Saturday, May 21, 2005


I'm back from our retreat. I'm exhausted; we worked really hard. Also, conference centers make coffee, soda, candy, and buffet meals available so readily that even with restraint I still wound up feeling like it had been one long binge. It was well worth it.

We drove to the hotel in NJ after school on Friday. Before dinner, we looked at calendars of the entire school year and filled in dates for holidays, tests, celebrations, etc. We didn't know the exact dates for everything, but we could at least pinpoint them to within a week or so. That gave us an initial sense of accomplishment and will save us work throughout the year and make planning easier for everyone. We also received copies of all the curriculum maps which we'd prepared before the retreat - one for each subject area at each grade level. Our homework was to review them, looking for gaps, repetitions, and opportunities for integration.

After dinner, we went back to our conference room for lots of wine and a highly competitive game of Pictionary. It was fun and I think we bonded.

Today, we started the morning sharing our observations about the curriculum maps. We found one major repetition, a couple of gaps, and many, many places for possible integration. We also talked about various skills that we want to create scaffolding maps for - basically charts listing our expectations for kids at each grade level. The idea is to make sure that each time they write a bibliography, they use the same format and maybe learn how to do one new kind of source. Some other topics that we want to scaffold in this very deliberate way are measurment, graphing, research & essay writing, technology skills, punctuation, and many more.

Next, we met with our subject area teams to revise our curriculum maps, and, in some cases, handing off our curriculum maps to the teacher who will be taking over that subject & grade level next year. In Science, all three of us will be at a different grade level next year. It's not ideal, but these changes were made to distribute experience better between the three grade levels. Our sixth grade team this year was all brand-new teachers, and we wanted to split that up; our eighth grade team had something like 15 years experience altogether, and that needed to be spread around. I'm moving to sixth grade and am really excited about the particular group of people I will be working with; I think we're going to be really strong. So, we talked each other through what we did, what worked, what didn't work, new ideas, etc. I think in the end we were each excited about our new material. (For me, it's old hat - I've changed either grade level, science content area, or both every single year for five years!). We broke for lunch with a complete map of our subject area across the three years of middle school.

After lunch, we did the same thing at each grade level, looking for possible themes for interdisciplinary units. By this point work had slowed down a bit. We science teachers finished putting our maps together and began to create a "to-do list" of topics we want to discuss in order to really set the tone in sixth grade. It was gratifying to see that we are already on the same page about many things - portfolios, shared behavioral expectations, parent contact strategies, etc. We didn't really get to the point of looking for themes to integrate our subject areas, but we are well-prepared to do that in the next few weeks or during our summer planning time.

It was about 8 very productive hours of work, uninterrupted by the million little things that come up when you try to do planning a little at a time during the school day, afterschool PD sessions, or in the evenings. And having fun together helps, too.

Now, back to my regularly scheduled lesson planning and homework grading.


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