The Modern (Jewish) Teacher’s Guide to Guilt

About 6 years ago I read a book called, “The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt” by Ruth Andrew Ellenson, in which different Jewish female writers tell hilarious stories of the guilt they’ve grown to feel in various life situations.

The past few weeks of my at-school, and out-of-school, life have been stressful. Report cards can do that to a staff. Then add on all the other commitments teachers take on, and we could write our own book.

In an effort to deal with my own guilt of needing to push things to the bottom of my to-do list (like this blog) I’m writing this post as a placeholder to say…

I’m still here.

I will be writing again soon.

Anyone who feels the same as I do, raise your hand, and let’s not feel guilty together!


Those “AHA” Moments

I feel like I’m on a learning Merry-Go-Round. I learn something new, I apply it to my teaching, I reflect on it, I show my students my reflection, they share their thoughts with me, I learn something new, I apply it to my teaching, I reflect on it…and so on and so forth.

My “AHA” moment this week was after our first Math test. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been trying to personalize learning in my classroom as much as possible. I attempted to that for our math test as well, in the best ways I could think of. I differentiated the questions and ways of responding for each student, I pre-recorded all the questions on the test for my auditory learners, I provided manipulatives, charts and other visuals for kinesthetic and visual learners. We had quiet spaces where students could work, I thought I had it all figured out.

After the students got their test back, I asked them to reflect on their learning and how they experienced writing the test. I got some excellent feedback that I hadn’t considered before. One of my students, whose first language is not English, commented that although he understands the math very well, the non-math language used in some of the questions was confusing. Another student told me that she learns best when she can talk things through out loud for herself and was wondering if an environment could be available to her the next time she writes a test.

As I’ve been on this journey of making my class personalized to each of my students, there have been many moments when I’ve been overwhelmed by the thought of needing to come up with all the different pieces for each individual child. But now I realize that by modeling my own needs and discoveries, my students are feeling more comfortable and able to identify and ask for their own needs and discoveries, which in turn makes my job so much easier because I am becoming less and less responsible for coming up with the ideas on my own…AHA!

My next step in my wonderful world of Personalized Math is providing an assortment of open ended math tasks (thanks to Marian Small‘s Open Questions for the Three-Part Lesson) and will be guiding students to choose the questions that will help them learn what they need to learn, and will allow them to show what they know in a way that matches who they are as a learner.

Must Do May Do

As I’ve been working towards personalized learning in my classroom, Math is the area where I’m struggling the most to ensure that I’m reaching each student at the place where they are as individual learners. While doing some research, I found Jennifer Gonzalez, from The Cult of Pedagogy, who suggested playlists, and All About 3rd Grade Blog, who suggested a Must Do May Do list. I took this idea first, and gave each student a personalized calendar with the tasks they “Must Do” on a particular day, after which they can choose the May Do task of their choice. As they LOVE Prodigy Game, they often choose to do that, and I feel like I’ve won the teacher lottery with that one!

While the students work on their Must Do May Do, I am able to conference with individual or small groups of students on more targeted skills and teaching. In the first few classes, these one on one sessions were often interrupted by other students who needed help with their task. A few things occurred to me; 1) the tasks are not level appropriate for that student; 2) the students aren’t comfortable problem solving on their own; 3) the students don’t realize that their peers can be helpful resources to them. No matterĀ  the reason, I was responsible for “fixing” the problem. As a class, we came up with solutions for times when they don’t know what to do on their Must Dos.

  • Read the instructions/problem/question again. Maybe it will become clearer
  • Ask someone else in the class if they can help you (good ol’ Ask Three Before Me)
  • Make a note for yourself that this is something you may need clarification on when it comes time for your one on one time with the teacher
  • Look it up online and see if there’s a video, or something else you can use to help you understand

These are all the real life, true skills they’ll need later in life. Giving up on the first go won’t get anyone very far.

After speaking with Silvia today, she brought up the point that personalized learning isn’t about the teacher creating 15 different lessons for each of my 15 students. The goal is to have students who are self-directed and self-motivated, who are able look at what they need to learn, decide on the tools they’ll need in order to learn it, and go for it! This is the route I’m exploring to discover! My students really enjoy the Must Do May Do list. So as not to throw the baby out with the bath water, I’m thinking it will be worthwhile to involve the students more in the making of the Must Do May Do list. I attempted to have choice in the lesson during the May Do portion, but that’s not where the magic happens. Students need to be the ones to choose the Must Dos – the lessons that are going to help them learn what they need to learn. With this new realization, I’m excited to see how this will evolve!

Illiteracy in the 21st Century

As someone who has always been comfortable with technology, and spend much of my time navigating the digital world, I would consider myself a (mostly) literate educator. Many teachers may hear that term and say the same for themselves, but what it means to be literate today has changed. If we truly want to prepare our students for the future, we need to rethink what literacy skills are. And if we need to teach those skills, we need to know those skills and use them.

My Documentation Learning Curve

Over the last 2 days, I, along with some of my colleagues, have had the incredible opportunity to work with Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano about documenting our own learning AS learning. I had two new experiences today: 1) I documented a Lunch and Learn session from one of our teachers and 2) we had a Skype session with Jocelyn Blumgart in Australia.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.


During the Lunch and Learn session, I found it challenging to document while still being active and engaged in the conversation. I was definitely not able to write down a well thought out blog post in the moment, but rather took quick notes to be able to go back later to transform it into complete thoughts. At one point, I abandoned my spot at the back of the room, left my camera and computer, and sat down in the middle of it all to get my hands “dirty” with what the rest of the group was doing. I’ve now learned that what I was trying to do was backchanneling and it is still something I need to practice in order to get better at multitasking. Interestingly, while backchanneling was a challenge at lunch, I had a completely different experience with it later that afternoon.

The Skype session with Jocelyn was great! We each took on a role as part of the Digital Learning Farm. My job to begin with was Photographer. The call began with all of us busily doing our jobs, being in the hot seat face-to-face with Jocelyn, taking pictures, videos or live-tweeting.

As the conversation continued, and Jocelyn started sharing ideas, tools and resources, I realized no one was backchanneling! I quickly sat down at my computer, and while listening to the conversation and still being engaged, I was able to take notes and even hyperlink to some of the tools she referenced.

When I reflect on it now, when I was documenting on my own during lunch, it was my responsibility to to ALL the jobs in the Digital Learning Farm. During the Skype call, I had one job, and was able to better concentrate on what was happening around me to jump in to other jobs that may have been necessary. While not completely impossible to do it on your own, it is MUCH better doing it with a group of people, where each person has a purpose. I would imagine it relieved some pressure from those speaking directly with Jocelyn that they did not need to write down all the things she was saying while listening to her. It likely allowed the conversation to flow more naturally and comfortably without pausing to write things down.

I’m really looking forward to learning more, practicing more, and most of all, trying this out with my students.

Chapter 1

Full disclosure – after completing this video, sitting on it for a few hours, I completely intended to remake the video to include some thoughts I felt I hadn’t completely expressed initially. But as this is my first post on my journey to document FOR learning, I decided it would be inauthentic to redo my video without at least first posting the first draft to be able to see what changed.

So without further delay…here is my first vlog about an artifact that represents a turning point in my educational career.

What I forgot:

  • I was not completely unsupported. I did have one incredible administrator who supported me and encouraged me to trust my instincts. She was then and continues to be a source of light for me, which was important as a new teacher and invaluable as I’ve continued my teaching career. Having people around you who are like-minded and help you grow is something we all deserve in our lives.
  • Building relationships is extremely important. As a second language teacher, I only saw students for 40 minutes 3 times a week. Having the time to build those relationships was challenging if I chose to have those teaching moments as my only points of interaction with the students. This one on one time during lunch, spending time engaging in something that we were both passionate about, built a connection and developed a relationship between us.