Flip the parent teacher conference

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For the last few years our parent teacher conferences have been held during the week of President’s Day. This means there is no school Monday, no school Friday, and two half days. Not surprisingly, a lot of families travel that week and skip conferences all together.  Teachers still have a long week of conferences though.

There are a number of alternatives to parent conferences that schools could try and, after chatting with a friend this afternoon when I swung by my old school, I decided to put together and publish a list of ideas I’ve been accumulating for the last few years – especially since I used to have a lot of time on my hands during the night of conferences.

The other thing I noticed, at least from my teacher perspective, is that the families who attended conferences were usually the ones whose children were successful in school while the struggling students didn’t have anyone attend.

From Alternative Models for Traditional Parent Teacher Conferences, Tammy Jackson’s idea to use the evening as time for student credit recovery is great. “Our attempts to develop non-traditional uses of contractual PTC time were not meant to diminish the importance of communicating with parents. Positive relationships with parents are the single most important aspect of a healthy school culture. Working directly with students is what we do best and should always be our number one priority.”

I love the idea of showcasing some student talent in the auditorium and in the hallways – kind of like a gallery walk or showcase of work from classes. Some of it could be digital or recorded so it will continue to live online.

Invite parents in for a showing of a film like Screenagers or Most Likely to Succeed in order to continue the conversations about school.

But here’s my idea. Last spring I brainstormed a few ways to let parents be more involved in my classroom. I’d already had success flipping back to school night so parents could come in and talk to me instead of just listen to me. In a typical PTC there is very little depth of conversation or of understanding the learning that is taking place. So…

Flip the conference. Parents check grades online with relative frequency and have easy access to teachers through e-mail. Some teachers have websites or learning management systems that parents can check out to view the assignments, or send out regular newsletters with updates on the overall learning that is taking place in classrooms. So why not take it a step further? We may have plenty of rigor and relevance in our classrooms, but we need to develop our relationships with parents and families, not just students.

A week or so before conferences send parents a brief reflective survey on their child’s learning and collect it via a conversation at parent conferences. For parents who can’t attend, or for the purpose of collecting qualitative data, you could collect information electronically via a Google Form. Make sure there is a way to include questions, to make the flipped PTC inquiry-based rather than just an assignment parents complete. If you collect digital work from your students, have them accumulate it into a simple folder in Google Drive or a fancy Google Site as a digital portfolio for parents to check out ahead of time.

You could take it a little further and build in time for students to reflect on their learning (standards, college and career readiness, mindset, etc. would all be great places to start) and then share those reflections with parents so the conversation can center around metacognitive learning.

In my opinion, as both an educator and a parent, this would be more fun and thought-provoking than our traditional high school conferences. Since parents and students are coming off the more dynamic model of student-led conferences at middle school, it could be a great opportunity to build on that collaborative, student centered culture.

 

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Annotation and close reading

pexels-photo-632470.jpegWhen I was a sophomore in high school I was assigned selections from Hamlet to read in my English class. I read it, understood it, and took notes in the margins as I was asked to do. But the following day I was told I didn’t have “enough” annotations and was assigned a detention (a Friday Evening Inconvenience – it was boarding school).

But what is “enough” when it comes to annotation? As a college student I think I finally learned to annotate so that my thinking – at the time I took the note – was clear to me when it came time to use the note.

I think that, as teachers, we need to help students connect to the text through annotation. This starts with how we select the text and how we select the assign the annotation. We have to give them clear guidelines and support. Annotation is a skill that needs to be developed

Chunk – How can you break up longer texts?

Purpose – What’s the learning objective? Make this explicit to the students so you can all begin with the end in mind

Quantify – How many comments do you expect per paragraph, per page?

Notations – What do you want to see in the margins? Symbols, questions, definitions, specific connections? Symbols or color coding should include a key each time.

Rereads – When you need them to reread for fluency or in a coaching group, give them a different purpose or lens for the next read

We can use technology or low tech tools to support students through universal design.

  • Color coded sticky notes with questions or comments written on them
  • Hypertext annotation to definitions, expansion of ideas, etc.
  • Kami – potential shared annotation
  • Google Docs – comments in the margins
  • A document camera will allow you to model the annotation, with out-loud metacognitive thinking about why and how you are annotating, for students. Some document cameras will allow you to record the whole thing for playback later.

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PBS in AK

I was lucky enough to be the 2016 PBS Digital Innovator for the state of Alaska and attend the summit and ISTE in Denver. After that though, it didn’t amount to much beyond using and promoting the amazing resources on PBS Learning Media.
PBS has revamped their Innovator program though and my great friend Traci is lucky enough to reap those benefits for 2017.

Just when I thought my job was done, Traci and I were asked to go to Juneau and be a part of the production for Wild Alaska Live. We arrived yesterday and attended a KTOO launch party for the show (BBC is also here).
This morning we interviewed one of my PBS Kids heroes, Chris Kratt from Wild Kratts! He was kind enough to let me film a short video of him speaking directly to my own children.
The rest of the day we have been by Mendenhall Glacier filming segments about Alaskan animals with Dr. Joy Reidenberg, a comparative anatomist. These will be edited and put on PBS Learning Media for teachers to use in their classrooms.
Tomorrow we will cruise around Juneau and take pictures with “Flat Kratt” a Flat Stanley type project

You can follow all these adventures with the hashtag #AlaskaLive and the interview with Chris Kratt is here! Facebook Live with Chris Kratt

Tech tutoring available

I’ve noticed over the last few years that my colleagues have questions about technology integration that can’t be answered well in a few minutes at the copy machine. Or they take a class but it doesn’t really address their pressing needs for how to effectively use tech with students for improved engagement, workflow, grading, creation, etc.

I’m here to help! I created a short page that lists a lot of the basic needs educators seem to have, along with a contact form. Though this was designed to help people locally, I can also tutor over Skype or create short videos that can be watched at your convenience. Best of all, the tutoring session includes email follow-up and support.

This is a HUGE timesaver because you can personalized service so you can be more efficient with your time once you get started with your project.

Check it out! http://wp.me/P1PDYt-7X

Grade all the things!

Seriously, this is the most fun I have ever had grading. It’s WAY more fun if the student has not done well though… I feel like I should find a way to turn that around.

A little while ago I followed the directions on Alice Keeler’s site to start using Bitmoji (it’s a free app that create a cute little version of yourself) outside of text messages. In Chrome, I installed the Bitmoji extension so now I can drag and drop my little avatars.

Since I’ve been using Google Classroom with my seniors, and this great little digital interactive notebook I got from Teachers Pay Teachers, it’s super fun to use Bitmoji as comments on their work. I cannot even tell you how endlessly entertaining I find this. I wish I could make my own in order to customize comments. I bet I can, actually…

Google Certifications

I use Google Apps. I love Google Apps. So why has it taken me so long to start going through the new certification process and actually take the exams? Who knows.

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Anyway, one down and a few more to go…

Updated for Level 2 badge! And now onto Trainer (and probably the Chromebooks side quest too)!

 

No Teacher Desk

Okay, I had no idea this #noteacherdesk was a thing. The district is taking away my beloved desktop Mac (all teacher desktops, actually, not just mine) and gave me a MacBook Air instead. This left me feeling angry and resentful because a) my eyes like the bigger screen and b) it was not my idea.
So, since I am working hard to be a marigold instead of a walnut tree I decided to reframe my distress and rethink how I use my computer.

Well, my desk is always messy. I have piles of papers the really just need to be recycled or scanned/filed. But my desk is a holding place for that desktop computer. If I don’t have the desktop, do I need the desk? I have a tendency to use my desk as a private, messy little oasis where I can hide out. I get overwhelmed sometimes by crowds but that means I also get stuck at my desk when really I should be moving more.

I read “Ditching the Desk” on Edutopia and then asked The Nerdy Teacher, Nicholas Provenzano,  for an update on Twitter. He said he still loves it so I began planning for a quick spring break rearrange.

So, on Monday, I moved it. I can’t really get rid of it completely right now because it is heavy. And, there isn’t really anywhere else in the school to put it. It’s cleaned off and pushed up against a window. My desk calendar is still there, and the charging cords for various “teacher” only devices. There had been a table there with two older Macs but kids haven’t been using those much at all so they will be repurposed and the table was moved for student use.

My hope is it will be a good compliment to the alternative seating that is already prevalent in my classroom. Honestly, losing that barrier makes me a little anxious so maybe trying this in just the last quarter of the school year is a good thing. If I hate it I have enough time to troubleshoot and make better plans for next year.