Sunday, July 6, 2014

Interview 101: Land that Teaching Job

During the summer, many new (and veteran teachers) are searching earnestly and hopefully for a teaching position. The whole process can be stressful. It begins with waiting to hear something- anything- after you send in a resume. The haunting fear that there was a comma out of place or a period where there shouldn't have been or- horror of horrors!- that you misspelled your own name.

If you're lucky enough to land an interview, that too, can mean epic levels of "holy crap!" So, here's my guide to making it through the interview and landing yourself a job. Some of this advice is ESOL specific, but most of it can be applied to any interview for a teaching position.

1. Take time to think out your answers. Many of the prospective teachers I have interviewed, especially the younger ones, didn't take time to think about their answers before responding. I generally have a list of things that I expect to hear. As an interviewer, I can only consider what you actually say, not what you may have been thinking or forgotten to say. So, before responding, take the time to think about your answer for a few moments so that you can give a well organized, thorough and thoughtful answer rather than a rambling answer. Most interviewers will be happy to give you a few moments to collect your thoughts.

2. Talk specifically about the latest research or best practices and how you implement them. When I'm interviewing someone for an ESOL position, I generally expect to hear them talk about academic language, BICS and CALPS, comprehensible input, and other important research in the area of ESOL education. At the very least, I'm looking for specific ideas, theories, and practices that most educators should know. Find out what the latest research says about the area you are applying for and be prepared to talk about it with the interviewer. Give specific examples of how you implement these theories and practices into your instruction. 

3. Be specific. Talk about what you actually DO in the classroom, rather than what you would do if ____. Give specific examples of successes you've had with students, challenges you've overcome, programs you've implemented, and any special skills or life experiences that help you be the best teacher you can be. 

4. Be cognizant of your weaknesses and think about how you can improve in those areas. Don't be afraid to acknowledge your weaknesses as a teacher in addition to your strengths. This shows that you are a reflective teacher who realizes that there's always room to improve your instructional practice. Many interviewers will ask, so be prepared to give specific examples of ways that you intend to improve in your weakest areas. And don't play that my-weakness-is-actually-a-strength act; I wasn't born yesterday and will see right through that. 

5. Ask questions about the school or district you are interviewing with. Many of the candidates I've interviewed did not have ANY questions, which struck me as unusual. The candidate that stuck out most to me was the only one who did ask questions about what the job would be like, what program model our district uses, etc. 
On the same token, don't ask dumb questions, either. Come up with a list of possible questions to ask beforehand. You don't have to ask them all, but be prepared and ask the most relevant few. 

6. Bring a portfolio or student work samples. If you're just finishing student teaching, photocopy or photograph some student work (or ask student/parent permission to keep it if this is allowed where you do your student teaching). If you are a veteran teacher, dig out some of those student work samples. Summarize how you incorporated the activity into your classroom. Include lesson plans, photographs, any materials you've created or especially engaging activities. Seeing it is worth way more than just hearing about it. If you can create a digital portfolio on a website (google sites is free, so is blogger), then you can leave the web address for your interviewer to check out after you're gone. If you go this route, you can also incorporate video (a clip of your teaching) or audio (you using questioning techniques with a student). 

I hope this advice is helpful, and I wish you the best on your job hunt!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Reflecting on another year

I think an important part of being an educator, whether you're educating students or educating teachers, is reflecting on your own professional practice. We're constantly learning new things to update our toolkit, coming into contact with new situations that force us to find innovative solutions, and well- we're always adapting to the new initiatives that come year after year. It's important to reflect on the areas where we were strong or made gains, and just as important to recognize those areas we are weak in so that we can work on them.

Throughout my life, I've always admired people who can admit that there's always something to learn. I had the greatest respect for teachers who, when asked a question they couldn't answer, simply said "I don't know. Let me research that and get back to you tomorrow," rather than those who made up something or simply went with "That's just how it is." When I waited tables in college and grad school, I had a manager who always told us, "If you're not getting the tips you want, don't blame the guest. Take a good long look in the mirror and ask yourself what was lacking in the service you provided the guest. What was it they wanted or needed that you didn't provide?" I've always tried to apply that same line of thinking to my professional career as well. If my students aren't achieving, I should stop blaming things out of my control (family situations, etc) and start taking a look at the things that are in my control first and foremost, because those are the things I can change.

This was my first year as a coach. One of the hardest things for me was striking a balance of being there to support my teachers, but not encroaching on their valuable time- like planning or lunch. I wanted to be a boon of support rather than another obligation demanding their time. I wanted to offer constructive and positive feedback, without too much of "add this, do this". But always with "I'm only an e-mail away if you need something. Let me know and I'll make time for you the very next day". As always, you can't please everyone.

Some of my coachees got exactly the level of support they wanted. Some felt it was too much, others felt it was too little- and they didn't reach out for more. So, this is an area I'll continue working on. I need to be able to recognize which teachers want more and will not ask, and some who are content to be left alone until they reach out, so that I can differentiate and individualize my coaching more.

I've already considered things I can do to improve my practice and keep a more constant dialogue with my teachers. One thing I will do is send out a monthly "coaching" newsletter- recognizing awesome things I see; offering a strategy of the month and a chance for teachers to write/vote on last month's strategy; a question column; and anything else I think to include. Some teachers will love it and those who want to can read it, while those who don't can delete it from their inbox.

On the side of strengths, the schools that I worked with this past year all made excellent growth and met their AMAO goals. This is truly exciting! I did learn to manage some aspects of my new position, get to know my team, and bring some of my assets (like my tech knowledge) to benefit my team. I really love my new job- it's actually what I've wanted to do since my second year of teaching! I really love working with teachers and helping them solve problems. Sometimes I was able to offer a simple solution to their issues by thinking outside the box.

So, now that school is out and summer is here, take a little time to ask yourself- what were my strengths and weaknesses this year? How can I improve next year? How can I step out of my comfort zone to benefit those I'm working with and ultimately, our students?

Here's a great 1 page reflection form to help you out:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Tech Tips for Teachers Ebook

Looking for new ways to integrate or manage technology in your classroom? Based on what I learned at a convention earlier in the year, I decided to work with other TpT Teacher-Authors to compile a book to help make this task easier, even for the tech-challenged teacher! Check out our new FREE Tech Tips for Teachers Ebook. Regardless of your level, it has 47 great tips from Tech Savvy TpT Teacher-Authors for managing the devices in your classroom or integrating technology into your lessons.

Embrace technology and grab your copy today. You'll be on your way to setting up your 21st century classroom!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What is Augmented Reality?

I'm generally a pretty techie person- I've been using computers pretty much all my life. Since I became a teacher, I've always looked for meaningful and engaging ways to integrate technology into my classroom. Now that I'm a coach, it falls on me to help my teachers find meaningful ways to integrate the new technologies available to them into their instruction.

I recently went to the Ohio Educational Technology Conference where I learned many awesome things. But the most awesome thing I learned about was Augmented Reality (AR). When I came home so thrilled, my husband mentioned that he'd seen the same thing on a TED talk. Here's a video that will explain it better than I ever can:

But, how can we use this technology in our classrooms? Many classrooms are getting iPads or Android tablets, other schools are adopting bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies. Fortunately for us budget-strapped-teachers, Aurasma is a free app!

This technology can allow you to enhance your teaching materials by adding Auras that lead to images, videos, 3-D models and webpages. I'm so thrilled about the potential applications that I almost can't sleep.

I hear some of you thinking "I don't have time to learn how to do this!". That's ok!! That's one of the great things- if you find items where someone else has already integrated the technology, all you need is the app and to follow their channel. Then their auras will show up for you!

If you're interested in trying it out for yourself, try out my FREE Augmented Reality Flash Cards: The Butterfly Life Cycle. Just click the image below to download your copy! To figure out how to set everything up, check out this quick tutorial on How to Use my Augmented Reality Items.

If you want to learn how to add AR to your own materials (I see so many applications here that I want to add AR to everything!!), then I suggest you check out Two Guys and Some iPads. They have some AWESOME tutorials on how to add AR to just about anything. They also have a whole section linking to other apps that use AR. 

How exciting is this technology?!?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Common Core Read-and-Write Activities: A Review

As many of you know, I recently moved from the classroom to a coaching position. As such, I don't often get to try out my own products with my own students. So, I've had to get creative. Recently I shared my new Common Core Read-and-Write Activities with Mallory, a third grade teacher in Ohio, so that she could use them in her classroom. Here's what she wrote:

I was thrilled to recently receive two Common Core products from Tools for Teachers by Laurah J! I got to use both the January version and February version of her Common Core Read-and-Write Activities in my classroom. I teach third grade students in a low-income district located on the outer-ring suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. I have students reading at a variety of reading levels in my classroom and I have quite a few struggling readers, along with two students with reading IEPs.

One of our goals as a classroom this year is to become better readers so my students can pass the Reading OAA (state test in Ohio; if they don’t pass, they must repeat third grade). It has been tricky trying to find some resources that are leveled for my students, without putting too much work on me as the teacher in finding the resources. I wanted resources that would be on the same topic, but varied for the students’ ability levels, and that is exactly what Laurah has created. If you have a classroom full of nine year olds who read anywhere from a first grade to fifth grade level, these Common Core resources will be perfect for you. I like how the products are labeled appropriate for grades 3-5, which is absolutely true. I was afraid to use the stories with my lowest readers, for fear that they would get discouraged by the length of the passages or the tough vocabulary, but when they read along with me, they were fine! I let my higher readers read the passages on their own, or partner-read the passages, which worked well, too.

My favorite aspect of the product, besides the wonderful leveled stories, is the fact that they come with activities that are Common Core aligned. Learning about the structure of text, for example, is a Common Core skill that all students need to learn. The Saint Valentine story was excellent for this because Laurah provided key words that the students should look for while they are reading. I encouraged my students to highlight any words as we re-read the passage, and they were very good at finding the “sequencing” words. I would have never expected this from my lowest readers, but they did an amazing job and were even able to start to answer the questions that came with that story on their own. The questions provided a word bank to help the students with their answers, which was very helpful.

In addition to the Saint Valentine story, I also really liked the Martin Luther King, Jr. story. This non-fiction text aligns with reading and social studies curriculum for my grade level. It is also a great story to keep in your teacher binder (I have a holiday binder in which I organize stories and activities by month so they are easy to find) for when January rolls around and you say to yourself, “What am I going to do for the MLK holiday this year?” My students loved connecting this text to other stories we read about Martin Luther King, Jr. in our class during the past few weeks. I had each of my leveled groups complete the biographic poem, which came along with the story, and I displayed my students’ work in the hallway. The other teachers in my grade level loved the idea of a biographic poem. It is a great way for students to go back and re-read the text to find details, as well as it is a great way for them to learn about adjectives when they are describing MLK and his life.

I am so excited to use the rest of the stories that came along with the January and February common core activities! The stories are well written, the activities are thoughtful and meaningful, and using these resources in my classroom has promoted higher level thinking among my students.
-Mallory R., Ohio 3rd Grade Teacher

Thanks so much to Mallory for taking the time to try out these products with your kiddos!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Strategy of the Week

Strategy of the Week: 

Mark It

One of the big focuses in Common Core is having students do "close reading". Close reading involves students analyze a high-quality text and glean understanding from it. It involves the ability to identify key points and evidence included by the author.

One of the ways that I like to start out close reading, especially with my ESOL students, is to use what I call the Mark It strategy. As students read, they mark the reading with a set of standard symbols (each with a different meaning) given by the teacher. Here are some of the symbols I use below:

You can use these symbols or introduce your own symbols with their own meanings. This gives students a way to easily and quickly annotate the text, as well as with monitoring and thinking critically about what they are reading WHILE they are reading it. It makes it easy to find important places in the text when they are answering questions, looking for evidence or participating in a classroom discussion.

If you are using a reading that students can't actually mark on, such as a textbook, you can give each student an overhead marker and a transparency that they can lay over the textbook page. If you are using a magazine or a class set of readings, the can be placed in clear page protectors that students can mark on with overhead pens or dry erase markers.

I found that when my students used this strategy consistently, their reading comprehension improved vastly. I even noticed my students doing it on the state test at the end of the year! I hope you find this strategy as useful for your students as I do for mine.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why I believe in Common Core

There seems to be a lot of controversy over the implementation of the Common Core Standards, both from teachers and parents alike. Most of what I hear from teachers involves the extra work involved- but that is to be expected with any new set of standards or initiative implementation. I'm not arguing that the implementation has been rocky and less than ideal. But that's not the issue I'm here to address.

What I want to address is the parent concerns I've been hearing, which seem to be coming chiefly because they don't understand what Common Core is and what it means for their students. As a teacher, let me explain why I fully support common core.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) produced a generation of students who do not have basic skills they need to get jobs.

You may laugh at the video, but it is sad and true. I'm lucky and I graduated just before NCLB was implemented. Here's what happened with NCLB- students in grades 3-8 began to be required to take yearly tests in math and reading, while students in certain secondary courses were also tested. Many teachers performance scores were suddenly tied to their students standardized test scores. Standardized tests under the NCLB only tested student's ability to choose a correct answer, not their ability for critical thinking or problem solving. Even further, skills like writing, science and social studies were not tested, so teachers, especially at the elementary level where students are still in self-contained classes, began to spend less time on these subjects to focus in on reading and writing and choosing correct answers. Therefore, we produced a generation of students unable to think independently, write simple essays, and unable to function in a world that is not multiple choice. Those are the students who are going to college and entering the work force now- and they're nowhere near prepared.

Common Core focuses on quality rather than quantity.

Common core requires teachers to cram fewer topics and standards into each year, giving them more time to focus on each topic and standard in depth- time to take students beyond a basic, superficial understanding to a deeper, more enduring understanding. It encompasses many areas of mathematics and language arts, as well as content literacy in other subject areas.

In addition, Common Core has a much more balanced focus on non-fiction texts AND literature- where as many early standards focused heavily on fiction. This additional focus on non-fiction text gives teachers the opportunity to infuse their language arts classes with articles about other content, while teaching students the reading skills that they need to be successful in content areas as well as in life.

More importantly, perhaps most importantly- Common Core brings back the focus to the connection between reading and writing and returns writing instruction to the classroom- in all subject areas. Students are expected to write for a variety of purposes and grade level subjects. They're expected to write in math, write in science, write in social studies and write in language arts. They are required to produce writing that is more than personal narratives and poems.

"Science and Social Studies have been dropped and schools are only teaching math and reading under Common Core". 

I can't believe how many times I've heard this- and just how untrue it is. What is true: Common Core only has math and language arts standards. However, this does not mean that other subject areas have been "dropped- just the opposite in fact. States are generally still using the same science and social studies curriculum they were using before Common Core. But, there's one new difference- when teaching content like math, science and social studies, elementary teachers are generally required to align those lessons not only with the content curriculum, but also with an information reading or a writing standard from Common Core. Secondary teachers are often required to align their lessons with both the content curriculum and the 6-12 content literacy standards from Common Core. This means that not only are we teaching students the content, but we're teaching them how to read the content for comprehension and write about what they've read- important skills for college and the real world.

Common Core is not one-size fits all.

Common Core is all about best practices in education- meeting the needs of all students. Common Core requires that students have opportunities for hands-on activities, exploratory learning, problem solving, interaction and critical thinking. These are all important skills that were sadly lost to our students and our teaching under NCLB. Common Core offers opportunities for students to learn in a variety of ways that fit their needs.

In summary....
I believe that Common Core is a step in the right direction to getting all of our students- regardless of their ability level- where they need to go. Implementation is rocky, I'm not gonna lie. But I believe we need to stick with it for a few years and give the standards a chance to do their job and improve our students.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Working with an interpreter

This is a continuation of the series that I started earlier this school year called, "Putting the Pieces Together for Effective ESOL". This post addresses how to work with an interpreter.

Today was parent-teacher conference day in our district. Since our district has over 17,000 ESOL students, interpreters were in high demand today! Our Office of Interpreting and Translating did not have enough Spanish interpreters to cover all of the requests. Being in the central ESOL office and not having to conduct conferences of my own, I was asked to step in and interpret at one of the schools I work with. While there, I realized that many teachers do not know how to work with an interpreter!

Schedule the interpreter ahead of time.
Especially if you live in a district with a limited number of interpreters or a high ELL population, be sure to put your request in with the interpreter's office as soon as you know the dates of conferences. This will ensure that you will be at the top of the list to receive an interpreter. Do not assume that your ESOL teacher will schedule an interpreter unless the two of you have discussed and agreed upon this. The ultimate responsibility for scheduling the interpreter lies with the classroom teacher.

Speak slowly, be succinct, and chunk your speech.
I want to interpret for the parent what you are saying as quickly as possible. If you talk for 10 minutes about Hector before stopping, I'm not going to remember and be able to communicate everything that you've said. Instead, slow down, and break your thoughts or ideas down into chunks of speech no longer than 6-8 sentences at a time. Similarly, be succinct in what you want to say- limit extraneous information, communicate only the most important ideas and expound only when necessary.

Look at the parent you are conversing with, not the interpreter.
As the interpreter, I will be looking at you because I am listening and interpreting what you say. However, you are not talking to ME, you are talking to the parent and that is who you should be looking at. Many parents who do not speak English still feel left out after leaving a conference with the teacher because the teacher talked to the interpreter, rather than to them.

Be sure to ask the parents if they have any questions.
Even teachers who do this in every other conference, often forget to do this when there is an interpreter present. The interpreter is there to translate what you say, and may not add extra information or ask if the parent has questions- that is YOUR job, so do not assume that the interpreter will do it.

I hope these tips for working with interpreters help you to lead successful, inclusive parent-teacher conferences!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Strategy of the Week: Personal Word Walls

As teachers, we know that every student is different with different strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, we know that when it comes to acquiring vocabulary, especially academic vocabulary, every student has different needs. Some need help understanding the meanings of academic words, others need help using them correctly in context, and some students need practice with words longer than others.

With all this in mind, when I was in the classroom, I helped students create their personal word walls. The idea was for them to have their own personal word wall for each subject that they could carry with them all the time. The great thing about personal word walls is that they can be differentiated for students at different levels.

So, how does one construct these personal word walls? All you need is two manilla file folders, a three hole punch, and some sticky notes. Slip one folder right inside the other, and punch your holes. I let the kids decorate the outside, and then on the inside, we label the pages with the subjects they study at school. When it is time to add a new word, kids take three sticky notes.  For newcomers, a picture, word, and simple sentence frame is often sufficient. For more advanced learners, the word, a definition, and a sentence frame or example sentence is great.

Put the sticky notes on the correct subject page, and voila- word wall. The kids can even use the holes punched to keep it inside their binder so that they always have it. Since the ids are adding the words themselves, it gives them practice with the words and ownership of their word wall. Here are some photos:

Monday, September 9, 2013

Published in the paper!

I'm so excited that my letter to the editor, sent to my parents' hometown paper, was published on Sunday! Here's the clip!