Great Lesson Basics – Mixing Methods

IAF_CL1_PX01192If you’re like me, you’ve been to hundreds of trainings, most claiming to be the greatest lesson method. Then, you learned they were good and bad but never universal. Have you ever sat down and tried to piece together the best of the best into something that works for you? Whether you have or not “knowingly” done so, that is the role of the teacher … to synthesize a lot of information, create, and innovate. I used to be a huge proponent of a method called “EDI.” In fact, my EDI posts get the most traffic of any posts here on the blog. I am proud to share EDI because plain and simple: it works! A few years later since my initial EDI training, I have created sort of a hybrid set of “great lesson basics” that work to foster student achievement. I am happy to share them here with you.

1. Learning Objective: I have to introduce what I am teaching and what the students are expected to do in order to be successful after the lesson.

2. Engagement: This is a step I invented. It is what people often call a “sponge activity.” It can be a story, a puppet show, a short video, a game, anything that gets the learner absorbed into the subject matter.

3. Importance: I have found time and time again that when the kids know the value of learning the lesson, they are more engaged and thus learn more and faster.

4. Steps: Everything in education can be broken down to steps. This is often easier said than done. Taking time with the steps is invaluable toward getting kids to meet the demands of the lesson.

5. Guided Practice: Simply put, SHOW THEM HOW YOU DO IT. Use the steps and model over and over. I learned to play guitar by imitating Dave Sharp on the Alarm albums. I would move the needle back again and again until I knew every guitar riff. Kids are the same today with academics. Show them and then show them some more. Gradually release them to do it on their own.

6. Independent Practice: At this step they should be doing what they watched you do over and over. Make sure they can do it before you let them go on their own.

20120815-140604.jpg7. Small group intervention: There are usually going to be a group of kids who need extra guided practice. Take them to a side table which the whole group is working independently. Just repeat the steps of the lessons for as long as you have time or until they get it, whichever is first.

This is the lesson method I have developed through the years. I would really appreciate your comments of what you think of it, ie; how I might improve it. Thanks for being part of the Dynamite Lesson Plan professional learning community.

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

How Much Video Should We Use in a Lesson?

ClipjimideaVideo in education has become a widely used tool but is it as efficient as everyone says? When I was in public school in the 70’s and 80’s there were film strips and movie reels teachers used on rainy days or occasionally to provide better access to the core curriculum. Usually, videos were fillers more than innovation when I went to school. Not that I minded. As a student, where else would I have learned from Jiminy Cricket about “I’m no fool?” Or better yet Johnny Appleseed. With the advent of Teacher Tube and dozens of other well established educational video sites, we can safely see video as a better tool for education than it once was.

Video draws students in.

The culture of Spongebob and Youtube is stimulated by video. Students are reading less and tuning in to video more. I have found that even a quick mention of a character on their favorite show can perk up interest in subjects from the core curriculum. We should use cultural references to hook in interest but that’s another post. Showing kids video before a lesson on volcanoes can capture their attention and make comprehensible input more palatable. This is true with anything you teach. When grownups go to a conference, there is often a video intro for us. It unites us and excites us. Kids are the same way. Some teachers may fear what the Principal or colleagues might think if they see a video playing though. This may have good reason. How much video should we use in a lesson (that is justifiable)?

Video can be misinterpreted and distracting.

If you’ve ever used an analogy to make a point with kids you know some don’t get it. If you tell the story of the tortoise and the hare for example you will have a percentage thinking it’s about how turtles have shells and rabbits don’t. This is magnified with video. There are so many possible interpretations of video. Audio and video combine to lead even disciplined minds astray of the material being taught. I have read a little about the “flipped classroom” but have yet to believe it’s a good model. By teaching through video, you always run the risk of misinterpretation and distraction.

Get the balance right.

In the end, video is a powerful tool. Teachers must accept that it is there if they can use it. At the same time, we must beware that it can waste our class time. Of course every teacher should make she she/he is following their school/district guidelines on using video. As for me, I think a short snippet here and there can be very helpful in giving every child equal access to the core curriculm. Like any othet teaching tool however, you won’t know how effective it is until you try it. The balance for me is a well executed EDI crafted lesson with some audio/visual or realia introduced to interest the kids. A lesson should never be given as 100% video. I know that makes me a bit old fashioned but there it is. Teachers: what do you think?

Closure

appleWhen you have gone through all the steps of EDI you arrive at closure.  But wouldn’t you know it? There is still another step after closure but it doesn’t involve the teacher.  It’s called Independent practice.  This is where you release the kids independently to do a test or a worksheet.  They show they learned the concept through that assessment piece.

Closure is simply checking for understanding (cfu) one last time.  Throughout the lesson you should be using cfu to make sure the kids are there with you.  As a teacher, you adjust your pace to reflect their needs.  CFU is crucial the the dynamite lesson plan.  CFU takes effort. It is something every teacher should use and use often. You simply go through the standard and ask questions to check they know it.  If they don’t? RETEACH.  If they do, go to independent practice. Here are some sample lessons.

The Enigma of Setting Up Desks

Every new year teachers ask themselves “How should I put the chairs?” I know this because I have been a teacher for 13 years and I have seen the amazing difference desk placement and patterns can make in the classroom. I think what you decide to do depends a lot on what your goals are with the given group you have. And finally, the way you teach is very important to how you set the desks up.

Pair Share

If you look into my posts here on EDI and the CFU used in that teaching method you will see that pair share is frequently mentioned. There is a reason for this, I use it all the time. Often times kids can clarify new ideas to each other better than I can in my lesson. For this reason, it is important to me to put desks close enough so that they can engage in pair share. I used to think this could only happen with two desks connected at a time. Later, I tried it with 4 desks in a group. Pair share was not always happening in either of these groupings so I tried rows. These rows were just as conducive to pair share as the 2 by 2 setting. My conclusions? As long as students know who their assigned partner is, the desk arrangement matters little.

Behavior

I used to think rows were the worst arrangement for behavior but the last two years have taught me differently. My conclusion is to try rows this year and make observations about it. Students don’t have a small ecosystem, like a group of 5-6, where they can be distracted. I know it sounds old fashioned but I have tried all the newfangled ways from the modern books. They work ok but just about as good as rows.

Accessibility

I could write on and on about this. I think it is pretty self explanatory what it means. My random non-volunteer calling system keeps them on their toes. At the same time, I value a setup that allows me to get across the room easily from any place. The kids learn quickly that I can get to them and there is less off-task time. However this is achieved is not important so play around with that axiom.

My conclusion:

As many as there are ways to decorate your living room, so are there ways to arrange the desks in your classroom. The specifics are up to you. I value: access to pair share and teacher access to get across the room quickly. Of course there are individual concerns but for me and my year, these are what’s most important.

Student-Tracked WPM in Reading Passages

126_0558There are many things we can do with a passage of text. The “cold read” can be used as a time for the kids to read and measure their words per minute (WPM). This helps motivate and improves fluency.

The process is fairly simple. You just have the kids run their finger along the text and you time them for one minute. When they stop, they go back and count the number of words they read. If you have an AVID folder or other organized area dedicated to keeping track, they write the date and their WPM for that day.

After doing this a few days, the kids can set realistic goals to improve their fluency. I was shown how to do this by my Assistant Principal and it went very well. I will report in after a few weeks whether it worked and anything I learn about using ths method.

What do you think about teaching kids to measure their own WPM? 

Educational Opportunities for Students in Low-Resource Schools

Although free K12 public education is available to all students in America, the fact is that not all public schools have the resources to fully educate students. Many schools, particularly those in low-income rural and urban areas, lack fundamental educational tools like computers, microscopes or even current textbooks. Other schools have eliminated programs like art and music entirely.

If your school district only offers limited resources, what can you do to help your students get the educational opportunities they deserve? Whether you’re a teacher or a parent, consider implementing one or more of these options to give kids a chance to improve their education even in a low-resource school district.

Online tutoring

Not every school has a dedicated music teacher, Spanish teacher or physics teacher. Fill the gap with online courses. If your school doesn’t have a functioning music program, encourage interested students to take online piano lessons during lunch, study hall or after school. Invite students to join teams and sign up for online language lessons, math tutoring or book clubs. If your school doesn’t have the resources to teach a particular subject in-house, chances are there’s a great way to learn it online.

Donated Computers

Not every classroom has enough computers for all its students. This is becoming a critical literacy gap, as computers are now a fundamental part of life and students who graduate high school unable to type, navigate an Internet browser or handle fundamental programs like Microsoft Excel are at a huge disadvantage for both college and the workforce.

Meanwhile, plenty of companies and individuals find themselves upgrading their computer systems every few years, meaning there are many functional machines that are no longer being used. Talk to your school district about setting up a computer donation request; a few states, such as Delaware, actually require companies to offer old computers to schools before sending them to be destroyed. Look for sources of donated computers in your area and use them to teach your students computer literacy – it’s an essential skill for today’s connected world.

Summer Camp Scholarships

Summer camp is a great way for kids to pick up skills they might otherwise miss in a low-resource classroom. There are camps for kids interested in science, math, art or drama; in fact, there’s a camp for nearly every subject! The best part is that these camps nearly always offer scholarships to low-income students. If you’ve got a student in your classroom who can benefit from an educational summer camp experience, take the time to help the student apply for a scholarship and make sure to write a glowing letter of recommendation.

Problem-solving Opportunities

Many schools focus their curriculum on “teaching to the test,” and this is especially true in low-resource schools which require high test scores to receive much-needed funding. However, this kind of education means fewer classroom hours are spent giving students problems that require innovation or invention to solve. The working world – not to mention life – is about solving problems, and students need these skills to perform successfully as adults. (For more information on why innovation and invention are key skills for students to learn, read the Suggested 3 I’s of Education Reform.)

Create problem-solving opportunities by setting up a science fair, asking students to write and stage a play or pulling out one of the tried-and-true problem-solving games like the toothpick bridge project. If your curriculum is already too jam-packed to include these items, start an after-school club or announce that an upcoming Saturday will be “Science Day.” The more opportunities you give your students to solve their own problems through innovation and invention, the better they’ll function in our complex, problem-filled world.

Local Libraries

No discussion of educational opportunities would be complete without mentioning the importance of your local library. Many libraries offer tutoring, after-school clubs and other opportunities, and even the smallest libraries have that most magical of inventions, inter-library loan. Take your students on a tour of your library and show them how it can be used to help with homework, college applications or independent study on a favorite subject.

Use these ideas as ways to augment your low-resource school and give your students a better chance to compete in today’s world. Do you have other ideas for boosting a school’s resources? Start a discussion in the comments. The more we share ideas, the more opportunities we’ll be able to offer our students.

Welcome to My Brain

300x300brainlogoOver the years I have become a huge fan of “guided practice.” It’s arguably the single most important part of my teaching. The reason for this is that I’ve seen amazing results from it.Guided practice is just that: guiding kids through practicing the standard. I call this step “welcome to my brain.” I preface it by telling the kids I have taken many tests to be successful in life. I establish myself as an “expert test taker.” Then I get them interested by showing them how I, the teacher, takes tests and scores high. I find the buy in to be almost 100%. I explain that each of us has a computer, our brain, where we do things a special way. They are usually very eager to see how I process things and then they can copy me. I also tell them in time they will have it memorized and if they want they can try their own way. Continue reading Welcome to My Brain

Think Outside the Box with Kids

One thing I have learned in years of teaching is that kids remember better when you teach non-traditionally.  There is a lot of value in traditional frameworks but it is when you step outside that you really imprint to memory.  I remember when I was in college I had a college algebra professor who would pick a chair up and smack through the seat to show how important the correct equation was to building a chair.  If you got the equation wrong, the seat would fall through.  i will always remember that as the importance of math.  Kids of all ages are the same way.  use props, act things out, give visuals.  These quirky things outside the box are what make kids remember abstract concepts in concrete ways.