Friday, November 22, 2019

The Power of a PLN

"Just close your door and teach." These words were well-meant when they were spoken to me during my preservice years over 20 years ago. They were meant to inspire confidence in our ability to manage student learning and be autonomous. But over the past 20 years of my career I have learned a valuable lesson: Open the door! No man (or teacher in this case) is an island. In this profession, there are so many things to learn and know, that we need one another's support and guidance. This is why building a Professional Learning Network is so important.

My Professional Learning Network has contributed to my professional growth over the past several years in a tremendous way. I have been introduced to new web tools, new ways of thinking, and have been a part of collaborative conversations with people from all over the world. As an educator, I believe that growing my PLN is one way to continue my growth and effectiveness, not just in my classroom, but within the education community.

During the course of this workshop, my PLN has now grown to include podcasts and RSS feeds. I had never really listened to or created podcasts, but through this workshop I can see the benefits of short audio broadcasts. I'm also excited to have been introduced to a tool for subscribing to RSS feeds. When my Google Reader closed down many years ago, I was frustrated. I had spent quite a long time creating feeds of my favorite blogs. The prospect of starting over was not something I looked forward to I didn't. This workshop has reminded me of the enjoyment and learning I gained through those feeds and provided me a simple way to start organizing them again.

Utilizing RSS feeds and podcasting are two ways I plan to continue growing my PLN. I plan to do a few more podcasts and just see if that's something that would be beneficial to others in my field. I'm also toying with the idea of using podcasting in the classroom. It would be a great way to meet speaking and listening standards, and I know my parents would love a weekly update delivered by their child. When I implement these ideas, I will chronicle them on this blog and on Twitter so I can share with the education community and further their professional growth. Perhaps I could share within a Twitter chat or on a popular hashtag thread. That will invite many comments and opportunities for collaboration with colleagues.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Podcast, Anyone?

I love to blog, and have listened to a few podcasts, but today is the first time I've ever created one. I'm many of you listen to podcasts? Who are your favorite podcasters to listen to? Do you podcast? If so, I'd love to hear from you. Here's my very first one, inspired by my recent success doing a classroom transformation:
Listen to "Farrah Kilgo's show" on Spreaker.

Detective Classroom Transformation!

Have you seen all the awesome classroom transformations floating around social media? I've been toying with this idea for a while, and when I started planning for this week's skills (drawing conclusions and context clues), I knew this was the perfect opportunity to bring in a little thematic fun. I was a little concerned that the amount of effort to pull it off would just be too much, but I have to say that my kids' excitement and learning was WELL worth the upfront work!

I started with this really great product I found on TPT. 
This product is editable and gives step by step instructions for setting up this mystery. Basically, we set up a crime scene with particular evidence. Students observed the scene. Then we provided suspect pages (questions/answers already completed ahead of time from the product) that students read. They highlighted evidence from the suspect sheets that matched the evidence in the crime scene to infer who kidnapped the principal.

My awesome 3rd grade team all wanted to join in the fun, so we divided the tasks to get ready for this classroom transformation. I updated the digital materials to make it fit our school and printed off everything we needed, including a few decorations, one teacher copied everything, another one laminated and cut out name tags for the kids, and one gathered the physical materials for decorating like crime scene tape, Dollar Tree fake mustaches, and black tablecloths.

I loved this classroom transformation because it was simple, exciting, and a rigorous application of skills for students.  

Preparing (including the printing and everything) took about an hour or perhaps 1 1/2 hours. Here's what they kids saw when they arrived at school:

I watched a fabulous vlogger on Youtube to get some great ideas about pulling off this transformation. You can see it here. As the students arrived, I welcomed them to the Kilgo Detective Agency and called them "Agent ____." They were really into the detective theme and I think that helped them persevere when the detective challenge became, well...challenging. Check out these pictures of my detectives at work:

My principal (and the culprit, a second grade teacher) were so great to play along! Our principal allowed us to use his office as the crime scene, and the teacher brought a pair of her shoes for us to use as evidence and really played the part well. 

The best part of this day was that students were HIGHLY engaged in learning and is definitely something I will do again. 

How about you? I'd love to hear about your classroom transformation success stories, ideas, and questions. Drop me a comment below and let's talk.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Veterans Day Learning

Honoring our country's veterans is very important to me. As Veterans Day approaches, I wanted to take the opportunity to teach my students as much as possible about this day and help instill a sense of patriotism in them as well. Here are some of the great learning activities we've participated in this week. 

Probably the most meaningful for my students was a visit from my nephew, who has recently returned from a tour of active duty. My students were so excited to learn that he came through the very same school system they attend. They had lots of great questions for him, and learned a lot about the military from his first hand accounts. 

This patriotic STEM activity was also a great opportunity to practice grit while utilizing the engineering process. It is very simple to prepare, and highly engaging. I will definitely to this one again. Not all of my groups were successful in the challenge, but they all keep working to improve their designs. I also saw a lot of innovative creations and great teamwork. 

Finally, this set of differentiated passages has a great Veterans Day close reading passage. I used this in small groups this week to practice reading skills while students learned about the origin of Veterans Day. 

I'd love to hear about how you teach American holidays to your students. Feel free to drop me a comment.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Wild Robot: Year-End Engagement

The end of the school year is quickly approaching, and with it comes all of the excitement of summer days. So how do you keep the kiddos engaged and interested in learning without feeling like you're dragging them to the finish line? Luckily, I was introduced to this amazing resource for The Wild Robot.

This book is amazing for 4th graders and has so many connections to animal studies! What's even better for this time of year is all of the ready-made resources inside the hyperdoc. My kids have had an amazing time reading, learning, and using tech tools. Here are a few examples:

storyboardthat thinkshareteach
Storyboard That for retelling or describing settings. 
(We used the provided template in the hyperdoc). 

Student response on the Hyperdoc after researching about robots (links also on hyperdoc).

flipgrid thinkshareteach
Responding to reading with Flipgrid

scratch thinkshareteach
Creating Scratch Animations about the story 
(These weren't my students' creations. We're still working on ours). 

These are just a SAMPLING of the what you'll find on the hyperdoc. These highly engaging activities, plus the interesting story of a robot trying to adapt to life in the wild have helped capture my students' attention so they can enjoy the last few days of learning and I can feel good about the learning taking place right up until the end of the year. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Letter to Teachers from the Instructional Partner

The beginning of the school year is fast approaching and with it comes the whirlwind of classroom organization, lesson planning, first day preparation, and in-service meetings. As an instructional partner I don't have a regular classroom to prepare, but I'm caught up in my own whirlwind centered around the question: How can I best support teachers? There are so many things I'd love to tell them as we begin our  year together that we simply don't have the time to discuss. So I'll write it. Teachers, this is for you:

  1. I think you are amazing. I've been in your shoes and I haven't forgotten what it's like to be responsible for 37 things at once. You spend hours planning lessons, looking for just the right resource for your students. You grade papers, meet with parents, attend professional development, study student data, and above all build strong relationships with your students. You give until you are drained, and then give more.
  2. I have a heart for teachers. I love students and I miss my own class terribly, but I gave it up because I love teachers and this role allows me more access to you. I care about your burdens and successes. I want to support you and celebrate with you.
  3. I'm still learning. I don't have all the answers, and I'm definitely still learning how to be an instructional partner. I won't always get it right. I will make mistakes and maybe even hurt your feelings or upset you unintentionally. Please know that I mean well and never intend to slip up.
  4. I'm not critiquing you. (See #1) When I visit your classroom, I really am looking at student learning and engagement. I am not critiquing your teaching moves or thinking that I would do things differently. Every one of us teaches differently because we are unique individuals. You know your students better than I do, and you have reasons I may not know about for choosing the techniques you're using. 
  5. I know it's uncomfortable. I get it. Having another adult in the room may make people feel uneasy. (Please reread #1-4) I've also felt uncomfortable at times while I'm visiting or teaching in rooms. Most of my discomfort comes from worrying that I will offend you in some way that damages our partnership or that I'll make some mistake that you're there to witness.
  6. I am your partner. We are in this together! I don't have my own class, but I consider all your students to be mine as well. I can't know them like you do, but I care about them and want them to succeed. 
Teachers, thank you for the work you do for students. You are valued and appreciated.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Shades of Orange Editable Binder

I've never been able to draw. In fact my students once asked me what I had drawn on the board because they couldn't tell. It was---wait for it----a snake! Who can't draw a snake? This girl. Even though I can't draw, I'm still creative which can cause a bit of frustration. That's why I love to create digital products. Finally, my vision can come alive thanks to the scaffolded support of technology, which is why I've been busily creating my newest organizational binder. I finally hit paydirt last year when I stumbled upon exactly the right framework to keep me organized. After trying many different versions, I created my ultimate binder, used it all year and LOVED it.

This year I decided to try the same thing but using a warmer color scheme. I absolutely love oranges, reds, and yellows and of course quatrefoil patterns. As a result, my Shades of Orange Editable Binder was born:

I created most of the pages as blank slates, with a few empty text boxes and charts. There are over 270 pages in this product, so there's lots of room for creativity and customization. I can't wait to start printing and compiling my book for next year. Snag one for yourself here!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Transitioning from Classroom Teacher to Instructional Partner

About this same time last year, I was mentally preparing to transition from the position of 5th grade classroom teacher to instructional partner at two different elementary schools. I scoured the Internet, searching for advice on how to prepare my students for such a transition and honestly couldn't find much. Hence, this post. I can't help but believe there are others like me out there who struggle with the same things I did...leaving a group of kids mid-year, turning over their education to another, trusting someone else to finish what I'd started. Here are some things that helped ease the transition for my students and myself. 

My principal chose someone as my successor with whom my students were already familiar. Not only was she a great teacher, but she often subbed at our school and already knew my students by name. They were used to her teaching style and had previously built a relationship with her. 

The new teacher and I spent several hours together discussing student needs, classroom routines, lesson plans, and other information to help her and the students transition smoothly. She even volunteered to spend about two weeks with me in the classroom to observe and learn how our classroom worked. She did not have to do this, but I was so grateful that she did! It made things much easier for everyone involved when the day did come. I spent these days gradually releasing responsibility of the classroom to her. During this time, my students did not realize that she would be taking over soon. We told them that she was learning more about this grade because she was going to have her own 5th grade classroom very soon. 

We prepared the parents. As soon as it was legal to do so, the school principal and I met with my parents to explain the transition that would soon happen. 

I waited until the last day to tell my students. You may be thinking that's a bad idea, but it actually worked out for the very best. I didn't want to prolong any sadness my students would feel. When I told them, I focused on the fact that they were strong and prepared and would be better people for learning how to make a transition like this. I also told made sure they knew I fully supported the new teacher and assured them they were in good hands.

The last few minutes of the last day were a celebration of our good times together. The focus was not on how much we would miss each other, or the changes that would take place. Instead it was a very positive time. We focused on every good thing we'd done together. I made two posters that listed what I believed to be positive attributes about the group and individuals. The students added to them, as well, and they stayed in the classroom as reminders after I left. 

I also gave each student some keepsakes I had previously made for them. I created a Wordle for each student like the one below and also a card with our class pictures on it:

Finally, I kept in contact with the new teacher and made occasional visits on special days. For example, I brought them a treat on Valentine's Day and came to Awards Day. I made myself available to the new teacher for questions, and we emailed one another. This part was a bit tricky, because I had to be careful not to overstep boundaries. They were not my class anymore, and even though it was difficult to let go I had to trust that they were in great hands and give the new teacher room to do her job without interference. 

Leaving a classroom mid-year is something I never dreamed I would do, but I believe the way in which it was handled helped everyone involved to have a positive experience. 

How about you? I would love to hear about your experience with this issue.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Searching for a New Niche

What do you write about when most of your job involves confidentiality? Last January I began a new position: Instructional Partner. Up until then, my blog had become a place to post classroom antics, lesson ideas, and log much of the learning I was doing with my students. Suddenly, I found that I could no longer write about those things. I wasn't in a regular classroom every day, and when I was visiting a colleague's room I needed to build a trusting relationship. I certainly couldn't and wouldn't write about the things I'd seen. They weren't mine to share, and I could never break my colleague's trust that way. I couldn't write about my own professional learning because it was confidential. In short, in order to be successful as instructional partner I couldn't share anything about what I was doing.

Based on the slim number of Instructional Partner blogs out there, I'm guessing that many of my fellow partners (coaches, etc...) feel the same way I do and are just as cautious about blogging. So I've posted sparingly. I've struggled to find ideas worthy of sharing with my colleagues. I've searched for a new niche, and honestly haven't quite found it yet.

That's the reason for the low number of my posts this year. Up until last January, my posts all involved things I was learning and doing in my profession and questions I had. As an instructional partner, I just can't share those things anymore. I'm hoping to be able to contribute in a meaningful way to my online PLN soon.