I Almost Left Teaching. Here’s How Teacher Research Saved My Career.

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About 17 percent of new teachers will leave the profession in their first five years, research shows. I never thought I’d be one of those teachers, but I felt doubt bubble up around year six, when I had my most challenging group of students to date. On top of that, I was a new mom and finishing up my graduate degree.

Yet, luckily for me, my graduate capstone seminar cracked open a whole new world of thinking that inspired me to become a teacher-researcher.

Teacher research is a systematic, careful, and strategic way to collect contextualized data on teaching and learning. While quantitative data is helpful to understand a student, teacher research goes a step beyond and provides the story behind the data. Here’s how teacher research revolutionized my practice and saved me from leaving.

Teacher research helped me notice why some students didn’t want to write.

All teacher research starts with a question. The question often evolves over time in response to data trends.

When I started my research, I wanted to know more about how to narrow the achievement gap through writing instruction. My class included many students who were underperforming as writers.

When I began to examine my data with my classmates and professor, a significant trend emerged: my students’ resistance to writing had more to do with their lack of opportunities to express their authentic voice than it had to do with not wanting to write.  What started as a broad question became more specific, as I explored how multigenre writing changed how my students viewed themselves as writers, and moreover how it helped them to improve their writing skill set.

Teacher research helped me see students’ strengths, not just their weaknesses.

Teacher research views student artifacts as among the most valuable pieces of data to understand a student.

Many of my students in this class were resistant and underperforming writers. When I sat down to grade their papers, I found myself comparing their writing to some of the more proficient and advanced writers who I had in another class. In doing so, I was assessing what wasn’t there instead of what was there.

When I shared several artifacts with my grad-school classmates, we focused instead on what the student was able to do in their writing–not just what was absent. Instead of noticing how one writer had multiple run-on sentences and weak transitions between ideas, I began noticing how she had multiple ideas and was in the process of developing and expressing her content knowledge. Adopting a growth mindset toward my students helped me to move beyond this deficit model of teaching.

Teacher research gave me empathy for frustrating students.

One of the key tenets of teacher research is that running records and field notes need to be written in a neutral voice, focused on what the student is doing—not how the teacher feels about it. When I was able to remove my own bias and frustration about students, I suddenly began to view my students with a newfound empathy.

As teachers, it is so easy to take personally the behavior of challenging students. But what happens if we don’t respond personally to student behavior, but instead simply observe it? This shift empowered me to make decisions that redirected behavior rather than punishing it. Instead of viewing one student as defiant, I began to look for outlets for his anger–via his own writing.

Here’s the Takeaway.

Looking back, I realize that these challenges could have broken me. But thanks to teacher research, these experiences trained me for my work today as a literacy interventionist and academic support coach. By embracing observation and removing my bias, this challenging group transformed my pedagogy and practice.

Lauren Nizol (@CoachNizol) is an MTSS Student Support Coach and Interventionist at Novi High School. She has eleven years of classroom experience, teaching English, IB Theory of Knowledge and English Lab. Lauren completed her undergraduate degree in History, English and Secondary Education at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and her Masters in English Education from Eastern Michigan University. She is a National Writing Project Teacher Consultant with the Eastern Michigan Writing Project and an advocate for underperforming students and literacy interventions.  When she’s not teaching, Lauren often runs for the woods with her husband and their three sons/Jedi in training and posts many stylized pictures of trees on Instagram.

Podcast #16 Heidi Kattula – Executive Director of District and School Services at Oakland Schools

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heidi_2In July 2016, Oakland Schools had a significant reorganization. During this reorganization, smaller units were formed from the existing larger departments, and some additional administrative roles were created. A number of these units are part of the District and School Services. Dr. Heidi Kattula is the Executive Director of District and School Services at Oakland Schools.

In this podcast, Heidi talks about how the reorganization can support Oakland County educators. She discusses some of the exciting innovations in education and some of the challenges. And she shares some personal information as to who she is.

Click here to listen to this podcast through iTunes.

 

Student Design Yields Great Results

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shutterstock_300056177After writing last month about giving my students a “free day,” I began to contemplate the end of the year. It is always such a crazy time: special events, end-of-year celebrations, and unexpected happenings inevitably interrupt instruction so that anything we are doing does not seem to be done well. Students lose their enthusiasm and often their ability to focus.

To counter this trend, I decided to try to harness the excitement of the free day and allow my students to design their own end-of-the year reading and writing project.

Taking a Leap

I told my students what I was thinking: you design a purposeful reading and writing project for the end of the year. You may work alone, with a partner, or in a group. Each project must contain a reading and writing component. If you are using mentor texts, you have to write at least a paragraph explaining how the text helped you with your writing. You also have to design a rubric, using previous class rubrics as a model. Finally, if you can’t come up with anything, I will assign you a text I think you’ll love, and you can read it and write a literary essay about it.

We brainstormed lots of options on the board and then they had time to think. I have to say, I was a bit nervous, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised and, in some cases, astounded.

I’ve had parents tell me that their children have come home saying this is going to be the best end of the year ever. They are excited about their projects and are taking ownership of their learning. Every day they come in ready to get to work, asking me about new aspects of projects, and digging for more information. There is energy and excitement in the room . . . in late May. Wow.

Project Ideas

The best ideas are coming from the students, of course.

One of my favorites comes from three girls who are working on writing fantasy. Two of the girls have been working for a while on a book outside of class. They wanted to bring in the third girl and decided that she would write a companion text, creating biographies of the characters and maps of the worlds in which they live.

shutterstock_392389606Two other students are working on a poetry anthology, analyzing mentor texts and trying copy changes–all the way down to abstract concepts and syllabication. Students are creating board games, informational picture books, and websites. It is a bit chaotic, but totally worth it.

Capturing the Power

I want this kind of excitement and energy all year in my classroom. But how? How do I meet the needs of my learners, deliver the required curriculum, and have the same level of student engagement? I’ve learned a little about Project Based Learning, which seems to fit, but I need to learn more.

This will be the question that sits in my mind all summer as I read and plan for next year. Rather than the best “end of school ever,” I want every year in my classroom to feel like the best learning ever. I suppose that is the never-ending quest of all teachers. Right now, I’m going to enjoy these last few weeks as I watch the thinking and learning in action, and allow this to inspire me for the future.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

M-STEP Spring 2015 Student Supports and Accommodations Webinar

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From MDE’s Spotlight on Student Assessment & Accountability Newsletter:

These webinars will focus on what you need to know to be up to date with the latest information regarding the students supports and accommodations guidelines for the M-STEP summative assessments.

Topics will include Universal Tools, Designated Supports, and Accommodations, as well as which students qualify for these accommodations and supports during this spring’s testing cycle.

Dates of the webinars:

  • February 10 and 11: 8:00–9:00 A.M. and 2:00–3:00 P.M.
  • March 3 and 4: 8:00–9:00 A.M. and 2:00–3:00 P.M.

Participants need to only attend one of the sessions. To register for these webinars, please send an e-mail to baa@ michigan.gov with the subject line Student Supports and Accommodations Webinar and include the date and time you wish to attend.

Interested participants may also call 517-373-7559.