The Challenge of Making Your Not-so-Favorites Your Favorites

20130401-170518.jpgThere are 30 some odd kids in your class as a teacher. It is so easy to gravitate and focus on the needs of your favorites. They are as such because they fit in to your paradigm. Disclaimer: No teacher should have “favorites” but I am using the term to simply make a point we always need to keep an open mind to all our students. For the purposes of this article, by “favorite” I simply mean ones that are easier to understand and reach. That is m goal with every student. Thank you for understanding my disclaimer. Favorites are natural to your style of teaching and personality. You “get” them and so they often are easier to reach and teach. These are not the students that challenge you to be great. I challenge you to pay more attention to the difficult ones, those who are more difficult to understand. When you reach them, it’s a huge win for you and they.

We shun things we aren’t familiar with. A kid may seem annoying on purpose when her/him is only operating under their home paradigm. Not only can you offer them academic help but they can teach you more about how students perceive and survive in the world. Ring any bells? Please comment.

It is one of my top values for my blog here to host comments. I promise to give you my posts until my dying day but I covet YOUR comments more. Teachers, parents, administrators, edubloggers, and anyone interested. PLEASE leave me a comment. I promise to reply.

Classroom Expectations – Take Your Time, do it Right

Most teachers I talk to agree the beginning of the year is the time to establish authority, rules, and expectations. What they don’t all agree on is how to do it.

Classroom management and expectations are a teacher’s best friend or worst enemy.  It depends on how well a teacher conveys them to the kids. Research I’ve read shows that the beginning of the year is the best time to declare your classroom rules and expectations.  If you fail to get the point across at that time, you have exponentially less control in the classroom until year’s end. You might say it is the most crucial learning objective you’ll have.  Most teachers I talk to agree the beginning of the year is the time to establish authority, rules, and expectations.  What they don’t all agree on however is how to do it.

I knew one teacher who believed in passing out a handout with the rules and not going over them.  I knew another who would would take the entire first week of the school year modeling, explaining, and getting the kids to act out every scenario imaginable.  He actually used puppets and the kids would “ad-lib” scenarios with him such as: “Hey, imagine the puppet is a kid outside and he says: ‘Your momma is ugly.'” The kids would horse around and make the puppets fight.  Then, that teacher would take the teaching opportunity to talk about how silly it is to fight over words. What he’s really doing is setting the stage for child discipline. I feel the second teacher had a much better approach. Believe it or not, puppets are excellent classroom management tools.

I don’t focus solely on behavior management the whole first week, but I use most of it to set the curriculum aside and teach rules and expectations.  I had kids the first week holding up crossed fingers and I had no idea why.  I found out their teacher last year used that as a signal to go to the restroom.  This is an example of why teachers should take time establishing new “grooves” of activity in the classroom.  There is something called the “affective filter” that hinders kids from feeling comfortable learning and taking risks in the classroom.  When the rules are unclear, an anxiety permeates the room.  This anxiety can keep kids from learning to their potential and cause all sorts of mayhem.

I don’t recommend an entire week of nothing but rules and expectations but I think at least half a week with time for followup is a must. You can look into the classroom management books on this one.

Last week I noticed on Thursday that my kids were still not quite sure how I check for understanding.  My method is different from many teachers as you may know if you’ve read my pieces on that.  To summarize it, I say the question, wait, and then call on a random non-volunteer.  This breaks with the traditional method of checking for understanding by forward questioning. I decided I would review and practice it until the kids were “awake” and answering when their number was called.  They eventually did get it and we are ready to start the year strong. When things like this work, I share them here as teacher tips.

Have you thought about your style of class management? Is there a way you could convey it more clearly at the beginning of the year?

Backward Map Review – A Great Way to do Test Prep

If you want your kids to feel comfortable with all the material, you need to get them familiar with it now. Using the past test to go over and review with the kids is like gold.

With about 20 days left to the California Standards Test (CST), it is challenging how to spend your teaching tie. Of course, the free mind of a teacher can analyze similar tests and divine what to reteach. This is only a little useful. The best way to do test prep is to analyze the data of your assessments and then “backward map” reteaching the questions that 50% or less missed. This is when an item analysis report comes in handy.

I have my data and it’s magneted up on my white board. Every day for the past week and now into the next days before the standards test I have been teaching test prep and reteaching the concepts where it appears only less than 50% understood. When direct lessons are happening it feels like the best way to teach. Of course you can’s always teach this way. You need to apply yourself to solid, direct instruction and doing backward mapping will help your teaching be more relevant and of more value on the CST. If you want your kids to feel comfortable with all the material, you need to get them familiar with it now. Using the past test to go over and review with the kids is like gold. (It works!)

Parent Conferences Tip – Listen to Parents About Their Child

Here are a few ways to encourage parents to talk about their child. Once they start talking, be sure and take note and/or just listen.


Every year about Thanksgiving time, the parent conference occurs. I’ve been scheduling and hosting them for 14 years. These can be fluid and helpful to both parent and teacher but without this tip, they can be useless. You can offer positive parenting tips You may think you know the student very well because you have seen them every day in class since August.

Face the reality however that the parent knows them much better than you. In most cases, they were there with the child at birth. If you have kids of your own, you know the significance of the parent/child relationship. Even if you don’t have kids you can recall your relationship with your own parents. Should a teacher assume to know as much about one of their 25-35 students? I say no. It can be tempting to want to give educational tips for parents but remember a balance. Continue reading “Parent Conferences Tip – Listen to Parents About Their Child”

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.