“To turn off your iPad, you press the button on the side. Let’s practice turning it off and on, and our next steps will be to explore the App Store.”
This professional development on “iPads for Teachers” was genuinely a great recipe for PD:
- Hands-on teacher involvement
- Opportunities to put ideas into action
- Immediate followup in the classroom during the coming weeks
Unfortunately, I found myself bored to tears. The school where I’d previously taught was 1:1 with student iPads and I’d been using them in the classroom for at least three years. What I anticipated as an opportunity to enhance my instruction using digital tools turned into a daydreaming session on all of the work I could’ve been doing in my classroom.
I think it’s safe to say we’ve all been there. We’ve all found ourselves in a well-intentioned, yet not relevant, professional development session generalized for a staff of perhaps several hundred teachers. Personalized learning for students and differentiation have been a focus in the world of education for several years and considered a must in the modern classroom. However, this type of thinking around learning has not been universally adopted for teachers as learners. If we’re expected to provide personalized learning for students, what can be done to support teachers in their quest for lifelong learning?
Early last fall, I had the opportunity to sit with a team of sixth grade teachers at a middle school serving a large number of low-income Latino and African American students. Many of those students were at least two grade levels behind in reading. Their low literacy levels were wreaking havoc on their ability to learn content, engage in higher-level thinking, and build background knowledge.
A year earlier, in their PLC, this team decided that the solution was to use culturally responsive teaching (CRT) as a way to improve student learning and increase achievement.
When I visited with them, they were a bit perplexed why things hadn’t changed, because they’d instituted fun “call and response” chants at the beginning of class and created multicultural bulletin boards about music from different cultures and social justice topics. They’d spent time having “courageous conversations” about implicit bias. They’d tried this for a year, but reading scores didn’t improve and they couldn’t understand why.
It’s nearly impossible to put into words what educators feel when the bell rings on the final day of school. The sheer joy of entering into weeks of bell-free, kid-free, and paper-free days alone is almost worth entering into the profession. In June, the new school year seems so far away. But, August does come. And we find ourselves at the beginning of the cycle all over again. Even more, we find ourselves hitting pause each January to reflect and adjust our course.
The school year begins to come into perspective for me after the baseball all-star game and before the start of NFL training camps (can you tell that I’m a sports fan?). After July 15th, August comes into sharp focus for educators across the country. However, if you waited until July to actually begin preparations for the new year, you might’ve been feeling a little pressure.
And now in January, it might feel like you’re starting all over again, as you revisit and reflect on the progress you’ve made so far and forge onward with your new and improved plans for the second half of the year. But no matter where you are in your planning and preparation, collaboration is a very important part of starting — and finishing — strong.
Congratulations: You made it to January!
For many experienced educators, January can feel like an exciting time to reboot. For new teachers, January can bring back feelings of disillusionment that may have started around November (be sure to read this post on staying energized if you’re in the latter category).
Whether you’re feeling dismayed or excited for the rest of the year, taking just a few minutes to reflect and plan can often make you feel a little bit better.
At the beginning of the school year, Teaching Channel launched our Back to School Starter Packs, a set of checklists and resources organized by grade band to help you start the year off on the right track. Now that we’ve reached the midyear point, we’re offering you a simple review sheet to see how well you’ve done with all of your plans.
My entire way of teaching changed dramatically when I went to a Barnes and Noble and picked out a book entitled, Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males: Closing the Achievement Gap by Dr. Alfred W. Tatum. From that moment on, I engaged in a new kind of personal professional development.
If you’ve ever taught in a classroom, you get what few other people understand — there is no such thing as summer vacation. Yes, we do receive that precious eight to ten weeks (depending on where you live) of time without children in the months of June, July and early August. But, depending on where you are in your career and whether you’re working summer school, those months can look drastically different.
I’ve always loved the summer; not just because of the weather and the holidays (Hello, 4th of July!), but because of the time it gives me to rest, recover and reevaluate what happened in the past academic year. Each summer of my career has looked different, and this one is no exception.
This school year, I’ve been on a journey to put my students at the center of our learning. That means finding ways to make the learning meaningful to my students as people — that is, personalized. And it means being responsive to their needs as learners — in other words, customized.
Most of my efforts to meet this call have meant developing completely new units, and that’s been exhausting and won’t scale for teachers with multiple preps or those seeking life-balance. Moving into the fourth quarter of this school year, I sought support. I sat down with colleagues to learn how to work toward these ends from our existing curriculum for 10th grade English. The unit from which we worked had two summative assessments: a literary analysis essay on Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, and a multimedia presentation based on a social issue.
Last month, we opened the doors to Tch Video Lounge and hundreds joined us to watch, learn, and even talk about two featured Teaching Channel interactive videos.
What We’re Discussing this Month
Lucky for you, the fun continues! This month we have two new videos to chat about:
Here’s a startling statistic: 40% of high school students are chronically disengaged in school. There are enough reasons to go around, and I’d agree that many of them are outside of a teacher’s direct control. But some of them aren’t. As we pursue a set of skills, I have a great deal of control over how that happens in my classroom, so going into this school year I asked myself:
- How can student-interest and inquiry drive the learning?
- How can my teaching be more responsive to student needs?
- How do I help students realize their own agency and ability to effect change?
Out of these questions came my Getting Better Together project focused on pursuing personalized learning and customized instruction.
We’ve finished the first iteration of trying to move my 10th grade English courses to become more personalized. Students concluded a quarter-long investigation of a social justice issue of their choice. Throughout the quarter, my focus has been to help students move toward mastering skills, while allowing personal choice in content and questions, and customizing feedback and instruction for each student.
Students are working on reading informational texts, writing arguments, speaking and listening, and creative writing. Most class periods begin with a 15-20 minute mini-lesson and then students go to a self-selected station to engage in their work. Three to four tasks are due every two weeks.
Here are 4 positives I’ve found as I’ve personalized learning: