Listen to Your Mother…I know I Did

My kids no longer want me to help them with homework. They think I help too much (their teachers might think that, too). I don’t feel that way, though. Most of our family’s homework time is spent relearning, discussing, and sometimes fixing homework. I want them to learn and to want to learn for themselves – isn’t that a skill I can help them with? I wonder about kids who don’t have teachers for parents – are they getting the most out of their home learning?

As frustrated as my kids get (with homework), I am reminded of my own days in middle school. I was lucky to have a great teacher as my mom. Although, at the time, I hated when she forced me to relearn, discuss, and fix my homework – the nerve of her! Here I am, becoming my mom – and I couldn’t be happier. She was doing the right thing – she was my real teacher, my best teacher.

There are many stories I can share about how I learned more from her than my actual teachers, but I will start with this one – I used it every year of my own teaching, because I treated my students as I would my own children – they deserved that.

 How to summarize without plagiarizing – Nancy Lange style

 Step 1- Read the text from which you’re getting your information.

Step 2- Read it again.

Step 3- Close the book (or exit out of and step away from device) and have a snack, get some exercise.

Step 4- From memory, write what you remember from your reading (dates don’t matter, only main idea, cause and effect, stuff worth knowing).

Step 5- Review, reflect, and revise your notes – partners are helpful.

Step 6- Throw it away! In class, we would have a paper shooting contest, or a paper airplane contest.

Step 7- The next day… rewrite your summary, revise, and feel confident that your words are yours (don’t forget to cite- seriously).

That’s it, it’s that easy- however, “how not to plagiarize” must be taught in school, by teachers, every year (probably every time they are summarizing others’ work). Pretend that the students did not learn that skill last year, last semester, last unit. Summarizing is a skill that needs practice and encouragement since there is so much informational text available at our fingertips.

Let’s help students learn this important skill- instead of trying to catch them plagiarizing. The ones you caught are the ones who weren’t taught – whose responsibility is that?

Here’s to you, Mom!!

Let Them Be Kids, For Goodness’ Sake!

I know I wasn’t the greatest classroom teacher, but I think I was pretty good, and I always strived to be better than the day before.  Students enjoyed my class; we laughed a lot and talked about issues (world, community, family) that were close to their hearts and mine.  They learned the importance of working with a team and being kind.  We cried through The Outsiders and Bridge to Terabithia.  We wrote every day.  Our classroom was a safe place to admit struggles, frustrations, or failure.

I don’t remember homework being a big issue (I was not a high school teacher).  I was always of the belief that if it can’t get done in the time we are together, then there’s always tomorrow.  I wanted to direct their learning.  If they were doing it all at home, how can I be there next to them, to guide them?  I didn’t want their tutor, parents, or nobody, to teach them- that was my job!  Right?

Let’s look at vocabulary, for instance.  If a teacher gives a list at the beginning of the week and expects students to learn the words and meanings by the end of the week, with no real direction throughout the week, then shame on that teacher.  Way to teach students how to cram for a test, regurgitate meaningless knowledge, and then quickly forget it- only to follow the same exact process the next week.  Hmmm, this also sounds much like the dreaded weekly spelling lists.

How can we stop this madness?  It’s actually really easy… Here is a breakdown of what it could look like:

  • Day 1- Introduce words – no more than 12, share ideas of meaning (through prior knowledge), decide on a few simple synonyms for each word.  Have students color-code the words by highlighting known words in green, familiar words in blue, and new words in orange.  Allow each student to choose 5-8 total words of varying colors that will serve as their personal words of the week (WOW).
  • Day 2- During journal time (or independent writing), ask students to use their WOWs in their writing.  Share with a partner.  Check for understanding.
  • Day 3- Find a partner or 2 and have a conversation, using the WOWs, of course.  Review and revise yesterday’s writing.
  • Day 4- Play Caught-Ya with the vocabulary words.  Shout out “caught ya” when a WOW is used by the teacher, students, others in school, in the readings, etc.  Better yet, get other teachers and administrators to visit the class and sneak in a word.
  • Day 5- Assess students only on their WOW words, but include all of the words.  You will be amazed at how many they will recollect.  By the way, assess them in a meaningful way; use the words in a story, fill in the correct word using context clues, illustrate their meaning, etc.  Please don’t make them match the word to the definition – we are better than that.
  • Finally, at the end of a whole unit or novel study, have the students look back at their blue and orange words and create their own WOWs for that culminating week.

If you are worried about time- there’s never enough, I know- well… STOP!  One year, my last with 8th graders, after learning a year of vocabulary very similar to the steps above, I made a list with every word we studied throughout the year.  I challenged the students to see how many definitions (synonyms) they remembered.  It was just for fun (grades had already been turned in), and there was no pressure.  I think the kids were more impressed with themselves that day than when they graduated from middle school the very next morning.  Did we complete every aspect of every curriculum guide?  No. Did we read every chapter of the textbooks?  No.  Did we spend our free time completing meaningless homework?  Nope.  And I wouldn’t change a thing.

What is “meaningless homework?”    In my opinion, it can be one of two things:

  1. A teacher gives a homework assignment.  The next day, in class, either the assignment is checked for completion (not for understanding) or it’s not checked at all.  Both of these scenarios are shameful.  If time at home is spent completing an assignment, time in class should be spent going over the assignment.  Homework should provide feedback to teachers about understanding, so that they can adjust their teaching.  Why is this so difficult?!
  2. A teacher gives a homework assignment.  It can be easily completed while watching TV, surfing YouTube, or on the way to school in the morning.  Not much thought, critical thinking, or understanding necessary.  Where is the purpose in that?  Is it practice?   Because, it seems very inefficient, boring, and a poor use of time.

So, let’s change it up and offer students meaningful home-learning when needed… like, doing research on a subject that interests them, asking their family questions about their ancestors, creating videos on how they are contributing to their community, writing blogs about home science experiments, collecting data on a personal goal they hope to attain… the list is endless.

Better yet, let them play, help make dinner, read a book of their choosing, relax.

They’ve been at work for 8 hours.  Let them be kids!


My Plus 1…

When I visit teachers, talk to kids (even my own), and reflect on my own life as a teacher, I often think about the philosophy behind great teaching and learning.  Sometimes I wonder whether all teachers learned the same concepts I learned when going through teacher training – or was I just really lucky.

It all comes down to human growth and development.  When I was in university, I had a class that focused on the minds and bodies of 10-14 year-olds.  I remember my professor making us repeat- “The attention span of a child is their age plus 1.” So, my ten year-old can focus for 11 minutes before getting bored, spacing out, fidgeting, or melting down… that sounds about right.  This is why I’m a firm believer in any type of workshop model: 10-15 minute mini-lesson, 30 minutes of independent work, 10 minutes of group sharing.  This model can work in reading, writing, math, science, social studies, languages, and art.  It can also be done at most grade levels.  Oh, and kids LOVE it!

Social characteristics in tweens are also worth noting.  As much as they seem completely focused on themselves, they are actually very sensitive to the mistreatment of others.  This is a quality that teachers and parents need to nourish- for all too soon, they will become full-fledged teenagers and their mindset can, and will, change.  Adolescents also want independence… treat me like an adult!, but also direction and reinforcement… I’m just a kid!  It can be very confusing, I know, but we have to help them become the best person possible.

Then we move on to their bodies.  They are growing more in these middle years than in any other time other life (well, except for those first few, right?!).  Did you know that the cartilage in their tailbone is beginning to harden, which makes it very uncomfortable to sit on a hard chair or surface for an extended length of time (that’s why they’re so wiggly and won’t sit still)?  Yet, I am forever hearing teachers say sit down, be still, stop fidgeting.  Sitting in a plastic chair all day long would be torture for me- and I’m fully-grown, with feet that completely touch the floor.

In my perfect classroom, there would be standing tables, pillows for chairs and the floor, desks, and whiteboard space on any non-living parts (walls, tables, floor, door).  Learning would be student-centered, fun, and tied to local/global issues.  Students would have a voice in their learning, and I would support their needs, wants, and dreams.

What would your perfect classroom look like?

My Digital Footprint Stinks!

I was lucky enough to be in Mumbai a few weeks ago for ASB Unplugged, which is a conference held at the American School of Bombay.  It was truly eye-opening.  I had to keep reminding myself that this isn’t everyday school life; it’s a showcase of the many really cool things that happen at this school.

Anyway, my point is not going to be about what their teachers are doing or what their kids are learning, I’ll save that for another time- this is going to be all about me!

What have I been doing the last 13 years?  Clearly I have not been thinking of my digital contribution to the world.  Considering I have practically mastered a Samsung S-III, an iPhone 5, and my shiny new Mac Air- all in the last year, I thought I was pretty tech-savvy.  Oh, and let me brag even more about my 500+ Facebook friends.  They “like” me, “share” with me, and comment on my family photos.  Then there’s Pinterest.  It took me some time before I drank that Kool-Aid, but now I have “boards” that will one day help me cook better, lose weight, and inspire me.

Although all of this sounds pretty amazing, let me be the first to say, my digital footprint is broken.  It needs work.  Who knows what could be next for my family?  When my name is “googled,” there should be tweets, websites, blogs, articles, and images of this girl!

Starting now, let’s see how I can improve my digital footprint.  I am already @ginnyinsaudi and now I’m LinkedIn.  I’ve also started a family website: – be kind, it’s a work in progress.

All of these are still pretty new to me.  I will accept any advice on how to use them more effectively.

If you have any other suggestions, bring them on.

Ok, that’s enough about me… for now.

Courageous or Troublemaker?

It takes courage to stand up to absurdity when all around you people remain comfortably seated. But if we need one more reason to do the right thing, consider this: The kids are watching us, deciding how to live their lives in part by how we’ve chosen to live ours. – Alfie Kohn

One of the best parts of my job is talking with teachers.  I am a sucker for professional conversation- especially when it includes discussion of big, bold ideas.

However, I sometimes have teachers come to me feeling defeated.  They have lost their spark, their passion.  On occasion they tell me that it’s not worth the fight.  They’re just going to do what they were hired for… not go out of their way to try to make a difference or be heard… it just gets them in trouble.  They see other teachers who show up, teach kids, and go home.  They aren’t interested in equity or impacting change.  They just do their job and don’t complain.  – Of course I’m summarizing their words with as little exaggeration as possible, I hope.

In Alfie Kohn’s commentary from Education Week, Encouraging Educator Courage, he concludes with the previous introductory quote.  Within the article, he applauds the teachers who bucked the system- not because they were trying to cause problems, but because they were standing up for what they believed in.  He also tells of the courage of a teacher who insisted that her students “think for themselves, the teacher may be wrong.”

When I think back over my years, I can remember instances of courage and capitulation.  I hope that my students remember me as a person who stood up for them, stood up for myself, and owned the many mistakes I made.

The article is worth your time and thoughts.

Be Courageous!

It’s Not Just about the Laptops


I am currently enrolled in my first MOOC, through NC State, called Digital Learning Transition.  If you don’t know what a MOOC is… I won’t tell you.  Look it up, learn about it, sign up for one.

Each of the 8 weeks, we are given units of study.  These units include videos to watch, articles to read, goals to pursue.  The link above was one such article.  I was excited by what the Mooresville, NC School District has taken on.

Now, instead of summarizing the article, I am going to paste the key statements (in my opinion).  Although, I highly suggest going to the link, reading the article, and perusing the comments- which are very interesting.

Points of Interest:

“This is not about the technology,” Mark Edwards, superintendent of Mooresville Graded School District, would tell the visitors later over lunch. “It’s not about the box. It’s about changing the culture of instruction — preparing students for their future, not our past.”

Sixty-five jobs were eliminated, including 37 teachers, which resulted in larger class sizes — in middle schools, it is 30 instead of 18 — but district officials say they can be more efficiently managed because of the technology. Some costly items had become obsolete (like computer labs), though getting rid of others tested the willingness of teachers to embrace the new day: who needs globes in the age of Google Earth?

Mooresville’s laptops perform the same tasks as those in hundreds of other districts: they correct worksheets, assemble progress data for teachers, allow for compelling multimedia lessons, and let students work at their own pace or in groups, rather than all listening to one teacher. The difference, teachers and administrators here said, is that they value computers not for the newest content they can deliver, but for how they tap into the oldest of student emotions — curiosity, boredom, embarrassment, angst — and help educators deliver what only people can.

Many classrooms have moved from lecture to lattice, where students collaborate in small groups with the teacher swooping in for consultation. Rather than tell her 11th-grade English students the definition of transcendentalism one recent day, Katheryn Higgins had them crowd-source their own — quite Thoreauly, it turned out — using Google Docs. Back in September, Ms. Higgins had the more outgoing students make presentations on the Declaration of Independence, while shy ones discussed it in an online chat room, which she monitored.

In math, students used individualized software modules, with teachers stopping by occasionally to answer questions. (“It’s like having a personal tutor,” said Ethan Jones, the fifth grader zooming toward sixth-grade material.) Teachers apportion their time based on the need of students, without the weaker ones having to struggle at the blackboard in front of the class; this dynamic has helped children with learning disabilities to participate and succeed in mainstream classes.

Many students adapted to the overhaul more easily than their teachers, some of whom resented having beloved tools — scripted lectures, printed textbooks and a predictable flow through the curriculum — vanish. The layoffs in 2009 and 2010, of about 10 percent of the district’s teachers, helped weed out the most reluctant, Mr. Edwards said; others he was able to convince that the technology would actually allow for more personal and enjoyable interaction with students.

“You have to trust kids more than you’ve ever trusted them,” he said. “Your teachers have to be willing to give up control.”

“There’s a tendency in teaching to try to control things, like a parent,” said Scott Allen, a high school chemistry teacher in South Granville, N.C. “But I learn best at my own pace, and you have to realize that students learn best at their own pace, too.”

Of course, not everything is running smoothly in Mooresville, which you can read in the article.  I, however, am focusing on what is going well.

What do you think?  Let’s talk about it.


Standards-based Reporting- Parents Just Don’t Understand

It seems like a no-brainer to me… students should be graded on achievement, not effort.  However, every time I read about schools introducing Standards-based Grading to their parent community, the backlash is loud and clear… and very negative.

Take a look at this article out of Milwaukee, then read all of the comments.

First of all, I would like Arrty to speak with our teacher/parent community- he is so passionate (and refreshingly blunt).

Parents need to understand this necessary shift in education.  The only way to get their understanding and support is through communication.  This communication must not begin once the school, or district, has made up its mind- Parents need to be part of the process.

Oh, wait, I’m jumping the gun… the teachers also need to understand this shift in order to support it.  They must understand how to assess learning, as well as behaviors – but separately.  They must be able to support their grading practices.  They must use meaningful feedback on formative assessments so students learn more (and better)- and then use the data from the formative assessments to direct their teaching.  Therefore, teachers need to be part of the process.

Without the understanding and support of teachers and parents, this will be an unfortunate failure.  Then we will be back to teaching for yesterday instead of tomorrow.

This is more than a shift, this is 21st Century Learning.

Who’s on the bus?

Not Your Grandma’s Day at School

It is fascinating to think of where education, or schooling, will go next. We certainly can’t keep doing what we’re doing now- that would be a disservice to the children and the world. Our focus must be on learning for the future, instead of teaching for today.

Our Senior Administrators watched this video last week and I have gone back to it almost daily since then.

Here are a few of my questions:

1. How can a village of non-English speaking children learn higher level science written in English from one computer in 3 months, but my children are still struggling with those darn times tables?

2. If we could make some big changes, to help our students become better learners for the future, what would they be?

3. Or, better yet, are there any small changes that teachers can make tomorrow to help students be better learners?

Watch the video- it’s definitely worth the 20 minutes.

Please comment, I’m getting lonely talking to myself 🙂

Ripe for Disruption

No Child Left Untableted

Have you read the article above from the NY Times? If not, click and read the blue title above(the comments are also interesting). Then let me know what you think.

We are in the beginning stages of positive disruption, at least I hope we are.  As our administrators begin to work toward a plan to jump into the 21st (or 22nd) Century, these are the issues I believe we need to think about:
1. All teachers are not tech wizards and learn at different rates and abilities (just like our students). However, they must be willing to learn.
2. We cannot always control what students are doing with their tablets/laptops during school hours or study time.
3. Parents may need just as much professional development as the teachers.
4. We must not overvalue technology and undervalue people.
5. This will take time, consideration, and collaboration.

Great by Choice- My Notes

Great by Choice- Notes

1. Thriving in Uncertainty
a. Here is the question- Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?
b. The companies who were studies were referred to 10Xers- they thrived, rather than just got by.
c. The research shattered these deeply entrenched myths:
i. Successful leaders in a turbulent world are bold, risk-seeking visionaries
ii. Innovation distinguished 10Xers in a fast-moving, uncertain and chaotic world
iii. A threat-filled world favors the speedy; be quick or be dead
iv. Radical change on the outside requires radical change on the inside
v. 10Xers have a lot more good luck

2. 10Xers

a. They accept full responsibility for their own fate
b. They share the following traits:
i. Fanatic discipline (to stay on track)
ii. Empirical creativity (to keep them vibrant)
iii. Productive paranoia (to keep them alive)
iv. Level 5 ambition (for inspired motivation)

c. Fanatic Discipline is consistency of action- consistency with values, long-term goals, performance standards, methods, and consistency over time
d. Empirical Creativity is relying upon direct observation, conducting practical experiments and/or engaging with evidence rather than relying on opinion, whim, conventional wisdom, authority or untested ideas.
e. Productive Paranoia means staying hyper-vigilant in good times and bad and staying prepared.
f. Level 5 Ambition means ambitious for a purpose beyond yourself.

3. 20 Mile March
a. A good 20 Mile March has seven characteristics:
i. Clear performance markers
ii. Self-imposed constraints
iii. Appropriate to the specific enterprise
iv. Largely within the company’s control to achieve
v. A proper timeframe- long enough to manage, yet short enough to have teeth
vi. Imposed by the company upon itself
vii. Achieved with high consistency

4. Fire Bullets, then Cannonballs
a. A bullet is a low-cost, low-risk, and low-distraction test or experiment.
b. 10Xers use bullets to empirically validate what will actually work.
c. Based on that data, they then concentrate their resources to fire a cannonball, for larger returns from concentrated bets.

5. Leading Above the Death Line
a. I got the Everest analogy, but my aha moment in this chapter was on page 110- the table entitled Speed and Outcomes. This made sense to me.
b. Rapid change does not call for abandoning disciplined thought and disciplined action. It calls for upping the intensity to zoom out for fast yet rigorous decision-making and zoom in for fast yet superb execution.
c. Found that 10Xers took less risk than the comparison cases yet produced vastly superior results.
d. Found that 10Xers obsessed about what could go wrong- worst case scenario.

6. SMaC
a. Specific, Methodical, and Consistent.
b. A SMaC recipe is a set of durable operating practices that create a replicable and consistent success formula; it is clear and concrete, gives clear guidelines of what to do and not to do.
c. Page 126-127- great example of SMaC recipe by Southwest Airlines
d. Far more difficult than implementing change is figuring out what works, understanding why it works, grasping when to change, and knowing when not to.

7. Return on Luck
a. Found that 10Xers were no more lucky or unlucky than the comparison cases.
b. The critical question is not “Are you lucky? but “Do you get a high return on luck (good and bad)?”

*Who Luck- the luck of finding the right mentor, partner, teammate, leader, friend- is one of the most important types of luck. The best way to find a current of good luck is to swim with great people, and to build deep and enduring relationships with people for whom you’d risk your life and who’d risk their lives for you.