Reflective Teaching Blog Post #4

THE THING I LOVE 2013-08-22 08.11.27

Recently I was challenged on Facebook to share three things I’m grateful for everyday for seven days. My immediate thought was the overwhelming gratitude I feel going to work everyday to do I job I not only believe in, but love. The challenge of this blog post is in deciding what it is I love most about teaching. In the spirit of openness I have been narrowing this down for quite a few days. Below are a few of the items that made my list of things I love about teaching.

  1. Collaboration with colleagues
  2. Laughter from students during author’s chair
  3. Spontaneous outbursts of discovery
  4. Talking to students at the end of the day while they wait on parents
  5. The morning whip around
  6. Mid afternoon dance breaks
  7. VTS discussions
  8. Book group conversations
  9. Jump rope and foursquare
  10. The 5th grade Heritage Project Museum Sharing

The list took a life of its own. Forced to pause in reflection at the end of page I realized what I probably knew all along. The thing I absolutely love MOST about teaching is all the layers of relationship required to do this job well. Relationships with students, parents, colleagues, university partners, community partners, artists, musicians, scientists, you get the point. Essentially what I love to do is design tasks that will create new relationships, deepen old relationships, change some relationships, and to help students build enough confidence to seek out the relationships of their choosing,

From the start, I  knew teaching in isolation was not for me. Building the relationships essential to a successful practice began in my credential program. I sought out strong coaches. I looked for teachers whose practice I admired and asked questions about the things they did. Professional development led me to partnerships with university organizations and content specialists. Bay Area Writing Project and Mills Teacher Scholars provided spaces for critical conversations to deepen my thinking. My practice is supported foundationally by the brick and mortar of these relationships.

Then there are the relationships I foster with students. Daily I encourage students to be good citizens, conflict managers, and decent friends. I introduce them to ideas and create tasks that will deepen those relationships. I help them build relationships with writers and characters in books. I encourage students to not let stereotypes and fear stifle their ability to have multicultural and inclusive relationships.

 When these relationships develop and thrive I feel the most alive, the strongest sense of passion and purpose. Every knew relationship makes me fall deeper in LOVE!

#ReflectiveTeaching Post 3

It has taken me quite a while to pick an area of improvement for a teacher evaluation. Trying to approach this post from that stance made me realize I really don’t improve my teaching at all because of evaluation. When I think about choosing an area of improvement because I want to give students more effective instruction it feels much more genuine.

The first Monday of the second week of school I engaged my 5th graders in a review conversation about what social studies/history content they received in 4th grade. After the 15 minute discussion I presented them with a team challenge to put a puzzle together that would introduce them to the 5th grade social studies topic. Teams of students put together a 60 piece puzzle of the United States. While they were working they talked about places they’d been, wanted to go, and what they knew certain areas of the country. I walked around encouraging and participating in some of the group discussions. Upon the conclusion of the puzzle I asked the class what they thought we might learn and what they were interested in finding out. Afterward one student said to me, “Ms. Simmons this activity really opened up my thinking.”

If I had to choose an area of practice I really wanted to get better at, it would be designing tasks that really open up student thinking. The longer I teach the less I see myself as a giver of information. I see myself as a facilitator of discovery, a sparker of curiosity so to speak, and in some ways a devil’s advocate pushing students toward critical thinking. The initial purpose for this task for me is a fun way to get students working together and thinking about the geography of the United States since we begin our study with geography. But as this student saw it her mind opened as the discussions progressed. We shared stories about places we’d been, we discussed possible historical content, students hypothesized about content from what they knew happened in certain places, and when I heard comments that implied content I would chime in I can’t wait until we start learning about that. Sometimes I realized by observing students which activities open their minds, but in terms of craft this is the area I am most invested in improving.

#ReflectiveTeaching Post 2

I am so guilty of assigning random tasks that don’t really fit with anything that came before and not much that comes after, just for the sake of giving students a chance to use technology. In past years the extent in tech integration has been, “Oh you finished early, why don’t you type your poem as a next step.”  I’ve witnessed classrooms with long lists of interactive games websites for students to play so they can have computer time, but im not guilty of this one. With that said I know many students enter the classroom with tons education technologyof tech skills. Technological advances are happening so quickly, I don’t always have time to think clearly about the integration of technology. I usually end up just imposing technology on a lesson in a way that doesn’t really make clear sense.

Last year I took the largest step of my career toward using technology in a way that facilitates learning. This change came when I was introduced the Edmodo app. This app helped me to give students more personalized guidance navigating the internet, a storage place for important links and files, a place to grade assignments and quizzes, and also to interact informally with students. The interface is much like Facebook. Students were able to interact and personalize their pages while under my watchful eye. This year we have a Chromebook cart available for classroom use. I am really looking forward to discovering how this technology enhances our classroom experience.

 My technology goal for this year is to create American history units of study using the Chromebooks and the Edmodo app as the students go to website for guiding their  internet experience. My goal is for students to discover how to manipulate the technology because they need it to engage in the learning. Now I need to set a timeline for myself to plan out units for geography, early Americans, explorers, colonies, and the American revolution. Wish me luck!


#ReflectiveTeaching Post 1

goalsSince 2010 I have been dreaming of the day when I blogged regularly about teaching. So when I saw the Te@ch thought tweet for the teacher blogging challenge I figured I would give it a go. After all two things a teacher is never short of is interesting stories and deep reflection.

Blog Post 1

On my goals for the school year.

Its funny how after over ten years in the classroom, the first thing I think about when it comes to goal setting is SURVIVE.

One week into the school year, 22 reading assessments, balancing the components of the weekly schedule, determining seating arrangements, planning get-to-know you games, preparing for the upcoming inquiry PD sessions I will be co-facilitating, the numerous other things required in the preparation for a school year, I finally feel like I can even come close to having a goal beyond plain ole survival.


1. Engage students in critical conversation everyday.
2. Listen closely and allow student voices to help guide instruction.
3. Incorporate technology seamlessly into the curriculum
4. Laugh out Loud as often as possible


Classroom Digital Connections

Our daily lives are slowly being invaded by technology. Humans have always had experiences that we wanted to capture in images and through stories. In this digital age these stories can be told quickly and shared instantly in the forms of facebook and Instagram posts, text messages, and tweets. This digital crossing took center stage in my classroom, leading me to a split second decision to give in to the invasion, and consequently some deep reflection about the intersections between my classroom and my students digital ways of being. This series of posts will examine the intersections of daily classroom practices, technology, and it’s effects on my teaching.

Here’s the scene. Students gather at tables in groups of four. On a tray sits individual cups of various reactant material, beakers, syringes, stir sticks, magnifiers, goggles, and thermometers. Students carry with them science notebooks, labsheets, and pencil or pen. I go over the procedures, checking for understanding of the lab directions. Students prepare in small groups for their first set of reactions. “For safety, goggles on.” I walk around supervising reactions, asking probing questions, and checking notebooks. I stop to check in with Barry, he holds up his beaker, bubbling from his reaction combination, and says, “Ms. Simmons I really need to take a selfie.” In that instant I stopped to consider the idea. In a matter of seconds I reflected on moments when I feel the need to take selfies. I figured Barry saw himself as that classic image of scientist making bubbling concoctions in laboratories, and he wanted to capture this moment in his working cell phone memory. Something is happening here, I thought. “Go Ahead.” “For real” he says, “I can.” “Ok class”, I say, “I’m giving two minutes for anyone who wants to take a selfie.”

Much of what I do in my classroom centers around relationship building. From day one I ask students to work collaboratively. Often that collaboration is centered around constructing ideas together but can also be as simple as negotiating the sharing of material. From the first day of class I begin establishing safe and trusting relationships that push students past their perceived learning boundaries. Part of my attempt to build relationships with my students centers around incorporating student interests into the classroom and allowing them a voice in the way our learning takes shape. That means valuing the world in which my students reside. As much as I hate to admit it for sake of feeling old, that world is different from mine. It is different from the one in which I grew up. I teach in an era of social networking. Every student I had this year was fascinated by or had a personal relationship with social media. The scene described above is just one slice of the way technology is altering our classroom landscape. Reflecting on the decision to give students time in this lesson to take selfies led me to uncover something I believe is underlying the whole scene.

I felt that I should validate my student’s experience by valuing that he wanted to capture that moment in time. He would later tell me that he shared the image with his family. In the moment he knew he had the technology to preserve the moment, take it with him beyond the classroom, and share it at home with his family. These digital tools at the fingertips of students open up many lively possibilities for the extension of relationships and validation of my students new ways of being. I believe this brief moment sparked his desire to engage in storytelling. The modern way of sharing about experiences. Even though this kind of digital inter crossing opens up a lot scary risks that need to be very carefully managed, and I realize how much the boundaries need to be very clearly defined. I am completely open to the possibilities.


One way to surface teaching issues/problems is to begin by checking your assumptions. – Tomas Galguera Professor Mills College

The notion of checking assumptions is a really important one. Not the idea of check your assumptions at the door and get rid of them. But, examine them for accuracy. Examine the idea behind the assumption and why it is that I am assuming what I am. Under my assumptions may be the issue of inquiry, the issue of equity that I need to get at to move my teaching practice forward. I talk to students all the time and I assume I know what they mean when I am filling in missing words, nodding my head why they say something I dont quite understand but I assume I know what they are getting at. Then I say, “ok my students comprehend this subject matter or they understand this story.” Then I ask them to write about the story or write about what they learned. SHOCK and CONFUSION, not on the part on my students, but all over my face as I read the written accounts of my students learning. The thing that I just new they understood seems to be all muddled when they write. Either there is a serious disconnect between what my students can orally describe that they know and what they can write, or in my attempt at filling in the language gaps I am assuming comprehension that students dont really have. This year I want to look/listen/read closely so I can check that assumption. As tomas states assumptions play a great role in inquiry. Checking those assumptions are essential to equity.

A Question to Ponder

In my classroom I have small group work time four days a week. I spend 30 minutes with a small group during each of those sessions. For two days of the week I work with the same group. The other two days they work alone. We had been reading together a short Tall tale at their level. I must point out that it was at their fluency level. However the content and language of the text required some scaffolding. Particularly because this group of students are English learners. The story had hyperbole and simile, as well as a plot that began at the end and took you in a complete circle. With that said, we read the text together. We discussed what was happening at the end of each major section. we discussed the meanings of the figurative language and talked about the traits of the character. We worked with the story together for about 4 sessions. In the session where they were to work alone they had to answer some comprehension questions about the text in short sentences. One question asked them to respond to a question that could be answered by reading a sentence on the first page. One student in the group responded to the question by describing the scene in the picture on the first page. The picture had nothing to do with the actual text on the page. So during the share out of answers we discussed the discrepancy to the picture and the actual text. We also talked about how pictures enhance the text, but may not reflect the entire story. We also talked about how important it is to check the actual words. Even though by the end of the discussion the student understood why the answer was incorrect, I still wonder what this tells me about her reading ability. Especially since I know she could read the page and that we had already discussed it.

Teacher Inquiry Positively Affects Practice

“Good questions work on us, we don’t work on them. They are not a project to be completed but a doorway opening onto greater depth of understanding, actions that will take us into being more fully alive.” – Peter Block

So many nights, I come home from my classroom with one of those difficult questions at work on me. One of those questions of practice that makes you think and rethink lesson plans, table groups, schedules, and whatever other things may be blocking desired outcomes. Inquiry allows me to explore these deep questions and react to them with more than just my instinct. Having some sound methods of gathering data and analyzing it opens the door to understanding phenomena in much greater depth. Exploration that often leads to more questions. Exploration that brings more depth to my practice, making me more capable of creating change. Taking away from that vulnerable feeling that there is nothing I can do or that I have tried everything. Inquiry helps me maintain my agency and keeps me focused that all students can achieve at rigorous levels. This inquiring habit of mind is exactly what I am trying to instill in my students and it is exactly what keeps my practice vibrant and full of life.

Teacher Inquiry: A Work In Progress

Site in development to showcase teacher learning through inquiry. We are empowered to learn when we truly want to know the answer to our questions.  This summer I have embarked on a journey to answer the question: How can building a website that focuses on teacher inquiry (going public with my practice) change the way I think about teaching? As i did in a similar project with my students media and student voice, I am using this project to help me find my own voice as a teacher researcher.