The Power of Peer Conferring

If you are thinking about introducing peer conferences into your writing workshop, Mark Overmeyer has some advice for you! His new book, Let’s Talk! is full of ideas on how to make conferences more manageable and meaningful.

The Power of Peer Conferring
By Mark Overmeyer

lets-talkStudents should be encouraged to confer with one another about their writing. But if peer conferring is not carefully framed for students, some unintentional things may happen.

If your writers think that working with a peer is an opportunity to “be the teacher,” there may be some negative side effects. I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was a young child. Whenever I had the opportunity to work with a partner, I tended to be a bit bossy. And because I desperately wanted to “teach” something, I would make things up if I had nothing to offer. So, if asked to work with a peer in writing, I loved marking his or her paper up and giving it some kind of score or grade. My desire to be a teacher led me to take over the writing for another student, which, of course, did not help the writer at all.

Here are some tips for making peer conferences successful for all students:

Suggest that peers question and wonder rather than jump straight to giving advice.

Peers might be more successful at asking questions of one another than giving advice, especially early in a peer-conferring experience. After a writer shares, the reader might ask a few clarifying questions that can then nudge the writer to think of more details to add. I find that peers have more authentic wonderings because they often experience the world in the same way as their peers. They might ask better clarifying questions than an adult because they have less experience with filling in the blanks of a slightly confusing narrative.

Make the roles of reader/listener and writer clear.

The reader/listener can begin by praising the writer for something specifically accomplished, followed by suggestions. It is perhaps best to think of these offerings as “suggestions” rather than “teaching points,” because successful peer conferences require the writer to make final decisions about what to add, delete, or change based on peer suggestions. In a teacher-student conference, it is more likely that a teacher will actually require a writer to try something to improve the writing, because the teacher’s role includes helping the student to become a more flexible writer. In a peer conference, however, the writer has to make the final decision about what advice to take and what changes, if any, to make.

Let the writer take the lead.

Another way to increase the success of a peer conference is to ask the writer to begin by writing on a sticky note where he or she thinks support is needed. If the writer sets the agenda for the conference, he or she is more likely to receive helpful advice from the peer reader.

Focus on content, not grammar and mechanics.

One key to successful peer conferences is to ask students to focus on content rather than on conventions. All writers in your classroom have the advantage of having lived as long as their peers in your class. They have similar life experiences in the sense that fourth graders see the world through fourth-grade eyes, not through adult eyes. When the focus is on content and not on conventions, I no longer have to worry about grouping a “strong” writer with a “struggling” writer. These kinds of labels limit expectations for writers in general, but they can cause particular harm in a peer conference. When setting up peer conferences, I am careful about grouping students together for the purposes of supporting one another but not based on my assumptions about the levels of their writing. Remember what Carl Anderson says about writing conferences: they provide an opportunity for conversation. I firmly believe that all of my students can engage in meaningful conversations about their work if the focus is on content.

The biggest danger in allowing peers to provide advice on conventions is that students tend to take their friends’ advice, even if it is wrong. A peer may unknowingly “help” a fellow writer by correcting a mistake that wasn’t an error to begin with. Editing for conventions is the work of the writer, with the support of the teacher—not the work of his or her peers.

Make peer conferences a choice, not a requirement.

I believe in the power of peer conferences, but once they are established and students can meet with peers independently, I do not require students to confer for every piece of writing. My writers need to know that although it is okay to seek advice from a peer at any stage of the writing process, it is also okay to continue writing without seeking support. I find that, when given a choice, students work with peers in more meaningful and authentic ways because they aren’t doing so to please me or to meet the requirement on a checklist. They are meeting with a peer because they want to meet with another writer.

Debrief with students about the benefits and potential pitfalls of peer conferences.

If you want to know how peer conferences are working in your classroom, go directly to the source: ask your students. After a few rounds of peer conferences, you might gather your students and ask for their honest feedback about the opportunity to talk with their peers. Consider asking questions like, “What do you think about peer conferences? What is working? What might make it better?”

Make sure you encourage students to speak in positive terms, and do not allow them to name the peers they worked with as writing partners. This is why I suggest that you debrief after a few sessions of practicing peer conferences. If you debrief after only one opportunity for peers to work together, some students may feel singled out. They may interpret their partners’ comments as a negative reflection on them.

Students might be given a few language frames to help with this debrief:

“One thing that helps me as a writer is when the reader . . .”

“The kind of advice that helped me the most was when . . .”

“It would have been better if . . .”

When used effectively, peer conferences are a powerful tool for creating more independent, motivated writers in your classroom. An added benefit is that students tend to use more age-appropriate voice in their writing. When students confer only with me, my writing biases tend to bleed through: I love descriptive writing and the use of dialogue. I don’t know much about how to infuse humor. I struggle with passive voice, so sometimes I don’t even notice that writers are not using active verbs. Allowing peers to work together on their writing content lets them grow in ways I can’t provide as just one voice offering praise and advice.

Add comment May 21st, 2015

The Power of the Memorized Line

Sarah Cooper is back this week with this thoughtful post about the importance and power of memorizing lines — from history, from poetry, from speeches. She argues that having a thorough knowledge of a subject helps students dive further into analysis and understanding and that these memorized lines can become companions for life.

Cooper author photo bigger resolutionThe Power of the Memorized Line
By Sarah Cooper

My mother, an English teacher, was master of the literary one-liner.

“There’s a certain Slant of light,/Winter Afternoons,” she’d muse while visiting Boston in December, the sun setting just after 4:00 p.m. Emily Dickinson’s poetry became a way for my mom, a longtime Californian, to manage the gloom.

Well into my adulthood, whenever I said anything remotely snide, my mom would whip out King Lear: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is/To have a thankless child.” Sometimes she meant it more than others.

And, faced with any situation in which despair threatened to overwhelm hope, she would quote William Faulkner’s 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.” I’ve pulled out that one myself when discussing historical catastrophes with students.

At their worst, such displays of erudition can remind us of Monica in Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love, who “knows one line from every poet.” At any remotely apropos conversational moment, Monica inserts an allusion to make herself look smart.

At their best, however, the right quotations, plucked from long ago—in the middle of a classroom or the middle of the night—can ignite memory and make us feel we’re not alone.

Memorization might seem old-fashioned, a straggler behind the excitement of inquiry learning and design thinking. Yet mastering a substantial body of knowledge can lead to playful analysis.

“The stronger one’s knowledge about the subject at hand, the more nuanced one’s creativity can be in addressing a new problem,” assert the authors of the recent book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, which applies cognitive science research to memory techniques.

When I taught English, my students often memorized a poem as part of a larger poetry project. Now that I teach U.S. history, each year I choose a couple of quotations that students must memorize verbatim, keeping in mind poet Robert Pinsky’s observation that “a people is defined and unified not by blood but by shared memory.”

Last semester, the eighth graders memorized the opening to the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Ideally these tenets will echo in their ears any time they see rights being taken away.

Next year, I hope to ask students to internalize a more subversive section of the same paragraph, which declares that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.” We live in inertia until something propels us otherwise, an idea I would like them to seize upon as they become adult citizens.

This semester, students are memorizing the final sentence of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Why this particular sentence, laden with prepositional phrases?

The students told me a bit of “why” themselves after they circled resonant language in class: charity, strive, bind, cherish, just and lasting peace. These words aspire to create community in the face of deep conflict.

Lincoln’s grand ending also invites us into a national discussion of peace and war that has persisted for 150 years.

President Gerald Ford held Lincoln’s speech in mind when he said in April 1975 that “the time has come to look forward to an agenda for the future, to unify, to bind up the Nation’s wounds, and to restore its health and its optimistic self-confidence.” Ford hoped that an appeal to Lincoln’s graciousness would help heal the rancor of Vietnam.

So too did Barack Obama hail toward Lincoln in his Nobel Peace Prize speech in 2009, when he spoke of “three ways that we can build a just and lasting peace.” Echoing the words of others does not simply show a familiarity with history but also gives strength to persevere through difficult work.

As with Lincoln’s speeches, the best documents of American history contain a great deal of poetry. Memorizing such rich language gives us what poet Billy Collins calls “the pleasure of companionship” from something we have set to heart. “When you internalize a poem,” Collins says, “it becomes something inside of you. You’re able to walk around with it. It becomes a companion.”

My mother’s quotations—Faulkner, Shakespeare, Dickinson, all—have walked around with me for a lifetime.

Similarly, I think all of us hope that the documents, speeches, and novels we teach might in some way become “companions” for our students in future years—when they feel beleaguered, when they feel emboldened, or when they simply need to remember that someone else has faced their struggles before.

Add comment May 18th, 2015

Remembering Mary Shorey

maryshorey

Staff, students, and parents at Pritchett School in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, will dedicate the new library/media center as The Dr. Mary C. Shorey Learning Center on May 14, in honor of their colleague and teacher who died last year. Shorey, co-author of Many Texts, Many Voices (Stenhouse, 2012), taught at Pritchett for many years and shared her students’ deep explorations with critical inquiry, social justice, and multimodal literacy in the book.

Add comment May 13th, 2015

Watch Two Talks from ShadowCon

If you missed the excitement and buzz of ShadowCon — the alternative, teacher-led mini-conference during NCTM — here is your chance to revisit all of the speeches and calls to action. We are excited to post one speech here from one of our own authors, Elham Kazemi, who, along with Allison Hintz, wrote Intentional Talk. The second speech is by Laila Nur, who encourages math teachers to bring humor into their classroooms. You can find out more about ShadowCon and see how other teachers are implementing the calls to action on their website.

Elham Kazemi

Call to Action from Elham:

My call to action is for you to make collective learning opportunities happen by doing the following:

  • Find two teacher friends or more (over time, your principal would be a strategic bonus). Take something you want to try from this conference, from a book, from the math twitter blogosphere. But don’t try it out alone. Explain the idea of owning the lesson together and set some norms for collaboration and risk taking.
  • Plan together and identify some questions you have about your students. Then teach together, while you sit among your students. Call teacher time outs during the lesson that let you pursue ideas, shift direction, or experiment with a next good question.
  • Share back with us what you tried and what you learned from this new way of making practice public and learning together.

Laila Nur

Call to Action from Laila:

Incorporate mathematical and/or educational humor into your class at least once a week for the next four weeks (or longer). Then:

  • Describe how you implemented humor into your lesson/class time.
  • How comfortable did you feel during implementation?
  • Take note of changes in students’ behavior and attitude over time. How did students respond?
  • Do students seem more confident or comfortable speaking in front of a group?

Add comment May 12th, 2015

The Results of Our Twitter Poetry Contest

We are excited to announce the winner and honorable mentions of our Twitter Poetry contest. The challenge was to write a poem in 140 characters or less. Shirley McPhillips, poet and author of the recent book Poem Central, served as our judge.

And the winner is….

HER by Erika Zeccardi

curved back
leans against the maple,
bare branches outstretched.
Faint whispers of red river valley
dance across the yard

IMG_1747

Honorable mentions:

BROTHER LUCIEN EXPLAINS THE VOW OF SILENCE AT FONTENELLE ABBEY

Allowed to speak? Yes.
Of course. But always we must
have something to say.

–Carol Kellogg

Phoenix rises from ashes
Memories in flashes
Fall hard on ground
Voices call her
Daggers take her
A new day begins

–A.T.

Clairvoyance?
Tomorrow’s mystery today?
Please, no.
Now needs full attention.
I can’t afford spending
today with tomorrow.

–Chris Kostenko

Congratulations to Erika, as well as to Chris, A.T., and Carol! Keep writing!

3 comments May 8th, 2015

Six calls to action at Shadowcon

We are excited to have a guest blogger today: David Wees is a math teacher in NYC and he recounts Shadowcon — the alternative NCTM conference  — for us.

Six calls to action at Shadowcon

Imagine six engaging speakers, each with ten minutes to convince you to make a specific change in your teaching. At the end of the night, you select which change you want to work toward, and ideally you take action. So describes the experiment in professional learning called Shadowcon, hatched by Dan Meyer, Zak Champagne, and Michael Flynn and shared for the first time at the NCTM Annual Meeting in Boston.

Kicking off the night was Tracy Zager, a mathematics educator who lives in Maine. Tracy shared with us her heartbreaking story of working with elementary school preservice teachers, a majority of whom have negative feelings about mathematics. She described how these feelings were very likely caused by the early experiences in mathematics and how too often these teachers use the same teaching practices that caused their own math anxiety, creating a generational cycle of fear of mathematics. Tracy called on all of us to break the cycle by opening conversations about our experiences with mathematics in school and to start closing the gap between school math and the way mathematicians experience math.

tracy

Next up was Elham Kazemi, a teacher-educator at the University of Washington. As part of her work, Elham collaborates with teams of elementary school teachers. Elham asked this thought-provoking question: “What would it look like if we designed schools to be places where teachers learn together alongside their students?” Teaching is complex work! Elham suggested that trying to learn how to do it alongside a colleague is best. Her call to action: Plan together, rehearse together, enact together, reflect together, and everyone improves together.

elham

Laila Nur, a high school math teacher in Los Angeles, California, spoke about how she realized that her students talked much differently outside her class than within it, and decided to experiment with humor in her class as an antidote. Her takeaway from this experiment is that when kids laugh together and with their teacher, it helps break down some of the negative feelings associated with math. Her students enjoy class much more and consequently have fewer emotional barriers to learning mathematics. Her call to action is to incorporate humor in our classrooms, at least four times, and to see how that affects our students.
laila

Kristin Gray, a fifth-grade teacher and math specialist, described how she pays attention to student thinking as evidenced by what they say and what they write and then journals what she notices. This stems from her genuine curiosity about her students’ mathematical thinking. She asked three questions, “What are you GENUINELY CURIOUS about in the content you teach and how you teach it?” “What are you GENUINELY CURIOUS about in your students’ math conversations?” and “What are you GENUINELY CURIOUS about in the math work your students do each day?” Her call to action was for us to start a math journal and record our reflections about our students’ work and to share how this affects our teaching.

kristin

Christopher Danielson, a mathematics educator in St Paul, Minnesota, started by sharing a pair of stories with essentially the same moral: listen to your students. In the first story Christopher realized he had not heard something a student said and that the difference between what he heard and what was said was small but incredibly important. He also noticed that sometimes when we aren’t listening to students very well we can hear things and make assumptions about how they understand the world that just aren’t true. He implored the audience to ask follow-up questions when they think they understand what a student means, and then to share our reflections on any differences we notice between what we thought we heard and what the students actually meant.

christopher

The final speaker of the night was Michael Pershan, a mathematics teacher living in New York City. Michael has spent much of his career thinking about the mistakes students make and what they mean. He has also spent much of this past year thinking about the feedback teachers give students and how we can make this feedback more useful. He described four potential pitfalls of the hints we give, and offered us the final challenge of the night: to plan our hints in advance and then share the ones that worked so that we can collectively build a pool of effective hints to give to students when they are stuck in specific areas of mathematics.

michael

The six speakers, with their six calls to action, were inspiring. It made me reflect on how I can incorporate their ideas into my own practice. Of the six calls to action, I will start with Elham’s proposal and find someone with whom to plan, rehearse, enact, and reflect on my lessons so that I work in less isolation.

Which call to action are you going to choose? You can see what others are doing on the Shadowcon website.

1 comment April 28th, 2015

Profiles in Effective PD Initiatives: Fernwood Elementary Teachers Talk Intentionally About Math

In our latest installment of Profiles in Effective PD Initiatives, two teachers at Fernwood Elementary School volunteer their time and talent to facilitate a teacher book study of Intentional Talk: How to Structure and Lead Productive Mathematical Discussions. The result: the entire school benefits. Stenhouse editor Holly Holland talked with the teachers and principal involved.

Fernwood Elementary Teachers Talk Intentionally About Math

Teachers are accustomed to having school and district leaders determine the scope and format of their professional development. Rarely do they initiate, plan, and lead their own on-the-job training.

That’s why Fernwood Elementary School assistant principal JoAnn Todd was surprised and pleased last spring when two teachers asked if they could organize a faculty book study focusing on Intentional Talk: How to Structure and Lead Productive Mathematical Discussions (Stenhouse, 2014).

“It was kind of a grassroots movement,” which turned out to be a wonderful way to spread good instructional practices, said Todd, who now serves as principal of another school in the Northshore School District, near Seattle. “Having it be from the ground up, versus from the district or principal, gives it more legs, that genuine excitement.”

The book study also enabled her to develop the leadership skills of the two young teachers who proposed it. Kindergarten teacher Shelley Heathman and sixth- grade teacher Emily Schenck worked with Todd to organize and facilitate a series of ninety-minute sessions held every three or four weeks. Todd helped the teachers learn effective structures of professional book studies as well as strategies for managing time and coaching colleagues. Before each session the organizers shared their plans, and Todd offered feedback and work-arounds for possible problems.

Because Fernwood couldn’t compensate teachers for their time, they had to meet voluntarily after school hours. Nevertheless, eight other teachers agreed to participate with Heathman and Schenck.

“It was like-minded people from across grade levels coming together and being able to learn together,” Schenck said. “We also internalized it more because it was something we were having fun doing together. Instead of a passive recipient [of professional development], you are an active learner, which is what we want our kids to be.”

Having Productive Math Discussions

Schenck had taken a University of Washington course with Allison Hintz, coauthor of Intentional Talk with Elham Kazemi, and suggested using the book for a deeper exploration of how to guide classroom conversations about math. Intentional Talk features a range of methods for guiding classroom conversations about math—from open strategy sharing to targeted discussions—such as asking students to compare and connect and define and clarify.

“Open strategy sharing is typically the first way to get mathematical discussions going in classrooms,” the authors write. “It’s like having a good, basic recipe for a soup from which you can make all kinds of variations. Open strategy sharing allows you to nurture the norms needed for a productive math-talk community. And you can use this discussion structure to model how students should talk with one another” (17).
An open strategy sharing discussion typically begins by highlighting a problem that has multiple solutions and using instructional talk moves such as repeating (“Can you repeat what she said in your own words?”) and reasoning (“Why does that make sense?”) to help students verbalize their understanding.

The book also features lesson-planning templates for mathematical discussions. For example, the template for troubleshooting and revising discussions asks teachers to consider the following:
• What is the confusion or misunderstanding we will discuss or revise?
• What is the insight I’d like students to understand?
• What are the problem context, diagrams, or questions that might be useful to use during the discussion?

Schenck said one of the “immediate takeaways” she gleaned from the book was the reminder to focus students’ conversation on the learning objective of the day and to give them multiple ways to talk about it. When teaching students how to add and subtract negative numbers, for example, she realized that she often shared shortcuts but did not always explain them at the conceptual level. So, instead of only sharing that the quickest way to subtract negative numbers is to add them, she started putting up problems and asking students whether they were true or false. Through peer conversations they learned how to analyze, defend, and build on their knowledge of mathematical processes.

“To be able to talk about problems with peers and hear what they are thinking is so powerful,” Schenck said. “They’re not only learning math on a conceptual level but also good communication skills.

“When you are a teacher, you can always say, ‘This is the rule,’ and they will believe it, but to get them to say it validates their thinking.”

Classroom Observations and Videotaping

As part of the collegial book study, Heathman and Schenck wanted to videotape some lessons so teachers could see how the Intentional Talk strategies played out in different classrooms and at different grade levels. They offered to do the first sharing so teachers who felt vulnerable could get comfortable observing and reflecting as a group.

“Our conversations were more about what students were doing, not what we were doing as teachers,” Heathman said. “I think the biggest aha moments were that students are capable of amazing things. If we can give them the proper environment, which is a safe place to work together, they can take it away and enhance each other. Good teachers are just facilitators—that’s something the book helped us realize. Students are more than capable of enhancing their own learning just by having accountable talk with each other.”

Todd said she witnessed tremendous growth among the participating teachers. Seeing effective practices in action made all the teachers more aware of their strengths and weaknesses. For example, when intermediate grades teachers heard the rich conceptual conversations students in the primary grades were having about math, they realized that their older students could do more than they had previously asked them to do.

To demonstrate her commitment to the professional learning process, Todd volunteered to teach a lesson from Intentional Talk and videotape it for the study group to analyze. She also showed the teachers how the reflective work they were doing tied in with the state’s teacher evaluation system.

“Criteria two is about using questioning and discussion techniques” with students, she said. “I was pointing out, ‘Hey, guys, what you’re talking about is actually reaching proficient and distinguished levels on the state evaluation.’ It was validating to them. It made their work in the book study completely relevant.”

Extending the Lessons Learned

Schenck and Heathman said they hope to do another collegial book study in the future, perhaps with a more concrete plan for ensuring that the best practices spread throughout the school. Teachers believe the study was a valuable addition to their ongoing professional learning.
“It takes passion and eagerness to have an organic experience such as this book study,” Heathman said. “It was a very positive experience, and Intentional Talk was very accessible and manageable.”

Add comment April 22nd, 2015

The buzz of math

We just got back from the annual NCTM conference in Boston where we got to meet many of you — our readers and our authors. We had a lot going on this year with a busy booth, several of our authors giving presentations, as well as ShadowCon, where a group of passionate math teachers issued calls to action to their colleagues and to the next generation of teachers. We’ll be following up with them in the next couple of weeks and months, but until then here are some tweets that represent some of the excitement, learning, and enthusiasm of this year’s NCTM. (You have to click on some of the images to see the full text and image in the tweet!)

Add comment April 20th, 2015

Building a Culture of Trust and Respect: One Police Officer and One Child at a Time

Assistant Principal Krista Venza and Officer Wayne

Assistant Principal Krista Venza and Officer Wayne Moreland

Today’s guest post comes from Krista Venza, assistant principal at a Pennsylvania middle school, and Wayne Moreland, a police officer. The two of them paired up to create the “Hello My Friend Project,” aimed at inspiring students — and teachers — to respect each other, to create a sense of community in their schools, and to reach outside of their schools to help those in need. You can find out more about the project on their website or their Facebook page.

Building a Culture of Trust and Respect: One Police Officer and One Child at a Time

By Wayne S.  Moreland, Police Officer and Krista M. Venza, Assistant Principal

When something negative is reported in the news, people tend to use generalizations such as, “All teachers . . .,” “All lawyers . . .,” “All police officers . . .,” and so on. Although there are some people in every field who can give the whole profession a bad name, most people are good and work very hard at their jobs. If we wait until a tragedy monopolizes the news and creates a culture of mistrust, we will miss the chance to build bridges between two institutions that share a vital role in every community: guiding children to become responsible and educated citizens.

As school and police leaders, we may seem an unlikely pair to join forces, but we realized we had a common desire to change perceptions and create a culture of trust and respect between schools and law enforcement. Wayne is a township police officer with eighteen years of experience in law enforcement, including the motorcycle patrol and training coordinator and team leader for a county SWAT team. Krista has eighteen years of experience in education as a special education teacher, instructional support facilitator, and school administrator.

Krista enrolled in a local citizen police academy, which helps the public learn about policing, Pennsylvania criminal law, and connections to the community. One of the key insights she gained was how quickly police officers must use their training, experience, and judgment to make decisions that can have lasting impacts on lives. The parallels to teaching are clear. Although educators do not normally have to make life-or-death decisions, they do need to react quickly and effectively to a number of different situations throughout the day that impact students’ lives.

Meanwhile, Wayne was searching for a way to show children a different side of law enforcement. He recalled an incident when he had volunteered to read to a local third-grade class. After the teacher introduced him, he was startled when a child walked up to him and asked if he was going to kill her. Wayne immediately knelt down beside the girl, placed his hand on her shoulder, and said, “Honey, I am here to read a book to you and your classmates. The police are here to help you, not hurt you.” But the moment stung.

After much discussion, we decided to supplement the work of the DARE program, in which police officers teach school students good decision-making skills, by creating a middle school program called PEACE Crew. The letters in PEACE represent the following:

P – Practicing self-control through

E – Exercise, discussion, and reflection of

A – Attitude and

C – Choices while always valuing

E – Each other

The after-school program is voluntary, and attendance fluctuates between five and twenty students each week. The structured sessions include focus and meditation activities, discussion of current topics, personal reflection, viewing of inspirational video clips, and physical exercise. Students are guided through a meditation session to help them to clear their minds and let go of any issues that may be distracting them. Topics discussed include bullying, friendship/relationship issues, academics, social media, and family dynamics. Students spend time writing about something that made them smile, something that made them upset, and something they learned that day. They then share these with the group. We model and practice active listening, showing empathy for others, and providing appropriate feedback during this time. We also feed them; usually we order a few pizzas and eat while we watch TED Talks, Kid President YouTube videos, and other video clips featuring inspirational people. The session is wrapped up by engaging in physical activity such as running sprints, stretching, working out in the weight room, or playing organized games.

The biggest surprise we’ve observed is that, when others see the positive interactions taking place within our crew, they are inspired and want to get involved. One of our mathematics teachers, who is also the high school football coach, volunteered to share a video clip of an NFL coach’s motivational speech to his players and then spoke frankly with students, encouraging them to be people with integrity who can be counted on. We have faculty members lined up to lead students in yoga and Zumba workouts, and we plan to invite other administrators, faculty members, and members of the community—such as business owners, judges, and police officers—to be guest speakers.

Another great outcome is how quickly we’ve gotten to know the students on a personal level. They have become comfortable talking openly with us and approaching us when they need support or someone to listen. Being available to them and making connections is so important when teaching them about trust and respect. As teen advocate Josh Shipp says, “Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.”

The students have expressed interest in spending time volunteering at a nursing home, cooking a meal for their teachers, holding a coat drive, and helping clean the school. They have plans to become ambassadors of good in our school and encourage others to become responsible, caring individuals.

Their first outreach activity is holding a food drive to benefit our local food bank. Crew members will go to each homeroom and speak to their peers about the food drive and the competition they’ve developed to encourage participation. This will be the first opportunity for many of our members to try out a leadership role where their peers are looking to them for information and instruction. They are taking this new role very seriously, and we are providing them time to work together to decide what they will say and to practice delivering this message before having to do it for real. We are excited to help them see this project through and for them to experience something they planned successfully come to fruition.

These students have ideas about how to reach out to others in need, how to stop bullying, and how to simply be kind to one another, but some of them continue to say and do things that test our patience and question our will to continue giving of ourselves and our time. Still, we do continue—it takes a lot more than just creating a club and asking kids to show up to effect real change. Expectations and skills need to be strategically taught, especially those having to do with becoming a contributing member of a community that values a partnership between its citizens and law enforcement. These skills need to be modeled by everyone the students interact with, and the students need to be given the opportunity to practice the skills in a safe, supportive atmosphere.

How can we help make that happen? It simply comes down to caring and doing it. Lots of people have good ideas and good intentions; we’ve decided to jump in with two feet and all our hearts to make a difference. Our group is special because we are giving students opportunities they may not otherwise have, and people want to be a part of it. It is human nature to internalize what we experience, hear about, and read about, and to make it our personal reality. Our hope is that this program bridges the divide and that our reality becomes a culture of trust and respect among individuals, the community, and law enforcement.

This is all about people deciding to step up and create opportunities to make connections so our students—and, we hope, the entire community—know that someone cares about them and believes in them. In life, the stars don’t always align, and we don’t always hit every green light. It’s up to individuals to choose to make things happen, so why not an unlikely pair like a police officer and an assistant principal? Who’s with us?

Add comment April 14th, 2015

See you at NCSM and NCTM

We are heading down to Boston this weekend for NCSM and then NCTM. We hope to see you at our booth at both conferences!
Here are the details about author signings and sessions at each event:

NCSM

(Stenhouse booth #103)

Author signings:
Chris Moynihan, 10:00 a.m. Tuesday
Elham Kazemi, 11:30 a.m. Tuesday
Cathy Humphreys & Ruth Parker, 3:30 p.m. Tuesday

Author sessions:
Ruth Parker, 2:45-3:45 Monday: “Enacting the CCSS: Preparing a Next Generation of Mathematics Teacher Leaders”
Elham Kazemi, 3:00-3:45 Monday: Hot Topics Conversation Café: “Developing a School-wide Learning and Coaching Culture” (Table 3)
Elham Kazemi, 10:00-11:00 Tuesday: “Developing a School-Wide Culture of Collective Risk Taking and Learning: It’s Not Easy But Why It’s Worth It”
Cathy Humphreys, 2:15-3:15 Tuesday: “High School Number Talks as Agents of Change in Classroom Culture”
Chris Moynihan, 2:15-3:15 Wednesday: “Reflecting the Light of Learning Through the Mathematical Practices: Finding the GOLD within the MPs”

NCTM
(Stenhouse booth #721)

Author signings:
Chris Moynihan, Noon Thursday
Kassia Omohundro Wedekind, 12:30 p.m., Friday
Elham Kazemi & Allison Hintz, 2:00 p.m., Friday
Anne Collins and Linda Dacey, 4:15 p.m., Friday
Ruth Parker, 11:00 a.m. Saturday

Author Sessions:
Linda Dacey, 8:00-9:00 Thursday: “Sing; Move; Dramatize; Create Stories, Visuals, and Poems: Learn Math”
Elham Kazemi, Kassia Omohundro Wedekind & Allison Hintz, 1:00-2:15 Thursday: “Counting Matters: Why We Should Pay More Attention to Counting”*
Kassia Omohundro Wedekind, 2:00-3:00 Thursday: “Pulling Together to Promote Innovative Practices: A K-College Partnership”*
Kassia Omohundro Wedekind, 11:00-12:00 Friday: Transforming Intervention: Moving from Skills Remediation to Rich Problem Solving”
Elham Kazemi & Allison Hintz, 12:30-1:30 Friday: “Transforming Practice: Organizing Schools for Meaningful Teacher and Leader Learning”
Anne Collins, 2:45-4:00 Friday: “Modeling Concepts Across the Domains”
Ruth Parker, 9:30-10:30 Saturday: “Bringing the Standards for Mathematical Practice to Life in Classrooms”
Allison Hintz, 11:00-12:00 Saturday: “Mathematizing Children’s Books”

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