Thursday, June 16, 2016

Professional Summer Reads- 2016

Professional Summer Reading

Here’s how I’ve started my summer off…With some great reads!!

(Don’t worry, I do alternate between fun and professional reading.)

Here are some of my professional recommendations.

Kids Deserve it!
By Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome

My Review:
A quick read that made me laugh, cry and cheer. Great read for administrators, instructional leaders, and classroom teachers. I appreciated the specific and honest examples that Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome included in this book. It is inspiring and it spreads a positive message for education. @KidsDeserveIt @awelcome & @techninjatodd

The Classroom Chef
By: John Stevens and Matt Vaudrey

My review:
These guys keep it real! They made me laugh often as they talked about their journey from first year teachers and on throughout their classroom years. I related to how they changed, evaluated, and took risks with their lessons. They did a great job explaining how they questioned the tasks, assignments, and assessments they put before their students. They use food analogies to take you from Velveeta, to a five course meal by tweaking, adding, and omitting pieces of their curriculum. Thanks for sharing your journey, and for helping me to consider mine!
@classroomchef @jstevens009 | @mrvaudrey

Quiet Power
By: Susan Cain

My Review:
I am reading this book out loud with my 11 year old son, and it is so powerful for both of us. Susan Cain does a great job of honoring the quiet power that introverts have. She identifies situations where they might feel awkward and gives them strategies for how to navigate successfully. She targets group work, public speaking and social interactions at school. This is a great read both for me as a teacher and a parent of an introverted child. Quiet Revolution

The Reason I Jump
By: Naoki Higashida

My Review:
What a great read! Such important insights into the mind of a 13 year old boy who has Autism. It is written in Q & A format so you can jump around to any part of the book that applies in that moment in time. He addresses why he flaps, repeats, makes sounds, is attracted to being outside, and so much more. It is amazing to me that he has found a way to be so articulate through his keyboard when it is so hard for him to verbally express himself. It makes me wonder about what is going on in the minds of so many of our kids. Also, check out the podcast on Cult of Pedagogy titled: What the Mother of an Autistic Child Wants You to Know. It's where I learned about this book.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Genius Hour in Special Education

Genius Hour in Special Education

The idea behind Genius Hour, or 20% time, is to allow students to choose their own area of interest to learn about. I’ve been wanting to try Genius Hour since I heard Kevin Brookhouser speak about it at a Dry Creek Staff Development day, several years ago. However, I haven’t had a class of my own for the past four years to try it out with! Luckily, I’ve been able to develop a relationship with two Special Education teachers who agreed to give it a try with me.

I have been talking to teachers all over the county who have tried Genius Hour projects. All of them see the benefits, and all of them have struggled through the process of how best to implement the idea. It’s the perfect project for modeling our own Growth Mindset, that’s for sure!

When I pitched the idea to these two teachers, their initial reaction was, “That sounds exciting!”

Then, our conversation turned to the realities of what it would mean for Emotionally Disturbed students. I was most worried that doing an open ended project like this would not be routine enough for the students. I really struggled with how much structure to use. All three of us agreed that we would need to be fully flexible, differentiate for each student, and not put too much pressure on them to produce.

The students ranged from 4th-12th grade and were split into two rooms, a 4th-7th, and an 8th-12th grade group. I started out in each class with a whole class discussion on the background of Genius Hour, and a brainstorming session for their own ideas. We used  A.J. Juliani’s resources as a template, and the results looked like this:

This part of the process worked really well. They were intrigued that I would ask them what they liked to do when no one was telling them what to do, or what they do when they were supposed to be doing something else. After those brainstorming discussions, putting their ideas into the bracket system helped them choose a focus. That was the end of session 1. The majority of students were able to pick a topic at the end of that session.

When I came back the next time, we used that topic and expanded upon it. This is where it started to get tricky with the 4th - 8th graders. Some of them wanted to partner up, others didn’t like their idea, and some really wanted to switch to an idea that their friend was doing. The 9-12th graders were mostly content with their choices and stuck to them.

The expansion of the idea was tough whole class. I would have liked to have taken more time on this. One teacher I talked with suggested spending a lot of time teaching the students to come up with a really good question. It would have been great to have them replace a verb like learn with something higher up the Bloom’s Scale.

The variety of topics they picked really spoke to the individuality that Genius Hour is supposed to embody. A group of them became really excited about making a volcano. That energy turned into a whole class lesson on volcanoes, and a baking soda/vinegar explosion.

One high school student already knew how to play the bass, but he wanted to investigate the history. He ended up learning many new things about his craft and said he loved the project.

One of the middle school students wanted to learn how to become a police officer. They had worked through a couple of lessons on police officers in class, and he wanted to take it a bit further. He ended up doing some online research, and then coming up with questions that he wanted to ask an officer. We were able to email two officers, and he got personal responses from both of them. That made his day.
Another middle schooler wanted to learn how to fold Origami. He really wanted to fold Pokemon and spent a lot of time looking at YouTube videos to try to figure it out. He got a lot of the other students hooked on it as well. He didn’t end up making any Pokemon, but his end result was very satisfying to him!

The end result:
He said he learned to be patient, not to give up, and to just keep trying if you don’t get it the first time. #lifelessons

A different middle schooler wanted to figure out how to make a Viking Ship. He already knew a lot about Vikings, so now he wanted to build. He found a YouTube video to watch where a teacher gave instructions for making a cardboard ship.

His goal was to make one that would float. He wrote down all the dimensions and supplies he would need from the video and ended up with two partners who were scooped up by his excitement about the idea.

They got to work, measuring, cutting, and negotiating. I saw them figure out how to communicate with each other, give compliments, and create! They had to problem solve when the scissors weren’t sharp enough, and when the cardboard wouldn’t stand up.

Their end result was in their words, “EPIC!” It was taped, stapled, painted, and tied together with string. They were so proud of their work. They said they learned how to not give up and keep trying when something didn’t work the first time. #morelifelessons

The teachers did not grade the assignment, and it felt good to let the students get as far as they could with no formal expectation of a product, only progress. Most of the students felt energized learning about their own topic, and the teachers said they would try it again next year.

A few of the students became frustrated along the way when they didn’t know where to find their information, or when the information looked too overwhelming to them. If they couldn’t refocus at that time, we would have them put it away for the day and try again the next day. At this point, an individual graphic organizer would have been helpful.

When our 6 weeks was up, I sat down with the students one last time for a bit of reflection and closure. I asked them to map out their path of progress because that was where a lot of the learning took place. I love how they expressed themselves.

So, it wasn’t a neat and organized process, but all students made forward progress. I would definitely try this again, and the fact that they had Special Needs just made us as teachers think even more flexibly. I learned some great lessons that I can take into my General Ed classroom next year! #studentchoice = #studentvoice