Showing posts from 2010

Grades: Understanding, not Obedience

The New York Times got me thinking, in its November 28, 2010 article "No More A's for Good Behavior."  The Potsdam, NY Public Schools, led by Superintendent Patrick Brady, are right on.  As I concluded in a previous blog post, "Extra Credit: The Downfall of America?", grades must be a reflection of knowledge learned, information synthesized, skills demonstrated, not a reflection of behavior.

I have opened up the following conversation individually with teachers, but have not yet taken it on with the staff of the whole school in which I work - yet.  Grades must not be a reflection of behavior, but of understanding.  This includes the a big piece of student responsibility: homework.  The excuse that "if students do not homework and are not penalized for not completing it, then won't ever learn to do it!" is simply hogwash.  We should be creating homework assignments that are essential, and if it uncomfortably illuminates our own homework policies, t…

Extra Credit: The Downfall of America?

I feel dizzy from the number of times I have flip-flopped on the topic of extra credit in schools.  As a middle school educator, I am flooded with requests from students, "Please, Mr. G.  Is there any way I can do extra credit?  Pleeeeeeease?"  Some years, heart strings were tugged in September, and my policy was made for me.  Other years, however, I stood strong and tall, feeling a bit like an ogre, saying "So sorry, I don't do extra credit," but unsure about the WHY behind this statement.  Once I thought long and hard about extra credit, and its potential damaging effect on my classroom, and exponentially my school, my state, and beyond, I decided that extra credit was a dirty little secret, and simply had to go.

Why?  Extra credit, sitting innocently enough by itself, doesn't sound so sinister, right?  I found that more often than not, extra credit was being requested by students who wanted to raise their grade.  What a fantastic situation: eag…

#masscue reflections...a bit late!

I attended the Massachusetts Computer Using Educators (#MassCue) Conference in October at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  Besides being able to simultaneously watch outstanding workshops and progress my own learning, I also was able to watch the Patriots practice from the luxury box in which I was sitting...pretty awesome!  (But: no pictures allowed!)

I collected lots of links, attended several workshops, and gathered resources from presenters and colleagues alike.  Below you'll find a plethora of disorganized links, essentially in chronological order of when I learned of them at MassCue.

Back at school, my goal: deeply explore one resource per day, considering ways to incorporate into the classroom.  I've also decided that in lieu of a traditional grade level meeting, we'll have a knock-down, drag-out, down-and-dirty Exploration Party of the links, giving staff members some time to work with their "content buddies" to discover, explore and create, br…

Middle School Homework Tips for Parents

Prioritize homework assignments.  Based on difficulty levels and due dates, created a numbered to-do list each afternoon/evening to help your child efficiently complete their homework.Learn to advocate for themselves.  If an assignment is confusing to your child, they need clarificaiton, or additional support from their teacher, discuss with your child to whom they should speak and about what, including specific questions to get the help they need.Create a calendar for long-term assignments.  It is helpful for students to use a blank monthly calendar to plan time they will need, backwards, from the due date of assignments.  Try color-coding for various classes; this will help students better chart out their after-school time.Have a consistent work time.  Everyone deserves some down time, especially after a long day at school!  Allow your child some time to relax and unwind, encourage them to stay hydrated, and have a consistent start time for homework.  There's not…

Middle School Teaming

Two researchers from Northern Kentucky University, Christopher Cook and Shawn Faulkner, conducted a study of two middle schools in Kentucky that had effective teaming at the middle grades level.  This study clearly listed the benefits of having common planning and meeting time at the middle school level, a crucial time for students in their educational career.  In order to support students at the middle school level, it is important for common planning time and meetings to occur.  Although this model can be costly, when properly implemented with tight-loose leadership from the administration, the benefit to student learning and support is nearly endless.

Cook and Faulkner make the argument for three types of meetings at the middle school level:
Interdisciplinary Teams: these teams, made up of adults that teach different subjects but the same students, should meet regularly, to address:
Scheduling changes
Student concerns
Students receiving services
Behavior issues in classrooms
Team activit…

Helping Oneself Help Others

“You need to take care of yourself first.
If you don't care for yourself, you can't take care of someone else.”

-Kathleen O'Brien

As a new school leader, I think that sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves and stop to reflect.  This afternoon I got the opportunity to stop and reflect with other new assistant principals in the Boston area, thanks to a roundtable discussion hosted by the MSSAA in Franklin, MA.  It's funny, the fact that as school leaders, we ask teachers to stop and reflect on their practice, to focus on student learning, and we ask students to stop, and assess their learning, and revise their goals, and to keep on going!  As an administrator, we don't have many other checks, besides our peers and our superiors to stop and reflect.  And often times, we all (other administrators) are also running around like mad men and women, assessing their ever-expanding to-do list, and trying desperately, all the while, to spend time in classrooms and with…

My Hopes as an Educator

As I exit the classroom, I am coming to terms with the reality that my impact on students will be in another forum as Assistant Principal.  A secondary impact on students as the Guy-Who-Schedules-The-School isn't as glamorous as creating an awesome learning expedition that directly impacts students and their learning...but just as important?  Yes, I think so.

I dusted out my journal from my first year of teaching and revisited some of my journal entries and reflections.  Much of what I reread from those years ago still applies to my hopes as an educator of middle schoolers, though not as a classroom teacher:

1st Year Teacher ReflectionAdministrator Hope"Overwhelmed and excited.  These are the two words that describe how I am feeling." (September)I hope to feel mostly excited (though I'm sure I will feel overwhelmed at some point!) throughout the entire year."I didn't realize how much I would be looking back and thinking about what I had taught and how I had t…

School Opening Kickoff Videos: August Inspiration

After spending time scouring the web, I've zeroed in on the following videos clips as the ones I believe to possess the most potential to use with staff to kick off the school year in August.  Please feel free to comment, add to the list, share, RT, or let me know what you think!

If you have a video that's worthwhile to share you think is missing from this list, please, by all means leave a comment below or tweet me with the URL.

A Vision of K12 Students TodayA Vision of All Kinds of StudentsShift Happens (2010)Did You Know (4.0)?The EssayEducation Today and TomorrowA Brave New World-Wide-WebI teach, therefore you learn...or do you?Mr. Winkle WakesPay AttentionNo Future Left BehindBaby Squirrel LearnsDo You Teach or Educate?100 Ways to Show Children You CareStarkville MS: BelieveWe ThinkDalton Sherman: Do You Believe in Me?Adora Svitak: What Adults Can Learn From Kids

Kurzweil in Middle School

I am not a reading specialist.  And I do not play one on TV.

I am, however, a middle school educator.  And I know what works.

Through several years of trial and error, research and reflection, I found the value in using Kurzweil, a text-to-read program, which I believe can transform the way students read and write.  Initially introduced to me as a special education accommodation (for which it works well), I discovered the power in using it mainstreamed across the curriculum and across all classes.

From what I have seen, good readers don't just happen.  Certainly, some students are simply gifted readers, but even the "best readers" in middle school are likely good readers because they work at it: they are avid readers, and therefore have become good readers.  The best readers have created and/or learned strategies that work for them to make them effective readers.  Weaker readers don't lack the ability to be good readers, but just lack the strategies that good readers…

Becoming an Administrator

We ask our students, especially in middle school, to work on transitions, changes, to Never Give Up!  Reach For The Stars!  Change Is Good!  And now, here I am, hovering above myself, trying to remeber the advice I gave my students.  I am two weeks into a new path, a shift in my professional life, and it is exciting, scary, challenging, and invigorating!  I have shifted my middle school educator role from classroom teacher to assistant principal.  With no students in the building, it has become a great time to reflect about my hopes, fears, challenges, and excitements.

More than anything, I am excited to impact the lives of middle school students on a broader scale.  Looking back to my purpose for wanting to become an administrator, it was that - I want to help impact the lives of more students than just those in my classroom.  It is with this idealistic view that I enter into July and August, albeit with no students or staff in the building!  I am excited about helping to develop pro…

Joining the Web 2.0 World for Educators

20.5 Century Education

I was floored by a statistic cited in the Boston Globe article "Parents seek balance as screens’ allure grows." It states that, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, American kids between 8 and 18 spend seven and a half (7.5!) hours in front of a computer screen, phone, TV, or some other electronic screen. In 2004, it was just one and a half hours. If this trend continues, in six years, will students be spending nearly every non-school hour in front of a screen? I can only stop and wonder: Is this the reason my students are always so tired in school? Perhaps it's because my cluster's English class just finished reading Fahrenheit 451, but are we leading our students down the road of awake-all-day, awake-all-night, with no down time to stop, reflect, and think? Guy Montag would be concerned.

In middle school (and adolescence), exploration and testing boundaries is normal, typical, and healthy. Like anything, however, balance is key. The Globe suggests that, like a…


The past few days I have been using Kurzweil 3000 with my 7th and 8th grade students. It's been about a year since I have used it, as our district was updating licenses and reimaging computers. Now that it is done, I've got to say, it's been worth the wait. The potential to revolutionize the way students read and write is contained in this program.

The venerable question, "Why are we doing this?" rang out as I began my lesson first period of the first day. I quickly was reminded that learning needs to be authentic and interactive; I needed to not just tell my students they needed Kurzweil, but show my students they need Kurzweil.

Benefits of using Kurzweil:

1. It's the future: e-books are around the corner in college, and probably high school soon (think: Kindle from Amazon).

2. A big payoff: For just the little more work of highlighting while they read, students can have 3-column notes extracted from their highlighting, right from the text.

3. It's convenient

Massachusetts Senate Race - January 19, 2010

With the upcoming Massachusetts Senate election on Tuesday, January 19, things have heated up across the Commonwealth (and the national peanut gallery has been growing). My own political interest is in overdrive, so receiving three to four calls nightly about the election is exciting! Our students need to be aware of the statewide, national and historical importance of this election, so I created some materials to use in my 7th and 8th grade Social Studies classes.
Below, I have shared four documents that I will be using in different capacities with my students. Please feel free to use and adapt them for your own classroom and students as appropriate. Any ideas, lesson plans or reactions, please pass them along, email me, tweet me, or comment on this blog post! Grid of candidates on the viewsVenn Diagram to process informationExplanation of federal and state jurisdictions - from about.com17th Amendment (calls for special election)Recent Yahoo! News article on state election as proxy…