As teachers, one of the questions we get asked most often is, "What inspired you to teach?" I'm not sure of the exact moment I decided to become a teacher, but I can say without a doubt that the driving force behind my decision to set up shop in Room 208 was my own educational experience. In short, an assortment of my own teachers - the best AND the worst of them.
I was not a very good student until college. Something finally clicked for me at university and I ended up graduating magna cum laude. However, if you had asked any of my teachers from elementary, junior high, or high school, they probably would have said that I wasn't a particularly extraordinary kid. I had some really fantastic teachers, who made learning exciting and relevant. But, I also had some less than stellar teachers, and those are really the folks who made me want to teach.
Growing up, I lived with my parents and maternal grandparents. My grandfather died after a long and drawn out illness when I was in 8th grade. I had just returned from a weekend spent in the hospital waiting room, and one of my friends turned around in class to ask me if I was okay. Her poorly timed concern interrupted my 8th grade Social Studies teacher as he was taking attendance. Like a scene out of The Breakfast Club, my teacher started rapid fire issuing detentions. I spent a week in lunch detention, but the frustration I felt at perceived injustice and the overall lack of connection I had with that teacher has lasted for years. I think about him almost every time I feel frustration building up during a rough day, during those moments a student and I aren't on the same wavelength.
As professionals, having empathy for our students is one of the most important aspects of our field. Being able to connect with kids, keep in touch with what goes on in their lives, and care about what goes on in their hearts as well as minds - that's what's important. When my grandfather died, the last place I wanted to be was in Social Studies; I only wish I'd had a teacher I could have gone to instead of someone I wanted to get away from. Looking back, personalized relationships have underscored every exemplary classroom I have ever experienced, which is probably why personalized relationships are the foundation for Room 208.
This past weekend, my mom was hospitalized and diagnosed with cancer. Since I live in California and my parents are up in Washington state, it's not an easy situation. Coming to school each day this week has been a gift. Being around my students - their liveliness, happiness - has been good for my soul. I don't plan to tell them about this personal situation, but I will gratefully soak up their enthusiasm for learning. My mom is entering a rehabilitation facility this week; we are in constant contact and I plan to go home for Thanksgiving for the first time in seven years.
Day by day until then, I will relish in the wonderful relationships that make up the fabric of this room, this school, these students, our place. Now, instead of running away from a classroom, I am running toward one.
Teaching in a technology-rich environment is nothing new to me. I've taught a variety of 1:1 and 2:1 programs, and last year my classroom was one of three in PSUSD where students were allowed to BYOD. Our small pilot launched officially in November of last year, and we spent the first two months of school in a 1:1 environment using school site resources (carts of iPads and iPods) to prepare students for the rollout. The program was wildly successful, and this year PSUSD has opened up the Year Two BYOD Pilot to even more classrooms across the district. Awesome!
Fast forward to five weeks ago. I was thrilled to send home the BYOD permission form with my parent letter on the first day of school. I couldn't wait for year two of the pilot to begin! As an added challenge, and because I am clearly someone who doesn't shy away from possibly biting off more than they can chew, I decided that this year my BYOD implementation would go from paper lite to paperless as an education experiment of sorts. (To my knowledge, there are currently no other entirely paperless classrooms anywhere else in my district.) Though I toyed with the notion of having kids ask their parents to visit a virtual copy of the letter so I wouldn't have to print any, I ended up biting the bullet and running off copies since 30% of my students do not have Internet access, 88% of them qualify as socio-economically disadvantaged, and some only speak Spanish. I swore that the parent letter would be the ONE copy I'd make all year, and happily punched in my copy code. It was a good decision because BYOD permission forms came rolling in, and starting on the second day of school, kids brought their own devices and started tapping into our school's wifi.
Anyone who knows me personally or professionally knows that I am a planner. I am excited by impromptu activities and unafraid to take a rabbit trail during learning, but I definitely give lots of conscientious thought to rolling out technology in my classroom each year. So, why then, did the first month of school seem so much like nightmare stay in Purgatory, sans the elevator music and white waiting room motif I've always imagined? Let me just say this: BYOD teachers live in a constant state of problem-solving, unlike any other 1:1 environment. There were moments during the first month that, if I were a different woman and not PACKwoman, I absolutely would have given in.
In retrospect, the really killer aspect of teaching and learning with BYOD is the fact that each set of instructions need to be given several times for several different platforms. During the first days of school, students are trapped in the learning curve - which is HUGE - as they try to become comfortable working in the tech zone. Now, I can reflect and say that starting last year's rollout with a universal platform really helped. Students who have the most difficulty adjusting are those who have little or no previous experience with technology. The term "digital native" is misleading, because students absolutely have to be taught to utilize their devices for educative purposes, which is not something that comes naturally. Knowing how to be entertained with an iPhone is easy, sure. Knowing how to complete assignments, cite information, search effectively, and generate quality content is a whole other skill set.
I think it's important to note that one of the underlying issues in this whole scenario is much more than tech trouble. More than any other year, this particular group of kids seems to lack autonomy. They are 100% the product of high-stakes testing. Getting them to feel comfortable enough to break free, experiment, problem-solve, and think outside the box is going to be the biggest challenge of all. I have no doubt my students will eventually be able to get there; it's just a matter of how much time it will take.
This is probably the part where I should affirm, I do have hope! Last week was our fifth week of school, and this much is true: good things come to those who wait. As I looked around the room at the end of the first block of students on Tuesday morning, I was struck by a single thought: "Success." All 39 students had successfully logged in to Google Drive. They had successfully completed a close reading activity in eBackpack, podcasted on AudioBoo, made a mind map in Skitch, and responded to prompts with Socrative. The rest of last week coasted by with only positive results.
I am still sighing in relief.
Do you have any BYOD or paperless tips? Comment below or hit me up on Twitter to continue the conversation.
We are a little over a month into the school year here in PSUSD, and I realized today while teaching my morning block of 6th graders that as a class we have finally hit our stride. This is my second year as a BYOD teacher, last year's pilot having been a resounding success. (Thank goodness!) This is also my first year teaching fully Common Core lessons, which has been an easier transition than expected.
Since I've been approached quite bit recently, both at my school site and via Twitter, regarding the Common Core lesson planning process, I thought I'd take a moment to blog about it to give others a starting point.
Unpack the standard and begin with the end in mind.
The first thing I do when planning a CCSS lesson is unpack the standard to decide what skills are expected to reach mastery. There are a lot of fantastic resources on the web that can help you with this step so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel. A few of my favorites are these unpacked "I Can..." statements in student-friendly language and the unpacked ELA Common Core Templates from the Tulare County Office of Education. Use these to help establish your learning targets.
Following the unpacking process, consider what the endgame is for students. What will they produce? What will they do to show their learning along the way and once the sequence of lessons is complete? Will they be writing arguments? Engaging in a debate? Recording podcasts? Producing a movie or telling some other kind of digital story? The importance of these questions can not be overstated.
Consider the CCSS Shifts, then begin building a series of lessons.
There are 7 key shifts in Common Core ELA instruction, which are important to remember. I've outlined these shifts on the following Haiku Deck:
Click HERE to read detailed notes for each slide.
When lesson planning, I generally follow the cognitively guided instruction model, which is a gradual release of control until students are able to work independently. Why do I follow this particular model? Because it was adopted universally by my district and that is the expectation. However, something that I have discovered is that, while some feel this instructional model lends itself best to direct instruction, it can also be adapted for inquiry and project-based learning. The concept is, essentially: "I do. We do. You do together. You do independently." The phases of instruction can be rearranged to suit the style of lesson. So, for an inquiry-based lesson, you may choose to lead with the "You Do Together" portion as groups problem solve by brainstorming possible solutions; the "I Do" portion may be limited to simply issuing instructions to express the parameters of the investigation.
Create opportunities for communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.
Because my classroom is comprised of so many English Language Learners, providing opportunities for students to work together to communicate their ideas with an authentic audience is important. A few days ago, in the midst of an ELA unit based around the topic of Japanese internment during WWII, my students analyzed primary source photos in groups. I pulled the images from the Library of Congress Japanese internment collection, and had kids rotate through five different centers in groups. Each center had a different image they had to analyze. Students used the Primary Source Analysis Tool (also from the Library of Congress), on which they recorded observations, made reflections, and asked questions about each image. (The suggestions on this document were helpful in terms of getting group conversations started.) Group conversations were dynamic and students were highly engaged because they had previously read and annotated the full text of Executive Order 9066 and Instructions to Japanese-Americans on Bainbridge Island. Following the rotations, students used sentences frames to help them write a podcast about their favorite image from the day and how it connected to their reading. Here is an example podcast one of my students created using the AudioBoo app:
Recognize that the CCSS is student-centered.
When I first started teaching, I used to lose my voice by the end of the day because I did so much talking throughout each class period. Nine years later, this is no longer an issue because my students work harder than I do while they are in class. I want to make sure that their learning is genuine, that they are completely engaged in the process, that they have real choices about how to express mastery, and that their brain cells get a workout without realizing that it's "work."
Ultimately, the CCSS transition will be easier for some than others. Districts and school sites will establish different mandates, I am sure. Teachers will likely receive conflicting messages, as is generally true in any kind of new implementation. The best advice I have for anyone who is making the transition is to hold fast to your PLN, ask questions, collaborate, and keep what's good for students at the forefront of your decision-making process.
What's your best CCSS lesson planning recommendation? What tools are essential to your CCSS plans? Please comment and share, or continue the conversation on Twitter.
Author: Jessica Pack
California Teacher of the Year. CUE Outstanding Educator 2015. DIGICOM Learning Teacher Consultant. 6th Grade Teacher. Passionate about gamification, Minecraft, digital story-telling, and fostering student voices.