Tuesday, April 23, 2013

If it were quiet.... What could we hear?

I had a great encounter Friday night that I must share.  It has so many life lessons that I will share the experience and a few of the many lessons that I learned from it.  On Friday night a few friends and I were hanging out and eventually ate pizza at a great little restaurant in downtown Greensboro.  Through this group of friends I met a new friend, Justin, that just happened to be deaf.  When leaving the restaurant we all piled into cars.  I looked over and noticed that no one was riding with Justin so I immediately jumped out of the car and proceeded to hitch a ride back to the house with him.  And this is where some big life lessons started to unravel.

As soon as I got into the car I looked over and he was gleaming.  You could tell there was something special about Justin and it wasn’t the fact that he was deaf.  Justin had joy in his heart.  He had the ability to look at the world in a positive light and smile when a lot of humans would be sad and devastated.  The first thing I noticed was complete silence!  OMG.... we are in a world of buzz, buzz, buzz, noise, noise, noise.  And what was I going to do.  So Justin made it a little easier and turned on his interior light (as it was dark) so that we could talk and he could see what I was saying.  Now I can say that the trip was a little scary because if you know me I like to talk, a lot!!!  And when I started talking Justin was trying to drive and also trying to listen to me by watching my lips.  I quickly told him that I would finish this part of the story when we got to our destination.  
For the next few minutes there was complete silence again.  No radio. No talking.  The only difference is this time we were moving. Then I noticed that his car was making some awful road noise.  This did not phase Justin one bit.  So I decided to ask him about his car.  When I did his face lit up again.  He went on to exclaim how great this car was for him and how his aunt gave it to him.  I could easily tell that he was extremely happy with this car.  I was blown away by this because many of us would have focused on the age and style of the car coupled with the road noise.  We could have had a negative spin on this vehicle.  Justin chose to have the positive outlook.

Like I said there were many lessons learned that night but these were a couple experiences and here are some thoughts from those experiences.  Why is it so easy for us to quickly react to experiences in our lives?  I think sometimes we should sit back and take information in before we react.  Riding down the road with Justin in the dark while he was driving forced me to think about what I needed to say and how to say it clearly and efficiently.  Heck, my life depended on it.  We are constantly filled with the buzz, buzz, noise, noise, information overload.  We must take time in our day to reflect and process what’s really important.  Only then can we clearly project what’s important in our lives.

Another great lesson is in this experience was how we often worry about things that shouldn’t be a focus for us.  I read a quote this other day that stated, “The things we often complain about most likely started out as a blessing.”  Take a moment and reflect on the things in your life that causes you the most stress.  (Did you really take a moment?  If you didn’t, please do.) Now trace those things that stress you out and trace those stressors back to its origin.  Perhaps it may have been something you truly at its origin were really happy about.  Justin’s older car with the road noise could have been something we could easily complain about.  The fact that one’s car makes road noise that you can hear brings up two interesting blessing.  1.  A car making road noise is moving and is serving its purpose of getting one from point A to point B.  2.  The fact that we can hear this road noise means that we are blessed with the sense of hearing which in my world makes life a little easier for me.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a passion for kids and learning.  This experience was a great learning experience for me. Immediately my thoughts turn to how does this experience relate to kids and students in our educational system.  When I was a teacher in my own classroom I had a desire to build positive relationships with my students and help them build positive relationships with their classmates and other adults.  I truly believe that relationships are the greatest motivators of humans.  From this interaction with Justin I realized that I had not always gotten to know my students as well as I should have.  I took their abilities/disabilities and clumped them together to reach them and “think” I knew how to connect with them.  I did not take the time to get to “know know” each one and each individual for who they really were.  This was eye opening.  Now I wasn’t terrible terrible so don’t think I am just beating myself up.  In my current position I get to see teachers share their joy with students and reach students where they are.  I also experience some teachers that are frustrated and have the opposite reaction.  Many times a simple realization that I am human and so are my students and positive relationships in our lives is all that we need.  

What if we took the time to process these things?   Instead of really reacting immediately what if we took the time to ask questions to get to know these students and where they are coming from?  What would the result be if we ignored the noise and focused on what’s really important?  What if we took time to get rid of the noise, and sensory overload that is disabling us?  How could we change our lives?  How could we positively affect others?  How would this world be different if we turned our negatives into positives?   What if we turned our disabilities into abilities?

This experience with Justin reminded me of a Bible scripture that had a profound impact on my life.  John 9:1-3  Justin:  Thank you for showing works of God through you.

Photo by: Cindy Andrie

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Mastery Learning.... One teacher's experience!!!

I was recently at Kennedy Learning Center and observed Yvette Thiel trying mastery learning with her students.  I was blown away by the research, preparation, implementation and reflection that she had done.  I asked her to share her experiences as a guest blogger.  Below is her experiences.

"I have been experimenting with technology in my 8th grade math class and am able to have one-to-one with students and computers.  Along with this, I have also been experimenting with mastery learning.  There have been some bumps to work out but, overall, I am very excited about the results that I am seeing. My entire class period is not all online.  I tend to think of it as a modified flipped classroom.  They are getting the videos in school.  And during that time, I am free to support other learners as the work out the tasks they are given.
The weeks work is prepared ahead of time and I create individual packets for the students.  The front page of the packet details the tasks that the students are to complete for the week.  Each task lists an Essential Question, how students may work (alone, pairs, group, with teacher), and what checkpoints they have to complete.  Checkpoints are what I call my formative assessment prompts.  Students check in with me at designated times to be sure they are on the right track. At that time I can adjust any misconceptions or confusions. I also provide a rubric for any work that will not be expected to be perfect.
Students are all working at their own pace, so often I am able to conference with students one-on-one or in small groups.  These conferences are very brief.  But because students are all working I have time to address their questions.
I keep a checklist of where students are at in the process.  The best part is students who are absent just jump in where they left off.  I do have some students who lag behind everyone else.  However, these same students are the ones who were not completing work before.  My demands for mastery have forced them to complete work and to a high standard.  I also keep these students for tutoring times if I need to. As a result, their productivity has increased.
Each packet begins with a PowerPoint that I have created and uploaded into a Voice Thread.  Students access this video through Edmodo. The packet has a copy of the slides so the students are able to follow along with me and complete the examples.  Often times, students will re-listen to these videos throughout the week or before a test if they are confused or want to review. Some will even listen to slides more than one time.  I love this.  I don’t find myself so frustrated for having to repeat myself.
I found some other videos online that I thought were fantastic.  But some students really struggled with them.  They like when I prepare my own videos better and have the handouts for them to follow along with me. It is crucial I don’t get long winded on these videos.  I have to be straightforward.  If they need a repeat they can rewind.
Videos are not the only thing I use. I use a combination of many types of activities.  I have purchased a few aps from Edmodo and sometimes I have activities for the students to practice using one of the Aps.  Or I locate something online that will help them practice the skill. I am trying to use some tasks from Georgia and performance tasks from other places for the students to complete in groups or with partners.
At the end of the packet, I have an online assessment for the students to take.  I have discovered that if I give them a practice assessment I can address, one more time, misconceptions or any confusion they may have. As a result test scores are better. Meaning I have less need for remediation. I have discovered that frequent assessments are better than waiting to the end of a unit.  I try to break each week into a mini-unit with a quiz at the end.  However, because students work at their own pace not everyone is finished at the end of the week.  They carry over to the next week.  Therefore, the pacing is flexible for each student’s needs.
I am still trying to work things out to make sure that everyone is learning the most in each class.  Sometimes it seems a little chaotic with so much going on.  But the productivity for individual students has greatly increased.  I think this is more due to the mastery learning.  Knowing that they can get an A they just have to keep trying has been very motivating for some of my more unmotivated.  Using the videos and the group work gives me the opportunity to facilitate student’s individual learning."