A collection of thoughts and resources to help educators stay effective and fresh.

Avoid the Summer Slide: Use it or Lose It

Summer is a time for lots of fun, sleeping late, and vacations, but it can also be a time when students lose some of what they learned because they don’t keep skills sharp by practicing over the summer. These 5 options will keep students learning all summer long!

summer slide comic

1– Read something EVERYDAY. Newspapers, magazines, novels …let your child choose their reading material. The important thing is that they READ.

2– Try on online reading comprehension practice program like Newsela. (https://newsela.com/) This is a free program that helps students build comprehension with nonfiction text using articles about current news and events.The program adapts for reading selections on each students’ own reading lexile (reading level). Many articles have self checking comprehension quizzes that go along with them.  Check out details on their parents page about how to get started  https://newsela.uservoice.com/knowledgebase/topics/38518-parents.

3– Create an account on Khan Academy and complete some math lessons. https://www.khanacademy.org/ This is another free site that offers lessons on skills at every grade level, and will help suggest the skills that are best for your child to work on next.

4- Go to a museum. Explore, discover, and talk about what you see.

5– Learn Computer Coding. Check out the tools available on https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/cool-tools-to-help-kids-learn-to-code to help your child learn computer coding skills, or learn how to code mobile games and apps using Touch Develop provided by Microsoft at https://www.touchdevelop.com/.

One way or another, school skills are just like any other skill you might learn, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Make sure your child doesn’t lose what they learned this year by practicing those skills a little each day to keep them sharp!

Test Training That Doesn’t Suck, The Finale

     So far in my quest for the best end of year test training ever,  we played a game, enjoyed tropical refreshments, and laughed at one heck of a skit in which my administrators modeled “what NOT to do” during testing.  Those things were some nice additions which hopefully made the dreaded end of year test training more bearable.  To be perfectly honest though, those things although thoughtful, we’re  much like the candy we often use to try to bribe our students to make an effort in the classroom.  The recipients enjoy the treat, but in itself it isn’t powerful enough to cause the impact we need.  I had 2 more plans in mind to make test training informative and less painful, but only one of them was something I had any control over.

 

Plan 4- Respect Profressionalism

    This year the test administrators manual made it very clear, that administrators should read the manual BEFORE attending test training. Though I’m sure it has also said this in the past as well, I think prior test coordinators were afraid to hand out the manual early for fear of them getting lost.  My thought was that if we trust teach ears with our community’s children everyday, they can handle a newsprint test manual.  So a week or so before test training I handed out manuals and gave the directions to read before training. I realize it’s very likely that not everyone read it, but they are professional adults and should be trusted to take care of their responsibilities. 

     When training day came, what we had frequently experienced in the past 2 as someone going page by page reading to us and telling exactly what to mark. I think doing it that way is insulting to highly educated adults,  especially those who have already read the manual.  Instead I approached the task by going over key points related to security and procedures, spending the most time on details which were changes from the previous year. In this way, it was my intent to be responsive to the needs of the “learners” and make sure they were clear on procedures while at the same time respecting their intelligence and not wasting their time.

challenge quote

Plan 5- Attitude is Everything

     The final way to make test training not suck, lies totally in the hand of each individual participant.  While the leader of the training can add elements of fun and enjoyment and be sure to address the needs of the participants, the bottom line is that it will be whatever you make it.  This was clearly evident to me as I saw completely opposite responses to the exact same experience from different people.  Some left the training saying “testing still makes me nervous, but this is the only time I can ever say I had fun at test training!”  While others spent the entire session and their walk out the door mumbling, and commenting with outrage at certain procedures.  Interestingly,  EVERYONE in the room would agree that some of the procedures we are having to follow are not in the best interests of kids (myself included).  The difference came with the attitude people reacted to that with.  Each person has the choice to see difficulties as a challenge they can work through,  or as a tragedy they are a victim of. 

If you want end of year test training to suck a little less . . . choose to be someone who works through the challenges – you can do it!

Test Training that Doesn’t Suck, Part 2

You may have heard that old saying that says something about putting lipstick on a pig. Well, in my last post I talked about playing a BINGO game during End of Year test training to add an element of fun. That is a nice touch, but I’m a realist – that is little more than “lipstick on a pig.”  The faculty still ends up sitting throngh listening to essentially a lecture on material that a) is less than interesting, b) they are forced to participate in even though they don’t want to, c) many have already been through multiple times before, d ) they could figure out themselves by reading the manual anyway.
I do respect teachers’ time and intelligence, but the state requires me to do this training anyway. Needless to say, it’s going to take more than BINGO to liven things up!

Plan 2- Make it Tropical

To remind us all that the end (and summer vacation) is near, I arranged for some simple tropical refreshments. Lime punch, tropical fruit trail mix , a selection of cookies, and some cute “beachy” decorations were available as faculty arrived. I also found a great Hawaiian luau station on Pandora to play to set the mood before we started.  Hopefully this reminded the faculty they were appreciated and helped take minds off some of the stresses of testing season.

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Plan 3- Show Instead of Tell

One thing I hate about professional development is that so often we are instructed on great best practices and strategies to use with students, but when it comes to our own learning, trainers do the exact opposite and go right back to the lengthy lectures.
According to the test manual, teachers were to have read it prior to training . It really wouldn’t be respectful of their time to sit there and go through it page by page. (Yes, I know that a good percentage of the staff never opened the book prior to training. Another issue entirely I agree.) Rather than wasting valuable time and insulting the staff’s intelligence, I chose to spend time reviewing important key procedures and looking carefully at the few changes.
Rather than telling or reading what is expected of test administrators , my awesome principal, assistant principal, and guidance counselor assisted by doing some dramatic modeling in the form of a comedy skit. One dressed and played the role of “bad test administrator” another was “bad proctor” and the third was “bad test taker.”  They acted out all the what N0T to do items to prompt our discussion.
Being something totally unexpected from them made this activity a hit. They did everything imaginable that you don’t want to see in a testing situation: teacher late with an inappropriate t-shirt and a soda, the proctor’s phone ringing, and the student taking a selfie.
This allowed us to go over all these critically important security issues, and have a great laugh about it instead of getting more stressed about testing.  The faculty got to visualize what shouldn’t happen and they definitely won’t forget their principals acting so silly anytime soon.

Test Training that Doesn’t Suck Part 1

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One of the many (insert sarcastic tone here) wonderful duties I have inherited this year with my new role a school Test Coordinator is to provide training for staff to be test administrators for the end of year tests. All I can think of as I begin my planning is the numerous training sessions I have sat through, which were boring at best, and down right nerve wracking at worst. Add on top of that the fact that it’s something that teachers have to do that they don’t really want to, and I know the odds are against me in my attempt to always provide training that is relevant, informative, and respectful of teachers’ time.  Sigh… I really want to avoid failing miserably which I would equate to having the faculty leaving training with their heads hung low dreading the testing days even more due to the confusion or stress I have piled upon them.  As a result, my plan for “Test Training that Doesn’t Suck” was born.  My next few posts will share my attempts to make our test training this year “not suck,” or at least, suck a little less!

Plan 1- Play!  

A friend of mine told me about a game he and some colleagues play to amuse themselves during staff meetings called Buzz Word BINGO. Essentially they make BINGO cards with common education buzzwords, and unknowing to most of the staff at the meeting, listen for the words and play BINGO during the meeting. (funny and a little bit rebellious, huh?)

So I thought during our training session, we could play Testing Lingo BINGO!  I made Bingo cards on a free bingo making site (http://bingo.saksena.net) using a word list I created. I included this list for you below. I have collected up a bunch of small items to use as BINGO prizes – I think I may hit up the PTO as well.

Now during training, folks will have a reason to listen in instead of playing Candy Crush on their phone, or grading papers …. they will want to win some of the great junk (err… prizes) I have to give away.  

Administering the end of year tests is serious business we all know, but we don’t have to go at it like we are facing doom and destruction, having a little fun can go a long way to relieving some of the stress we feel at the end of the school year, and if it makes us pay more attention to the training too, then double win!

 

My Testing Lingo BINGO Terms:

administrator, bubble sheet, test manual, code of ethics, accommodations, testing site, proctor, irregularity, misadministration, misalignment, score, extended time, make up test, EOG, NCFE, Final Exam, retest, evaluate, security, confidential, modification, document, maximum time, count, paper clip, calculator active, reading selection, test form, test editing, assessment, mark in book, read aloud, procedures, roving proctor, testing environment, monitor, standard 6, teacher evaluation, IEP, 504, LEP, number 2 pencil, calculator inactive, gridded response, test training, testing session, responsibility, confidential, test coordinator

 

 

Use Pretests to Avoid Instructional Reruns

Pretests are well known to be one of the most powerful research based formative assessment strategies an educator can use as a tool to push student learning forward. In fact I just did a single Google search on the subject of the impact of pretesting on student learning resulting in over 6 million records in 3 tenths of a second. Education experts agree that using pretests prior to learning can impact student learning in a least 2 ways. Pretests:

1- Prime the learner’s brain for the learning about to occur activating any prior or related knowledge, and

2- Allow the instructor to see what students already know, and where there are weaknesses in order to tailor the instruction to fit the learner.

Clearly from the number of Google results on this topic, there are plenty of resources that you could read up on – some admittedly more reliable than others. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time rehashing what other’s have already said.  I do want to share another view on why we should pretest, that I think may be the most convincing of all.  I came upon this reason in a moment of serendipitous realization as a result of a conversation with a middle school student this week.

One of the teachers at my school requires her science students to once a week talk through their notes with an adult at home and then have the adult write a short summary of what the student told them, sign it, and then return it to school as their weekly homework. The goal is to get students talking about what they are learning in class with their family while engaging in some review of the content.  There are few of her students who can’t or won’t get this done with adults at home, so I assist at school by being the adult the student can do their notes talk with.

This week the young lady I was working with told me all sorts of facts her class had studied about our solar system. She told me about the sun centered system vs Earth centered, inner and outer planet characteristics, moons, orbits, rotation vs revolution, phases of the moon, the effects of the Earth’s movement on day, night, and seasons, the layers of the sun, lifecycle of stars and what that means for our sun, and so on. I was impressed. Her notebook was organized and neat, all the work was complete. She seemed like a great student. Once she had finished going through her notes my innocent (I thought) comment was, “Wow, you have learned a lot in class!”

Her response left me speechless at first. “Not really,” she said. “We learned all this stuff last year and the year before. None of this was really new. Actually I get bored a lot. But then when kids in my class are bored because of that and just draw or read to entertain ourselves, the teacher just yells at us”

I processed what she was saying for a minute. “So you seem really interested in this topic though. What if the teacher had figured out before the unit that you knew these things already so decided to teach you some other more in depth information about the same topics?”

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“That would have been great! I wouldn’t be bored and would actually learn something then instead of wasting time doing something I’ve already done before. I mean, I realized the other day that I had watched the same video clip that the teacher showed us in class last year!”

 

To me this conversation says it all about why we should pretest. Surely we can be more respectful of learner’s time than just recycling the same content multiple years in a row. The only way we can ever expect to help students achieve growth is through continually pushing on to something new. The absolute only way to be sure to plan appropriately for what students need is to pretest first. Teaching without pretesting first is like a doctor writing the same prescription to every patient without first checking what their symptoms are… that just doesn’t make sense.

So, my bottom line here is…. if you don’t use pretests to assist in planning your instruction because of the sound pedagogy behind it, then respect your learners- they really do want to learn, so give them a chance to by seeing what they already know so you don’t waste their time with reruns!

 

How to Help Your Child Be Ready for Testing (or How to Help Your Child Succeed in LIFE)

When spring rolls around, students and teachers alike inevitably begin thinking about end-of-year testing. We all try to be positive and look at the tests as an opportunity to show off all that we have learned (or taught) over the course of the school year. Unfortunately teachers and students can’t help but feel the pressure put on us to perform well, and that can make testing time quite stressful for all.

As a teacher and I parent, I experience this from both sides, so I am closely familiar with what this feels like. Like all of you, I want to do everything in my power to help ensure that our students are successful on the testing, but also feel relaxed and confident about it as well.

So what can a parent do? I think the best approach for a parent (or teacher) is that of an excellent coach. I believe the 3 actions below are the key.

Coach

  Coach from officeonline.com

1– Make sure they know the skill or content they need to.

To do well and be confident that you can, you have to “know your stuff.” Review tools are plentiful online, and classroom notes would be a great resource. Many schools offer subscriptions to online learning services that can be valuable tools for students, and there are some great FREE resources out there as well. One of my favorites is www.learnzillion.com where students, teachers, and parents can access video lessons and practice activities on Common Core Standards in Language Arts and math for grades K through 8.

2– Set reasonably high expectations.

To achieve great things, our students have to reach high. Make sure you talk to your child and let them know that you do have high expectations for them. Be careful that your expectations are something that your child can reasonably reach with some effort. You don’t want to set them up to fail.

3– Let them know you believe in them and are there to support them.

One of the most valuable things we can do for our students is to prove to them that we BELIEVE they can do it, and that you will be there to support them all the way. Great coaches know that is you believe in yourself you can accomplish just about anything you set yourself out to do.

If your child is having particular anxiety about the big test, this video is a great way to begin a conversation to build his or her confidence. Yes. of course we want them to do their very best, but the test does not define them! “This Test Does Not Define You”- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFMjbs3hoiU

 

Apples for the Teacher: Grand Opening

grand openingFor quite a while, I have thought about and intended to get back to blogging about education and learning. I feel there is such power in collaboration and sharing which can be accomplished through an online Professional Learning Network. I certainly benefit greatly from the connections I have made through Twitter, Pinterest, and Linked In. My digital PLN is probably my single most valuable source of professional development and learning about new trends in education, technology tools, and teaching strategies. I have become quite an adept researcher and consumer, and I know that I have potential to give back to my PLN by sharing my own expertise.

To this point that has been limited to a few inconsistent attempts to blog, and my many many retweets and pins of great content and ideas which I have found. It is time that I “practice what I preach” to the faculty at my school and do some better sharing of my own ideas and thoughts.  Hence the “Grand Opening” of Apples for the Teacher. A cliched name for sure, but with multiple meanings. I want this to be a gift to other educators; giving back in return for the great benefit I have received through collaborating with my virtual PLN. I also want this blog to serve as a tool to help “keep the doctor away” so to speak for teachers, in the sense that I’d like to provide virtual coaching and support that all educators need to grow from good to great.

I will do my very best to post at least once a week. With testing season ahead, and my new (yippee!) role as testing coordinator on my plate, this will be tough. So the first thing I’m going to do is use one of my most valued tech tools and add a reminder to my Google Calendar to write a post each week.  I have plenty to say, let’s just hope I can make the time to sit down and write it out to share!


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