I'm here. I'm done with my capstone project. I'm done with my documentary and my capstone presentation. I'm ready for the next thing--to graduate!
It's been a rough 2020-2021 school year. COVID brought everything to a hault. I had to learn new curriculum, a new position, a new principal, and all this over Zoom. I spent my nights and weekends pouring over readings, research results, data, opinions, facts, technological advances, and all while teaching during a pandemic. I found that juggling my two positions at work along with a master's program, dying family members, my childhood neighborhood destroyed in the fires, being a mom, wife, daughter, sister, granddaughter, and pet owner was almost too much.
What did I give up to make sure I was able to continue on? I realized that blogging was what I gave up. It seemed like the one thing that I could do later that would ease my burden. So here I am, at the end of my journey, writing my last blog posts.
Although difficult at times, this program was well worth it. I feel empowered to try new things in my classroom. I feel better prepared for what lies ahead when technologies change. I have people from my cohort who I know struggled with the some of the same things I did, and I can rely on them for future support.
My advice to anyone beginning the program-- Do your best. If you have to crawl over the finish line, you are still moving forward. Ask questions. Do the work. Struggle, learn, grow. Make connections with people outside your comfort zone. And trust the process.
PD, or Professional Development, can cause educators to loudly sigh, roll their eyes, or even fall asleep. But does it have to be this way? Do educators have to feel that "PD" is synonymous with "wasting time"? Or is PD even neccessary?!
Maybe what PD presenters should be asking themselves are, "Is the PD I'm attending effective? Is the PD helping student achievment? Does this PD work within the educators' daily schedule? How often will the PD be revisited?"
As a magnet coach, I don't want the eductors I'm leading during a PD to roll their eyes, sigh, or fall asleep. I want the session to be relevant, respectful of the educators' time, and inspiring. I want my sessions to be experienced by the educator in a way that also demonstrates how students learn. I know I shut down during a PD where someone talks at me. And I want time to explore the new ideas, ask questions, and have meaningful discussions with my peers during the PD. I want people to be excited about the information I'm going to share with them. So it made sense that my research should be based on professional development and how it affects student agency.
What I didn't expect during my research, was how the pandemic would greatly affect professional development. I teach virtually from home. So I really had to up my Zoom game and make sure that what I presented had all the elements I mentioned before. I also learned that no matter how much I make my PD's accessible to all educators, there are still factors I may not have accounted for. Like...an educator's willingness to adopt a new way of teaching.
I'm not sure I will continue the research specifically. If I do, I would definately do things differently. I woud like to try doing the research when the pandemic is no longer an issue. I want to see if there is a correlation between our school's first trimester teaching in a pandemic, my first time being a magnet coach, the educators being in a less stressful teaching environment, and compare the data.
Do we long for the days when "times were simpler"? But really, were they? It seems to me like things are quite simple for us in 2020. Well...despite the effects of the pandemic.
What does it take to be in the 21st century and have obtained skills ready for it? As a teacher, I'm constantly asking myself that. As a coach, I'm wondering what skills I can share with my colleagues to help them too.
This week, I watched three videos of examples of 21st century skills. One was from six years ago, and although slightly dated (because like technology, teaching practices are always evolving) it is still relevent to today's teaching. In this particular video, kindergarten students demonstrate 21st Century skills for self-direction. Students are able to express their learning goals, make choices about their learning, articulate their plans for learning, and demonstrate the ability to self-direct during independent work time. All these things are neccessary to being a self-driven, responsible student and life-long learner.
The second video I watched was how an elementary school was using videography and voice & choice to teach content curriculum to upper grade students. The students were sharing "Scar Stories" through personal narrative writing strategies. Students created their own videos using a green screen, graphics, and even voiceover work. The teacher guided them through the use of the technology, and then turned them loose to create. The teacher also was there to act as a mentor to answer questions and help push students to write in detail.
The final video was from a high school. In the video, students learned U.S. economics, current events, and math during a "Shark Tank" project. In this project, students design and create a mock business. They create a business plan, track spending and income, and even pitch their company idea to members of the community who pretend to be investors from the show "Shark Tank." The teacher even wears a cute shark hat! This lesson allows the students to take charge of their own learning and relate it to real-world problems. It also introduces students to skills they may need after high school, such as tracking spending and earnings.
Overall, the three videos were fantastic. Knowing that from Kinder through high school, 21st century learning is happening, gives me hope for the future.
We are not preparing our students for the jobs of their future. Bold statement, I know. But as I read more and more of what is needed for the future, I am becoming more aware of this as being an American issue. We need to prepare our students for the future.
Many jobs that elementary students will be in when they enter the work force, haven't even been invented yet! And although we do not know what the future holds career-wise for these students, we can guide them in becoming critical thinkers and use universal skills that will help them in the future.
One way to do this, is with transliteracy. According to Suzana Sukavic's article "What Exactly is Transliteracy?", she defines transliteracy as the ability to navigate fluidly across a wide variety of technologies, media, and context. Digital cititzenship is the rules and common practices for how to navigate the internet and e-mail realms. But transliteracy, is taking all the information from the internet, social media, books, magazine ariticles, op-ed pieces, nightly news programs, documentaries, and even newspapers, and being able to decipher what is true, what isn't, and what is neccessary for a project, essay, or even social conversations.
In my own practice, students flex their transliteracy skills when they are creating research projects. Just last week, my teammates and I were using our transliteracy skills to write a PBL unit on the music genre of the Blues. Students will be studying slavery and its effects on American culture prior to and after the Emancipation Proclamation. Students will be using articles from the district's reading curriculum, but also exploring youtube videos with examples of early blues musicians, linking current news articles about slavery's effects on today's culture and music, and then write their own lyrics and music in the style of the Blues. I grew up listening to Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and my all time personal favorite, Koko Taylor. Although these artist are considered more "modern", they helped lead the way for musicians beyond blues. I want my students to come to this conclusion as they create their own "blues riffs" using GarageBand and the standard blues progression. They will be uploading all their work to their Google Portfolio to share with teachers, other students, and their family.
"How many more minutes until recess?"
When I first started teaching (15 years ago), I must've gotten that question fifty times in the first day alone when I taught first grade all day. It's a simple, yet complex question. Almost a trick question, really. If I say the time, they won't understand the meaning of that. If I say "soon", they'll still not understand and think it is happening right now. And if I say, "School started ten minutes ago, it's not for a long time," well....they'll cry.
How do I instill a sense of time to someone who says, "Tomorrow, I went to the park. It was so fun!"? Back then, first graders needed to know how to tell time by the hour and half hour. I would teach, they took a test, end of story. But did they actually learn it? Do they understand how an hour is different from a minute, is different from a second, is different from a day? Surprisingly, some did. Of course, I differentiated the instruction to match all needs, but was it enough?
Personalized learning is different from differentiation. Personalized learning shows its appearance in many different ways. It might be each student using a computer program to teach math ideas, but at each students' own pace, while the algorythm is constantly restructuring the student's needs based on correct answers given. Dreambox Learning, is an example of this type of software. And Personlized learning might even look like each student is doing something completely different while the teacher walks around to support each student on their learning journey. It should also allow students to own their learning at their own pace with their own interests, strenghts, and talents taken into consideration.
And all this takes time.
Currently, as we are all on staycations, I am using Zoom and Seesaw to run my lessons for my first grade readers. I have found that Seesaw is an excellent way to differentiate student learning for these students. I am able to upload specific skills for each student based on their reading level. I am able to listen to their reading while giving specific feedback. But giving them the autonomy via Zoom isn't time well spent at the moment. I have 20 minutes with them. That's it. Only a few magical moments to teach phonics and comprehension before sending them off on the rest of their day, and hoping the lesson sticks as they work on their Seesaw lessons.
I will be teaching fifth grade next year. I am hoping to create lessons that will support student autonomy, critical thinking, and leadership. Through Google Classroom, research websites, and visual and performing arts, students will be able to create their own pathways to learn and present.
And again, it all takes time.
Sarah Magallano teaches 5th grade. She also coaches teachers on integrating art & engineering into their lesson plans.