Clarifying Questions

Of all the lesson planning strategies one of the best is to use clarifying questions.  These help the teacher see if what has been taught has truly been conveyed and received.  Teaching, of course, is a human communication system.  Therefore, the effective use of clarifying questions in marriages, friendships, and the workplace are also a good practice when teaching.  You might say it simply this way:

What works for big people works for smaller ones.

Here’s an example.  If I tell my students I would like them to discuss solutions to the bathroom problem we are having where kids are trashing it, I should ask a clarifying question before I get them working in pairs on ideas.  I could say:

Ok. Let me ask a random, non-volunteer to tell me what it is I just asked you to do … (Then call a number or pick a popsicle stick etc.)

In this case, the clarifying question is a “Check for Understanding” (CFU) question by the teacher to the students to verify they understand.  Continue reading Clarifying Questions

Intrinsic and External Motivation

Having been a teacher since 1997, I’ve analyzed myself and other teachers quite a bit. One thing I have come to identify is when I am working and planning from internal motivation as opposed to external. Internal motivation has to do with ideals and morals. It is the extra plan you make for Johnny who is in fourth grade and still can barely read (hypothetical name and situation). It is the goals you set for yourself as a teacher and the expectations you set for your kids based on what you think is their best interest.

The external motivation is your evaluator. It is the way you will be perceived. It means putting up a wall that is required as opposed to using creativity to make it your own. I admit we cannot escape external demands on our profession. We must adhere, to a degree, to the required parameters we are mandated to. At the same time, I think it is abhorrent that some teachers identify this as the bare minimum and they only go as far is the external motivators require. There must be a balance.

Someone I knew at the district where I work died today. He was quite young and had a lot going for him professionally. Though he wasn’t in the classroom, he was revolutionizing the profession with technology and training hordes of teachers to use his website. His death was sudden and unexpected. It touched me because I respected his internal motivation. It was clear he wanted to help teachers and students succeed and accomplish great things in math. I remember him that way.

This has me thinking once again about my own motivation. If I want to be remembered for something I ought to be doing it. That is where the internal motivation comes in. Am I being true to my conscience as I plan and teach kids? Or, rather am I getting by on the bare minimum of mandates. Also, health needs to be a concern. It’s not always the I feel the best idea to work harder, sometimes you need to stop chopping and sharpen your axe. teachers are ones who can exceed mandates while being true to their own morals and values as educators. If this post does anything for you I would hope it caused you to ask yourself what your own mandates are. I call that internal motivation.

Brave People Make a Difference

imageThis is a photo of my sister in law, a teacher at a CTA conference with Dolores Huerta. If you haven’t heard of Dolores Huerta, she’s a very well known labor leader through history and still now as a speaker. When Jessica posted this I have to admit, Dolores Huerta’s name was only slightly familiar. I looked her up on Wikipedia and discovered she is on par with Cesar Chavez and many more of my union heroes. Continue reading Brave People Make a Difference

Sing a Dirge to VHS

Sing a Dirge to VHSI’ve written here before about what a shame it is that so many old materials get discarded. This is very true with VHS videos, movies, and teaching material gathered through the years. I’m 45, so I’m not part of the new teacher age (about 25) so my gripes may be vacant to them. However, those about my age will remember all the science, math, and language arts VHS that came to us over the years that are now literally “inaccessible.” Houghton Mifflin had some science VHS tapes that were spectacular. They showed survival in the ocean. This is powerful teaching stuff for any classroom but especially in my demographic where the kids rarely see the ocean. I really do feel video has powerful potential in lessons, especially completely new concepts. Perhaps the only video my kids will see of the ocean is Happy Feet? Video has its place in education and I do mourn the loss of a VHS player in the classroom. Continue reading Sing a Dirge to VHS

Dealing With Multiple Levels in the Classroom

appleAs teachers, we are charged with the duty of reaching a whole class of students. Some are high level functioning and others not. This does not however allow us to choose one or the other. Our lessons must reach both. This is the real challenge in education. The textbooks our districts buy included scaffolding suggestions in the margin. Some have elaborate supplemental books to teaching the varying levels in our classrooms. Still, it’s no easy task. You always run the risk of leaving some kids out. I think assessment on a uniform scale is a must these days. For example, at my school we use Accelerated Reader. This program has a subset inside called the “STAR” Reading and Math test. This is a good program, again as I’ve said before, no program is perfect. This one use the same criteria over and over as many times as the kid takes the test to determine grade level equivalency. Continue reading Dealing With Multiple Levels in the Classroom

Teacher as Coach

star-badgeBefore I start talking about a sports analogy, let me inform you I am not a big sports fan. I ran x-country and track in high school. I learned the value of a each back then. Having said that, I do not watch organized sports much in the year. Okay, now that I hopefully have avoiding alienating those who don’t like sports, I want to talk to you about the teacher as “coach,” and expert on student motivation. We have a group of kids we are to “model” the lessons for and then foster their ability to do it as independent practice. I sometimes forget about my role coaching kids. For over 13 years I have set clear goals for my class and we have worked tirelessly to achieve them. Sometimes my class meets the goals, sometimes they fall short. Every year they have a goal and I coach them toward it. One year we were shooting for a percentage of proficient kids in the class. We ended up missing the goal but scoring highest in the district for my grade level. That was extremely gratifying to me professionally. So much so that I set higher goals for the next year’s kids. That didn’t work out quite as well. I saw my kids getting burned out when I’d say I wanted 20 students advanced on a test and we ended up with 18 for example. The “proficient only” ones sort of got ignored. Continue reading Teacher as Coach

Puppet Communication

Puppet Communication in Upper ElementaryCommunication should be of the utmost importance to a teacher. She/he should consider all tools at her/his disposal to get the point across to kids. All the planning and research in the world can’t be used unless the teacher knows how to communicate it to students. Direct communication like speaking to a class or one-to-one has it’s place of course as probably the most important and effective mode of transporting knowledge from teacher to student. Still, indirect or implicit communication can have a stronger impact in select situations. For example, when teaching social rules of the classroom, a skit or puppet show may be more effective than a lecture. The stuents can see themselves and their peers in the puppet and not feel self-conscious or defensive about the content. Sometimes, even having the kids make brown bag puppets or other type and then allowing them to speak through the puppet.

Continue reading Puppet Communication

Seize Training Opportunities

Professional Development - Seize OpportunitiesNo matter how bad the economy gets, educational institutions offer trainings of one sort or another. These can prove invaluable to your journey in the classroom so seize them whenever you can. Get on mailing lists of educational publishers, sometimes they will offer a free seminar for their product. Subscribe to RSS feeds of blogs that offer training courses. These can be on anything in education from behavioral management to holistic therapy techniques. I know the latter sounds “out there” but we should all be open to new ideas if we ever going to transform education. You can also seek out trainings in your area and then inquire to your supervisor about getting funded to attend. Most districts and schools are very into professional development, they want to develop the talent they have within. To them, it is an investment. To you it equals mastery, wisdom, and clarity in the teaching profession. Continue reading Seize Training Opportunities

Warm Fuzzy Experiment

Power of Positive with KidsWhen I was young, in the 70’s, I recall a book called Free to be You and Me. In that book, my mom had it on her shelf, they talked about the emotions of people and how they have an impact for good or bad. The good things we tell people were calm warm fuzzies, the negative things were called cold pricklies. The idea was that is people heard more warm fuzzies, it would come around and make the whole world a better place. I love the concepts of the 70’s. This philosophy is true with adults and kids. I have seen it exemplified with my students time and time again. I have seen kids that were social problems on the playground and in the classroom turn around and be better kids because I purposefully gave them warm fuzzies ie; “I like your shirt today!” Continue reading Warm Fuzzy Experiment

Power of Icon

Power of Icons in ClassroomKids get icons in their face every day on tv and the internet. My kids must see Spongebob in their sleep since their tv watching time seems to consist mostly of him. When they heard the song or see the icon on a fast food cup, they are dialed in waiting to take part. It’s trust built over time. Teachers have some of that power and we can use it to our advantage. Why not fill their heads with some different ones, with valuable meaning? On my desk I have a carved buffalo statue. My students walk by me every day and see it. I share with them the buffalo is a sign of gentle strength for me. Sometimes I will refer to him in my teaching, pointing out the characteristics that I admire. I even go so far as to name my student’s “Riley’s Buffaloes.” They know it’s my favorite animal, an icon is on my desk, and we identify with the buffalo by making him our mascot. In this way, I have an unwritten connection with my students. I have even developed a quick line drawing I put on the board and on their papers when I grade highly. Continue reading Power of Icon