Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Student Self Reflection-Action Research Question 2014

By Marie Clevering

In the past two months, I have begun my first year teaching third grade. Earlier in my career, I taught primarily middle school students, with a focus on fifth and sixth grades. 

First Impressions

I learned rather quickly that no matter the age, all students face similar struggles. At the beginning of the year, I may have even thought “Oh third grade. It’ll be so easy after teaching middle school.” Not so. Third grade has its unique challenges, and is forcing my approach to dealing with students to evolve.

Sarcasm is no longer a go-to strategy for working with a student with a good sense of humor. Third graders also are aware of some current events, but do not have the ability to talk about them in any depth or detail. And third graders take a long time to write down their homework. A long time. A very long time. I also realized quickly that students have a LOT of questions. These questions aren’t necessarily important, or a question that needs to be answered right away, but the students think they are. 

I don’t want to come off like I don’t enjoy my seven and eight year olds. I do. They are excited to learn. They are proud of their accomplishments. They love listening to vocabulary songs, love doing art projects, and love to read. It is an amazing age where children are just starting to become more aware of their community, and to develop their character. It is a great time to work with children to help make them life long learners.

Behavior Motivation Formats

At the beginning of the year, I struggled with what I wanted for the focus of my research. I felt like I needed an entire year to become acclimated with the elementary model. But, over the past month, it’s become clear that there is a place in my classroom (and other upper elementary grades) for motivation around self-reflection that can be tied to incentives for improved behavior.

In the past, third graders at my school were in one classroom all day. If they were off-task, their names were moved along a very public ladder that started out at “Doing Great” and ended with “Take A Break.” Sometimes, extra recess was given to the entire class for being particularly compliant during transitions, or when listening to directions.

I found the past approach problematic for multiple reasons:

1)  Students in the 3rd grade at my school are now departmentalized. This means that they travel between a science/math room and a humanities room. This is in addition to going to gym, art and elective. It’s a packed day where students engage with different teachers, different classrooms and different rules.  Having a system in only one room just doesn’t work.

2)  Giving incentives and rewards to the entire class for doing well is a great idea. I have used this approach many times before, and I will continue to do so. However, if it’s the only way of making sure students are motivated to learn and follow directions, it falls short during independent work time and discussions in small groups. This model is awkward because the students who are always doing the right thing become increasingly frustrated with students who have a harder time following directions.

SHOW Grades

I wanted something new and better. I wanted students to be held individually accountable for their daily work and behavior, and be rewarded for their good decisions in the classroom.

The result: Scholarly Habit Of Work (or SHOW) Grades.  It is a system based off of the following concepts:

·     Grit
·     Zest (Enthusiasm)
·     Participation in classroom discussions
·     Being Prepared
·     Being Steady (try not to wiggle!)
·     On Task
·     Working as a team

It’s a lot of components. It’s a lot to ask of eight year olds. But I’m hopeful that it will have a positive effect on their learning. I also hope that self-reflection on these concepts will inspire better character in my kids both inside and outside the classroom.

How SHOW Works

SHOW Grades are student-driven. Students reflect each week on the seven components, and grade themselves on a scale of 4,3,2,1. This is a holistic score that includes all the classes for the whole week. (This is clearly a stumbling block I’m working on: it’s pretty hard to remember as a 31 year old adult what yesterday was like, much less an eight year old trying to assess their entire week!) Student’s self-grades are then reviewed by a teacher, and modified as appropriate.

If students are on the higher end of the rubric scale (either a 3 or a 4), they receive an extended recess period of about 15 minute. If students receive a 2, they receive half the extended recess. If students receive a 1, they do not get any extended recess, and have a one-on-one conversation with the teacher about ways to improve.

Research Goals

This research project has many goals. I want more accountability from my students. I also want to foster a more reflective classroom where students learn how to think about how they have acted. Also, I want to tie this research to literacy.  Besides the writing that students do when they reflect on their behavior for the week, I also want to bring in current event stories of students who show grit and teamwork to get a solution done. 

I’m also in the process of collecting data each week on students’ reflections and self-assessments. I have found a dramatic increase in the scores reported in the self-assessments (with teacher approval). From the first week, which was just three weeks ago, to last week, the class average for receiving a 3 or 4 went from 70% to 90%. Also, after an anonymous survey, over half the class agreed that SHOW helps them become better students. These are very hopeful, encouraging signs that some of the SHOW components can be successful. We shall see…

Saturday, October 18, 2014

“Aha” Moments, Surprises and Questions From Three Years in LTI

By Marie Clevering

I joined Literacy Teachers Initiative three years ago. Honestly, with a switch to a different school, a new curriculum and a new grade to teach, and with starting a family, I didn’t know how long I’d last. But whatever preconceptions I had going in, I got hooked quick, and am still involved today!

         LTI is a chance for the teachers to tell our stories, and to share our unique insights. We see students thrive and we see them struggle. We know there are ways to make every student successful; we just have to find the right methods. Action research within the LTI community is a powerful tool to revitalize and refine our teaching strategies. This is why even experienced teachers with a lot on our plates are excited to participate.

From being in the program for there years, I have gained knowledge that I never would have gained elsewhere. Below are some “aha” moments, surprises, and questions from my time with LTI thus far.

“Aha” Moments!

My first action research project with LTI was all about conferencing.  Specifically, “How can conferencing help my students’ comprehension and metacognitive strategies in my book clubs and independent reading?”

I loved conferencing with my students to begin with, and felt confident that I was good at it. I thought my research would validate my impressions.

         My first “aha” moment was that I needed to listen more in conferences, especially with lower-performing students.

         During my research, I applied an increased level of critical reflection and focused closely on who was saying what during each conference. I began to realize that I was taking a leadership role in the conferences more than I had thought. I want my conferences to be student-led, and learned I needed to be more patient, giving students (especially lower-performing students) time to think through difficult topics before I offered assistance.

         Upon further reflection, I came to my second “aha” moment. I learned that even a format that was working well for me could be dramatically improved, to great effect for my students!

We must never plateau as teachers. Action research is a great way for me to keep pushing myself forward.


”How do you have time to do all that extra work?”

This is what people often ask when I talk about my action research through LTI. This sort of question was forefront in my mind when I began my involvement in the program as well.

My first surprise was that working with LTI was not another “thing to do”, but an uplifting experience that helped every aspect of my teaching.

As part of LTI, I get to bounce ideas off of smart, inquisitive, solution-orientated teachers. LTI helps solve problems I did not even know I had, and breaks roadblocks that would otherwise likely cause extended frustration. And while participation often brings out more questions, it also brings out more energy to address these questions by making me feel more conscious and empowered as a teacher.

My second surprise was that I can and should ask the “bigger questions” in education that are sometime seen as off-limits to teachers (only permitted to be asked by specialists).

Administrators and policy makers are not the only ones who should be thinking about the “hows” and “whys” of teaching beyond the day-to-day. One of the most empowering things I realized from LTI (and the action research component in particular) is that I can and should think broader and deeper about what is going on in the classroom. By critically reflecting on my teaching, and by challenging myself to come up with solutions (that may or may not work), I am engaging in a process that enriches me as a teacher, and my students benefit as a result.


         I know that great teachers are always improving, and so I always seek to improve my teaching. My first question, as always, is how?

This year, I’m looking at quantitative and qualitative data over a work habits rubric. Specifically, “Can a work habits rubric with an emphasis on reflection and literary character study improve students self motivation?”

         That’s the question I set out with, but I know that as I conduct by research, more and more questions will arise. I also know that the LTI community will be right there with me as I work towards better and better solutions for whatever I find!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Guest Teacher: Marie Clevering

Marie Clevering is a 3rd grade Humanities teacher at the Urban Assembly Academy of Arts and Letters in Brooklyn, NY.  She is now in her 9th year of teaching and has also taught middle school across three boroughs - Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. Marie joined the LTI Project in January 2012 and is a member of the first cohort of teacher-researchers.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Analyze and Revise

By: Lexie Fichera

In my last post, I talked about getting started with action research in your classroom. If you missed it, you should definitely check it out before reading on!

   When you've spent some time reflecting on your practice and gathering entries into your researcher's journal, you will have enough information about your practice to analyze. But wait! Analyze?! Didn't we forget a few steps in the research process? Don't panic-this isn't our data yet. The purpose of the first exercise was to become a reflective practitioner. By doing so, we are able to know exactly what we want to study and where the "action" and "research" of our work truly come into play. Let me use my own research as an example.

In my last post, I discussed my researcher's journal. This journal was comprised of entries written over two months. You don't have to wait that long to start analyzing your reflections; however, you do want to make sure that you've collected entries that portray multiple aspects of your practice. For example, classroom management, differentiation, questioning, classroom culture – to name a few. Once you're ready, you can begin to do what I recommended previously — determine trends and patterns that you see in your reflections. I love to color-code things and, on recommendation from Jodene Morrell, I created a key that would help me see the trends in my own researcher's journal.

Then, I reread my entries from beginning to end and color-coded the trends that I saw. I ended up with something that looks like these pages:

From here, you can choose many different research paths. You may choose to continue to write in your researcher's journal, especially if you feel that you want to gather more information about your own practice. You may want to look across the entries at the trends that you highlighted and determine the trends that stand out to you the most. Finally, but not exclusively, you may decide to zoom in on one or two entries that stand out to you. What do I mean by "stand out?" For some researchers, technique becomes a focus. Those researchers build their research around one technique they use, or would like to use, in their classroom. Some researchers focus in the same manner on strategies, which are very similar to techniques, although famed educator, researcher, and coach, Doug Lemov, makes a valid argument for their difference[1]. Some researchers zoom out further and focus their research on entire unit plans. Whatever focus you choose, know that some of the best research comes from an itch—yes, itch—a feeling of something bothering you so much that you can’t ignore it. Maybe it’s that new curriculum that the students aren’t taking up yet or the student who isn’t participating in class discussion. Perhaps it’s the incessant bullying in your class or school, or perhaps you’re grappling with how to get parents involved in the curriculum. Could it be that you’re eager to open your students up to new possibilities in their learning—through sketchbooks or technology or explorations outside the classroom walls? Do you wish you could reach your higher and lower level learners at the same time, or that you could find a classroom routine that complements your teaching?
If any of these scenarios resonate with you, or if you have your own secret itch, then you will be pleased to read on from teacher researchers who have studied some of these very same problems—and who boldly scratched their itch! They have presented at conferences, written articles and chapters in books, been awarded grants, and made a valuable impact on education.
How far will you go from just a little itch? 

[1] “To me, a strategy is a generalized approach to problems, a way to inform decisions. A technique is a thing you say or do in a particular way. If you are a sprinter, your strategy might be to get out of the blocks fast and run from the front; your technique would be to incline your body forward at about five degrees as you drive your legs up and out ahead of you.” Lemov, Doug. Teach like a champion: 49 techniques that put students on the path to college. Jossey-Bass.—1st ed.