Look at it Differently, or Where I Managed to Put the Bookshelf

I want to thank Elysabeth for her comment yesterday on my post Look at Things Differently where I described my vanilla dilemma of where to put my classroom bookshelf. I placed it too far into my math wall and so I was thinking all was lost. After I slept on it and drew a schematic I had an “aha.” I put it in the middle! (embarrassingly simple conclusion I admit). Below is a before and after. The point I was making was made, with a visual. Mind you, this was a very simple matter but it made my point in the post about all matters of classroom decor: look at it differently.

I published this “idiot’s” conclusion (the idiot being me) because I feel it makes my point solid: if you take the time to look at your predicament “differently” you are likely to find a solution that is simple, possible and often right under your nose.

Three Areas of Student Assessment – a modest proposal

three areas of student assessment I would recommend. These can be used in place of standardized assessments we have now or in addition to. They would give us a less restrictive measurement of success.

1619_131794753693811_1561166653_nToday on my Facebook, I reposted (shared) this photo of Bruce Springsteen and his quote. One of my friends challenged me to share what I would do differently so I decided to blog three areas of student assessment I would recommend. These can be used in place of standardized assessments we have now or in addition to. They would give us a less restrictive measurement of success.

1) At the parent conference, create assessment goals. Students all have different gifts and needs. If parents and teachers get together, the best goals can be made for the child. It would probably be impractical to have individual assessments for everyone. At the same time, I think if we tried doing this, a set of assessment “types” would come into focus. Teachers could make a set of open-minded assessments to help a child grow. Part of this assessment should be to test a student’s understanding of real life jobs as they exist now (not 50 years ago).

2) Make music and the arts a requirement in school. I agree charter schools can do a good job at focusing on the arts shouldn’t all kids get that exposure? Forget what other countries do on their tests, we are trailblazers. Only we decide what we want our kids to be exposed to.

3) Academic assessments must be there. Teachers should have full access to the material the kids will be tested on and testing should be. I thought the standardized testing of the CDE was good for the past 15 years but it shouldn’t be the sole assessment. At the same time, this aspect cannot be ignored.

The Written Behavior Log – A Win/Win/Win

Keeping a written record of things students do is powerful when dealing with parents, the Principal, and when seeking to improve the school’s behavioral programs. It carries more weight than your simple “recollection” of events.

20120817-141710.jpgProbably the best student behavior related advice I ever got as a new teacher was to “Write things down.” Keeping a written record of things students do is powerful when dealing with parents, the Principal, and when seeking to improve the school’s behavioral programs. It carries more weight than your simple “recollection” of events. If Johnny misbehaves, the parent and administration wants to know exactly how and when he did so. This can be a fancy three ring binder you create or just a lined sheet of paper on a clipboard. The only essential is that it must be written in regularly. It’s so important, I say it should be part of any sound classroom management.

3Is2Win 1: The parent. We live and teach in a time where the teacher/parent relationship is constantly being redefined. For one student, you are the “guide,” the “mentor.” This is of course the ideal situation we hope for with all our students. Unfortunately, there are other parents who can be hostile toward teachers. They can complain to no end and even enter the classroom sometimes to share their discontent about their child. These are the ones we must give our full attention. They may have a real concern but in other cases, they may just want someone to hear their complaints. In either case, you need to be a listener #1. Imagine if you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you want to be heard? What if your child was being bullied? On the other hand, what if your child were accused of bullying? I have seen upset parents calm down quite quickly simply because I didn’t react or reply, I only listened and gave active listening feedback. If something has happened with their child on the offending end, you will have a much better case if you have a written behavior log. You can examine your well reasoned points if you are lucky. Without a behavior log of the events their child was involved in, you don’t have a leg to stand on and they may try to assault your character, saying you have no proof or you make things up. Let me not here that the goal of a teacher should always be so find a positive solution with parents. We, in a real sense, work for them. We do not, however, have to be at the mercy of ones who seek to disparage us because we are allegedly disorganized or without proof.

With_SupesWin #2: Your Boss. The Principal will greatly appreciate your log as well. I think they have one of the hardest jobs in education. They field complaints all day as well as attempt to foster an ideal learning environment. When they get a phone call about a child in your class, you can get out your log and show your observations. Without the log, it is your word against the parent and that put the Principal in a very precarious situation. We all want the needs of the child to be met. The Behavior log can help us to that end, even if it documents what the child has done wrong. We can look at positive solutions. If you simply try to recall what has happened in class, you run the risk of being the problem! That’s right, a Principal may choose to see you as the problem even when the child has done wrong. The solution? Write it down as it happens. This can also be a great tool to pull out during a time of teacher evaluation.

IMG_0045Win #3: The School. The best reason to have a behavior log is to help constant improvement of the school’s behavior plan. You can bring that information to a school site council meeting (or other meeting) and make informed statements about what behavior problems are occurring. If multiple teachers see trends, it can be possible to brainstorm solutions. You can show statistics at parents meetings as well as any meetings that concern student behavior and safety. This benefits the school and the child as well as the family. Most schools in the 21st century recognize the value of those three entities.

To close, I encourage you to keep a behavior log in your classroom. It will foster your professionalism with parents and administration as well as benefit the school. Sounds like a win/win/win right?

Please leave a comment! This is a blog that thrives on other peoples’ opinions. Thank you in advance for commenting.

Small Growth is Still Growth

Many of my students just got their reports cards and they included large growth in grades. A few on the other hand, had to see what they have been seeing for years up to now: flat growth or decline in scores. There is only one way to take this: they need to improve. I don’t tell parents of my kids that their children have to be the highest in the class. I just want them to improve. If there was a 2 in one area last trimester, we are looking for a 3 and so on.

The challenge to the high kids is to maintain their high grades. Having said that, the children with lower grades have nowhere to go but up. Small, incremental growth is still growth. When I ran in high school we called it “running your own race” and making a “personal best.”

Learning Objective

In 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.

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.

The Best Behavioral Strategy is a Dynamite Lesson Plan

Reflecting on the past and future of Dynamite Lesson Plan, a teaching blog.

My vision of the: “Dynamite Lesson Plan” aka great Behavior and Classroom Management. I started this blog in early 2007 and it’s evolved to something I am quite proud of today. I named the blog after something my master “teacher-school” teacher told me after observing me the first time. My class was out of control and it was borderline embarassing. I asked him for strategies to keep their behavior under control and he said:

“The best classroom behavior management is a dynamite lesson plan.”

It’s been years since he told me that and it is still the most true thing I’ve ever been told about teaching.

People are drawn to passion and form like a moth to a lightbulb. If you tell a kid he has to learn math he might buy in. If you tell a kid that every chair in the world will fall apart if people don’t learn math, you’ll have buy in.

A dynamite lesson plan is a direction. It simply inspires a plan. After that, the effective teacher must get creative and use a method. I use EDI as my lesson template but there are other good ones. This blog has become a place where I explore ways to create dynamite lesson plans. I appreciate the input I have in the comments and I hope to get more teachers and students involved in what I do here. My hope is it will inspire teachers and empower students to be great and score high.

Here’s to a dynamite future as we continue to discover the parts of a dynamite lesson plan.

Classroom Design – Less is More

Since classroom time is the most important time in the learning day, we as teachers definitely need to be thinking about how less is more in classroom organization decisions.

Walking in your classroom has to be, at the very minimum, possible. At best it should be easy. If you are tripping over desks to get to kids and/or unable to get from one side to the other, you aren’t doing it right. Organizing a classroom design to let you walk around unencumbered will yield results. Feng Shui and general aesthetic principles guide architects toward minimalism every day. Less in the room is more in that it yields creativity and relieves tension. Having open space in a class is becoming more and more challenging. With internet for classrooms taking up necessary computer space, we are hard-pressed to create that calming, freeing space we want. Still, the internet and other computer tools are doing much in education so we have to make a space for them.

Teachers are given a mix of school furniture each year and usually the items are minimal. However, one should consider how much extra clutter a room needs. Getting rid of the unneeded furniture in place of items that add to the learning environment can be an excellent decision. At the same time, moving something like a bookshelf can open worlds of wonder to a classroom. It is amazing how much I have seen change by changing the wall my bookshelf was on. This will of course vary teacher to teacher according to preference.

As we look to the future and consider the virtual classroom, the physical room environment should continue to be at the forefront. As hybrids continue to emerge, we may see that the classroom is not less important but more because kids are in it less. Since classroom time is the most important time in the learning day, we as teachers definitely need to be thinking about how less is more in classroom organization decisions.

Monetary vs. Non Monetary Rewards in the Classroom

Here’s another topic for my teacher journal and I hope to get some external input in the comments on it. In every class there should be some sort of rewards system. Kids are small adults and adults work for rewards, why shouldn’t they? In teaching, I have found the PC and mainstream way most teachers take is the way of monetary rewards. Kids follow the rules and get junk the teacher buys with her/his own money or other sources. There is a problem I see with this monetized rewards system. If kids do right to get a tangible physical reward, they will only do right when they can get a reward. This is a poor way to prepare kids for life because many times in life we are not rewarded monetarily for doing the right thing.

I prefer non monetary rewards. When I was a Pizza Hut manager, the trainers told us that people will do more for a compliment than they will for a slight raise. People want to be seen. Again, students are small people so why wouldn’t they behave the same way grownups do? Throughout the day, I make sure I am giving high fives and compliments when they are warranted. I don’t go out and buy a bunch of monetary “prizes” for my students. Once in a while I will buy my kids stuff but I keep this few and far between because I know training them to crave non-monetary rewards is a more suitable training for the world we all live and work in.

It’s possible I’m a little bitter because in 1997 something happened in my classroom that really changed me. I bought a small mechanized Harley Davidson motorcycle toy to give away at the end of the month. (I also regularly bought monetary rewards for my class at that time). The $40 toy was stolen off my desk and I never retrieved it. The kids never revealed who and how it was taken. I decided pretty soon after that event that it was not the best idea to have monetary rewards in the classroom. That’s my view, what do you think?

3 Things to Ask in a Parent Teacher Conference

The parent teacher conference is an excellent time for teachers to meet parents and find out how their child is doing in class. You might say it’s the great “demystifier” for the rest of the year. Teachers have questions which are answered in teaching degrees. If parents have any questions, they should be resolved in the parent conference. Along with presenting their scores, it’s a great opportunity for you to get information from parents. Information from parents is so important it should be taught in teacher degree requirements. Here are 3 invaluable questions to ask in a parent teacher conference.

  1. What is your child like at home? They may be shy about this one. Try to resist clarification as you want the answer to not be coached. This information is highly valuable to you as it will give you points of contact with the child as you teach her/him throughout the year.
  2. What book is your child reading currently? This opens the conversation to discuss reading and how valuable it is in education. Encourage them to talk with their child about what book she/he is reading and ask them questions about the polt and characters.
  3. Do they have any questions for you? Give parents the opportunity to ask you questions. Let your guard down and professionally answer any questions they give you.

We always talk in parent teacher conferences but we sometimes miss a golden opportunity to listen to parents. When we open up and listen to parents, we get all sorts of persuasive tools to use with the student. For example, if a parent says: “Comic books, comic books, he wants to write them one day.” I can use that for example by saying things like:

“This math concept is something you could use when designing a comic book!” And hopefully I will get “buy-in” more readily from that student . The next time you meet with a parent, try these three questions and see if you are helped by them. I think parent input is worth more than a handful of teaching degrees.

Kids, Choices, and Consequences

Successful teaching requires a “choice and consequence” system. These are my experiences and a few tips I have found useful in my 4th grade classroom.

I’m not sure any college can fully teach you how to become a teacher completely. There’s a lot of stuff you can only learn while doing it. A police friend I know has been shot at, threatened and scared half to death by some of the criminals he’s dealt with. Another fireman has almost destroyed his back pulling people out of burning buildings. So the issue is raised: What does it take to be a teacher? We deal with something every day just as ominous: surly kids. In my career I’ve had issues with kids that that few non-teachers will ever comprehend. I’ve had kids flat out tell me “no” to my face. I’ve had kids shout profanity at me. I’ve had kids tell me they are sending their dad, uncle or brother to beat me up. (yes that happened once). It can be difficult to stay focused and motivated toward teaching when so many behavior problems exist. The good news is, there are ways to get through them.

Along with the challenges there is plenty of good I must add. Teaching certification is rigorous for a reason. In addition to the small number of students who have tested me, many more have made me so glad and happy to be a teacher. Let’s talk about how to deal with these challenging kids, because teachers are always going to have them.

There are so many plans at your disposal as a teacher to control behavior in the class. You can have a warning/consequences chart, you can do positive reinforcements, you can even take entire blocks of time to model your rules and consequences. In my opinion, nothing works better than a certain type of psychology with kids who won’t behave, it is called “Choice and Consequences” teaching. Let me explain:

When a kid misbehaves it is usually either because 1) They don’t realize it and are just being “slap-happy” as kids are wont to do while young -or- 2) They know it’s wrong and they do it anyway hoping they won’t be seen or caught. You should only give consequences if the child disobeys or is defiant. The first consequence is: give them a warning. Make sure you state clearly the rule they have broken when you do so. ie;

Johnny, you kicked someone’s leg and they complained to me. You did not respect your classmate and that is rule 3 on our list on the wall. If you do it again, you will get a consequence.

Now the child knows what to refrain from. If s/he continues, it is defiance and deserves the next consequence. When they do it again, here is the only thing you should say:

Johnny (Jenny), I asked you to not do that and you did it. Now you have another consequence.

Do you practice “choice and consequences” in your class? There are sites for teachers discussing that right now. In fact, our discussion is below. I hope you’ll leave your 2 cents.