Circle the Keywords

Unraavel is an acronym used by many teachers I know. It was created by Larry Bell and it has a specific goal to increase test scores. The second “a” stands for “Are you circling the keywords” and this step of Unraavel is really the most important when it comes to reading comprehension questions. Of course, I can only speak from my experience and my classtroom. My students are about half English Learners and almost 100% socioeconomically disadvantaged. Circling the keywords in the test questions guides their focus on “what to look for” back in the text.

I tell my students they have a better chance of hitting a target than just shooting with no target. The keywords may be chosen incorrectly at first, though the kids get wise quickly, but at least they are traveling back into the text with a compass of some kind. Choosing the right keywords can be fun when kids are rewarded for choosing good ones. Here is an example:

After reading a piece of text about the Incan Indians, a question on the test asks,

About how old was the Incan pottery?

The students would circle “how old” and “pottery.”

Now they are armed to go back into the text looking for these two keywords. I tell my kids they have most everything they need by finding keywords in the text. At that point they can find the exact answer in that context.

Unraavel is just one way to teach test taking strategies for standardized tests but I have found with my students in this given demographic, it is a very good one ideed.

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.

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.

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

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.”

Focus on Three Things (or less) Today

tumblr_m8z4yltfxY1qiph2fo1_500If you are a high achiever who has 110 things on her/his to-do list today, this post may not be for you.  If you want to be a high achiever but get overwhelmed at times, this might be more suited to you. I was talking to a new friend, Justin, the other day through emails about how we can get over indulgent in work and actually be less effective.  That conversation made me think up a challenge post to my readers:  I want to tell you to focus on only three things today. You decide what they should be.  You’ll be tempted to focus on more, but limit yourself.

As a teacher, I tend to get bogged down in all the demands from the district and parents.  Sometimes, it can sap my energies.  The professional solution is to focus my energies with an almost tunnel vision on no more than 3 things.  I can still do other things, but my success for the day will be determined on whether I got those three things accomplished.  For example, tomorrow my 3 are: 1) Multiple meaning words, 2) Finalize my parent conferences calendar, and 3) Teach the final 2 math concepts we’ll be testing next week.  There are many other things I could/should be worried about, but these three are the most important.  I will name the day a success when these three things are done.

It is the regular attention to goals that makes me feel like a great teacher.  I wasn’t born great and I do not remain great just because of what I have done.  My puritan upbringing cringes at calling myself “great,” but I am simply referring to the data that says: I set goals and achieve them.  To me, for any occupation or endeavor in life, that is success.

Infographic: Key Ideals of Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia

Did you ever wonder what Monstessori believed? How about Waldorf and Reggio Emilia? I was sent this link and it’s a really helpful infographic for understanding all 3.

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The Big Three: Comparing Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia Learning Philosophies

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Spring Break Rolling By

its-official-science-just-confirmed-that-spring-break-is-the-shortest-week-of-the-school-year-a269cI always get so many ideas for my classroom when I’m on Spring Break. Teaching is a tough job on your wit and candor and when you get these breaks, you reall appreciate it. If you do it right, you improve. Would you care to share with the community and I here how your Spring Break makes you better?

Create Specialized Focused Expectations

tumblr_ngffqvCqX71tpmr3io1_1280Teachers are valuable for their critical thinking skills. Just giving a teacher the materials and saying “Go teach!” is not enough. The professional can synthesize the common core standards and create focused expectations the students can meet. Only a teacher has his “ear to the ground” and truly knows how the kids learn. Teachers are the best to decide what the lessons should consist of. Getting there to set those expectations requires teaching, assessment, and analysis of the assessment. When all that is done, we can create focused expectations based on our professional assessment. Politicians can’t create focused expectations because they aren’t with the students every day. Parents can do it but it won’t reflect what the majority need as well as what the developmental learners do. Administrators can’t do it because they are caught up day to day in the social and physical aspects of running the school. This leaves us with teachers, the best ones to create expectations and measure progress toward goals. Continue reading “Create Specialized Focused Expectations”