No School, Now What?

Most of the country is canceling school for several weeks at a time and this has parents in a panic of what they can do with their kids in the midst of “social distancing”. As a parent to younger kids, I am worried about this as well, so I have been trying to find ways to have some structure to our weekdays in the midst of not being able to go anywhere. As a middle school teacher, I am panicking about my students ending up with screens in front of them all day long and worried they won’t pick up a book to read while their parents are still required to go to work. 

So I have been gathering some resources for my own kids and I wanted to share them all in one spot to help parents looking for some things to keep their kids engaged during school closures. First up is a schedule for you to follow with some ideas of what to do for each activity. 

This is from NESCA and I personally will be setting alarms with labels on my phone so I know where we are in our day. I really like the additional suggestions because I run out of ideas for my five-year-old and this helps me not just sit her in front of the TV while I stare at my phone. As a secondary teacher, I think this schedule works well for older kids too. This allows them to do productive things and still have some of their own screen time. NESCA has some great suggestions in their blog post here

Resources

Up next are some websites with FREE access to their learning materials for parents to use with their kids. I have looked through them with a parent’s eye and they are easy to understand and fun to do with your kids. (Plus this will keep you off your phone or watching TV all day too.): 

  • Scholastic has lessons and units broken down by grade level.  
    • “Even when schools are closed, you can keep the learning going with these special cross-curricular journeys. Every day includes four separate learning experiences, each built around a thrilling, meaningful story or video. Kids can do them on their own, with their families, or with their teachers. Just find your grade level and let the learning begin!”
  • Virtual Tours – Take a tour from home as a family! 
    • “But there is a way to get a little culture and education while you’re confined to your home. According to Fast Company, Google Arts & Culture teamed up with over 500 museums and galleries around the world to bring anyone and everyone virtual tours and online exhibits of some of the most famous museums around the world.”
  • Science Activities– these are broken up by grade level and are broken up by the amount of time each lesson takes. 
    • “All of the lessons below are expertly designed to engage students, achieve learning outcomes, and be easy for teachers to use. We have short mini-lessons that are completely digital and full lessons that include an activity. All of the activities are designed to use simple supplies a parent will likely already have at home.”
  • Language Arts Challenge
    • “The materials will allow students to work at their own pace. I know many students don’t have access to a computer or to wifi, so all of the resources can be used without any tech.”
  • Homeschool Curriculum
    • “To support all quarantined families, our charter school-approved curriculum is 100% free for the next 3 weeks. Just use the button below, create a profile for your kids’ ages (2-7 yrs), and get started with super simple, no-fuss, easy to implement ideas or lessons for the kids to try each and every day.” 
  • Activities for kids 
    • “They’re a way for me to help break up the day, keep the kids from asking 47 “but why…?” questions, buy myself a chance to unload the dishwasher or hit the reset button if things aren’t going so well. Activities aren’t a must to make life work at home – but they are a great tool when you need them.”
  • Amazing Educational Resources
    • This is a good doc with links to sites that are offering FREE access to their materials while schools are canceled. She is updating the site daily! I would recommend reading the descriptions of each link and using the ones you feel are most applicable and user-friendly. 
  • Finally just a quick graphic with some websites: 

While these times are unknown and our day to day “normalcy” is turned upside down, I encourage you to look at this time of a way to reconnect with your kids. Let them show you some of the things they are capable of that we don’t get to see in action. Reconnect with them and show them they are safe. (Especially our empath kiddos, they are absorbing a lot of the stress from the outside world and they need a soft place to land.) 

In the end…

I would also encourage you to limit your conversations about this virus around your kids because I can guarantee they are listening and absorbing your attitude towards “social distancing”, precautions, panic, stress, anxiety, etc. I also really encourage you to keep in check your own exposure to what you are reading, watching, and talking about. We can’t expose ourselves to the negativity and panic without starting to absorb and project those things to others.   

I hope these resources are helpful and encourage all of us to take the time to focus on our kids and what they need from us right now. I hope it also helps us not remain so hyperfocused on panic and unknown happening in our world. Be safe, Be kind, Be well.

Growth Mindset for Teachers

As a teacher you have a ton on your plate every day. You have planning, grading, meetings, parents to call back, students demanding attention… The list goes on and on. I get it. I was an English teacher for 3 years before I became a Gifted and Talented specialist. I remember the long days of grading, planning, and meetings that never really seem to matter. I also remember learning about “Growth Mindset” during my first year of teaching, (I was working on my Masters degree in Gifted Education) and thinking I really wanted to instill growth mindset into my students and tried to help them learn that not all mistakes are bad, that we can learn from them. I never thought about how to instill a growth mindset in my own work though.

As a gifted and talented specialist, I am continuously working on teaching my gifted students how to grow from mistakes or challenges they face at home or in school. I am also encouraging my teachers to work on this skill with all of their students, but the thought occurred to me- Why am I not teaching my teachers how to have a growth mindset? Our students watch our every move and if aren’t demonstrating a growth mindset, why would our students?

So after looking at a few different things and how to work with professionals on cultivating a growth mindset I found the same themes to help teachers work on their own growth mindset.

  1. Learn new technology
    1. Notice I say learn it, not master it. The point of growth mindset is to challenge yourself to get outside of your comfort zone and try  something new to learn from it. As teachers we do not need to be experts on up and coming technology, but we do need to keep up. Technology is going to be a big part of education for a long time.
    2. All I am asking is for you to learn how to use it, create with it, and integrate it into your lessons. If you get stuck, ask a kid to help or a fellow teacher who is familiar with it.
  2. Continuous growth
    1. As educators we need to be working on learning more about our content, teaching techniques, engagement strategies, classroom management, etc. in order to keep our license valid. In order to cultivate a growth mindset for your content or a concept you have been struggling with, you need to take those classes, attend those professional developments, sign up for a books study. I personally set up book studies at my school to help teachers learn something new and allow them to practice it with a growth mindset.
  3. Be Curious
    1. We teach our students to be inquisitive about the content, but when is the last time you let yourself ask questions about the content you are teaching? Use the strategies from inquiry-based learning in order to explore ways to teach new concepts or even old concepts students may be struggling with.
      1. Steps to take: Look at the problem, ask questions of the problem, explore the possible solutions through deep questioning.
  4. Flexibility
    1. As educators we know we have to make adjustments to lesson as the drop of a dime (or surprise fire drill), but when it comes to our own agenda, planning or grading we can be little stubborn. Ask a colleague to come in and watch a lesson or critique an assignment you are giving in order to grow your own practices and repertoire.
  5. Try something new
    1. It doesn’t have to be technology related.
    2. Maybe offer a menu of project choices that students can choose to complete for a summative assessment.
    3. Plan cross curricular with another department. Imagine how much fun a biology teacher and art teacher could have when learning about and drawing plants. History and Language Arts is always a great combination, but throw in some acting using historical context for character development and you have a unique project that meets a lot of standards. What about a math teacher and a music teacher working together to complete a class composition using different algebraic equations?
  6. Listen
    1. How often do we truly listen to what our teams are saying or suggesting? Really think about it. We are quick to interject and give our own thoughts without really hearing what our colleagues are saying or trying to get across.
      1. Slow down and open your mind to new ideas. (If it’s an old idea that didn’t work last time, think of ways to  tweak it to work now to meet the needs of students). This will help create a sense of community among peers who will feel heard and understood.
        1. How? Well to start, don’t interject the moment you hear something you disagree or agree with. Be in the moment with your peer- don’t start to think of a response, don’t let your mind or eyes wander- look and listen. Then collaborate.
  7. Reflect, Reflect, Reflect.
    1. Evaluate your work. What went well? What didn’t? How did the students respond? How did you respond? Was the outcome of the time spent what you wanted it to be?
      1. “I never have time to reflect, it’s always on to the next thing.” Yep I get it. I feel the same way. Possible solution? Talk to your department head and ask if you can take time on professional development days or professional learning committee to take time to reflect on the last few lessons you did.
      2. Why? Well if you know anything about growth mindset, we know that the brain is malleable meaning it can change. When we take the time to examine strengths, weaknesses, triumphs,  failures and goals- our brain can learn to adjust and it will keep you on track.

If you are able to implement a growth mindset and demonstrate to your students what it looks like they are likely to follow your lead. If anything, learning how to use the growth mindset in your own professional setting will help you become a stronger individual not only professionally, but also outside of work. These seven things will help you grow and change the way you look at problems, failures, successes, and changes across the board.

So what is the biggest thing you want to work? I would love to hear how you are going to incorporate growth mindset into your classroom, with your team, or with your own professional development.

Creating Independent Learners

One of the biggest concerns I have seen in working in gifted education is parents interest in how schools are fostering independent learning. This is not an easy task when teachers are required to teach a prescribed curriculum and have a wide spectrum of student needs to meet in one class. (Not to mention class sizes of 30+ kids)

Let’s back up first. What is independent learning?

The simple answer is allowing students to set a goal and develop a plan for learning. SMART goals are typically the most referenced when we talk about fostering independent learning. (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely)

SMART goals are also what is used typically when creating goals for gifted student Advanced Learning Plans (ALP). This goal set up is helpful in making sure students really understand what is going to go into accomplishing their goals throughout the year, and allows them to see what action steps they need to take next.

The thing with SMART goals is they can use this set for smaller goals in classes with class projects or even tests they are preparing to take. High school students will think SMART goals are too elementary, but once they put the goal into action they will see (hopefully) that it does help them achieve their goal.

Another thing about SMART goals is parents can help create them at home too. There are plenty of pinterest and google results out there for templates to use with your kids at home. So what kind of SMART goals could you set at home with your student? Maybe it’s mastering a kick in their karate class, getting the lead dance part in ballet, scoring their first goal, reading a harder book on a subject that interests them… the list can go on and on. You could even create goals on how they can work on building a better relationship with a sibling or adult, or learning how to recognize their triggers when they are anxious. Kids need help with those skills too.

Teachers are constantly using and developing rubrics for their classes and grading content, but another way to use rubrics is to allow students to self-assess their work in an honest and reflective way. This means asking students to genuinely reflect on their effort, what they learned, where they struggled (either with content or presentation), and what they would do differently if given a project similar. This self-reflection allows students to check and make sure they really did take ownership of their learning and end project. Another reason a self-assessment is beneficial is it allows teachers and parents to see where their student might be struggling or feeling confident in.

When we allow time for self-reflection on major projects, we are allowing our students another way to express what they are proud of and what they are struggling with in class. This can lead to them learning how to self-advocate for their needs in a class. Once they take the time to reflect on their success and struggles, they can then ask the teacher for work that is similar to what they felt like they did well and also for help in areas where they struggled. (Gifted students don’t always like to struggle with academics, but a self-reflection sometimes pushes them to realize they may need help and that is ok.)

So now what?

  • Create goals for your students- parents and teachers. Create some goals yourself with your students so they can see how you take control of your learning or personal goals. If we don’t demonstrate how to do it, they may not want to buy into it.
  • Make sure the goals are created based on their interests or where they want to improve upon something they feel needs strengthening.
  • Allow your students to reflect on their progress or completion of the goal.
    • Here are some example questions to ask:
      • What do I like best about the work I did?
      • What might I do differently next time in order to challenge my mind?
      • What did I learn about myself and my learning during this project?
  • Encourage students to use their self-reflection to advocate for their needs in the classroom. Encourage them to ask for help or ask for the ability to differentiate a project

    • (Teachers) Offer a menu of choices on how to complete a project that allows for you to use the same rubric, but allows a gifted student to take charge of their learning.  

This should get you started if you are concerned your student is not becoming an independent learner. I would love to hear your ideas and what you have done or seen in the past! Share below!

Happy goal setting!

Lindsay