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? 

Public schools gear up for new standards | standards, victorville, gear – Victorville Daily Press

“This is going to be my restaurant,” the fifth-grader said proudly, without breaking her focus. “All my tables are different shapes.”

Ulloa, who attends Eagle Ranch Elementary in Victorville, created detailed plans for a pizza restaurant, which was just one of many group assignments that she and her peers have been tasked with doing in their GATE class.

According to Eagle Ranch Principal Peter Livingston, the school has started to implement the Common Core State Standards, an instruction method designed to teach students to develop higher-level thinking skills, especially in English, language arts and math. Livingston said that group-work is one of the trademarks of the new Common Core standards.

via Public schools gear up for new standards | standards, victorville, gear – Victorville Daily Press.

Unions – Can’t Live Without Them

16414431556_9695483388_zI am involved in my teachers union and I have to say it is a challenging endeavor sometimes. You are sending out the message that your troubles are the fault of the district. As someone who is always trying to not blame, and failing most the time, I sometimes struggle with this. Unions, like any political organization, can fall into the trap of dehumanizing the district employees. In my district, we have over 300 teachers and about 6 district employees making decisions that affect parents, students, and yes, teachers. My goal in my union is not to attach people but rather show the value of a union. Parents in my district value teachers, they show that by their numbers when they come to our meetings and get involved in organizing with us. I want to be a force that helps their families and specifically their children. Name calling and blaming will only get people riled up for a moment. To gain real buy in from parents, we need to show them what’s in it for them. Continue reading “Unions – Can’t Live Without Them”

Some Relaxation Methods

Teachers can get very stressed in their tasks and often feel as if their back is against the wall. As we attempt to mold the minds of the future, we must deal with other demands from our own evaluation by principals, parents, the community, and elsewhere. In the midst of all that, we are supposed to care. Depending on the teacher and the environment, this stress can be downright debilitating. I have good news though, you can do simple, quick relaxation techniques during lunch right at your desk to help tackle tension. Being responsible to keeping yourself relaxed and whole will translate in you being a better teacher and person. In being less stressed, you will have a more positive impact on the kids. In short:

You don’t have to put your hectic classroom on hold to chill out.

Here are a few methods of relaxation you can use in the day at your desk during lunch or even as you teach throughout the day:

Practice yoga “lite.” Moving your arms and body slowly and meditating on your space can have a calming effect before the kids come back.

Take off your shoes and do toe scrunches under your desk. This is great and the minimal aspect of it carries great relaxation rewards.

Fake a smile. Studies have shown that the positive effects of smiling occur whether it is fake or real. “Fake it til you make it” in terms of merriment may lead to real smiles and laughter. Continue reading “Some Relaxation Methods”

In the Mean Time, Just Teach Kids

tony-lays-it-all-out-on-the-chalkboardI loved the Nike slogan in the 80’s “Just Do it.” This is something we as teachers in negotiations need to remember. If you read too much of the news around education, it will leave you feeling left out to dry. For some reason the climate in political circle is bad toward teachers. It’s not warranted however. We in education have seen so much good happening in our classrooms, schools, districts, and regions. We know teachers are continuing to pass on knowledge and students are receiving it. There is an issue of economics that has center stage. The conservatives for the most part want higher test scores and they want the ability to produce them without traditionally credentialed teachers. They open chart schools, of which some are very good I must say, that employ low paid teachers that are not unionized. I assume they still must be credentialed but if they can save money I am sure they will find a way around that. We studied hard to get two degrees in college and we long to show our ability in the classroom. We work hard to see measurable growth in our students. Unfortunately, this is not being seen by some voices in our culture.  Continue reading “In the Mean Time, Just Teach Kids”

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?

Great Lesson Basics – Mixing Methods

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.

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.

Common Core Testing Next Week – All Aboard, Ready or Not

all-aboard-common-core2Well, it feels as if we are finally “here” at my small school up here in the high desert. Common Core is at our door and other states are reporting rocky starts. I have tested the format via Smarter Balanced testing samples. I have tried to translate the standards I have used since 1997 into comprehensible Common Core language. I have been to the trainings and hope to go to more. I still feel a bit incomplete, a bit in the dark as to how my students can master this test. A letter went out from the district office about how this test will not be scored in a traditional way. Instead, the scores will be used only to analyze the test and tweak as necessary to meet the goals of the Department of Education. It feels as if all the rules have been thrown out and new ones enacted in only one short year. I have trepidation about Common Core but no fear. I welcome this change. It gives the kids a broader plane to visualize problems and solutions. I have called it a national word problem. I like that visual of a child working through a scenario in words rather than a rote ABCD fill-in answer.

Some grade levels at my school will begin the testing (on computers) next week. Mine starts at the beginning of May. This is an exciting time of change and evolution in our field. We will do better if we do away with sarcasm and criticism, which I have heard and read a lot of. It is okay to question and even challenge things from time to time. I have not held back my belief that this test is too hard too quickly in the transition from the old standards test style. But progress waits for no man. I am told this will be a flat year with no scores being published. Next year will be a “baseline” year with scores being publish and the third year from now will be an API AYP generating year where schools will go back to being “graded” in the press and the public by the State adopted standards test. Fasten your seat belts and be ready for anything. Embrace the change, progress awaits.

My Comments on a So-Called “Teacher Bill of Rights”

On Facebook this evening, I found this “teacher’s bill of rights.” This comment may sound rude but I hate blue-sky, irrational posts like this that complain on behalf of us teachers in the trenches. I would like this if it were meant as humor but I think they are being serious.
1891061_10152303771788708_1428955988_nI don’t need them to plead my case as a teacher. Here are my corresponding comments: #1 Is subjective. #2 Is subjective #3 Copy paper, pencils, and soap are provided (though I could use more pencils than 30 a month) #4 My school has fairly advanced technology #5 ok #6 Ridiculous. Highly subjective statement and completely impossible to grant to any teacher.#7 WTH are they talking about here? Colleagues evaluating us? Hopefully not some I know #8) Ha. Go into the business world. Teaching will always be a medium paid job, which is not bad. There is more security in teaching than most jobs of the same pay. #9) A dream, but a good one. #10) We get this already.

I agree with the direction of these rights but the way they aim to get there is bordering on absurd. “Think Big” they say out there in the world. I say, be the change you want to see. Little by little, you’ll affect big changes.

The Benefits of Becoming an Owner-Operator

While not everyone may have what it takes to become their own boss, creative, resourceful, and persistent individuals can make a comfortable living becoming an owner-operator of their own company. If you are considering going into business for yourself, here are four advantages of being your own boss in the trucking industry.

Flexible Hours

 One of the biggest appeals of working for yourself is the ability to set your own hours. With that said, if you work inconsistently and fail to commit to meet deadlines and appointments, your business could fall flat. Be realistic about your schedule and don’t give yourself too many sick days or vacation time. Truckers have different schedules than most other workers, so you’ll need to evaluate your own needs.

Greater Control

 As your own boss, you’ll have the freedom to implement your own decisions that determine the future success of your company. As an employee, you can only exercise control within the parameters of your title. As an owner-operator, you decide what jobs you take.

Doing What You Love

 Becoming an owner-operator permits you to turn your passion into a livelihood. You’ll also enjoy a greater sense of satisfaction operating your own business. If you consistently work well and meet your client’s expectations, the sky is your only limit.

Developing Positive Habits

 When you’re relying only on yourself to run an entire company and make the shots, you’ll quickly develop a strong work ethic as every problem or success falls on your shoulders alone. Folks who run their own business develop positive characteristics including frugality, punctuality, loyalty, specialized skills, and resilience.