Day 7: The One With Our Favorite Graphs

We are doing more graphing to prepare for our field trip on Thursday (the teachers are also doing more prep to prepare for our field trip on Thursday). Teaching this unit again, with many fewer students, feels so different. I feel like I’m catching a ton of things I totally overlooked and had to reteach the last time we went through this.

Photo: Food and Color GraphsFavorite GraphsThis photo is from a class that was much smaller today (small class to begin with plus multiple absences). So this pair worked together pretty well – one kiddo who’s been here for a year and one kiddo who is relatively new.

There was also a part where students had to get up and walk around and ask each other questions. Totally not chaotic! Third year teacher moves? Or smaller class size? You decide!

Day 6: The One with Russia and Peru

This unit is all about compare and contrast, which is actually much more useful than I initially imagined 2 years ago. We spent today having kiddos compare their countries by making a venn diagram, then using a toolkit to write sentences. Super interesting to watch students interact with the toolkit, which is basically a list of sentence frames. Some kiddos use the same sentence frame over and over again. Some try to use all the different levels.

Photo: Country Venn DiagramsCountry Venn Diagrams

These two kiddos compared their countries. I wish I had pushed them more on writing a good topic sentence, but I’m mostly happy that they were talking and writing together. This was also the last class of the day with two support people, so…

Day 5: The One with Neighborhoods and Ken Ken

Week One is done. To some extent, it feels much longer than a week – I’m already calling and texting home and I’m pretty sure I’ve written more referrals to our Wellness Center (for students who need extra emotional support) this week than my previous two years combined. That being said, I also made it out most days by around 6pm. Benefits of re-teaching a class, I guess.

Photo: Ken Ken and NeighborhoodsKen Ken and NeighborhoodsToday was chill and I should note as much in the comments on our Google Doc lesson plans so that I remember that next time we teach the lesson. We had students think and talk about their neighborhoods in their countries, with some assistance from clip art, which I don’t think I use quite enough of. Interestingly enough, some students seemed fixated on the idea of having the “right” picture (the intent was to give them ways to talk and think about their neighborhoods without restricting their thoughts). They also struggled with picking people from the “race” clip art, as most students felt they couldn’t identify themselves in the somewhat-but-not-really diverse group of faces. There isn’t much in the way of diverse looking clip art, sadly. (Ask me why my Google search history contains “sad ethnic people on the phone”)

We also played Ken Ken, which is a Japanese number puzzle game similar to Sudoko. The kiddos who were at our school last year remembered it and most of them even remember how to play it (or if they never really understood it, which a few of them admitted. Oops). There are 3 rules to Ken Ken and I often use though to structure conversations with students who are stuck. That being said, having them work in groups has proved to be super useful as well. Even kiddos who claim to not understand Ken Ken will generally try it. Plus the idea of not being right and being able to erase it and fix it is cool (huzzah persistence and Math Standards Practices!)

Also, we have a new student in this particular class. This student speaks Nepali and is the lone Nepali student on our team (the other team has a Nepali student. We should proooobably put them on the same team?). One of the other students (who declared in the last 5 minutes of class: “I’m not doing any work until next month” – pretty sure he meant week. I decided not to fight him on it.) wanted him to write something in Nepali. Learning Togther and Acting With Empathy (2 of our school values) in action.

Day 3: The One With The First Day (and the Colors and Shapes)

…and we’re off to our first day of content. Traditionally, we spend the first 2 days of school for 9/10 students doing orientation to school values and what it’s like to be a student at our school. Orientation for me is always a bit jarring (but totally necessary) as it takes me a while to get out of “last year” mode and into “this year” mode. Our classes restart with a fresh (sometimes much lower) level of English and all the 10th graders (many of whom I taught for two years) disappear off to 11th grade. Our school isn’t big, but I feel like I haven’t seen many of them (except the two who sneak into my class and try to pretend they are still my students. Sigh.)

Today marks our first day of content. Teachers talk a lot about the first day of content and the tone it sets and the message that students take away. We reworked a lot of our first day activity (previously the marshmallow challenge) which left my room a mess the last time (just in time for me to host staff meeting, naturally). I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out – lots of reading, lots of teamwork, a fair amount of speaking English (there were probably more ways to push for this). Students did a secret problem – one person got a design of shapes and had to describe it, using only English, to their team. They then had to check if their team got it right and help them to make changes.

Photo: The Journal and the ShapesShapes and Colors

At the end of class, we asked students to write journals writing about how their group worked. We did this structure two years ago, then abandoned it when we felt that reflection homework (basically, writing about what they learned that week) took that place.

It’s always interesting to watch newcomer English Language Learners try something for the first time, especially when there’s a lot of writing involved. Groups have been doing a solid job helping each other, explaining what to write, translating. It’s admittedly the honeymoon period, but I hope it lasts for a while.

By the Numbers

Right now, our classes are a bit small (our school is designed to accommodate more students as the year goes on – immigration trends don’t really follow a calendar). My classes currently range from 14 to 16 (though the class of 16 has a few students who aren’t showing for a variety of reasons). There are generally about 10 students who speak Spanish and 4-5 students who speak another language (Chinese, Tagalog, Urdu, Vietnamese, Russian). In contrast to last year (when we had significantly fewer non-Spanish speaking students), this encourages our students to speak more English and develop more of a sense of empathy for other students. We hope.

Day -2: The One With the Laminated Group Roles

Staff development week is quickly winding down. I’m fairly certain that two days ago (Wednesday) will mark the day I was actually over my head, followed by yesterday (Thursday) as the day I started breaking all my School Year’s Resolutions to leave by 6, followed by today (Friday), where I will hopefully adhere to leaving by 6 out of a sense of guilt and hope.

(Yes, the week before school causes all the emotions)

Photo: Laminated Group RolesLaminated group rolesCurriculum partner and I are revising curriculum from 2 years ago rather than writing our own, which is much less stressful and is helping us to really think about past lessons and rework them so that they (hopefully) accomplish what we actually want them to do.

It’s also been a weird walk down memory lane back to my first year of full-time teaching. The way we plan and think about lessons has changed quite a bit and so many of our structures are different (though we’re also trying to revive a lot of them). Some of my lesson plans are filled with less relevant details and even less relevant formatting (Me: “What is this?” Curriculum partner: “I think I wanted to tell you not to waste time on formatting, but figured you’d get the idea after doing it once or twice.”* *They were really nice about it and totally right.)

First-Year-Teacher-Me also went and laminated 4 different versions of Complex Instruction group roles***. First-Year-Teacher-Me was kind of a naive dweeb. That being said, Third-Year-Teacher-Me is now taping down those laminated roles, so…good work First-Year-Teacher-Me?

(Complex Instruction is a structured form of groupwork aimed at helping all students to contribute to the learning of the group. One way to do this is to assign each group member a different role. Some teachers tape the roles to the table so that all Group Managers sit in corresponding positions, all Resource Managers sit in corresponding positions, making it easier for the teacher to identify and reenforce roles in Complex Instruction. One of our goals this year is to authentically use roles, so…)

Day -4: The One With the Obligatory Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

Going back to school means going back to routine. Going back to school means trying to get to bed on time and get a good night’s sleep (twice failed already and it’s only Tuesday). Going back to school means running to Safeway at 7am because you have no bread. Going back to school means peanut butter sandwiches.

Photo: Obligatory P,B and JPeanut Butter and Jelly SandwichWe also got planning time to do  some  curricular alignment. While I’ve seen versions of all of the courses this year (huzzah for teaching at an Internationals School), we’ve never had much time to explicitly make connections between courses. We’ve got some ideas of which language functions we can teach simultaneously to support student learning and some ideas for aligning content.

Photo: Planning Semesters One and Two

Semesters One and Two

Room setup continues to move slowly, admittedly due to no one’s fault but my own. There’s not a whole lot I need to do since I’m using the same room setup as last year (except the part where I moved my desk to a new location for the third year in a row). I also might be in denial that summer is actually over. On the other hand, I’m actually going to put up the alphabet I’ve been meaning to use for over a year.

Photo: Alphabet Sounds (unabashedly poached from another teacher)

Alphabet Sounds

Day -5: The One Where We’re Baaaaack

First day back for teachers was yesterday. Full day of meetings, including teambuilding, icebreaking, snorting (see teambuilding), looking at cohorts of students for next year and planning for the first week. Good energy, as always.

Photo: My Room

Desks and TablesA fun (amazing) thing that our district does is power clean the floors over the summer. As a result, they move all the furniture out and then back in (after cleaning). Some incredibly well-meaning person put all the trapezoidal tables in my room in pairs, just like the rest of the classrooms in our school.

Except…I use the rectangular tables. Which means that I spent most of my room prep time (admittedly, only about 15 minutes) loudly dragging around tables.

This is not to complain at all; more to publicly remind myself to actually put the team roles (Task Manager, Group Manager, Communications Manager, Resource Manager) on the table so that I know which student is which role and can actually use them.

Photo: Meaningful Professional Development

Low Stakes Writing in My LanguageThis feels like cheating since it’s not something that I constructed, but rather part of a full staff exercise. We spent a large chunk of time talking in small groups about ways to differentiate instruction, which is a HUGE focus at our school. We read about, talked about, and wrote about different aspects of how to differentiate instruction for heterogenous groups. Say you’ve got a classroom where the students enter at different ability levels (which is true for all schools and extremely true for our school). What do you do to reach all students?

(This poster was about how to have students do low-stakes, low-barrier-to-entry writing in ML – my language. No grades, no grammar, just write.)

Summer Meeting Recap: Read It Again (and Again) and Shared Experiences

Every summer, I spend three days meeting with other beginning math and science teachers from across the country (through the Knowles Science Teaching Fellowship…which also includes math teachers). That’s a lot of math and science teachers – 5 cohorts worth of about 30 teachers each. Some takeaways from this year:

3 Read Protocol: I went to a workshop on the 3 Read Protocol. (and yes, this links back to something from my own district, though I’ve never used it before. Oops.) The idea is to take a relatively dense word problem. You as the teacher read it aloud once. You ask students to summarize the main idea. You (or a student) reads it aloud a second time, this time asking students to look for the math – numbers and quantities in the problem. You (or a student) reads the problem aloud a third time and students come up with a list of questions they can answer.

This feels like a great exercise to try with English Language Learners and feels like a good structure to help students strategically make sense of problems. It also dovetails nicely with norms we’ve been establishing about “read the question (many times) before you ask for help.” Huzzah student persistence!

Course Narrative: I went to another workshop on establishing coherence and narrative throughout a course. The workshop was designed for biology teachers and our course narrative (or, uh, lack thereof) feels choppy for many reasons. That being said, thinking about how one unit motivates another is something I haven’t done (But feel like we should engage further. Maybe next time we teach this course). We’re going to try using guiding questions for each unit to try and help students make sense of how the content in each unit is connected. We’ll see.

Talk: Our cohort, which is mostly second and third year teachers (and two fourth year teachers) is focusing on “talk” in our classes – how our students talk and how this helps them learn. Up until this point, I’ve mostly tried to get students to talk to each other for the sake of talk and speaking English (because: English Language Learners). So I’m excited to think about this and get more into details and figure out why I’m asking my kiddos to talk. This also dovetails nicely with a book that Mr. Williams recommended on Intentional Talk. Geared to elementary schools, but that’s not such a bad thing.

Teacher Leadership: Everyone at Summer Meeting read Jose Vilson’s “This is Not a Test”. One of the many themes that emerged was the idea of teacher leadership and teacher voice. How do teachers communicate the work that we do? How do we advocate for ourselves and our students? No easy answers here, but I’m excited to see the conversation grow and continue.

Restorative Practices: Another theme based on “This is Not a Test” is the idea of restorative practices. Our school (and district) has done some work with restorative practices, but there is still so much to learn. I still struggle to clearly define restorative practices, but I would describe them as building positive relationships early and trying to include all voices and thinking about how to include students in discipline processes. So interesting to see the tension between implementing restorative practices as an individual teacher versus as a full school (in hindsight, I feel extremely fortunate that our school has been working together to try and implement restorative practices)

Norms and Shared Experiences: Our cohort of 30 teachers spends lots of time together. We have a meeting in the fall and a meeting in the spring. We do Google Hangouts every other week. We’ve gone through a year of teaching (for some, the first year). So we’re close. Similarly, other cohorts are very close. It’s really interesting and tricky to see what happens when these different cohorts with different experiences and expectations come together. Often times, they don’t. One of my biggest takeaways is thinking about how to bridge those gaps and talk to people with different experiences and expectations.

Day -6: The One With the Math Problem in the Middle Space

Day two of District training through a Complex Instruction lens. Really appreciative of being able to spend time with other staff members beforehand to take time to actively think about common structures we want to use for groupwork (Complex Instruction) and how we want to work with each other. We’re also trying a structure to observe each other in hopes of knowing more about each other’s classrooms and practices. Pretty pumped to have time to revamp our scope and sequence, journal structure and opening structure before schoolwide PD starts. Next week, we’ll have more time to revamp our first unit (in addition to classroom setup and schoolwide meetings and…)

Photo: The Math Problems in the Middle SpaceMath problems in the middle spaceWe always kick off District Complex Instruction Days by doing math together. For me, this is a chance to work and connect with colleagues who I may not know, to remind myself that I am still a learner, and to think about ways that our teaching and teaching structures may affect our kiddos, especially in terms of what it means to be a student of math and what it means to be smart and successful in math. In particular, we looked at this problem and how the language of the task and how the requirements for an “A+ answer” raised the ceiling of the problem and really could push students to do more.

Day -7: “…What Summer?”

We’re winding down from our first day of District Planning. I see another teacher who I’m friendly with and ask them, “How was your summer?” to which they reply (deadpan, of course): “What summer?”

That about sums it up.

In some ways, I’m ready to go back. I’m ready to meet the new kiddos. I’m ready to catch up with the old kiddos (many of whom will be in my class for a second year, some who will not, but who will be across the hall). I’m ready to figure out which kiddos have transferred and to get in touch with their current teachers (all the while ignoring whether this is a healthy practice or not). I’m ready to continue planning with a fantastic curriculum partner and amazing math and science team. But it does seem like the summer has gone away all too soon.

Photo: Planning Notes

Planning NotesAlthough this day is technically a District Professional Development Day, we’re allowed to use it to start planning how we want to start our year (through the lens of Complex Instruction). Curriculum Partner (whose notes are shown above) did a fantastic job of getting people talking and planning, sometimes in large groups, sometimes in small groups. It is pretty amazing to have all 7 of our math and science teachers working in the same space at the same time.