Archive for the 'Teaching – Reflections From the Field' Category

The Last Day of School

1000w_q95By Stephanie Nicoletti

On Friday there was a certain buzz going around the school, the kids came in with happy faces and even teachers were grinning ear to ear; it was the last day of school. During our closing circle on the last day I told my students that I enjoyed every minute with them and absolutely loved watching them grow over the school year.

Each year I always get sad during our last closing circle, your students become a part of you after spending a year together. This year I even had a little one who had tears streaming from his face when the bell rang, he was so upset he did not want to leave the classroom. This made me sad of course, but it also made me realize that all of the work teachers do over the summer to prepare for the following school year does not go unnoticed.

I was making a list this morning of all of the things I wanted to accomplish this summer before the school year starts. The list is long and daunting, but then I remember the tears that were in my classroom on the last day and remind myself that everything teachers do, no matter how daunting it may seem, is always for the students. While this summer will be fun, relaxing and refreshing for students and teachers alike, do not forget to remember your students who are itching to come back to school!

What I’m doing This Summer

summer-still-life-785231_1280By Elizabeth Jorgensen

I hear in the media, and from professionals outside education, that teachers “have the summers off.” But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In 2007, I searched WECAN for summer employment opportunities and noticed Kettle Moraine High School’s extensive listings. When I interviewed, I learned about the state’s largest summer school program. With a five period day, students from kindergarten through the 12th grade, attend classes ranging from camping to everyday math and from golf to Disney mania. After an interview, I accepted a position with KM’s Summer Academy. Throughout the next decade, I taught online classes and in-person classes to both elementary and high school students. Learn more about Kettle Moraine’s Summer Academy here.

Working in a different district energized and encouraged me. I saw firsthand the positives of my district and I picked up innovative ideas from KM teachers to help advance my AHS curriculum. This summer, I’m slated to teach two sections of ACT Prep online to KM juniors and seniors.

Then, in 2013, one of my colleagues at Arrowhead asked, “What do you do on Saturday mornings?” She proceeded to discuss Dr. Donnie Hale and his work in the pre-college program at Carroll University. Again, after an interview, I accepted a position to work with Project Pioneer. “Project Pioneer is Carroll University’s Saturday pre-college enrichment program which focuses on helping high school students build the skills, knowledge and mindset necessary to succeed in college and beyond.” On Saturdays, fifty high school students from Waukesha and Milwaukee engage in month-long academies “that will lead them through exploring their community and identifying a challenge within it, researching that challenge and finding solutions, and taking action. During this process, students will address a real challenge that their community faces while also building skills around the 4Cs: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Creativity and Innovation, Communication and Collaboration. Students will learn that their voice matters and that when they speak up and take action, they can make positive changes in the world around them.” Although Dr. Hale left Carroll a few years later (to become Florida International University Faculty Director of the Education Effect at Booker T. Washington Senior High School), I stayed on to work in the pre-college program (now under the direction of Maria Ramirez). Learn more about the program here.

My work at Project Pioneer led me to Horizontes en Carroll: “a program which welcomes upwards of 50 high school students from Waukesha, Milwaukee, Racine, and Harlem (NY) to campus each summer to experience university life and gain academic, social and life skills…During this week long residential program, students in grades 9-12 take part in several learning experiences that allow them to understand all aspects of higher education.” At the week-long summer camp, students develop career and college readiness skills and a better understanding of the college experience. Last summer, I facilitated a poetry reading and Horizontes en Carroll literary magazine. This summer, students will produce and publish the second annual Horizontes en Carroll Literary Magazine: A Collection of Creativity. Learn more about the program here.

This summer, I am also teaching online English classes for Arrowhead Union High School. Learn more about Arrowhead’s summer school offerings here.

My summers are, in fact, busier than my school year. I’m not sure who perpetuates the “teachers have summers off” stereotype, but it surely isn’t me.

What are you doing this summer?

Teach For America: Semester Wrap-Up

As the academic year closes, students in the College of Education’s Masters Degree programs are wrapping up extensive research and consultant projects — read on to learn more about their work!

Enrolled in the College of Education and serving as Teach For America-Milwaukee corps members for two years, these graduate students in Dr. Patricia Ellis’ Analysis of Teaching Course are no strangers to the rigors of academic life both on Marquette University’s campus and in their classrooms.

We asked Tyra Hildebrand, Assistant Director of the College of Education’s TFA partnership, and Dr. Ellis to weigh in on the students’ final projects for this course.

As students put theory into practice within their classrooms, they are able to highlight how social justice, cultural responsiveness, rigor, differentiation, and inquiry not only increase student achievement but also develop their students’ soft skills.

How did this particular assignment come about?

Tyra Hildebrand (TH): “This unit plan assignment has been a regular part of the Analysis of Teaching course at MU. However, four years ago, Dr. Whipp and I made some important modifications to the assignment, in order to ensure our in-service teachers created a culturally relevant, student based, inquiry curriculum project. A book that was used in multiple classes, Pedagogy of Confidence by Yvette Jackson, identifies seven High Operational Practices, which was an additional framework for the project:

· Identifying and Activating Student Strengths

· Building Relationships

· Eliciting High Intellectual Performance

· Providing Enrichment

· Integrating Prerequisites for Academic Learning

· Situating Learning in the Lives of Students

· Amplifying Student Voice

The teachers also had to incorporate the Inquiry Learning Model (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate) into their Unit Plan.”

Jake Burkard, Chemistry/Math Teacher, Bay View High School, “Heat of Combustion: Magnesium”

What are your goals for the students?

TH: “One of the goals for this project is for our in-service teachers to realize they can successfully plan and facilitate a real-world investigation with their students. This required them to move into highly constructivist teaching methods, which can be unsettling at first. The teachers also noted how truly engaged their students were in this project, which will hopefully carry on in further curriculum planning. Additionally, they recognized how cross-curricular their projects were, and hopefully that will result in reaching out to their teaching colleagues for planning future projects.”

Dr. Patricia Ellis (PE): “Inquiry-based learning brings a level of energy, inquisitiveness, rigor, and excitement into the classroom that makes learning meaningful and relevant for the teacher and their students. The learner-centered curriculum project allows the TFA students to facilitate learning in a manner that supports and nurtures the academic and social-emotional development of the whole child.

Engagement in this project encourages the TFA students to grow professionally and personally as they broaden and deepen their skills, talents, and gifts as well as the skills, talents, and gifts of the students in their classrooms.

As the TFA students discuss the impact of the project on their students, they frequently speak to how they see their classroom attendance increase, students becoming more actively engaged in learning, and students taking great pride in their accomplishments. They also express how this project facilitates interdisciplinary collaboration with colleagues and allows them to explore potential partnerships with community organizations.

The process and completion of this project teaches students how intentional planning, organization, persistence, flexibility, creativity, trust, diligence, belief, resiliency, determination, and reflection in addition to content knowledge are powerful skills and dispositions for classroom teachers to possess and practice on a daily basis.”

Allison Gleiss and her student, Math Teacher, Carmen Northwest High School, “Loans and Logarithms: A Car Buying Guide”

What are the benefits of the presentation?

PE: “Seeing the amazing displays of their students’ work along with hearing the passion in their voices as they present their learner-centered curriculum projects clearly demonstrates how engagement in this project helps to change and transform the TFA students’ instructional practices and levels of student engagement.

As students put theory into practice within their classrooms, they are able to highlight how social justice, cultural responsiveness, rigor, differentiation, and inquiry not only increase student achievement but also develop their students’ soft skills.”

Too often, teachers are isolated in their own classroom, but this project allowed the teachers to showcase the student learning.

TH: “Having the opportunity to publicly share the findings of their project is highly rewarding. Each year, we see how proud the teachers are of what their middle and high school students accomplished. We have seen over the years in this project, that the K-12 students always go above and beyond their teachers’ expectations. The teachers also have the opportunity to see what projects their peers facilitated, which is enlightening.”

Teddy Amdur, Physics/Math Teacher, Bay View High School, “Shark Tank: Exploring the Intersection of Entrepreneurship & Systems of Inequalities”

What are the benefits of the feedback?

PE: “Feedback from peers, supervisors, coaches, professional educators, and other professors allows the students to reflect on and enhance their professional practice in order to maximize student achievement and engagement. The feedback also serves to motivate, encourage, nurture, and inspire students to face challenges with courage and to autograph their work in the classroom with excellence.”

Annie Teigen, HOPE High School, “Case File Chemistry”

TH: “Our audience members and fellow teachers provided a great deal of constructive feedback for the presenter to contemplate if they were to embark on this project again. This cohort of teachers regularly learns from one another and they push each other to become better for their students. Too often, teachers are isolated in their own classroom, but this project allowed the teachers to showcase the student learning.”

Want to learn more about TFA and Marquette University’s College of Education’s graduate programs? Visit us online!

Lost and Found: A Farewell and Travel Plan

Output Garden Sunlight Door Open Light Beam InputBy Peggy Wuenstel

I’ve been a bit absent from the blog roll recently, but with good reason. I’ve been packing away, paring down and moving on. Even though the focus has been on what comes next: the house is sold, the travel trailer is purchased, and most of our belongings are packed for the upcoming journey, I feel the need to wax nostalgic.

Much of it makes me very happy. The memories experienced, lessons learned, and friendships made can go with me without taking up space anywhere but in my heart. I have had the privilege of working with an extraordinary team of educators over the last fifteen years. They truly put children first and their loving care has paid wonderful dividends for the students we serve.

I have colleagues passionate about growth and improvement for themselves and the programs they administer. I have students who have no concept that there is a limit to how far they can rise. I live in town where education is an important aspect of community life for most residents and they have voted to support local schools when asked to do so.

But the theme of this year’s blogging cycle has been knowing what I’ve got before it’s gone. There are some things that are gone. Some are mourned deeply and some are celebrated with whoops of joy. There are things that I have learned and things I am still struggling to understand.

  • Over the last few weeks I have handled nearly every item I own, sorting those things that will travel the country with us, those that need new homes, and those that will be discarded. I did not feel the “Joy of Tidying Up” that made the bestseller list this year, but I have enjoyed the lightening up. What is gone will not be missed. I have learned that both dreams and possessions are real, worthy of effort, and attainable. One category does not have to be dusted, insured or packed securely for storage.
  • The things I love to do: cook, teach, gift, and plant are all activities designed to provide something to be consumed by others. I won’t be able to do those items in the same way from a travel trailer next year. I’ll survive. I don’t have to host the family gathering or be the co-worker that has supplies at the ready. That part of me is gone.
  • My name will not be on the door anymore. But I have learned that unlike our current president, you don’t get to write your name on your monuments. Someone who comes after you decides that. I would never want a Trump Tower, and establishing my brand has been about being so consistent and recognizable in my love for children and for literacy that I wouldn’t have to label it to have others recognize my work and passion. I understand the need for copyright laws, preserving the intellectual property of others, but have always freely shared those things I have produced for the betterment of our school. I hope my monument be the kids I have had the privilege to teach, who are proud of what they know and who they are.
  • There are things that are gone from the Wisconsin landscape that have made it much easier for me to move on. The value that has historically been ascribed to public education is eroding nationally, but especially in Wisconsin. Respect for teachers, adequate funding for schools and community engagement in bettering the lives of all children in Wisconsin’s classroom has been seriously reduced. Teachers must spend much more time defending themselves from criticism and educating a public unaware of the multitude of roles that schools take on in today’s communities. This pulls time and energy away from where we would like it to be, on our kids and their growth, joy, and self-confidence. It is increasingly hard to project that surety when you are feeling attacked and insecure in your livelihood.
  • We have unfortunately shifted from a focus on the learning to a focus on the testing that drives education today. There are so many better ways to measure progress than single high stakes exam. The easiest tests to administer, score, and publish are often the least effective in describing student learning. They are even less helpful in driving decisions about improving outcomes for individual students, where we should be focused.
  • As a society, we also seem to have lost the sense that the values we teach our children in an elementary school have validity in the adult world. Compromise is good. Everyone deserves to be heard. We only can say we are doing well when all of us are doing well. We need to care about others, even those people who don’t look like us.

After 34 years as an educator I am on a new journey. I am conscious of the things I have lost and am leaving behind. I am also grateful for the things that will never leave me. I read somewhere that retirement is when you stop working on your resume and start working on your eulogy. I’d like to hope that any successes I have had in my teaching career are because I have always concentrated on those “big things” first. Learn all you can, then share what you know, care about people first, things second. The things you give away say more about you than the things you keep. You should listen, learn, and wonder more every day than you speak, teach or think you know. Love what you do and the people you do it with. Be grateful, be quiet, and know when it’s time to turn off the lights and close the door.

Students Try on a Different Writing Style with Their Voice

writer-605764_1280By Elizabeth Jorgensen

To encourage my students to write in a different style, I first have them read a chapter from House on Mango Street titled “Four Skinny Trees.” We read and discuss this chapter. Then, I tell students to try on the author’s style of writing to see how it fits with his or her voice. I instruct students to adhere to Sandra Cisneros’s sentence structure by going word by word, keeping her structure, but changing the words.

First, students look at the title: “Four Skinny Trees.” In the title, Cisneros has a number, an adjective, and then a plural noun. Students then write their own title, complete with a number, adjective and plural noun.

Example: Four Skinny Trees could become Three Bulbous Rocks or Five Insecure Boys or Three Broken Feet.

Students continue through Cisneros’s “Four Skinny Trees” chapter, keeping her structure but telling their own story. I remind students that they should have the same number of sentences and paragraphs as Cisneros. If she repeats a word, I remind the students they need to repeat a word. If Cisneros states her title, the student should state his or hers.

Cisneros: “Four Skinny Trees”

Jorgensen: Three Bulbous Rocks

Cisneros: “They are the only ones who understand me. I am the only one who understands them.”

Jorgensen: They are the only ones that irritate me. I am the only one who kicks them.

Cisneros: “Four skinny trees with skinny necks and pointy elbows like mine.”

Jorgensen: Three bulbous rocks with dirty bellies and snowy caps like glaciers.

Cisneros: “Four who do not belong here but are here.”

Jorgensen: Three amongst a million more in my yard.

Cisneros: “Four raggedy excuses planted by the city.”

Jorgensen: Three infuriating rocks there to trip me.

Cisneros: “From our room we can hear them, but Nenny just sleeps and doesn’t appreciate these things.”

Jorgensen: From my porch I can see them, but my boyfriend just sighs and says I’m hallucinating.

I provide a model as well as student and teacher examples. You can see my worksheet and resources here. At the end of the exercise, students have a poetic, entertaining and interesting vignette. This exercise also prompts a plagiarism discussion, students debating if a writer can copy another author’s structure.

Student vignettes are often published. Teen Ink published Nate Ferro’s vignette and Megan Rutkowksi’s vignette.

I encourage you to use this exercise with your students or to modify it to better align with your curriculum.

 

Is it Good for Kids?

By Claudia Felske

Ask any teacher (especially this time of year) how they’re doing, and my guess is their response will be “busy” or some synonym thereof. The truth is that “busyness” is pretty much par for the course in this profession, and so this month (a particularly busy one) I thought I’d reflect a bit on how a teacher might best prioritize his/her time. Whether facing a time consuming class project, a district initiative, a  stack of papers, a student need, a community event, an administrative request, a building committee, a licensure requirement, (the list goes on and on…) it must all boil down to one question: “Is it good for kids?”  It may sound ridiculously reductive, but if that’s not ALWAYS the central question, what are we doing here? And so, here’s a flow-chart version of how I try to prioritize my time. Feel free to give it a try when your to-do list is seemingly insurmountable: IMG_0098

Playing and Learning

board-gamesBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

In the Washington Post article, “Children’s board games help reinforce lessons learned in the classroom,” Jayne Cooke-Cobern, a kindergarten teacher at Marumsco Hills Elementary School in Woodbridge says, “Any game that requires a student to count and move a game piece at the same time is good for developing one-to-one correspondence while counting.” Which games does she use? Trouble, Chutes and Ladders, Uno, Yahtzee, Racko, and Apples to Apples.

Lisa Barnes, another kindergarten teacher at Marumsco Hills quoted in the article, says she uses “Memory (recognition of numbers, sight words and color words), bingo (letters, shapes and rhyming words) and dominoes (numbers and the concept of more and less)” with her students.

Although I teach students on the other end of the educational spectrum—seniors in high school—board games also supplement my lesson plans. Why? Games force students to use planning and cognitive skills. They also encourage problem-solving and creative thinking.

In the Washington Post article, Marilyn Fleetwood, president of the Academy of the Child, a Montessori preschool and elementary school said, “Play is probably the most important skill for life. Most children learn to read, but social skills are one of those things that really have to be developed. And that’s what you get with board games.”

I keep a stack of board games in my classroom. And on days when attendance is light—or during challenging weeks (like Homecoming or when the basketball team makes it to state)—I will often allow students to pull them out. Students say the same things: games are fun, appealing, and motivating. And they also support my English curriculum. While word, matching and memory games foster language development and literacy, while card games improve spatial awareness and develop strategic thinking.

Games provide a forum for initiative and leadership, reasoning, and problem-solving. Challenging and strategic games help children learn to focus and concentrate, which is essential to developing creative thought.

Here are some of the games I use in my classroom:

  • You’ve Been Sentenced
  • Word on the Street
  • Buzz Word
  • Guesstures
  • Quickword
  • Starwords
  • Alphabet Roundabout
  • Play on Words
  • Scrabble Upwords
  • Rattled
  • Flashwordz
  • Boggle
  • Buy Word
  • Word Winks

 


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