Darn, I Was Gonna Say That

tony-anticipates-his-next-classI’m convinced that teachers who are starting out need to learn this lesson with time. It makes little logical sense to tell kids the answers but it serves a powerful function toward mastery when you are starting a new concept. Students often don’t answer because they do not know what is being asked of them. This can be the actual math or language arts of the thing or it could just be the manner and style in which the teacher expects the answer. Sometimes when students say the predictable phrase, “I was gonna say that,” they aren’t lying. They didn’t know what you wanted from them and that is a simple problem to remedy. At the introduction of the lesson, go around pucking random non volunteers by your chosen method, I use cards. Use this pattern: 1) Say the answer 2) Ask the question and 3) Ask the question again and pick a random non volunteer. This will inform them how to listen and answer questions and get you more familiar with their process. It sounds silly to give the answer and then ask someone to say it back but it really decreases their affective filter and makes them more comfortable branching out and taking risks. In short, they become more comfortable with you so you can ease into more higher order questions like “why is that the answer?” Continue reading

A Flight Simulator, a Briar Patch to get our Kids Ready

brerrabit3The fear and reverence of Common Core is all around. It permeates education. Kids who are gifted and self-starters will likely welcome the opportunity to answer high level thinking questions on a computer screen. They also will not mind the copying, pasting, bulleting, and other technical aspects of the tests. But for the rest, it’s going to come as a shock. Some kids will just give up and type nonsense into the answer boxes. Others will flutter the screens as they learn to select text and not much more. What can we do for these students? I have a suggestion.

Just like flight students work in a simulator to decrease the affect of flying, so we should put kids in a simulated session of the Common Core test. For us here in California it is called the “Smarter Balanced” or SBAC Practice Test. It’s totally free and akin to the released questions the cde used to offer on their site. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s too bad there is no way to download it in case they ever upgrade or otherwise choose to take it down. I still have all my material the cde put out for the “1997 standards,” or so they are now called. It comes in handy sometimes. But this is more valuable than any of that. It gives the child a chance to click around within the framework and interface of the common core test that will shine before all students’ faces in April/May. If you don’t use this, make sure your test prep includes something like the interface they will be in. Remember Brer Rabbit when he got caught? He cried and cried for them not to throw him into a briar patch. When he escaped, he yelled “I was born in a briar patch!” laughing his way out of sight. We need to get our kids exposed to the common core test. Of course, daily instruction in the standards is the most crucial thing but after that, we need a flight simulator, a briar patch to get our kids ready for success.

The Role of Admin and That of Teachers

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Left to Right: Secretary of Education, California Jack OConnell, Me, Superintendent of San Bernardino County Herb Fischer.  2007

Everyone tends to go to pieces when the “suits” aka administration walks in ones classroom. You could be sitting, which can be fine as long as you’re teaching. The most ideal by their standards is that you’re standing, burning calories teacing the future of America. Never mind they may have been sitting all day at their desks processing complaints and categorizing taxpayer funds. You’re expected to be the professional, doing whatever you need to be doing to get every child to the expectation they set. Remember however that you have an intrinsic calling to what you do. You don’t need a suit to be important. You use all the materials at your disposal to help kids gain equal access to the core curriculum. You are the true professional and hero in my eyes.

Most districts have more teachers than mine but mine has about 300. The people who run the district office number at about 6-8. Of course, beyond them there are clerical workers and such but the higher administration number is about that small. They spend the money that taxpayers earn. They decide how much teachers can make and how much can be spent on the curriculum that they choose. Currently, all curriculum we are mandated to use is Common Core. Continue reading

5 Better Ways To Discipline Than Removing Recess

When a child misbehaves in your classroom, is your first response to have him lose recess time? In 2006 a study found that 81.4 percent of schools allowed this as a punishment. Yet in a time when kids are suffering from greater attention problems and poor social skills (not to mention problems with childhood obesity on the rise), taking away recess and the chance to run around simply is not the right option.

Put the Child to Work

Sometimes kids act out because they have pent-up energy or are bored with the classroom instruction. Cutting recess makes these problems worse. So, instead of cutting out the part of the day they really need, give the children a job to do as a disciplinary action.

This can be something simple, like taking a document to the office, or something a bit more involved, like vacuuming the carpet or cleaning the board. Try to find a time, outside of that vital recess period, that the child can perform the job.

Reward Positive Behavior

Sometimes rewarding positive behavior is just as effective as punishing negative behavior. When students see their classmates earning a coveted reward, they will work harder to earn it as well.

Consider a system where your students can earn a sticker on a chart for each day without behavior issues. When they achieve a set number of stickers, they receive a reward. Rewards can be simple things, like:

  • Using the teacher’s desk for the day
  • Switching desks with a friend
  • Picking their favorite weekly job
  • Free time on the computer
  • Lunch with the teacher
  • Choosing a toy from a reward bin

You can create a list that is specific to your classroom and your students. The key is to be consistent in helping children attain a prize, and the positive rewards will help curtail negative behavior.

Involve the Parents

Sometimes, even in spite of your positive reinforcement techniques, you need to impose a negative consequence when children misbehave. For those instances, consider a timeout from a coveted activity that is not recess, like music class or free reading time at the end of the day. The timeout should be short, but long enough to get the child’s attention.

Then, if the behavior does not improve, it’s time to bring in the parents. In many instances, parental involvement is more effective than taking away recess time. A simple note home can bring much better results than days of missed recesses. Having a child who was caught using foul language repeat those words to his mom over the phone may do more good than hours of social isolation. Continue reading

3 Classroom Behavior Management Techniques that Deliver

How were your classroom behavior management strategies last year? Be honest. If you are like me, the results are mixed. They were good because you kept the stuff that worked for years and applied it and got rid of the stuff that didn’t. Unfortunately they were also bad because situations you didn’t think about arose and created problems in your classroom management. Well, right here, right now is the time we should be examining all that in preparation for a new year. There are many things I have learned through the years that work for classroom management. I believe that effective classroom management techniques must start with a dynamite lesson plan.

So, before we even talk about behavior, we have to spend time in a straight-backed chair (or the equivalent thereof) completely focused on crafting the best lessons we can. The lessons should explicitly teach and solicit responses from all the kids. If we aren’t doing this, that is our glaring error we will never overcome.

If we have done this, then our kids should behave rather well. Most kids want to engage, many have been taught there is nothing to engage with. You need to be the teacher who re-awakens that natural wonder. It’s kind of like a dare: are you up for it? I triple dog dare you ;) Okay, now that the obvious elephant in the room has been identified, let’s get to those three techniques:

  1. Effective classroom rules – These are usually a “given” but I want to revisit them.  These rules can get you out of many binds.  The lack thereof can also get the entire class is a mess that’s hard to escape.  The word on these is simple: Make concise, relevant rules that number no more than 7.  I have had discussions with teachers about how they want more rules.  This defeats the purpose of rules in my opinion.  If the rules on the wall become impossible to follow, or retain for that matter, they will be ignored.  In my class, I never go above 5 rules.  My only guideline in creating these is that every possible scenario can be linked  to one of them.
  2. Classroom management intervention – You should have a system in place that protects the “good kids” who are obeying and trying to learn.  Before they happen, you should have a system that quickly diffuses the “rule breaker” and returns the focus on instruction.  There are many ways to do this and I am sure you know them.  Many times I forget this tip and there is a lot of raucous before Christmas.  The truth is, it doesn’t have to be this way with some pre-planned intervention.
  3. Assertive discipline classroom management – This is Lee Canter’s method and I subscribe to it 100%.  Apart from my feelings about the lesson plan coming first, he has some amazing ideas that started in the 70’s in an authoritative style and have developed into a more democratic style.  The word I like best is “assertive.”  An assertive teacher addresses situations and works through them to her/his advantage.

Okay, so there you have it.  Those are my 3 tips for you.  We all hope we will get a perfect class every year and it’s no wonder we’re frazzled by Halloween!  You can declare power over your year and when you do you will see that we have been entrusted with one of the most valuable jobs on Earth: teaching kids.

Learning Objective

IAB_CL1_PX01642Series on EDI intro: Explicit Direct Instruction, or EDI, is a set of teaching strategies assembled by Data Works, a research company in California.  I have been trained and certified as a trainer and have found it a great way to deliver effective lesson plans.  It consists of steps which you will find in each post in the series here.  I hope you benefit by the series.  Please leave a comment, let’s have a dialog.

In the teaching method EDI, “Learning Objective” is the beginning of the lesson.  It should be stated clearly and the kids should show evidence of understanding by repeating it back and then answering as random non-volunteers. I usually write this on the board and explain any new or difficult words.  Then I say it and have the class repeat it.  You are establishing the goal of the lesson.  This helps the students mentally prepare for the lesson.  Many times teachers do “forward questioning,” or, questioning without teaching.  Forward questioning is a big no no.  A clearly taught learning objective is the best weapon against it. Here are some teaching methods.

Even though EDI is the focus here, a learning objective is an excellent part of any lesson plan. You state what we will be doing and stay faithful to it through all stages of the lesson.  It’s like a target guiding what you do and what you assess in the end. Now, onto the second step of my favorite method of teaching.

Rethinking Your “Regular Stuff” in a Classroom

What good are the loftiest goals if you don’t have the nuts and bolts. In 4th grade, this means a solid and open instruction space and homework. These are two areas I have opened up lately and done a full rebuild with. When the everyday tasks are available on a daily basis in an accessible way, the teacher can explore into the depths. When they are clogged or neglected, those loftier goals might as well be unsaid because they will never happen. There is hope. Take the time to clear a better space to teach.

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Take the time to clear your workspace. Fill it with only that which you need to instruct.

Hemingway wrote about a clean, well lighted space. I’d change clean to ordered and apply it to teaching. The cluttered mind is far with worry and unreal expectations. Take the time to order your workspace. On my personal blog/online diary, I wrote recently about enjoying the regular road to achieve enlightenment (of sorts). This is also true of teaching. I know are all overwhelmed but I know from experience if you take the time to uproot and replant your regular stuff, like a teaching space and homework, new doors will open up and you will be a stronger teacher than you ever imagined.IMG_3053.JPG

What is the “regular stuff” of your classroom. Could it use some rethinking?

Teaching Tips for Classroom Behavior Management

Becoming a teacher educates you about classroom management right away. When it starts getting incessantly noisy in your classroom, you have to do something about it.  The kids can take over the class and everyone can believe you are shouting at them for no reason … and that’s what they tell their families.  You don’t deserve that and it doesn’t have to be the case.  Here’s something I have done and in fact am currently doing to keep my room a sanctuary for learning:

1) One of the steps to becoming a teacher is to make sure the teaching parts of the day are very enthusiastic and energetic.  Go the extra mile to get them moving and involved in what you are teaching.  You probably will never “wear them out” but look at that as your ideal goal when teaching. Continue reading

Why to Have a Learning Objective

IAT_CL1_PX00768When you teach kids, a learning objective is like the train track you can’t deviate from.  It keeps you focused and keeps your students minds from wandering away from your education.  It’s like the old adage: “If you aim at nothing, you’ll surely hit it.”

An example of what happens without an objective is like when you are having coffee with a dear friend and your conversation juts and skips all over the place.  If you’re like me with my best friend, there is nothing linear about it.  In this context it makes perfect sense to not have an “objective.”  When you are teaching kids, on the other hand, a learning objective can get your class to 80% mastery (or higher) faster and more efficiently. Online lesson plans that have a learning objective are far more superior than those who don’t.

An example of a learning objective I do in fact is:

Today we will identify predicates in sentences.

We have a test coming up where they will be asked to do this.  That is called “backward mapping,” looking at the end assessment and then creating your objective based on what they will be tested on. While teaching materials have some value, a learning objective is a must.

Activate Prior Knowledge

IAB_CL1_PX01572I tell my kids they should love this part of the lesson because ?prior knowledge? means basically: ?Stuff they already know.? All I am doing here is getting them to fix on something they understand. I will use this quickly to bridge to what they have yet to learn. For example, if I am doing a lesson to 8th graders on consumer documents I can explain to them how skateboards come with a warranty.

I can get them very involved in sharing stories of ?prior knowledge? about pasts that have broken and got replaced within the terms of the warranty. Then I can bridge from that to the lesson objective which might be analyzing the various terms of a consumer document. The learning objective can be restated throughout the lesson reminding the students that each thing we are doing has a place in getting towards that learning objective. I thoroughly enjoy the elaboration from kids during ?APK? or activate prior knowledge. They have a lot of enthusiasm in telling me what they know. I think the ?dynamite? advice for this step would be to pick an APK subject that they know and enjoy. Getting kids comfortable at the beginning of the lesson through prior knowledge is a dynamite tool. Here are some sample lessons.