Collaborative Teaching

Goochland County Public Schools

Dear Class: Why I’m Sad After You ROCKED Your Reading SOL

Dear Class,

Yesterday, all of you who completed your Reading SOL did an incredible job.  And yet, I went home feeling agitated, and while I have slept well this entire school year, I am up at 2 AM unable to go back to sleep. I think that I am sad and I am trying to figure out why. This afternoon, when I told my husband the news of your testing success, he was surprised that I didn’t share it with more excitement in my voice. “Aren’t you happy?” he wanted to know. “It sounds like they did great!” I assured him of my joy, but my actions didn’t match my words.

Right now, I am reading a book that one of you recommended to me. It’s The Cay, by Theodore Taylor. It’s the story of a young boy who is shipwrecked during war when trying to leave his home in the Caribbean Islands. Due to a blow to the head, he finds himself blind and trying to survive on an island with an old man and a cat. These three characters come from three different worlds, but their happenstance meeting changes their lives and perception of the world. I am on chapter fifteen – a hurricane is coming to the island and the young boy fears losing either of his new best friends…

Class, I think I know why I am sad. I am sad because that test, the one you did so well on, marks a closure to our time reading together. Do you know how much I have grown because of you all this year? I have read more books in the past 9 months than I have ever read in such a short period of time in my life. Before we all began reading together, I loved to read, but I had a problem – the books I chose were emotionally draining. They were novels where the main character had to overcome intense hardship. I’m all for character development, but the books I was reading were bringing me down! You all taught me that you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy juvenile fiction. Now I retreat to my books for a well-loved treat.

When I think back on this year, the simplest memory stands out; it is something we did every day: Some of you are sitting at the tables, others on the floor, a few on the couch, two huddled in the easy chair; Mr. Beasley is sitting at a table with a group of you, and I am sitting on the carpet in the front of the room. In my memory, we are all reading. It is silent, and the energy in the room is filled with excitement. We all feel like we are getting away with something! When we are supposed to be at school, learning, we are secretly taking time to read for 40 minutes! The energy in the room dances, and 20 minutes in we all stop to share what is going on in our books, then retreat back to our stories until time is up and a unanimous groan of disappointment washes over the room.

You know what else I loved? I loved how you all would come in in the morning asking us if you could tell us what was going on in your books. Without this little trick, I would have never read The Land of Stories, The Lost Track of Time, The War That Saved My Life or so many other goodies! You all have been like my personal book recommendation force!

But you know what is so crazy? Even though we were sneaky and read whatever we wanted to all year, every one of you still did amazing on the Reading SOL. Am I glad you rocked it? Sure I’m glad! But taking tests is not how I got to know you, how I saw you grow, how I grew myself, or what I will remember from this year. Instead, I will remember being a member of a very elite reading community and what a gift that time in my life was.

In writing this letter, I feel a little better, because even though you all will go off to change the world and I won’t see your smiling faces every day, I will always think of you when I open a new book, wondering if you’ve read it too and what you would think of it. Thank you for growing my mind and soul.

Love,

Mrs. Steeley

If you want to learn more about developing a culture of reading in your classroom, we highly recommend Reading in the Wild, by Donalyn Miller.

 

How to Stop Cringing at Group Work, and Why Your Students Deserve It

Group work has always been a passion of mine. When I first became a teacher, I wanted my students to have the opportunity to learn and work together as much as possible; five years later, I still see the value of having heterogeneous groups of students learning to work with one another.

In our collaborative classroom, students have the opportunity to work with all types of ability levels and backgrounds, but our goal is to highlight and the value of working with diverse strengths.

Group Work Frameworks

We know that students can gain knowledge by working through projects and problems with their peers; however, students have to be taught how to effectively work together. There are some excellent frameworks out there, including Scrum and the Kagan Cooperative Learning, that help scaffold learning in groups.

Modeling Group Work

I believe the teacher has to lay the foundation for group work and model what it looks like to work with others. As a co-teacher, I am fortunate to have ample opportunities for modeling, but that does not mean that modeling how to work with others is an unachievable goal for those without co-teachers. You just have to be proactive by reaching out to others and being open to the work that goes into collaboration.

In the past, I have been guilty of assigning group work without modeling how I want my students to collaborate. Now I realize that I have to model how to share the workload; this includes demonstrating how to work through conflict as well as helping students realize the potential of picking teams based on strengths. Never forget the power of your presence as a teacher. The teacher is the most influential person in the classroom. The students will mimic whatever the teacher does, and teachers have to show students how to work effectively together. It may not be a statewide goal, but it is a life skill.

“Never believe that you are better than anybody else, but remember that you are just as good.”    -John Wooden

This quote by John Wooden is a great way to start engaging your students about what it means to be on a team. When we work with others, we really should be serving others instead of competing against one another. I try to teach my students that we all have our strengths and weaknesses, but what is most important is how we use our strengths to help others.

How to Pick Groups for Group Work

One way to help your students understand the importance of recognizing strengths is by teaching them students to pick their own groups. When you do so, encourage them to choose teammates based upon skills the group needs to succeed, instead of picking based upon friendship. Go through the group project expectations as a class and then discuss what types of skills would be needed in order to create the best project. Here’s an example of some of the questions we encourage our students to ask when picking groups:

  • Do I need a teammate who is skilled at drawing?
  • Do I need a teammate who knows how to code?
  • If I’m not particularly organized, could I find a teammate who would help me keep everything together
  • How can I surround myself with the best people for the job? 

Help your students realize that what makes us different can also make us stronger.

SMILE BIGGER

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher (also, mom)

This morning was no different than any other hurried school day morning: My husband, two daughters, and I raced around the house tripping over each other to get ready and get out the door. Our four-year-old was particularly demanding, I couldn’t find my keys, and our six-year-old wanted so badly to wear her favorite dress that desperately needed to be ironed.

By 6:50 AM we had all made it to the driveway and my husband pulled out in his car with our youngest daughter. I blew them a kiss, smiled, and waved as they drove away.

And then I caught a glimpse of myself reflected in my car window. Oh my! I did not look happy. Even though I felt like I was smiling and waving at them as they drove off, my reflection spoke otherwise.

I tell my students that if they smile when working on a challenging problem, it will be easier. I learned this when I was in high school, going to week-long summer dance camps where I had to learn multiple routines in a short period of time. Smile, our coaches advised. You’ll learn more. 

There are so  many reasons to smile bigger.  Whether you want to appear more approachable, show someone you care, or simply allow yourself the grace of learning more, I urge you to smile bigger today…. (even if it feels a little awkward at first.)

 

 

 

The Power of a Good Handshake!

Never underestimate the power of a handshake. Often it’s the first thing we do when we are introduced to new people. It delivers first impressions. A good handshake can start conversations and promote trust between two people.  Researchers from the University of Illinois Beckman Institute found that a good handshake promotes confidence and trustworthiness. The study found that a good, firm handshake actually leads to positive feelings.

Do you teach confidence and trust in your classroom?

In our classroom, our 5th graders greet us with a handshake every morning. It’s a great way to start the day and gives us the opportunity to teach our students how to respectfully greet someone. During the first week of implementation, our students found it a little awkward and students were apprehensive. Over time, students understood the importance of greeting their teachers each morning. In fact, they enjoyed it and often looked forward to the handshake. Our morning greeting became a ritual. Students felt comfortable starting conversations and they opened up to us. The handshake laid the framework for trust and confidence between us and our students. Now when guests walk into our classroom, our students are not afraid to greet them. Our guests feel more welcome and open to talking to our students. The handshake breaks the first barrier of communication and allows the conversation to flourish.

Recently, I saw a video of a teacher that hand a personalized handshake for every student he taught. I thought this was a brilliant idea. This teacher found a way to build relationships with his students through a handshake. I am confident that this teacher has a strong bond of trust with his students.

Build trust and confidence with your students. Start the morning with a good handshake.

Research Article:

https://beckman.illinois.edu/news/2012/10/dolcoshandshake

Benefits of Collaborative Teaching

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

The movement toward fully inclusive education is gaining momentum. Part of the reason for this goes beyond parental and administrative requests: teachers and students are enjoying its benefits. If you know me, you know that I am loving my first year in the collaborative classroom. But my fulfillment is supported by research, too.

Zou, Kim and Kerekes (2011) explored the benefits of collaborative teaching at the college level specifically for pre-service teachers. Imagine, exposing pre-service teachers to collaborative practices as students before they become collaborative teachers themselves. This makes so much sense, and yet, it was neither my experience nor that of anyone else I know.

The article itself, Collaborative Teaching in an Integrated Methods Course, concluded that currently there is just not enough research to support greater benefits with this model of preparing pre-service teachers, but just like the growth of collaborative teaching in K-12 education, I’m sure further research may increase this practice, as well.

What I did takeaway from this article were the several benefits of collaborative teaching cited by its authors for both students and instructors.

Benefits of Collaborative Teaching

Benefits to Students

  • Interest and enthusiasm
  • Improved achievement
  • Enhanced ability to work in teams
  • Increased interdisciplinary learning

Benefits to Teachers:

  • Increased growth from professional discussions
  • Increased learning from one another’s experiences
  • Increased learning from one another’s teaching styles
  • Increased opportunity for curriculum integration/real world experiences

The authors also cited Hinton & Downing (1998) when explaining “collaborative teaching is most beneficial when it promotes diversity by including teaching members from different disciplinary areas in addition to different ethnic and cultural backgrounds”. I could not agree with this more. Any time we can use our collaborative teaching practice to model treating each other with humanity, everyone wins. In my own practice, I believe that the simple juxtaposition of Mr. Beasley and I (male and female) in addition to being SPED and general education counter-parts, is valuable: We just bring different things to the table.

In future posts we can address challenges, but today’s focus highlighted benefits. Do you teach collaboratively? What do you consider the greatest benefits to your students and team?

 

References

Hinton, S. & Downing, J.E. (1998). Team teaching a college core foundation course; Instructors’ and students’ assessments. Richmond, KY: Eastern Kentucky  University. ERIC Document No. ED 429469.

Kerekes, J., Jinyoung, K., & Zhou, G. (2011). Collaborative teaching of an integrated   methods course.     International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education. 3(2). 123-138.

« Older posts