Emails from Educators

Katelynn GiordanoBlog, Connect Better, Differentiate Better, Engage Better, Lead Better, Manage Better

TL;DR:

  • At Teach Better, we get emails from educators all over the U.S.
  • Usually, these teachers are looking for assistance, guidance, advice, or even just someone to listen!
  • See a few of our responses to some of the emails we’ve received about engaging students virtually, tech tools, and The Grid Method.

Emails from Educators: #1 

Hey – 

I am a teacher with (OMIT).  Right before our official spring break we had a malware/ransom ware attack so we have lost access to much of our cloud-based information.  Before that I did a semi-flipped experience with my students but they only accessed things at school.  Since our break has been extended, I’m struggling to get students the access they had before.  I teach fifth grade, so they do not have district devices at home. I have ran a few Zoom rooms from my personal Zoom account, however, I do not currently have access to my district Google Classroom since they are still working out the kinks to make a new system/server we can all access everything from.

On top of that, our district has sent out information via their website and facebook page that ALL online work during our current ‘lock down/quarantine’ situation, is OPTIONAL and that they will not get grades for it at this time.

This has seriously cut down the interest and motivation for most of my students and their families.  I have sent things via Dojo, but have only heard from a few confirmed families that they are even doing any of the suggested things I sent out.  My question is this: How can I motivate my students when I can’t even see them and the district clearly has stated that nothing is mandatory?  I don’t want their learning to stop, but for most it likely has.

Thanks,

-AV

Rae Response:

Hey AV, 

I am glad you chose to reach out. I hear your frustration and I value your continued problem solving to encourage students to continue their learning. While optional resources are common across the country at the moment, the concern around students continuing their learning is also a highly discussed topic. 

First off, give yourself a little grace. With confusion circling many of our communities, I want to celebrate your commitment and tell you your work is not going unseen. I think many of the perceived dis-interest may be a result of (1) students still feeling like this may be very short term and (2) lack of information at both the district level and government level. Therefore, I just want to recognize your hard work and passion to find a solution. It is so appreciated and valued. 

'Focus on prompts to spark creativity and reflection tasks. There are a LOT of opportunities for that now being shared by educators K-12.' - @raehughart Click To Tweet

Second, I would encourage you to begin small. Do not encourage students to be learning new content at this time as the supports and structure do not sound like it exists yet. Therefore, begin with activities and learning opportunities students can do at home. Focus on prompts to spark creativity and reflection tasks. There are a LOT of opportunities for that now being shared by educators K-12. And, for the time being, feel free to share these anywhere and everywhere you have accessible including email, websites, and even social media. Keeping these focused on the review and light-hearted should spark some interest and conversation starters with families. On your end, track what students you see participating. Keeping up your relationships with students should be your #1 focus.

Lastly, keep with it and be persistent! As time passes, students and families will be hungry for resources. And, when they are feeling lost, you will be there to show them the way toward engaged, life long learners. This is the time to focus on relevancy in the content above all. This is also a good time for students to explore new ideas and ask questions. 

Set targets, encourage students to reflect, and ask students to set goals for themselves!

You can do it!

Let me know if you ever want to hop on a call and chat through more ideas! 

Rae

Katelynn Response:

Hey AV,

It sounds like you’ve been dealing with a lot, and I completely understand your frustration. I know that I’ve found myself in a similar situation, like many other educators right now. So the first thing I’d like to tell you is that you are not alone. This situation is wholly unique and we’ve got nothing to compare it to, so we’re all navigating through the unknown together.

Your dedication to learning and to your students is incredible, and I definitely want you to take a moment to celebrate that! Your students are so lucky to have you, and I’m sure they and their families appreciate your efforts (even if it may not always seem like it). 

With much of the work being optional, one thing I’ve found success in is finding ‘fun’ ways for students to interact and engage with the content. I’ve sent daily challenges via email, both to parents and students, with suggestions to take Enneagram quizzes, do career matchmaking tests, and upload videos of them getting outside for some fresh air. One of the most popular challenges was to learn about something that interests them, then upload a quick video ‘teaching’ it to their peers. 

While it may not be the traditional learning or sustained focus on our content, they are engaging their brains in a positive way. In this time of uncertainty, many of our students are struggling mentally–their routines have been rocked, too! Give them some low-stakes activities to engage their thinking, but also give them (and yourself!) a little time to adjust.

Wishing you well,

Katelynn

Emails from Educators: #2

Hi,

I am working my way through your videos on ‘supporting a virtual classroom’.  I teach high school special education math and wanted to offer my classes a range of video’s  – such as khan academy along with other worksheet based materials.  One challenge that I foresee is the reading difficulties associated with online instruction.  Is there any particular program or tech platform that you have found to be better than others when it comes to adding videos or worksheets?

I use google classroom at the moment as my main communication format.

Many thanks,

MD

Rae Response:

Hey MD! 

I am thrilled you reached out! It’s always wonderful to hear from you! 

I think Google Classroom is a great tool. However, as you know, you can pull content from anywhere. 

I completely agree with the concern around reading levels. I am thrilled to hear you are thinking about this to support your students. I’d love to suggest tools that can read text out loud (I use them all the time rather than reading) and finding articles from sources like NewsELA that can level text depending on your students needs. 

Let me know if you want to hop on a call sometime to continue to talk through resources!

Thrilled to hear from you,

Rae

Katelynn response:

Hi MD!

It’s so awesome to hear from you! 

Google classroom is my main platform for communication as well, and I’ve found that it has a ton of capability for my students and myself. One of my favorite features for worksheets is to attach the Google doc to an assignment on Classroom, but change the setting to ‘Every student gets a copy’. It creates a copy for every student, allowing them to type their responses directly on the doc! I’ve definitely noticed the helpfulness for my students who struggle with spelling, and it also eliminates the need for a printer.

I also love NewsELA for leveling texts. It provides so many nonfiction articles about current topics, in addition to the ability to change the reading level. On top of that, NewsELA also has Text Sets around themes or bigger current events. 

Let me know if you ever want to collaborate on this! I’d love to chat more.

Best,

Katelynn

Emails from Educators: #3

Hi Chad,

One of my co-workers mentioned the Grid Method, so I watched or listened to videos.  I’m an 8th grade middle school math teacher in Waukegan, Il.   I created a grid and I was wondering if you could take a look at it.  Also is there a certain time limit for the students to finish the grid?  I know they work at their own pace, and I would also work with them, but is there a time when enough is enough?  Thank you in advance for your help.

Chad Response:

HL,

Thanks for reaching out! This is a great start! I haven’t looked into each assignment but as long as you are hitting both standards as written (ex: world population and scientific notation usage / comprehension) I think your organization, variety of activities, and set-up looks good to me. 

You can absolutely have flexible deadlines. Something I often coach teachers on is evaluate the standard and when on the grid the student has “met” the standard. Most will be met at level 2 or 3 depending (of course). This is your “minimum” goal for all students. The additional work can be extension beyond the standard. 

With this in mind you can set daily, weekly and whole grid “deadlines” that are flexible. If you need to “end” a grid you can give your students a summative assessment on the last day and move the entire class to the next grid while keeping the grade book “open” so that if they show mastery or complete additional mastery after the fact it can be accurately reported. 

Please let me know if you have any additional questions. If I can do anything to help I’d be happy to do so! 

-Chad

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Emails from Educators: #4

Hi Chad!

I started teaching middle school math in a self-paced manner two years ago.  I’ve set my system up quite a bit differently than the Grid Method, but I knew there were some pieces missing and some kinks that needed to be worked out.  I knew that I just needed to start and see where it took me knowing I could adapt along the way.  Some of the resources I’ve looked into affirmed the things I’ve been trying over the last two years as other teachers in my building don’t seem to completely agree with what I’m doing.  It was nice to have that reassurance!  (By the way… My administrators fully support me though!)    

I typically teach in small groups on a daily basis while students work on their individual lessons at their own pace.  I haven’t looked at absolutely everything that goes along with the Grid Method, but I was wondering how the actual teaching looked from day to day.  Do most teachers include instructional videos in the grid that act as the teaching so that the teacher is free to move around the entire class period to check in with students and answer questions – meaning the teacher isn’t “stuck” in a small group teaching?  One of the things I’ve found is that students need help, but because I’m in a small group, I don’t always get to help them immediately – in fact they may have to wait until the next class period – which can be frustrating for both the student and me. 

For right now, that’s one of the big pieces I’m struggling with.  Any insight would be appreciated!  

Thanks for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.   

Chad Response:

Thanks so much for reaching out! I love that you already have a mastery based classroom and am hoping The Grid Method can support your further success! I will try to address each of your questions. 

“TEACHING” – In a Grid Method classroom teaching should be happening ALL the time! Most teachers report having more 1:1 interactions with their students and also having the ability to pull small groups as needed. IN terms of “direct instruction” teachers do this in several ways: Creating Videos, 10-15 minute mini lessons, beginning of the week full lessons etc. There is flexibility here based on your comfort level and need. 

SMALL GROUPS – I often coach teachers to flexibly pull small groups. For example: you notice that a group of 5 students is falling behind on their work / grids etc. You pull them strategically to help for the first 10 minutes of class. This is intervention time and establish clear expectations that no questions, or sign-offs will occur during the first 10 minutes. Once this is over you can hopefully provide next steps to the small group and get “around” to the other student’s needs while also checking back with your pulled small group periodically. Of course the time can be changed to meet your needs. There are multiple ways to do this as well. I’ve also had teachers create stations based on progress and they move and checkin station to station based on student progress etc. 

Please let me know if you have any more questions. I’d be happy to connect you further and answer any additional questions that come up!

Thanks again for reaching out! Have a great day!

Sincerely, 

Chad


About Katelynn Giordano

Katelynn Giordano is a Middle Level Language Arts Educator in Illinois and Training & Development Specialist for the Teach Better Team. She writes on her blog, Curriculum Coffee, and for the Teachers on Fire magazine.

In 2019, Katelynn presented information on action research in the classroom with a team at the National Council of Teachers of English Convention in Baltimore.

Katelynn is a dynamic educator who is passionate about student voice and empowerment, promoting equity, and valuing teachers as professionals.

Katelynn is also a member of the Teach Better Speakers Network.


About Rae Hughart

Rae Hughart is a Middle-Level Math and Writing Educator in Illinois, the Director of Training and Development for the Teach Better Team, and co-author of the Teach Better book. In 2017, Rae was honored with the Illinois State University Outstanding Young Alumni Award – inducting her into the University Hall of Fame. In 2018, Rae was honored again by the Henry Ford Innovator Award for her work within educators communities to build unity between local businesses and schools. Rae is also a member of the Teach Better Speakers Network.


About Chad Ostrowski

Chad Ostrowski is the co-founder of the Teach Better Team, and creator of The Grid Method. He is also a co-author of the Teach Better book. But Chad is a middle school science teacher at heart. He now travels the country sharing his story, working with teachers, schools, and districts to help them to reach more students. Chad is also a member of the Teach Better Speakers Network.