Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The NES Blended Learning Dynamic Duo

What an amazing day of classroom observations! Christy Thomason and Brandi Snead (@thomasontigers & @sneadsuperstars) have embraced a blended model and the flow of their station rotation is spot on. I spent about 30 minutes in each classroom to see how their model is going.

Mrs. Thomason

I started in Mrs. Thomason’s room. She introduced a lesson using a Brainpop video about making 10. After introducing the concept, Mrs. Thomason reviewed the station rotation for the  day. Group 1 started at Dreambox stations on Chrome books and iPads to continue with their adaptive learning path. The remaining students would split between her at the table for a small group instruction with manipulative and academic language development while another group worked offline in a station where they constructed number arrangements by cutting and glueing “dice like” number squares to build numbers. I was excited to see that Mrs. Thomason even included an “if you finish early” activity for students to do independently. (this was needed by 2 students who did not miss a beat; they cleaned up the number construction work, turned it in and moved on to the extra activity completely independently.)

Click to view slideshow.

After a set amount of time, students at the number construction table switched with the teacher led station. Students at Dreambox remained working. After the 2 short groups had rotated the group did a larger rotation with the Dreambox students moving to the teacher station and number construction station while those students moved on to start their Dreambox independent

Highlights from my observation

All students were engaged during the entire time. She had clearly taught procedures and checked understanding because students knew what to do. Although she has an “ask 3 before me routine”, kids are still learning it and they are still interrupting her to get answers to things they can find answers to elsewhere. That will improve with time. She is building independent learning skills and this is first grade. They will get there!

The small direct instruction group allowed Christy to zoom in on specific needs of the 6 or so kids in front of her. Every student had her attention and she was able to give specific feedback. This will strengthen her relationships with students, help her quickly see misconceptions and address them immediately.

The Students at the number construction table were have conversations, helping each other asking questions and practicing concepts in a collaborative community environment. It was social and busy and they knew what to do. Noise level was appropriate- she had reviewed CHAMPS with them prior to starting.

Students in the Dreambox station showed their various learning preferences. Some chose to work independently finding a quiet spot that suited them. Some preferred a more social arrangement so they could ask each other for help or celebrate successes with each other. Some need to work on appropriate voice level for station work but they are still learning this. Other students need space to move and they found a place on the rug for a rocking seat or to lay down and move their body as they needed in a non-disruptive way. You could really see the benefit offering student choice in their work environment in this classroom.

Mrs. Snead

Mrs. Snead had the same type of activities but organized them a little differently. Like Mrs. Thomason, she had a longer Dreambox station that alternated with smaller game-based activities offline for students to engage socially, practice academic vocabulary and apply the concepts they had been learning. These game included a game like War when students had to add numbers on pairs of cards with the person with the largest sum taking all of the card. Other students played a dice game where they had roll dice, add numbers and mark off 5 numbers in a row before their partner.

Click to view slideshow.

Highlights from My Observation

A structural difference in her rotation is that after 1 round of Dreambox with the 2 substations, she pulled students up for a whole group activity to brake up the pace of the math block. I thought this was an interesting twist that could help break up pace and offer kids some variety and movement during long blocks. All kids were very engaged in the learning. Because Mrs. Snead herself was not a station, she was free to walk among the working students and listen to the conversations, clear up an misconceptions, positively reinforce and monitor efforts and behaviors. I was amazed at how well these teachers have the process flowing so early in the year.

Data analysis is on the short list and we will start doing that by the end of this week. We are very interested to see what the data from this adaptive program is able to tell us and what the implications for instruction will be going forward!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Elementary BLT Cohort Starts Year Strong!

I am so amazed and energized by the group of teachers we have this year in our Blended Learning Teacher Cohort. This group is a part of a larger endeavor to create innovative learning environments in Hays CISD. Compared to last year’s pilot where we addressed a specific problem rather than focusing on teacher readiness, I am really seeing the benefit of working with expert teachers who have sought the opportunity to grow and improve their service to students. These teachers want to create differentiated learning environments that facilitate student agency by offering choice, developing independent learning skills and giving students control over the path and pace of their own learning. Utilizing a blended learning model is how they hope to achieve their goals. I continue to visit classrooms, meet with teachers and explore resources that will help us fine tune the model this year. This post is a summary of some of the amazing things I’ve seen and discussions I’ve had in the short 3 weeks since school has started.

Carpenter Hill Elementary, 3rd grade Math- This is a team of fantastic teachers. They know their content, have strong classroom management and although they are at different levels of technology proficiency, they are committed to their own learning  to help their students reach their full potential in math. They have started out simply with 2 stations; an online station using Prodigy Math and offline activities with teacher, peers and manipulatives. Though we are not sure Prodigy will be our online tool for the year, it gives us a great place to start to establish routines, and procedures of a station rotation model. We will start adding additional stations and reviewing data from Prodigy to determine instructional needs in the next week.

Click to view slideshow.

1st grade multi-campus team- This group consists of 5 teachers across 3 campuses; Elm Grove, Negley and Tobias Elementary Schools. These are all excellent teachers who exemplify a growth mindset and are “all in” when it comes developing an effective instructional model. Their primary goal- to provide targeted small group instruction to better differentiate student learning in math. They have just gotten started with a powerful online tool called Dreambox. Teachers introduced the program this week and received very positive feedback from the students. This program is adaptive and will adjust in real-time to each students instructional needs. When students are not working online, they will be working offline in stations that engage them with manipulatives and academic language. Additionally teachers  will pull small groups of students to provide more personalized instruction. EGES students were introduced to Dreambox in the computer lab but will be primarily accessing this program in the classroom on ipads. Students will also be able to work in the program from home. Our goal is at least 3 times a week for a total of 1hour in the program. We will start looking at data from the program next week to discuss instructional implications.

4th/5th grade teachers- This group is a little more spread out with a total of 4 teachers on 3 campuses- Kyle, Tobias and Hemphill. Again these are all seasoned teachers who are seeking to improve their practice and leverage technology to meet the needs of all learners. This group is different in that 2 of the teachers are ELAR teachers. All teachers are delivering online content through Google classroom and various online tools such as Prodigy Math, NewsELA, RazKids, Google apps, Edpuzzle, BrainPop, and Quizzezz. This group has a more eclectic approach to content curation but are up for the challenge. They are all tech savvy teachers who seek out the tools they need to best meet the needs of their students. One of our first group discussions coming up will be how to review the data from various online resources to inform our small group instruction and offline stations. Again, primary goals are an increase in student agency and  greater differentiation of instruction through small groups.

Next steps

The next step is to establish support routines for these teachers. This will primarily involve the campus coaches and the digital learning team. We will continue classroom visits and co-teaching as well as weekly planning meetings, monthly PLCs and data digs, as well as ongoing training and instructional coaching to fine tune the model. Now that teachers have introduced primary digital tools, procedures, expectations and routines they will continue to reinforce those while pushing students to work and solve problems independently. We will add additional station resources and start digging into the data to determine individual needs of students.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Instructional Coaching: This One's Philosophy

As a part of our Instructional Coaching team meetings, time is set aside to reflect and journal. This months reflection is to write about our personal philosophy of coaching. I'm not sure that it is formal enough to consider a "philosophy" but there are certain beliefs that I hold that I feel has guided my role as an instructional coach.

I am a teacher first and foremost- When I work with other teachers, I want them to know that I view them as a peer and that we are partners on a learning journey. I want them to feel safe and not judged during our discussions. I want to be able to explore lots of ideas with them as they develop their personal journey of professional growth.

Instructional coaching is a process- it is not a one and done. It is cyclical and starts with a problem or goal that is determined by the teacher. It is an iterative process.

It is teacher driven- It comes from a teachers desire to improve their craft and who willingly seeks a professional partner to help them learn and improve their practice.

Trust is essential- I am not their supervisor, what we work on together is not shared without their permission. But when they are doing amazing work, I encourage them to share with others to spread the energy and build their professional learning community.