So much learned, so much to think about!

I am back. I have let my blogging slide by for a few weeks? Not sure where the time went. I have been going to school and doing some work. I have been vigorously reading and learning, so much that now I need to take some time and write out a master list of things I need to do.

I spoke with my principal this morning about Genius Hour, Global Read Aloud, and You Matter. He was very interested and completely supportive of my new initiatives. I explained that some of the things I will be doing will push back the curriculum so that my students and I can learn about Web 2.0 tools and cool apps. I told him my intention was to develop a list of tools and apps and have my kids use any technology available to them to choose one and research it and find out how it works. They would then be required to teach the class how to use the tool. I told him this was important for me to start off like this and…he said OK! So I am going for it!

We also talked about my concerns of teachers not reaching all students in their classes (BTW, if you will recall one of my previous posts, I lamented the fact that as inclusion co-teachers, we had no training–guess what? A day of training coming next week, and not by someone from our school, but from someone from Region XI, someone who others will see as having authority on the subject!).

Things are looking up.

I also discussed the fact that I will really be putting kids first this year and that our learning may be messy. He was okay with that as well. Oh yeah, he invited me to be on our campus’ design team too!

Things I learned this week: Augmented Reality this blows my mind! QR codes and readers, another POW to my mind! I am definitely going to become awesome at AR and QR, I want to blow my kids’ minds.

Room Design: I also told my principal about #YouMatter. I told him that I will have a place on my wall that says Why do You Matter? and have the kids write on the paper why they matter. Putting kids first.

So that is it, nothing deeply inspiring, no true words of wisdom, just my plans for the coming year, in which my learning goal will be to learn as much about my kids that I can. I need to learn about what makes them tick. I think in another post I called it finding my passion. I will keep updating my blog as the year goes. It is mostly for my reflection, because like I said in a previous post, nobody knows I am here.

It is time for a change…my son matters!

My son is a senior this year. He attends the high school where I work. My daughter came home today for a short visit, she attends Texas A & M University. They were having a conversation out admission deadlines and what his plan was for college. Unfortunately, I butted into the conversation and created undue anxiety and tension because my son had not scored so well on his ACT and SAT tests. I reminded him of this and then became an even worse mom by complaining that he didn’t study enough for those tests and…it got worse, and I am ashamed of my actions. I love my children dearly, and being an educator in the same school system that my children were a part of, did not make it easy for me to advocate for them. But now, I have to. I was afraid to speak up and let my concerns be known both as a parent and as a teacher. But now, after my summer of immersion in technology and Twitter, I feel empowered to tell this story…

My daughter is one who flourished in the system that public education has always put forth, and is in wide practice at the high school where my son attends and where I work as a special education teacher. My daughter is one who knows how to take notes, study, complete the worksheets and other assignments, and do well on tests. This is standard high school procedure: lecture, notes, worksheet, quiz, test...and then move on to the next topic/chapter/whatever else was deemed important  by the department. She did so well with this traditional teaching format, she graduated in the top 10% of her class, which had about 340 students. In Texas, students who graduate in the top 10% of their class earn automatic admission to the public university of their choice.

Our family is an Aggie family, and no one in my family is a bigger fan than my son. His room is painted Aggie maroon and the walls are littered with Texas A&M paraphernalia. My son, who will go to college next year, will not earn automatic admission to Texas A&M. He will more than likely go to Blinn College, from which he can transfer into A&M to finish out his degree plan. My son won’t get automatic admission not because he isn’t as smart or as capable as my daughter, although the result of our discussion had him feeling that way (I feel like a horrible mom because of this.) He just learns differently. As a matter of fact his exact words were “I can’t learn like my sister can!” 

He struggles in school because of the system: lecture, notes, worksheet, quiz, test…and then move on to the next important thing. This has plagued my son throughout his academic career. He is very smart. He knows how to do things on the computer that I would need to take a class on to learn. He does research every day, looking for things to buy–I had bookmarked pages on my computer that led to all the different kinds of trucks he wanted and all the different kinds of options and on and on. He pitched each idea with facts and with data he had acquired, he could back up his information with reviews about dealerships and the truck he was interested in. He did everything we needed to do so that we could buy him exactly what he wanted, even down to keeping within our budget.

Who can say no to that kind of information? This was real life research, not some contrived research question posed by some teacher with an agenda. Also, he didn’t need to fill out bibliography cards and do a written report. The kid chose to show what he knows by way of a very interesting and eye-catching movie. Where my daughter is very literal, my son is creative. My daughter has little common sense, but we love her. My son can make common sense decisions–snap, snap, snap. And they are good decisions.

He can’t learn like his sister can. He learns differently. He hates school. The only teacher he ever liked was his world history teacher. He says that coach interacted with his students. He talked to them. He told them stories. This coach was our Teacher of the Year at our school last year, and unfortunately, he left because his wife got a great job somewhere in the East.  

The only teacher my son connected with during three years of high school left. He hated his other social studies teachers (he used to love social studies) he felt the same way about all of his other teachers as well. He hates school. As I was talking to him, begging his forgiveness, I talked to him about how sad it made me that he didn’t like school. I DO NOT BLAME HIM: lecture, notes, worksheet, quiz, test…

I promised him right there that I am going to make change come to our school. He isn’t the only one who learns differently. He has friends that learn like he does, and they feel stifled by the confinements of the lecture, notes—you get it, right? I will advocate for him. I will make it known that the way things are aren’t working for him. He matters, just like everyone else. How he learns matters. His teachers need to know this. I don’t have a master plan yet, but it will start with a conversation with our principal. I will explain to him as a mom, what my kid needs to be successful, and then I will explain to him that as a teacher, I have witnessed, well, NON-teaching, and I would like for that to change!

My son matters, my students matter!

I have found my PASSION!

Back in March I apparently became very disillusioned with my job and the people I work with. I quickly wrote the following note. It isn’t pretty or full of rich language, it is my raw emotion about how I feel about my job, and what I believe needs to happen to make me feel better about it.

March 26, 2013…11:00 PM

I want to be excited about teaching again. I want to be part of a group of teachers/leaders who respond to the problems of teaching now, and not later. I want to collaborate with others; design lessons that make the kids want to learn more. I want to use technology the way it is meant to be used. I want to learn new things, especially how to use social media to benefit my students. I want to teach so that students really what to learn. I want to be interested in the lesson I am presenting, because if I’m not, the kids aren’t. I want to teach kids to love being challenged. I want my own son to enjoy school, BTW, he doesn’t  I want to be an instructional leader who is excited about her job and wants every other teacher out there to be excited as well. I want my kids to see me try something in the classroom, and it fail. I want those same kids to figure out how to try that same thing, but make it succeed. I want the kids to teach me…I want to be happy with my job.

Let me put this into context, it may clear up some questions. I am a special education teacher. I have taught special education for 14 years. I have taught English and math, but mostly English. I recently added the ELAR 8-12 certification to my list of other certifications: special ed., generalist 4-8, and principal EC-12, and I even have a Master’s Degree in Education. Even with all of these certifications, I firmly believe that most of the regular education teachers I come in contact with, do not believe that I am a, for lack of a better word, “real teacher” because I teach special education.

When I tell people I teach special education, they look at me differently, almost with, I want to say pity, but I don’t even know if that is the right word. What I do understand from this interaction is that they feel I am teaching kids with severe cognitive disorders or some other special, special education defining label. I then feel compelled to explain that I teach kids with learning disabilities. I honestly don’t think I could ever be the teacher of kids with more severe disabilities. It isn’t in me. But, after I explain that I teach kids with learning disabilities, I quickly move to explain that they are just kids that learn differently. I have started to use that phrase more and more. I truly believe that kids with “learning disabilities” learn differently, and it is the teacher’s job to figure out what makes the kid tick.

This is where I really get, I don’t even know the word for it. I hear teachers talking in the hallway about how this student isn’t doing this or how that student doesn’t care, or how “those” students shouldn’t be in their class. I get ticked off because these teachers talking about these students haven’t found out what makes that kid tick! Unfortunately, many of the teachers that I work with are stuck in their same routine. They don’t try anything different. They look at kids who learn differently from how they teach as slackers, problem causers, kids who don’t care…on and on and on about how the kids are the problem and the reason for their high failure rate.

The biggest concern about this is that my district is going 1:1 with iPads this school year. I know that I have spent the summer on my computer, burning through my satellite data allowance, learning everything I can about Web 2.0 and social media (see my previous posts). I did this because I ran across, in one of my many readings on using technology in the classroom, a statement from someone important who basically said that if we use technology the wrong way, then it isn’t technology ( or something like that, sorry for the misquote important person!) This left me with the big question of how will I use the iPads given to my students and me. I didn’t want them to become a very expensive dictionary/thesaurus, calculator, or game console (which, if done correctly, games can be used for good…another thing I have to learn about).

So I read, I participated in online FREE professional development, Twitter chats (I have 32 followers!), and I did anything and everything else I could to learn how to use this technology. My school has an Edmodo group set up and I posted ideas there, along with links to articles I have read and other things I thought were important to share. I kept checking in on our school group, and not one person had posted anything on their behalf or made any comments on my posts. This tells me something very important, and you probably know what it is…I am alone in my learning this summer, as far as my school community goes. The building principals didn’t even make comments about my posts, nor did they post anything on their own!

I am alone. I already feel alone because as I stated earlier in this post that I am a special education teacher and I believe that other teachers really don’t see me as a “real” teacher. I really feel alone and it makes me sad.

So, my goal for this school year is to 

 

 

 

 

WEB 2.0…my brain hurts.

WEB 2.0…my brain hurts.

Ok, I have completed my submersion into WEB 2.0. Here are my findings:

  1. I have learned about Twitter, which has become my best read of the summer. There is so much information all at the same time. I am compelled to read it all, and then I get all of these great ideas and want to do it all. But I can’t. I need to prioritize, choose the most, most important stuff I want to pursue. But then I feel that I will still be missing out. What will I do?
  2. I learned about Google Docs and Google+, but not enough to feel comfortable with yet. This is one thing I will spend the rest of my summer doing!
  3. I learned about blogging, so here I am with my very own edublog. This is easy, but I plan on integrating blogging into my classes next year. Kidblog has been recommended by Tweeps, I haven’t looked into that yet, but I will.
  4. I learned about connected learning, I had planned to follow #clmooc throughout the summer, but I haven’t. My satellite internet allows only so much data to be used within a period of time, and I have been using it up like a ravaging firestorm, so I have to back off on my usage. I might end up staying up late one night to delve into the whole idea of connected learning; the data usage is free after midnight!
  5. I created a Wikispaces account http://dannayeager.wikispaces.com , which I can use in my classroom as a collaboration tool, where my students and myself can add information to build on class discussions, collaborative writing, project based learning, and on, and on, and on…Wikispaces can also be used as formative assessment, which is what I really want to focus on this year. I will talk about formative assessment later. Once again, I still don’t think I know enough about Wikispaces so I will definitely have to make some late night time figuring it out.
  6. RSS feeds. There is so much information out there; it is enough to make my brain explode. I think I have said that already. RSS feeds allow you to subscribe to blogs and news feeds so you can keep up with your favorites. You have to get this stuff organized though, especially if you subscribe to many feeds. I have done this by opening a Netvibes account. It organizes my feeds into different categories and it is easy to navigate. The only problem is that I have subscribed to so many feeds that I can’t read it all!

This is all I can remember and like I said before, my head can only hold so much.

My first Twitter Chat

I have been so caught up in Twitter, that I haven’t had time for anything else. I am really beginning to understand how to use Twitter and how to develop my own PLN (personal learning network). Last night I participated in a Tweet chat #Elatlap. Tlap is Teach Like a Pirate by  David Burgess. I don’t have the book yet, but I soon will. So this was my first chat on Twitter and boy, do the comments and great ideas come fast and furious. I need to speed up my Tweeting skills because by the time I responded to one question, another has been posted.

It was great to lurk about as well. I am amazed about the vast knowledge and forward thinking of the other teachers out there. I thought I was alone in my “doing things differently.” I can’t look forward to my next Twitter chat. Now, the next thing I need to do is participate in a webinar. I have signed up for several, but I couldn’t participate because other things came up, but my goal for the coming week is to participate in at least one webinar!

Looking forward to building my PLN and connecting with more people who share the same vision of 21st century teaching!

If there is anyone out there reading this, what is your favorite PLN?

More from I was just thinking…

Once I went back to teaching special education, my experience was just like before: teachers fearful about inclusion of students with disabilities coming into their classroom. Being my first year at that school, I kept my opinions to myself and did my job. About four years into this job, our school district adapted an inclusion model. We had classes called TARGET classes that included students with learning disabilities. This class had the regular content teacher and a special education teacher.

Both the regular education teachers and the special education teachers were thrust together without any training or professional development to help us understand what co-teaching is. As a matter of fact, even throughout my ten years at this school district, there has been no training what-so-ever. Even worse, the co-teachers do not have a common planning time. For the most part, my role of co-teacher fell into what I hate the most: being seen by the students and the teachers as a “helper” in the classroom. Only once did I work with a teacher who really took my observations about what the students were doing in the classroom and work with me to design lessons that helped all of the students become more active learners. We had a good thing going and worked together for two years. And then a change was made. I was placed with another teacher who was new to our district, had only two years experience, and had never taught an inclusion class. My experience in this class was the same with most of the other classes that I co-taught. Teachers moving rapidly through the curriculum, students disengaged, work done just to be done and over with it, assignments given, tests taken without any attention paid why the students made the grade they did, teachers complaining because the TARGET kids weren’t performing to their expectations, the list goes on and on and on.

OK, so how do I connect this with Web 2.0? This is how. To teach so that all students are successful requires understanding what makes each kid tick. Unfortunately, from my observations, many teachers don’t do that. If teachers were to take the time time to get to know their students, they might find that many of them already know all of this Web 2.0 stuff. With that knowledge, we teachers need to focus on student centered activities and lessons that require students to use the technology to show us what they know.

I am going to say this next thing in all caps because I want to yell loud enough that every teacher can hear:

TEACHERS MUST LET GO OF THE WORKSHEET, LECTURE, DRILL, USELESS HOMEWORK, TEXTBOOK, AND EVERYTHING ELSE THEY HOLD SO DEAR. WE ARE STUNTING THE GROWTH OF OUR STUDENTS WITH THESE PRACTICES!!!!

School should stop being the place kids go because they have to. It should be the place kids go because they are inspired to learn and not be judged on what they can’t do, but on what they excel at. If you don’t know your students, you assume that what you are teaching is valuable to them. In my observations of events that take place in other teachers’ classrooms, and in mine to, I hate to admit, the kids are there just because they have to be there. It makes me sad, especially when I talk to a student about their other classes, and they have nothing but negative things to say: how the teacher treats them, the useless busywork, falling behind because there is no formative assessment to check for levels of mastery…and that is another topic for discussion.

 

A little more about me…from I was just thinking.

As fate would have it, I applied for a job doing educational research. This was the best thing to every happen to me for my career. I began working as a research assistant with the ARC of the United States under Dr. Michael Wehmeyer, @wehmeyer. He hired me even though I had no research experience. I just had a desire to learn. I still have that desire. Working with Dr. Wehmeyer, I learned about self-determination, goal-setting, self-regulation strategies, transition, age-appropriate settings for students with disabilities, and so much more. Even better, this was the first job where I felt valued for my opinions and views on what constitutes good teaching. No one at my first teaching job ever made me feel valued for my beliefs.

Unfortunately for me, my job working under Dr. Wehmeyer came to an end because he was hired by the University of Kansas. Of course I couldn’t go, but this left me with the need to continue my education and get a Master of Education degree in special education. At that time, I also went back to teaching and I have been at that job for ten years. I have never worked anywhere for ten years straight.

 

I was just thinking…

I am taking a break from yard work to write this. I happen to be a person, who if too much quiet time occurs, my thoughts start racing. So this morning as I was watering my garden, thoughts I have about my job and teaching started banging and scratching at the door in my mind where I keep such things. I have many opinions about teaching and learning, but they are very different from my colleagues and therefore I have kept them to myself, locked up behind that door far in the back of my mind. I am a “team player” and I don’t like to be seen as “the one who”…causes meetings to run too long, asks too many questions, talks only about my problems…you get it, right?

But, here, I have my own forum. This blog is about me and my musings. It isn’t as if my thoughts will get read by anyone. No one knows I am here. So, even though my blog is about teaching in the 21st. century and learning about Web 2.0, I am gonna get rid of everything I keep locked up behind the farthest door in my mind! If by chance you find yourself reading this, please leave a comment.

I guess I can link this to Web 2.0 under the tag of differentiated learning! So I am gonna use a hash tag for the first time: #learningdifferently. First, I am a special education teacher. My specialty is working with students who learn differently. I have been teaching for 15 years. My first five years were difficult. I had much learning to do. This was way back in 1993 and the words inclusion and mainstream were being used more and more. And, as all change does, many of the teachers on my campus, both special education and regular education, resisted the idea. By the middle of my fifth year as a special education teacher I found myself needing to learn more and more about the inclusion of students with disabilities. I had been given the title of lead teacher that year and I thought it was my job to get people on board and provide staff development on inclusion. I became very frustrated in trying to make the teachers understand that kids with disabilities just learn differently than others and that the regular education teachers need to  understand that idea. I felt lost because there was so much that I still didn’t know and I was expected to teach other teachers about including kids with learning disabilities.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

 

My Reflections on 21st Century Learning

I should have written this first. I was so excited about starting a blog that I just forgot. The following is a list of my reflections about what Web 2.0 is. Before I began this pursuit of Web 2.0 this is how I felt:

HELP! I AM STUCK IN THE 20th CENTURY!!!!

  • I never thought of the Web as a learning machine. I never understood what it took to create and collaborate on the Web.
  • I have always been a traditionalist when reading books. I prefer written text so I can annotate…but now you can do that in any E-reader now.
  • Students are changing faster than teachers. Students know how to connect. Traditional teaching slows  the student down, like stepping backwards while dancing the Texas two-step (I often stumble).
  • Students know how to network, I need to be taught that too.
  • Web 2.0 is a two way medium based on contribution, creation, collaboration–like blogs, Wikis, podcasts, video/photo sharing, social networking…
  • Collaboration after the “lecture” leads to more learning, not the “lecture.” We are missing out on providing students the opportunity to “talk” or collaborate within the discussion. Just because teachers are often isolated from collaborating with fellow teachers does not mean we should do that to the students.
  • Understanding Web 2.0 and other 21st. century technologies can really make differentiated instruction a reality.

RSS Feeds

I had no idea about RSS feeds. I have always seen the little icon on most of the internet pages that I looked at, but I always felt intimidated by that little orange box. Well, I have found out that RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Oh…really simple, what did I have to fear? So, I plunged forward learning about RSS through the Web 2.0 #PLP.

To use RSS, you have to have a RSS reader. There are many out there, but PLP recommended Google. So, I go to Google. Unfortunately, Google is getting out of the RSS game. They will let you sign up with them, but soon the RSS reader powered by Google will be retired. That left me in a somewhat panic. Now, I would have to research different RSS readers and make a decision on my own, which was scary because I still didn’t know what RSS was.

I settled with Netvibes. It seems easy enough to use, it organizes EVERYTHING, even my Twitter account. The next step was to start subscribing to RSS feeds. Netvibes makes it easy if you can’t find the orange box. You just copy the URL and paste it into a box in Netvibes and it does the rest. Before I knew it, I had ten or more feeds being organized on my Netvibes page. The only problem is that there is so much good information floating around out there. I want to read it all and I don’t want to forget where I found it! But, I must learn to limit myself, or my eyes will get even worse than they are!

So here is the link to my Netvibes RSS page: http://www.netvibes.com/dannayeager#General

If you are interested in what I am reading, just click!