dynamitelessonplan Blog Back Online!

12506845744_0120be8609My blog is officially moved in at a new more powerful host! Thank you for all the help Bluehost! A new post is scheduled for tomorrow. Thanks for hanging in there and being patient through the migration dust! The foundation is more secure than ever! See you all tomorrow with my first teaching post in a long time. I am looking forward to it. I have learned a lot lately.

Seriously Considering Growing a Beard as Motivation for the Standards Test

20130316-124049.jpgCall me the David Blaine of education. I’m thinking of growing a beard to get my students excited about the Standards test. We are in the midst of pretty rigorous test prep and Perhaps my facial hair endurance test will get them on board.

In the past I have written a song as motivation, done a countdown every morning, and other things. I’m usually self conscious about beards and growing my male-pattern-baldness hair out. All the more reason for them to realize the importance of the test and of paying attention. What do think? Good motivator?

50 Days to the Test – and how to prepare

20130203-085422.jpgThe countdown to the California Standards Test sits at 50 teaching days. At this point, there are strategic things I do for test prep. The day remains mostly as it has been all year but focal points and activities turn to lowering the affective filter and familiarizing the kids with the test platform.

The focal point of my teaching at this point is based on data. I review their tests to see what standard they have done well on. Obviously I don’t focus on those standards as much at this point. I list the challenging standards and those become my focal points for teaching in this final stretch. It’s that “Aim at something and you might miss but …”

Another important part of this last section of the year is to do daily test prep and weekly testing that looks and tests like the standards test. I’ve shared here many times about the “briar patch” test philosophy. In the Southern fable, the fox escaped through the briar patch because he knew his way around in there. He was familiar with it from birth. In the same way I aim to lower stress and anxiety for my students but recurrent exposure to the testing “theater” or scenario.

I know those may sound like common solutions but I think they are fundamental.

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.

Power of Icon

Power of Icons in ClassroomKids get icons in their face every day on tv and the internet. My kids must see Spongebob in their sleep since their tv watching time seems to consist mostly of him. When they heard the song or see the icon on a fast food cup, they are dialed in waiting to take part. It’s trust built over time. Teachers have some of that power and we can use it to our advantage. Why not fill their heads with some different ones, with valuable meaning? On my desk I have a carved buffalo statue. My students walk by me every day and see it. I share with them the buffalo is a sign of gentle strength for me. Sometimes I will refer to him in my teaching, pointing out the characteristics that I admire. I even go so far as to name my student’s “Riley’s Buffaloes.” They know it’s my favorite animal, an icon is on my desk, and we identify with the buffalo by making him our mascot. In this way, I have an unwritten connection with my students. I have even developed a quick line drawing I put on the board and on their papers when I grade highly. Continue reading “Power of Icon”

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.

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?

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.

Click to Enlarge Image

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

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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.