Sunday, May 22, 2016

Together, we move forward!

Rick DeCarr

Our sixth graders have worked tirelessly to create a collaborative learning environment. At the beginning of the year, we worked together to set our environment together.  Students wrote and talked about what they love about learning, and also what drives them crazy.  Students also had a chance to discuss both student and teacher behaviors in the same way - an eye opening experience for me. This classroom setup evolved into classroom discussions and meetings, where students and teachers can voice successes and struggles. Just recently, we had a group discussion around some of the obstacles that present themselves in a safe, positive “best day ever” learning environment.  The kids were sharing slowly, some of the different things that bother them throughout the day, week, month, year, - whatever period of time.  The conversation was floundering until one of the students spoke up about being compared to other students.  The student shared how being compared to another student/class makes them feel less than worthy - not good enough.  The flood gates opened and students that never choose to participate were sharing similar thoughts and feelings.  It was then that they were finally able to act like a cohesive unit - they finally found a common ground, where they all could agree.  It was a huge light turned on for them - but more importantly me.  They learned that each person can have a different perspective on social interactions. I learned that competition in the classroom has to be carefully crafted, keeping the purpose in mind - motivating students to be their best self.

Best Day Ever with 7th Grade Life Science

Cheska Robinson

My best teaching day ever was with my all-girls 7th Grade Life Science class from Brighter Choice Charter School, when they presented their Code Blue “Grand Rounds” Project to a team of doctors and medical residents from Albany Medical Center. 

For a month, the girls role-played as medical residents who were working towards their board and speciality certifications.  They worked in small collaborative groups to research human body systems and teach other the major structures and functions. When each group passed their board exams, they opened a medical clinic and received a mystery patient case. They had to use what they learned to create a patient profile, figure out the symptoms, and propose a diagnosis. The girls created models and presentations, which were shared with and evaluated by a team of doctors and residents for “Grand Rounds” Day. It was one of my most exciting and memorable memories because the girls were fully engaged and invested in their learning. All students and adults were excited to share their work with each other, and it was a day full of sharing and learning together.

Student Led...Finally!!

Michael Sheridan
Trying to isolate my best day ever is like picking the best ice cream flavor or the best cookie - it’s tough to narrow down from such awesome options.  But, one that certainly sticks out in my mind is when things finally “clicked”.  We have worked hard to incorporate discussion circles in the classroom, from the expectations of our class lessons to the physical seating arrangement.  Well, as many things go in the classroom, it was being dominated by the three or four dominant students in the class.  But slowly, more and more realized that it was a “safe” place for them, free to take risks without being judged by their peers.  

Classroom discussions became more and more fluid, more and more student centered, and I found my role becoming more the moderator then the teacher.  Finally, one all clicked.  We were discussing the role of cell phones in schools...and bam!  Success.  Students were sharing, building off one another - changing minds, being respectful, and all the while, working towards a greater level of understanding of the issue at hand.  What struck me that day were the contributions of my students with disabilities - as a teacher of an integrated Sixth Grade classroom, a culture of collaboration and respect had been established enough for every student to feel comfortable enough to step off the edge, to go without a net, and to take a risk.  I found myself at the end of that lesson realizing that I had done little to no talking over the entire discussion, and my students had built their own learning.  

As we progressed throughout the year, those types of inquiry discussions became the norm - but the feeling of seeing your students do it the first time - what a feeling indeed.  

Teachers for Mangoes!

Emily Gilbert

My best day teaching ever was actually before I was a teacher! I was working as a tutor for struggling 1st grade readers. I had a curious and bright young man, I’ll call J, from Haiti. At home, his parents did not speak English, his older siblings read to him but he was on his 2nd year of 1st grade and was well below in reading. I had been working with him for weeks and his reading level barely budged and I was getting frustrated. I had asked veteran teachers for ideas and suggestions, I tried high interest and easily accessible texts, I even tried bribery but nothing seemed to work.

Mango Cut Open, Opened MangoOne day we were reading a repetitive text, “Mom goes to the store. Mom bought 2 fish. Mom bought an orange.” You get the idea. For weeks, we had been reading the same 3 books getting no where - It was killing me but on the next page of this book was the key: it said “Mom bought Mangoes.” J read it aloud as ‘Man’- ‘Goes’. He turned and asked me what a ‘Man-Go’ was. I pronounced it for him and asked him if he had never had a mango before? He said no and I proceeded to explain them. J asked more questions and I answered them as best I could. I explained red and green mangoes, the taste, the smell and the many different ways to eat them. J was fascinated and engrossed. He asked me if I could buy him one. I told him I would but only if we had a really good two weeks of reading. To my surprise, he was hooked.

Those two week J applied himself like never before, we blew through books and levels. He read all the books and asked really good questions. He reminded me every day not to forget the mango on Friday! I asked him if he wanted to try a red or a green one. Shyly he asked if he could try both - I said if his classroom teacher was impressed with his efforts I would definitely get both.

The Friday came and he had move 3 levels and his classroom teacher asked me what I did - I told her and I also told her I was concerned that he would stop once he got the mangoes. She suggested we read the text again before eating the mangos. Mango day came and it was a big production. I took him to the teachers lounge (that alone blew his mind) then we prepared and ate the mangoes.

He loved them but what I loved was I actually saw the switch go off in his head. He learned that there were things in books he didn’t know about and if he read he could find out about these things in the world. And he was actually hooked - he ended the year actually ahead of the class and this year he graduated high school. What I learned was I wanted to become a teacher. I still see J around town, and when I see him - he still asks me if I remember the mangoes and smiles.