Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Teaching is personal.

I don't often write about emotional things on my blog, but today I'm feeling emotional.  Often, John Spencer's posts remind me of how I feel.  Teaching is personal.  One he posted today reminded me of that yet again.

I've cried two times within the past 24 hours in my classroom.  One experience involved parents and another students.  I was talking to Russ (the best husband in the world) about this last night, and he made a good analogy.  Sometimes we as teachers are treated like customer service representatives (ya know, the people you call on the phone when your internet is down...we all love them so much...*sarcasm*).  We hear snippets from parents and kids. We hear the negatives, often in quick spouts of anger or complaining.

Many parents and most students don't truly understand the passion, effort, and care we put into our craft.  They cut us down because we made an error; they comment about how boring things are; they comment negatively on how or what we teach.  It's rare that we hear how great we're doing.  It's rare to hear appreciation for the passion, effort, and care we put into planning and facilitating the learning in our spaces.  Just like customer service reps rarely hear that a product is awesome and meets or exceeds expectations.

Teaching is personal.  We are blessed with the few outside our profession that notice this.  I had an brushing with one of those today.

"Hey, Mrs. Goerend, I saw you crying in the principal's office yesterday.  Are you ok?" - student
"I am.  Thanks for asking." - me

It was a simple exchange but meant more than this student could know.

So I have a request for you.  If you are a parent to a school-aged child, contact your child's teacher(s)  to share your positive "customer service experiences."  Teaching is personal to them, too, and I know they will appreciate you noticing.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Update: If you give kids a meaningful project...

The AVerMedia project was a success, and we don't even know if we are in the competition for the company prize!  The students learned so much about the products!  I tried to get the AVerPens set up to film our commercial and was struggling with it, but many kids stepped up and helped solve the problem.  Everyone participated in filming the commercial even if they weren't given permission by their parents to be IN the film.  Those students were the videographers.  We got all the filming completed for the video in just a few hours and the rest of the students were quiet and attentive while others were filming. 

I'm so proud of them and how they well they did with this project.  They worked amazingly in their small groups because they had a direct purpose - learn about the product and then create a short clip on a problem it solves. 

Below is the final commercial.  You'll see 5 small problem/solution segments.  Each segment was put together by one of the 5 teams.  Our commercial had to be 2 minutes or less, so it's quick, but I was able to get it edited together to be 1:58!  Enjoy!

Monday, October 25, 2010

If you give kids a meaningful project...

they will take off with it and amaze you!

Angela Maiers dropped off a bag of tech stuff from AVerMedia for my class.  She told my students that they are to research it, learn about it, and teach her about it.  There's also a lovely contest with the company that will be an end result.

My students are so excited about this project!  We talked about how to go about it, they have divided themselves into diverse research teams based on their strengths and weaknesses, and plan to use their recesses and study halls to research.

The bag of tech includes a document camera, 4 student AVerPens, and 1 teacher AVerPen.   There's also directions for the document camera, but no directions for the AVerPens.  I haven't really given the kids any help besides showing them the company's website and being a guide in arranging times for the teams to work with the tech.

Today I was totally amazed!  Two teams had worked with the tech so far.  They'd figured out how to hook up the document camera and how to charge the pens.  I challenged the 3 teams working on the project today to really figure out how the AVerPens work.  They were getting caught up with trying to use them on the Promethean board we have in the room, so we had to talk about how the Promethean pens work just with the Promethean board.

We talked about how they needed an instruction manual for the pens.  I simply directed them to the AVerMedia website and pointed out where the manual might be.  They noted right away that on the downloads page there was also a link to software.  We had a quick discussion about what software is and they started to connect the dots! 

All three groups working on it today were digging into the instruction manual.  They got the pens working as a mouse on the computer!  I even had a student run up to the second floor to see how far the wireless signal of the pens can reach. The had some hiccups with downloading the software, but I think they'll be ready to go with it tomorrow.

This is kind of a rambling post, but it's just so exciting to see the project evolving in my classroom.  The kids want to stay in at recess to work on it.  They're in diverse teams (not necessarily with their friends) and are getting along.  They know we may not get the "prize" but have a desire to learn/play/explore.

This is a true, real life experience, with reading comprehension!  They are reading instructions and following them.

This is a true, real life experience, with writing.  The students are recording their findings in a variety of formats.  They are summarizing their work and making sure they can tell other groups what they have discovered.

This is true, real life, problems-based learning task.

I can't wait to share more as the project continues and as we record a video/commercial for AVerMedia.

What meaningful projects are you working to engage your students in?  

Friday, October 15, 2010

It's the little things...

I've been in a kind of a slump the past few weeks.  School has been bumming me out.  Frustration has been taking over.

I've done two little things in my room that have gotten me a tiny bit out of this slump.  They both come down to one little word.


1. During our study hall time, it can get loud.  I get grouchy.  So, I put together a Grooveshark playlist.  I asked each of the students to tell me a couple of their favorite (school appropriate) songs and made a list. I now play that in study hall and it's lightened the mood. It's also a lesson in tolerance of everyone's music tastes.

2. My students share about their independent reading with me once a week.  For the last three years, the students have turned in a letter written in their notebook in classic Fountas and Pinnell style.   Now I have 3 options for the students.  They can turn in their letter, record their response on our new Flip cameras from Digital Wish, or blog their response on our classroom blog.  I've already had 3+ students blog their responses and two students record their responses on the Flip.  I'm especially excited because the two students who recorded their responses on the Flip are students who usually have late letters.  I think the writing aspect of it was hindering them.

This week, my burdens and feelings of burnout have been lessenedChoice can be a little thing that can make a big difference.

What are some little things you do in your classroom to encourage choice?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why Blog?

Below is from the mouths of my students when thinking about their blogs today.  We will start writing on them this week.
Why blog? What should we use it for?
  • Share our writing
  • Get constructive criticism - improve your writing
  • Share writing with relatives
  • Comment on other people’s writing - improves their writing
  • Turning in assignments - easier for Mrs. Goerend (less paper)
  • Share your free writing - get feedback
  • Share pictures about what we’re doing
    • Get people’s opinion on something for a project.
  • Ask readers for feedback
  • Get ideas for specific parts of your writing (introduction, conclusion, etc.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Red Group

First, some background:

Our 6th grade is departmentalized, meaning I teach my own students' reading, writing, and spelling.  I then teach math to my own class and the two other  classes.  One of the other 6th grade teachers teaches science, and the other teaches social studies.  This is the way it's pretty much been for the three years I've been in the district. 

From about the second day of school I could tell that this group of 6th graders as a whole was pretty divided.  We have a good amount of students who score low on standardized tests in math and a good amount who score high.  There aren't a lot in the middle.  

This week the students took MAP tests.  The scores again showed quite the gap.  There are many above and many below the math norms, but not a lot in the middle.  I knew this was coming, so I decided to split the classes more or less by ability so that I can slow things down for the lower achieving students and really make sure they get solid on the essentials.

Now on to the real point of my post....

Today I was working on relabeling the folders where students hand in their assignments.  To make it easier, I just labeled the classes red, white, and blue, since those are our school colors.  Before I just called them Mrs. Goerend's class, Mrs. _________'s class and Mrs. ________'s class.  The kids are used to this change happening because they've been divided by ability for math for the past two years.

One student saw me doing this and said, "The red group is the kids that are bad at math, isn't it?"

"No," I said. " It's actually not." 

It was so sad to me to hear that.  We all know the teachers who label kids red (low), yellow (medium), and green (high).  Or there's plenty of other ways teachers label groups.  I just have to label them SOMETHING besides by teacher's name because I have to label the hand-in folders.

When we tell the kids tomorrow what colored class they are in, they are going to know which is the low class (and it's not the red group).  Kids aren't oblivious to who is better and who is worse at things.  The other two are mixed among higher and medium achieving.  I can about guarantee that some kid is going to say in the low class, "We're the kids that are bad at math." 

How do you respond to this?  

It's such a touchy subject. They just need it taught at a different pace.  They may need additional practice.  We may work with order of operations with just whole numbers and not decimals, so they don't have to think about two things at once. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Standards-Base Grading: What I've changed this year

This year, I'm on my second full year of using standards-based grading in math.  I've kept a lot of things the same, but am continually tweaking things.  For one, I used to give completion points for homework, just 2 points per assignment.  But, this year I'm not giving any points for assignments, which purifies the students' grades to just scores for standards.  Instead, I am just tallying if the students complete their homework and turn it in.  I hope that I can share this completion percentage with parents and students every so often so that they might see a correlation.

I've also added to the requirements of being able to retake a learning target.  Students must either have a study session with me or turn in some practice problems they did before they can take a retake.  I decided to do this this year because I would have many students in the past that would say, "Oh, I have to take a retake today?"  It was obvious to me that students would not prepare for the retake and often make the same mistakes that they did on the original quiz.  I guess I am forcing them to study, but they need to do some sort of studying to learn what they were missing the first time around. 

If you are using standards-based grading, how is it going?  Have you made any discoveries lately?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Reading Aloud to Students

It's amazing what reading aloud to your students will do. 

For the past 4 years,  I have started the year off reading The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau.  I teach 6th grade...and the book's reading level is a grade equivalent of 5.1.  It's an independent level book for 75% of my students, but I'm still reading it to them.  

We're nearing the end, and each day when I have to put it away, they are begging me to continue reading.   Kids crave a good story.  They will sit and listen.  They enjoy it.  It makes them think.  They discuss the story and make predictions in the lunch line.  They want to get caught up with what is happening when they've been absent and miss a day of reading.

I have one copy of the second book in the series, The People of Sparks, in my classroom library.  The cover is not connected to the book anymore and held together by tape.  I just ordered a second copy from and am awaiting its arrival. 

There's no technology involved in my reading aloud to the students.  No flashy screens, cameras, or sound effects are attached to the book.  It's just a good story.

No wonder my education professor, Dr. Susan Sherwood, stressed that you should read to your students every day.  I'm a believer. 

What have you read to your students lately? 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Classroom Bloggers

I gave my sixth graders a username and password for access to my classroom blog. 

I now have two student "jobs" each day.  One student is the blogger of the day and the other the photographer of the day. 

I gave them 2 guidelines:
1-Take no photos of students' faces.  I don't want to have to deal with permission for that yet.
2- Write something acceptable for your parents to read.  This makes sense because all of their parents get an email of blog posts delivered to them daily via FeedBurner

So far, it has been good!  The 3 bloggers of the day have come at the end of the day with something to write about.  The 2 photographers of the day have had a picture ready to share and a caption to add.  It's been fun to see the photographers (and their friends) ponder what to take a picture of.  We have even received a couple comments, one of which we have drafted a class response to. 

Why am I doing this?  Doesn't it take up extra time?
Sure it does!  My goal is to teach my students through experience how to appropriately communicate online.  Our class blog is a purposeful place for them to do this.

Check out what they are doing on our classroom blog!

Are you doing this in your classroom?  If not, why?  If yes, what suggestions do you have for how I could make this more purposeful?

Monday, August 2, 2010

I need Hans and Franz...

I'm trying to get pumped up for the school year, but it isn't quite happening!

One thing I've been pondering lately is the thought of getting to know my students.  Last year I had two classrooms of students I had to get to know, and this year there will be three classrooms. I feel like the starting activities I use aren't exciting.  How do you get to know your students?  There's always the ice breaker questions, the glyphs, the little write-ups to put on the bulletin board, even digital formats.  What formats have you used most successfully?  I really have no computer access with 2 out of the 3 classrooms of kids I will be working with.  

Something else I have been dwelling on is my IWB.  I will have a Promethan board this year complete with clickers and slate.  I know there are so many people that bash IWBs, and maybe that's part of what is hindering me getting pumped up for the school year.  I need to hear some good things about IWBs.  It's how my district chose to use some tech money, it's installed in my room, and I want to use it to it's fullest.  People with IWBs, how to you use them?

Share your experiences here.  Converse with me.  Pump me up!

P.S. If you don't get the Hans and Franz mention, you're missing some classic SNL!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Next just around the corner!

Just two months ago, I blogged about developing a list of changes for the next school year.  It's hard to believe that "next year" is almost here!

I report back to school for in service in just 11 days!  I have added a few things to my list over the summer including having students be guest bloggers on my classroom blog and that students who sign up for retakes must come in for a help session or show evidence of extra practice before they retake an assessment.  I'm also diving in to standards-based grading full on!  My school decided to implement a benchmark report card for reading/LA and math.  I'm THE 6th grade math teacher, so that's me!  I will be working to develop a benchmark report card very soon!

What are some things you're going to change in your classroom this fall?!  I would LOVE to hear your ideas!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What can you get at #iste10 for FREE?

I'm not talking about the little giveaways from the vendors, friends!

I did not pay to attend any of the formal ISTE conference.  Why? 1) It's somewhat expensive. 2) I have a 5 month old.

I did, however, come to Denver for some of the conference aspects that were free!

I attended EduBloggerCon.  This was my first EduBloggerCon, and I was in love with the organization of the day.  People just signed up for what they want to talk about on big sheets of paper.  Then, people signed the papers to show their interest in the sessions.  The sessions were organized into time slots and locations and off we went to discuss!

I had some AWESOME conversations with people and also did a great deal of just listening.  I was involved in conversations about personal branding (which got me thinking about what happens when you google me, but that's a whole different blog post), best practices in student blogging (check out some notes from the session here), and probably the discussion that got the most people fired up was the conversation facilitated by Jon Becker about the term PLN.

I attended two tweet ups and got to meet many people I "know" from Twitter.   A tweet up sounds like a silly thing, but it was awesome to be able to sit and converse with people who have the same nerdy/educational interests as me in an informal environment and in more than 140 characters!  I mean, who knew I'd end up having a conversation Google Docs at Hard Rock Cafe at 9pm on a Sunday night?

Tonight I am headed to #edchat.  This weekly conversation usually happens on Twitter each Tuesday night and the topic is selected by the participants.  I don't even know what the topic is, but it is always great conversation! This week, people at #iste10 are getting together to have a live #edchat!

My FREE experience at #iste10 was FULL of conversations!  I know I missed out on so much by attending the actual conference, but I already told Russ that we are saving up and both attending #iste11!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

How I use the RT

I really enjoy being on Twitter. I participate in many conversations, both education related and not.  I love the amount of resources shared as well.  I'm not on Twitter 24/7, and I don't think many of us can be.  Sometimes I feel like I miss out on resources and conversations because I can't get back in the feed far enough...shoot..sometime I can barely keep up with what is going on in the present! 

I've noticed a lot of people retweet things right after they are shared.  This is a great method if you have a larger following than the person who RTed the post in the first place.  I, however, probably have a smaller following than many of the people that I follow.  So, I've taken a different spin on the RT.  Lately you may have noticed that I'm RTing things that are old....days old...hours old...maybe in some cases weeks old.  I'm trying to do this to benefit people like me who can't be on Twitter all the time.  I've been taking posts that are of interest, favoriting them, and then looking back through my favorites each day and posting a few, either from earlier in the day for those that weren't on at that time or days earlier because some people can't be on Twitter every day.

So, if you notice I post something you tweeted out a while ago, I'm not really that far behind.  It's not a glitch in the system.  I'm just trying to help out others like me who can't participate all the time. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Motivation Struggle

Today I did something I don't like doing... I forced kids to stay in for recess.  I said, "If you didn't understand the math homework from last night, and I can look at your work and tell that, you won't get to help with the lower elementary field day this afternoon."  Slowly, after rewording that a few times and the students figuring out I was serious, they trickled over from the "go out to recess line" to the "stay in line." 

I felt like I was holding them captive, against their will, (except for those few who decided to come in before I made the "threat") as we looked over the assignment again, I did some reteaching, and then students worked or reworked the problems.  See, I give the answers to the math homework so they can get feedback automatically as to if they are doing it correctly instead of waiting until it's checked by me.  They can see right away if they "get it" or not.

One might say that you shouldn't give students work outside of the classroom until you are sure they can do it on their own, and I agree with that.  But I get this response from many of them in class....I actually have this Baby Blues comic posted on my bulletin board.  We work problems on individual white boards in class, and they seem to get it.  Does it just fall out of their heads when they leave?  Retention is not the big question I'm struggling with here.

The big question I'm struggling with and have been for a while is: WHY DON'T STUDENTS CARE?  Why won't they come in to get help?  When is it my job to force them to come in so they get help?  When is it their turn to step up and take responsibility for their own learning?  

I know I'm dwelling on the negative here...I should celebrate the kids who came in on their own.  Today I did not do that, and that is something I regret and will learn from...but with 8 days of school left, I'm kind of at my wits' end. 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

It only took until 7th grade...

As I walked into school the other morning, I ran into a student who I had last year.  This student was quite the challenge and we had our ups and downs, but he's a great kid and we really came to understand each other.  I asked how math was going, since I know 7th grade math can be a challenge, and he said it was going ok...that he goes in for help a lot.  Then he said something that really fired me up...he's been reading...a lot!  Last year I BATTLED with this gentleman to read.  I mean BATTLED...nothing interested him, books were dumb, reading was boring...

In 7th grade, the students study the Holocaust and WWII in Social Studies.  This topic really interested this student and now he cannot stop reading about it. 

It's just a shame that it took until his 7th grade year for this student to find a topic that interests him so much that he can't stop reading about it.   

How can we reach these students earlier?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Next Year...

As the year comes to a close, I think many teachers are in a state of exhaustion and reflection at the same time.  I know I am. There are many thoughts in my head about what I will do differently next year.  I've started a Google Doc that is a list of what I want to make sure I change, do for the first time, or don't do at all next year.  I'm doing this so that I don't forget over the summer what I'm feeling in these last days.

A few things on  my list are:
  • Use a Google form to collect kids' and parents' information.
  • Discuss what I expect from students when they return from being absent.
  • Make a video of a good literature circle and show students how it should work.
  • Discuss that I don't give extra credit.

What will you change, add, or drop next year?  I encourage you to make a list.  I feel like mine is growing every day!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Is equal ever equal?

Here's an idea.  I don't even know if I agree with it, but it's been on my mind the past few days...

I interviewed at a smaller district a few years back and at the end of the interview, I was told that they wanted a commitment from me.  They didn't want me to use their district as a "stepping stone" to get into a larger, better paying district in the area.  Small schools are constantly dealing with a revolving door of new teachers who start there and then move on to greener pastures with better pay. 

What if all schools had the same pay scale? 

State-wide?  Nation-wide?  I know cost of living differs in areas, so maybe nation-wide is a stretch.  What are your thoughts?  I'm not sure what mine are...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"I didn't get it done..."

Aren't those the words we dread from our students?  I rarely talk to a teacher who doesn't have some problem with late or incomplete work.  Usually, we get excuses.

"I didn't get it done because I forgot my book."

"I didn't get it done because my brother spilled milk on it."

"I didn't get it done because I had volleyball practice."

What if we teach our students to look forward instead of informing us about the past?

Let's teach them to replace the because with so.  I really don't care WHY it wasn't done.  I want to know what THEY are going to do to get it done!

Teach your students to say,

"I didn't get it done so I'm going to come in after school to finish it."

"I didn't get it done so I will get it to you by tomorrow."

"I didn't get it done so I will get another worksheet and get working on it in study hall."

Wouldn't you love to be done with excuses and see students taking responsibility?  I'm returning to work from 8 weeks of maternity leave on Monday and I'm going to try this out!  Give it a try and let me know how it goes!  To me it's just a small change in mindset that can make a big difference.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Maternity Leave

For any of you teachers out there that also wear the hat of mom, maternity leave is a two word phrase that can be scary, freeing, and overwhelming all in one.  I'm due with our first child on February 8th...which is just 23 days away!  From the middle of the summer when I notified my principal of the news, the process began.  He was concerned with finding the right sub to take over my classroom because of the math content I teach.  As you know, some elementary teachers are scared of math, but that's a whole different post. 

The preparation for the sub taking over my room has really made me reflect on all that goes on in my classroom - a lot!  Communicating with my sub about my standards-based math grading system including how I grade homework, score quizzes, and allow retakes was just one part of it!  My students also write to me about what they're reading once a week, and I respond.  They also use Google Docs and Blogger in the writing process!  (Check out their writing at: and leave some feedback!)  These are some of the major things.  Then there's the, "This student may do this...."  "This student is always reliable...."  "Our morning routine looks like this..."

I have basic plans worked out until my due date, and my sub seems very capable of picking up and continuing wherever I leave off.  I did have some thoughts in this preparation like, "Can she handle it all?  Should I cut some things out?  Will she grade the quizzes correctly?  Should she just bring them to me so I can do it?"  The answers to these questions have ended up being, "Yes, she can handle it.  I will not cut things out because my students still need to be learning while I'm not there.  She can grade the quizzes and just ask me if she has questions.  No, I will not grade quizzes while I'm on leave." 

My district wonderfully paid the sub to come in earlier this month and shadow me for a day so she can see how things run and where things are.  I feel very confident that my class will be in good hands while I'm gone. 

  • Will I miss it?  Yes, but I can still see and interact with what my students are doing through their work on the blog. 
  • Will I be where I need to be?  Yes!   That's a given.
  • Will learning continue while I'm gone?  YES! 

Monday, January 11, 2010

Book Bistro

Last year I wanted to find a different way of doing the classic "book report."  I do the First 20 Days of Reading from the book Guiding Readers and Writers in my classroom.  This system of Reader's Workshop relies on reader's response letters and book recommendations.  Some students really struggle with finding good books, so I thought a fun venue to share books would be a cafe-like atmosphere.  Last year, we called it Book Cafe, but since some teachers have been implementing the Daily 5 and The Cafe Menu, I didn't want the two cafes to be confused.  Thus, this year we changed the name to Book Bistro. 

Our elementary operates on trimesters, so we have 3 rounds of Book Bistro.  Each student presents one time per trimester.  With my class of 22 students, we hold 4 Book Bistros per trimester so there are 5-6 students presenting at each.  This usually takes up an hour of our morning, but it's definitely worth it.  It helps the students presenting work on oral communication, and the listeners get to hear about some great books!  The students have a list of ideas to choose from, but as you can see, they may also come up with their own idea and get my approval.  We've had some great presentations this year including a newscast shot on multiple locations!

Because it is a cafe or bistro atmosphere, the students presenting bring in treats and beverages for the listeners to enjoy as they present.  I've even had students bring specific food because it relates to their book!  

At the beginning of the year, I held my own Book Bistro for the students.  I brought the treats and modeled three different ways to present with three books that I enjoy.  We also discussed proper "cafe etiquette" including not scarfing down your food, sipping your beverage, sitting quietly, and not getting up to throw things away when someone is presenting.

Students really seem to enjoy this venue for sharing books.  It's fun to hear them tell me ," This book is GREAT!  I think I'm going to share it at the next Book Bistro."  Talk about motivated readers!