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Archive for January, 2012

Elusive Academic Progress Frustrates Our Team! What Can We Do?

Sometimes, despite our hard work, we are disappointed by the lack of academic progress of our students. It’s easy to fall into the blame game. Our students would be doing better if only…

  • there was more support from home
  • we had more computers
  • our students were more motivated
  • our administration provided more resources.

However, deep down, we realize the only behavior we have any control over is our own; the solutions have to come from us.  The power of the middle school team is that it is a microcosm within the large community of a school that can directly affect the learning of its students.  Therefore a team can create solutions when they work in a thoughtful, collaborative manner.  Using common planning time to search out how other educators have successfully tackled lack of academic progress provides a starting place for taking a fresh look at the team’s instructional practices:

  1. What are we doing that shows evidence of being effective?  Let’s keep on doing these things!
  2. What specific practices have worked elsewhere?  How might we adapt them?
  3. What’s our plan? Our first step? How will we know if our changes in teaching practice are making a difference?

Edutopia has a short video entitled How to Engage Underperforming Students.  It was filmed at  Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s (North Carolina) Cochrane Collegiate Academy where every teacher is adept at incorporating these four instructional strategies into their classroom practice:

  1. Using a question to focus the work of the day
  2. Incorporating activators to engage and motivate the students
  3. Limiting their lectures to 10-15 minutes and then actively involving students in the lesson
  4. Teaching students to use graphic organizers for note taking

It is easy to watch this video and say, “Well we can’t do that–look at all of the professional development they have! And they have an academic facilitator/coach.” That may all be true, however middle grades teams have each other for support. Teams can learn and change practice together.

  1. Start by watching this video or another as a team.
  2. Use an informal protocol to guide discussion to stay focused on possibilities instead of “yeah, but!”  Here’s one–What we thought were positives, What we thought were minuses, and What we want to know more about.
  3. Decide to try one new instructional practice as a team for a set amount of time. Commit to using activators or limit teacher-talk time to 10 minutes and then actively involve every student in the lesson.
  4. Collect evidence of how the change is positively impacting students.
  5. Build on your successes.

Recognizing that our best efforts are not producing the results we desire is a painful process that strikes at our professional images of ourselves.  Taking steps to change our instructional approaches involves a lot of courage and hard workWorking as a team improves the prospects of success.

“If a seed of a lettuce will not grow, we do not blame the lettuce. Instead, the fault lies with us for not having nourished the seed properly.” – Buddhist proverb

Below are some good resources related to the topics in the video:

Everyone’s Invited! Interactive Strategies That Engage Young Adolescents

Glossary of Instructional Strategies

Graphic Organizers

Additional Graphic Organizers


Additional Activators

Interactive Lectures

Keeping Up With What’s New in the Digital World!

I’m always amazed at the knowledge of colleagues and wonder, How did they learn about that app or this site!?! Digital tools and trends are growing exponentially, however their quality and usefulness are not all created equal! It’s a real challenge to keep up!

How can a team of teachers stay abreast of new developments in the digital world in order to incorporate great instructional tools that will engage and empower their students?  Chances are there is a wide range of knowledge and skill with digital tools on a team.  However, all teachers must embrace the digital world if they want to remain relevant to their students whose lives often center on the variety of opportunities presented by the web. This chart from the Pew Internet and American  Life Project shows the degree that teenagers are using the internet.

Chart showing 88% of teenagrs are using the internet

Teams with common planning time can develop their own professional learning experiences around the use of digital tools when they

  • designate one team member as the “scout” who finds new sites and apps and shares them with teammates
  • use two or three meetings a month to explore together one or two of the scout’s discoveries
  • commit to using one new digital tool each marking period across all of your classes
  • recruit a team of students who will help you with your digital plan
  • reflect with students about the usefulness of the new tool.

Team teachers must take responsibility for developing their own expertise in digital learning.

Here’s great resource for keeping up with what’s new and helping you identify useful digital instructional strategies.  I found it because I  follow a couple tech integrators on Facebook who are always posting useful links.  A post from Shawn Kimball, a technology integration specialist at Hampden Academy in Hampden, Maine led me to Scoop.it! Into the Driver’s Seat “Building the independence of learners through thoughtful uses of technology”– it’s an online magazine.  With just a click you can follow it and receive the “Scoop of the Day” via email!

Some of the articles online right now are:

  • National STEM Video Challenge: Student Video Game Design Challenge
  • 12 Educational Trends to Watch in 2012
  • QuadBlogging “In terms of young children developing as writers, this is the most interesting development in 20 years.”
  • How to create a collaborative class eBook
  • Download and Convert Web Video from the 100 Best Video Sharing Sites

There are other sites out there that will help teams stay current.  What are your favorites?

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