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I’ve been blogging for about a year and a half now and Tweeting for a little less time than that. When I first started blogging I really enjoyed writing about and reflecting on my teaching. Sometimes I shared links or websites that I’d found or talk about what I was reading on-line. Over time I found that what I enjoyed writing about most is what I do with my students in the classroom. I’ve developed new projects and written about the web 2.0 tools that we use to learn Latin, Roman culture, history, and mythology.

Over time I developed a PLN, a professional learning network, a group of educators and those interested in education from around the world. I learn from them and (I hope) they learn from me. I felt comfortable in the blogosphere and Twittosphere because these are open fora. I don’t personally attack or criticize anyone, but I do share my thoughts and occasionally frustrations in my blog and in my tweets. Teaching is sometimes difficult, frustrating work that can leave you feeling isolated and on your own. Through my PLN I have found support and answers to questions. I have also developed  some authority as an educator, based on my writings and perhaps my presentations at workshops like the Blue Ribbon Conference, MassCUE, or EduCon 2.2.

Over the past few months, however, my PLN has changed. This is a natural evolution, I suppose. And, after all, blogging and Twitter are public and open to anyone who cares to join the conversation. In the past, my followers were largely those who were interested in my take on the blending of Foreign Language, education, and technology. They were positive and involved. And they were mostly from far beyond my district and state. When people shared comments, they posted to my blog or responded to Twitter in the same open and public forum. What’s changed is that more people from my district and my school are following what I say. And recently the critiques aren’t appearing in the same venue where the conversations originated. I’ve heard references to my writing at the photocopier or in the faculty room. I’ve been confronted in the hall and criticized at school. To be honest, it has made me question why I blog and what I’ve written. And it has made me silent for the last few weeks.

But I have to come back to my original goal in writing:  this is a home for my reflections and thoughts on education and teaching in a public school. I will have positive things to share – and negative. But the conversation starts here. And I hope that I will start conversations and perhaps invite debate. I’m assuming there will be criticisms. And I hope those who wish to respond feel confident to join the conversation and participate in public debate.

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I had fun at EduCon 2.2! It was great to get away for a weekend and spend time with colleagues. I loved meeting people from my PLN face to face and talking to educators from around the world about what we do and how we can improve education. It was a thrill to listen to so many really smart people share their ideas and debate. For two and a half days we joined in conversations, facilitated discussions, learned, relaxed, ate, drank, laughed, and had fun. Conferences should be fun. Learning should be fun. Spending time with colleagues – whether they teach in the classroom next door or at a school halfway around the world – should be fun. I need to make it a priority to have more fun with my colleagues. There are times when the work of teaching needs to be set aside so we educators can talk, share, laugh, and have fun.

It’s been a few weeks since I returned home from EduCon and now that we’re on February vacation I have some time to reflect on what I’ve taken away from EduCon 2.2.  Over the next few days I hope to write some more about specific conversations I had and people I met. It was energizing to spend an entire weekend with educators and students who care passionately about teaching and learning.

This school year has been a challenging one and I’ve gotten frustrated more often than not. Many of my (high school) students are not interested in school or learning; their lives are complicated by illness, financial struggles, broken families, drugs and alcohol. Others are merely apathetic, going through the motions just to earn their credits and move on. Don’t get me wrong, I do have many other students who are interested and motivated. But so much of my energy as a teacher seems to be spent supporting and encouraging students who just don’t care what (any) school can offer them.

What I realized while I was in Philadelphia was that I had been missing the passion that used to drive my teaching. When I spoke with the students of Science Leadership Academy I was struck by how clearly each one could articulate the mission of their school and what that education meant to them personally. They didn’t spout some party line about each having a laptop (though many cited this as a reason for them to check out SLA in the first place). They didn’t talk about test scores or the number of AP classes or the other measures that seem to drive education policy. What excited them was the personal relationships they had with their teachers and the individualization of their learning. They cared deeply about their projects, the choices they had and how they demonstrated their learning. They spoke clearly and confidently about how their school has molded them as learners and as individuals.

My first thought was that it was already too late to make meaningful changes in my classes this year. After all, the school year is half over and we’ve already established our routines and expectations. At least, I had established them. But talking to Liz Davis on the flight home helped me think about things differently. The Latin curriculum and learning expectations were mine – not my students.  When I returned to school, I sat down with my two most challenging classes and spoke honestly about my frustrations and my hopes for the course. I told them they still had to meet curricular goals, but I wanted them to help design how we met those goals for the rest of the year. At first they seemed skeptical, but then they spoke honestly about their learning.

They asked for more independence and creativity in how they demonstrated their learning. They asked for more projects. They still wanted structure, but with the independence to move through the work at their own speed and ability. Every student in these 2 Latin classes has been diagnosed with a language based learning disability and has been with me for more than a year and a half. And perhaps for the first time they were being given an opportunity to truly individualize their learning. I agreed to implement some of their ideas, but only if they agreed to commit to doing the work as well.

The next day I made some modifications to how I present material and what I ask of my students as they come into the room each day.  I committed myself to smiling more and being truly glad to see each one of them every day. I focused on the essential elements they need to learn – to translate Latin accurately and to recognize verb forms, for example. I showed them the big picture and then allowed them to progress through activities more independently and creatively. I offered them choices in how they demonstrate their understanding. I encouraged them to support each other in learning and to contribute positively to class each day. I put on Pandora so they could listen to music as they worked. To be honest, these were small changes that brought about some big results. All but one of my students has embraced the changes. They are working more steadily and translating more thoughtfully than I’ve seen since they started Latin 18 months ago.  They are asking specific questions and participating in their own learning. As a group, they seem happier to walk into my room each day. We still have work to do; this will involve more planning as we move forward. And I have one student who will need to be supported differently from the rest. It has only been two weeks, but I am feeling more positive each day when I see them walk into my room.

Ultimately I’m hoping I’ve rediscovered my passion for teaching and for Latin. I don’t delude myself with the belief that my students will suddenly become passionate about translating Latin or even continue their studies past this year. I do have hope that they will find that putting effort and care into what they do can make a difference in their lives. And that taking responsibility for their work will make the experience of learning more meaningful overall.

Please check out Mike and Sean’s Podcast introducing our EduCon session – Subversive PD:  Creating a culture of collaboration to bring educators into the 21st Century.

Countdown to EduCon

I can’t believe I’ll be heading to Philadelphia in only 3 days for EduCon 2.2! The past few weeks have flown by with the end of the semester at school and sick family members at home (nothing serious, just tiring). I’ve barely had time to anticipate the great conversations and amazing people I’ll be able to connect with this year at SLA. Last year I was fortunate to attend EduCon for the first time. It was by far the most inspiring and motivating conference I’ve ever attended.

On Friday I’ll be traveling with Liz B. Davis, who I met last year at EduCon 2.1. We co-presented a workshop on Twitter earlier this fall at MassCUE but haven’t had a chance to catch up since then. I’ll be attending the conference with 2 other teachers from my district, Michael Springer and Sean Musselman, who have committed to podcasting their EduCon experience to share with other teachers in our district who couldn’t join us in Philadelphia.

On Saturday, I will be co-presenting, along with Mike Springer and Beth Knittle, a conversation about Subversive Professional Development. We’ll be facilitating a discussion about strategies that really work to bring about meaningful professional learning among colleagues and within schools. We’ve been struck by these questions:  Why are there still so many educators sitting in the back of the faculty meeting rolling their eyes whenever 21st Century Skills are on the agenda? How can Professional Development be meaningful, effective and important for the uninterested? We’d love for those of you attending EduCon to join us during the first session. If you are attending virtually, please check in and send us questions and comments.

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'journalism students using macs apple' by Chris.Corwin via flickr

I first got a laptop for school use about 18 months ago. This computer has completely transformed the way I approach my teaching and my learning. I connect with more educators. I reflect more on my teaching and on the ideas that are driving my planning and assessment. I have built a global network of educators I learn from, seek help from, and offer support to.
So why are my kids not allowed to use a tool like this every day? I work in a progressive school district that allows me to try just about anything that will support and further student learning. But with so many of us working to integrate technology in all of our classes, we are rapidly becoming limited by access to the tools that we need. There just aren’t enough computers, not enough lab space for the integration our school is working toward. Let’s get the tools into the hands of our students – every day in every class.

Sunset in NH

This has been exam week at our high school. At the end of the semester we (the teachers) are charged with creating an assessment that somehow measures mastery of 2 marking periods’ material. This week I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I’m assessing and why I test the way I do. For the most part, my exams were unchanged from last year, with vocabulary, declensions, conjugations, grammar and translations. Truthfully, the results haven’t been great. Translation and reading Latin is really the ultimate goal for my students. But I’m disappointed with my students’ ability to read an unfamiliar passage of Latin. They don’t seem to have much retention of vocabulary and their understanding of grammar rules seems shaky at best. Although we have a digital language lab that we can use regularly throughout the marking period, we don’t have sufficient technology available to every student to move toward paperless exams at this point. I need to revise the exam, but I don’t want to fall back on the same old model. I’m thinking, I’m planning. My goal is to create more meaningful assessments for my students. But for now, I’m stuck. My vision is clouded by the things that can’t be done and limited by what I have done (perhaps not very successfully) for so many years.

Whenever I need to think I try to go to the lake and just sit quietly. Being there helps me clear my head and start to look at things differently. Unfortunately, it’s been a while since we’ve been able to go up to New Hampshire. When I can’t get there in person, I look to the Lake Winnipisaukee Weather Cam, located on Black Cat Island, NH, from time to time. Across the lake, behind the island near the base of Gunstock Mountain is our family’s lakehouse. At the end of the day, I need to look for some perspective on what is important, not only for me as “the teacher” but what is important for my students to demonstrate. If only finding that perspective were as easy as finding a beautiful photo of Lake Winnipisaukee.

Photo courtesy of Lake Winnipisaukee Weather Cam