership in their learning. A move in the classroom from teacher-centered, to student-centered and optimally, student driven. Here is how Kidblog can help.

1. Empowered Learner: As empowered learners, students “leverage” technology to show their learning and demonstrate their mastery in a platform that is comfortable to them and in a personalized space. Students take more responsibility for and have choices in how to show their learning.

2. Digital Citizen: Blogging promotes digital citizenship as it helps students to develop their social presence. Through blogging, students become active in online communication, learn about proper use of internet and resources and interact in a safe learning environment. Posting online and sharing information helps students to develop the skills they will need in the future and to recognize their responsibility when it comes to digital resources. Blogging gives students the opportunity to practice appropriate and ethical online behaviors, which transfer into the classroom space as well.

3. Knowledge Constructor: Students gather information and resources to use in creating stories, conveying information in a way that is more authentic and meaningful for their learning. The use of blogs helps students to work on their writing skills and ties in nicely with gathering information to share in their digital space. Students can research and analyze the resources, to determine which is most relevant and applicable to their task.

4. Innovative Designer: Students can use the different tools and features in the Kidblog platform to express themselves in a more unique way, share ideas and create in an innovative way. Designing and creating more authentic ways to show their knowledge as well as creating new and more “imaginative” solutions to a question or problem presented.

5. Computational Thinker: Students can use blogs as a way to discuss and talk through a process of decision-making. Blogging is a great format for working through projects or solving complex problems, and to demonstrate the thought processes and analysis involved through their writing.

6. Creative Communicator: Students can use the different features of Kidblog to share their knowledge, convey information or tell a story in a more engaging and creative way, to be shared with peers and the teacher. Blogging opens up more opportunities for students to be more expressive than the traditional formats such as paper or other digital tools. Students can express themselves in a way which promotes creativity and with Kidblog, can incorporate other tools to present their information in a way that supports the learning goals and meets individual student needs and interests.

7. Global Collaborator: Students can use blogs as a way to learn about other cultures and connect with others by posting their blogs and sharing information with peers. Students narrate background experiences and connect with others in a safe learning environment that builds confidence and promotes student learning. Students share their blogs with peers and can also connect with other students from around the world. It facilitates the opportunity to local and global issues and perspectives, and to use the blog as a way to express their thoughts.

The focus of the ISTE Student Standards, helping students to become better with communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving and to express themselves in more creative and innovative ways, falls in line with the features of Kidblog.

Previously Published on MARCH 9, 2017   Kidblog

hands-hand-book-readingBlogging helps develop critical skills students need. In addition to working on necessary skills for communication and mastering grammar, blogging boosts creativity, increases confidence in expressing thoughts and ideas, and encourages authenticity when students write with purpose. Blogging for increased social interaction in the classroom will also lead to a more positive learning environment and help students develop critical peer relationships and collaboration skills.

The prompts

I have focused on transforming my classroom from “teacher centered” to “student-centered” and, as a result, created a student-driven learning environment. Moving the direction of your classroom in this way can help students emerge from learners to leaders and become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses in writing. Writing prompts are often discouraged in blogging – hindering student creativity. However, there are ways to design prompts that increase student engagement, lead to more authentic and meaningful learning, and provide an opportunity for students to be in charge of their learning.

It is important to offer a varietyof prompts to reinforce student choice and voice in the classroom. Additionally, prompts that include a picture lead to a variety of creative and authentic responses, while also giving students ownership in learning. Not to mention, it is a fun way to practice their writing skills.

Something new I tried this year, in an effort to open up more options for student choice and authentic and meaningful learning, was to design a “let’s tell a story” prompt. My goal was to help students build their vocabulary and refine their writing skills by learning and applying new words outside of our textbook chapter theme. To do this, students in Spanish II read a short Spanish book and while reading, they were tasked with creating a list of unfamiliar vocabulary words in each chapter. These lists would become their personal “dictionary” of (ideally) 50 – 60 words. I wanted them to select words that they did not understand and incorporate these words within their stories. This provided an authentic method for the students to create with the language and practice their writing skills.

Co-creating a story

I decided to have students participate in writing a collaborative story. Using a theme similar to the reader, which was a story involving a student who solved a crime and helped to capture a thief, each student was to select a certain number of their words, and create a story of their own. Once a story had been created, we selected another student to continue the story using different words from their vocabulary “bank”. In the process, I would read each of the posts, provide feedback and keep my own lists of some of the most commonly selected words, so that I could later use these additional words for building vocabulary.

This was a fun way for students to collaborate with their peers and make learning more meaningful through their own choice and voice. It enabled students to work together, to provide support and to keep each other focused on the writing task. After all, collaborative skills are so important, especially for building vital classroom relationships and social interactions.

Overall, this activity was an engaging way for students to practice the language, increase opportunities to show their language skills, all while being the main driver in their learning. Giving students the chance to demonstrate what they know, in their own way, amplifies their learning and connects them with the subject content in a more personalized, meaningful way.

Kidblog

Don’t Let the Learning Stop: How to keep students engaged over extended breaks

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The “Slide”

Throughout the school year, extended breaks provide both teachers and students the opportunity to give their mind a chance to reboot. However, learning opportunities do not have to stop while we take a break from the classroom to devote time to family, friends, and relaxation. Without opportunities for active learning during these extended breaks, some loss of knowledge is inevitable.  Similar to what has been termed the “summer slide”, this phenomenon also occurs during shorter breaks throughout the course of the school year.

There are many opportunities available to avoid this “slide”; teachers can help students engage in learning in fun ways that do not feel like “learning” at all. For my students, this means  blogging. Thanks to the availability of technology and platforms like Kidblog, students can stay connected, while still working on building skills over the break.

From “assignment” to “activity”

So, what turns a blog post from “an assignment by the teacher” over break to a fun student activity? It’s all about the content. For example, students may be asked to write a blog surrounding their time over break. Perhaps they describe what activities they participated in; writing a review of a book or movie they experienced, sharing how they spent time with friends or family, or even posting a new recipe they learned over break. These open-ended prompts enable students to work on their writing and literacy skills in a low-key and fun way. Additionally, it gives teachers the chance to stay connected with their students and provide any necessary feedback.

For more reflection, students may be given prompts which ask them to take a look back at some of the work that they have done prior to the break. They can focus on a few specific skills they have gained as well as their strengths or weaknesses throughout the year. Using blogging as a journal, they may then write a personal blog to themselves addressing these areas.  The blog can be shared with the teacher as a reflection, to explain how they perceive their progress in class and offer some ideas for personal goals or describe areas where improvement can be made. This prompt can be a great way for students to prepare for the year ahead of them.

It’s about staying connected

Blogging enables the students and teachers to communicate through a comfortable medium. It gives students an opportunity to write, read, and practice any critical skills they have learned leading up to the break as well as some reflective writing.  Students are encouraged to be creative while they are engaged in the practice of reflection, setting them up for future growth and helping you as the teacher develop a better understanding of student needs.

How to Use Blogging with Project Based Learning

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Over the past few years, I have looked for more ways—especially creative ways—to use blogging in my classroom. What initially started as a way to have my students practice their writing skills in a digital format (rather than the traditional “Daily Journal” writing), has taken different forms over the past year.

Blogging brings students’ work into a digital learning space, where they can feel free to share their ideas, to express themselves without so much worry on grammatical accuracy, and build their confidence in the process. It enabled me as the teacher to not only focus on what they were sharing, and assess them as needed, but also to learn about them in the process. It provided me with a way to further personalize my instruction and to be able to give the needed feedback in a more direct way.

I also use student blogs, in addition to my own, as a means to reflect on what I have been doing the classroom. Giving this information to the students affords them an opportunity for that critical reflection as well. So through blogging, many skills are enhanced and many things are possible besides the initial use of writing in response to a prompt.

Blogging with #PBL

Approaching this school year, I had many new ideas in mind, one of which was the implementation of PBL (Project-based learning) in my upper-level Spanish courses. A big part of the undertaking of PBL is for students to have an “essential question,” to think about what they wish to explore further in their studies.  We discuss how it will work, plan to have progress checks throughout, and once they have completed their cycle of research, they prepare to share their information. An important part of PBL is the reflection element.

I chose to use Kidblog as a way for students to take time to reflect on what they have uncovered in their research and to give others an opportunity to learn from them. I can give feedback, and we both have access to that information and refer back to it as often as needed. We can also continue to comment on it moving forward. I can write comments to offer suggestions and provide support. More importantly, a private digital learning space gives students a way to be more independent in their learning. For our PBL, students use their blog as a way to create a guide for themselves during the process. After posting of their initial “Essential Question,” students are reminded of where they started and how far they have come.

All of this valuable information can then be used during the next phase of PBL. It is a great way to track growth, increase communication skills, and collaborate. The use of blogging aids in the building of relationships. It is rewarding to read what students have written, to understand how they worked through their project-based learning experience, and to have that element of reflection as a result of their blogging. For me, it is great to hear directly from students as they share what they have learned, but better to hear them acknowledge how much they have grown.  Being able to review and reflect aids students in planning new goals and continuing their path toward lifelong learning.

 

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As an addition to this, it is helpful as a teacher to reflect on our practices, in what ways can we improve, how is PBL working in our classroom, what are the thoughts of the students.  Using this information can be quite helpful, as well as referring to the many resources available through BIE, and recent books including Hacking Project Based Learning by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy, Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor MacKenzie, and Pure Genius by Don Wettrick.  The #pblchat is also a great place to learn on Twitter.