Thursday, May 28, 2015

on your mark book study, session 3

Hi again, and welcome to the last post for the book study!

So I'm kinda really embarrassed. Because I did a lot of the bad stuff mentioned in regards to grading from Chapter 8. The stuff that created compliance with kids? Yep, totally did that when I taught middle school. I'm going to tell you all about it, but it's because I read this book about being vulnerable (I'm actually holding a book study for it in July if you want to read!) and I realized that it's okay to make mistakes as long as:

So here I am to tell you how I screwed up and share new ways of doing things, based on Guskey's book, On Your Mark.

Guskey keeps reminding us to ask ourselves, "What is the purpose of grading?" The answer is that it is to reflect student learning.

Say it with me: The purpose of grading is to reflect student learning.

So, if you have a kid turn work in late and so you give him or her half credit (because it's late) then does the grade really reflect learning? No.

That's my story.

It started because during my 7th year of teaching, I had this student. We'll call him Steve. Steve came to my Language Arts class for a whole quarter. He turned in no work....until the last week of the quarter. Then, he ended up with a B in my class and it really got me so so mad. At the time, I was thinking, "Other kids worked so hard all quarter; they were here on time, they participated, they did every assignment on time, and they got B's. Why does Steve deserve a B?"

Well, he did get a B, but then I changed my policy. All late work - if it was one day late or three months late - could earn only half credit. With the new information I know now, I realize I did this so kids would comply with my policies. This policy definitely did not create a reflection of student learning when I passed out report cards at the end of the next quarter.

Remember, I tell you this bad, bad story because I'm not perfect and I'm learning. So go easy and #dontjudgeme :-) Or judge me in a good way because I'm telling you the truth and not pretending I am this perfect teacher, right?

There are other ways that teachers use grading to get kids to comply:

1. Turn in your syllabus, signed, for 10 points tomorrow.
2. Bring ____ (supplies) for extra credit.
3. Be on time/attend all classes for full attendance credit.
4. Bring a toy/canned food item/___ for extra credit.
5. Turn in your extra hall passes at the end of the quarter for extra credit.

Now, I didn't do all of those, but I'm guilty of a few more.

Guskey's solution? Mark the assignment as incomplete and then require the child to attend some extra class (lunchtime, after school, on Saturday) to make up the work. This sends the messages that:

1. The work we assign you is important.
2. You can't just get off the hook so easy by not doing it.

Guskey notes that in order to staff these lunchtime / after school / Saturday work sessions requires extra support and funding. In the short term, it will take some time to teach the kids that you mean business, but in the long term, the benefits are so much better and kids are more inclined to get their work done on time.

Here's the thing though: schools are underfunded everywhere (that's a rant for another day) so many administrators tell their staff, "Sure, you can hold those after school hours for kids to make up work." (Implying that teachers will work extra hours outside of contract time for no additional compensation.) Then, some teachers do it and others don't. Which is fine, but it makes the teachers who don't staff those homework rooms look like they care less, when that's not the case at all. Teachers should be compensated for their time outside of contract hours. Like Guskey says, 
"Such a policy typically requires additional funding for the necessary support mechanisms, of course. It requires facilities and staffing, and may even mean additional student transportation if sessions are held after school. But in the long run, the investment can save money. Because this regular and ongoing support helps students remedy their learning difficulties before they become major problems, schools tend to spend less time and fewer resources in major remediation efforts later on." (p. 99)
So this is my big take-away from this book. Overall, thought it was a great read, and I'm really glad our district is moving towards this kind of grading. I think reporting student learning separate from learner traits (responsibility, punctuality, etc) is a really important piece.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

year end reflections

Chello friends! I'm hosing an end-of-the-year reflections linky... and I wasn't planning to write this just yet (I'm not done until the 5th of June) but after I put an announcement out about it yesterday, today I found someone already wrote their post, so I must get something going here! Shout out to Allie, for being the first to write with me!

The format of the blog post goes like this:

Best Memories
What were a few of your best memories from the 2014-2015 school year? Share a few!

Missed Opportunities
Did you start some things and didn't see them through enough? Anything else that you were disappointed by? This is the place for those.

Game Changers
What did you learn this year that changed teaching for you?

Where was your focus? Share some things you put a lot of energy and effort into.

It always happens that some things slip by us....what did you forget about this year?

End with general reflections on your year to help you plan for next.

I'm going to revise this a little later and include my reflections because (1) school's not over yet and I'm a creature of habit with my 'ritual' being that I write on my first day off when schools out and (2) I don't have all my ideas down just yet. But for anyone out there who's read to share, link up your reflections with me on this post! Excited to hear about your year! :-)

I'll be back. (Read that with a Schwarzenegger voice!)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Hi everyone! Hope you're doing as well as I am! Finally things are winding down and wrapping up and I have just a few moments to share some exciting news with you!

On Your Mark Book Study
First, my final linky for the On Your Mark Book Study will be this Thursday. Please link up with me if you'd like to share about the book!

Year End Reflections Linky
Next, I will be hosing another linky for Year-End Reflections. My last day is Friday June 5th, so this linky will be up on Monday, June 8th. As soon as you get some time to reflect on your school year, put those thoughts into writing and link them up with me! I'm going to format the post with these categories:

Best Memories
What were a few of your best memories from the 2014-2015 school year? Share a few!

Missed Opportunities
Did you start some things and didn't see them through enough? Anything else that you were disappointed by? This is the place for those.

Game Changers
What did you learn this year that changed teaching for you?

Where was your focus? Share some things you put a lot of energy and effort into.

It always happens that some things slip by us....what did you forget about this year?

End with general reflections on your year to help you plan for next.

BigTime Blogging Challenge
And last but not least....and what I'm so super excited for:

BigTime Literacy celebrates it's two year anniversary on July 4th, and to celebrate the occasion I'll be holding the BigTime Blogging Challenge once again - write with me every day during the month of July! The goal is just to write each day for the whole month on any topic of your choice, but I've also put together a calendar of prompts you can follow if you like. Check that out here.

New this year!
This year during July I will also be hosting a book study. We will be reading Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Check out the author, Brene Brown here, at one of her Ted Talks discussing vulnerability:

Well, that's all I've got for tonight! Hope to see you around in the coming weeks for lots of writing and sharing stories!

Happy Tuesday!

Friday, May 22, 2015

family writing project

Looking for a great new way to engage families in school? I have just the thing for you.... Family Writing Project!
Family Writing Project (FWP) is a Writer's Workshop for students and their families that is after school. Families meet their kiddos at school at 3:00 and for an hour and a half we build a community of writers that listens to stories and then publishes their own. We spend five sessions together as writers, and then one as published authors at an Author's Chair.

Our PTA was amazing and provided snacks for each of the first five sessions and then at the Author's Chair, families all brought something to share. As you can see, we had quite the spread for our celebration!

But before we get to the Author's Chair, let me just share about the writing we did preparing for the celebration...

Session 1: In My Family

During our first session, I shared this book, which is written in Spanish and English. I asked one of the parents to read the Spanish text with me as I read the English. This book shared all kinds of traditions that families had and then our participants were prompted to write about their family traditions.

Session 2: My Map Book

During session 2, we began with a "Mix and Mingle" for families to get to know one another better by talking about get-to-know-you questions. Then, I shared My Map Book (Sarah Fanelli), which details all kinds of maps: map of my bedroom, my pet, my neighborhood, my heart. Then, families could make their own map and write from that. A few participants shared their heart maps in our final collection of work!

Session 3: Culture Bags

At the end of session 2, everyone was given a brown paper bag to fill with their prized possessions. These were brought back to session 3 as their Culture Bags. These bags were full of special mementos - art projects, coins, ribbons, pictures, stuffed animals, etc. We met in small groups to share our favorite items and then wrote the stories of these objects!

Session 4: Poetry

In session four, I shared a bunch of poetry, including a "Do Now" of writing a family acrostic poem. I read from Gary Soto's Neighborhood Odes and Ralph Fletcher's A Writing Kind of Day. This poetry was pretty of our second grade students wrote an ode and a few other kiddos also wrote poetry!

Session 5: The Relatives Came

In our fifth session, we began by making family trees and then I read from Cynthia Rylant's The Relatives Came. Families were encouraged to think of stories about the people on their family tree and then write those. 

Session 6: Author's Chair Celebration

Prior to the sixth session, families had to submit their final piece (either typed, written, or drawn) and I put together a book with everyone's work:

Then, each family came up to the Author's Chairs and read their work to the group. Each family was given a copy of the book as a keepsake and so while participants were reading, the audience followed along.

We shared great food, great stories, and voices in two languages. It really was so so special!

Looking back through my (limited) pictures, I realize that I have more videos than I thought. I can't wait to share these with you, so as soon as the surveys come back from the families, I'll be sure and share their thoughts and the videos of our event!

Have you ever run a Family Writing Project? Please tell me about yours! I'm so thankful for my friend Tracey for coaching me through this amazing experience!

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

family writing project poem

Tomorrow is our last session of Family Writing Project, and as such, we are all sharing our best writing with the group. 

Hektor tells me I can't have six best friends, but I guess I'm a pretty lucky girl, because I do. I've just been thinking about them a lot and feeling so blessed to have them in my life.

I know it's maybe a little middle-schoolish to write about my best friends, but I don't care. I couldn't get through this crazy life without them. So here you have it!

Then & Now
By: Ms. Brezek

Back then….
I met Holly in Indiana.
Cheerleaders and fast friends
Back when candy was for breakfast
And our metabolism had no end

Heather is the best person I’ll ever meet
Also cheered with me in High School
Before her kids we watched MTV for hours
And spent days at my mom’s pool

New to Arizona and to Community College
Spanish class was where Jamie and I met
We both loved to shop and connected at the mall
And then it’s Undergrad I’ll never forget

A first year teacher, but little did I know
Another one (Katie) was right down the way
Thank goodness for students Petie and Jasmine
Getting in a fight over shoes that fall day!

Another special friend came one Arizona New Year’s Eve
Friends of friends was how Anita and I met that night
We lost our group but didn’t care one bit
That evening (and our friendship) turned out just right

With five years teaching under my belt
I met an amazing colleague who goes by Liz
We bonded over Reading and Writing Workshop
And our mutual love of teaching middle school kids

And now…

Holly’s happens to have a home in Kentucky
Heather’s hangs her hat in San Diego
Jamie just can’t get enough of Southern California
Katie calls the Valley of the Sun her home
Anita…can you believe it? She’s here in Chicago!
Liz loves living in Seattle

These are my people.
They get me and love me unconditionally.
There’s so many miles between us,
but it’s the
FaceTime & phone calls,
and our
future plans
that keep us close at heart.'d I do?

Monday, May 18, 2015

all in?

One of my Tiger Bloggers was telling me the other day, "I'm sorry I haven't been to Blogging Club, I've just been too busy!" That's the thing about life - there are so many choices, so many possibilities. And life is too short. The older I get, the more I realize that you have to be very selective in what you say yes to - in your personal life and in your professional life.

For the past two years, I have said yes to Literacy Coaching and I have really loved it and learned so much. When I left the classroom in 2013, I had this feeling that I wasn't done there, and this is something that continues to take  up time in my inner dialog. Last weekend, my very insightful friend asked me, "Well, Michelle, are you all in with your coaching?" And I asked myself, (and am still asking myself) "Am I?"

Classroom teaching is a crazy experience - so overwhelming, so busy, so rewarding, so powerful. Coaching, too, is all of those things, but obviously different. The thing with coaching is that it won't get me relationships with students that can yield emails like this, four years after the fact:

First Author's Chair with my 6th group of 6th Graders
Katia was one of my sixth grade students during the 2008-2009 school year, my last in Phoenix as I worked on completing my Master's degree at ASU. This particular group got my very first attempts at Reading Workshop, back when I really didn't know what I was doing, but was trying like you-know-what to make it all work. Because of the work we did that year in reading and writing, that was my first class to be so bonded over stories and conversations about books and our quarterly Author's Chair writing celebrations. In 2009, I came to Chicago, but when that group in Phoenix had their promotion in 2011, my colleague (and one of best friends) Liz and I went back as a surprise to all the eighth graders who were being promoted to high school:

Katia and I, 2011

Liz, one of the best teachers I know!

May is a time of celebrations: end-of-the-year trips, memory books, retirement parties, graduations. It's a time to reflect on our work and remember all those people who have guided us and helped us along our way. It's a time of the year that I just love - seeing former students as successful graduates and moving on to their future goals is the reason I do what I do.

It would be a lie if I told you that I was fine missing out on all of this. Please don't misunderstand: I love my coaching position! It's just not the same because I'm missing those super invested relationships with kids. Is this something that should concern me? If, two years later I'm still thinking about it, am I meant to be a classroom teacher? I know there are no easy answers, but I know I won't keep receiving emails like the one above should I continue coaching. And if I'm being totally honest, that email - that's the reason I continue to be passionate about public education.

Coaches, admins, former classroom teachers: Do you struggle with the same thing? Please share!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

on your mark book study - session 2

Hi all and welcome back for the On Your Mark book study! Apologies for being so late with it today, but it's a super hectic time with end-of-the-year activities going on, but I know you all know what I'm talking about!

Today we are discussing chapters 3-6 - whichever pertain to your grade level and/or interests. These chapters include discussions on:

Chapter 3: Challenge Plus and Minus and Half-Grade Increments
Chapter 4: Challenge Bell-Shaped Grade Distributions
Chapter 5: Challenge the Computation of Class Rank
Chapter 6: Challenge the Use of a Single Grade

Ideas in chapters 3 and 6, in particular stood out to me. So, I'd like to share a few insights from those chapters with you!

Illusion of Precision (p. 37)
In chapter 3, Guskey discusses the fact that the more categories for grades their are, the harder it is to evaluate what the student can actually do. Take the 100 point grading scale: when it's combined with the 0, there are then 101 categories with which to rate. With the A B C D F scale, including plusses and minuses, there are 12. Guskey writes,
"What do you suppose would happen in the number of distinct levels of performance in that grading scale was increased to include twelve categories? Do you think consistent ratings would be easier to attain? Actually, quite the opposite would occur. Significant psychometric research shows that the largest number of categories that can be use to yield acceptably consisten or reliable scoring is five to seven at most. Even with extensive training, acceptable consistency among human graders simply cannot be achieved with a grading scale that includes as many as twelve categories."
So while it seems like a B+ would reveal that the child is "more B" than a B-, it doesn't really tell us what the child can or can't do. On the other hand, when teachers write rubrics to describe student learning, student abilities become very clear.

Now that we've started using Standards Based Grading (SBG), we use a four point scale. Sometimes it's even hard to get four indicators that could describe student progress on one particular standard. Take this first grade standard, for example:

Could you imagine writing 12 or more categories to describe learning? But I guess I'm getting away from the point, because the traditional 100 point and the ABCDF scales don't name specific learning - they are just an average of points. When a student walks out of a writing class with the traditional grading methods, what does that A or B or 77% really mean? With rubrics like the one above, we can really convey what students can and can't do, and provide a pathway to exemplary work!

Hodgepodge Grading (p. 73)
Anyone who has kept grades in a traditional manner is guilty of this. You have grades for homework (completion and/or for accuracy). Then there's grades for participation, for effort, for tests, quizzes, projects. All these are reduced to numbers, averaged together, and a final grade is reported. But, what does that final grade really tell us? A student who earned an A or a B from me, what does that mean? Really good? Good?

Instead of the traditional grading, SBG supports the idea of multiple grades within one content area. Grades would be reported for Product, Process, and in some cases, Progress.

This includes academic achievement and performance on learning tasks. This grade reports what the students know and are able to do, for example, grades on assessments and projects.

This reflects how students students get to the final learning; their effort, homework, participation, responsibility, and/or work habits.

How much learning the student gained; usually used with an Individualized Education Plan, and it reports on how much learning students gained in the unit.

So the students who do no homework, but always master content and get to the learning, they would earn a high score for Product, but a low score for Process. On the other hand, students who do every assignment on time, but still struggle to master learning concepts would earn high marks for Process, but lower marks for Product. You can see how this kind of grade reporting would provide students and teachers with more information that really reflects what students can and can't do.

What are your thoughts about SBG? The more I think about it, the more I realize it is something that makes sense in my mind! Although I'm not a classroom teacher anymore, this would be the way I would want to report to families and students how they are doing in my class.

Please share your ideas about these chapters! Write a blog and link it up with me below!

The final book study post will be next Thursday, May 28th. I so promise to be on time! :-)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

book study - coming soon!

Soooo....the book study is today. And my post still isn't ready. End of the year has got me, but I promise it will be coming this weekend!

Did you read chapters 3-6 of On Your Mark? Get your posts ready to link up on Saturday!

Hey, it's okay to miss one deadline here and there, right?

Have a great night!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

#hashtags #AreAwesome

I'm sure you've seen this video of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake making fun of hashtags:

And maybe you've seen shirts like this mocking hashtags:

And I too thought they were annoying at first. But truth be told: Hashtags serve an awesome purpose in the Twittersphere!

Think of a hashtag as a label. I compose tweets about literacy mostly - reading workshop, writing workshop, balanced literacy, phonics, etc. So when I use a hashtag in my Tweets, other Twitter users who do not follow me may find me because of the hashtags I choose and include to "label" my tweets.

For example, if I tweet about the different ways to spell the long and short u, and I include #phonics in my Tweet, other users who are interested in phonics might find my tweet and then follow me if they are interested in the content I shared.

If I post about my student bloggers on Instagram and use a hashtag like #edtech or #technologyintheclassroom, or I simply put a hash tag before the word blog or bloggers or blogging, lots of people will be able to find me if they search for blog stuff.

If I am tweeting related to my alma matter, and I use #ASU in the tweet, other users who are interested in information related to ASU would be able to find my Tweet if they search #ASU.

This is exactly how I find new people to follow - I search hash tags related to the content I'm interested in:


And, it's a great way for me to gain followers on Instagram and Twitter.

So, next time you want to mock someone and their hashtags, give them a break - they're probably hoping to build their audience!

and one of the best things: I love the funny people out there making jokes with their hashtags! Check out #herecomesthemonkey for some interesting content!

Happy Thursday!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

it's gonna be may

Yep, you heard me right! :-)

It's May and time to link up with Farley for her Currently partay, my favorite post of the month!

So here's what's going on in my neck of the woods!

Listening to the Mowgli's!
My boyfriend knows me so good. The other day he played this song for me, telling me it sounded like a "Michelle song:"

He was right. I downloaded it right away on iTunes and then he told me about another song, San Francisco:

So cute, right? Maybe you just found two new favorite songs like I did!

Loving....The Book of Mormon!

I saw it last Tuesday and it's so good. I've seen a few Broadway shows and this one and Wicked are my fave. The video above is the opening number, and here's my favorite one, Turn it Off (but this version is not even close to as good as the one I just saw...but you get the idea!)

Anyways, I just love, Love, LOVED this musical. Super funny. You should definitely check it out!

Thinking about summer vacation!
This week was a tough one. I'm just really ready for a break - sitting in the sunshine, visiting friends and family, making it to the beach, maybe finally getting a puppy? Need a break from work and some time unwind and take care of myself. Who's with me?

Wanting to go to Vegas
I really really REALLY want to go to Vegas for the TpT conference but I said yes to a conference here in IL and the dates overlap. I'm so mad I didn't check the schedule....maybe next year? :-(

Needing this weird cough to go away
It's the annoying one where it feels like you have an itch in the way back of your throat? Yesterday, one of the little firsties that comes to my office for group with our reading specialist says all concerned, "Are you OK?!" Not cool to get the springtime cold!

Yes, a hope, and a dream

Yes, definitely going to visit my family in Florida and my friends in California; I'm hoping to teach at the university to the Reading Specialist program in July, and dreaming about getting my dog after travels...Dudley. He's a mini-golden doodle and I've been thinking about him for YEARS!

What are you up to? Make sure to hop on over to Farley's blog and get in on the action!

Happy Saturday!
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