December's Teacher of the Month
Whenever you think back to your favorite magic experience as a child, perhaps it involves the entrancing magician that seemingly appears out of nowhere and surprises you with the art of her skill. You look in one corner: the magician is there working her, well, magic. Turning your head in the opposite direction, she seems to fill your field of vision no matter where your eyes travel.
If movement of time and space were truly possible, Ms. Khalilah Watson would certainly be the magician who seems to be everywhere at once, working her relationship-magic in order to help students succeed and do their best. If there is an unruly student spending too much time in the hallway or having a difficult day, Watson seems to know the magic words to say that soothe, calm and get the student back on track. If there is a need to take over the math lesson, with her unique ability to break down difficult concepts, Ms. Watson teaches away, using her ability to engage the students, and more impressively help them enjoy the learning that is taking place. In fact, in her moments of teaching, the students are highly engaged and respect her authority, listening to the content that she is presenting.
A member of the exceptional education department, Watson has spent three years of her time at Beach and two years teaching here, more specifically. In fact, she is a true Bulldog through and through, an alumni of Alfred Ely Beach High school. Leaving the dawghouse to complete her college degree, her undergraduate education was completed at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and she touts a Master’s degree from Armstrong State University.
In her spare time, Watson enjoys officiating basketball games, skating, and spending time with her family. This family includes a toddler son whom she adores. She loves enjoying close-knit, quality time with all of her family members. Just by observing her with her family, it is clear that she emphasizes relationships both inside and outside of school.
As a teacher, she excels in organization and relationship building with students. Perhaps that is why they are drawn to her wisdom and knowledge. Ms. Watson’s greatest magic is in helping students focus on their own behaviors and empowering them to see their abilities to solve them, giving them ownership for improvement. In terms of teaching, her strengths are organization and relationship building, but she does “struggle with watching so many students accept failure.” She reveals that to work your own magic in the classroom, “you have to meet students where they are and instill in them the tools that can propel them to go further and achieve more.”
Because getting to know students is at the heart of all she does, Ms. Watson reveals that she not only talks with them when given opportunities, but she also takes times to observe them so she understands what their needs may be even before they understand them on their own. Clearly, this gift of intuition is something that allows her to inspire students toward making themselves more mature and embracing their own decisions. And she believes that such relationships are the foundation students need in order to share their lives with other adults and teachers.
When asked why Ms. Watson is just so wonderful, her peers comment that she is one of the most hardworking and dedicated individuals they know, doing whatever is needed in order to help students excel. She does not allow students to fail and fall to their own demise; instead, she is proactive in making sure that they make the decisions that will benefit them in the future. Others comment that she is smart and reliable, helping them make sure their job is done with excellence as well. We are just thankful we have someone who can truly work some academic magic when we need it. Glance around; you may just learn from her tricks.
Inspired by her example, let’s challenge ourselves to choose one student who may be making choices for failure and show them the path to academic and personal redemption. And perhaps, under your breath, you’ll whisper Abracadabra! in Khalilah’s honor.
Congratulations to Khalilah Watson, our A.E. Beach Teacher of the Month for December! Thank you for going above and beyond to serve our students.
Many years ago, as the turnaround began, one of the first activities that we completed together as a staff was to write the future into existence. We were tasked with envisioning the school one year down the road and writing the headlines of its success. As we looked around during this activity, we saw "Beach High Makes AYP in One Year," "Beach Rises to the Top of the District" and many others. And as we literally wrote those headlines into real existence, what many left out was the mere propensity of the staff that would emerge.
Some of us have carried the school from before the turnaround, passing on the Bulldog traditions, while others have chosen to stay on board even after we have been removed from the Priority school list. Others have been here to carry us through the sustainability portion after the turnaround, while others are new here yet forging new ground, bravely approaching each task, and persevering through some of the hardest days. It's not always easy. But we are here together on this journey, as our leaders have mentioned, and we are DEEPLY thankful for everything you do, both seen and unseen for our students, for each other, for the leaders, and for the school.
So, in honor of this season of Thanksgiving and thankfulness in general, I've compiled a list of thanks from our school leaders, your fellow faculty & staff members, and some students whose content perhaps remains unspoken on a daily, busy basis but nonetheless, is ever-present in their thoughts and minds.
And without further ado, Beach High faculty and staff, THANK YOU...
"For always uniting in the darkest hours for our young people, pulling every resource you can to make that child's life a little easier. It always makes me happy to see so much good in the world. "
"For recognizing that every day is a new day, and a student's actions on the day before don't determine who they are as a person on every other day of their life. Thank you for being merciful and working hard to find the right balance for our kids without writing them off because they've offended you on one of their bad days."
"For providing me with new knowledge everyday. Knowledge is POWER. Thank you for sharing what you know with me. Thank you for being selfless with your knowledge. In my life there IS ALWAYS room for improvement!"
"For actually caring for us, and not giving up on us like some adults in our life. Thank you for making learning fun and being a place where we can truly be ourselves and find ourselves."
"For inspiring us to never give up on learning, pushing us to do better each day, and letting us know that we can do anything we want to do in life."
"For keeping our building so very clean. The floors shine, the bathrooms smell fresh, and every area shows that people care about us."
"For working with us no matter what we need. When I need extra time, the teacher feels for me and helps us to get the work done, no matter when we get it done."
"For putting so much effort into making us meals. I know there are some kids who are picky, but we know the effort they put into making our food good."
"For making us laugh, even when we're late for the eighth time. Even though I know I'm wrong, it still helps to have someone who makes me laugh through the fussing."
"Because you work beyond 2:30. You plan in your free time when you don't have a collaborative planning time and I see you leaving well beyond when you are required to be here. That other duties and responsibilities clause? You go beyond even that for our babies here."
"For camaraderie and mentoring one another. It helps when we have other people in the building cheering us on and helping us build community with our students, when some days are tough."
"For making our parents feel welcome when they walk in the school and for finding us when we've got to be somewhere. Not every school is like that."
"For staying afterward to help students catch up on work they've missed because of bad choices in ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades and being willing to help on Saturdays and in special events without pay sometimes and without a second thought."
"Because even though you are new here and it is hard building that rapport with students and staff during that first year, I see you here smiling and trying every single day, not giving up, and persevering because you know that through reflection and getting better and better, you will become a better teacher. I respect your coming to school each day, even when it's been a bad day the day before, because that takes courage and willpower. I am honored to work beside you."
"For keeping us on track and out of trouble, helping us with applying to colleges and helping us when we have a hard situation."
"For allowing us to use the library space to gather and always keeping it neat and tidy. The entire staff is kind and helps when we need to decorate our classrooms or make items for our students."
"For giving us a firm foundation for life by giving us a family atmosphere, which helped us learn."
"For role models. The leaders are big role models. They set the bar for professionalism and without them, there wouldn't be a lot of guidance. Just like the president sets a standard for others, our principals set a standard to help us do good in life."
"For inspiration. Because of the leaders here at this school, I have learned to lead and take ownership in my own classroom and life. I am always excited to wake up for work because I know that a new day under such leadership is a day in which I will be supported in my position. I know I will be given the freedom to make decisions and grow as a person."
"For committing to our students at Beach High through your hard work and playing your part in this journey together."
So, at the end of the day Bulldogs, we are thankful for one another and others are deeply thankful for us. Not only can students understand how very much you do, so do your leaders and colleagues. Thank you for committing to excellence in all you do, even if it goes seemingly unnoticed.
I feel sure ours is the finest staff in the land. So, Carpe (whatever the Latin word for turkey is) this week, and know that you are valued and you each play your unique and important role in our Bulldog family.
Happy Early Turkey Day!
(P.S. The text colorer obviously took a vacation too, because it refuses to change to black in some places :))
As I was scrolling through a friend's feed the other day, a graphic's words really captured my attention. As both a visual learner and an English major, there's nothing more attractive than pretty words with a deep meaning. Quite simply, I noticed a translation of a proverb: "Anyone can find the dirt in someone; be the one who finds the gold." After reading those words, it hit me: in the classroom and in life, oh how our goal should be to view ourselves as gold miners as educators and human beings.
When we think of gold and how very precious it is, seldom do we realize what it looked like in its pure form, covered with soot and minerals. When our students come to us daily, there are some that stand out quite plainly to us as pure gold; there are others that may show mostly gold but have dark places; yet some may only show a fleck here are there; and perhaps in a few, gold is not visible whatsoever. But in those moments, even when we cannot see the gold, we must trust that it is there somewhere. Understanding our students' needs, maybe they come to us underfed; perhaps underhugged, perhaps underengaged (though not all), and life itself keeps layering soot upon them. But, we have the power to remove it and refine. We are those who spend the most time with them in a day.
Even more, we must realize that as a school functions as a gold mine in that we are taking students from their pure form, finding the gold in them little by little and moving them along to our colleagues who may wash them with a bit more knowledge, a little dash more of life skills, a little bit more refining, a little bit more uncovering of gold. We may sit as their teacher in ninth grade and not see very much difference. Perhaps we saw the gleam of that gold one day sitting in class on one assignment or here and there, but we don't recognize that we are part of a larger process. Take encouragement in the role that you play along the journey. You too are responsible for how much gold we can see as they are seniors and walk across the stage.
So get practical, instead of metaphorical, right? Sounds good.
Carpe Aurum: 10 Steps
1. Greet your students on an everyday basis. Stand at the door. Notice a sweatshirt color that looks nice on them. Ask if their weekend was "ok." If they are looking non-engaged, ask them if they've eaten. Perhaps have an emergency snack drawer. Have them complete an interest inventory (I sent one out at the beginning of the year) so that you know how they learn. Some kids light up and show their gold when they are complimented. Others need a tap on the shoulder. Some need you to pick up a pencil off the floor if they've dropped it (it's not demeaning; they can still be independent with you helping them :)). Grab a lunch tray and toss it in the trash for them (after they've eaten it, of course). Look for opportunities to serve, through action, through words, through just a question. And if you're interested in using something called dinner questions, where you build community through critical thinking, I've ordered a good number of books, so just ask. If you've been given a pet warm fuzzy, tear off a piece and let them know you're thinking of them, that you believe in them. And if you're interested in a classroom pet, just ask.
2.Try to resolve conflict by diffusing rather than inciting. Not everything that is said in a classroom has to be equally matched in strength. If a student is talking loudly, just talk more quietly (one of you amazing teachers does this already). If a student calls you "too much," "crazy," or questions your curriculum, own it to diffuse it. "Yes, I know." "How did you know that was my middle name?" "I understand. Learning is hard work." And at the end of the day, realize they may be projecting whatever has happened at the beginning of the day on the work, and it's not really you or your work...it's just life. So maybe even divert by saying, "everything ok?" whether privately or publicly. If they come into your classroom and you can tell they're down, resolve the conflict before it even starts, by letting them know you are there if they need anything. Humor was created for a reason, and it helps when we human beings get a little too serious (releases pleasing brain chemicals, really.)
3.Provide opportunities for movement and plan it in your lessons. If you've ever raised a kid or had a nephew/niece, godson/goddaughter, or even kept the nursery at church, you know that some boys and girls are just full of energy and can't sit still. Movement is a mechanism that allows our brains to stay awake and alert. Use movement to your advantage. Try putting sticky notes all over the room for a bell ringer instead of sitting at the desk. Have students move around the room to GET ONE, GIVE ONE if they are sharing with one another. Have an academic discussion where you are reading the text and you ask a question; students must stand and buzz in in order to give their answer. It's not movie culture or the 21st century that has damaged our students; we humans naturally have always needed movement. We weren't biologically designed for sitting still. There is health in movement, and even in mining, you've got to put some sifting movement in the pan to find what you're looking for in the muck.
4. When a student possesses a strength, use it for the classroom and create roles to give them ownership. Have you noticed that a student is particularly kind and polite? Seize the gold. Give him or her the chance to answer the phone or the door. Is there another student who possesses excellent spatial knowledge? Let him design the layout of your classroom. Do you know the kid who just likes materials clean and organized? Why allow him/her to take up materials or pass them out to other students. Have a kid really interested in a concept? Let him/her teach. When you see a strength, play on it. Use it for the classroom.
5. Change it up! Change up your classroom format so it allows students who normally would choose the back row, not to have a back-row choice. Make sure you make a mental note and know all students have participated. In terms of structure, allow students change to pods of however many when the lesson is best for pods. Change to two sides facing each other if you have a debate or persuasive prompt. Build the message of a community day on a subject that is difficult by structuring the classroom in a large U formation. Know what you want to communicate to your students and allow your classroom to match what you need. If it's a solitary writing day, isolate the desks in different corner of the room for privacy. And use lighting to communicate your needs as well. Students whose gold might not shine in one arrangement might blind us in another.
6. Create positive communication by sending around a Kudos list. Ask students to write down their parents' best contact number if they want you to give them a Kudos call. The contact information you receive will be accurate, and you may need it in the future. Maybe it's a particularly hard day, and that call may make the difference in that child's encouragement. And really call the numbers with a positive thing to say, no negative. You'd be surprised how well you are received when you take the time to first find the gold in a kid. And in the year, if there is something you have to say that is grounds for improvement, simply sandwich the improvement statement in two bits of good. I'll never forget the day that a student was so sad in the hallway because her mom didn't believe she could make it in college. I got the child's mom's number and told her just what I thought of her child. We ended the call by the mom begging me to let the child know just how proud she was of her.
7. Give stability with rituals and routines tempered by high expectations and mercy. Just as a person whose pan was bent could not mine gold as efficiently, so your classroom is the stability students need in order to truly shine. It is important that they learn to speak positively, that they are able to listen by speaking one at a time, and that they are able to respect one another's property by touching only what is theirs. There are some days when you will have to repeat your rituals and routines EXPLICITLY. In fact, there's no problem with humorously reintroducing yourself daily and reminding them what your rules are. In addition, it is important to communicate the sacredness of class time. We don't usher students into class because that's our job and that's what we were told to do. We do it because by doing so, it sets a routine for them they can use later in life and it prepares them for the day of learning. We are setting the stage for them to see themselves shine.
8. Don't listen to OTT (Other-teacher-talk) and begin each day as a brand new day. Little Johnny has had problems since eighth grade? It doesn't matter; you have the power to win him over with your class brand and the power to give him a new identity of greatness. There's gold there somewhere. To find real gold, we can't borrow our neighbor's glasses and perception. They may be blurred because they never clean them. We've got to filter the student through ourselves and our classroom. Someone been on that ISS list for days? It doesn't matter. Give the gift of learning to every student, every day, with a brand new slate. Another kid insulted you the day before? In your mind, you see only gold. That disobedient kid disappeared yesterday. How can you intervene to make today an okay day and scaffold her to wash away the layers?
9, Give kids belongingness by branding your class and making them yours. Build community in your classroom. Just as a last name gives us identity, so kids can take on your last name academically. Failing three classes? Tell the kid, "Oh no, you're a Smith. Smiths pass all their classes." Have some little routine or feedback for one another that is distinctly yours. Maybe you sing something. Perhaps you give everyone a high five. Maybe students snap their fingers when another student has done good work. Teach the kids to operate in a community. These days, we all really understand divisiveness in our larger social community. Let them thrive by setting the foundation for learning and showing them that people can get along with one another. AND encourage one another as colleagues and let students seeing you doing it. The gift of seeing adults work together with one another is merely priceless.
10. Acknowlege baby steps. Every kid is different. Every kid learns in different ways. Just as the shape of the gold formation is never the same, neither are our students. When a student who normally turns in nothing, takes the opportunity to give you make up work, acknowledge the baby step. They are the progress more than their past. Growth is our aim. Celebrate successes, even the smallest and most insignificant. Are the kids mastering the standards but didn't the first time? Account for that in your grading. If they have mastered it after a while, they have still mastered it.
You guys are amazing. You are on the front lines of this mining process every.single.day, and we feel so inspired by your work. When all is said and done, the world offers layers us with grit and grime, day after day, and our students even more so. We cannot change the circumstances, and our job is not easy. BUT, we are not hopeless. In those moments when we feel like giving up we must believe that there is gold there underneath and that we have been placed here to make a difference and find it for ourselves, find the gold for the students. And even if a students' senior teacher is the one who finally seeks the peek of gold from beneath all of the many layers we have worked to find, KNOW that you have all worked together to find that little peek. Because it may be that that one sliver shines so much more brilliantly to us than a thousand pieces of perfectly sculptured gold we have never had to work for.
Thank you for all you do, and remember...CARPE AURUM!
*Thank you to Ms. Mixon for confirming the Latin. The title was a 5 a.m. Dr. Google find, but I did confirm with our Bulldog Expert.
November's Teacher of the Month: Tabitha Stanley
Laughter, smiles & students, oh my! When a person enters Ms. Stanley’s room, it’s easy to mistake the learning going on in the classroom for just plain fun. Whether students are completing an interactive biography about themselves (how Ms. Stanley enjoys starting the year) or performing a creative presentation of argumentative adverbs, it’s clear that she incorporates best practices through movement, engagement, and interactive strategies to help students expand their thinking. In everything, students are allowed opportunities to show they have mastered the standards through their own learning modalities. And the foundation of it all? Ms. Stanley builds relationships with her students so that when the time of correction does come along, students perceive it as love rather than contention.
Having taught eight years total, Ms. Stanley is in her third year here at Beach High. Teaching both ninth and tenth graders, her educational background is in English and Instructional Technology. She blends these two fields seamlessly in the classroom. When considering her own strengths as a teacher, she comments that “I think my largest strength as a teacher is in the relationships that I build with the students. I realize that I am truly called not only to teach these children English and Language Arts but also skills that will help them build character, self-esteem, and become a successful citizen.” And this perspective is seen clearly when she interacts with students. When a student is angry, her caring approach allows them to calm down and communicate; quite obviously, teaching the communication component of English Language Arts extends outside the classroom for her into practical life skills for her students.
When she’s not planning, creating, and interacting with her students here at Beach High, Ms. Stanley enjoys spending time with her loving, dedicated husband James who works so very hard to support the family. And this bliss is not without the blessing of little ones. The Stanleys have three children; her witty, cool daughter Naziah who is nine; and her two, two-year-olds Jamie and Jayce who always keep her on her toes. It’s no wonder Ms. Stanley is a teacher known for her full loving heart yet her ability to think on her feet and work with students. The terrible twos or the terrible teens? Ms. Stanley is able to handle both with ease. In order to enjoy herself in her free time, she enjoys reading and sleeping as well; she certainly deserves it.
But in all of her moments of teaching greatness, she still feels she struggles with organization. When there are one hundred different things going on, she is juggling them all and sometimes feels that she is all over the place. But in all reality, this eclectic approach and ability to juggle the one thousand things that actually take place in the classroom give her an ability to approach any conflict or problem with preparedness. As a teacher, the best advice she can give is this: “It is very important that you develop some type of relationship with your students. Get to know them, compliment them, be kind to them. Once you have established some type of relationship with them, they will be more open to your teaching and discipline.” Surely, Ms. Stanley lives out this belief in her classroom each and every day. And she leaves us with this thought: getting to know students happens by just taking the time out to talk to them, complimenting them on something they have done, noticing when they are absent, and trying to be sensitive to their feelings.
Congratulations, Ms. Stanley on being November's Teacher of the Month. Let’s challenge ourselves with picking up a habit of each of the featured monthly SuperTeachers in our building. In honor of Ms. Stanley and her November reign, let’s make a commitment to building these relationships throughout the month and longer. Make it a point to connect with a student per class each day. We might just find ourselves with MORE laughter, smiles, and students (oh my!), and exceptional learning taking place at the same time.
October's Teacher of the Month
We are proud to announce Ms. Chadasi Betterson as October’s teacher of the month:
Ambling down the ninth grade halls, I hear a firm, warm voice instructing students and the talk of centimeters, meters, miles, and a plethora of measurements that surround the mathematical realm. As I peek in the classroom,all eyes are glued and engaged as Ms. Betterson teaches her students using a visual and tactile demonstration to help students understand the trick to working with different measurements, helping students to see when they decrease and increase and whether one uses division or multiplication to solve the equation. When I was a student, I only really remember reading about how to complete these operations in my head; I never had a teacher visually demonstrate a mathematical equation. As I thought about it, she gives a beautiful gift to students, making complex concepts so easy and workable simply by using different learning modalities to model the content for them. But beyond even the classroom, it’s her passion and heart for the students that is most astounding.
Though you may know her as the fearless ninth grade leader who carries a big stick (a ruler in mathematical terms), Ms. Betterson is the most down to earth individual you’ll meet. Having taught numerous areas of math including Algebra, Geometry, Math II, Math III, and Math IV, she has served A.E. Beach in numerous capacities throughout the years; officially she has been on record as a teacher at Beach for two years. Receiving a B.S. In Mathematics from Savannah State, she also has a Masters in leadership from Fielding Graduate University. Clearly she is both a skilled teacher and leader in her position here. In her spare time she does not limit herself to mathematical computation; in fact, Ms. Betterson enjoys creating abstract paintings, participating in community service and reading.
When asked about her success, Ms. Betterson reveals that she does “not know where I would be if it was not for my mother’s will to steer, influence, motivate, and guide me in some very compromising times.” Her strength, willpower and determination stem from her mother’s example. In fact, Ms. Betterson grew up in the inner city and HUD housing and weathered the challenges of these circumstances with her mother as her guide; these times did not limit her brothers and her in the least. Because of her mother’s strong example and leadership and the willpower and expectations she imparted to her children, every single one of her four brothers and she are college graduates. Today, one is an officer in the Coast Guard, one a counselor in a correctional facility, yet another an accountant for Georgia Power and one a mechanical engineer. And of course, Chadasi is an engaging teacher and strong leader here at A.E. Beach High. Following her mother’s example of strong leadership, Ms. Betterson is an example to her own daughter, who is beautiful young lady that plays an active student role in Johnson High School’s IB program. Surely, her intelligence and drive is a tribute to her own mother’s example.
In the daily battlefield of teaching, more an engaging play of sorts in her classroom, one of Ms. Betterson’s greatest strengths is motivating kids to believe in themselves. In fact she believes, that students “will attempt to accomplish the impossible because they understand that is my expectation.” She sets the bar high and encourages them to solve rigorous problems beyond their grade level, because quite simply put, she believes in them deeply. Without a doubt, her babies, as she calls her high schoolers, have always risen to the occasion and exceeded expectations. In the words of Ms. Betterson, “the greatest attribute any teacher can is to have genuine love and compassion for Education in its entirety, especially students.” And in those very words, it’s clear that she has the coveted x-factor of teaching.
In order to engage students, Ms. Betterson believes in involving all student learning styles and modalities. She involves tactile and kinesthetic lessons that draw in students talents and keep them actively engaged, believing that moving around releases energy and makes a dull lesson the most powerful. Even in her math classes, she involves Socratic questioning and has courageous conversations with her students because these help her build relationships with them. During these sessions, students are able to clear up misconceptions, expound to higher or appropriate differentiated levels, and explore higher levels in Bloom’s taxonomy.
Her successes aren’t without typical teacher struggles, lest you think her the real Super-teacher-woman. As a teacher, she struggles with prioritizing and meeting deadlines, but her advice to others is this: “Always come to work daily believing you can impact the life of not just one child, but all children. In many instances, you are probably one of the most stable adults they see on a daily basis. Cherish those ah-ha moments and memorable times you share with your students. Embellish and embrace every opportunity to live in the moment of being an educator. Change your corner of the world!” Indeed, Ms. Betterson creates a legacy through this vision, and inspires us all.
Thank you Ms. Betterson for your leadership and commitment to the lives of our students. We congratulate you on the honor of October’s Teacher of the Month!
Although you're definitely not Goldilocks when it comes to cookies, as in any type will do, have you ever wondered what makes a sandwich cookie the perfect balance of milk and cookie? If your dipping sauce, the milk in this case, is too cold, the cookie turns waterproof and your milk mustache is more of a drip on your shirt. If the milk has been sitting out for too long, your cookie sinks into the milky abyss. But, maybe, just maybe your milk is the perfect balance between warm and cool--the cookie becomes saturated but you don't lose it in the process.
Although a far-fetched metaphor, in reality, differentiation is adjusting the figurative temperature of our classroom for each student in order to best permeate the mind of our students' with knowledge and thinking. If we are too far removed from their needs and do not understand the data (whether quantitative concerning their grades or qualitative concerning their learning interests and styles), what we want to teach them does not sink in and they repel the learning just like our waterproof sandwich cookie. If we throw a bunch of content together with no purpose, the cookie of knowledge turns into a mush and students aren't sure exactly what they've learned or how to put it together. The more you know your student, the more you can adjust your classroom instructions, strategies, time, and arrangement, in order to give them knowledge and critical thinking skills in the same way the more you know your cookie, the more you understand the best milk temperature for dipping.
When we hear the word differentiation, even looking at the word may make us shudder. As teachers, although we hear the word and know we need to make it happen in the classroom, it seems far too complex a topic and floods our mind with the million other things we have to do. But before you think too much into the concept, differentiation is that x-factor of teaching and it's completely possible on an everyday basis. Right now, we're focusing on how to improve the third block that is our differentiation period.
When we think of differentiation, let's think first of what should be going on in that period. The answer is simple and is known as "REP"pin your content. We can remediate, enrich, or progress through the content we are already working on in the class.
So, what is the key to beginning differentiation anyway? It's not throwing some things together for the sake of throwing some things together. It's purposefully designing your class to meet the needs of students. It's the difference between cooking something and throwing the ingredients together because you have to do it or enjoying cooking a meal that you know will be the perfect balance for your taste buds and what your body needs. So, how do we cook up an excellent platter of DI? We always plan our "next step," but here are some helpful first steps. Let's place them in a list:
1. In the beginning, you've got to have a knowledge of your students. When we talk knowledge, let's first talk qualitatively. You could start with an interest survey and it's never too late. This student inventory, if you make a copy of it, gives you the ability to understand several elements of students. You understand their "encouragement language," the way that they learn best, and how they best respond to your correction. In all reality, one size fits all has never been the best approach to education. And according to this article, differentiating even discipline can determine the course of a student's life.
2. In the beginning, you've also got to have knowledge of your student performance. Yes, when we talk student performance, we are talking...wait, yes...I will say it: DATA! I won't lie. As an English teacher, when I used to hear the word, I thought: there is no way we can quantify such an art! But in reality, in any subject it starts with a standard and mapping the conceptual knowledge of that standard. In English, please? If we start by choosing a standard of focus, we can map the standard into its different parts/pieces of knowledge and then assess whether the student understands those parts. Here's an example of the steps involved for those of you who'd like some enrichment :).
3. When students have mastered the standards we are working on in our course, we've got to provide them enrichment. So, does enrichment mean giving students more busy work on the same subject that we're studying? Absolutely not. Well if they aren't doing what we're doing, how will they receive a grade, you might ask? In this situation, I recommend adding an enrichment column to your gradebook. Here's how to do it. And for those who need ideas for enrichment? A book like this one offers so many easy, workable ideas. Even though designed for gifted children, the book is technically about enrichment. Here's a generic choiceboard assignment you can begin using right away for your class, if you don't have the penchant to order quite yet.
4. When students have not mastered the standards in our course or parts of the standards we have mapped out, we must provide them remediation. If data charts aren't developed for your subject area, contact us for help! Data charts allow students and teachers to see exactly what standards have been mastered and which have not. You might keep a log of students and their needs so that you keep the information at the forefront of your mind after you've graded or while you're in the classroom. Forms can easily be placed on your phone, by choosing the menu (...) option on your internet browser and by using the "copy to home screen" option for quick access.
5. The DI block is also an amazing way to conference with your students concerning the work they are completing in your class. It is a way to progress in the current curriculum. Timely feedback aids growth and instruction, so while your other students are engaged in either remediation or enrichment, take time to work with students individually. If you haven't had the time to check it out yet, Google Classroom is an amazing conferencing tool as both student and teacher can be looking at and commenting on student work either on Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Drawing, or Google Slides. We'd love to show you how it works!
Don't forget to take this quick survey on your current ability level with differentiation. But above all else, remember that differentiating our classroom is a skill that grows over time as we understand our students both through their individual qualitative needs and their quantitative academic data. They can't survive without each other. And maybe this whole process looks super messy for you at first. And maybe you don't like the messiness of students working on different things at the same time. Don't worry. It's through reflection, mistakes, and simply trying things that we find some of the best ideas and become even stronger as teachers. Here's a certificate to use if you mess up in the name of making students better. I know I need it. We're here for you. Keep up the good work Bulldogs!
The Coaches Four
For a minute, let's imagine ourselves as we enter our doctor's office. Stark, white walls donned with pastel artwork (if we're lucky) support cold, imitation leather chairs with a sharply geometrical metal frame. A dash of color flits by here and there as some nurse has decided Snoopy is the scrub choice of the day, but in general, all seems washed out and sterile (which is a good thing, in the medical world). Now, imagine what you've seen of prisons from community service, perhaps popular television shows--I doubt you even get a washed out pastel picture on the wall. In each of these environments, the physical environment communicates its purpose. And so it follows, what do our classrooms communicate to our students about what we as teachers value most? Do they communicate that critical thinking and engagement are at the center of all we do, or is it yet another generic place in which students simply exist?
I get it. Some of our classrooms are too small. Some of our classrooms may be too large, but we can't be Goldilocks-ian in terms of waiting around for the perfect fit. Quite simply, we've got to work with what we've got and at the same time recognize how to shape our physical environment in our classroom for collaboration and purpose, making it standards-based and differentiated for student needs. We may be excellent at differentiating the curriculum, but are we proficient at differentiating the physical environment for our students for a particular lesson or purpose?
When it comes down to it, there are four factors we must consider when arranging our classroom for our students to promote learning:
How can we make our classrooms more collaborative and standards based by just arranging desks?
How do we model thinking in how we set up our desks and student work?
When we arrange our classrooms in a structure for collaboration, we are quite literally making that collaboration and thinking arrangement visible to students. When we have them in individual desks, facing a similar direction (although such may be ok for an assessment), we are hiding thinking and collaboration from them. In fact, according to Ritchhart (2015), "there is a literal need to make one's thinking visible in collaborative learning situations in order to be understood and to be able to build on others' contributions" (248). When arranging a classroom, we want to give students access to one another, making each other visible to each other so that we are fostering belongingness to our classroom and engagement for the learner. Don't be afraid to make your walls "messy" with the creations of students, attached to standards-based commentary and the assessment rubric. Though as an early teacher, I used to believe such "decorations" were superfluous, in reality, they are so important because they make both the teacher's thinking and the student's thinking visible to the entire class, fostering achievement. Post quotations of geniuses in your content, anything to make the thinking of others visible in your classroom.
How important is keeping the same desk set up each day?
How do I decide how to set up my classroom environment?
"I'm going to wear the exact same thing every single day" says almost no one. So, arrange away, in a different way, on any day. When it's raining, we make our clothing choices different from when we plan to attend a job interview. And I'm guessing we probably don't go to work in the same clothes we use for exercising, unless of course, we're out to be on a permanent vacation of sorts. But when it comes to the classroom, should we dress it the same way every.single.day.? Absolutely not. Think about your classroom set up as the clothes of instruction. How it looks will help make students more comfortable and guide them into the learning that is taking place. I'm certainly no superhero, but when I represent during Homecoming week, I feel a little closer to superhero for at least a day, maybe two. Perhaps our students aren't amazing communicators to start, but what if we could get them used to feeling like a star orator from time to time just by how we arrange our desks? There shouldn't be a default as "schools that wish teachers to use more varied approaches that are more responsive to students and create a dynamic learning culture shouldn't acquiesce to any single style as the default (Ritchhart 2015). If you're working in purposeful quads, arrange your room that way. If the focus is whole class and smaller class groups, arrange your room as a C. Look at your lesson and see what might look best in order to foster the best thinking for the assignment.
What actions can I take to help my standards-based classroom foster learning?
What can I control in my classroom to help students learn?
Comfort is not just something you can find snuggled up with an excellent book (or math or science problem) on the couch with a blanket. It can be introduced into the classroom as well. The way in which we foster comfort with each other in our classroom environment allows students to feel more interactive with one another in a standards-based classroom. Of course, teachers do need to consider light, temperature, and noise in the classroom. Use your window for natural light; don't be fearful the outside might distract them. Researches have found that "cortisol levels drop under poor lighting conditions [specifically] in the absence of natural light" (Rictchhart 254). Fortunately in our building, we can make use of the dimming features of our lights and put students in a more comfortable atmosphere. Goodwill is an excellent place to find lamps that change the lighting just a bit in our classrooms and can make our students more interactive as they feel more comfortable in their environment. In terms of color, brighten the walls and make them lively. Give students creative, colorful work that can surround your walls with feedback. In terms of noise, it is ok as long as you set rituals and routines for what level is appropriate in each learning situation and as long as you have a cue to use with students that will clue them into quieting down. In my classroom, I preferred counting down with explicit directives. In five you will be going to your seats, in four you will be placing your group projects on your leader's desk, in three you will be quieting down, in two you will not be talking, and in one you are completely done. Every teacher has his or her own tool, but use one consistently to make sure noise is a collaborative sound, not an off-subject one.
What can I do for students to help them feel invited in my classroom's environment?
How do I help students belong so they can be more engaged in learning?
You've felt it before; it's the X-factor of teaching and it has to do with the invitational quality of your classroom. Do you stand at the door and welcome students into your classroom like a home owner would his or her guests or do you allow students to filter in and out without a greeting? Given the fact students spend more time awake with teachers in classrooms than in their personal home, we should certainly attempt to make their learning environment as welcoming as possible. And each student needs something different to feel invited compared to another student. One student might need a comment of encouragement, one may appreciate a quick pat on the shoulder or perhaps another needs his or her chair pulled out just for him or her to start the day. As differentiation is the key to excellent classroom learning, so also that first interaction with students allows us to assess where he or she is emotionally for the day and understand, at least subconsciously, how we might go about overcoming that obstacle, if there is indeed an obstacle. That first connection is our first step toward connecting students on a daily basis. Ask yourself what first greets your students in the classroom and how it feels through the perspective of a student. If you don't feel comfortable, chances are your student won't either. After all, "as with all the cultural forces, the physical environment sends messages to our students about what we value, how we think learning happens, and what kinds of learning and thinking are to be celebrated (Ritchhart 257).
So what arrangements can you try?
So, how are we doing as a school?
I was super impressed when I took a quick walk-through as I snapped pictures of some standards-based arrangements; there was such a variety and so many wonderful ideas. Some teachers commented they used a combination of desk arrangements, designed to fit their classroom's behavior needs. Another commented that he based his classroom formation on his ability to use proximity control and be close to each learner when needed. Just remember we can switch our classroom as often as needed to fit the type of thinking that we want to do with students on a daily basis. Here are some SBC arrangements I've noticed around our school! Thank you for the ideas.
Offer ideas on how class set up has helped you with classroom management, classroom thinking, or classroom engagement! And in the meantime, keep up the excellent work bulldogs!
Ritchhart, R. (2015). Creating cultures of thinking: The 8 forces we must master to truly transform our schools.
The Opening: the word has power beyond just the classroom. Usually in life, whenever we open something, strong feelings surround it, and many times, there is an aura of positive excitement (unless of course, it's that speeding ticket). Regardless, the word in and of itself has an emotional element of expectation, of anticipating the new. Is it the same way in your classroom?
Usually, when we think of our content and practice, we just can't understand "the kids these days," and their distraction to technology. We're almost disappointed that they're not like us, those young "whippersnappers" in college classes who listened intently to every single word that poured out of the professor's mouth like molasses, the days when there wasn't even texting. And maybe we become even a little bit disgruntled that students just can't sit as a sponge and soak up all of the content knowledge we're so passionate about in our practice.
But in reality, if we poured over our college or high school notebooks (yes, I kept a few), I think we'd find that although we remember ourselves as super engaged, our notes to friends, doodles in our margins (though doodles don't say non-engagement in all situations), and remembrances of thoughts that distracted us, there were times, yes, when our gloriously untouched-by-technology brain was still not engaged in some situations. You remember those classes. Even if you had technology when you attended college, I imagine you struggled with engagement here and there.
So what is the answer to engagement and getting kids ready for our class so that they look forward to working with our content? Openings, of course!
Openings are a part of the instructional routine we call "The Instructional Framework." This part of the framework that starts with the Bell Ringer, sits permanently and explicitly on our board with the Essential Question (EQ) and with its own counterparts: the Work Session and the Closing; it is our hook to excite students about the day's learning--it should take no longer than twenty minutes. And the more it connects students personally to the content or engages them with a fascinating part of it, the better it is for the classroom, as we all know we enjoy speaking about ourselves and working with subjects we enjoy.
In honor of our Openings, here are some ideas that you might be able to use in the classroom:
An excellent way to involve students in learning, thinking routines such as thinking maps help students later in life and are powerful strategies to use in the opening. Good maps to use in the opening with generic content (though you could use any of them) include the circle map that defines, the bubble map that describes, the double-bubble that compares and contrasts. If students have already been studying a lesson's content, then you might be able to use a map with a more complex thought process.
Accountable Talk Blocks
Grab a set of large legos (mega blocks) and write Accountable Talk prompts on them with a permanent marker. Review a topic students have been learning about and need to revisit or design a new topic kids can talk about that relates to the day's lesson. Accountable talk prompts are essentially scaffolded prompts, sometimes called sentence frames or stems, to help students discuss in the classroom. Here are a few:
I wonder why… I have a question about… I agree/disagree with…because… That reminds me of… I don’t understand… I predict… On page ____ it says______ so I think… ____ could you please clarify what you mean when you said_____ I would like to add to what ___ was saying I had a different opinion to what ___ was saying because I thought _____ I came to the conclusion ____ because
Have posters set up around the room that relate to the content you'll be discussing. Then, have students walk around and write their thoughts on the topic or subject on the posters. Recently, a science teacher shared with me that she used the strategy effectively with vocabulary. Placing up five posters around the classroom and putting students into five groups (each with a different color marker for assessment), the teacher wrote five important vocabulary terms she was introducing with her new content and asked students to write ideas or definitions in their own words. Rotating from poster to poster in one minute intervals, the teacher played engaging music as a signal for students to rotate. At the end of the opening, students shared out their definitions of their original poster and were prepared to start the new content.
NearPod is a presentation interface that allows you to present a lesson to students using an interactive program that links their technological device into your presentation. You can choose to teacher-pace the lesson or student-pace the lesson (which only allows students to see the slide you are currently using). NearPods can be interactive and house videos as well as surveys and other technological programs. You can use it for the opening or even use throughout the work
Use near pod by visiting www.nearpod.com
Play Doh Ideas
After you set expectations for play doh do-s and don'ts (you might have napkins and hand sanitizer prepared), ask students to create a model of some concept that they have been learning or some new subject they will study for the day. You might ask them: When I say the word _________, please sculpt what comes to mind.
Think, Pair, Share
This is an oldie but a goodie. Pose a question to students that relates to the content for the day and have them think about them alone for a set time period (and write possibly), then pair with a partner. After a set period, students can share aloud as a class from the information they have learned as a pair.
This interactive website allows you to see other classes and instructors modeling strategies that can be used in any part of the framework, especially the opening. If you are a visual learner and one who learns by watching, this website is the place for you. Visit www.teachertoolkit.com for more information.
If you're studying content with opposing or contrasting views, pose a question that relates to your content but that allows them to take a side. Make sure you ask them to back up their viewpoint with evidence, whether personal or textual in order to practice gathering evidence.
In a K-W-L opening, students create a three columned chart on their paper. In the first column in which K stands for Know, students write what they know already about a particular topic. In the second column on their paper W, which stands for Wonder, allows students to engage themselves in what they wonder about the topic. L, which stands for what I Learned, is an excellent tool to use at the closing where students write what they have learned after the lesson has ended.
Journals are an excellent way to involve any content across the curriculum. Often, they are most effective when you give students a length goal (perhaps a half page or page) and are connecting the content personally. This week, in order to help students think philosophically about authors' perspectives a collaborative pair plans to ask students, "Are individuals born good or are individuals born evil?" This will allow them to help students think about the contrasts of Anti-Transcendentalism and Transcendentalism. This question also applies to a collaborative team in history that is examining opposing viewpoints of two political theorists.
This site can be used either with a mobile phone through the texting interface, or it can be used using a computer. In this site, the teacher designs a poll question, and students answer using their cell phones or another device. This can be designed as multiple choice questions, writing response questions (although limited by space), or a range of other type questions that can apply to the classroom for various content. In an opening, it can be used to ask students to explore a particular question or as a formative assessment to understand students' prior knowledge. The possibilities are endless.
Give One-Get One
In this opening, students spend a set period writing an idea from a prompt. They then rotate around the room, giving their idea to a person and getting one in return to write down on their paper. This can involve movement, which helps us learn. It's also an excellent brainstorming exercise.
If you'd like more ideas, check out this chart that offers many more ideas on openings, or activating strategies:
And when it comes down to it, the more need kids have, the more important it is for us to use activating strategies. If we look at Maslow's triangle, the fulfillment of basic needs allows individuals to progress to the next level. Each level in which they are fulfilled serves as a floodgate into the next level of the triangle. The cognitive level does not even occur until after students have basic needs and feel belongingness. Openings allow us to foster that belongingness in order that we may push students toward cognitive thought. In an environment where students may lack even the barest biological elements of Maslow's triangle, we certainly must be superheroes in our implementations of openings that fight against the world's kryptonite and engage our students to the fullest. We have a large job to do. Share some ideas that have worked amazingly well for your class. Glad we're in this together.
Keep up the great work, Bulldogs!
And if you have questions on implementation or just want another resource, feel free to contact any of us at the Coaches' Corner.
Additional information on Maslow can be found here: (http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html)
In the land of education, what are essential questions (EQs) and why are they so essential, besides their role of permanence on our boards? The guiding part of a lesson that envelops the standards, learning targets, and content, EQs aren’t just handy dandy board decorators, nor are they sentences chosen from a standard game of twenty questions. EQs are by nature a type of generative question whose purpose is to create even more questions and research in the classroom. Not meant to create a set answer, essential questions should excite students and serve as a catalyst for exploring the possibilities of an idea through your content area.
Here are seven characteristics of a good essential question, taken from ASCD.
A good essential question:
When we create the EQ, we want to help students connect their outer lives with our curriculum, so try to create your questions to connect their world with the content area. If I’m learning about logos, ethos, and pathos (three elements of effective persuasion), I might ask for the EQ: How do we use our words to manipulate others or change their minds? If I’m talking government and its three branches, the EQ might ask the following: How do we guard against individuals taking advantage of the power they have? It’s not so much about creating a philosophical quandary as much as it is making your content approachable to students in a way that they can ponder its value and engaging to them in a way that they want to know more.
When it comes to creating EQs and learning targets (as we’ll discuss a bit later), if we’re drinking the lemonade of instruction, the EQ is the container or glass that organizes all of the individual elements of a lesson such as standards, learning targets, and our content in order to make it have purpose. More later on what it takes to make that instructional lemonade perfectly balanced…
Until then, for more information on essential questions and how you can make them even better, visit http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/109004/chapters/What-Makes-a-Question-Essential%C2%A2.aspx. or swing by A.E.Beach’s The Coaches’ Corner for one-on-one advice.
Keep up the good work Bulldogs!