Teacher Talk October/November 2020

"Challenges are what make life interesting. Overcoming them is what makes life meaningful." - Joshua J. Marine
What Is Homework's Purpose in a Pandemic
"Each year, as my students shuffle in the door on the first day, I ask them to tell me about the first word that comes to mind when they think of school. Invariably, the word I hear most is homework. I used to laugh a little, but it also makes me sad. School should be an exciting place where our students can connect with one another and explore the world they live in and the world beyond their community. Still, the overwhelming idea my students were taking away from their experience was homework."

English teacher, Christina Torres, uses the following CRUCIAL QUESTIONS to evaluate the work she asks of her students outside of the classroom. She also writes about purposeful time in the full article from from "What Is Homework's Purpose in a Pandemic?" by Christina Torres in ASCD, October 2020.

What skill or concept am I actually assessing? If I assign two chapters of reading with some questions, what am I hoping my students get out of it? Am I testing their willingness to follow instructions or setting them up for a discussion later on? If so, that seems like it's for my convenience rather than their learning. Yes, students need to build the stamina to read on their own, but I could better serve that goal by building students' love for books through choice reading assignments. By focusing on my students' needs instead of my schedule, I am able to shift the purpose of our in-class time as well. It may be better to have us read aloud in class, for example, so that students not only are engaged as a community, but also can use the group to better understand and discuss the text.

Are students connecting what they're learning to their world or to a culture they may not know much about? Assigning work outside the school day can be a way for students to make personal connections that they may not make as a whole class. Instead of reading an article or doing a math problem, could students interview a family or community member or find a real-world scenario to practice that skill? When my students read Romeo and Juliet, they interviewed a trusted adult about their views on love and relationships, then compared their own ideas and the beliefs of the interviewee with the beliefs of a culture they chose to research. This allowed them to learn more about another worldview and practice interviewing skills.

Can students make choices or share their voices? So much of our current education system asks students to do what others tell them and aim for a standard they had no part in creating. Providing options on how to show mastery—whether it's collaborating with us on the rubric or giving them flexibility with due dates—can help kids learn how to succeed on their own. The more students can practice skills such as critical thinking or content-to-self connections that mirror real-world scenarios, the more capable they are of figuring out what "success" looks like for them. At the end of last year's Romeo and Juliet unit, I couldn't use my traditional final project based on a stage performance, so instead I provided an assessment with lots of choice and multiple ways for students to show mastery, including writing, art, and performance.

Is this a good use of students' time? Students are as overwhelmed as educators are with all the changes in the world and increased anxiety around safety and stability. Why not ensure the work is a productive use of time and brain space? Acknowledging our consideration of students' schedules and mental health can also build trust. When I shared that a homework assignment I gave was designed to prepare students for an upcoming essay, they were more appreciative and engaged because they saw I cared about their time. Copious amounts of homework often strip students of time to just be kids. If you believe homework is necessary, be prepared to share your rationale (and respond to student feedback).

Innovation isn't just about new technology or flexible seating. It's about adjusting our mindsets. We can let go of our traditional beliefs about what kids need and ideas that place compliance over community. We can see changes in homework as an evolution that will lead students to create their own success—rather than us telling them what success is.

from "What Is Homework's Purpose in a Pandemic?" by Christina Torres in ASCD, October 2020

Google Meet Tip #1

Ever tried to share a video during Google Meet via Screen Share? I have and I failed miserably until I found this solution. Use the Screen Casting feature to successfully share the video and the audio. This method decreases buffering and poor audio quality and allows you to pause the video to have quality discussions with your students.

Resources for Grades Pre-K through 5
Resources for Grades 6 through 12
  • Need a BREAK(out)? Try these October Breakout EDU games: Zombie Outbreak the Aftermath, Haunted Park, The Haunts of the Hollywood Hills Hotel. (contact Hope M. if you need the log-in credentials)
  • Here's a few more Breakout EDU games to teach about the upcoming election: Every Vote Counts and Ballot Box Bumble.
  • The article, "A Crash Course in Digital Instruction", offers some great ways to incorporate Padlet and other online tools into your digital instruction.
  • Preventing Plagiarism: This article shared by the ROE focuses on a few exercises to teach about plagiarism and how to avoid it. Follow the link to learn more about mini lessons on recognizing plagiarism, how to summarize, the difference between summarizing and paraphrasing, how to use direct quotes, and using formal citations. Schoology has a helpful originality feature that detects plagiarism (thanks for sharing, Julie P.)
  • Ignite My Future in School provides middle school educators with standards-aligned, transdisciplinary resources designed to effectively engage classrooms with the foundations of computational thinking across core subject areas.

supporting students

Building Relationships Virtually

  1. Greet Your Students Each Day- Have morning meeting, stand at your door or post a good morning/good day message. Take the extra time to start the day off right.
  2. Hold Theme Days- Have students participate in hat day, wacky tacky day or spirit week!
  3. Personalize Your Feedback- use your student's first names as you provide feedback on assignments. It lets them know that you value their effort and are taking the time to review their work.
  4. Send a Notecard to Students- Everyone likes receiving mail. Send students a notecard about something you are proud of them for or bragging on them for doing something awesome. They don’t have to be long or fancy but knowing you are thinking about them will go such a long way.
  5. Shout Outs- Share authentic wins and jobs well done. This could be during morning meeting or it could be in a weekly newsletter email that goes to all families.
  6. Positive Contacts- I know this has been preached for the last several years but don't forget the power of a positive parent contact.
  7. Learn About Your Students- learn their hobbies and incorporate them in word problems, essays prompts, etc.
  8. Find something positive in every single student and tell them.

supporting teachers

The following message is from Dr. Jody Carrington's Sunday Night Live on October 25th, 2020

Burnout is real. The term was first coined in 1974, but I dare say that people have been feeling emotionally exhausted for centuries when they don't look after themselves, and even more importantly, each other. Here are a few reminders to help keep you in the game

1. Reconnect. You will always be in a state of reconnecting. To your “why”, your health, your hopes, your babies, your partner. As you sit here right now, make a note (with those colored pens I know you have) of the three things, or people, who you want to get reconnected with.

2. Rest. I promise you, if you’re not getting enough sound sleep, it is the gateway to emotional disaster. Not just sleep matters. Time to move your body, breathe, and scroll your favourite game-changers can refuel your soul.

3. Joy. Joy and happiness are two different things. Even if you're not happy about all the things in your life, you can still find some joy. You, my friend, deserve it.

4. Gratitude. At the risk of overusing this sweet word, know this: it's a practice. Not an end game. Answer this: why are they so lucky have you? Sit with it. You are important to so many.

Upcoming Professional Development Opportunities
  • October 30- Adaptive PE. The purpose of this presentation is to provide APE and PE teachers with a spectrum of developmentally appropriate activities and games for school-aged students with and without disabilities. The audience will be actively involved in a variety of physical to accommodate students with varying ability levels and diverse backgrounds in individual and integrated settings. In addition, this workshop will provide participants with strategies, activities, and documents that can be easily modified and implemented in the physical education curriculum. We will discuss the general characteristics of the physical education programs, rights of children and parents, individualized education plan, and more.
  • November 4- Human Trafficking. Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. It enslaves tens of thousands of people here in the US: women, children, and men who are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. Survivors face daunting challenges as they come out of "the life". Survivors are often hidden in our midst: in our schools, churches, and neighborhoods. Join Annie Schomaker, Co-founder and Co-Executive Director for Eden's Glory, for a presentation on sex trafficking. She and a sex trafficking survivor will tell a story of how homelessness lead to sex trafficking and now a survivor.
  • November 6- Mid-State Special Education is excited to bring you a free virtual Social Skills training on Friday, November 6, 2020 from 1:00 – 3:00. This training will present evidence- based practices recommended by the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder including scripting, video modeling, and social stories. Participants will learn about the research behind the evidence based practices and will be guided through practical uses in the classroom and school setting. The target audience includes school social workers, speech/language pathologists, special education teachers and administrators. Even if you have already received training related to social skills this virtual session will provide you with some great reminders about how to best meet the needs of students with social deficits. Please contact Vickie Throne Vickie.thorne@midstatespec.org or 526-8121 ext. 230 by October 30th to reserve a spot at this free training.
  • November 16- Youth Mental Health First Aid. Youth Mental Health First Aid teaches you how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. This training gives adults who work with youth the skills they need to reach out and provide initial support to adolescents (ages 12-18) who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem and help connect them to the appropriate care.
  • November 19- Cultivate Math Mindedness in All Students. Join us as we reimagine mathematics instruction and explore strategies for building an intuitive understanding of math concepts from Kindergarten through High School. By recognizing common threads and making connections between math standards across grade levels, we can become better mathematics educators and help ALL of our students discover just how math-minded they can be.
  • November 20- Implementing Restorative Practices in Your Classroom. New thinking, new practice, new result...This workshop is a practical guide for educators interested in implementing restorative practices, an approach that proactively builds positive school communities while dramatically reducing discipline referrals, suspensions and expulsions. We will discuss the restorative practices continuum, implementation guidelines, and how and why the processes work. The focus will be on affective language, affective questions, small impromptu conferences, and using circles effectively. This will be a highly engaging workshop as we work together in a circle to show how restorative practices promote strong interpersonal relationships and community building and provide students with meaningful opportunities to be accountable for their actions and responsible for helping to make their school a safe and nurturing place.
  • Monthly Book Study- Teach Illinois is offering two different book studies through the school year, one focusing on Teaching & Learning, the other on Race & Diversity. Learn more here.
  • IETC- Strongly recommend this conference! The 27th Annual Illinois Education & Technology Conference is a professional development conference focused on technology integration strategies, engaging instructional practices, digital tools and resources, and emerging trends for teachers, administrators, and technology staff. Learn, explore and connect with other innovative educators to harness the power of technology and prepare future-ready students.
  • G Suite Updates- This daily blog contains updates to Google platforms as well as explanations of the feature, expected rollout, and who will have access.
  • The Learning Technology Center of Illinois has released a Parent Resource Hub. This site offers a Q & A and computer help for both Schoology and Google. It would be a great resource to share with parents and students.


Created with images by Tim Mossholder - "untitled image" • Chris Liverani - "Exam" • Matt - "untitled image" • gloriak2700 - "school supplies back to school arts and" • elizabethaferry - "school lockers hallway" • Ricardo Gomez Angel - "Lovely hands"