Sunday, September 29, 2013

September 29, 2013

Last Wednesday, we had our 2013 Fall West Ed T4S sweep. For those of you that were unable to join us for the debrief after school, here is a quick snapshot of what we saw.

Overall: We were relatively flat in comparison to last year's spring sweeps, except for two very exciting areas that we saw increases.

Exciting Increases:

  • Student Engagement: (directing students to be engaged, directing all students to participate in the academic learning at the same time, and making student engagement mandatory) was up to 85% which is close to DOUBLE what it was last year.
  • Cognitive Level of Questions and Activities: We saw a decrease in the % of activities/lessons at the Remember level and we saw 46% at the Understand Level, 23% at Apply Level, and 8% at Analyze-Evaluate-Create. 
I definitely attribute our increase of student engagement and higher cognitive level activities to so many teachers implementing the Common Core Standards this year. One of the West Ed visitors asked me if several teachers had attended Functional Writing because she saw many pieces of functional writing in several classes. I was able to tell her that several Crystal teachers did attend Huck Fitterer's Functional Writing and were very happy to begin implementing it right away. For those of you interested in attending a Functional Writing PD, there are a few workshop dates coming up: October 11th and 12th and November 8th and 9th. The Friday sessions will be held from 4:00PM-6:45PM and the Saturday sessions will be held from 8:30AM-12:15PM. You can sign up for these on the FSUSD website. 

Take some time to visit a colleague's classroom. Talk with him/her about what strategies he/she is trying and what is working for the students. That is a great way of gaining insight and trying something with your students that you know works in another classroom. This also helps give consistency to the students. A great example is when Cynthia worked with Paul and implemented his approach for primary sources in her English class. Students were able to see the crossover from their US History class to their English class. 

As I have been saying each week we want our students to be writing every day in every class. Here are a few pictures from Cynthia Merrick's 8th grade English class.

Objective: Using your story map for "The 11:54" outline, or map out, your story.

Students find a comfortable spot to think and write.

Students have found a corner of the room they want to work and be productive. 

Some students chose to stay at their desk and work while others spread out on the floor. 

Word of the Week:  CONTRAST: Contrast is to show how things are different.

Student Voices: My next "shadow" day will be this Friday, October 4th. 

Staff Meeting: Tuesday, October 1st at 3:20 in the library. Agenda will be shared via Google docs. 

Exciting News: Last year's Innovation Team (Josh, Cynthia, Shannon, Jonathan, and myself) will be presenting with Geoff Belleau at the CUE Conference on October 26th at American Canyon High School. Our presentation will focus on Innovation Day at Crystal Middle School. We will also have two students presenting with us speaking about their experiences on Innovation Day last year. 


Sunday, September 22, 2013

September 22, 2013

"Student Voices" update....

I was able to shadow my second student on Tuesday of this week. It was again a great experience.  I joined my 8th grade student in her second period Honors English class.  The class had been in session for a few minutes by the time I joined them.I sat two students behind my "shadow student" with a student that had an empty desk next to her.  Ms. Merrick was reviewing with the class the process to identify author's purpose and meaning from primary sources. The students had been working the last few days on primary source photographs of the Pullman Porters. Ms. Merrick made it clear to students that she was not attempting to focus on the historical facts of the Pullman Porters, but wanted the students to evaluate the photos and be able to determine author's purpose, mood, etc. As pairs we worked together to fill out our graphic organizer. We had to identify the overall theme, we had to attempt to identify with the information we had who the author may have been and what message he/she was trying to convey.  During the time we worked Ms. Merrick had the photo slide show going on her Apple TV display. Ms. Merrick also walked the classroom and checked in with all the pairs. She stopped by us and showed us a picture on her Ipad and asked another probing/guiding question to make us think without giving us any answers. The activity was very engaging for all students in the classroom, including me. It was an activity that required me to analyze and infer. My partner referred back to her notes a few times to help give me additional information that would help me to answer the questions. All students in the class were having very productive and insightful conversations. After we worked through for about twenty minutes, Ms. Merrick had students share out whole class while she wrote the responses for all of us to see. The students seemed very comfortable to share and my partner shared one of her answers to one of the questions. Class was shorter since we were on an assembly schedule, so not all students were able to fully complete the activity. Students put their documents in their folders and were told they could finish the following day.

My "shadow student's" next class was PE. I headed out to the blacktop and sat beside her. Even though I did not have my PE clothes (I had forgotten them) I wanted to join in the activities. So, despite the fact that I had my suit on I sat down on the concrete with the students. Several students told me not to sit on the ground since they didn't want me to get dirty. I smiled and told them it was ok and that I wanted to participate with them.  Mr. Garcia quickly came out and addressed the class. Mr. Garcia had us go through our daily warm ups. We had to do situps, pushups, and some stretches. After the warm ups Mr. Garcia's TA held up the portable whiteboard that had the objective for the day and key concepts that we needed to know. This was very helpful for me because I then knew that we were going to continue to work on our scocer skills and specifically he wanted us to focus on a corner kick and goal kick. Mr. Garcia had the students get into their teams. He then stated which teams would play each other. Since, I would make too many players on my "shadow student's" team, I was not able to play in the game. Instead, I stood down near the goal and watched the girls play and cheered them on. There were several different games going on at one time during the class period. Mr. Garcia rotated game to game giving pointers to the players. He stopped at our game and reviewed the proper practice for the students to get the ball back in play after a goal. After he demonstrated and walked them through the process they followed it the remainder of the game. The girls were all working well together and I heard a lot of positive reinforcement and encouragement especially when a student missed a goal or missed blocking a goal kick from the opposing team. These girls were definitely active and getting their heart rate up during this game. Mr. Garcia sent the students into the locker room a few minutes before the end of the period to get dressed. I headed back to my office to get my materials for the next class, US History Honors.

I joined the class as they were entering the classroom. I was able to sit in the desk directly in front of my "shadow student." The students in the class were all smiling and I had a feeling there was something that I was missing.  Mr. Harris addressed the class and asked us all to complete our warm up and reminded us that we would be taking a test. Now I knew why they were all smiling at me, the students found it funny that I was going to have to take a test with them. I completed my warm up activity and began to get a little anxious about the test. I wasn't sure how well I would do on the exam. Mr. Harris reminded students that they would be answering questions that he had created that would mirror the question style of the Common Core assessment. Mr. Harris pointed to the wall where he had Blooms Taxonomy and stated that many of the questions were asking us to apply our knowledge and pull from many sources to answer the questions. My level of anxiety was increased when Mr. Harris told the students they would be using their notes. I clearly had no notes on the materials. Mr. Harris asked me if I would like a copy of his notes. I said that I would but only if they were notes that he would give to a student. Mr. Harris stated that if a student had been absent for the notes he would definitely share his typed notes. I graciously accepted a copy of his notes. I began the very long test. I began to answer each question the best that I could based on the notes in front of me. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Periodically, Mr. Harris stopped the class to clarify a word meaning or to clarify what one of the questions was asking. Time was of the essence. Since we were on shortened periods because of the assembly schedule, there was no way I was going to finish the test. A few minutes before the period was over, Mr. Harris asked how many of us would need additional time. Many of us raised our hands, however; there were a few students that had managed to complete the test in the time allotted. Mr. Harris explained that we had two options, we could either take the test home and complete it or wait until tomorrow's class but we would only be given about ten minutes in class to finish. If I were truly a student I would have taken him up on the option to take it home and finish, but being that I am not a student I turned it in. Sadly, I found out later in the day that I had earned a 85% on the test. I apparently had completely read one of the questions wrong and answered it based on  the wrong colonial area. This shows that carefully or carelessly reading a question can make a drastic difference on a students' response.

It was a great experience being part of two Honors classes and a PE class on Tuesday. As a student I felt respected as a learner and challenged as a learner. I think that is my big takeaway from this "shadow" experience. As a student we will respond more positively when we are treated respectfully and when we are challenged to think beyond our comfort zone. We must push our students to do as much as possible. Obviously, we need to be aware and considerate of student's learning needs, styles, and accommodations, but we should always find ways of challenging all students to push out of their personal comfort zone. In PE, for example, even though I was in a suit and heals, Mr. Garcia didn't give me a pass on participating. I was then determined to complete the push-ups and sit-ups with all the students because I wanted to prove to myself and to the students and Mr. Garcia that even within a constrained situation I can make it work.

As a student so far on both of the "shadow" days that I have completed, there have been teaching strategies used that have worked for me and have worked for the other students.  The strategies that I really appreciated as a student have been: seeing the objective on the board and then that objective being explained to us. This really grounded the class periods for me and allowed me to know what was expected from me before I left the class. Without that piece, I would feel more like activities were just that, activities, with no real purpose or goal. Second, the times we were told as students to work together were very helpful, especially since I was not completely up to date on previous learning in the class. This allowed me time to ask my partners questions and get a better understanding of what was expected. Lastly, it really helped me and the students I was working with to have the teachers roam the classroom and check in with us. The times it worked best was when the teacher would stop and ask us more probing questions. This made us think more and gave us a clearer direction on how to proceed.

Honestly, I wish I could "shadow" every day of the week, but that just won't fit into the many other calendared obligations and duties that I must carry out. I do have several more "shadow" days scheduled. I just had another student sign up on Tuesday night after seeing me in one of his classes. Pretty awesome!! My goal after I shadow all of the students that have signed up, will be to come together for a pizza lunch and give them the opportunity to share with me their thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

Word of the week:  CONCLUSION: Conlcusion is something you decide after considering all the information you have.

West Ed Sweeps Week: This week is the West Ed T4S sweeps. We will have a sweep one day this week. 

If you would like to sign up to present ideas, strategies, or something great that is happening in your classroom at an upcoming staff meeting, please fill out the Google form found through this link.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

September 15, 2013

We are one month into the school year.  Everyone has been very busy these last few weeks.  Remember there will be bumps along the way. All of us won't always agree on everything.  But, we do all need to focus on the fact that we are here each and every day for the students. When things seem to get difficult or tough, remind yourself why you became an educator. We went into education to make a difference in the lives of children.

As I was running this weekend I was thinking about how so many of our students are now talking about wanting to go to college. Some still are unsure of what they want to do, and that is okay too. We need to now help the students take it from "I want to go to Georgia Tech," to "This is what I am going to do to guarantee I can get into Georgia Tech." What we need to help our students with is creating plans/steps that will help them reach their goals and ultimately attain their dreams. Here is a quick graphic I put together.

In case I haven't made it to your room for one of my T4S visits yet, I will be there soon. As a reminder, I will give you feedback on the following areas: Objective, Facilitating Student Interactions, Engagement Techniques, and Formative Assessment.  I also like to take photos of the great things happening and Tweet with a message and then include in a future blog posting. Continue to incorporate writing into your daily lesson plans. Remember to include Reading and Writing to Learn. 

We are happy to announce that Angie Julien from West Ed will be providing three after school Professional Development workshops this year. The first two will focus on Reading and Writing to Learn. The final workshop's focus has not been determined yet. It will be finalized as we get closer and see where we are going and what support is needed. The dates for the Professional Development opportunities are as follows: October 8th 3:45-5:30, December 10th: 3:45-5:30, and February 26th 3:45-5:30.

Our next in the series of our Technology and the Common Core PD's will be Thursday, October 3rd from 3:45-5:30. These have all been very useful PD's to date. We have been introduced to PLN's, Mobile devices in the classroom, and Digital Citizenship. This partnership with SCOE has been invaluable. If you are on Twitter and haven't followed him yet, you should follow our presenter Geoff Belleau @gbelleau.

This Tuesday, September 17th marks my second endeavor with "Student Voices." I will be shadowing my second student. I am looking forward to experiencing a day as an eighth grader this time. More students have signed up for a total of eight students. I have sent each of them a welcome letter explaining that I will shadow each of them over the next few weeks. If I am in your classroom, do your best to treat me as a student.

As I have mentioned in several posts, all teachers should be including writing in their classes every day. Writing that makes students explain, justify, and cite.  Below are examples of writing to learn in both Spinelli's Physical Science class and in Balthazor's Pre Algebra class.

Here students are working on taking notes on density. 

The objective of the day: "Students will calculate the density of different substances using mass and volume measurements.  Tara has a very specific lab notebook routine for the students where they write their information down. 

Students were assigned a mathematical concept and then needed to write a newspaper article that explains the mathematical concept. Here a student uses his own device to gather additional information.

Students reviewing a newspaper article. They will use what they learned on the format to guide their original piece.

Student using his own device to gather additional information on his topic. He is also working on his math newspaper article.

WORD OF THE WEEK: COMPARE:  Compare is to examine or judge two or more things to show how they are similar to or different from each other.  

Tuesday, September 17th: We will be on an assembly schedule. The Travis Brass Quartet will be performing. 

If you would like to sign up to present ideas, strategies, or something great that is happening in your classroom at an upcoming staff meeting, please fill out the Google form found through this link.

Have a great week!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

September 8, 2013

As we end week four and head into week five we need to keep reflecting on what is going well and what needs to be refined. Reminder: Our one goal is for ALL of our students to become proficient/advanced in reading, language arts, and math. We have completed one formative in English and math so far this year. We had some areas that students excelled and others where review/re-teaching is needed. We will have our first after school reteaching/review session on Monday September 16th.  Sign ups will be via a Google form that will be sent out in a separate email. Students that scored below basic and far below basic will be invited to attend the 3:15-3:45 review session. Students that scored basic should be able to receive re-teach/review during your class periods. Below are our overall results for Formative #1:

  • 6th ELA:  40% Proficient/Advanced
  • 7th ELA:  48% Proficient/Advanced
  • 8th ELA:  91% Proficient/Advanced
  • 6th Math:  21% Proficient/Advanced
  • Pre Algebra: 24% Proficient/Advanced
  • Algebra:  60% Proficient/Advanced
  • Geometry:  29% Proficient/Advanced
As you plan out your lessons remember to keep including writing every day in every subject. Mr. Walpole's US History students were asked to simulate historical research and writing by analyzing primary sources, having discussions with their partners, doing pre-write activities, and then writing a piece of history. 

Word of the Week: CLASSIFY: Classify is to arrange into categories based on similarities.  

Anti-Bullying Assembly: Remember we are having our anti-bullying assembly tomorrow, Monday, September 9th. We will have an A and a B assembly. The schedule for attendance was emailed out to all staff on Friday. Here is the link again if you want to preview what will be presented.   

Health Tip: Upon the advice of many of you I downloaded the app Run Keeper. I used it this weekend and loved it. The app tracks your distance, time spent running, and average pace. I could see this app being utilized easily in PE on students' personal devices. Students could track their mile runs and it could help pace them to improve their time.

Target and $$$$ for our schoolThis year, Target will give money to schools all over the country for one simple act: a vote. Our school needs just 25 votes to earn a $25 donation from Target. But that's only the beginning. For each additional vote, our school will get $1 more. So please remember that, although the gesture is small, the rewards are potentially huge. Go to to vote for Crystal Middle School once a week through September 21st or until Target has given away all $5 million. And please forward this email to your friends. Vote and see rules at  

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Week of August 26th-30th


I "shadowed" my first student on Friday, August 30th. It was a great experience. I was able to be a seventh grade student for almost an entire day. I began the day in her World History class. During the time I was in the class, I had to take notes, share my notes with my partner, add to my notes, share my notes with my group, and write a paragraph on the key points from my notes. The students brought me into their routines very naturally. It was clear that the students had been using these types of engagement and interactive techniques on a regular basis. My shadow student told me she likes these activities, because she likes to share her ideas with others. As soon as the bell rang my students was off. I'm not exaggerating, she moved with purpose to get to her next class. It was kind of funny to me, because she was talking to me as I trailed behind her, but she was not stopping to "hangout." As I passed rows and rows of students walking to their next class, I overheard many students saying, ":Look, Mrs. Witt is a student today." It brought a smile to my face.

We were the first ones in line for second period. As we waited in line my "shadow" student shared with me her experiences with sports. She told me that her dad has made her play in every sport imaginable. I asked her if she liked any of the sports she was engaged in, her favorite is softball. Several students began to line up behind us and beside us. This particular class had two lines for the students to wait for the teacher. This experience second period was not nearly as engaging as it was first period. I must state however; that this class had a substitute. The students were extremely well behaved and did what she asked them. Bu,t I began to get very bored and my mind drifted often. We were asked to read a section from the textbook and then answer questions in the workbook that corresponded to the text. I got the textbook out and started reading, page one was fine, but once I was on page three I found myself thinking about other things and having to reread it over and over. I wasn't holding on to the material. I looked around the room and the students appeared to be reading and some were working in the workbook. But, I couldn't help but wonder how many were daydreaming like I was. A student asked a question about the material and was merely redirected back to the textbook. That was an opportunity for modeling and an explanation for the student that was not in the textbook. Opportunity missed. :( 

When class ended and the bell rang, again we were off with purpose. My shadow student moved so fast down the stairs I couldn't help myself but tell her to slow down or she might fall. She said to me, "That's just what we do," then she smiled and kept walking towards her third period class. We arrived at third period and got in line to wait. This time we were not first, we were about tenth in line. My student was very excited to share with her friends that I was shadowing her in her classes. The teacher came to the door and greeted each of us as we entered. This was a very nice feeling to have her say hi to each of us. We sat down and were told to get started on the quick write that was on the board. This appeared to be a very typical request, most students were already taking out their notebooks and beginning to write their response. We were given only a few minutes to complete the task. I finished with only about 10 seconds to spare. We were then told to share with our partner what we had written. Before we shared my partner pointed out to me the rules/expectations for partner sharing that was posted on the wall. (That was very cool. She wanted to make sure I knew how to do it correctly.) My partner shared first and I shared second. Throughout the lesson, the teacher encouraged student responses to be shared. After one question and no hands raised, she quickly had us pair/share to get ideas. The result, when she asked the question again, about 90% of the students raised their hands. 

Fourth period began similarly to third with us lining up on the wall outside the classroom and the teacher greeting each of us as we entered. She smiled at us in a very welcoming way. As we sat down, our attention was brought to the front of the classroom and the teacher as she did a series of claps that we were to replicate, we did. She then explained to the class what we would be doing for the day and we jumped right into the short video to watch. She was able to connect the video to things they had been working on that week in class. She reinforced what they had already been working on and students were giving affirmations. (I had to leave this class early to go out for lunch supervision).

Fifth period had been in session for about five minutes when I came in. I was unable to sit at my shadow student's table so I found an empty chair at another table. The teacher had already handed out the art paper and was modeling on her Ipad what she wanted us to do. I asked the student next to me where the paper was and she told me up front. I walked up and asked the teacher if I could have a piece and she happily handed me a piece of paper. Upon returning to the table I picked up one of the remaining pencils from the tray. I looked at it and realized it was not sharpened. The student next to me, without saying anything, handed me her pencil sharpener. Problem solved. After the teacher modeled for us, she directed us to begin our independent work. She made sure to tell us to use our gradation, shading, etc. that we had been working on over the week. Here I was now in a bit of a predicament. I had not been here for the shading and gradation work, so I observed the student next to me and asked her some questions. She did an amazing job explaining to me how to use the charcoal, how to use my finger to blend, etc. At one point she even pulled off part of the special eraser and gave me a piece and demonstrated for me how to use it. I was enjoying shading my one corner of page, when the teacher announced that we had only a few minutes left. I knew there was no way I would be done, and I assumed the rest of the class would be in the same spot as me. I was wrong. The other students were done, they clearly knew the pace of the assignments and had completed in the time allotted. This class provided freedom for the students but with limitations and very explicit parameters. We were creating abstract art, but there were rules that had to be followed. It was a very nice balance of expression and yet structured for the students to learn the artistic rules to follow. 

I am looking forward to shadowing the other seven students that have signed up. My takeaway for Friday, is that when the students are given choice, ability to verbalize, and when they are asked to use all of their learning modalities, that is when the learning takes place. Learning is very limited when it is just reading from a book and answering questions. I am a perfect example of a very bored and off task student if you just want me to read and answer questions. I do believe that many of our students are like me in the context of the classroom. 

Word of the week: BIAS: Bias is an opinion about whether a person, group, or idea is good or bad which influences how you deal with it. 

Staff Meeting: Tuesday, September 3rd at 3:20. We will hold our meeting this month in F204. Please bring your Ipads and mobile devices with you. 

Back to School Night: Wednesday, September 4th from 5:00-6:30. Please have an engaging and informative presentation prepared for each of your class periods. Parents want to know the expectations for the year, what their child will be learning, how their child will be graded, and most importantly how they can be in communication with you. Have those items ready for the parents. 

Professional Development Opportunity: Geoff Belleau will be back to present Workshop #2 of the year. The focus will be on Digital Citizenship and 21st Century Learning. Please join us for this workshop on Thursday, September 5th in the library. 3:45-5:30.

Target and $$$$ for our schoolThis year, Target will give money to schools all over the country for one simple act: a vote. Our school needs just 25 votes to earn a $25 donation from Target. But that's only the beginning. For each additional vote, our school will get $1 more. So please remember that, although the gesture is small, the rewards are potentially huge. Go to to vote for Crystal Middle School once a week through September 21st or until Target has given away all $5 million. And please forward this email to your friends. Vote and see rules at

We have completed two and a half weeks of school. In walking the classrooms on a daily basis, I am seeing evidence of much more rigorous objectives and expectations from classroom to classroom. As I walked through classrooms this week, I took a few snapshots of trends. I am seeing a lot of collaborative group work and partner work. It is nice to see that the typical think/pair/share has moved to think/pair-share/write. It is clear that MANY of your are incorporating "Writing to Learn" into your daily lessons. 

Group work in Ms. Merrick's English class. Here this group of three works together with one student reading outloud as the the other two take notes on what was read. Ms. Merrick made sure to model first to the students on how to take notes as they are listening to their partner. 
Daily Objective in Mr. Dunsworth's World History class

Daily Objective in Ms. Merrick's English class

Group work in Dunswoth's class. He has a limited # of computers in his room, so he assigns groups of 4-5 to work together to gather research.

Ms. Merrick checking in on a partner group. Here students were taking notes on the information that their partner was reading out loud to them. Ms. Merrick is introducing the students to a variety of note taking techniques.